Exposition of Daniel 9:15-21, Daniel’s prayer — the desolation of Yahweh’s holy hill

15 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. 16 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.

17 Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 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. 19 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.

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill —21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.

Having spoken of God’s greatness and his peoples sin, Daniel turns his attention to specific actions he is seeking. Specifically, he asks that Yahweh withdraw his wrath from Jerusalem (verse 16) and treat both Jerusalem and the desolate temple there with his favor (verses 17-18). This request rests upon God’s promise in Lev. 26:42b.

Verse 18b deserves special attention: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Everything we need starts with God’s mercy. As Christians, we do not stand on the same ground as Daniel. Because Jesus has died for our sins, the Scriptures say, “Let us then approach Gods throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We are not descendants of Abraham, as Daniel was, but we rely on Gods mercy as surely as he did. Even better news, Yahweh is full of mercy!

In the moment that Daniel’s prayer reaches “a passionate crescendo,”[1] the angel Gabriel swiftly approaches to reveal a vast span of God’s plans. In effect, Gabriel will reveal that God’s people are nearing the end of the original 70-year punishment, but the seven-fold enhancement of their penalty still lay in Daniel’s future.

Copyright 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 249.

Exposition of Daniel 9:1-6, The context of Daniels prayer

Daniel 9:1-6

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom — 2 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. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4 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, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 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 follows his normal practice of connecting to historical events by providing a date tied to the name of a ruler (verse 1). NIV is almost alone in giving the rulers name as Darius son of Xerxes, where the italicized word is the Greek for the name Ahasuerus. Both Xerxes (Greek) and Ahasuerus (Hebrew) are transliterations [spelling in another language] of a throne-name similar to Pharaoh or Caesar.[1] In another 2500 years our word President will similarly need explanation.

Although the matter is disputed, we identify this ruler, Darius son of Ahasuerus (ESV), as Cyrus the Great, also known as Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:31) and Cyrus the Persian; Cyruss mother was Median and his father was Persian; because he was a great success, everyone claimed him! The first year of his reign was 539-538 B.C., at which time Daniel was likely more than eighty years old.

God keeps his word — all of his word

It is important to realize that the issues presented in Daniel 9 did not begin with Daniel or even with the deportation of Judah to Babylonian captivity. By studying the words given by Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, whose messages Daniel heard while living in Jerusalem, Daniel uncovers a fraction of the history leading to his peoples captivity in Babylon.

In verse 2, Daniel understands from Jeremiahs prophecies (Jeremiah 25:11-12) that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. Other Scriptures, such as Dan. 9:11b and 9:13, inform us that the reason for this number 70 was that Gods people had failed to obey the Law of Moses. In particular, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 relate the captivity years to sabbatical years (NET). What does that mean? To answer this question we must return to Mount Sinai where the exodus generation was being instructed how to behave in the land God had promised but not yet given to them, the land of Canaan.

At Sinai, Yahweh told Moses that the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord (Leviticus 25:2). Every seventh year in the land, the people could not sow their fields or prune their vines. They would live on the bounty granted in the previous year to let the land rest during the seventh year. Further, the people were required to count off seven sabbath years seven times seven years so that the seven sabbath years amount to forty-nine years (Lev. 25:8). That forty-ninth year was a sabbath year, and was followed by the Jubilee Year when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to those who received it from Yahweh as their inheritance in Canaan.

Eventually, the people neglected these sabbath years and often failed to observe them. That was a grave mistake that brought severe consequences. As Harold Hoehner, a New Testament scholar and historian, puts it, Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.[2] Yahweh keeps track of everything going on with his people, and with everyone else as well.

In the first instance, those seventy ignored sabbath years determined the length of the captivity in Babylon and the desolation of Jerusalem. But that is not the full story! In Leviticus 26, Yahweh warns the people that if they ignore his blessings and disobey him, the result will be: I will punish you for your sins seven times over (Lev. 26:18). To reinforce the point, he repeats this seven-fold enhancement of punishment two more times (Lev. 26:21, 28). Yahweh also promises that the land will certainly gets its prescribed sabbath rest during their absence in the land of their enemies (Lev. 26:34-35)!

Now we do the math. Seventy years of punishment for missed sabbath years times an enhancement factor of seven yields 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). In his prayer Daniel expresses concern about relief at the end of seventy calendar years of captivity, but Gabriels answer spans all 490 years of additional punishment that is due because of the enhancement.

Here is a key idea for using the above information in the interpretation of chapter 9: Yahweh will apply those 490 years of punishment in whatever way pleases him. He is not bound by the common but misguided expectation that he will start the clock at 0 and let it run continuously to reach 490 years. Later we will learn how Yahweh will distribute the punishment.

Daniels prayer — A necessary confession of rebellion

Certainly Daniels prayer is profound and theologically significant. But, since God has already revealed that the captivity in Babylon would last seventy years, why does he think it necessary to pray for an end to Gods anger against his people? The answer lies in Lev. 26:40-42, verses that record Yahwehs promise to respond to the confession of sin and demonstration of humility by the people in Babylonian captivity. Perhaps it was Daniels earnest attention to these issues of confession and humility that satisfied what God had stated in Leviticus 26. In other words, Daniel carefully considered what Yahweh had said and acted accordingly.

ESV skillfully presents Daniels description of Yahweh: the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments (verse 4). Note the sequence covenant-love-love-commandments; this type of A-B-B-A structure is common in the Old Testament. Gods covenants usually include both blessing sections and cursing sections, corresponding to his peoples obedience or disobedience, respectively. People today are often drawn to emphasize Gods love and to downplay his commandments. That emphasis can put us just one step away from thinking that we can risk a little disobedience since God loves us. That is exactly how Gods people ignored many sabbath years and wound up in Babylon!

The Hebrew verbs in verse 4 are significant. The first verb (translated by prayed) stresses the function of intercession, in which Daniel takes on the role of advocacy on behalf of Gods people and his desolated holy place, including both the temple and Jerusalem. This is not a prayer about relative trivia; it addresses subjects worthy of attention from the ruler of heaven and earth. As believers, we too are worthy of his attention, a fact that is a result of his mercy and kindness.

The second verb (translated as confessed) stresses acknowledgement a fascinating, double-edged verb that, when it concerns Yahweh, amounts to praise, and, when it concerns Daniel and the people, amounts to confession. When we properly acknowledge God, we are praising him for who he is and what he does. When we acknowledge our own condition, we must confess that God is not finished with us, and — worse — that our hearts are sometimes in rebellion against him.

Verse 9b is stated a bit better by the ESV: O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. Note particularly the italicized portion. Yahweh always upholds his side of the relationship, and he always extends loyal love toward those who are loyal to him and obedient. The fact that the Jews suffer in Babylon is not the result of any failure on Yahwehs part to keep the covenant; their condition flows directly from their disloyal worship of idols and their failure to carry out their role under the covenant.

Verses 4-6 name many types of sin and make the point that Yahweh had repeatedly warned his people through the prophets, but they did not listen. Those who fail to listen to God are cruising toward the rocks.

Copyright 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] According to Goldingay, Daniel, 239, the name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew spelling of an Old Persian throne-name likely meaning hero among rulers.

[2] Harold Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (JanuaryMarch 1975) 49.

Exposition of Daniel 2:17–36a Words to heaven and from heaven

Daniel 2:17–36a

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”

26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue — an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 “This was the dream …”

Words to heaven and from heaven

In reading the story of Daniel, it is vital to remember that Daniel did not foresee how events would go. In particular, during this long night Daniel did not know whether Yahweh — here called “the God of heaven” (verse 17) — would answer his prayer or not. The biographer James Boswell once wrote: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Confronted with this emergency, Daniel did not rush to the library for Babylonian wisdom; he briefed his friends and then led them before a higher throne than Babylon’s. Daniel urged his friends to seek God’s mercy (verse 18). Daniel understood what many people today do not — that Yahweh’s identity is grounded in his mercy and compassion. This is most obvious in Exodus 34:6, where Yahweh reveals himself to Moses by saying, “Yahweh — Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (HCSB).

While we can certainly imagine that the prayers were earnest and heartfelt, there is no reason to think that it went on for hours or required the kind of bizarre behavior seen among the Babylonian astrologers and sorcerers. A case in point would be the many hours of loud prayer and bloodletting by the four hundred prophets of Baal in their confrontation with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:2-–40), who spoke roughly 58 words (English translation) before fire fell from heaven.

The great acts of God always move his people to praise. Initially, Daniel praises God as eternal ruler of both time and kings; he changes both as it pleases him (verses 20–21a). Next, Daniel says that God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, even the knowledge of hidden things (verses 21b–22). He concludes with more personal language, thanking God for revealing to them “the king’s matter” (verse 23, ESV, against the more narrow “the king’s dream”–NIV). God had revealed to Daniel both the dream and its interpretation.

There is no reason to believe that Daniel delayed in arranging to see Nebuchadnezzar, but imagine the mixed feelings for one condemned to death to approach the chief executioner to set up the audience (verse 24). Daniel first speaks to block further executions, giving the clear signal that no such killing will be required (verse 24). The words describing Arioch (verse 25) reflect both urgency and fear, both quite fitting for a man serving so volatile a ruler as Nebuchadnezzar and the pending order to execute all the wise men of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar gets straight to the point: “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” (verse 26). Leon Wood describes both Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude and Daniel’s response: “The young man had said he would return with the information, but Nebuchadnezzar would have had serious doubts that he could. … Note, however, that [Daniel] did not begin with the information itself, but with making clear to the king to whom the credit for it was due.”[1]

First, Daniel gets the Babylonian wise men off the hook — possibly a literal hook — by saying they cannot reveal the mystery. This also means that the gods of Babylon were powerless to know or reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts. However, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (verse 27). Consider that if God knows the thoughts of the king, he knows your thoughts as well!

Daniel’s summary of the vision is inadequately captured by the NIV: “He has shown Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come” (verse 28). The italicized phrase is better translated by ESV (“what will be in the latter days”) and HCSB (“what will happen in the last days”). Wood provides an excellent explanation for the phrase in question and supports ESV and HCSB:

This [Aramaic] phrase be´charit yomayya´  is used fourteen times in the Old Testament and regularly refers to the closing portion of a time period then in the mind of the speaker or writer (cf. Gen. 49:1). From the nature of the dream, the time period in view here is Gentile history, brought to a close by Christ’s millennial kingdom (cf. verses 44, 45).[2]

Both John Collins[3] and John Goldingay[4] translate the relevant Aramaic phrase with “at the end of the era” (verse 28b), thus placing the emphasis on the final kingdom in the vision soon to be described.

But, while the dream was ultimately used by God to show Nebuchadnezzar events extending to the end of the era (Christ’s return and millennial kingdom), Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts begin much more modestly as he lies in bed thinking about “what would be after this” (verse 29b, ESV). The italicized phrase “refers only to days which Nebuchadnezzar could expect to occur within his own lifetime.”[5] This conclusion by Wood is supported by extensive research on the comparable Hebrew phrase found forty-three times in the Old Testament.[6] The king merely wonders what comes next, but God shows him so much more!

The terrifying colossus

Before Nebuchadnezzar has a chance to see details, he is overwhelmed with fear due to the huge, dazzling image that suddenly stands before him. ESV: “Its appearance was frightening” (verse 31b). HCSB: “Its appearance was terrifying” (verse 31b). NLT: “It was a frightening sight” (verse 31b).

Getting a grip on his fear, Nebuchadnezzar realizes that the statute has several zones: the head is fine gold; the chest and arms are made of silver; the belly and thighs consist of bronze; the legs are made of iron; and the feet are a mixture of iron and baked clay (verses 32–33).

Transfixed by the sight, the king continues to watch as a stone breaks of from a mountain (see verse 45 for this extra detail) and smashes against the feet of the statue (verse 34). The violent impact shatters the entire image into material carried away by the wind, like chaff during the threshing of wheat (verse 35a). After the wind carries away the fragments of the shattered image, the stone becomes a mountain that encompasses the whole earth (verse 35b). “This was the dream …” (verse 36a).

The ease with which the stone destroys the terrifying image sends a compelling message, but what is that message?

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 63.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 64.

[3] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 150.

[4] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) 31.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 65.

[6] B. Applewhite, “Chronological Problems in Joel,” Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976, 48–9.