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He turned to God in Prayer

We often study the book of Daniel with a focus on the prophecies found therein, yet the book can yield much more as we explore it. We can find, at least in the first six chapters, much of the Bibles teaching on good health. The book also has much to teach us about prayer.

Let us take a brief look at the beginning of chapter 9: 1-3.

Verse 1 ‘In the first year of Darius . . .’

We have moved on 13 years since chapter 8 (or if you like we have gone back to the time of chapter 6). It is the time of the silver chest and of the bear like creature, raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth between its teeth, also the time of the ram, charging to the west, the north and the south. Time is a witness to the prophecies of chapters 2, 7 and 8 beginning to be fulfilled. It is the time of Cyrus of whom Isaiah said that he was to be a messiah and the saviour of Israel. Cyrus was to be a type of Jesus. Now Cyrus the Persian reigned and his co-regent Darius ruled the Chaldeans. Daniel observes as prophecy is being fulfilled and he begins to understand.

Verse 2 ‘. . . I, Daniel, consulted the books concerning the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD that had come to Jeremiah the prophet, were to be the term of Jerusalem’s desolation – seventy years’.

The conclusion of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh (2 Chronicles in the Christian Bible), reformulates Jeremiah’s prophecy and makes a direct reference to Cyrus and to Daniels time as he studies the prophet’s words. Daniel had not been sure about the meaning of the goat and his activities – maybe – just maybe – he thought that the devastation of Jerusalem was to last for 2,300 years. Having studied the scroll of Jeremiah and there found what must have gladdened his heart (the 70 year time scale); he now has hope for his people, for God’s City and for God’s Temple. These 70 years have now advanced some 67/68 years and as yet nothing has happened. Jerusalem and the Temple are still in ruins and the people, the Hebrews are still in exile. Time is running out for this prophecy to be fulfilled. But Daniel is seeing the prophecies of his visions (and one of Nebuchadnezzar’s) being brought to fruition. The partial fulfilments must have encouraged him – yet time is still running out. So – what to do? Daniel does the right thing and turns to God in prayer.

Verse 3 ‘I turned my face to the Lord God, devoting myself to prayer and supplication, in fasting, in sackcloth and ashes.’

In the book of Daniel, to this point, there have already been six prayers – now the seventh – the final one in the book, perhaps an appropriate number. Although the book of Daniel is full of apocalyptic (symbolic, end-time) visions and miracles – the book follows the daily rhythm of prayer. These seven prayers are not always Daniel’s. Some of them are explicit, others are profound. You will notice as you read carefully that these prayers are rooted in the historical event of the one who is praying. The prayer here in chapter nine is the longest of the seven. Please note that it comes to us between two prophecies, each of which involves the number seven. The prophecy immediately before the prayer, as we have seen concerns the 70 years of Jeremiah which tells of the return of Israel from their Babylonian exile. The prophecy that follows, as you can see if you read on further in the book, concerns the 70 weeks, telling us of the restoration of Jerusalem and the world’s salvation. Please note here the Biblical concept of the Spiritual. In the Bible, when the Divine is met, this is not divorced from reality, the two experiences are interrelated. It has been said that ‘History rests in the hands of Prayer’, so in our text, Daniel turns to God in Prayer. Please note Daniel’s attitude, he offers his prayer from behind ‘the mask of death’.

Verse 3 ‘. . . in fasting, in sackcloth and ashes’.

These are the symbols of death. It appears that it was common in Biblical times to accompany prayer this way. Fasting is often associated with abstention from food (though this may not always be what God wants us to abstain from), so like the dead, one does not eat. Sackcloth was a very simple and rough garment usually made from ram’s wool or from camel hair. This was simple clothing as the dead wear. Ashes, just as a dead body decays to ashes so we crumble before God. As dust, the created calls upon his Creator. It is, after all, God who is the giver and sustainer of life, the source of all things.

We see in the text that Daniel does the right thing; he turns to God in prayer and he comes to that prayer in an attitude that was for him appropriate.

Perhaps at another time we can take a look at the prayer itself.

Bible quotes are from Tanakh, A new Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text.