While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision: ‘Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.’
Do I want to use my 300 words to try and work out how long Israel will have to wait in exile? Not really!
Daniel prayed, confessing the sins of Israel, and Gabriel came to him with reassuring words. Reassuring in that, at some point (buried in the complicated chronology), the Exile will come to an end. The take-home message of the vision is that the end of this terrible time will come.
I am, then, interested to consider what this divine message may have done for the community.
On my first hearing, I must confess to being heartbroken that Israel was having to wait. The Exile was an appalling period and I grieve that any people or nation should face such injustice, then or now, but perhaps knowing that it would eventually end was comforting in some small way.
There is a sense of God’s longer ‘plan’ here: despite the machinations of humanity, God consistently promises, as he did to Julian of Norwich, that ‘all will be well’. That can sound a bit blasé when you’re facing the heat of the fire, but Gabriel is reassuring us that pain and injustice is not God’s plan – so take heart!
This does not mean, sit back and let God’s plan unfold. It means, be expectant of God’s plan and be part of its unfolding.
There is an important relationship in Daniel’s prayer, between confession and action. Confessing Israel’s sin is a first step towards changing that behaviour. Confessing the world’s injustice is the first step towards God’s justice. Confessing the damage we cause to the natural environment is the first step towards reconnecting with creation. Confessing the pain we cause others and the pain we cause ourselves, is the first step towards community and wholeness.
As you watch or read the news today, take a moment to confess humanity’s iniquity, as a first step towards God’s Kingdom. Take time to remember Gabriel’s message, that this period of ‘exile’ is not what God desires for us and it will end.
Loving God, help us to connect confession and action and to know, deep in our hearts, that pain and injustice are not part of your plan. Inspire expectation and hope within us as we walk your way with joy! Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon