The section of Daniel we now come to, (chapter 8) is a decisive passage for all the various systems of prophetic interpretation. It has two main parts: a prayer of Daniel, which is a model of devout, humble, and effective prayer petition; and a concluding revelation, which was God’s answer to that prayer. This concluding prophecy concerns the Lord Jesus Christ and is a prediction, not only of the nature of His earthly ministry, but even of the precise time of his appearing and death.
Commentators have called the ninth chapter of Daniel the “key” to prophetic interpretation. Others have called it the “backbone” of prophecy. Arno C. Gaebelein writes: “The prophetic message Gabriel brought from the throne of God to Daniel is perhaps the most important not only in the Book of Daniel, but in the whole Bible. The clear understanding of it is indispensable to every reader of God’s Word, who wants to know God’s purposes concerning the future. In the few verses which contain the words of Gabriel, events relating to Jewish future history are predicted. The return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, the rebuilding of the city in time of distress, the coming of Christ in humiliation, His death, the destruction of the temple and the city by the Romans, the desolations and wars which were to follow, all this is prewritten in this great prophecy. The final end of the time of the Gentiles, the great eventful week of seven years is revealed in the last verse.”
It is noteworthy that this, the “backbone” of all prophecies, is set in the context of a narrative. At the end of Daniel 8, after Daniel had been given the vision of the ram and goat, we are told that the prophet was troubled by the vision to the point of becoming sick. As we begin Daniel 9, we find what Daniel did to recover from his agitation.
What would you do? Someone might say, “I think you’re losing perspective. What you need Daniel, is to talk it over with the other court astrologers.” Daniel did not do anything like this. Instead, he did these two things: (1) He studied the Bible, and (2) he prayed.
The text says, “In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) … I, Daniel, perceived in the books (Scriptures), the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes.” Daniel did not have our Bible. But he had some of it, and he studied what he had. Then, after he knew what the promises of God given in Scripture were, he prayed about them, asking God to do what he had promised.
Daniel was a prophet himself yet he found it important to read the Bible and be instructed by it rather than trusting in some special new revelation. We are not prophets. How much more important a role should Bible study play in our lives!
Additionally, when Daniel studied the Scripture, God directed him to the passages that spoke most to his need and comforted him by them. Jeremiah had lived in Jerusalem up to the time of its destruction by the Babylonians, and he had predicted that the people would be carried away into captivity and that the captivity would last seventy years.
Jeremiah 25 contains the clearest example: “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 … and will make it desolate forever.” Daniel was directed to this passage and concluded from it that the years of captivity were drawing to an end.
The termination of the captivity was only three years away. Daniel was over eighty years old at this time. He would not return to Jerusalem. But the assurance that his people would go back and that the city would soon be rebuilt must have been a great comfort to him.
Daniel prayed for the very thing the Bible had assured him would happen. Does this seem strange to you? There are misguided Calvinists who conclude in such situations that since God had decreed three more years of captivity and a return to Jerusalem after that, there would be nothing they could do. They could only sit back and let God work. Daniel knew better than that. He knew that although God certainly works according to His own plans and timetable, He nevertheless does this through people – through their acts and attitudes, and particularly their prayers.
Incidentally, Calvin knew better than this too. In his commentary on Daniel, Calvin has a fifty-page discussion of this prayer in which he insists that knowledge of God’s promises stirs us to prayer rather than merely causing us to become detached from God’s actions. Calvin says, “The faithful do not so acquiesce in the promises of God as to grow torpid, and become idle and slothful through the certainty of their persuasion that God will perform His promises, but are rather stimulated to prayer. For the true proof of faith is the assurance when we pray that God will really perform what He has promised us. … Nothing … can be better for us than to ask for what He has promised.”
We do not show our spirituality when we abstain from prayer – “letting God do what God will do” – so much as reveal our carnality. The greatest women and men of God have been prayer warriors.