In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,
‘Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. 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.
‘Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
‘All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers, by bringing upon us a calamity so great that what has been done against Jerusalem has never before been done under the whole heaven. Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us. We did not entreat the favour of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity. So the Lord kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us. Indeed, the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.
‘And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and made your name renowned even to this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain; because of our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people have become a disgrace among all our neighbours. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!’
Our exploration of these apocalyptic (that is, to do with the End Times) writings continues. We will, perhaps, never fully understand what is meant by books such as this until we reach those End Times. That doesn’t stop endless speculation and interpretation, and neither should it. What point would there be in having visions such as this recorded in Scripture unless we were meant to wrestle with them and seek to discern meaning under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
It would be a gross error, however, to obsess over them and dig out “meaning” that is not intended.
Daniel had been wrestling with Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years of exile for the people of Judah. He was getting nowhere in making sense of it all. Then he prayed and fasted and confessed his sins and the sins of the people. He worshipped God and he prayed for God’s mercy. You will have to wait until this time tomorrow to find out the result of this!
But let’s think of the process. Daniel was studying the Scriptures and finding a part of them difficult to understand. His response was not to turn to the next chapter or a different book. It wasn’t to put his “Bible” (such as he had) down and walk away. Neither was it to start to make things up – to pull out meaning that wasn’t there.
Rather, it was to commit to more prayer and continued study. He might well have brought to mind those passages in Leviticus 26 and 2 Chronicles 7 that when God’s people humble themselves and seek God in prayer, then God will hear us them from heaven and answer our prayers.
What shall we learn from this? Can we become like Daniel? Can we take after the first Christians who devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures and to prayer, and then sought to apply what they learnt of God (see Acts 2:42, Acts 6:4, etc.)?
When we are careless with Your Word, finding meaning You did not put there, forgive us. When we neglect Your Word, finding distraction easy and excuses plentiful, forgive us. When we break fellowship with You, through shutting you into small corners of our lives, forgive us.
Help us to keep You at the centre of our being, and the motive for our doing. Amen.
The Rev’d Steve Faber, Synod Moderator, West Midlands Synod.