A sermon on Daniel 9 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 3 July 2022
The book of Daniel was written to teach us how to live in Babylon. Daniel, of course, lived in the literal Babylon, a city in the Middle East, the capital of the Babylonian Empire. But we don’t. Few of us want to live in Iraq. And none of us can go back in time.
But many people live in a kind of Babylon. It’s when God’s people feel like they live in exile. When they feel like the values of the mainstream culture don’t reflect the values of God found in his Bible. When they feel like a minority. When speaking up for Christ and standing up for gospel issues isn’t easy. When God’s people feel pressured to conform to the values of the majority in the name of unity and peace. When being different can have serious negative consequences. That’s when you are living in Babylon.
What I mean is that the book of Daniel was written for us to help us persevere in our faith when there is strong pressure not to.
For example, it reminds us that God is the king of kings. He raises up rulers and he holds them accountable for their choices and decisions. He will not let injustice rule forever. He will not let cruelty and violence go uncontested. But he will judge the rulers and bring them down when necessary. Those above us may rule over us, but God rules over them.
The book of Daniel also reminds that God still has a message for us. He wants to speak to us. He wants us to know his will. If he needs to, he will use dreams and visions. But he also provides us with books like Daniel to guide our faith, our hope, and the direction of our life. He cares for us still and his angels walk among us.
And in the book of Daniel the example of Daniel himself is a powerful lesson. He teaches us to be calm like he was. He teaches us to trust God. He teaches us to care for others. He teaches us to draw a line between obedience to God’s law and disobedience and to have the courage not to cross that line. He teaches us that with wisdom and skill we can succeed in our own version of Babylon. That we can serve the government for the good of others and with the wisdom that God gives we can be a blessing to others that others will notice and appreciate.
We don’t have to be angry. We don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to plot the downfall of the government in order to bring in the perfect Christian constitution. Even in Babylon we can live with cheerful hope and we can trust God and obey him. Because he is the king of kings and his kingdom is eternal. Injustice and cruelty and violence are temporary. But faith and hope and love are forever.
And in Daniel chapter 9 Daniel teaches us to pray. It was in the first year of the Persian empire. The Babylonians who had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and taken Daniel and his friends away as hostages had come and gone and a new world order was in charge. But Daniel did not put his hope in the Persians. He put his hope in God and he was reading the Bible.
He was reading the book of Jeremiah chapter 29 in which the prophet told the exiles in Babylon that their captivity would last 70 years. That’s, what? Three generations. It wasn’t a short time but it wasn’t forever either. Seventy years. That’s about how long the Soviet Union lasted. And Daniel knew by the timing in the first year of the new Persian empire that the seventy years was almost up. And he prayed for God to keep his promise. Daniel read God’s promise through Jeremiah and he believed it and his faith led him to prayer.
It reminds us that we too need to be people of God’s Word, people of faith and people of prayer. Without the Bible it is too easy to believe that we are powerless, that evil will win and injustice will last forever. Without the Bible it is too easy to believe that we should just give up and go with the flow of the dominant culture. But the Bible draws us back to faith in the living God who rules his universe with power and wisdom, whose purpose is to redeem the world from its addiction to cruelty and to restore to us our lost humanity.
Because every page of the Bible points to our Lord Jesus. To his coming, to his life, to his actions, to the sacrifice of his death and the victory of his resurrection, to his call to repent and to believe in order to rescue us to give us life and to make us whole. Daniel believed the promises of God’s word. And we can too.
Daniel was not just a man of God’s word. But also a man of prayer. His faith in God’s promise led him to pray. Notice how his prayer reflected on God’s character. O Lord, he said,
…the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands.
Daniel prays to the great and powerful God, who in his righteousness judges his people, who in his mercy is quick to forgive. He is the Lord who rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt. He is the Lord who can rescue them again.
Daniel does not pray to a mysterious force that no one knows and that no one can trust to even care. He prays to a God who has made himself known, who acts in a way that is consistent with his character, who makes promises and he keeps them.
This is the God that we pray to as well. He is not our imaginary friend. He is not some careless creator who wound up the world and set it going and then left it on its own. He is the God who has made himself known to us in Jesus. He is our heavenly Father, our holy creator, our merciful saviour. The true and living God who hears us when we pray and we know that we can talk to him and ask for the things that we know that he wants too.
Notice how honestly and genuinely that Daniel comes to God in prayer. He doesn’t talk himself up. He doesn’t list all his good qualities that God should reward. He doesn’t say to God, “Look how much I’ve given to you, now give to me.” He confesses his sins. He admits that he has done wrong. He knows there is nothing that he can give to God that God doesn’t already have. Instead Daniel comes with empty hands. He simply prayed,
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.
In his prayer Daniel reminds us that the path to renewal begins with repentance. A repentance that is genuine, that admits its mistakes and commits itself to realigning itself to God’s will and his Word.
Nevertheless, he is bold in his requests.
Turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem.
Give ear, O God, and hear. Open our eyes and see the desolation of the city. O Lord, listen. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, hear and act.
Daniel is honest before God but he does not grovel. He knows that he is unworthy, but he refuses to believe that he is worthless. He speaks to God like a son whose father has taught him that he need never be shy about asking for what he needs. About asking for what he wants.
Do you know what you need? Do you know what you want? You can ask your heavenly father for it.
What Daniel wanted was the restoration of Jerusalem. The city, where king David had built his palace, where king Solomon had built the temple, had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Now the Babylonians were gone. And the seventy years in the prophecy of Jeremiah were almost up. Daniel wanted the Lord to keep that promise. To end his people’s exile. To rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. To take away Israel’s shame.
But Daniel didn’t ask the Lord to do it just for Daniel’s benefit or just for the benefit of his people Israel. Daniel asked the Lord to do it for the Lord’s benefit. He asks,
Turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill.
Open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your name.
For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your name.
To put it crassly, it never hurts to remind the Lord what’s in it for him to give us what we need. “O Lord, heal me that I may serve you.” “Bring down the wicked that people may praise your justice.” “Come to the aid of the weak and vulnerable that they may know that their heavenly Father cares for them.” It’s not about learning a trick to get what you want from God. It’s about aligning your goals and desires with the purposes of God. It’s about learning to want what God wants.
In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent the angel Gabriel to him. Gabriel arrived while Daniel was still praying. He had been sent by the Lord as soon as Daniel had started. His message is a little confusing in its details but clear in its gist. Daniel’s prayer will be answered. A decree will come to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. But even better things will come. Greater tests and greater blessings.
And most importantly those greater blessings will include the coming of the Lord’s anointed one, the Messiah.
Messiah is, of course, a word that we are familiar with. It means anointed one. It refers to the promise of the coming of the Lord’s chosen king. However, you probably did not know that this chapter, Daniel chapter 9, is the only place in the whole Old Testament that uses that word to refer to the saviour that God would send. Messiah. Anointed One. Gabriel said in verse 25,
Know and understand this: from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven sevens and sixty two sevens.
This mention of sevens refers to seven year periods, important in the Old Testament because every seven years every slave was to be released and allowed to go back to his home. That seventh year was called the Jubilee and is used here to refer to a group of years. Like you’d talk about a score which is a group of 20 years.
So from the issuing of the decree of the Persian emperor that God’s people were allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple, there would be seven jubiliees and then sixty two jubiliees. Meaning almost 500 years. I believe that the expression is meant to be approximate. Because in 538 BC Cyrus, the Persian king allowed the Jewish exiles to go home to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple, to undo the harm that the Babylonians had done. And about 500 years from that decree Jesus was born. As Gabriel promised in verse 26, Jesus was cut off when he was put to death on the cross and he died with nothing. He confirmed a covenant between God and his people, a new covenant promising forgiveness and eternal life. By the sacrifice of his own life he put an end to sacrifice and offering. And forty years after his death and resurrection the temple was destroyed one last time and has never been rebuilt.
Jesus is on every page of the Old Testament and especially here in Daniel chapter 9. Five hundred years before he was born.
It’s a reminder that God can do more than we can ask for. Daniel wanted an end to his people’s exile. He wanted Jerusalem to be restored. He wanted the temple to be rebuilt. He wanted an end to his people’s shame. God had promised that and would deliver but he had planned even better things to come. The coming of Jesus who would end not just the exile of the Jews but would gather people from every nation to God. Who would offer by his own life and death and new life a better sacrifice than any offered in any temple. Who would confirm a new covenant that would make all other covenant’s obsolete by which we may be forgiven of our sins and receive the promise of eternal life.
It reminds us that we can ask for big things. For hard things. For impossible things. Because what God has planned for us and for his world is even bigger and better. We can ask for peace in our time because God’s kingdom of peace will last forever. We can ask for our friend to be healed because one day sickness will get sick and die and never again afflict us. We can ask for our church to grow because one day millions and billions will serve the Lord in ceaseless praise. Whatever you can imagine, whatever you can think of to ask for God can do even more and he has already planned it.
So what have we learned about living in Babylon? Like Daniel we should be people of the Word. We should be people of prayer. And we should not be afraid to ask because God has even better things in mind.