Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Daniel was one of the best and the brightest of his generation. That’s why he was part of the group hauled off to exile in Babylon. He might have languished in a camp for refugees, or been locked up as a political prisoner, or shed his faith and traditions like an out of style coat to embrace a new identity as a Babylonian.
August 14, 2022
Dr. Todd R. Wright Daniel was one of the best and the brightest of his generation. That’s why he was part of the group hauled off to exile in Babylon. He might have languished in a camp for refugees, or been locked up as a political prisoner, or shed his faith and traditions like an out of style coat to embrace a new identity as a Babylonian. The stories in the book named after him tell about the choices he made. You probably remember some of them: How he, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sent to a civil service training academy to be molded to serve in the king’s courts. How he took a principled stand and still thrived. How Daniel interpreted the king’s dreams. How he and the others refused to bow down before a golden image and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace but were not consumed! How Daniel was eventually thrown into the lions’ den ... and was not consumed!
But this is a series on ‘great” prayers not hero tales, so let’s focus on Daniel’s prayer. It is not nearly as well known! Probably because there are no fiery flames or roaring lions. It seems like just a long and windy prayer. Take a second look. I’m going to try and convince you that his prayer is just as dramatic and dangerous as his better known adventures! I know that the incarnation of Jesus has made God approachable. God took on human form and walked among us. Jesus laughed and cried; he bled and died. He was vulnerable. But for Daniel (and Daniel’s audience), God was frightening and powerful. God led Israel out of the Pharoah’s clutches with a mighty hand as a pillar of fire by night. When God appeared on Mount Sinai, Exodus says it was “all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.” Israel was terrified and sent Moses up to the mountain so they would not be consumed. The prophet Hosea had a different go-to image of God: He remembers YHWH boasting “For I will be like a lion to [Israel] and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I myself will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.” Elsewhere he depicts God roaring like a lion. He says the one who rescued them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness will become so hurt/so angered, by their rejection that God will destroy them like a lion mangling its prey. So much for not being consumed!
So, when Daniel turns to the Lord to make prayers, he is, in fact, facing a God who is as dangerous as any fiery flames or leaping lions. How do you prepare for such an encounter? Daniel says he fasted to make his soul as empty and open as his stomach. He says he donned sackcloth and ashes, like one who mourns over losing everything. And then, and only then, he opened his mouth. Perhaps you have heard the phrase “Speak truth to power, even though your voice shakes.” – that is what Daniel is daring to do here. But the source is interesting – Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, an act inspired by her forced retirement from the Presbyterian church at 65! It is from a longer quote: “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say ...” Daniel left safety behind, put his body on the line, and opened his mouth. And even though his voice must have shaken, out came a well-worn prayer. One scholar has calculated that 85% of this prayer draws on other Old Testament texts – like 1 Kings 8 and Ezra 9. Daniel does this because the pattern is clear – “God gives the law; people break it. God punishes them; they repent. [Eventually,] God restores them.” Daniel sees the state of his people – far from home, their last sight of Jerusalem in flames, the Temple but a memory of better times – and he wants to do something. He knows the pattern; knows what must be done. And so he prepares himself and prays. He knows you cannot pray flippantly. You cannot dodge responsibility, or pretend that you are clean when you are sin-smeared, or act like this is someone else’s problem and you are just collateral damage. So, his prayer speaks the unvarnished truth. And the truth is … O Israel, your ancestors chased other gods and you followed in their footsteps. Your kings failed you, but your leadership was flawed, too. Your neighbors were guilty, and so are you. This is a corporate prayer. This is a confession. This is the blueprint for the sinful.
It admits sin with a thesaurus-like specificity. It confesses guilt – the guilt of everybody, from king to commoner! It acknowledges that all the mess they are experiencing is the result of their own actions. It remembers how God has acted in the past – with justice and faithfulness. And ultimately, it pleads for mercy – not because they deserve anything other than fiery flames or a lion’s jaws, but because beneath all the anger and hurt, God is forgiving and compassionate. And then Daniel makes one novel move: Israel, he says, should have repented – turning around. They have instead … turned away from the holy, turned aside from the path of justice, turned their backs on the needy, turned out bad in so many ways. They don’t seem to change. They keep getting into the same old mess again and again. So, Daniel asks God to do what they cannot. He asks God to turn toward them. He asks the one who appeared in flames to let his face shine on them with blessing. He asks the one who shook the ground with his roars, to quiet long enough to hear their pleas. He asks God to show mercy and forgive them. We know how that turned out. It is enough to make one dare to pray like Daniel, and trust that God will hear. Amen.
 “Prayer” by Graham Dean  Exodus 19:18  See Hosea 5:14, as well as 11:10 and 13:8  From https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kuhn-margaret-eliza-maggie  From http://www.etiquetteer.com/columns/2020/9/20/inspired-by-ruth-bader-ginsburg-vol-19-issue-53  From Sibley Towner’s commentary, Daniel, page 129  Ibid, page 137