Intercessory Prayer

Daniel took it upon himself to intercede for God’s people. According to Jeremiah’s prophecy, the nations would serve the king of Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11). Daniel knew the seventy years had expired when Darius the Median conquered the Babylonian kingdom in 539 B.C. (Daniel 5:31). Therefore, Daniel prayed that God would forgive his people and return them to the Promised Land. Daniel said, “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Daniel did not presume that God would automatically let his people go back to their homes just because their 70 years of captivity was completed. One of the conditions of their return was that God’s people had to repent of their sins and want to restore their relationship with God. Daniel prayed, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries wither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee” (Daniel 9:7).

The phrase Daniel used “confusion of faces” (Daniel 9:7) had to do with the identity of God’s people. In part, God’s righteousness meant that he had acted consistent with his character. It was right for God’s people to be punished. They were guilty of the offences they had been accused of. Their “confusion of faces” was in essence saying God’s people had changed, they were no longer consistent with what God had made them to be. Another way of looking at it would be, that the Israelites were no longer recognizable as God’s people, their identity had been stripped from them. Due to the shame they felt, God’s people most likely did not want to return to their homeland. There was probably some feeling that they no longer deserved God’s blessing. Daniel’s intercessory prayer was a plea for God’s mercy. He said, ” Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our father, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us” (Daniel 9:16).

Daniel made the argument that God should forgive his people “for the Lord’s sake” (Daniel 9:17). In other words, Daniel was saying, don’t do it for us because we don’t deserve your mercy, but do it for the sake of your Messiah that is still yet to be born. Daniel’s intercessory prayer was responded to immediately. It says in Daniel 9:21, “Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.” Gabriel told Daniel, “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou are greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter and consider the vision” (Daniel 9:23). Clearly, Daniel’s prayer reached God’s throne room and was consistent with God’s plan for his people. Gabriel laid out for Daniel a timeline for the Messiah’s birth and crucifixion,  and then told Daniel, there was still more to come after that. A prince would come to challenge Jesus’ authority. He would reign for seven years and would instigate the complete annihilation of the entire world (Daniel 9:27).

 

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Personal experience

Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams was useful in his godly ministry to the Babylonian and Persian kings, but it was his own personal experience with dreams and visions that made Daniel unique as a prophet. The last half of Daniel’s book was devoted to the unfolding of God’s plan to establish his eternal kingdom on earth. Daniel’s dream of four beasts (Daniel 7:3) showed that God’s power would be challenged, but remain supreme in spite of the continual onslaughts from kingdoms that wanted to wipe out his people. In his dream, Daniel saw, “the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another” (Daniel 7:2-3). This picture of beasts rising from the sea was intended to portray the establishment of Satan’s earthly kingdom, an inevitable occurrence of something that was not only predicted, but also prearranged by God.

It might be hard to imagine why God would want to help Satan establish his kingdom on earth, unless you understood God’s motive for doing so. God’s agreement with Satan was designed to allow him a prescribed amount of time to undo the work that Jesus did on the cross, so that it could be shown that Satan could not overcome his eternal kingdom. Without God’s kingdom being challenged, there would be no way of knowing if Jesus’ power was sufficient to reign supreme. The four beasts that came up from the sea represented four separate attempts that Satan would make to stop Jesus from saving the world. Three attempts were to be made prior to Jesus’ birth, but the final attempt would come after his kingdom was fully developed (Daniel 7:22). Essentially, the real threat to Jesus’ kingdom was that he would never be born or die on the cross, but once he did, Satan’s eternal fate was sealed.

Daniel’s dream was explained to him by an angel that stood by him as he peered into God’s heavenly realm. Daniel said, “I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things” (Daniel 7:16). The truth that Daniel sought was so troubling that he could barely process the information he was given. Focusing on the fourth beast, Daniel wanted to know how Satan’s kingdom would finally be brought to an end. The angel’s response is recorded in Daniel 7:23-26:

Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon the earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.

Daniel learned through personal experience what many today still don’t understand about the end of time. As recorded in the book of Revelation, Satan’s dominion over the earth will last for only three and a half years, during which time the earth will be completely devastated and most of the population wiped out. Afterward, the devil will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where he will spend eternity (Revelation 20:10).

The harvest

Jesus’ ministry on earth consisted of three primary activities: 1) teaching in the synagogues, 2) preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and 3) healing every sickness and disease among the people (Matthew 9:35). Thousands of people sometimes gathered to listen to his teaching. On one occasion, Jesus referred to his work as harvesting. It says in Matthew 9:36-37, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest is truly plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into the harvest.” On another occasion, Jesus told his disciples a parable about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:24-30) and explained the meaning of the harvest. It says in Matthew 13:37-40, “He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burnt in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.”

Joel’s prophecy about the judgment of Judah’s enemies contained a reference to the final battle between the Lord and all the nations of the world. He said, “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:12-14). I believe Joel used the phrase, “valley of decision” figuratively to refer to the separation of believers from non-believers or as Jesus put it, to separate the wheat from the tares. In the final battle between good and evil, some who were thought to be believers in Jesus Christ may actually turn out to be members of Satan’s kingdom. Perhaps, some who have worked for Satan will switch sides and follow the Lord. Decision implies that a determination will be made at that time. The only way to know for sure whose kingdom someone belongs  to is to wait for the harvest.

 

Complete devastation

The prophet Joel is probably the most mysterious and intriguing of all the Old Testament prophets. Little is known about the time period or background of his message, but it clearly fits in with others like Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s that speak about the end times. Joel uses the phrase “day of the LORD” (Joel 1:15) to refer to the warning he has been commanded to give. What seems clear from the overall content of Joel’s message is that he was given a glimpse into the horrible scene that is portrayed in the book of Revelation. A key indicator of the connection between the two messages is that Joel uses language that fits with the complete devastation that will take place when God judges  the human race.

Joel opens his book with a description of the plague of insects that is similar to the one described in Revelation 9. Joel says:

Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. Awake ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek-teeth of a great lion. (Joel 1:3-6)

Revelation 9:1-3 introduces the plague of locusts with the suggestion that spiritual warfare is taking place. It says, “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.”

The Greek word translated power in Revelation 9:3 is exousia. Exousia as a noun, denotes authority which is drawn from the meaning of “leave or permission” (1849). To a certain extent, the power that is being referred to is power that one has the right to exercise, the power of rule or government. Another way of looking at this type of power is freedom or mastery, the ability to take control. I believe Joel’s prophecy was meant to convey the idea of a total loss of control. All of the Israelites’ freedom would be taken away and they would become subject to another form of government, a satanic one that would prohibit their worship of God.

The good news hidden within Joel’s message was that God would not allow his people to become a part of Satan’s kingdom. Joel declared, “Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come” (Joel 1:15). The Hebrew term Almighty or Shadday (shad – dah´ – ee) is a title that signifies ultimate power and authority, but in actuality, “the title Shadday really indicates the fullness and riches of God’s grace, and would remind the Hebrew reader that from God comes every good and perfect gift – that He is never weary of pouring forth His mercies on His people, and that He is more ready to give than they are to receive” (7706).

The day of the LORD

The prophet Zephaniah talked about the day of the LORD as if it could happen at any moment (Zephaniah 1:7). This was probably because he was looking at it from an eternal perspective. The phrase “day of the LORD” can refer to any time the Lord openly intervenes in the affairs of man. Thus it often applies to separate events in different time periods (footnote on Zephaniah 1:7). Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of king Josiah, not long before Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon. Therefore, his prophecies had a certain amount of correlation to Judah’s current circumstances, but his overall message was about the end times.

The nation of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. At that time, the nation ceased to exist. The people that were taken into captivity eventually returned and reestablished their legal and worship systems, but they did not have a king to rule over them. Zephaniah made it clear in his message that the day of the LORD he was referring to was the final destruction of not only Judah, but also the entire world (Zephaniah 1:2). Zephaniah said, “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:2-3).

Judah’s captivity was to a certain extent an illustration of God’s judgment of the world. Living in peace and prosperity for hundreds of years had desensitized the people to the reality of their sinful condition. The kings of Judah had managed to keep the nation stable during the expansion of the Assyrian empire, giving everyone the impression that God’s chosen people were immune to punishment. More than 200 years had transpired since Isaiah had first begun to warn the people of Judah of God’s anger towards them. Because they had been spared from going into captivity in Assyria with the northern kingdom of Judah, the people of Judah were probably thinking they could escape God’s wrath indefinitely.

In order to make the  people understand that there would be an end to their special treatment, Zephaniah spoke in terms of all things and all people being consumed by the LORD. It was only through the association of God’s people with the heathen of the world that they could see themselves as sinners. Zephaniah used language that conveyed a sense of urgency so that the people of Judah would realize that time was of the essence if they were to avoid getting caught up on the destruction that was about to take place. Unlike other prophetic messages the people may have heard in the past, Zephaniah warned of a sudden ending that would catch even the most valiant warrior off guard. He said, “The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly” (Zephaniah 1:14).