Daniel 9

Picture old Daniel, sometime just before he was thrown to the lions, as he refused his supper, entered his room, and opened the windows facing west, the direction of his homeland. He removed his robe to reveal a tunic of rough sackcloth (burlap), grabbed a handful of cold ashes from the stove, and sprinkling them on his head, he fell on his knees and began to sob out a prayer. His heart was broken.

He had been studying the book of Jeremiah, and the words of “the weeping prophet” had affected him deeply (v.2). He realized that the seven decades of promised punishment for God’s people were coming to an end, but they had not learned their lesson and they had not truly repented of the sins for which they were being punished (v.13). (Note: Daniel and Jeremiah were alive at the same time, though they probably never met. Daniel apparently had access to Jeremiah’s written prophecies, in which he would have read in Jeremiah 25:11-12 about the seventy-year time limit on Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Daniel may also have read the open letter Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, in which he stated that they would begin returning to their homeland after seventy years; see Jeremiah 29:10.)

Daniel began to cry out to God for mercy. He wanted his people to return from captivity changed, having been purged by their punishment — but he was afraid that would not be the case. So he prayed for his nation and personalized his prayer by confessing his own sin and his own need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

It was a gut-wrenching prayer of repentance and admission of guilt and “open shame” (v.7-8). Daniel held nothing back, confessing six different ways he and his nation had erred (v.5-6): they had sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled against God, scorned His commands, and refused to listen to His prophets. But his prayer was hopeful. Knowing that God is merciful and forgiving (v.9), Daniel asked Him to respond in six ways (v.18-19): to see their pitiful state, to hear their requests for mercy, to forgive their sins, to pay attention to their need, to act on their behalf, and to not delay His answer.

God did not delay in answering Daniel at all. As soon as he began to pray, God dispatched the angel Gabriel to fly down to the brokenhearted prophet with an answer. (Note: do you see the pattern here? The more you get real with God, the more He will make Himself real to you. Honesty and repentance open the door for a fresh encounter with God and a fresh word from God.) The angel assured Daniel that God answered his prayer for mercy and that he was “greatly loved” (v.23). He confirmed that Israel’s captivity would come to an end and that they would indeed return home and rebuild the Temple (v.24). But there was more — a prophetic insight that gave Daniel’s exile and captivity new significance and far-reaching implications.

Experts on Bible prophecy (which I am definitely not) say that the “seventy weeks of Daniel” are the key to understanding all the Bible’s prophecies concerning end times. I don’t understand it all, but here is what I know…

The seventy weeks are symbolic of a period of time that is to be understood on two levels. First, in Daniel’s immediate situation each week stood for one year of captivity in Babylon. Second, the seventy weeks refer to seventy periods of time on God’s prophetic calendar. One of those time periods included the coming of Jesus, the “anointed one” who was “cut off” when He died on the cross, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (v.26). The time period mentioned in verse 27 was referenced by Jesus in Matthew 24:15 and seems to indicate that the 70th week of Daniel would be fulfilled in the future under the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation.

I don’t completely understand God’s timetable, but I know that He has a plan, and I know that He is in control. Furthermore, I know that in the end, we win! God will win the final victory for His people and we will reign with Him forever. Between now and then, the best thing we can do is what Daniel did: he placed his trust in the one true God, and he lived in a state of humility and repentance. That is the key to a life of power and purpose.

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Daniel 4

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was a complicated man. He had an inflated ego and an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but he was quick to admit when he was wrong. When he encountered the one true God who blessed and protected Daniel and his friends, he was quick to acknowledge His supremacy — but he still held to his idols and false deities. The king could profess faith in God in beautiful, majestic language (see 2:47, 4:3), but he did not really possess the faith he professed. He understood the concept of exclusive loyalty to one sovereign ruler, because that is what he demanded of his subjects. But as his spiritual pilgrimage unfolds in the book of Daniel we see that he was unwilling to worship God exclusively.

This chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony of how God humbled him. (Note: Isn’t it amazing how God pursued a relationship with Nebuchadnezzar? While He could have annihilated the haughty king, He patiently sought to win his heart! We do not know if Nebuchadnezzar ever became a true believer, but I like to think that in the end, one of the greatest conquerors in history finally surrendered and was himself conquered by the one true God.)

As in chapter 2, God got the king’s attention through a troubling dream that only Daniel could interpret (v.10-16). Nebuchadnezzar was the tree in the dream that would be cut down, humiliated for seven “periods of time” and then restored to prominence. Daniel seemed to imply that the fulfillment of the dream could be avoided if the king would “break off his sins” and repent of his pride (v.27). God mercifully gave the king a year to repent, but by year’s end he had already forgotten the warning. While surveying his kingdom he was filled with pride as he took all the credit for his accomplishments — credit that rightfully belonged to God. The dream from a year before immediately took effect as God removed the king’s sanity.

For seven months (or years) Nebuchadnezzar lived like a wild animal. I am sure that his family and his staff tried to reason with him or even restrain him, but God had taken away his ability to reason. He apparently refused to live indoors, to eat human food, or to groom himself. Imagine what he must have looked like at his worst, described in verse 33!

At the end of the time, the king-turned-wild man suddenly recovered his sanity. He instantly realized that God had humbled him as promised in the dream, and he broke into praise for His sovereignty (v.34-35). He acknowledged that he deserved the punishment and that “those who walk in pride God is able to humbleā€¯ (v.37). God graciously restored Nebuchadnezzar to his throne and allowed his reign to flourish again. The lesson here for us is simple, and it is stated succinctly in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So say goodbye to pride. Serve God humbly. Surrender to His will. Humble yourself — or God may humble you. Believe me, you don’t want that. Just ask Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 3

Whatever King Nebuchadnezzar had learned about the God of Daniel in the previous chapter, he had set aside. He did not worship the God behind the dream of the statue (see 2:31-45). In his dream a golden head represented his rule over Babylon, but he built a statue entirely of gold, 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Nebuchadnezzar was making a statement that he wanted his kingdom to last forever. My opinion is that the statue represented himself, and his desire was to be worshiped as God.

Every official from every branch of Babylonian government was summoned to the capital for an unprecedented worship service at the dedication ceremony for the statue. The instructions were simple: when the king’s orchestra begins to play, bow down and worship it — or be executed immediately. The king could not know if people were truly worshiping or simply bowing down, but to make sure they at least went through the motions he provided a frightening visual aid. A furnace (an enormous industrial one, probably used to smelt the metal for the statue) was fired up on site to burn those who would not bow.

This presented a problem for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the friends of Daniel who had been appointed as the top officials in the province of Babylon. As men who worshiped the one true God, they did not bow down before the statue when the music began. Loyalty to God often requires that we take action, but sometimes it means doing nothing. This was the case with the three friends, and their non-action made a powerful statement. It caught the attention of some of the astrologers and sorcerers, who reported it to the king. Nebuchadnezzar was angry (and probably embarrassed) at the insubordination and decided to make an example of the three. He told them they would get one more chance to comply with his command or be burned alive.

What would you have done in that situation? It was decision time for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They could have rationalized bowing down to the statue: “This is no big deal; it’s just a ceremonial thing. God knows our hearts, and He certainly doesn’t want us to die, so let’s just quickly bow down on the outside to appease the king — but we’ll be standing up on the inside.” But instead, they made a very calm statement of faith (v.16-18): “Nebuchadnezzar, we only worship the one true God. Our God is bigger than you and stronger than fire, so do what you have to do. He can save us if He wants to, but if we die, we die.”

With that, the king flew into a rage. He had the furnace fired to “seven times more than it was usually heated” (v.19), and he had the three men bound and thrown into it. The heat from the furnace was so intense that it killed the men who threw them in. When the furnace had died down enough to allow the king to look into it, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He expected to see only the ashes of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — but they were alive and walking around inside the fire! The fire had burned away the ropes that had bound them, but they were unhurt! God had made them inflammable! And the three men were not alone in the fire, but accompanied by a supernatural “fourth”, a heavenly companion to walk with them through the fire. (Note: this could either have been an angel or a rare Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. We can’t be sure, but I’m going with Jesus!)

When Nebuchadnezzar brought the men out of the furnace, an apology would have been nice, but he at least gave credit to the one true God and promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He had witnessed a miracle, an amazing act of God, but he was not thoroughly convinced (as we will see in the next chapter).

I don’t know exactly what you may face today, but I am sure you will be pressured to conform to the world, tempted to sin, and challenged to take a stand for the one true God. Whatever happens, remember that the God who protected Daniel’s friends will protect you. He is bigger than any person who threatens you, and He is stronger than any problem that you will ever go through.