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.