Daniel is well-known to Bible readers as a prophet and statesman during Judah’s captivity in Babylon. In the Book of Daniel we also find that he was a man of regular private prayer. We would like to study this aspect of Daniel’s life, particularly his intercessory prayer in chapter 9. Studying Daniel’s example can aid us in interceding with God for others.
The angel Gabriel told Daniel he was greatly beloved, identifying his close relationship with God (Daniel 9:23). Though he was well-known publicly to his contemporaries for his wisdom, steadfast faith, and the administration of his civil office in government, in this chapter we have an insight into his private prayer life. The Lord moved Daniel through the reading of the Scriptures to pray for the repentance and restoration of the Jewish people to their land (Daniel 9:2). We do not know if there were others praying in secret like Daniel for the restoration of Israel, but we do know that the Lord responded immediately and specifically to Daniel’s prayer. It is evident from this example that the Lord uses praying people, who have an established relationship with Him, to pray for the revival of His people.
Humanly speaking, Daniel could have been apprehensive. There were several prophecies that needed to be fulfilled in order for Israel to be restored. The seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 25:11,12; 29:10) concerning the captivity of Judah would soon expire. The kingdom of Babylon had been overthrown as Jeremiah had prophesied. The second part of that prophecy was that the Jews would return to their homeland. Another prophecy by Isaiah for the Jews to return was waiting to be fulfilled by a decree from Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28). Daniel may have wondered how Cyrus the Persian would be motivated to make a decree concerning the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. The fulfillment of these prophecies to return to their land was also somewhat contingent upon Israel’s repentance when they were in captivity (Leviticus 26:38-42). Daniel was troubled by the continuing failure of the Jews to repent while in captivity, and most likely wondered if God was going to extend their punishment beyond the seventy years prophesied because of their impenitence.
1. Preparation for Intercession
Daniel’s first approach to his concern was to carefully study the prophecies to determine whether he had a right to expect God to answer his prayer for Israel’s restoration. When Daniel understood by the Word of God that he had a right to beseech the Lord in this regard, he presented his supplications. Daniel was able to petition the Lord with confidence, for he knew that he was asking the Lord to fulfill prophecy and the eternal covenant made with his forefathers. Effective intercessors pray according to the revealed will of the Lord in His Word.
We notice that Daniel prepared himself to intercede. He set his face to seek the Lord (Daniel 9:3). This phrase indicates a dedicated season of prayer accompanied by fasting, sackcloth and ashes. Because this was a season of prayer, it is evident that we most likely do not have the whole content of all his prayers on record, but rather the summary and essence of those prayers. Daniel 9:20 indicates that Daniel was still praying when the angel appeared to him. Further, from what we know of Jewish tradition and practice, the mention of fasting in verse 3 suggests Daniel had set aside at least one whole day for prayer. We do not know how long he prayed, but we do know that he continued fervently right up to the time he received the answer from the Lord. He, like Jacob when wrestling with the angel, would not let go of God until he was blessed by an assurance from the Lord that He would fulfill His covenant promises to Israel in spite of their transgressions. Daniel petitioned the Lord to extend mercy to Israel and glorify His name in the restoration to their land.
We have seen why Daniel prayed, and how he prepared himself to pray. Now we shall examine the content of the prayer.
2. The Content of Intercession
Daniel began his petition by calling to mind the attributes of the Lord that relate to the nature of his request. He set his mind to pray because of the prophetic promises in the Word. He began his prayer by acknowledging the sovereignty (“great and dreadful”), faithfulness (“keeping the covenant”), and “mercy” of the Lord (verse 4). He indicated that according to the nature of the Lord, He not only is able to answer the request, but is also willing to keep His covenant. He recalled that though God is sovereign, faithful, and merciful, yet He chooses at times to make His actions contingent upon the responses of man to His laws. He acknowledged it was because of Israel’s sin that they went into captivity and that God has a right to hold man accountable for his sin.
Because of the contingency of human responsibility in some of God’s decrees, Daniel moved in his prayer to confession of his people’s sin. He, like a true intercessor, did not distance himself from the sins of his people, but rather confessed with them and for them. God does not need to be told about sin in order to be aware of it; rather, He wishes to hear confession of it.
Confession and repentance renew the heart of the intercessor (even though he may not be guilty of the sins which he is confessing on behalf of others) and extend life to the sinner. Through the intercessor’s pleas, the work of God begins in the hearts of the sinners to bring them to confession and restoration. God has sovereignly chosen to accomplish His divine purposes through human intercessors. From Ezra 1:5 it is evident that God’s Spirit stirred up the Jews in answer to the prayer of Daniel. The intercessor who stands with his people and confesses their sins will often be the one through whom God will bring about revival.
In this passage we notice three elements of confession.
- (1) Daniel began his confession by acknowledging that the sins of the people were transgressions against the laws of God (verse 5). In addition to direct violations of God’s written laws, there was rejection of the counsels of the prophets whom God had sent to warn His people of their backslidings (verse 6).
- (2) Daniel enumerated the consequences that resulted from disobeying God. He did not merely call the calamities of his people misfortunes; he attributed their captivity to the fulfillment of prophecy by mentioning the curse against disobedience contained in the Law of Moses (verse 11).
- (3) Daniel affirmed the righteousness of God in bringing judgment upon His own people for their sins (verse 14).
In summary, Daniel confessed the nature of their sins, the relationship of their sins to their calamities, and the justice of God in bringing retribution upon His own people. These three elements are essential to true confession of sin: all sin is committed against God, all sin has just consequences that are related to specific causes, and God is righteous in bringing His own people into judgment for unconfessed sin.
God heard and answered this prayer of confession because it was prayed according to His will. Daniel’s motive in seeking the restoration of Israel was to bring glory to God (Daniel 9:17). A complete confession of sin is the first step toward a full reconciliation of relationship. When confession is limited, so also is restoration. When there is complete confession of sin, God can work wondrously for His own glory in relationships and to fulfill His divine purposes.
Daniel prayed, “O our God . . . cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary . . . for the Lord’s sake” (verse 17). Daniel did not ask for respect or dignity to be restored to Israel. Nor did he appeal to God on the basis of the people’s merit or worth. Daniel’s appeal was that God would restore Israel in order to glorify Himself (verse 18). Such a prayer God can and will answer. God delights to answer prayer that is in accordance with His Word, and which will bring Him glory.
Daniel pleads again on the basis of God’s attribute of mercy for His people. A prayer of repentance and restoration is never based on human merit, but is a cry for mercy. A person who pleads acceptance based upon worth has not yet truly repented. The one who cries out for mercy will surely be heard, for the request is for that which is undeserved—that which God alone can extend. God delights to answer prayers that plead for Him to supply what we cannot. Daniel, as an intercessor, prays in the stead of his people a prayer of complete repentance and restoration to the glory of God.
3. Confidence in Intercession
Because Daniel was a man accustomed to prayer he knew that at this point in time he could be bold with his request. He summarized all the previous parts of his prayer and asked that the Lord would honor the petition. He laid out the explicit purpose of his prayer, and then expressed his desire that the Lord would answer.
Prayers can be offered in such a general way that there could never be a discernable answer given. But if we are praying in the will of God and moved by the Spirit to pray this prayer, we may specifically state our petition and expect an answer.
Daniel had made his request known and came boldly to the mercy seat and cried out to be heard: “O Lord, hear” (verse 19). He then pled the mercy of God on behalf of the confession that he has made: “O Lord, forgive.” If the Lord would forgive His people of their sin and had revealed the promise of restoration in His Word, what could prevent Him from answering the prayer for revival? So Daniel prayed: “O Lord, hearken and do.”
But what if the Lord would say the people are yet in their sins, and the promise of restoration would be deferred until there was repentance on their part as well? Daniel anticipated this possibility and spoke to the Lord: “defer not, for thine own sake, O my God; for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” Oh Lord, do not defer Your promise. Not only will we continue to bear this disgrace, but all the heathen will mock Your name as well, and You will be known as the God Who has abandoned His people—the One Who could not save them (verse 16). If You will allow this reproach to continue indefinitely upon Your people, the heathen will attach the reproach upon Your people to Your Name also. Lord, though Your people are not worthy of Your mercies or Your covenant, yet Lord, for the sake of Your own glory, will You not honor Your prophetic promises now? If we are overcome by our iniquities when we are called by Your Name, will not Your Name also be disgraced by others? Lord, even if there is no merit or worth in us, will You not do this for Your own glory?
4. The Response to Intercession
While Daniel was yet praying, the angel Gabriel brought the answer. In fact, the Lord had given the commandment to send the answer at the beginning of the supplication. Even though none of the physical circumstances had changed, yet Daniel had received the assurance from the Lord that He would honor His Word and grant the request.
Daniel ceased his prayer when the assurance was given. He asked no more for the Lord to execute what he was assured would take place. To continue to do so would have been a lack of faith. From that point on any prayers would have been offered with regards to how the Lord would fulfill His promise, and not if He would. We see the same example with Christ while praying in the garden. When He received strengthening and assurance from on high, He ceased His prayer and said, “Rise, let us be going.”
Not only was Daniel’s prayer answered, but also it was answered in a way that far exceeded his own requests or expectations. While Daniel asked for forgiveness and restoration to the land of Judah, God gave a promise of the coming Messiah Who would destroy the reign of sin and bring in everlasting righteousness. While Daniel was looking for the fulfillment of the seventy-year prophecy, God gave him a glimpse of what would come in the seventy weeks of years.
5. Our Motivation for Intercession
We can draw lessons from this passage and apply them to our prayer lives. Like Daniel, we need to make the Word of God our regular study so that we come to know the mind of the Lord and learn what we should be praying for. When we are acquainted with God’s Word and are moved by the Spirit to specifically intercede for others, we can be bold in our expectations that God is both able and willing to answer the prayer that He is moving us to pray. There can be no stronger motivation given for us to pray than the revealed will of God in His Word coupled with a moving of the Spirit to pray. We know that God intended to keep His covenant promises with Israel, but He chose to fulfill them through intercessory prayer.
From this example we can learn that when God intends to begin a work to fulfill His Word, He may first motivate His saints to begin interceding for it. Jesus said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest.” God asks for us to pray before He does the sending. Praying in faith prepares the heart and mind for laboring in the harvest. God calls upon some to pray and intercede on behalf of those whom He will send. Daniel was praying for those whom God would call to go back to the land of Israel and fulfill the covenant promises to Abraham’s seed.
Daniel prepared himself to wrestle with the Lord until he received an answer. He set his face to seek the Lord and prepared himself with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. It would seem as though the Lord wanted to show Daniel a glimpse into the future of the seventy weeks of years (490 years), but in order to prepare him, He set him about praying for the seventy years.
When God calls upon us to pray for a specific event, He often has more in mind than what He reveals at the time we are pressed upon to pray. In the case of Daniel, God moved him to pray for a restoration to the land of Israel, but then promised to answer that prayer more abundantly than asked through the coming of the Messiah. God used an intercessor to help prepare the hearts of those who would go back to their land. God stands ready to fulfill His Word today, but who is willing to prepare to pray for that which He desires to answer?
Notice that the power and ministry of intercession extends beyond the realm of missionary or revival work. In a broader sense, it encompasses spiritual restoration in the lives of others who have fallen into sin. The Epistle of John speaks of this principle in 1 John 5:14-16: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”
God asks those who are in right relationship with Him to intercede on behalf of those who need spiritual life. This applies specifically to brothers and sisters who are struggling or have fallen into sin. If we see the sin, we are to intercede for the restoration of their spiritual life. We are not promised answers on the basis of our will, but on the basis of God’s will and determination of the nature of the sin. Outside of the unpardonable sin, we are to come to God to plead for the life of our fallen brothers and sisters. This is the ministry of intercession.
Daniel stood between God and impenitent Israel until God’s Spirit moved in the hearts of his brethren to renew their covenant with God in the Promised Land (Ezra 1:5). Let us remember from Daniel’s prayer that when we are moved by God to specifically intercede on the behalf of others, we dare not plead any human merit on our own part or on their part. Our request must be grounded in the mercy and grace of God, so that the restoration may be all to the praise and glory of His grace. God moves in the hearts of intercessors to pray for those people to whom He desires to give life. Shall we not then hold up our erring brothers and sisters to the throne of grace, so that they may be restored?
Daniel’s intercessory prayer is a good primer on how we can intercede for others in accordance with the will and purposes of God. In the record of this prayer we have an illustration of God’s desire to hear and answer those prayers that are prayed for others in accordance with His will and for His glory.