Lord, Listen! Lord, Forgive! Lord, Hear and Act! – Daniel 9:11-19

By: Northern Seminary

There are only a few sports I’ve never wanted to try, but high on that short list is caving, also called spelunking or potholing. I do understand the fascination people have with finding amazing natural rock formations deep under the ground. There must be a great sense of triumph when you wriggle through a crack in the rocks and discover a beautiful cavern no one else may ever have seen. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but that sport is not for me. I would dread being trapped deep under the earth, and knowing that no matter how loudly I cried out for help no one could hear and no one would be coming to save me.

The Israelites were prisoners in Babylon. They were victims of a cruel oppressor, and they’d suffered greatly as they were conquered and wave after wave of them were taken away as slaves. Yet none of it need have happened. Their suffering was also God’s judgment on their unfaithfulness and disobedience.

So, in Babylon they live, far from their homeland. They’re trapped, as in a deep cave. If they shout for rescue, will anyone hear and save them? Now that they realize their failure, the real questions are: “Will God hear? Will God forgive? Will God act to rescue his people?”

The last study covered part one of Daniel’s prayer. This study begins right in the middle as he continues to confess the sins of the people. Thankfully that’s not where his prayer ends.

Daniel 9:11-19

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.”

There are four lessons to learn from this passage about sin and forgiveness.

  1. Judgment for sin is sadly but richly deserved.

In his prayer Daniel could not be more honest or explicit about the sin of which they were guilty:

  • “All Israel has transgressedyour law and turned away” (v. 11).
  • “Therefore the cursesand sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you” (v. 11).
  • “You have fulfilledthe words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster” (v. 12).
  • “Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us” (v. 13).
  • “TheLord 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.” (v. 14).

Daniel makes no attempt to play down the nation’s sin, or to wriggle out of the consequences. We would have done that. We’d have made excuses, or submitted a plea in mitigation hoping for a lighter sentence.

I may have discovered my gift for speaking, and especially for debating, because I got into so much trouble at school. Back in those days in Scotland, if your offence was at the serious end of the scale, you could be called out to the front of the class and a leather strap struck sharply across your hand. Early on I learned: that hurt! But the punishment didn’t reform me – I behaved no better – but the prospect of that strap motivated me when I got into more trouble to argue fiercely that I was innocent. Several times a teacher would call me to the front for yet another misdemeanor and the leather strap was taken out. But before it could be used, I’d protest and argue loud and long, that it wasn’t me or I had misunderstood what was wanted or that my bad behavior was only a minor indiscretion. Most times I was sent back to my seat unpunished. I was guilty, but I’d talked my way out of the teacher’s judgment.

Daniel never argues like that. Judah’s judgment is fully deserved, for they knew God’s will and God’s standards and over and over acted flagrantly against them.

So now they’re guilty. Twice Daniel refers to the breaking of the law given to Moses. He says:

“…the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us” and “Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us.” (vs. 11, 13)

Most likely Daniel is referring to the law as recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 28. It’s a passage that details explicit and severe judgments that will follow if the people fail to live up to their covenant with God. It begins with glorious promises of blessing when they are obedient. But disobedience will lead to curses. For example:

  • Their punishment will affect everyone, people in the city and in the country (v. 16).
  • Their food, their children, and their livestock will all be affected (vs. 17-18).
  • The curses will lead to destruction and sudden ruin (v. 20).
  • They will be plagued with diseases and blight (vs. 21-22).
  • Their enemies will defeat them (v. 25).
  • Their dead bodies will be food for birds and animals (v. 26).
  • They will be tormented by physical and mental illness (vs. 27-28).
  • They will fail in everything they do (v. 29).

And so the list goes on, describing the terrible consequences which will follow when they are conquered by enemies: rape, theft, destruction of livestock, child abduction, and hunger so desperate they will resort to cannibalism.

One sentence sums up these dreadful curses:

“Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.” (Deut. 28:47-48)

All this fits exactly with how the writer of Lamentations described events during and after the siege of Jerusalem by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. That conquest led to great suffering, to the destruction of Jerusalem, and more Israelites being taken away as slaves to Babylon.[1]

There is one overwhelming lesson: God’s judgment is certain. Sin is no small matter, and we will never persuade God otherwise. He will not ignore it, nor listen to our excuses. If we are ever to escape that judgment, it will never come by pretending it is not deserved.

Happily, Daniel moves on in his prayer to where the answer to the dreadful judgment over our lives does lie.

  1. Hope for mercy comes from the faithfulness of God.

Daniel had planted a seed of hope earlier in his prayer when he said:

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.” (v. 9)

Yet, even knowing the kindness and patience of God, they still persisted in their sins and Daniel listed all the terrible wrongs against God done by the people. Yet none of it negated God’s faithfulness to his people. Daniel prays again:

“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. 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.” (vs. 15-16)

Daniel there makes four points in quick succession to God:

  • We are the people you brought out of Egypt.
  • Your power and glory are wrapped up in what happens to these people.
  • Now, God, in keeping with all you have done, again show faithfulness to your people and your city of Jerusalem.
  • And do this, because right now the fate of your people and your city are being mocked by everyone around us.

A paraphrase of these points would be:

  • “Do as you have done before.”
  • “Don’t leave your work abandoned, as if you had strength only to begin but not finish.”
  • “Do not give your enemies opportunity to ridicule your special city and your special people.”

Daniel is about to speak more about God’s goodness, about God’s mercy, but this part of his appeal is to God’s faithfulness. Through Jeremiah God had promised their exile would be seventy years. That was a long time, but Daniel knew those years are now almost gone. And what had the Lord said would happen then? Jeremiah gave the answer:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good 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 on 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. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’” (Jer. 29:10-14)

The twin lessons here are these: that God will always act true to his nature, and God will always act in fulfilment of his promises. God is not fickle, caring one day and being harsh the next. God is not devious or dishonest, as if trying to wriggle out of doing what he has said he will do.

The opening verse of a much loved hymn captures it well:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

God is faithful, which gives hope and assurance to us as it did to Daniel.

But faithfulness must be matched by goodness. Cruel tyrants can be true to their word, and there is no comfort in knowing that.

Daniel, in his prayer, turns to the nature of God for hope.

  1. Rescue will happen not because the Israelites deserve it but because God is loving.

Daniel prays:

We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. (v. 18)

A defense lawyer – looking for sympathy or a reduced sentence for his client – would not usually argue like Daniel. The lawyer might produce witnesses to testify to the excellent character of the accused, or bring evidence of provocation or pressure, hoping to make the crime look less. In other words, the lawyer would try to boost the character of the defendant or diminish the seriousness of the crime.

Daniel does neither of those. The nation has done wrong, and has committed terrible sins. There is no plea in mitigation for their crimes. So how could they get forgiveness and regain their freedom? It would be because God is merciful. The people are not good but God is good.

The Apostle Paul made the same argument. He wrote first: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) – in other words, everyone is guilty. No one can claim innocence. But then he added: “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Though no one can claim innocence, there is still justification because God gives it as a free gift through the death of his Son Jesus.

Forgiveness cannot be earned. It cannot be inherited or injected, demanded or deserved, bullied for or bought with any amount of money. There is nothing a person guilty before God can do to remove their sin.

But forgiveness can be given by the person who has been wronged. God is no pushover. He doesn’t pretend sin never happened, nor does he scale down his anger if we promise better behavior ahead. God’s wrath and judgment fall on sin. And it did. Except that judgment did not fall on us, but on his Son, Jesus Christ, when he suffered and died on the cross.

Paul said:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

The penalty was paid by Jesus. He hung on the cross where we should have been. His death was to save us from death. By the gift of his Son, God made forgiveness possible for even the worst of sinners.

But there is one more important matter with which Daniel finishes his prayer.

  1. A heart-felt appeal to God.

Daniel’s prayer was lengthy, but it was always the deep cry of a man desolate about the people’s sins and desperate for God’s mercy. This prayer was no formality. From his preparation to every word he uttered, he meant business with God.

In verse 3 he’d described how he’d prepared himself:

“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”

Now, in verse 19, he finishes his prayer with passion and urgency:

“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.”

From the deepest core of his being, Daniel pleads with God. Three things stand out in these final words.

  • He begs God for action. “Lord, hear and act!” he pleads.
  • He begs for action now. The people are captive, and Jerusalem is in ruins.
  • He begs for action to vindicate that Jerusalem is God’s holy city and these are the people who bear God’s name.

So Daniel’s prayer ends in plain language and in short phrases, but they combine into a passionate crescendo presented to God.

“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.”

It is exactly how God told Solomon people should pray when they had been punished for disobedience:

“…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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

That is still God’s will. He wants no one permanently estranged from him, trapped in a deep, dark place where they fear help could never come.

Yes, they must humble themselves, confess their sins and turn from them. But they should also pray and seek God’s face. And he will hear, he will forgive, and he will heal.

I was seven when I fell while climbing over a barbed wire fence. I crashed to the ground, dragging my leg over the sharp spikes in the wire as I went. Blood poured from a deep wound. I lay there crying, not able to stand. But my father was right beside me, and Dad tied his handkerchief round the wound, picked me up in his strong arms and carried me home where I was fully mended.

Our heavenly Father is near, not far. He cares and he will rescue.

And the words Daniel used may be the most important we could pray: “Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” That prayer is important. That prayer is urgent.

 

 

[1] Scholars debate the details, but there were three or four deportations of Jews to Babylon between approximately 605 and 587 or 583 BC.

June 23, 2015




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