Chapter 8: The Prayers of Daniel
by James R. Baker, Scotland
The dramatic circumstances in the early days of the Babylonian captivity brought great difficulty to the children of Israel. The impact that was made upon those who were taken down from Canaan to Babylon resulted in the various prayers which are recorded in the book of Daniel. These petitions were brought before God by persons who were cast upon Him for deliverance from torture and possible death. It should also be noted that there were those amongst the captive children of Israel whose lives were marked by the habit of regular and constant prayer. For them prayer was the normal response when problems arose. The actual prayers within the book of Daniel are either alluded to, or delineated in detail. They will be considered here in the chronological order of the four particular chapters that unfold the importance and result of prayer in times of trouble. Before those chapters are considered, varied references from chapter 1 are made regarding the initial difficulties that the early captives encountered.
It is clear from this opening chapter that Daniel and his companions were in Babylon as captives and therefore were in a precarious position in respect of the prolific rules and regulations that were being brought to them from different levels of Babylon’s authority. Soon there were young Jews chosen by the Babylonians who changed the captives’ diet from that to which they were accustomed, and changed their names also. The obvious intention was to develop intellectually gifted young men so that they would easily assimilate, and blend into the ways and culture of Babylon, and thus be able to encourage many other Israelites to adjust peacefully into their new situation. Nebuchadnezzar was clearly intent on changing the attitude of these young men to their own nation and, more importantly, to God. The significance of the new names given to them lies in the fact that each of the original Hebrew names contained part of a Divine title of the God of Israel. Daniel and Mishael contained the suffix ‘el’ describing God as the Mighty One, and Hananiah and Azariah contained the suffix ‘ah’ telling of the Divine title Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God. The powers of Babylon obviously wanted to take God out of their lives and out of their thinking.
From this there was an even greater significance, because each replacement name contained mention of the gods of idolatry which were well known and worshipped by the Chaldeans. Daniel, which in Hebrew means ‘God is my judge’, was changed to Belteshazzar meaning, ‘Bel’s treasurer or prince’. This new name contained the name of Nebuchadnezzar’s god, ‘Bel’ relating to Baal. Azariah, meaning ‘the help of the Lord’, was changed to Abed-nego meaning the ‘servant of Nego’ referring to the brightness, i.e. of the sun or of fire. Hananiah, meaning ‘beloved of the Lord’, was changed to Shadrach meaning ‘illuminated by the sun god’ and Mishael meaning ‘who is like unto God’ changed to Meshach meaning ‘who is like Venus’.
The captives involved were now surrounded by idolatry of every sort, and the intention was to take every thought of Jehovah away from their minds which were to be conditioned to, and familiarised with, their new conditions in Babylon. It is salutary to remember that this old strategy of Satan is, under a different guise, still being used successfully to condition the people of God to every method and influence that can corrupt the mind from the simplicity which is in Christ. The bombardment of Christian homes and minds by atheistic philosophy, using various types of media presentation, have been particularly successful here.
It should be noted that no mention is made of Daniel and his fellow captives praying about these matters. In the book of Daniel as it continues there are various contexts where prayer is either mentioned or described, but not in this chapter. It is the same in the present day when there are issues that demand obedience to the written Word of God. It is often said by some "I will pray about the matter", but when the Word of God is clear, it should be obeyed without delay. The only appropriate prayer required in such a matter is to ask for courage to do what God has commanded. It is good to see that although the internal conviction of Daniel was unambiguous, the manner in which he presented it to Ashpenaz was gentle and made in the form of a request, the reason of defilement still being made clear.
This important chapter contains the record of a most remarkable dream that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had in the second year of his reign. The content of the dream contained momentous facts and prophetic matters that are of the most profound importance. It details the first of a number of sections in the book of Daniel, which together provide an outline of the dealings of God with the Gentile nations.
Nebuchadnezzar was being taught that he, with his kingdom of Babylon, was the first of four imperial powers which were Divinely predicted to exist during the times of the Gentiles. Later in the present chapter it is made very clear that beyond the rule of men, with all its temporary greatness, there is to be a kingdom which will be everlasting and superior to all. The four Gentile world empires referred to will come to an end, but the fifth kingdom described, will be indestructible because it will be Divine in its origin and control.
The Request of Nebuchadnezzar.
It is not easy to decide what caused the emperor to be troubled in his spirit at this time, although there were already many reasons why he ought to have been. His life had been lived in cruelty and in the domination over others and, even though it was but an early stage of his reign, he was already responsible for the shedding of the blood of many hundreds of people. It appears that the dream of this chapter was not his first, from the words of v.1 of this chapter it was one of many; and his dreams troubled his spirit and caused him sleepless nights. There is a marked contrast between the sleep of this man and that of Peter who had been apprehended and put into prison by Herod the king: "and when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison" Acts 12.6. Nebuchadnezzar could not sleep within the comfort of his palace, but Peter was complacent in sleep, even in the harsh environment of prison, during the night before he was to be brought before those who could have condemned him to death.
The command of the king was to the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans. These groups formed a conglomerate of those who made contact with the world of evil spirits and were the normal advisors to the king on all varied questions that came into his mind. On this occasion they listened to the king’s request and were keen to know from him the content of his dream, but Nebuchadnezzar was anxious for them to relate to him the actual details of the dream itself. This to them was a very difficult question to answer and one that tested their true ability to know the future. The only response these men could give was "O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation". Whether the situation was contrived or not, the king had before him an opportunity to test the ability and integrity of his advisors and it is clear that they knew this also. From their point of view this matter became the most serious dilemma they had ever faced. Success in their answer would open to them a life and place of greatness before this Gentile potentate; but failure would mean death; this would be the supreme test. From the king’s point of view he knew that if they could give an accurate description of his dream then their interpretation of it would also be correct. He was in fact testing the ability and integrity of his advisors.
The answer of the advisors revealed their inability to do what the king asked. God was teaching this cruel man about the weakness of human wisdom as well as the dangers of consulting the powers of darkness. The result of the king’s wrath was to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. He was possessed of ultimate power to do what he wished and his decision included the destruction of Daniel and his fellow-servants.
The grace and wisdom of Daniel did not impede the directness with which he acted in times of need and extremity. His life was lived in fellowship with God and immediately after he heard the details from Arioch he went in to the king and asked for some time to be granted. The request was accompanied with the promise to shew the king the interpretation he wanted. This is further evidence of Daniel’s faith in, and intimacy with, God. Daniel’s fear of God was greater that his fear of any man.
Immediately after leaving the king, Daniel went to his house and "made the thing known" to his three companions so that they might pray, 2.17. This was a prayer meeting with only four people present, but they were men who prayed to God from under the very shadow of death and their prayer was addressed to "the God of heaven" v.19. This is a Divine title that is specific to the period in which they lived and is used many times in this and other captivity books. The use of Divine titles in prayer at different times in the Bible, is worthy of careful attention.
Their prayer contained two specific areas of request, first for the mercy of God to be shown to them in revealing the secret content of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. They were cast upon God for Divine revelation in this matter. It is significant to note that, although Daniel had promised the king the answer he required, this confidence did not impede earnest prayer being made for God to give the revelation. This is an important lesson for the people of God in any generation. All should believe in, and rest upon, the purpose of God but such belief should never take away the spiritual exercise of prayer. The inability to explain how prayer is heard and responded to by God should never discourage the constant exercise of fervent prayer.
The second request was for their personal deliverance from the penalty they had been brought under through the failure of the wise men. These men had not been present when the interview took place between the king and the wise men, and they had not had the opportunity to make the promise which Daniel made later to Nebuchadnezzar. It was not a vain request to ask God for the preservation of their lives from perishing with the rest of the wise men in Babylon. It is very clear from a number of statements in this chapter, and in the book generally, that Daniel had every confidence that God was in control of the circumstances of himself, as well as of his fellows. It should here be noted that confidence in God did not in any way make him self-confident or careless in prayer. The reality of prayer in the life of a Christian is most essential. The believer should never take the view of the fatalist. God requires that His people pray regularly and individually and He will answer in His own good time and according to His will and purpose.
The Thanksgiving and Praise of Daniel
The secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision and immediately the servant of God expressed his praise and thankfulness to God. He did not wait a moment longer to express his joy before the God of heaven and rejoiced that his confidence in God had been completely justified and his heart was full of joy and thanksgiving. And after the night of revelation and praise was over, his first approach was to Arioch to request the stay of judgment and to be brought into the presence of the king. Here we see the wisdom of Daniel which resulted in a further interview with Nebuchadnezzar whose first words to Daniel were "Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen …?" 2.26. The answer of Daniel commenced with an implied question, but without waiting for an answer, he stated clearly that the king’s problem was solved by the "God in heaven" v.28. The implied question was clearly intended to reveal to the king the difference between the response from the so-called wise men and that from himself. Theirs was to promote self and to deceive the king, but Daniel’s great desire was to introduce Nebuchadnezzar to the God of heaven.
It is important to note in v.30 that the import of the particular experience described in this chapter is with a view to educating this cruel king and his associates in the whole matter of the power and wisdom of God in controlling the affairs of men.
The Outcome of Daniel’s Prayer
While it is not the purpose of this chapter to expound the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image, it is encouraging to note that Daniel’s faith in, and faithfulness to God ended with the king acknowledging Daniel’s God and Daniel himself being promoted, vv.47,48. It is not difficult to see this as an illustration of 1Sam.2.30, "them that honour me I will honour".
Daniel chapter 5 described the final day of the 25-year reign of Belshazzar. Chapter 6 describes a little of the commencement of the reign of Darius the Mede and includes the implementation of the new administrative organisation within the new empire. In association with these new senior appointments, it also describes a further very significant example of affliction for Daniel caused by his faithfulness in testimony for God. The incident of Daniel in the den of lions has possibly made this the best known chapter in the book.
The early verses of the present chapter reveal the favour that Daniel had soon earned from his new captors, although he would have been about 83 years of age. Many believers have proved that the spiritual and moral requirements of an obedient, sanctified life have not impeded their advancement in their temporal employment. But there have been occasions when such godly features have stirred up the fleshly nature and attitude of their unconverted colleagues, but through humble endurance they have proved that "When a man’s ways please the LORD, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" Prov.16.7. It is clear that there were those who envied Daniel, but they could not find occasion against his life, so they decided they would do it through his adherence to the law of his God, v.5. The incident now to be considered describes the well-known story of the den of lions.
A simple reading of the chapter under consideration reveals the unrest of the many governing groups within the empire who were directly responsible to the emperor. These groups were utterly opposed to Daniel, but found it almost impossible to find grounds upon which they could act against him and thus remove him. The plan that was eventually devised was to prepare an edict that would develop into a royal statute signed by the king. It was to force every subject within the kingdom to refrain in total from addressing any god for any purpose except it was through the king of Persia. This prohibition was to last for a period of thirty days and any person who deviated was to be cast into a den of lions.
Daniel’s Prayer Life
"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber towards Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime" v.10. The actions of Daniel were not done as acts of disobedience or rebellion; rather they were the continuation of lifetime devotion toward Jehovah the God of Israel.
It should be noted from v.10 that regularity and humility marked the prayer life of this servant of God who kneeled down three times each day. Such times of being in the presence of God enabled him to enjoy constant communion with God and it should be carefully noted that thanksgiving formed a major part at every occasion of prayer. It should be remembered that these features were prominent in his prayer life before difficulties arose.
Daniel had constantly engaged in the spiritual exercise of prayer; he was a man in touch with God although he lived in the midst of an idolatrous people. In the second chapter of the book of Daniel, in his youth, he has been seen as a man of prayer and through his contact with God had been used to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar the content of his dream. Here, approximately sixty two years later, the word "aforetime" indicates that, through the long years of his life, it had been his habit to pray at his window three times each day towards Jerusalem. Regularity in prayer was the practice of our Lord Jesus Christ and was seen in the life of so many of His servants in the New Testament. This new situation in Daniel’s life was but another item for him to place before God, as he continued "instant in prayer" Rom.12.12.
"Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God" v.11. Although the prayers of Daniel were as before; there was at this time the inclusion of supplication as he, no doubt, brought these specific matters before God. The wicked men, who had come to witness Daniel praying, did not appreciate that he was now invoking the hand of God upon himself against their evil actions. The cruel intention of the men who came is easily seen. They knew where to go to find Daniel at prayer. These facts are a great challenge to every Christian in the present day. The practice of prayer is so often neglected by those who profess the name of Christ. Just as Daniel had a place to pray and specific times for it, so should the saints of the present day. These men had seen Daniel kneeling before God in his private life and had witnessed the holiness of his public life, but they still wanted to have him removed. They knew they had obtained from the king an edict that to them was unchangeable and in this confidence they began, in the presence of the king, to reiterate the details of that edict. They were careful to repeat to him the terms of the decree, to which they had received his assent and further confirmed it again. It is clear that the king was grieved on behalf of Daniel, v.14, but was not able to deny his own words that forced him to enact the sentence. The accompanying words of the king confirm his confidence in the power of Daniel’s God to deliver His servant. The result of the miraculous deliverance of Daniel brought judgment to Daniel’s opponents and their families, v.24; issued in widespread testimony to the mighty power and sovereignty of God, vv.25-27; and prosperity to Daniel, who worshipped and trusted in Jehovah, the God of Israel.
This chapter is well known but not easily understood. It commences with Daniel reading and considering books of inspired Scripture and concludes with a very important prophetic revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. The previous means by which Daniel had been instructed in the great themes of prophecy was through miraculous revelations from God. Here we can see there is clear evidence that Daniel was a careful student of the written revelations that had been recorded and at a later time incorporated into the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament. This emphasises the important fact that Daniel was not only a man given to the regular habit of prayer but was also a consistent reader of the Word of God. There is no doubt that the twin functions of reading the Word of God and praying are two of the most vital spiritual exercises for all believers. But reading the Scriptures is not just to educate the mind and Daniel knew this. He had just been reading in the book of Jeremiah, which, nodoubt, had stimulated his mind to consider and meditate upon it. It was not difficult for Daniel to compute the number of years that he had been in captivity and to realise that the accomplishment of the seventy years was just about to come.
Daniel’s Prayer and Confession
It is clear that reading the Word of God had a profound effect upon Daniel. His sensitivity to the Scriptures drew him into the presence of God and caused him to respond by prayer and supplication with fasting and contrition before God, v.3. Although he was very young at the beginning of the captivity and therefore not directly responsible for the failure of Israel at that time, yet he clearly made confession as one who had sinned. Daniel knew that God had used Nebuchadnezzar because of the backsliding of the nation of Israel and here the servant of God acknowledges the sin as iniquity and wickedness.
It is most interesting to note the order of the prayer that Daniel set out before the Lord, having first confessed his sin and failure personally, then that of his people. As the prayer progresses he acknowledged the ways of God with His own people followed by his desire for the worship of God. Although Daniel had been absent from Jerusalem for well nigh 70 years he knew it was the city of God and that the temple was the dwelling place of God and that both were in reproach because God had withdrawn His presence. These desires of Daniel were right and pleasing to God. "Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of Thy servant, and his supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake" v.17. It is a wonderful tribute to the servant of God, that in spite of his many years of domicile in Gentile cities, his spiritual desires were centred upon Jerusalem, the house of God, the glory of God and the testimony of His people. His great spiritual desire was for the glory of God to shine from the sanctuary once again. This was the great burden of such a powerful and detailed prayer. And it was not for Daniel’s sake but rather for the Lord’s sake. This was prayer indeed.
This prayer is described as one of the greatest in Holy Scripture and yet it has been opposed on the grounds that it is not a true part of inspired Scripture. The so-called higher critics have attacked this as part of their main argument, that the writing of the book of Daniel as a whole is a second century forgery.
It is evident that over the many years of his isolation from Jerusalem, Daniel had learned to know God in a personal way and had also retained a love for "the place of the name" Isa.18.7, and for the people of God. He also knew that God was aware of all the desolations he spoke about but this did not diminish his pleadings with God for the city and the place that was dear to his heart. His pleadings were not focused upon his need, but rather were with a view to the glory of God. The closing stanzas reveal the holy intimacy and power with which Daniel pleaded and closed his prayer to God, "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; … O my God" v.19. The names of God were prominent in his prayer and it was for the glory and honour of the name of God that he pleaded and the subsequent verses reveal that such a prayer was honoured and answered.
The earnestness and zeal with which Daniel prayed brought great honour and blessing to him. This is made clear in vv.20-23, where the angel Gabriel is seen to bring remarkable tidings to Daniel. This includes the skill and understanding to be given to the servant of God and to him would be conveyed the important information of the seventy weeks programme of prophecy. This wonderful chapter of prayer led to the great message of prophecy from God. In our present Christian experience, the only way to understand and enjoy the Word of God is by holding communion with God. It is then that His Word will become real to us and we will hear His voice.
This chapter contains details of the commencement of the final vision in the book of Daniel. The vision referred to is very important and continues as one prophecy which proves to be the longest and most comprehensive of all the revelations given to the prophet. Its content continues through the last three chapters until the end of the book and of this Edward Dennett1 has observed, "It deals … with different eras and personages, traverses many spheres of action, but it does not proceed consecutively; for after reaching down to a certain point, with a historical description of machinations and conflicts between the king of the north and the king of the south, it suddenly passes on to the time of the end, and brings before us the wilful king, the antichrist with his wicked doings, 11.36, etc. and his conflicts with his adversaries."
- 1 Dennett, E. “Daniel the Prophet”. Central Bible Hammond Trust, England, 1989.
Chapter 10 begins with a further revelation to Daniel, which appeared to strongly affect him, and here he records some of the physical details as he passed through the three-week period when he deprived himself of normal conditions and facilities. Verse 12 makes clear that when the three-week period began with all its difficulties, Daniel also began to pray, and the words he used are referred to when, at the end of the period, he saw the heavenly messenger who came. It is not the object of this present chapter to define and expound the matters spoken of by the servant who had been Divinely sent, nor can we know all the words that Daniel had spoken in the three-week period. But it is thrilling to note that God heard all the words spoken by Daniel in his prayer and at the appropriate time Daniel was consoled by the message that eventually came. Of this Michael Browne has fittingly said, "As soon as a saint of God utters prayer from a burdened heart, that prayer is heard in heaven."2 "From the first day … thy words were heard" 10.12. A mighty angel was despatched to carry the reply, but for three weeks the powers of hell withstood the heavenly emissary, v.13. Still, today, there is constant spiritual warfare in the cosmic realm, in which we have a share, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" Eph.6.12. Satanic opposition is never more evident than in hindering the believer’s prayers, but Daniel’s experience teaches us that we need not be defeated; we have every spiritual facility to be overcomers.
- 2 Browne, M. “Day by Day in Prayer”. Precious Seed Publications, 1997.
Daniel was a servant of God whose life and testimony bore witness to the keeping power of God through the darkest of circumstances. From youth to extreme old age he lived in consistent fellowship with God and the example of the righteousness of his life was used by Ezekiel the priest on at least three occasions, see Ezek.14.14,20; 28.3. His prayer life was regular and consistent throughout his life, and is a model that every believer should follow.