Studies in Daniel: Chapter 9

DanielDaniel 9 is one of the most hotly debated and significant passages in the Old Testament, especially as it relates to prophecy. There is no doubt in my mind that much about this passage relates to Jesus’ coming, to the consummation of all things, and to the future. Yet, to read it only in terms of prophecy is to miss its immediate value as an encouragement to us today. Daniel’s prayer reminds us to hold fast to the promises of our reliable God. For all its prophecy, Daniel 9 is actually an invitation to pray in faith.

In what transpires I will necessarily present some of my own theological interpretation and as a result disagree with some other eschatological positions. It is not my intent to critique certain views, but such cannot be avoided when you discuss subjects like this. My focus, however, will not be on critique, but on presenting what I believe to be the best interpretation of the text.

As chapter 9 begins Daniel is reflecting back on the prophecy of Jeremiah (v. 2). It is the first year of the reign of Cyrus, who had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah, and who was to restore Jerusalem. In light of Cyrus’ rise to power Daniel sees the rapidly approaching fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding Israel’s 70 years in Babylonian captivity. His prayer, then, is a plea for God to fulfill His word and restore Israel to the land and rebuild the temple among them (v. 3-19). He is asking of the Lord, essentially, “when will you restore Israel?”

It’s important to note here that Daniel has full confidence in the promises of God. He prays, not because He doubts, but because He believes. He has seen and witnessed God’s faithfulness throughout his life, even in his captivity. The pleasantness of his circumstances do not dictate his confidence in God’s Word. Daniel knows and believes the faithfulness of God. He keeps His Word, and it is because of God’s trustworthiness that He prays.

Does belief motivate your prayers? The author of Hebrews tells us that faith must be part of our approach of God. He says:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb. 11:6)

Daniel prays for the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy because He knows the God who “cannot lie” (Num. 23:19), the God who keeps His word. In fact the Babylonian captivity is itself evidence of God’s reliability, for He kept His word in punishment (v. 12). Now, He can be trusted to keep His word in restoration.

How you pray reveals so much of what you believe about the one to whom you pray. There is, of course, room for some uncertainty, perhaps even an appropriate level of doubt. Our finitude and sin make confidence, even in the promises of God, difficult. But we can continue to fight with faith even in the face of uncertainty. We pray believing that God is who He says He is, and that He will keep His Word. We cannot, of course, hold God to promises that He has no made, but we can bank on the promises He truly has given. So, we pray in faith.

I have seen over and over again what confidence in the character of God does to prayer. When I know who God is and when I remember it in the face of trials I pray with passion, earnestness, and confidence. I have seen God answer prayers exactly as they were prayed in moments of power and immediacy, and I have seen Him answer prayers in unexpected ways over longer seasons of time. Yet, my confidence is not in the answer, but in the person of God.

Pray in faith, friends. Pray like Daniel knowing that our God keeps His word. The gospel is ultimate reminder of this truth. Even here in Daniel 9 the pointers to the gospel remind us of the trustworthiness of our God. Centuries before Christ, God foretold to Daniel that “after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (v. 26). The prophecy of the 70 weeks points all the way down through time to the crucifixion of Jesus.

In verses 20-27 Gabriel responds to Daniel’s prayer and gives him an answer. Gabriel tells Daniel that there will be 70 weeks before the restoration of Jerusalem.  The literal wording here is “Seventy sevens,” so a question arises as to seven units of what? Is it seven days, weeks, or years? Most commentators believe years is the appropriate response. So some theologians conclude that this refers to 490 years, i.e. seventy sets of seven years. However it is interpreted, it seems to me that the end of Jeremiah’s 70 Years and the start of Daniel’s 70 “Weeks” end and begin respectively with Cyrus’ decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Sam Storms gives an excellent summary of this interpretation. He writes:

In 605 b.c. Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be taken captive in Babylon for 70 years and that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed. He also prophesied that at the end of this period Babylon would fall. In 539 b.c. Babylon fell to Cyrus of Persia. Consequently, in that very year, sensing the completion of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Daniel prays for the restoration of Jerusalem. Gabriel (as God’s messenger) responds to Daniel’s prayer with the prophecy of the 70 weeks, the beginning of which would be a decree to rebuild and restore the city. In 538 b.c. Cyrus issued just such a decree! The point, then, is this. The decree of Cyrus in 539-38 b.c. is both the conclusion of Jeremiah’s prophecy of captivity (2 Chron. 36:21-23) and the beginning of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy of restoration (Dan. 9:25). (“Daniel 9:1-27”)

God had predicted Cyrus, and Cyrus had come just as God said he would. Now, God was using Cyrus to predict a new future, and it could be counted on to arrive too.

All of this text was future to Daniel. Aspects of it have since been fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem again, in 70 A.D. (see v. 26). Even the prophecy concerning the death of the anointed one is past to modern readers. Yet, there is an already-not-yet element to this text which points ahead to the “end of sin” (v. 24), and the bringing of “righteousness” (v. 24). We have seen the text of Daniel fulfilled and yet not fully realized. We wait for its ultimate consummation, but we wait with confidence. We may even pray for its arrival with confidence. God will return, He will complete what He has begun. You can count on God. Pray, then, with conviction and passion. Pray with faith.

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