Shine the Light: “Off the Bench” – Daniel 9 (Part One)

glass blowerI have to admit that one of my favorite things to do is watch someone who is excellent in their craft do their work. I am that guy who ends up standing there for an hour to watch a lady make art out of blown glass in a mall. I have come to realize that someone is truly great at their work when they make something that is very difficult look simple. That’s why I love to watch Yo Yo Ma play a cello, because the instrument seems like an extension of his personality! Have you ever stopped to watch two world class ice skaters on television move around a skating arena and perform their fluid motions that would leave you in traction if you tried them? Unless you are very unusual, you never thought to yourself, “You know, I could do that if I had a good pair of skates!” You looked with awe and real respect at what these fine athletes were able to complete after literally thousands of hours of practice. To do something well, it often takes enormous effort. If you get really good at it, it won’t look like it took much effort at all.

The truth is that no one got to the level of success in their craft without regularly practicing some disciplines of mind and body. They spent hours learning techniques, all in anticipation of finding reward in doing what they do well. I think we all accept that most successful musicians practice long hours and even that athletes that compete spend vast periods of time in practice. Yet, there is a group that has captured my attention that also has had to study, practice and hone their craft that you may never have thought of – servants. If you have ever boon in a fine dining establishment, or on a five-star cruise ship, you have seen them at work. It takes much more than a stiff costume and a white pair of gloves to be a fine servant or steward. It’s funny how we KNOW things take work, but we somehow think servants just KNOW what we need and how to get it in front of us. The fact is that even good table service requires excellent training.

While it is true that few of us harbor within the hopes of becoming world class athletes, excellent and highly paid cellists, or even “food server to the stars” – we DO have a goal to become great servants of God. We have been given, as instructors, some excellent examples… and the prophet Daniel from ancient Babylon was certainly among the best for both LIVING with and for God as well as LEAVING BEHIND an example to follow. His life revealed two secrets to becoming a strong and loving follower of God: the secret discipline of daily connection and the secret to joyful living in God’s promises. By reading his journal, it will become clear…

Key Principle: At the heart of our walk with God, there are DISCIPLINES of our walk to be practiced and PROMISES from our God to be trusted. Living in BOTH will help us to walk boldly and with strength through times of trouble.

Admittedly, Daniel can be quite confusing.

First, it is not organized in chronological order. For those of us who like linear organization, we wish the book followed IN ORDER the four kings in the book and their chapters. Technically the first and the last of the list are kings, and the two middle rulers were regents or governors appointed by an absent king. If you place all four in their order, the book would look more like this:

• Nebuchadnezzar – King of Babylon (605–562 BCE)

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire that defeated the rival armies to his west in the Spring and Summer of the year 605 at the battle of Carchemish. He was the king in whose name Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were brought to Babylon later that year. Under his reign, the first four chapters of Daniel reveal stories like the flourishing of the kosher kids in Daniel 1, the vision of the big statue in Daniel 2, the “fiery furnace” set up against Daniel’s three companions in Daniel 3 and the vision of the tree in Daniel 4. That last vision set Nebuchadnezzar in a field for a period of time, prophesying that he would lose his mind and then have it restored when he humbled himself before God. You get the impression in the first four chapters that the theme of the time under Nebuchadnezzar was “God wants you to know Him, O king!”

After Nebuchadnezzar, the record of Daniel skips a number of rulers. Several men in the family competed for throne after the great king’s death, including his son Evil-Merodach who ruled for two years (562-560 BCE) and was murdered by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Neriglissar (Nergal Sharezar). He, in turn, only lasted four years from 560-556 BCE and died. His son Labasi-Marduk replaced him for two short months in 556 BCE and was assassinated by Nabonidus, father of Belshazzar, who became a longer reigning king. After three years, he installed his son in office and left for a spiritual pilgrimage. The story in Daniel picks up after Belshazzar has been seated in the throne as a regent for his dad.

• Belshazzar –Co-Regent of Babylon with his father Nabonidus (553-539 BCE)

Belshazzar was a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar by one of the great king’s daughters. He wasn’t near the top of the list of rulers, but the others all got “bumped off” by relatives, and he and his dad rose in the line each time. Nabonidus was king, but Daniel didn’t hardly see him, because Daniel stayed in Babylon with his son to advise him during the dad’s pilgrimage years. It was during that time that three important prophetic stories unfolded:

Chapter 7 – Four Beasts, Little Horn, Ancient of Days, 553 BCE – 1st year of Belshazzar. Like the four kingdoms shared with Nebuchadnezzar years before, God wanted the Gentile regent of the world’s largest empire to know about the progression of kings yet to come.

Chapter 8 – Ram and the Buck Goat, 551 BCE – 3rd year of Belshazzar. God was intent that Daniel would have even more insight into the political and prophetic coming of Medo-Persian kings, because he would live to see them rule. Further, he would see all the way through to their end and the rise of Greece under Alexander and the four generals (Diadoche) that would eventually replace him.

Chapter 5 – Writing on the Wall, 539 BCE – the night Belshazzar died. Nabonidus was outside Babylon defeated by Cyrus the Mede, as the kingdom that would replace Babylon was about to take the city. Inside the city, Belshazzar was hosting a great feast when God interrupted and let him know that his days of rule were over by writing on a wall with His own hand.

• Darius – King of Babylon (~559 – 530 BCE)

Cyrus took over the city of Babylon (in the name of his uncle Cyaxeres, who was apparently also called by the title Darius) on the death of Belshazzar and conquered the city, replacing the Great Babylonian Empire with that of the Empire of the Medes and Persians. Cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis, cite “Darheush” or  simpy “Lord-King,” as a title applied to a number of the Medo-Persian kings, such as: Darius Hystaspes, 521 BCE (Ezr 4:5; Hag 1:1); Darius Codomanus, 336 BCE, whom Alexander the Great dethroned, called “the Persian” (Ne 12:22).  It is during his “reign” that God spoke dramatically about the coming days of kings and kingdoms in three stories:

Chapter 9 – Seventy Weeks, 539 BCE – 1st year of Darius. Daniel saw the time drawing near the captivity of the Jewish people should have been ending, and he became anxious, as he saw little movement to end their plight. He sought God, and Gabriel was dispatched to tell him what was going to happen all the way to the Kingdom of Righteousness – at the time of the very end.

Chapter 11-12 – Coming Conflicts North and South, 539 BCE – 1st year of Darius. With even greater detail concerning the Jewish people and their subjection under Hellenistic powers from Greece, God detailed to Daniel the plight of the Jews under western domination until the end times.

Chapter 6 – Lion’s Den, c.538-534 BCE under Darius, not dated. At some point in Daniel’s tenure as an older counselor he got other counselors upset. It was likely early in Darius’ “reign”, because the advisors were able to trick him into signing a decree that eventually backfired, but the “Lion’s Den” story of Daniel is set under Darius as well.

• Cyrus – King of Persia (559 – 530 BCE)

Though Cyrus took Babylon, he did so in the name and by the authority of Cyaxares or Darius; the actual sovereign. He was a governor or general. Cyrus had been on the scene of Daniel since he took Babylon from Belshazzar, but in Chapter 10 – The “Vision of Delayed Angelic Help” – 536 BCE – 3rd year of Cyrus – all the visions of the period were ascribed to the time of the King Darius. In chapter 10, it doesn’t mention Darius, but dates the message between God and Daniel to the third year of Cyrus, or 536 BCE. This is the last of the visions of the book that is given, and can rightly be placed under Darius as well because he was governor – yet he is not mentioned.

The book dances around the timeline to organize the materials under THEMES instead of keeping a strict timeline. Add to that the fact that the writer uses the term “king” loosely, since that is the way he referred to the men on the throne in person, and the whole of the twelve chapters can seem jumbled.

There is a second reason the book can be confusing. The book is laced with wild scenes that were prophecies of coming kingdoms. The major components of those scenes were difficult and are often interpreted inside the narrative with words like: “The beasts that you saw were kingdoms.” That isn’t the tough part. The difficulty comes when you are trying to understand the specifics of what we are to learn about these kingdoms, based solely on these descriptions. Commentators don’t have problems with the general frame, but seem to find the details difficult to nail down with certainty. Some people have a terrible time when EVERYTHING doesn’t line up clearly for them, and they “shut down” because they “don’t get it.”

Yet a third and final reason Daniel’s writing can be confusing is this: The prophesies are accompanied by highlights of how Daniel and his friends were able to be a reliable witness for all four using disciplines of walk – and these can be easily obscured by all the fantastic details of each prophecy. It is easy to think there are SERIOUS SECTIONS of the book – like prophetic utterances of future days – that belong to the ADULT BIBLE FELLOWSHIP, while the other parts of the book are just cute little stories for the CHILDREN’S DEPARTMENT. Sometimes we miss the connection between the PROPHECIES and the VESSELS God used to speak His Word. This is what I want to focus on in this lesson. We want to drop into the scene of Daniel’s personal Bible study and prayer life that became the setting of the exciting promises God made known to him.

Let me be clear: the disciplines of Daniel gave rise to the blessings and insights of Daniel – and they will to you as well. God will speak into your life with clarity when you learn to surrender that life to Him.

Don’t be afraid that applying the word “discipline” to your walk with God will make you a Pharisee. In the loose living Christianity of our day, some of us have wrongly come to see GRACE as a “get out of Hell free card”, and any words that sound like we must work at our relationship with God sound like a “work’s based salvation”. That isn’t what I am talking about at all.

I am simply saying that godliness is never accidental.

A relationship with God comes by God’s favor through seeing His Word as truth – as God reaches into our lives and energizes a new life within. Yet, following God is marked by surrender to His Word resulting in becoming more like the character of our Savior. That comes by adopting specific disciplines of heart, mind and body. Jesus didn’t preach against disciplines – He spoke against being a “show off” in your walk with God. It wasn’t PRAYER that Jesus was speaking against, but loud trumpets blasting the prayer of the Pharisee in the streets. It wasn’t RIGHTEOUSNESS Jesus was against, it was the display “to be seen of men” that He abhorred.

Let me drive the truth of Daniel 9 home once more, and then we will walk through five key character traits that showed through in Daniel’s life…

Key Principle: At the heart of our walk with God, there are DISCIPLINES of our walk and PROMISES of our God. Living in BOTH will help us to walk boldly and with strength through times of trouble.

Daniel 9 offers five character traits that God honored and highlighted in Daniel:

The first “discipline” or “character trait” was what I will simply call “Perception”:

The whole revelation of the truth of the end times came to Daniel when the man took God’s Word seriously, studied it thoroughly, and believed it literally. When a believer forms their life and perceives truth based on God’s Word – that is the life of FAITH. Look at the first two verses of Daniel 9, because they reveal both the TIMING of the revelation, and the TENSION that brought the revelation about:

Daniel 9:1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was [revealed as] the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, [namely], seventy years.

This is a great passage. A man of God is reading the Word of God and takes it seriously, but cannot relate the apparent promise of the passage to what he sees around him. He was reding places like Jeremiah 29:10 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.” The problem is that that was said at the BEGINNING of the binding of the Gentiles which was about sixty-seven years before. Did Daniel misunderstand what Jeremiah said? After all, the FINAL AND COMPLETE CAPTIVITY didn’t occur until Zedekiah’s children were slaughtered and his eyes were put out, and that was twenty years later. Was THAT date the beginning of the clock? Daniel didn’t know. He THOUGHT the return was coming soon, and he was getting nervous when the authorities around him didn’t seem to be signaling that return.

Don’t skip over the fact that Daniel answered what appeared to be POLITICAL issues with prayer and the study of the Word of God. The simple fact is that Daniel was more concerned with the words of Jeremiah the Prophet that the words of the Babylonian Daily Chronicle. Is that true of us? Do we spend more energy in extracting truth from Scripture that in trying to figure out truth from the editorially laden news shows of our day?

I think one of the blessings of the record of Daniel nine was that the prophet was simply concerned with a promise of seventy years of captivity, when Gabriel made it clear the real issue would not be resolved for seventy blocks of seven years!

It occurs to me that we tend to see things in much smaller ways than God wants to show to us. We don’t think in eons, but in election cycles. God is working the whole plan – and we would be unwise to think that we can truly gain much understanding of our times up close. It may take one thousand years to see how what is happening in our world today will be resolved by the Prince of Peace.

Let me dig further… We need to handle even our own life history with humility. You may have met the most important person in God’s plan for you in a waiting room on a Tuesday afternoon. You may share Jesus with someone at a bus stop that will lead to a national change and an international revival. We think too small and see to little to really grasp what God is doing in and through us.

Daniel had the PERCEPTION that truth came from God’s Word, and that is where he invested his energy. It paid off – it always does.

The second “discipline” or “character trait” that we see in Daniel was a focused purpose:

Look very closely at the passage and you can pick out where Daniel sought peace and clarity. It wasn’t simply from the Word – though that set the stage as we said already…The clarity came, not simply by study of the Word- but by deeply emotional, extensive times of seeking God. Daniel didn’t just seek ANSWERS, he SOUGHT GOD.

Daniel 9:3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek [Him by] prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said…

One who seeks answers from the past is an historian. One who seeks answers from humanity and culture is an anthropologist. One who seeks answers from a Bible is a theologian. One who seeks answers from God is a believer… Don’t think I am suggesting the other disciplines are unnecessary or optional for a complete understanding of truth – that is NOT what I am saying. I am repeating the words of Jesus. He said: “”You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” (John 5:39). The answer isn’t found simply by UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT. The answers are found by SEEKING THE LORD. Daniel knew this, and sought God with prayer and humble confession.

I think it is a bit humorous and also encouraging that God’s answering messenger came almost as a startling interruption – because He was seeking to settle in God’s arms, not get an answer to every question! Gabriel showed up, and it was the record of one of those moments like when Peter came to the door of a prayer meeting praying for his release from prison and was left standing outside in Acts 12. It seems that often God’s answer takes us completely off guard, even though we have been deliberately ASKING HIM A QUESTION. Why am I still surprised after all these years of following God that He still answers us? He doesn’t always do it right away, but when He does, I must remember to take time to celebrate His answers – and not simply move on in my list of needs and questions…

John Owen, a Puritan writer, reminded: “What an individual is in secret on his knees before God, that’s who he really is, and no more.”

Daniel’s FOCUS wasn’t simply on the problem of the seventy years coming to an end, but on KNOWING GOD better – and that became his life purpose.

When he sought to know God – the Lord answered him by meeting the other needs of his life. As Jesus said (recorded in Mt. 6:33): “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Just remember, that FOCUS on God is most hindered by FOCUS ON SELF. Pride kills godliness.

The story is told of two ducks and a frog who lived happily together in a farm pond. They were great friends and enjoyed playing together. When the hot days of summer came, however, the pond began to dry up. They soon realized that they had to move. This was no problem for the ducks because they could just fly to another pond. But the frog was stuck. So they decided to put a stick in the bill of each duck that the frog could hang onto with his mouth as they flew to another pond. The plan worked well ¬ so well, in fact, that as they were flying along a farmer looked up in admiration and said, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of that?” To which the frog said, “I did…” Be careful of pride ¬ it can cause you to fall!

The third “discipline” or “character trait” that Daniel exhibited was Personalization:

Daniel’s prayers didn’t DISTANCE him from the responsibility of his situation, but drew him INTO the situation as one who personally felt the pain. God won’t reveal Himself to the armchair theologian and theoretical philosopher – He isn’t content with someone who is curious about truth. He comes to the HUNGRY and NEEDY of heart.

Look carefully at the prayer of Daniel to uncover his heart:

Daniel 9:4b “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6 “Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. 7 “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day– to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8 “Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9 “To the Lord our God [belong] compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10 nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11 “Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12 “Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done [anything] like what was done to Jerusalem. 13 “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14 “Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. 15 “And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day– we have sinned, we have been wicked. 16 “O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people [have become] a reproach to all those around us. 17 “So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. 18 “O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. 19 “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”

Notice first the simplicity of the prayer:

• It began with a focus on the person and power of God – together with His faithful character (9:4).
• It clearly acknowledged responsibility of sin on him and his people and n ot on God’ poor oversight (9:5-10).
• It showed that he understood the captivity to be according to God’s Words (9:11-14).
• It recognized God’s past goodness and rescue (9:15-16).
• It made clear Daniel’s request to see the seventy years finished soon (9:17-19).

You cannot help but be struck with a sense that Daniel felt attached to his people and responsible for their sin. There is no hint of distance and individualism that would separate him from the fallen and broken people of the Jews.

Someone has written: “We are much better at making excuses than confessing sin. We live in a “no-fault” culture where you can get “no-fault” insurance, and a “no-fault” divorce. The mantra of our modern culture is, “Hey, it’s not my fault.” And we’ve come up with some pretty names to excuse our sin. We say, “I goofed” or “I blew it” or we talk about “mistakes” or “weaknesses.” What we call an “affair,” God calls “adultery.” What we call “a little weakness,” God calls “wickedness.” What we call “a mistake,” God calls “madness.” Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

In our day, we’re quick to point out other peoples’ mistakes, but we have a hard time admitting when we’ve blown it. Here are some actual excerpts from insurance companies where individuals who had accidents explained what went wrong:

Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree that I don’t own.
• The other guy was all over the road and I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.
• I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.
• The telephone pole approached my car at a rapid speed, as I swerved to get out of its way, it hit me.
• I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and drove over the embankment.

Daniel PERSONALIZED the troubles and repented. He placed himself with the sinners, and not with the righteous “APART”. He knew that God would give grace to the humble and he was convinced he had no reason to think he was better than others.

The fourth “discipline” or “character trait” was what I will call “attentiveness”:

God poured out far more than Daniel asked – and that was totally unexpected by Daniel. God did the unexpected – because He can. Yet the end of verse 23 may offer the key as to why God offered such a broad and complete word to Daniel:

Daniel 9:22 He gave [me] instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell [you], for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.

Jesus said that only the disciple who “takes heed” to His words will truly benefit by them. Near the close of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 7, Jesus made the point: “24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and [yet] it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell– and great was its fall.”

It is not BEING IN THE VICINITY of the teaching of God’s Word that will help you, but heeding what you hear from God’s Word. Don’t be too proud to listen to truth when God delivers it. D.L. Moody put it this way: “Be humble or you’ll stumble.” The issue isn’t whether you MEMORIZED the Word, but do you FOLLOW the Word. It isn’t: Do you attend church often, but rather: Do you listen and change because of what God’s Word says. Jesus made it clear – storms come in life to both those who heed His Word and those who don’t – but only those who HEED have the foundation to stand.

Daniel practiced ATTENTIVENESS to God’s Word, and that made him a trustworthy target for God to open his eyes to the deepest of truths.

The final “discipline” or “character trait” exhibited by Daniel was patience:

Though God offered an answer right away, but wasn’t going to bring those truths about for generations. He is a PROCESS God. In the meantime, a believer was called to continue to live in the joy of the promises, trusting in His Word.

Daniel 9:20 Now while 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 in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in [my] extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy [place]…

Some are waiting for me to unravel the “seventy weeks” prophecy, and our next lesson will seek to do that –but first there is a timely question we must answer… ARE YOU READY? Are you ready for God to open up to you what He is doing now and in the future? Can He trust US with a message of PROMISES because they will carefully be handled by followers who walk in the DISCIPLINES of a believer?

Daniel knew that God understood what he could not, and he was content with God running the world. Are YOU?

Be very careful never to get to the place in your walk where you believe God OWES you an explanation for doing things in a different way than you think they ought to be done! Follow Jesus. Love Him sincerely. Put on the disciplines of a believer. Why? Because…

At the heart of our walk with God, there are DISCIPLINES of our walk to be practiced and PROMISES from our God to be trusted. Living in BOTH will help us to walk boldly and with strength through times of trouble.