In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans… I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy… I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules (Daniel 9:1, 3-5).
In Daniel 9:1-19 we find one of the really great prayers in the Scriptures. It is a prayer that is worth reading, re-reading, and meditating upon.
The time was around 539BC and Daniel, and his fellow Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. Their country had been conquered and occupied by Babylonian forces since 586BC. Daniel had been amongst the cream of the Jewish population that had been taken into exile. And while in Babylon Daniel’s abilities and faith had shone when, at significant moments, his advice had been sought by Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius.
Some scholars have questioned the reference to Darius because the only known ruler of the Medo-Persian empire with that name came to the throne after the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. However, the references to ‘Darius the Mede’ in Daniel 6 and 9:1 suggest that this man was an official appointed by Cyrus with jurisdiction in Babylon. Further, the fact that there is no particular archaeological reference to this Darius is not necessarily a cause for concern. Scholars were cynical about the existence of Belshazzar (Daniel 5) until evidence turned up about him.
Now in his 80s, Daniel had lost neither his intellectual sharpness nor his faith in God. What is more, he had not forgotten God’s promises through prophets such as Jeremiah that the period of exile in Babylon would be seventy years. Daniel was confident that God would not forget and that the restoration of his people would occur.
However, Daniel didn’t simply take life easy waiting for God’s promises to come true. He was zealous in living out God’s commands while actively praying for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
That is significant for it shows us that God’s sovereignty doesn’t take away human responsibility. God’s rule is not a mechanistic fatalism. He invites us to partner with him in the implementation of his plans.
Daniel’s prayer has two parts – confession and petition. Let’s consider his confession.
While Daniel’s confession is a general, not personal, confession, he includes himself: ‘we have sinned and done wrong; we have rebelled; we have turned away…’ (9:5).
Furthermore, his focus is God: ‘O God’ he prays: ‘we have turned away from your commands and your laws’ (9:5); ‘we have not listened to your servants the prophets’ (9:6); ‘we have not obeyed the laws you gave’ (9:10); ‘we have not listened to your voice’ (9:11); ‘we have not looked for your mercy, turning away from our sins and learning from your truth’ (9:13).
Let’s think about this. By talking about God in personal terms – ‘your commands’ and ‘your prophets,’ Daniel acknowledged the personal covenant relationship that existed between God and his people. Furthermore, the covenant had guidelines – commands and laws.
There are principles here that can apply to God’s people now. Too often we turn away from God and act independently of him. How often are we tempted to think that God’s discipline falls only on the godless and terrorists?
So we need to ask, ‘Is God pleased with the church in the West?’ ‘Are we the kind of people he is likely to revive and bless?’ Sadly, too many churches have become hopelessly compromised by the spirit of the age. How easily we absorb our culture’s desire for instant gratification.
Daniel’s prayer sets out the principle for us that we cannot fruitfully pray for our church, for our cities and our country without first confessing our own sin. That is something Thomas Cranmer understood: he included a prayer of confession in Morning and Evening Prayer and The Lord’s Supper.
Confession involves knowing the mind of God because we have listened to his voice in his Word. It involves being honest and humble, genuinely saying sorry to God for our sins, asking for his forgiveness, and the ability, by his Spirit to turn back to him and walk with him.
Prayer: Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily glorify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen (Collect for Purity, BCP, adapted)
Optional – you may like to read: Daniel 9:1-23; Colossians 1:9-14.