Behind the Scenes of Daniel’s Prayer in Daniel 10:1-14

I’m a movie buff or in elitist terms, a cinephile.  In many ways, I speak and think using images and sounds.  The movie language is my language.  When someone asks me to name my favorite movies, I trip over the answers all the time.  There are too many, and I wind up making a list by genre.  What I find even more fascinating about movies is the behind the scenes footage.  I love seeing how they did it.  One gains a deeper appreciation and understanding for the movie and for those who brought it to life.  It is like being given new eyes and ears.  The passage below could be described as “behind the scenes footage” regarding prayer.  Here it is:

12. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  13. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,  14. and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days.  For the vision is for days yet to come'” (Daniel 10:12-14, ESV).

Before diving into this fascinating text, let me supply the background to it.  In the second and third verses of Daniel chapter ten, the writer records that the prophet had been fasting and mourning for three weeks (Dan. 10:2-3, ESV).  This sort of thing should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the book of Daniel.  The very first chapter records the young, Hebrew prophet leading his three friends into a time of prayer and fasting at the beginning of their captivity (Dan. 1:8, 12-16, ESV).  When King Nebuchadnezzar orders his soldiers to kill all the wise men of the land for their failure at interpreting his dream, it is Daniel who buys some time through prayer and fasting with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 2:12-19, ESV).

There are two other instances recorded in the book of Daniel about the prophet fasting and praying for God to speak.  One occurs in the sixth chapter and the other in ninth.  The former pertains to Daniel learning about a decree that punishes those who refuse to pray to Darius by casting the offender into the lion’s den (Dan. 6:6-10, ESV).  In the ninth chapter, the prophet’s life is not under any threat as he desires to know the outcome of his nation and people within God’s purposes and plans (Dan. 9:1-3, ESV).  All of these circumstances reveal a man committed to the Lord by submitting himself to a lifestyle of fasting and prayer.  Each time the God of heaven and earth either delivers Daniel from his situation, or grants him divine revelation into the matter at hand.

After reading account after account of God answering Daniel’s prayers, it comes as no surprise to see the same thing take place in Daniel 10:12-14. In fact, I would argue that this is precisely what the reader should expect at this point.  The difference this time around has to do with this particular account portraying demonic opposition toward the angelic messenger (Dan. 10:13, ESV).  What amazes me is that God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer had been given as soon as he began to pray; however, the answer had been delayed twenty-one days (or three weeks) because the prince of Persia fought against the messenger (Dan. 10:12-13, ESV).  This is a vivid depiction of God’s kingdom in direct conflict with Satan’s, who dispatched the prince of Persia after eavesdropping into Daniel’s prayer to the Lord.

What are we to make of this passage?  It is behind the scenes footage (or intel) regarding some prayers and their answers.  In the church, it is often taught that God responds in three ways to the prayers of his people: yes, no, or wait.  Waiting tends to stretch or test the faith of the one praying.  What this passage in Daniel chapter ten seems to teach is that a delayed response is not always God saying “Wait.”  In Daniel’s case, the Lord’s reply was actually an unmistakable yes. The delay had to do with the enemy’s opposition to the answer.  Of course, this raises plenty of questions, but I will not address them for the sake of time and space.  If there is one takeaway about this passage, then let it be persistence. Daniel prayed for three weeks, which was the same amount of time as the enemy’s resistance toward the angelic messenger.

Did Daniel know about this conflict?  The text does not say, but I think not.  Daniel kept fasting and praying right up until the moment the angelic being appeared to him (Dan. 10:4-5, ESV).  The prophet’s persistence in prayer brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in the gospel of Luke, the eighteenth chapter.  I do not have the time and space to unpack this wonderful parable.  I encourage my readers and followers to read that passage side by side with this one in the tenth chapter of Daniel.  Here is the point.  The spiritual principle of persisting or persevering in prayer is found in both testaments.  Prayer is spiritual warfare.  It positions God’s people to see and hear in the midst of a violent conflict.  This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel: “…the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12b, ESV).  Prayer is the believer’s battle cry while on earth.  It is a cry heard by his God in his heavenly temple (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4, ESV).

Daniel: An Example of Faith

Daniel’s life changed forever during the reign of King Jehoiakim, whose wickedness paved the way for Jerusalem’s eventual destruction by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 23:36-37; 24:1-4, ESV).  Before this disastrous event took place, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar hauled off Jehoiakim and his best men as exiles around 605 B.C. (2 Chronicles 36:5-8; Daniel 1:1-4, ESV).  This began Judah’s seventy-year exile, which had been prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:8-11, ESV).  Daniel and his three friends were among the first wave of exiles to Babylon (Dan. 1:7-8, ESV).  It did not take long for Daniel to lead his three friends with faith and boldness to their God in the presence of their captors (Dan. 1:12-14, ESV).

Before moving forward, let me quote the passage for us:

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.  Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.  And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs…” (Dan. 1:8-9, ESV).  

These words describe Daniel as a man of gumption and faith.  The latter is the reason for the former.  One could argue from a practical standpoint that Daniel risked his life and his friends’ lives due to his faith in action.  After all, they are captives of the reigning, world empire, Babylon, which destroyed their city and temple.  Daniel and his friends belong to a conquered people, who have no standing in this foreign land of a foreign king.  Where and with whom did these four men have grounds for such faith and boldness?  The answer is the Lord God Almighty, who dwells in his heavenly temple.  Daniel leads his friends through prayer and fasting in order to demonstrate their faith and dependence upon the God they serve.  He grants them favor before their captors, which empowers them to outshine the best and brightest within King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (Dan. 1:17-20).

When I chew on this portion of scripture, it causes me to stop.  Daniel and his friends live through the destruction of their home and the temple as exiles in a foreign land.  Their existence is one of captivity not freedom.  Instead of living in defeat, these men immerse themselves in prayer and fasting in order to show their allegiance to God rather than their captors (Dan. 1:8, 12-13, & 15, ESV).  It seems to me that praying and fasting are more than mere spiritual disciplines for them, but a lifestyle that they embrace.  Someone might argue that Daniel’s life as a prophet demanded such a commitment.  This presupposes that he operated on a different level than the rest of us.  It is true that Daniel served as a prophet and an interpreter of dreams; however, I must emphasize the fact that Daniel is a human being.  This means that inherited Adam’s sin nature by birth.  Daniel is in the same boat as every man, woman, and child who has ever lived on this earth except Christ.  Here is what I mean.

Over in the book of Romans, the apostle Paul unveils some key teaching about the nature of fallen humanity.  Because Adam rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, his choice and action corrupted his nature and all of his descendants (Romans 5:12, 19, ESV).  This means that the natural tendency of human beings is to rebel against God and his word rather than obey.  Daniel’s life and the lives of his three friends demonstrate God’s transforming work of grace in their hearts and souls in order for them to live contrary to their sin nature.  Their display of praying and fasting confirms that they are new men living according to their new nature (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10, ESV).  If this is not true about Daniel and his friends, then someone needs to explain the meaning behind the author of Hebrews alluding to their deliverance in the lions’ den and the fiery furnace (Hebrews 11:33-34; cf Daniel 3:25; 6:22, ESV).

Here is the point.  The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is the famous hall of faith passage.  It lists Old Testament (OT) believers, who serve as examples of believing faith, in order to encourage believers in the New Testament.  Another way to say this is Daniel and his friends are not examples of believing faith, then why list include them or anyone else from the OT?  The Old and New Testaments are different eras in redemptive history; however, the believers from both put their faith and trust in the same God.  Daniel and his friends looked forward to Christ while NT believers look back.  If my faith is in Christ like Daniel and his friends, then I can expect similar results.  This is one of the key takeaways from Hebrews eleven.  My circumstances are totally different from these OT saints; however, my God is their God, and he stopped the mouths of the lions and walked in the furnace with his servants (Dan. 3:24-25; 6:21-23, ESV).

 

“…Often the unstated assumption of many people is that it is God’s job to create a world in which things benefit us.  We saw how the Deism of the eighteenth century explicitly promoted this idea though it was at loggerheads with the book of Genesis and the rest of the Bible.  Nevertheless, this idea has captured the hearts of most people, as sociologist Christian Smith points out.  From his research he concluded that most young American adults are “practical Deists”—though few of them have ever heard the term.  Smith means that they see God as a being whose job it is to meet their needs.  The implicit but strong cultural assumption of young adults is that God owes all but the most villainous people a comfortable life.  This premise, however, inevitably leads to bitter disappointment.  Life is nasty, brutish, and always feels too short.  The presumption of spiritual entitlement dooms its bearers to a life of confusion when things in life inevitably go wrong.”  

(Timothy Keller, “The Challenge of Faith,” Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p 115, 2013)

 

Keller on the Presumption of Spiritual Entitlement

“[Soul sleep] teaches that when believers die they go into a state of unconscious existence, and the next thing that they are conscious of will be when Christ returns and raises them to eternal life…But when scripture represents death as “sleep” it is simply a metaphorical expression used to indicate that is only temporary for Christians, just as sleep is temporary.  This is clearly seen, for example, when Jesus tells his disciples about the death of Lazarus.  He says, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep’ (John 11:11).  We should notice that Jesus does not here say, ‘The soul of Lazarus is sleeping,” nor, in fact, does any passage in Scripture say that the soul of a person is sleeping or unconscious (a statement that would be necessary to prove the doctrine of soul sleep).  Rather Jesus simply says that Lazarus has fallen asleep.  Then John explains, ‘Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.  Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’ (John 11:12-13).   

“…The fact that Hebrews 12:1 says, ‘We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,’ just after an entire chapter spent on the discussion of the faith of Old Testament saints who had died (Heb. 11), and the fact that the author encourages us to run the race of life with perseverance because we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, both suggest that those who have died and gone before have some awareness of what is going on in the earth.  Scripture says very little about this, probably because it does not want us to speak to those who have died or to pray to them or to contact them in any way (note Saul’s great sin in this in 1 Samuel 28:7-25).  Nonetheless, Hebrews 12:1-2 does give us this slight hint, probably as an encouragement to us to continue also to be faithful to God as were those who have died and gone to heaven before us.  Similarly, at the end of Hebrews 12, the author tells us that when we worship we come into the presence of God in heaven, and we come not to ‘the spirits of just men who are sleeping in an unconscious state’ but ‘to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant’ (Heb. 12:22-24).  

“Revelation 6:9-11 and 7:9-10 also clearly show the souls or spirits of those who have died and who have gone to heaven praying and worshiping, for they cry out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?’ (Rev. 6:10) and they are seen ‘standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:9-10)!  All of these passages deny the doctrine of soul sleep, for they make it clear that the souls of believers experience conscious fellowship with God in heaven immediately upon death.”

(Wayne Grudem, “Death and the Intermediate State,” Systematic Theology, pp819-821, 2000)

A Wrong View of Life After Death

Growing by Humility

Right from the start, I want to make it clear that life and living require everyone and anyone to grow.  It is also true that there is a tension between sticking with what works and making changes or improvements in order to keep growing.  The latter places one in new terrain, which emphasizes the unknown while revealing one’s limitations.  In the midst of change, there are three responses that come to mind.  First, there is a tendency “to stand still” due to fear and anxiety.  A second response is to “live the same way” in the new terrain, which leads to frustration over why nothing ever works out right.  The third response is the one that we want, which is to embrace and engage the new terrain each and every step of the way.  Let me take the first two in turn.

When I use the metaphor of standing still, I am alluding to a sort of emotional paralysis that takes over and cripples one’s ability to engage and move forward.  Both fear and anxiety are the surface indicators of this paralysis, which springs up from a deeper source.  For example, the fear and the anxiety might be masking one’s fear of failure whether real or anticipated; another possibility is that those emotions cover up one’s disposition to be in control.  In either case, the uncertainty surrounding the new terrain creates so many variables that it is impossible for the human mind to take them all into consideration.  What happens is that the person shuts down or stands still due to an overwhelmed psyche.  The mountain appears too high to climb, the chasm too great for a leap.

In my own life, I have seen the importance of acknowledging my weaknesses or limitations with the impossible before me.  I have stood still in the past.  For me, I over-analyze the situation in order to figure it out.  If I turn the situation over and over and over, I am bound to find the strengths and weaknesses and then prepare for them in advance.  This is how I attempt to maintain control.  It is as if I equate competence with the new terrain as anticipating the rough and tough spots.  What it boils down to is pride and trust in my own wisdom and understanding.  Pride lies at the foundation of my desire to remain in control.  It is a blow to my pride to admit that I cannot figure things out, or that I am in need of help.

King Solomon hit the nail on the head with the following passage: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).  When I attempt to rely on my own wisdom and understanding, I am not walking in the truth of the above quoted verse.  Instead it is outright disobedience to God and his word.  At some point, the introspection devolves into over-thinking, which keeps me in check or stuck in the same place.  I wind up shackling my will and heart from engaging the new terrain.  How does this happen?  For me, it amounts to believing the lie that I know the situation, others, and me better than God.  The irony about this perspective is that it leads to paralysis or the inability to move forward.

Now, the second, negative response is a little different.  In this scenario, a man or a woman steps into the new terrain utilizing the tools from the previous life stage.  The problem here is inflexibility or the lack of a teachable spirit.  I think the best word that I can think of for this is obstinate.  Now, this springs up from the soil of pride, too.  The idea might be that these tools have served me well, so I will keep using them until I get the results.  After all, persistence is one of my hallmarks, so I will keep at it and keep at it.  There is a subtle difference between a flat-head screw driver and a Phillips.  For the obstinate person, the distinction between the two screwdrivers may be easily perceptible; however, there is something comfortable or familiar with hanging onto the flat-head.  It does not matter if all the of screws in the new terrain require the Phillips screwdriver.  

Once again, the issue boils down to pride.   I may recognize that I need to let go of the flat-head for the Phillips, but making that decision hurts.  It is even more difficult to make should anyone point it out to me, too.  The problem here has to do with shame.  If I recognize that I need to make adjustments for the new terrain, but I keep doing the same things as before, then hearing from someone tell me that I need to make changes sounds like a rebuke.  I want to emphasize here the whole notion of shame resulting from embarrassment.  There are times in my past where I felt stupid over delaying to make necessary changes after a friend or a relative pointed out those areas.  I knew that I needed to make them, so why did I wait?  Am I slow in catching on?  The second question sounds like a rhetorical one to myself, which suggests that I am believing the shame-based statement of “I am slow to catch on.”

When shame-based statements rear their ugly heads, God’s truth and his community become safe havens.  There is a certain amount of apprehension that comes with engaging new terrain.  If I process my emotions with trusted others and God, then the fear and anxiety wane over time.  This happens because strength and victory comes from acknowledging weakness and neediness.  The following Psalm expresses this truth in spades: When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:18-19, NIV).  In this Psalm, God meets the author at the point of his need and weakness as a demonstration of being his stronghold (Psalm 94:22, ESV).  The Psalmist demonstrates his trust in God by crying out to him with everything that is inside of him.  It is a lesson that I have learned in the past, but I still need to remember it even today.  This flows nicely into the third and desired response.

Because new terrain occurs as a fact of life, there will be constant opportunities to test my ability to engage with it.  Pride, fear, anxiety, and the like will lurk in the shadows during these seasons.  They will come out from time to time in order to trip me up along the way.  I may even make attempts to deal with them on my own without leaning on God and those who I trust.  The hope and the promise of overcoming pride, fear, anxiety, control issues, and the like rest solely on the truths previously discussed in Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 94:18-19.  There are countless other passages to hold onto, but I focused on these two because the Spirit of God brought them to my mind.  When I navigate the new terrain, do I call out to God like the Psalmist for his consolation that alleviates my anxiety?  When I stumble, do I look to the Lord for his support?  Do I confess to God and to trusted others about the ways that I rely on my own strength and wisdom rather than his?

In the new terrain, I must face the fear, the anxiety, the pride with total dependence upon God, his word, and his people (those who I trust).  The promise is not that I will no longer have to deal with my flesh and its manifestations in the new terrain.  Instead, it is a journey that requires facing my flesh from a new paradigm built upon ever increasing trust in the Lord.  If I want victory in the new terrian, then I need to acknowledge where I am losing.  If I want to overcome my flesh and its bugaboos, then I need to admit that I am not.  Both of those if statements flow out of Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 94:18-19.  These passages teach that God supplies the victory, the consolation, the support, the wisdom, the understanding, and more for the new terrain.  This is not meant to suggest that those things were not essential in the previous leg of the journey.  What I am saying is that my reliance upon God must deepen in order to experience victory, consolation, wisdom, and understanding in the new terrain.  When fear, anxiety, and the like announce themselves, will I cry out to God for help?  Am I willing to listen to correction from trusted others in my life?

                  

“Celebrity culture is nothing new. In his day, Paul had to oppose certain celebrity preachers: he called them “super-apostles” (2 Cor 10–13, esp. 11:5). But what made them super-apostles (and, equally, “false apostles,” 2 Cor 11:13) was not the size of their ministries or the reach of their influence (for on that ground, Peter and Paul would both stand condemned), but their lust for power and not service, their preaching of a triumphalist Jesus and not the Jesus of the cross, their blatantly boastful accounts of their spiritual experiences in order to enhance their reputations over against Paul’s fear that people would think too highly of him (2 Cor 12:6b). Paul treats such people with severity, demanding that the church in Corinth remove them from leadership and influence. One must not forget, however, that this same Paul treats very differently those who preach the truth faithfully, even if their motives leave something to be desired: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil 1:18). And even here we are doubtless dealing with a spectrum. Paul is convinced he must correct Peter, but shall Peter be written off for pastoral and theological mistakes (Gal 2:11–14)? May not Christian leaders disagree sharply on how to handle a John Mark?

In other words, while we rightly identify the dangers in celebrity culture and grapple with the negative effects they have on a God-given revival, our analysis must not prove so shallow and sweeping that we happily condemn faithful preachers who happen to be more fruitful than we are. There is a kind of condemnation of celebrity culture that seems to be seeking a kind of celebrity over its own insight.”

(D.A. Carson, “The Underbelly of Revival?  Five Reflections on Various Failures in the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement,” Vol. 39, Issue 3, Nov. 2013)

The Oldness of Today’s Celebrity Culture in the Church