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4I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying,

“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, 5we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.


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Here Daniel relates the substance of his prayer. He says, He prayed and confessed before God The greatest part of this prayer is an entreaty that God would pardon his people. Whenever we ask for pardon, the testimony of repentance ought to precede our request. For God announces that he will be propitious and easily entreated when men seriously and heartily repent. (Isaiah 58:9.) Thus confession of guilt is one method of obtaining pardon; and for this reason Daniel fills up the greater part of his prayer with the confession of his sinfulness. He reminds us of this, not for the sake of boasting, but to instruct us by his own example to pray as we ought. He says, therefore, he prayed and made confession The addition of “my God” to the word Jehovah is by no means superfluous. I prayed, he says, to my God. He here shews that he did not utter prayers with trembling, as men too often do, for unbelievers often flee to God, but without any confidence. They dispute with themselves whether their prayers will produce any fruit; Daniel, therefore, shews us two things openly and distinctly, since he prayed with faith and repentance. By the word confession he implies his repentance, and by saying he prayed to God, he expresses faith, and the absence of all rashness in throwing away his prayers, as unbelievers do when they pray to God confusedly, and are all the while distracted by a variety of intruding thoughts. I prayed, says he, to my God No one can use this language without a firm reliance on the promises of God, and assuming that he will prove himself ready to be entreated. He now adds, I entreat thee, O Lord The particle אנא, ana, is variously translated; but it is properly, in the language of grammarians, the particle of beseeching. O Lord God, says he, great and terrible Daniel seems to place an obstacle in his own way by using this language; for such is the sanctity of God that it repels us to a distance as soon as we conceive it in the mind: wherefore this terror seems to be removed when we seek a familiar approach to the Almighty. One might suppose this method of prayer by no means suitable, as Daniel places God before his eyes as great and formidable. It seems something like frightening himself; yet the Prophet deserves a due moderation, while on the one hand he acknowledges God to be great and terrible, and on the other he allows him to keep his covenant towards those who love him and obey his statutes We shall afterwards see a third point added — God will receive the ungrateful and all who have departed from his covenant. The Prophet joins these two things together.

With reference to the epithets great and terrible, we must maintain what I have already stated, namely, the impossibility of our praying rightly, unless we humble ourselves before God; and this humility is a preparation for repentance. Daniel, therefore, sets before himself the majesty of God, to urge both himself and others to cast themselves down before the Almighty, that, in accordance with his example, they may really feel penitent before him. God, therefore, says he, is great and terrible We shall never attribute just honor to God unless we become cast down, as if dead, before him. And we ought diligently to notice this, because we are too often careless in prayer to God, and we treat it as a mere matter of outward observance. We ought to know how impossible it is to obtain anything from God, unless we appear in his sight with fear and trembling, and become truly humbled in his presence. This is the first point to be noticed. Then Daniel mitigates the asperity of his assertion by adding, keeping his covenant, and taking pity upon those who love him. Here is a change of person: the third is substituted for the second, but there is no obscurity in the sense; as if he had said, Thou keepest thy covenant with those who love thee and observe thy statutes Here Daniel does not yet fully explain the subject, for this statement is too weak for gaining the confidence of the people; they had perfidiously revolted from God, and as far as related to him, his agreement had come to an end. But Daniel descends by degrees and by sure steps to lay a foundation for inspiring the people with assured trust in the lovingkindness of God. Two points are embraced in this clause: first of all, it shews us there is no reason why the Jews should expostulate with God and complain of being too severely treated by him. Daniel, therefore, silences all expressions of rebellion by saying, Thou, O God, keepest thy covenant We must here notice the real condition of the people: the Israelites were in exile; we know how hard that tyranny was — how they were oppressed by the most cruel reproaches and disgrace, and how brutally they were treated by their conquerors. This might impel many to cry out, as doubtless they really did, “What does God want with us? What, the better are we for being chosen as his peculiar people? What is the good of our adoption if we are still the most miserable of all nations?” Thus the Jews might complain with the bitterest grief and weariness of the weight of punishment which God had inflicted upon them. But Daniel here asserts his presenting himself before God, not to cavil and murmur, but only to entreat his pardon. For this reason, therefore, he first says, God keeps his covenant towards all who love him; but at the same time he passes on to pray for pardon, as we shall afterwards perceive. We shall treat of this covenant and the Almighty’s lovingkindness in the next Lecture.

Daniel here continues his confession of sin. As we have already stated, he ought to begin here, because we must remark in general the impossibility of our pleasing God by our prayers, unless we approach him as criminals, and repose all our hopes on his mercy. But there was a special reason for the extraordinary nature of the Prophet’s prayers, and his use of fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. This was the usual method of confession by which Daniel united himself with the rest of the people, for rite purpose of testifying throughout all ages the justice of the judgment which God had exercised in expelling the Israelites from the promised land, and totally disinheriting them. Daniel, therefore, insists upon this point. Here we may notice, in the first place, how prayers are not rightly conceived, unless founded on faith and repentance, and thus not being according to law, they cannot find either grace or favor before God. But great weight is to be attached to the phrases where Daniel uses more than a single word in saying the people acted impiously. He puts חטאנו, chetanu, we have sinned, in the first place, as the word does not imply any kind of fault, but rather a serious crime or offense. We, therefore, have sinned; then we have done wickedly; afterwards we have acted impiously; for רשע, reshegn, is stronger than חטא, cheta. We have done wickedly, we have been rebellious, says he, in transgressing thy statutes and commandments Whence this copiousness of expression, unless Daniel wished to stimulate himself and the whole people to penitence? For although we are easily induced to confess ourselves guilty before God, yet scarcely one in a hundred is affected with serious remorse; and those who excel others, and purely and reverently fear God, are still very dull and cold in recounting their sins. First of all, they acknowledge scarcely one in a hundred; next, of those which do come into their minds, they do not fully estimate their tremendous guilt, but rather extenuate their magnitude; and, although they perceive themselves worthy of a hundred deaths, yet they are not touched with their bitterness, and fear to humble themselves as they ought, nay, they are scarcely displeased with themselves, and do not loathe their own iniquities. Daniel, therefore, does not accumulate so many words in vain, when he wishes to confess his own sins and those of the people. Let us learn then how far we are from penitence, while we only verbally acknowledge our guilt; then let us perceive the need we have of many incentives to rouse us up from our sloth; for although any one may feel great terrors and tremble before God’s judgments, yet all those feelings of dread vanish away too soon. It therefore becomes necessary to fix God’s fear in our hearts with some degree of violence. Daniel shews us this when using the phrase, The people have sinned; they have acted unjustly; they have conducted themselves wickedly and become rebellious, and declined from the statutes and commandments of God This doctrine, therefore, must be diligently noticed, because, as I have said, all men think they have discharged their duty to God, if they mildly profess themselves guilty before him, and acknowledge their fault in a single word. But as real repentance is a sacred thing, it is a matter of far greater moment than a fiction of this kind. Although the multitude do not perceive how they are only deceiving themselves when they confess a fault, yet in the meantime they are only trifling with God like children, while some say they are but men, and others shelter themselves in the crowd of offenders. “What could I do? I am but a man; I have only followed the example of the many.” Lastly, if we examine carefully the confessions of men in general, we shall always find some latent hypocrisy, and that there are very few who prostrate themselves before God as they ought. We must understand, therefore, this confession of Daniel’s as stimulating himself and others to the fear of God, and as laying great stress upon the sins of the people, that every one may feel for himself real and serious alarms.




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