August 28, 2005 Copyright
© 2005, American Journal of Biblical Theology
Are you a child of God or a child of the world? The answer to this question alone will reveal the truth concerning your true relationship with God. Christians are taught that they are children of God, and when one places their faith and trust in God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, they do indeed become God's child. Since this is true, why do so many Christians today fail to experience the vitality and joy that comes from being a child of God? It is one thing to be a child of God, and quite another to live fully in the relationship with God that such a status engenders. All of our senses are bombarded every day with that which comes out of a pagan and godless world. We can choose to succumb to this world in which we are immersed, becoming part of it, and indistinguishable from it. Or, we can choose to commit ourselves fully to God, and rise above it.
The experience of ancient Jerusalem, recorded in the bulk of the Old Testament, describes the consequences of living a life of apostasy while professing to be a child of God. The Jews made multiple commitments to God, starting with the covenant at Sinai when Moses led them out of Egypt. However, though they continued in their claim to the "chosen people," the "children of God," they continually turned their back on God and chose to follow the world culture. As a result, God's hand of protection was removed from them, and by the time of Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel, Israel was destroyed as a nation, and only a small faithful remnant remained when they were taken into captivity in Babylon.
From out of this apostate community rise a few godly and faithful men, and one of the most notable of these is Daniel. When we think of Daniel of the Old Testament, we usually will think about his experience in the den of Lions, yet may know little else about him. Few people realize that Daniel was in his early 80s when this event took place. He was old enough to clearly remember when he was brought to Babylon as a pre-teen or teenager. He had watched over two generations of Jews, now captive in Babylon, who spoke the Jewish words, played the Temple games and professed righteousness as they suffered the consequence of their failure to truly worship and love God. However, fully immersed in this apostate nation, Daniel was able to rise above the mire of his sinful culture and maintain a deep commitment to God that resulted in a relationship with Him that had a closeness to Him that few others have experienced. His faithfulness to God was what brought Daniel great respect by the Babylonian government, and yet fostered hatred by those who were jealous of Him. Daniel was clearly different from those around him, and that difference was evident to all who met him.
Have you ever met a Christian who seems to light up a room with the joy of God's presence when they enter it? What is it in one's life that brings about such spiritual character. We see in Daniel one formula that seems to be universal: an uncompromised dedication to prayer and Bible study.
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; 2In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
When we observe the circumstances of Daniel's incarceration in the den of lions, the depth of his love for God, and of his spiritual integrity is evident. Daniel was a man of prayer, and there was nothing in this wicked world that would keep him from his communication with God. This trait was exploited by his enemies, and as a result he found himself camped overnight with a brood of hungry lions. It is evident that Daniel also filled his time with the study of scripture. For Jews contemporary with Daniel, that scripture contained a collection of writings that we have in the Old Testament from Genesis, roughly through the Psalms and Proverbs. It is certainly worthy of note that Daniel considered Jeremiah's writings as inspired scripture, wholly reliable in matters of faith. Jeremiah had accompanied those Jews who remained in Judah following the Babylonian invasion as they later migrated to Egypt. It is presumed that Jeremiah died there in Egypt about 20 years before the reign of Darius in Babylon.
From the writings of Jeremiah, Daniel found that the period of the Babylonian/Persian exile would last seventy years. If Daniel were an early teen when taken into captivity, and was in his early eighties when thrown into the den of lions, the time for emancipation was near at hand. (Indeed, Cyrus, who followed Darius, would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem about 20 years after the events of this chapter.) We find that Daniel was confident in this prophesy as he looked forward to the day when the Jews would return. Chapter 6 describes when Daniel was arrested for praying to God, those prayers were lifted up with his face turned to Jerusalem. The need for the redemption of the Jews weighed heavily on Daniel's heart, and it was continually voiced in his prayers to God. If we assume that Daniel was also reading Isaiah, we find the prophesy in chapters 44 and 45 that describe the coming of King Cyrus to the Medo-Persian empire, and seeing his ascent as a Persian conqueror must have encouraged Daniel tremendously. The time for praying was now.
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
Daniel's yearning for the redemption of the Jews inspired him to diligent prayer. The application of fasting, sackcloth, and ashes was reserved for those times when specific focus was to be demonstrated. Fasting freed the individual of the burden of time that was exacted by food preparation and consumption. To cover one's self in sackcloth and ashes was a symbol of deep mourning. To "set my face" carries with it the idea of unwavering focus and an intent for action. Daniel's intense prayer life and his dedication study of scripture were simply traits of who he was: a man of faith who should be emulated by Christians today.
And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; 5We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: 6Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
Having prepared himself for prayer with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes, Daniel then approaches God with complete humility. There is no intimation of his own integrity, but rather his recognition that God is "great and dreadful," true to His promises, and that the people who he comes to intercede for have been wicked and rebellious. These are the people who martyred the prophets and followed the sensual pagan gods of the world culture. Unlike most of the Jews of the day, Daniel saw this great apostasy. Most of the Jews were satisfied with the status-quo, even after they had witnessed the destruction of Israel and were even now living in captivity.
When we come to the Lord in prayer, are we as cognizant of our own sin, and the sin of the Christian community today? Or, are we satisfied with a Christian culture that is fully immersed in this pagan and godless society? It is rare for Christians to stand out as does Daniel, though we can probably point to a handful who have shown uncompromised integrity. Billy Graham probably comes to mind. However, it is far rarer for any church fellowship to stand out in this way. Most churches are social clubs with a Christian theme who are more focused on being part of and accepted by this world than they are in taking an uncompromised stand for God and Him alone. The church has been in a state of decline over the past couple of generations as it has failed to shine as a lighthouse of God's love and grace, and has become less and less relevant in a modern culture that still has many who are seeking to worship God. To argue that we, as the children of God, have not sinned, that we have not departed from the precepts and judgments, is to equate ourselves with those self-righteous ancient Jews who faced the consequence of their arrogance. Daniel lifts up a prayer to God that is still relevant today: we as His children, have indeed gone astray and are in need of His forgiveness. When we come to God in prayer, we tend to spend our time asking His blessing on food, and asking for His intervention of personal illness. We often fully ignore the very important part of prayer: the true confession of our sins. We may say, "Forgive us of where we have sinned:" a meaningless prattle that implies that we do not even know of any specific sin to confess. Daniel is specific when he lists the sins of the people. Likewise, if we look deep into our own heart, and if we look deep into the life of our church, we will find plenty of very specific sins that need to be brought forward for repentance and forgiveness.
O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. 8O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. 9To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; 10Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
The depth of Daniel's expression of faith is indicated by the progression of his address to God. In verse 8, Daniel uses the name "YAHWEH," God's covenant name, Jehovah, for the first time in his writings. Up to this point He used a term often transliterated as "Adonai." Here Daniel stresses not only the humiliation that has been experienced by the nation of Israel, but also agrees that they deserve to have suffered the consequences that have brought them to this point. How arrogant we are to think that we do not deserve to experience the consequences of our own sin or the consequences of others. When we shake our fists at God and demand faith to be defined in our own terms we place ourselves against His purpose. Is it any wonder we experience conflict? One example of such arrogance is the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle as normal and honored behavior by the church. The acceptance of any practice that God has clearly defined as "an abomination" mirrors the apostasy of the ancient Jews. We have succumbed to the pagan world, accepting their godless practice in our own body. We do not have to look very far to find corporate transgression against God in the church today. Our own association of churches faced this very issue recently, and the experience served to both bring people to prayer, and to drive them apart. Just as satan won the victory as he kept so many ancient Jews from faith, he continues to do so today by inspiring Christians to live for the world rather than for God. Christians today know little about their scriptures, and few spend any time in personal Bible study. For most Christians prayer is a repeated expression prior to a meal, and possibly agreed to when someone else prays. By keeping one foot firmly planted in the pagan world, and another foot loosely planted in the Word of God, the church is not that dissimilar from the body of believers that Daniel knew.
And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. 13As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. 14Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice. 15And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
When we look at the worship experience of the ancient Jews, we find them to be a very religious people. Even leading up to the days of their destruction, the Jews were still very religious. They wore religious clothes, and spoke using a religious vocabulary. They attended their temple worship experiences regularly, repeating scripture and prayers with regularity. We might note that Daniel brings none of this up as a defense of the state of the Jews. Though they were steeped in their religion, Daniel confesses "yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand thy truth." The Jews were fully convinced of their own righteousness simply because they did not base their righteousness upon the truth. The Jews based their righteousness upon that which was accepted by world culture rather than upon God's Word. I am reminded of a Christian congregation that legislated the cessation of prayer from the podium, arguing that any prayer lifted in church might offend someone there; or another denomination that removed all references to the blood of Christ from their hymnal, lest someone be offended. Yet another made a protracted move to remove all male references to God in their documents so that women's rights advocates would not be insulted. While all of this takes place, the church becomes more irrelevant, failing to take the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world. Instead, the world sees a body of believers who are fractured and arguing amongst themselves. Only a cursory investigation of the history of ancient Israel will uncover identical transgressions.
How would the ancient Jews have responded if they heard Daniel's prayer? Most would certainly have been indignant, claiming their own righteousness and Daniel's arrogance. This is why the ancient Jews martyred the prophets. We do not want to hear of our own sin. We are far more satisfied living in ignorant bliss as we tout God's goodness along with our own. Daniel's words were an indictment against many in ancient Israel, though they were voiced as words of confession. In the same way, when we confess our sins before our Holy God, we are bringing an indictment, a clarification, of our own sin. Still, Daniel is one of the faithful remnant that remained, and likewise, God's remnant remains today. Just as Daniel spoke for the children of God from his home in ancient Babylon, the remnant of faithful today can be speaking for the children of God from their homes and from their fellowships.
O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. 17Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lordís sake. 18O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. 19O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
Following his confession, Daniel moves to supplication. For us, taking this step of confession may be the most difficult of all. Yet, God is the one who is righteous, not us. Daniel weighs his righteousness and the righteousness of the nation against the righteousness of God, and comes up wanting. Likewise, we must be humbled when we do the same. Daniel recognizes that we are far from righteous, and deserve the full anger and fury of God to be expressed against us. Daniel pleads for the nation that such an expression would be gracefully withheld. The ancient Jews were subject to the covenant at Sinai, whereby God's hand of protection was provided as long as they were obedient to Him. Daniel notes their clear disobedience, and understands that the removal of God's hand from them was warranted by His own righteousness. The church today is not subject today to the Sinai covenant in the same way that was experienced by the ancient Jews were were brought out of the bondage of Egypt by Moses. However, the church of today was also brought out of bandage: Jesus saved His people from the bondage to sin, and promises eternal life with God for all those who will turn to God in faith through His provision of forgiveness by His atoning act on the cross of Golgatha. So, we are not so different. God has not told the church that He will remove His hand of protection from those who are disobedient. In fact, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will never leave the heart of a single soul who has turned to God in faith. Still, we are responsible for our actions and will suffer the consequences of our sin. We do not face destruction as did the ancient Jews. However, our relevance to the kingdom of God is no less compromised by our own apostasy. We are just as much in need of forgiveness as were the ancient Jews.
We see in Daniel a man of wisdom and courage. Having full knowledge of the martyrdom of the prophets, he still dedicated himself to their writings, and followed their example of intercession to God for a family of believers who had appropriated for themselves the culture and ways of the world rather than to seek the true righteousness of God. We could use a lot more men like Daniel today.
And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God; 21Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. 22And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. 23At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. .
It would be negligent to fail to note the context of this prayer. We have noted that Daniel held within his heart a deep desire for the restoration of Israel to Jerusalem, and he harbored a great hope that Jeremiah's prophesy was about to be fulfilled. However, while immersed in this confidence, he had received a number of visions (Chapters 7 - 8) that portrayed the future of the nation of Israel. God had revealed for Daniel the content and message of the dreams of kings, yet he was frustrated in his lack of understanding of the content of his own visions. Consequently, God's answer to Daniel's prayer involves, in large part, those visions. God demonstrates His love and compassion for Daniel as He reveals the messages of the visions to Daniel in a dynamic way. God sent His messenger, Gabriel, to Daniel. Gabriel would bring encouragement to Daniel as he provides both skill and understanding. Because of Daniel's sincere faith, God would be able to use him as a prophet to the remnant of Israel. Daniel would be given skill and understanding in the interpretation of the visions. When we look at the surrounding scriptures we find that these were visions that described the sequence of nations that would continue to rule over the Promised Land, including the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, in that order. The descriptions of these nations, presented in sweeping imagery, has proven to be a reliable and accurate description of the character and structure of these nations. Daniel then understood that Israel would be coming back to Jerusalem, but would not be in a position of self-rule. He also understood that a Messiah was coming who would free all men from oppression, who would overcome the evil of this world, and would reign as a righteous King over all of His kingdom forever.
We may find the prayer of Daniel both comforting and disturbing. We may find it comforting to see God's direct intervention on Daniel's behalf, encouraged to see one more example of God's responsiveness to those who are faithful to Him. At the same time, we may be disturbed by Daniel's exposure of the sins of the children of God, and look into our own hearts and into our own churches and see our own unrighteousness. Like the ancient Jews, we have turned to this pagan world and fully and gladly accepted many of its ungodly ideas and practices. We now find little statistical differences between the church and the world: similar divorce rates, similar rates of unwed mothers, the full and glad acceptance of abortion and homosexuality. The church today is in great need of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. It may be time for those who love God to, like Daniel, drop to their knees, turn their faces to the hope of their salvation, and lift up prayers of confession and supplication, not only for themselves, but for the whole body of Christian believers who have wandered so far away.