Saturday, February 4, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 28, Daniel's Prayer

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 28
Daniel's Prayer

Daniel realizes from his study of the Scriptures that seventy years of captivity in Babylon were foretold for Judah. Those years are almost up. He goes to the Lord in prayer, confessing his own sins and the sins of his people, and asks the Lord to fulfill the prophecy of the return to Jerusalem.

"In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom---in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years." (Daniel 9:1-2) Earlier in our study of the book of Daniel we discussed the possible identity of Darius the Mede, not to be confused with later references in the Scriptures to a king called Darius who is Darius I Hystaspes. Daniel previously shared with us the two visions he had during the reign of King Belshazzar of Babylon and now he tells us of something that happened after the fall of Babylon. 

The Jews had copies of the Old Testament books with them in captivity. This tells us that although many in Judah had turned away from the living God before their nation was conquered, there were those who still treasured and protected His word. There were those who valued it so much they wanted it with them wherever they were. We don't know if Daniel had always had access to a copy of the book of Jeremiah or whether it had recently come into his possession, but he has read it and he knows the years of captivity are nearly over. Daniel is an old man now and has spent almost his entire life in a foreign land, dressing and speaking and reading and writing according to the customs of that land, but he has never wavered in his faith. He knows what the Lord has promised. The captivity is about to conclude and Daniel, perhaps fearing his people have not repented enough, prays a beautiful prayer of repentance for himself and for his nation.

Because of the sins of the people of Judah, and the sins of the other lands Babylon would conquer, the Lord passed this sentence on them, "'This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,' declares the Lord, 'and will make it desolate forever. I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings. I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.'" (Jeremiah 25:10-14) 

In Jeremiah 29 the Lord instructed the people of Judah to settle down while in captivity, to marry and have children, to pray for the nation of Babylon while they lived there so they could live in peace. He commanded them not to listen to the prophets and diviners of that nation but to be faithful to Him. The Lord wanted the people to grow in number and in faith while in exile. They were to understand that their exile was punishment for sins and to repent of those sins, not add more sins to them. He desires to bring them out of Babylon in better shape than they were when they went in. "This is what the Lord says, 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My gracious promise to bring you back to this place." (Jeremiah 29:10) The Lord goes on to say in Jeremiah 29 that the people who return to Jerusalem will seek Him and find Him. They will call to Him and He will answer. Daniel hopes the people of Judah have repented enough to be able to do this back in their homeland and he goes to the Lord in prayer for them, "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes." (Daniel 9:3) 

"I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: 'Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land." (Daniel 9:4-6) Daniel acknowledges his sins and the sins of his people. He knows God was righteous in His judgment. When bringing the children of Israel into the promised land, the Lord promised to keep them there if they would keep His laws and commands. They broke their side of the covenant and reaped the wages of sin. Daniel takes personal responsibility for his own sins and he prays in the form of a mediator for the people, just as Moses did. Daniel's prayer is a lovely example of how to pray for our own nation, confessing that we ourselves have made mistakes and that our citizens and leaders have made mistakes. 

"Lord, You are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame---the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where You have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to You. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against You. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You." (Daniel 9:7-11a) Daniel says something like, "We got ourselves into this mess. There's no one to blame but ourselves. You, Lord, are always holy and righteous. You were good to us but we went astray. Even so, Lord, You have not destroyed us, though You would be right if You had. As the prophet Jeremiah said, it's only because of Your mercy that we are not consumed, for Your compassion never fails." (Lamentations 3:22)

Daniel does the same thing King David did when David realized he was a sinner: he appeals to the mercy of the Lord. Daniel asks the Lord for mercy, even though he and the people don't deserve it. I had to ask the Lord for mercy for something yesterday. I had to admit to Him I didn't deserve mercy but that I was asking for it because of who He is, not because of who I am. I'm deeply ashamed of a wrong attitude I've held onto for some time and yesterday there was nothing left to do but ask God, on the basis of His unfailing compassion and love, to forgive me and to make my heart clean of this thing. I'm not telling you about my experience in order to make anything of myself, because I'm nothing. I want to make a great deal out of the One who is everything, the One without whom my life would have no purpose, the One who so lovingly forgave me and showed me such compassion even though I don't deserve it. No doubt, if I live long enough, I will have to go to Him again and again to repent of wrong attitudes and wrong actions, but I will be going to Him because He is a merciful God and because He loves me even though I'm not worthy. 

"Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against You. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us a great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to Your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything He does; yet we have not obeyed Him." (Daniel 9:11b-14) Daniel is in agreement with what David said to the Lord when he repented of his sins, "You are right in Your verdict and justified when You judge." (Psalm 51:4b)

"Now, Lord our God, who brought Your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for Yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all Your righteous acts, turn away Your anger and Your wrath from Jerusalem, Your city, Your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and Your people an object of scorn to all those around us." (Daniel 9:15-16) How it must have shamed Daniel and the other godly captives to know that the Gentiles looked down on them and on their God, believing He had abandoned them forever. The nations of Assyria and Babylon who conquered Israel and Judah scorned the name of the God of Israel, believing He was just one God of many, and a powerless one at that.

Daniel isn't sure the people of Judah have truly repented in captivity. Daniel himself, though a godly man, was not a perfect man. He fears he and the people will go on making the same old mistakes as before. So he asks the Lord to defend His own holy name. Daniel thinks the Lord may look on the people and find them lacking, but perhaps He will act on their behalf in order to show the world that He is the one and only God. "Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of Your servant. For Your sake, Lord, look with favor on Your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open Your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears Your name. We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For Your sake, my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people bear Your name." (Daniel 9:17-19)

Living lives of purpose will include repenting of personal sins and national sins, just as Daniel did. When going to God in prayer for our nation, we should first confess our own sins, then the sins of our people. We need to get our own hearts right with God before we can intercede for others. Daniel has set a pattern in Chapter 9 that we can easily follow. This man was so faithful to God that a book of the Bible is named after him, yet he was a fragile human being just like the rest of us. Daniel was not sinless, but he knew what to do when he sinned: he appealed to a merciful and loving God for forgiveness and help. What if we began each day on our knees, asking the Lord first to forgive us of all our own mistakes and shortcomings, then asking Him to forgive the sins of our nation? What great things would we see happen in our personal lives? What awesome and godly changes would we see in our country? It's such a simple thing to do, yet such a powerful thing. I would like to challenge myself and all of you to try it on a daily basis, as much as we possibly can. If we do this, I believe we also need to prepare ourselves for amazing blessing from the Lord. I believe He will make our lives seem more purposeful than ever before.

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