Daniel's Powerful Prayer: Daniel 9

 Daniel prayed one of the most powerful prayers in the whole Bible. This prayer was so meaningful that he not only received an immediate response from God, God sent an angel with a vision!

Daniel’s deep concern for his people, the realization of their sin, and reverence for God’s reputation incited him to utter the heartfelt prayer we find in Daniel 9. 

While I was speaking, praying, confessing my sin and that of my people Israel, and presenting my petition before Yahweh my God concerning his holy mountain, while I was still praying, Gabriel . . . came to me. . . 'at the beginning of your petitions, an answer went out, and I have come to tell you for you are highly precious. So consider the message and understand the vision.' ” – 9:20-23

We see in Daniel’s prayer an almost paradoxical situation—he prays that God would fulfill a promise for his own sake, almost as if Daniel was unsure if his people’s sin would invalidate God’s promise.
In this prayer we find humble confession that is incited by God’s word and recognizes the severity of sin against God’s holiness; such confession serves as the driving force behind a desperate plea for God’s restoration.

Prompted by the Word

“I, Daniel perceived in the books the number of years, that according to the word Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely seventy years. . .” – 9:20-23

The backdrop of Daniel’s prayer was the limited Scripture available to him. Daniel had encountered either Jeremiah 25:11-12 or 29:10 which stated that there would be “seventy years” before the “desolation” ended. Daniel saw these seventy years were almost completed, meaning the “desolation” was to end soon. This made him realize the gravity of the situation—there was hope that the exile could end soon, but the people still lacked repentance. 

Would the people’s ongoing sin jeopardize God’s promise?

Aside from Jeremiah’s words, Daniel refers to God’s law— both written and oral—as the messages that drew attention to the people’s sin. Scripture is what prompted the prayer and gave Daniel the urgency to repent.

The fact that the response to his prayer was a vision elaborating on Jeremiah’s words is also significant, because Daniel did not just receive a generic response, but a very specific reply to explain the Scripture he had read.

From God’s word as its prompt, this prayer consists of two parts: confession and petition.


“I prayed to Yahweh my God and made confession, saying, 'O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who live him and keep his commands, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled. . .' ” – 4

The first part of Daniel’s prayer is confession for the sins of all of the Israelites. His confession is not only acknowledgement of the people’s sin, but a proclamation of God’s character. 

Proclaiming God's Character

Daniel repeatedly compares the grave sin of the people against the righteousness of God. In verse 4, he refers back God’s description of himself found in Exodus 34:6-7 and elsewhere says he is righteous (v. 7, 14), merciful and forgiving (v. 9) and unwavering (v. 11-14)

Acknowledging the People's Sin

Laying aside all pride, Daniel acknowledged how deep the Israelites' sins were—from the poorest to the richest (v. 6, 8), from the most scattered to the nearest to Jerusalem (v. 7)—everyone is guilty to the highest degree. The severity of the people’s sin is grounded in the degree of God’s goodness. The people’s awareness of God’s character and the clear warnings through the prophets’ preaching makes their sin that much worse. 

A Unique Catastrophe

As Daniel proclaims God’s character and acknowledges the people’s failure to heed his word, he draws attention to the “uniqueness” of the catastrophe they have experienced, 

“...bringing upon us a great calamity, which under all of heaven there has not been done like in Jerusalem.” – 12

While speaking in hyperbole, Daniel is highlighting how the ransacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC, which led to the razing of the temple, is unique in its effect upon Israel and upon God’s name (see verse 16 below).

 As a bridge to his request of God, Daniel makes a final proclamation about God’s character (and sin acknowledgement) — he is the God who rescued Israel from Egypt and by so doing made a name for himself (Exodus 6:7, 9:16, 14:4).

 “And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.”


"Do it For You, God"

“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who around us." – 16
What makes Jerusalem’s destruction unique from Daniel’s perspective is that it caused the exiled Israelites to be viewed in a negative light. While other groups were attacked and humiliated by Babylon, this is unique for Israel because their status reflected God’s power, at least in Daniel’s view.

What is incredible about Daniel’s request is that he grounds it not in Israel’s benefit, but for God’s own reputation sake—something we see in many other places in Scripture.1 
“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy… Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” – 18b, 19b
The focus of Daniel’s request is on God, it is his (“your”) anger and wrath, holy hill, servant, sake, face, sanctuary, ear, eyes, city, and people. Daniel is trying to be “persuasive” in his appeal to restore Jerusalem, for the highest appeal he can make is not the people’s desire for God’s favor (though he mentions mercy in v. 17), but for God’s concern about himself.

While this was not a prayer strategy God thought “persuasive” in our human understanding, it does show the fascinating concept that God is most inclined to act for himself. God did not “need” to restore Jerusalem to avoid his name being tarnished, yet that is the grounds for Daniel’s prayer (see Ezekiel 20 for an example of God’s perspective on this).

A Vested Interest in God's Glory

While Daniel is making an appeal to God’s self-concern, almost as if he were approaching God as a fellow human, the exiled Israelites will benefit. Daniel makes one request, but says it in twelve different ways2—that Jerusalem be restored. Implicit in this prayer request is a validation of God keeping his promise. Since Jeremiah prophesied the desolation would end in seventy years, Daniel expected that God would fulfill his promise by ending Jerusalem’s ruined status.

When Daniel prays for a restored temple, or God’s “holy hill”, he is not only wishing God’s glory be on display but that Israel could share in that glory. By asking God to fulfill his promise, he is asking for a restoration of Israel’s earthly, societal reputation and the spiritual blessing of God’s glory.

Daniel’s prayer is God-focused and even self-blaming (v. 16), but it is not deceptive. Appealing to God’s own glory isn’t a front, but a recognition that when God’s glory radiates through Jerusalem once again, the Israelites will benefit the most.

And God answers that prayer, not only for himself but for Daniel’s sake.
What a powerful prayer model for us today.

Conclusion/TL; DR

  1. Scripture should prompt us to confess our sin and petition the Lord in very specific ways
  2.  Daniel received an immediate and elaborate response through an illumination of the Scripture he read
  3. Confession is not limited to acknowledging our sins, but praising God's character in contrast to our sin
  4. In Daniel's situation, the sin was especially concerning because God had given them many warnings and yet they failed to repent
  5. Even when the Israelites failed to repent, God still kept his promise; yet, Daniel still felt the need to pray
  6. While many other peoples faced Babylon's conquest, Daniel viewed Israel's situation as unique because their status was a reflection of God's glory (at least, in his mind)
  7. Even though God knew his prayer requests, Daniel earnestly prayed to God and prayed in the most "persuasive" appeal possible—God's concern for himself
  8. God never "needed" to restore Israel for his reputation to be upheld, but paradoxically took those prayers seriously—was that really for his sake or for the requester's sake? 
  9. Even though Daniel's prayer was God-focused (both his confession and petition), Daniel knew Israel would benefit the most when God's glory was exalted. How true is that for us today!

  1. One of my favorite biblical motifs! See Exo 32:12, Num 14:12-16, Josh 7:9, 2 Kings 9:19, Jer 14:7, 21; Psa 143:11, Psa 109:21, Psa 25:11, 1 Chr 16:35, etc.
  2. Eleven imperatives and a second-person jussive in Hebrew


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