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 9:4-5 ESV
Daniel was living in exile with his fellow Jews in the former Neo-Babylonian empire. He was one of the thousands of Jews who had been sent into captivity when Nebuchadnezzar and his army had conquered and destroyed Judah. At the point David prays this prayer, he has been in captivity for almost 70 years. As the book that bears his name tells us, Daniel had been a faithful servant of God even from his earliest days as an exile when he was forced into servitude in the king’s palace. Now, as an old man, he was reading the scroll containing the writings of the prophet, Jeremiah, and ran across God’s promise concerning His chosen people. “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (Daniel 9:2 ESV). In essence, Daniel had been having his “quiet time” and while reading the book of Jeremiah, he discovered the following words from God: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV). What a rush it must been when Daniel read these words and realized that the 70 year time period had arrived. God was going to visit Israel. He was going to fulfill His promise to bring them back to Judah. He was going to restore their fortunes, return them to the land, and renew His relationship with them.
And what was Daniel’s response? Did he jump for joy? Did he run outside to tell all his friends the good news? No, Daniel prayed. “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:2-4 ESV). Faced with the unbelievable good news of God’s pending deliverance, Daniel prayed a prayer filled with confession, repentance and an appeal for God to show mercy. He knew they didn’t deserve what God was about to do. And God had clearly indicated what they were to do. They were to call on Him and pray to Him. They were to seek him with all their heart. And if they did, He would hear and restore their fortunes. So Daniel did just that. He prayed. He called. He cried out to God and he confessed on behalf of the people of Judah. He directed his prayer to “the great and awesome God.” He appealed to the covenant-keeping, consistently-loving God of Judah. He acknowledged the greatness and goodness of God, fully recognizing and admitting that their predicament had been their own fault. “…we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (Daniel 9:5 ESV). Daniel wasn’t taking any chances. While his math convinced him that the 70 years was just about up, he was going to make sure that he did his part and call out and confess just as God had commanded. He may not have been able to coerce or convince the rest of the exiles to do the same, but he was going to everything in his power to see that God’s command was kept.
Daniel prayed. He humbled himself before God, “seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” This was a serious, sold-out, no-holds-barred kind of prayer session. And it was anything but selfish. His was a corporately focused prayer, lifting up the entire nation of Judah and offered as an intercessory petition to God on their behalf. David could have simply focused on himself, regaling God with the stories of his of faithful service over the years. He could have reminded God of his unwillingness to worship the false gods of Babylon. He could have tried to impress God with his incredible faith illustrated by his encounter in the lions’ den. But instead, Daniel included himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God was interested in a corporate confession because He was offering a corporate restoration. Daniel was painfully aware that the people of God had not been faithful during their time in exile. Many of them had ended up acclimating quite well to their new environment, growing comfortable and complacent. They had compromised their faith and rejected their God for the gods of their captors. Having felt abandoned by God, they had chosen to put their hope and trust elsewhere. But Daniel knew that their only hope rested with the only true God. He alone could restore them. He alone could turn their fortunes around, taking them from captivity to freedom, from their well-deserved exile to their unmerited restoration to the land and His favor.
Daniel was comfortable in his circumstances. He could have been content to live out his days in Babylon, worshiping God and working at his government job. But he wanted what God wanted. He desired to see God’s power revealed in the affairs of his people. So he prayed. And he prayed diligently, fervently, passionately, persistently and expectantly.