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, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.”Daniel 9:3-4
When dealing with the prophetic, typically I encounter two extremes within the church. On one end of the spectrum is a group that dangerously elevates modern-day “prophets” and sensationalizes the prophetic gifts. What is most strange about the modern-day, charismatic understanding of prophecy is that it is almost always divorced from the the teachings of Biblical prophets themselves — such as Isaiah, Zechariah, or Daniel.
On the other extreme end of the spectrum is a group of pastors and teachers who completely ignore and purposefully avoid the prophetic word because it is either too difficult to interpret or too deep to appeal to the average audience. Once again, the actual words and writings of the Biblical prophets are largely ignored in this camp, virtually eliminating 30% of the Bible.
To make matters worse, prophecy preachers are so often stereotyped with those on the fringes who unnaturally obsess about prophecy, usually making bold headline predictions and foolishly setting dates for the return of Christ.
All of these approaches to the study and interpretation of prophecy are unbiblical and dangerously misleading.
We need a balanced approach when studying prophecy. We need a Biblical approach. And more than anything, we need a prayerful approach.
We are indebted to the prophet Daniel for providing one of the best examples of someone who handled God’s prophetic word responsibly and faithfully. Let’s take a closer look.
Daniel Studied the Prophetic Word
“In 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 Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.”Daniel 9:2
At the time Daniel is writing this portion of Scripture, the Jews had been in Babylonian captivity for about 60 years. Daniel was getting older and approaching the final season of his life and ministry. Daniel had been studying Torah and the writings and Psalms and the prophets for years. He would have disciplined himself in learning the whole counsel of God.
The prophet Jeremiah was older than Daniel but still a contemporary. Daniel would have been quite familiar with his writings, but for some reason on this particular day, Daniel saw something in the prophecies of Jeremiah that apparently he had not seen before. According to Jeremiah, the exile was only to last 70 years [see Jeremiah 25:11-12].
What can we learn from Daniel?
We can learn that we must study all of Scripture, faithfully and consistently. We can learn that in the same way God has progressively revealed Himself to mankind, He also progressively reveals truth to His people who diligently study the Scriptures. We also can learn that when studying prophecy, it may take years to understand and rightly interpret the mysteries of God’s prophetic word.
Daniel Committed to Fasting and Prayer
This is where Daniel 9 gets really interesting. God had already revealed to Daniel that the Babylonian exile was almost over. He already understood Jeremiah’s prophecy about the 70 years of captivity, but he didn’t stop there. He wasn’t complacent. He wanted to go deeper and know more about God’s bigger picture.
So what does Daniel do? He committed to a season of prayer and fasting. Daniel says, “then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” [Daniel 9:3].
So often we want to understand prophecy without first putting in the hard work and spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting. We often are so content with a surface level understanding of Scripture that we rarely reach a place of deeper interpretation and insight. Daniel knew there was more, and he demonstrated to the LORD that he was willing to deny himself and seek God’s face in order to find out.
Daniel’s example shows us how prayer is the key to unlocking prophecy. Fasting is the proof that one is serious about getting closer to God and being dependent on the LORD. When examining my own life, I must confess that dedicated times of prayer and fasting are too few and far between. I am fully convicted that I often try to tackle the difficult passages of prophecy in my own strength instead of with the divine discernment of the Holy Spirit.
Daniel Consecrated Himself and Confessed His Sins
“We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules … To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.”Daniel 9:5,9-10
Notice that Daniel confessed both his own sin and the sins of his people. Daniel agreed with God about the rebellion and unbelief of the Jewish people. Daniel knew that God was just in chastising His own people, using the Babylonians as a rod of His punishment. Daniel was grieved over his sin and the sin of his people and made pleas for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
How many times do we seek God’s favor and face when we fail to acknowledge the glaring sin in our own lives and hearts? How often do we minimize our unbelief and rebellion and expect it to have no effect on our relationship with the LORD? How much can we ignore spiritual complacency, idolatry, apathy, and indifference?
Daniel reminds us that there is direct connection between confession of sin and drawing close to a Holy God. We will never grow deeper in our walk with Christ while harboring unconfessed sin in our hearts. We especially won’t experience fruitful Bible study when we refuse to address the deeper issues of the heart.
Daniel Gained Wisdom, Insight and Understanding
“As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth … At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.”Daniel 9:13, 23
As a result of Daniel’s approach to prophecy, what did God reveal to Him?
The LORD graciously revealed one of the greatest prophetic visions in all of Scripture.
The vision of Daniel 9:24-27 was the result of Daniel’s study, prayer, fasting, confession, and utter dependence upon God. The 70 years of captivity was just the tip of the ice berg. The LORD wanted to show Daniel everything else that was underneath the surface, and the result is fascinating. God would reveal a prophetic timeline for the ages — 70 weeks of years = 490 years.
Daniel’s heart obviously was with his God, his people, his holy city Jerusalem, and the holy sanctuary. Because Daniel’s heart was right before God, he was ready to receive the vision that would unravel the mysteries of the coming Messiah and the final judgment and restoration of the Jews and Jerusalem.
“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”Daniel 9:17-19
In my next installment, I will begin to unpack the amazing details in Daniel 9:24-27 involving the 70 weeks in Daniel’s vision. Until then, I invite you to join me in a season in prayer and fasting.