Daniel 9:1-27 – O God, Do Not Delay
SummaryDaniel 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.
AnalysisDaniel 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.