November 22, 2011 David Balzer

Daniel 9: How long, O Lord?

I used to do a lot of BUSHWALKING as a teenager. 3,4,5 days trips, walking from dawn to dusk, up mountains, along creeks, through scrub. Carrying everything on our backs.

We’d start each day in the cool of the morning, enthusiastic and energetic. But as the day went on, the temperature would rise, and our enthusiasm would flag.

And before long, the chorus would begin, “Are we there yet? How long until we get there? How much further?”

And the answer we’d get would always be the same. One of the leaders would answer, “Just at the top of the next hill.”

So, we’d be ENCOURAGED. We’d swing our packs onto our backs, fix our eyes on the top of the hill, and push on with renewed energy. Until we got to the top of the hill…

Only to see ANOTHER hill stretching off into the distance. Even FURTHER away, and HIGHER UP. The NEXT step in our journey.

What the leader had said wasn’t FALSE. It just wasn’t the COMPLETE truth. We’d achieved PART of the goal for the day. We’d climbed ONE hill. And it was good to arrive. And the view was great. But there was more to be achieved. With even BETTER views.

The leader had a perspective on the trip we COULDN’T. He’d seen the map. He’d walked the trail before. He knew where we were going.

We thought climbing the hill immediately in FRONT of us was enough. But he knew there were MUCH GREATER THINGS AHEAD. Better views, greater victories.

And that’s the sort of thing I think we’ve got going on here in Daniel Ch 9. Daniel wants to know how long. And God’s answer is, “In SOME ways, it’s not long. But in OTHER WAYS, it’s a LONG WAY to go. And there’s more to it than you can see.”

The date stamp in v1 is the first year of Darius. The year the Medes and Persians took over Babylon, including Daniel.

That makes the year 539 BC. 12 years after his awful dream of Ch 8. And 67 years after he first arrived in exile from Israel.

Daniel’s seen out the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. They’re gone. And now there’s a new king on the throne. And Daniel’s hopes are up. Perhaps there’s change in the wind.

And he begins to ask the question, “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?”

You see, God had made it PERFECTLY CLEAR why the Jews were in exile. Prophet after prophet, all the way back to Moses himself. Like Jeremiah (p554). In Ch 25, he tells them,

4 And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, YOU HAVE NOT LISTENED. 5 They said, “TURN NOW, EACH OF YOU, FROM YOUR EVIL WAYS, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you … 6 Do NOT follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.” 7 “BUT YOU DID NOT LISTEN TO ME,” declares the LORD, “…8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness,

God had PROMISED it. And he’d DELIVERED it.

Daniel KNEW it. He’d LIVED it. But he also knew what came NEXT in Jeremiah’s prophecy.

(10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness), … 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon SEVENTY YEARS. 12 “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,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. …. 14 THEY THEMSELVES WILL BE ENSLAVED BY MANY NATIONS AND GREAT KINGS; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

And now Daniel had seen THAT come to pass. Seventy years had passed. And Babylon was gone. Punished for HER sins. Just like God had promised.

But what about ISRAEL? What had he promised FOR ISRAEL? And so Daniel kept reading in the prophet Jeremiah. Until he got to Ch 29. A letter Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. V10.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and FULFILL MY GRACIOUS PROMISE TO BRING YOU BACK TO THIS PLACE. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 THEN YOU WILL CALL UPON ME AND COME AND PRAY TO ME, and I will listen to you. 13 YOU WILL SEEK ME and find me when you SEEK ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Daniel asked how long. He read his Scriptures. And he did his sums. And he listened to God’s promises.

The seventy years were nearly up. Babylon had been punished just like God had promised. And Daniel TRUSTED God’s promise, and he DID WHAT GOD COMMANDED. “Call upon me and pray to me. Seek me,” said God, “And I’ll be FOUND by you, and I’ll RESTORE you.”

So Daniel PRAYED. And BOY did he pray! I reckon it’s probably the BEST PRAYER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. The one that gets right WHO GOD IS, and WHO WE ARE. And on WHAT BASIS we can pray, or ask God’s forgiveness.

God is righteous, and we’re not (4-19)

And lots of bits I can focus on, but I want to summarise the prayer in THIS way: “God is righteous, and we’re not.”

It’s one of the descriptions of God Daniel uses again and again. Like v7.

7 “Lord, YOU ARE RIGHTEOUS, but this day we are covered with shame

Or down in v14.

14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God IS RIGHTEOUS IN EVERYTHING HE DOES; yet we have not obeyed him.

And once more in v16.

16 O Lord, IN KEEPING WITH ALL YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS,

God is righteous, and we’re NOT.

But what does it MEAN that God is righteous. At the very LEAST it means he always acts in a way that’s RIGHT. That’s MORALLY UPRIGHT.

But Daniel’s saying more than that here. He’s saying that God is TRUE TO HIS WORD. He keeps his promise. He acts in accordance with how he’s PROMISED to act. In other words, he’s RELIABLE, and FAITHFUL to his WORD.

Have a look at how he BEGINS his prayer. V4.

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, WHO KEEPS HIS COVENANT OF LOVE with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.

You’ve KEPT your side of the covenant, and WE HAVEN’T. And THEN he says in v7, “Lord, you are RIGHTEOUS, and we are covered in shame.”

To be RIGHTEOUS means God acts in the way he AGREED to in his covenant.

A bit further down (v11) he says it again.

11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

And how does God respond? Exactly the way he PROMISED.

“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us

V13. JUST AS IT’S WRITTEN, all this disaster has come upon us.

Or v14.

14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, FOR THE LORD OUR GOD IS RIGHTEOUS IN EVERYTHING HE DOES

In other words, we’ve got nothing to complain about because you’ve acted exactly the way you PROMISED. You’re RIGHTEOUS. You SAID you’d punish sin. And you DID.

And then Daniel gets to the ASKING bit (v15).

15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O Lord, IN KEEPING WITH ALL YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS, TURN AWAY YOUR ANGER AND YOUR WRATH from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill.

Daniel REMINDS God of how he SAVED his people. And then he says, “In keeping with all these RIGHTEOUS acts, forgive us.”

God isn’t just righteous when he PUNISHES. But when he SAVES, TOO. Because God is being true to his character. True to his promises when he RESCUES. And so, Daniel is asking God to be RIGHTEOUS, and to SAVE his people once again.

Notice what he DOESN’T say. He doesn’t say, “Forgive and save us because we’ve IMPROVED. We’ve pulled our socks up. We promise we won’t be bad again.” Look there in the second part of v18.

We do not make requests of you because WE are righteous, but because of YOUR GREAT MERCY.

That’s your CHARACTER. That’s your declared way of dealing with people. So, we ask you to act in RIGHTEOUSNESS, and (v28) listen, and FORGIVE. Hear and ACT. Do not delay, because your city and your people bear YOUR NAME.

Daniel prays on the basis of who GOD is, rather than who WE are. And everyone can learn A LOT from that attitude – whether we’re OT or NT people of God.

God is righteous, and we’re not.

But perhaps you can see the problem for God here. Everything Daniel’s prayed is TRUE. But the basic question is, “What’s the RIGHTEOUS thing for God to do? Punish sin, or FORGIVE it? Which is being true to his character? Which is JUST?”

How can God fit those two aspects of his promises and character together? To rescue and forgive. And to punish with justice?

There’s a long way to go

The solution is wrapped up in his ANSWER to Daniel.

The QUESTION was, “How long?”And the ANSWER?: “There’s a long way to go”

V20. While Daniel’s in the middle of his prayer, the angel Gabriel turns up. V23. He’s come straight from heaven with an answer.

Daniel’s thinking about the EXILE coming to an end. About the people returning to Jerusalem and re-building the temple. He’s thinking “70 years.” But Gabriel says (v24)

24 “Seventy ‘SEVENS’ Are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. 

It’s a bit like the bushwalking leader. Our eyes were fixed on the hill immediately in front of us. But the leader knew that there was another, higher, more spectacular mountain beyond the FIRST one.

And God’s saying the same thing. Yes, there IS a little hill in front of you. Yes, 70 years will pass. And there’ll be a new temple re-built in Jerusalem. And the people will be restored. Yes, I’ll forgive your sin – I’ll hear and act because I’m righteous.

But that’s NOTHING. You’re short-sighted. Lift your gaze and look a bit FURTHER. 70 times 7 years. Same place. Same people. But the view is so much more spectacular. Forget animal sacrifices patching up sin, so you can sin again. Forget unrighteousness. Forget a temple that’s only A BUILDING. Forget a people from ONE RACE ONLY.

I’m talking about A SPECTACULAR VIEW (v24). About FINISHED transgression, atoning for wickedness. I’m talking about bringing in EVERLASTING righteousness. I’m talking about SEALING UP prophecy and vision – bringing it to an end.

Forget sacrifices and cleansing that work until the end of the day. Or that need repeating NEXT year. That only deal with the OUTSIDE. I’m talking about ANOINTING the most holy people. Pouring out my Spirit on them to make them TRULY holy.

Forget a temple that’s only A BUILDING. I’m talking about a NEW type of temple. A PERSON. A person who’s the TRUE meeting place of God and man. No barriers, no ritual, no distance. God and man TOGETHER.

That’s a mountain worth climbing. A view worth enjoying.

And the key to it all is God’s anointed. The Messiah, or Christ. His special king. There in v25.

25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until THE ANOINTED ONE (or Messiah), the RULER, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’

And it was approximately 500 years later that JESUS appeared. God HIMSELF in human flesh. Completely righteous in every thought and word and action. But who was murdered as a common criminal. By God’s design. The righteous in place of the unrighteous. Punished in our place.

And I reckon that’s what Gabriel’s describing (v26) when he talks about the Anointed One BEING CUT OFF AND HAVING NOTHING.

It’s JESUS who finished transgression, who put an end to sin. Who atoned for wickedness. Who brought in everlasting righteousness. Who anoints his people with the Holy Spirit to make them holy.

It’s JESUS who is the goal and target and culmination of all prophecy and vision. Who seals them up.

And it was IN JESUS that problem is solved of how God can act in a way that is RIGHTEOUS. In Jesus, God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed.

JESUS is the answer to how God can be righteous in PUNISHING Israel and sending them to exile. AND RIGHTEOUS in SAVING them. Rescuing and RESTORING them.

God promises to PUNISH sin. And God promises to SAVE from sin – to deliver his people.

And, until Jesus came, those two promises were black and white. The whole OT is about God ALTERNATING from one to the other. First God PUNISHING. THEN, God SAVING.

Like in the book of Judges. The people would SIN, God would PUNISH them by sending an oppressor, the people would CRY OUT to God. And he’d DELIVER them by sending a Judge. Then the cycle would begin all over again.

But the sacrifice of Jesus puts the two together. God’s righteous PUNISHMENT and his righteous SALVATION. And God is shown to be RIGHTEOUS.

And it’s the MESSAGE of the cross – the GOSPEL – that’s the SOLUTION to the puzzle.

Flip over to Romans 1:16 for a moment. And I’ve just changed the translation slightly to make it a bit more true to the original Greek. Paul says in v16.

16 I am not ashamed of THE GOSPEL, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 FOR IN THE GOSPEL  GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS REVEALED, righteousness that is BY FAITH from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” 

God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed in the gospel. His faithfulness to his promises.

Here, it’s his promise to SAVE that’s focussed on. We benefit from God’s righteousness – recognise it and appreciate it – when we TRUST him. His salvation comes to all who BELIEVE.

That’s good news. That’s something not to be ASHAMED of. And the whole of the letter to the Romans is Paul explaining how that salvation works itself out. What righteousness LOOKS LIKE.

But let’s just look at one more passage in Romans that talks about God’s righteousness. Ch 3 v25. We’re really skimming the mountain peaks today. Daniel 9: The greatest PRAYER in the OT. And Romans 3:25 – in the middle of THE GREATEST PARAGRAPH IN THE WHOLE BIBLE. And its subject? God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Let’s start at v21.

21 But now God’s righteousness, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The gospel about Jesus SHOWS us how God is righteous. Jesus makes US righteous when we trust him. That’s what JUSTIFIED means – it’s actually the same word as righteous, but as a verb. We’ve been RIGHT-ified. Made into people on the right side of the covenant – who HAVEN’T broken it – rather than people who HAVE broken it. All by trusting Jesus’ work.

That’s US. But look at what it goes on to say about GOD being righteous.

25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. HE DID THIS TO DEMONSTRATE HIS JUSTICE (it actually says RIGHTEOUSNESS!), because in his FORBEARANCE he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice (RIGHTEOUSNESS) at the present time, so as to be just (RIGHTEOUS) and the one who justifies (who MAKES RIGHTEOUS) those who have faith in Jesus.

The cross demonstrates that God is RIGHTEOUS.

Back in Daniel’s prayer, he acknowledges that God is righteous when he PUNISHES. And then he asks God to be righteous and FORGIVE sin, and save his people. And the two only go together because God OVERLOOKS the sin. Romans says in his FORBEARANCE he left it UNPUNISHED. It LOOKED like God was being UN-righteous when he forgave sin, and saved his people. Because they DIDN’T DESERVE it. Grace ISN’T just.

But what Romans is saying is that the cross DEMONSTRATES God’s righteousness. It shows him to be BOTH RIGHTEOUS AND the One who MAKES people righteous.

The cross shows God’s JUSTICE in PUNISHING sin. AND his righteous love and grace to SAVE sinners. He DEMANDS death for sin. But then satisfies his own justice by killing His only Son.

And the reason Daniel can pray for God’s deliverance. The reason God GRANTED Daniel’s prayer. Is because of Jesus.

And the reason WE can pray like Daniel. The reason we can come to the Father and ask forgiveness. The reason God can GRANT that forgiveness and still be RIGHTEOUS. Is because of Jesus, TOO.

What a wonderful mountain top! What a wonderful view! What a wonderful privilege! Forgiven and made righteous by our perfectly righteous Creator because he satisfies his justice in the death of another.

Is that a view YOU recognise? Is that a view YOU appreciate? Is that a view you LIVE OUT in humility and gratitude and obedience and trust?

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