We too can approach God’s throne with confidence because we know it is a throne of grace. Whatever chastisement and discipline he brings, mercy reigns in the heart of God. He will by no means clear the guilty, but he loves to forgive those who turn to him in humble faith.
Tucked away in the book of Daniel, sandwiched between stories about fiery furnaces and lions on the one hand, and visions of statues, beasts, and rising kings on the other, is an extended prayer with a shockingly immediate answer.
Daniel 9 contains an extended, earnest, and heartfelt prayer by the prophet. And before he even says “Amen,” the angel Gabriel is standing before him, ready to give insight and understanding to the broken-hearted prophet. What did Daniel pray that caused God to immediately dispatch an angel with an answer? And can Daniel’s prayer instruct us today in how to pray?
Plot Against Prayer
Daniel’s prayer is a dated prayer. “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus” (Daniel 9:1). And the particular timing mentioned draws attention to one of the most famous stories in the Bible. At the end of Daniel 5, Darius the Mede conquers the Chaldeans and dethrones Belshazzar. In chapter 6, he appoints 120 local rulers as governors over his kingdom, with high officials overseeing them. Daniel is one of these high officials. Indeed, he is distinguished above all of the high officials because of the excellent spirit (or is it Spirit?) residing in him (Daniel 6:1–3).
Darius plans to elevate Daniel over all the other officials, provoking them to jealousy. They then plot to find fault with Daniel in hopes of bringing him down. After examining his life, they conclude, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5).
Soon enough, they do find a ground for complaint against Daniel — his habits of prayer. Daniel’s custom is to pray three times per day with an open window facing Jerusalem. The jealous officials manipulate Darius into passing an irrevocable decree against praying to anyone except the king (Daniel 6:6–9). And Daniel’s defiance of this decree famously lands him in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:10–16).
What is the relevance for the prayer of Daniel 9? It’s likely that Daniel 9 is the sort of prayer that Daniel was praying with that famous window open. What’s more, if we’re attentive to the whole Scriptures, we can better understand why Daniel was praying with a window open facing Jerusalem.
Solomon, Jeremiah, and Daniel
In 1 Kings 8, Solomon is dedicating the temple of the Lord. As he nears the end of his prayer, he contemplates the possibility (and even likelihood) that the people of Israel will sin grievously against God. When they do, God will, in fulfillment of the warnings of Deuteronomy, give them over to their enemies so that Israel will be carried captive into a foreign land.
Nevertheless, God will remain faithful to his promises and his people, even as he sends them into exile. In Solomon’s request, notice the specific direction his exiled people ought to pray:
Yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). (1 Kings 8:47–51)
Solomon specifically mentions repenting and praying from exile toward Israel, toward Jerusalem. Thus, Daniel’s actions make perfect sense. He is following Solomon’s instructions in hope that God will have compassion and restore his people.