Daniel was a student of the prophets. Decades earlier, Jeremiah had prophesied that Jerusalem would remain in desolation for 70 years (Jer. 25:11–12; 29:10). When did the desolation begin? When would the 70 years be complete? Would Daniel ever return to Jerusalem? In order to understand this prophecy accurately, Daniel approached the Lord through prayer, fasting and an attitude of mourning.
Confession Made (4–6)
In the Old Testament, godly men openly confessed sin. David confessed his personal sin publicly after being confronted by the prophet Nathan. Jewish civil leaders confessed and repented for the sins of the nation, as recorded in Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9, among others. These men acknowledged how generations of Israelites had abandoned their covenant relationship with God to serve other gods and that God was just in His sentence of exile upon the people. Both men quote from the Torah to affirm Yahweh’s righteous judgment.
Daniel alludes to Deuteronomy 7:9 when he confesses that the Lord “keeps His gracious covenant with those who love Him and keep His commands” (v. 4). By contrast to their righteous God, Daniel confesses a litany of transgressions committed by Israel, Judah and their leaders. They “sinned,” they have “done wrong,” they “acted wickedly,” they “rebelled,” they “turned away from His commands and ordinances,” and they have “not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, leaders, fathers and all the people of the land” (vv. 5–6).
Righteousness Seen (7–14)
Daniel continues his twofold confession in this next passage: God is righteous, and His people have acted shamefully. This passage begins and ends with an acknowledgement that the Lord is right in all He does. God clearly revealed His covenant criteria through “the prophets” (v. 6), “His instructions” (v. 10) and “the law of Moses” (vv. 11, 13). The curses about which Moses warned them in Deuteronomy 28 were being fulfilled because God keeps His word and because His people failed to obey Him.
By contrast, note the themes of Daniel’s confessional prayer regarding their wickedness: “public shame” (vv. 7, 8), “disloyalty” (v. 7), “we have sinned against You” (v. 8), “we have rebelled” (v. 9), and they “have not obeyed” (v. 10). The confession continues: “All Israel has broken Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You” (v. 11). The exile they experienced, Daniel confesses, is the direct result of rebelling against the Torah.
Forgiveness Sought (15–19)
God’s nature is to forgive all who repent of their sin and trust in Him. At Sinai, He revealed this truth to Moses in Exodus 34:6–7: “The Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth … forgiving iniquity, rebellion and sin.” These characteristics of God are echoed throughout the Old Testament. In fact, Jonah headed for Tarshish instead of Nineveh because he knew that God was compassionate (Jon. 4:2).
God’s people take this compassion for granted, assuming God will forgive them whether they repent or not. They fail to recognize that faith is required to walk in fellowship with God — faith, not presumption or self-righteousness. Daniel understood that his assurance of God hearing his prayer was not based upon his own righteousness, but upon God’s compassion. And God would answer petitions on behalf of Jerusalem and the temple only for the honor of His name: “My God, for Your own sake, do not delay because Your city and Your people bear Your name” (v. 19).
Studying national prayers of confession from Nehemiah and Daniel provides instruction for Christians today. Human history is stained with sin. Though we and our fathers have been unjust toward others in our national and family history, we have ultimately acted shamefully against God. He “now commands all people everywhere to repent” and trust Christ (Acts 17:30–31). Only then can we receive His forgiveness.
By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Wilson is dean of Christian Studies at University of Mobile in Alabama.