I am not referring to Daniel’s vision of the pre-incarnate Son of God, as important as that may have been. For example, Isaiah was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill prophet of God until Isaiah 6 – “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” At that point Isaiah became the MVP of all the Old Testament prophets. But in some ways he still couldn’t hold a candle to Daniel. Daniel, too, saw the Lord high and lifted up, but that is not the thing which made him particularly great and important. There is a sense in which you and I can see the Lord, even more precisely than either Isaiah or Daniel – through the pages of God’s Word – scriptures which were not available to those great men. Daniel was not a great and important man because an angel came to visit him.
The blessings of God, such as these sorts of things, need to be sustained in some way. For example, we have all been moved by a sermon preached by some powerful man of God, but then a couple of weeks later, we have forgotten the message and returned to our former way of life. And before that we were crushed by the Holy Spirit and brought to repentance before the Lord for salvation, but it wasn’t long before our native pride returned and even some of our earlier sins. If we don’t diligently apply the Lord’s blessings and seek for even more and greater blessings, our spiritual lives quickly decay. Once again we prove to ourselves that salvation is totally by God’s grace, from beginning to end. We can’t even maintain a salvation that God begins.
However, despite our dependence upon the Lord, we are not left without our own personal responsibilities. The angel said, “Daniel: from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.” In that statement to Daniel, the angel has something to say to us. Should we do to ourselves what Daniel is described as doing?
Last week, I pointed out that Daniel’s mourning began just about the time of the Passover. If I had to guess, I’d say that his heart was breaking over the fact that Israel could not observe the Passover as they had been commanded. This was not only considered a sin and shame by such godly men as Daniel, but he was probably well aware that this was the chastising hand of God upon the nation. They couldn’t obey the Lord because they were being judged by the Lord.
This week as I was studying, something else was brought to my attention. This was the third year of Cyrus king of Persia. Listen to the first four verses of the Book of Ezra. “Now in the FIRST year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” Despite the fact that the king of Persia had given his permission and decree to let the Jews return, the redevelopment of Jerusalem and the nation was not going well. Despite the money that elderly Daniel and others had sent to help in this project, the work was not proceeding quickly enough to show that the Lord was at the heart of it. The Syrians and others were fighting the work in Jerusalem tooth and nail. And the Jews themselves were returning to some of their old sinful practices. Daniel’s heart was aching as much as it ever had. It was in this context that the elderly man of God mourned and “chastened himself.” The words of the angel, both here and in what follows indicate that the “chastening” to which he refers is the “mourning” to which Daniel refers at the beginning of the chapter.
What is it to chasten? There are three definitions in my dictionary. “It is to correct by punishment or reproof. It is to restrain or subdue. And it is to get rid of excess; to refine; to purify.”
But we forget that the Lord has said – “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” The place to begin our self-examination is within us, not outside of us. It’s not necessarily whether or not we are faithful, but WHY it is that we’re faithful. The preacher may be faithful, because it is his job. Someone else may be consistent and faithful, because he is consumed by pride; he would be embarrassed if someone suggested that he wasn’t faithful. And then someone else attends every service and drops his tithe in the plate, because he knows that his children are watching. It might be that if some of these people weren’t ruled by things like these, they wouldn’t be so constant and steadfast in their outward lives. The Lord looks on the heart not on our outward deeds.
There was probably not a better servant of the Lord in all Shushan than Daniel, but during this three week period, he laid aside all that he was doing, and even more importantly, he laid aside all that he had done in the past, and he tore open his chest, exposing it to the x-rays of the Holy Spirit of God. I believe that this is something that we should do as well. You have looked at the service that you perform for His glory, but have you ever asked Him what He thinks about the service that you do not perform?
This self-chastening was done from the inside out, and in the sight of the Almighty. It was a humbling process, even for this great man of God. He was looking for hidden sins, and wicked attitudes. Were there people in the palace whom Daniel hated, and whom he hoped to see removed? Was there any jealousy toward some of the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem while he stayed in Persia? Did he proudly think of himself as a better person than some of them, knowing that the only reason that they returned home was to escape persecution or perhaps prosecution?
Daniel gave up the fine food of the palace kitchen, confining himself to his apartment. He ate the coarsest of foods and drank nothing but water, as he focused upon the Lord and his own relationship to the Lord. Some modern Christians like to go on retreats, thinking that these are the same as Daniel’s three weeks. No, this was not a retreat; this was a spiritual battle.
Coupled to his chastening, was Daniel’s desire for understanding. We aren’t told about what it was that he yearned to understand. Was it about national things and future events? Or was it personal and spiritual?
Notice that when this elderly gentleman got up from his hands and knees, he stood trembling. The angel had to encourage him by saying, “Fear not, Daniel” and “God loves you.” Remember that this wasn’t the first time Daniel had talked with Gabriel. There wasn’t any more reason to be afraid now than there had been in the past, except for one thing: This time of honest introspection had given him a fresh perception of who he really was. Even though the angel told him that he didn’t need to fear, Daniel realized that he did.
There is a great deal that I don’t understand about prayer, but I do understand the promises. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Are you aware that this verse from II Chronicles 7 is the Lord’s answer to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple? Listen to some of Solomon’s prayer. “When the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; yet if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou dost afflict them; Then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, when thou hast taught them the good way, wherein they should walk; and send rain upon thy land, which thou hast given unto thy people for an inheritance. If there be dearth in the land, if there be pestilence, if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, or caterpillers; if their enemies besiege them in the cities of their land; whatsoever sore or whatsoever sickness there be: Then what prayer or what supplication soever shall be made of any man, or of all thy people Israel, when every one shall know his own sore and his own grief, and shall spread forth his hands in this house: Then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men:) If they sin against thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near; Yet if they bethink themselves in the land whither they are carried captive, and turn and pray unto thee in the land of their captivity, saying, We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly; If they return to thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, whither they have carried them captives, and pray toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, and toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for thy name: Then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people which have sinned against thee.”
Statements like these could be multiplied a hundred times from both Testaments. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”
Why is it that our prayers often appear to be unheard? Could it be that they are too frivolous, and we are too flippant? Could it be that we pray out of our lusts rather than our of true humility? Could it be that we are seek our own will and not the Lord’s will?
Daniel spent three weeks on his face before God, seeking understanding and divine blessing. The scripture says that as a direct result of Daniel’s attitude – physical attitude and spiritual attitude – God sent His angel to minister to him. Whether or not we realize it, we need these same kinds of blessings. But we will never have them until we make the same kind of approach toward the Lord.