SERIES: Integrity is No Accident: The Book of Daniel
Repentance: Prerequisite to Spiritual Renewal
Introduction: One of the most profitable studies a Christian can do is a study of the great prayers in the Bible—prayers of Moses, Joshua, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, and of course, Jesus Himself. We have before us this morning one of the greatest of all the prayers in the Bible. It is a prayer of repentance and confession—both personal and national. It is a model we desperately need today. I think it would be valuable for us to read it in its entirety:
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:
24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
Daniel prays earnestly, having read and believed the Scriptures. (9:1-3)
Daniel’s prayer is unique in that it was motivated by his reading of another biblical prophet, Jeremiah. Allow me to set the stage for you. Jeremiah was an older contemporary of Daniel. During the last years of the Kingdom of Judah, Jeremiah prophesied again and again that if the people did not repent, God would pour out the cup of His wrath upon them.
In Jeremiah 25:8, we find this prophecy that Jeremiah delivered in the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as king of Babylon.
“Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations…. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will make it desolate forever.’”
You see, for generations the Jewish people had lived in sin. They had repeatedly violated divine law, ignored the covenants God made with Israel, and refused to be accountable. The very people God intended to be a light to the nations had trafficked in the darkness of compromise, assimilating the ways of the pagan world around them—all the while paying lip service to the worship of God. Repeatedly God sent the prophets to warn them that they were committing spiritual adultery.[i] He even allowed the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom, but still the southern tribes refused to repent. God told Jeremiah to prophesy against them.
Jeremiah prophesied concerning a Babylonian captivity that would last 70 years. (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10) And sure enough, that prophecy of Jeremiah’s came to pass. Nebuchadnezzar first attacked the city of Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and took as captives a group of strong young men, foremost among them Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Obednego. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Palestine in 598 B.C. and a third time in 586 B.C., at which time he destroyed the city of Jerusalem completely, leaving not one stone (above ground) standing upon another. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. after 43 years as king and was followed in quick succession by four kings, the last of which was Nabonidus, who appointed Belshazzar to be his co-regent. Babylon fell to Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians, on the night Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall, October 12, 539 B.C.
Chapter 9 opens in the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, who was apparently a puppet king Cyrus installed over Babylon while Cyrus continued his world conquest. So the date is probably 538 B.C., just after the fall of Babylon. Daniel is reading the Scriptures, probably asking himself, “What in the world is God doing?” And he comes across the prophecy of Jeremiah which we just read. He’s no dummy. He can count. If he was taken into captivity in 605, it is now 67 or 68 years since he was captured. His heart must have jumped as he realized he has possibly survived nearly the entire 70-year captivity that was predicted. If Jeremiah’s prophecy is genuine, Daniel’s people will be allowed to return to the Beautiful Land and rebuild the Holy City of Jerusalem in the very near future!
What would you do if you were in Daniel’s shoes? I suspect most of us would go out and celebrate. Or invest in transportation stocks or in Jewish construction companies. Not Daniel. The knowledge that the Babylonian captivity is nearly over drives him instead to his knees. In fact, it causes him to fast and to put on sackcloth and ashes. Why? Because he also undoubtedly read what God said in Jer. 29:10:
“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, ” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
God’s promise to bring the captivity to an end is certain, but so is the promise to show Himself only to those who seek Him with all their hearts. It was the same condition for God’s blessing that He made clear at the dedication of the Temple in Solomon’s day 400 years earlier:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:13-14)
Unfortunately, the Jews in Babylon are not seeking God. Babylon is their home now. Most of the generation who had lived in Palestine before Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest are now dead. Those born in Babylon are comfortable and well established in their communities and don’t really care about returning to the hardships that would be involved in the rebuilding a godly culture. So, Daniel prays. And he shows more concern about the people getting right with God than about returning to Jerusalem. If the people return to Jerusalem but not to God, they will be no better off than they are in Babylon.
It seems that we desperately need this same kind of response in the U.S. today. We need men and women who are willing to lead the way to national repentance. It is apparent to any astute observer that the U.S. isn’t working anymore. Investigate any area of society, and you will find that this nation, which once led the world in almost every area of endeavor, is now leading the world in decline. We are leading or gaining rapidly in indebtedness, in litigation, in prisons, in weapons of mass destruction, in cynicism, in abortion, in mental disorders, in drug use, in suicide, in STD’s, and I could go on and on.
And friends, the rearrangement of the Washington bureaucracy is not the solution to this nation’s problems. The election of a Republican majority in the House last November isn’t the answer. We can throw the old rascals out, but frankly we usually just end up with a lot of rascals with a different label. You see, government isn’t working, not primarily because it needs to be reinvented or because the wrong party is in power, but because we the people have turned our backs on God.
Veteran Washington insider Charles Colson wrote:
“I spent the first half of my professional life in politics and public service…. I really believed that people could be changed by government being changed. I never looked beyond the structures and the institutions and legislation into the hearts of people. But when I became a Christian, I gained a new perspective on the actual influence political structures have over the course of history. I began to see that societies are changed only when people are changed, not the other way around. The crisis is not political; it is moral and spiritual.[ii]
President John Adams wrote, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” [iii] Well, we are no longer a moral and religious people, not even on the surface. How did this happen? As the 20th century dawned, a spiritual controversy was brewing in North America. At issue were some new beliefs that had already emasculated the church in Europe.
Man is not so bad.
God is not so big.
The Bible is not so reliable.
And Jesus is not God.
Major denomination after major denomination capitulated to what they called “modernism” (but which in reality was just age-old heresy) and turned their attention from spiritual issues to social and political concerns. In reaction, fundamentalists retreated from society, licking their wounds and desperately trying to keep the world at bay through isolation and legalism. Then evangelicals emerged with a mandate to be salt and light to the world, but compromise and comfortability have clouded our witness.
America’s problem is us, friends—you and me. We have become comfortable, established, and shy about hardship and sacrifice. We Christians have compromised to the point it is hard to distinguish us from the pagans around us. And we are headed for national tragedy if we do not repent.
Now with that as a long introduction, I want us to look at Daniel’s prayer.
Daniel’s prayer is principally a prayer of confession and repentance. (9:4-19)
The unique thing about Daniel’s prayer is that he doesn’t ask for anything personal. He prays for the temple, for the city of Jerusalem, for God’s reputation, etc., but he does not pray for himself, his health, his career, his conflicts, or his great aunt’s diabetes. Now, it’s not wrong to pray about such things or about anything that concerns us, but the burden of prayer should certainly more often be the spiritual state of the people of God than it is. The first thing I notice in this prayer is that there is a singular focus on God.
Repentance requires a singular focus on God. No one can truly repent unless he understands the holiness of God. After all, what is there to repent of unless one acknowledges that he has violated the law and character of God? The mere recognition that we have made mistakes is not sufficient to bring about repentance; what one does with a mistake is to try to correct it or, if it can’t be corrected, learn from it. Nor is the knowledge that we have violated society’s laws and expectations sufficient to produce repentance. After all, most of us can justify such violations on the basis that we are victims of society ourselves.
But when we recognize that we have rebelled against the only Holy Creator, have violated His commandments, and some day will answer to Him and to Him alone—that is what will drive us to repentance and confession. Daniel demonstrates a singular focus on God.
1. He is an intimate friend. “I prayed to the Lord my God.” After eighty years of walking with God, Daniel knew that he could draw near to Him with confidence and find grace and mercy at His throne.
2. He is an almighty sovereign. “O Lord, the great and awesome God.” Daniel knew God to be more than a sympathetic listener. There was no doubt in his mind that God could handle what he was about to ask.
3. He is a promise keeper. “Who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands.” Hundreds of years before, God made a unilateral covenant with Abraham promising that the land of Palestine would belong to his descendants, and God had repeated this promise to Moses, Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Daniel knew that God would keep His word. However, in that covenant God made it clear that He would not reward the insurrection of rebel hearts. Though the land of Palestine belonged to them, they could not enjoy it apart from a submissive relationship to God. And Daniel recognizes God’s attributes:
4. He is righteous, merciful, forgiving. Verse 7, “Lord, you are righteous.” Verse 9: “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving.” Every one of these characteristics of God is important to prayer.
God’s friendship makes Him approachable.
His sovereignty speaks of His power and ability.
His promise-keeping gives us confidence.
His righteousness sets the standard.
His mercy and forgiveness tell us that He is kindly disposed to us and will
help us in time of need.
Repentance requires a humble heart and an appropriate sense of shame. Listen to the way Daniel addresses his spiritual condition and that of his people:
“We have sinned and done wrong.”
“We have been wicked and have rebelled.”
“We have turned away from your commands and laws.”
“We have not listened to your servants the prophets.”
“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame.”
And that is not all. Similar confession continues all the way through the prayer. Daniel is deeply penitent. I have known preachers who stated that repentance is a simple matter of agreeing with God that we have sinned. You just say, “I did it.” Period. You’re forgiven. Now go on.
I think that’s a distortion. I don’t think a person has to necessarily dissolve in tears or prove his sincerity through long periods of grief and arduous deeds of penance. But I do believe that for repentance to be real, it has to be heartfelt and it has to be accompanied by humility and a sense of shame.
Repentance requires a specific admission of personal guilt. I find it very interesting that Daniel is not satisfied to simply confess the sins of his nation; he includes himself at every step. He doesn’t say, “Lord, these wicked politicians and violent criminals and welfare cheats are destroying our moral fabric.” Rather it is, “We have sinned.” He rejects completely the victim mentality that so many today employ to rationalize sinful behavior. He could have said, “I was taken from my home and family when just a teenager. I grew up in a spiritually hostile environment. I worked for a dysfunctional boss,” which a number of his surely were. But he doesn’t. Instead, he takes the attitude of the old spiritual, “It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
Without a doubt one of the hardest phrases to utter in any dialect is, “I am wrong.” Although Freud made it fashionable to blame others for our sin, the tendency has actually been around since the Garden of Eden. However, the uniform testimony of the Bible is clear—sin is a choice. No one else can make me decide to do the wrong thing. It is my choice and my responsibility. William Peel writes,
“I don’t know about you, but I find Daniel’s use of the first person here totally unexpected. It is true: If one player jumps offside, the whole team is penalized. But if anyone was ‘onside,’ if anyone didn’t deserve to be penalized, it was Daniel. Yet we never find him accusing, pointing the finger, or plagued with bitter feelings toward his fellow countrymen who blatantly rebelled against God’s law…. As a fellow sinner, he felt the shame. He knew that in his heart lurked the same dark propensities as in everyone else. He knew he needed grace like everyone else.” [iv]
If we are honest, we know that too. While I long for repentance in Washington, I know that it must come to my street, my neighborhood, and my church before it comes to Pennsylvania Avenue. It must come to my heart.
I might add that genuine repentance is specific about sin. Blanket confessions are of little use. It does no good to say, “Lord, forgive us our sins of omission and commission.” If I were God I would ask, “Which sins? Be specific.” Daniel confesses a number of specific sins—disobedience, unfaithfulness, rebellion, apathy, refusal to repent, and others.
When we confess sin, we need to be brutally honest. God knows exactly what we did. He was there. He saw every detail and monitored every thought. The confession is not for His benefit; it’s for ours. We need to lay bare that ugly part of our inner being and bring it to light. Only then can the healing power of Jesus Christ bring wholeness and restore our fellowship with Him.
Repentance requires complete submission to God’s discipline. In the third paragraph of his prayer, Daniel speaks of the curses and judgments that God has poured out on his people, and he vindicates God. God has done no more and no less than He promised to do. He warned in advance and when His people did not repent, He delivered what He promised. Daniel submits himself to God’s discipline. Remember the Law of the Harvest? “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7) It makes no sense to violate God’s law and then get angry when the harvest arrives.
Repentance requires an honest intention to forsake sin. Daniel admits this has not yet happened for his people. Look at verse 13: “Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth.” The word for repentance in the New Testament indicates far more than sorrow for sin. Everyone experiences sorrow when the consequences of sin become painful. But the question is, “Does the sorrow lead to a change of heart and a forsaking of the sin?” Paul goes to some lengths in 2 Cor. 7 to distinguish godly sorrow that produces repentance from worldly sorrow that leads to death. Repentance does not mean we will never sin again, but it does mean that we intend to walk in the light of the truth of God’s Word.
Repentance requires an appeal to God’s mercy. The basis of genuine repentance is always God’s character, not my ability to please God or change my ways. When He forgives us, it is not because we deserve it or have earned it but solely because He is willing to show His love to pitiful and desperate creatures. Look at the middle of verse 18: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” That great hymn, Rock of Ages, puts it this way:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace,
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die!
Repentance requires a desire for God’s glory. When we come before God in repentance, what is it that we really want? Too often I find myself wanting to get out from under the circumstances I’m in, out from under the guilt, out from under the consequences. That’s only natural because certainly no one enjoys the pain of God’s discipline. Yet there is something more that we should want. Daniel ends his prayer this way: “O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” Daniel repented because he could see that his sin and his people’s sin were sullying the reputation of God so that the world could not see His glory.
Daniel’s prayer is answered immediately. (9:20-23)
Please look at verse 20:
“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill—while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision.’”
At this point, you will recall from last Sunday, Gabriel delivers the message of the seventy sevens of years that God decreed for His people Israel. The prayer is answered immediately, but …
The answer is to focus Daniel’s attention on a different “70.” Daniel was concerned about the 70 years of the Babylonian Captivity, but God told him about 70 sevens of years which were yet future, and which were far more important to Israel than the 70 years of their present captivity.
The captivity does come to an end shortly. The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s promise is not recorded here in the book of Daniel, but in the first chapter of the book of Ezra we find that within months of Daniel’s prayer, perhaps even within weeks, the Babylonian captivity comes to an end. It says in Ezra 1:1-4,
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing. This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.’”
And in a short time 50,000 Jewish exiles returned to Israel to rebuild their nation.
The question I would like to leave us with this morning is this:
Conclusion: Where do we begin the process of repentance? I’m going to assume there are a number of us who see the need for national repentance and even some who agree that it must start with us. Where do we start? I want to suggest four things very briefly.
1. Study Scripture and the culture. Daniel’s repentance came as he studied the Word and realized the time was short. I believe our study of the prophetic portions of Daniel has revealed to us that the time may be short for us, too before God brings judgment. More than ever before we need God’s Word to light our path and penetrate the darkness all around us.
But we must also be students of the culture. The men of Issacar who followed David “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chron. 12:32) Scripture is not applied in a vacuum. Understanding our times is crucial to right decision-making.
2. Maintain an ever-increasing intimacy with God. Daniel’s prayer didn’t come out of a vacuum. It was his habit to pray three times a day, even when his life was threatened for doing so. Neither repentance nor spiritual renewal will come to those whose prayer life consists only of saying grace at mealtime. We need prayer warriors who are willing to engage in spiritual battle!
3. Confess known sin and commit to absolute obedience. God has made His moral will for our lives explicitly clear in His Word. Where we have failed—whether in thought life, language, attitude, or action—we should be brutally honest and open before Him. And we should seek the power of His Spirit to forsake such things, large or small.
4. Criticize leaders less and pray more. Although there are some wonderful public servants in government, it is also true that corruption, immorality, incompetence, and confusion are epidemic in the seats of power—local, state, and national. Stop a minute to ask yourself why it is that we have these kinds of men and women in office. In a democracy the obvious reason is that we put them there.
But perhaps there is a less obvious reason: When God wants to punish a people, He gives them unjust rulers. The next time we are confronted with an opportunity to participate in Washington-bashing, perhaps we should say to ourselves, “Yes, we have gotten exactly what we deserve. God gives corrupt people corrupt leaders. We need to repent.”
I close with these words from the prophet Jeremiah (18:7-10):
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom
is to be uprooted, torn apart and destroyed,
and if that nation I warned repents of its evil,
then I will relent and not inflict the disaster I had planned.
And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom
is to be built up and planted,
and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me,
then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
DATE: October 2, 1994
Attributes of God
[i] William Carr Peel, Living in the Lions’ Den Without Being Eaten, 168-169.
[ii] Charles Colson, Citation lost.
[iii] John Adams, from his treatise, “To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts,” 11 October, 1798.
[iv] Peel, 169.