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Daniel 9:1-27 – O God, Do Not Delay

Summary

Daniel 9 contains both a prayer and a vision about the end. In the midst of political change (the first year of a new king from a different nationality), Daniel encounters a prophetic word about seventy years of exile (9:1-2). This word deeply disturbs him. He turns to God in a two-part prayer in which he confesses the sins of the nation: first, a confession in which Daniel acknowledges that the devastation is fitting punishment for infidelity (9:3-15), and then a supplication petitioning God to bring the just punishment to an end (9:16-19). The heavenly being Gabriel provides Daniel with a new interpretation of the seventy-year period (9:24-27). In Gabriel's interpretation, Israel will undergo an extended, but limited, period of affliction to purge sin from its midst. Whether in exilic punishment or in purging affliction, the faithful can confidently petition God to listen, forgive, hear, and act.

Analysis

Daniel 9 opens with Daniel reading Jeremiah's announcement that the exile will last seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10). Many attempts have been made to get the duration of the exile to match the number seventy. The historical exile, from the destruction of the temple in 587 B.C.E. to the initial return in 538 B.C.E., lasted roughly fifty years. By counting from the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's reign in 605 B.C.E., the figure gets closer to seventy. By counting from the destruction of the temple to the commencement of its rebuilding in 520 B.C.E., the number grows even closer to seventy, but still does not meet it exactly. We are probably dealing here with a traditional number for massive devastation, seventy years being a full lifetime.

The destruction of Jerusalem was most difficult for Israel to understand because it was understood to be an act of Israel's own God. In the exile, the Israelites had to face the wrath of God in a way that no other event in history had forced them to do. It was God's "no" to their conduct, their "treachery" against God (9.7). The exilic punishment was for the entire community. Even the prophet Ezekiel was included in the deportation to Babylon. The very nature of sin is that it is not merely a personal matter. The very fabric of life is threatened by its existence. The idea of corporate responsibility and confession is a difficult concept for a society that places a high premium on individualism. Daniel's prayer assumes a communal culture.

Daniel's prayer provides a fine model of supplication. Daniel petitions God to act for God's own sake (9:17), out of God's mercy (9:18), and out of regard for the people and city with whom God has identified (9:19). In a sense, God's reputation is on the line, because God has attached God's own name to Israel. However, Daniel has no room for petitioning on the basis of Israel's righteousness. Guilt leads to confession of sins but does not preclude petitioning for changed conditions.

That God responds at all is a sure sign that Daniel is in a covenant relationship with God-there is no doubt about God's forgiveness and acceptance. God's response to Daniel through Gabriel, however, remains cryptic. Unlike such prophets as Isaiah and Jeremiah, Daniel receives a vision that needs interpretation. There has been a shift here from preaching prophets to prophets concerned with interpreting the written word. Here the numbers are symbolic of time periods, but the correlations are elusive. Decoding is not as important as emphasizing the repentance and supplication modeled in this chapter. The latter places one confidently in God's covenantal care. Decoding, in contrast, tends to place emphasis on human ingenuity. Petitioning places the interpretation of the vision in divine hands.

Daniel 9:1-27

Daniel’s Prayer for the People

9In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

3 Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,

‘Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, 5we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. 6We 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.

7 ‘Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. 9To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, 10and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.

11 ‘All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you. 12He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers, by bringing upon us a calamity so great that what has been done against Jerusalem has never before been done under the whole heaven. 13Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favour of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his* fidelity. 14So the Lord kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us. Indeed, the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.

15 ‘And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and made your name renowned even to this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16O Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain; because of our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people have become a disgrace among all our neighbours. 17Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord,* let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. 18Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. 19O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!’

The Seventy Weeks

20 While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— 21while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22He came* and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. 23At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision:

24 ‘Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.* 25Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its* end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place* shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.’

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10 February 2011

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