The prophet Daniel was quite an incredible guy. One of only a few people who were deemed “highly esteemed” by God, he was the recipient of prophetic visions that outlined the entire history of the nation Israel. What was it about Daniel that prompted God to make him His confidante? The answer, although liberally testified to throughout scripture, is spelled out clearly in the book of Hebrews: faith! Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. Hebrews 11:-2
We’ve all heard about Daniel’s faith in the sunday school story of Daniel in the lion’s den. Maybe you’ve even taught that story to a group of children. I can almost bet you’ve never noticed, however, that Daniel’s faith is even more meaningfully revealed earlier in the same chapter. (It slips by the casual reader.) Do you remember why Daniel was in the lion’s den?
The story goes like this: Daniel, as a teen, had been taken captive to Babylon and pressed into service in the Babylonian court. When the Babylonian empire was conquered (more than sixty years later) by the Persian King Darius, Daniel was called out of retirement and put in charge. This didn’t make the existing Persian administrators happy, so they plotted to get rid of him. Without a valid charge to bring against the righteous man, they decided to trap him into committing treason. Let’s pick the story up there, in Daniel 6: 6, with Daniel’s enemies talking to the King.
“O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den…” So King Darius put the decree in writing. Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Daniel 6: 6-10.
Daniel’s Persian enemies got King Darius to rule that it was a capital offense to pray to anybody but the king because they knew well what Daniel’s response would be! Daniel, ignoring the possible consequences, continued to pray to his God, toward the temple in Jerusalem as the place where God’s name and presence was perpetually promised. (II Chronicles 7:14-16).
This story is a rightful standard in Sunday School because in it we see a great example of courage and determination to stand for God. But there’s more. Daniel had been carried into captivity about 606 BC. Darius issued the edict about 537 BC. What escapes the casual reader is that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 587 BC. The Jerusalem that Daniel was praying to had been a pile of rubble for 50 years!
As a high-level official in the Babylonian court, Daniel knew that. So why did he pray towards Jerusalem? Because he knew his God– the God who the patriarchs and prophets had proven a promise-keeping God. Daniel prayed toward Jerusalem because he knew God had promised to restore it, and he chose to focus on the promises of God rather than the current state of affairs. His security in God’s promises superceded a rational understanding of his circumstances. Daniel knew that God had promised Israel a Messiah, and that that Messiah was to be installed on God’s Holy Hill, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He fully believed that God would keep those promises. So Daniel prayed toward Jerusalem. The promise of God was more trustworthy to Daniel than his five senses and his own understanding of Israel’s plight. He chose to see the fulfillment of God’s promises rather than the futile acts of sinful man. Now that is an amazing man of faith!
We all have areas in life where it is hard to see past our circumstances to the promises that God has made. What’s yours? Can you choose to “pray towards Jerusalem?”
Psalm 100 is an exuberant expression of praise and worship: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God; it is he who made us and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, give thanks to him and praise his name.
Sounds great, right? But did you catch the sobering message hidden behind the bright phrasing? We are the sheep of His pasture, commanded to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. When you think about it, a sheep coming into the Temple has only one calling. Sheep were brought into the Temple to be sacrificed— entering the Temple Mount area through the Tadi gate on the north wall, then through the Outer Court and Women’s Court to the Inner (Priest’s) Court where sacrifice was finally offered. Yet we are commanded to enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. This seeming contradiction is repeated in Romans. Paul urges his readers to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices” in a spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1) How can we do this willingly, even eagerly, with shouts of joy and songs of praise?
For one thing, we have to check our English baggage at the door. Webster defines sacrifice as something lost, destroyed or surrendered. The Hebrew term for sacrifice, however, Korban, means to approach, or come near, and is used exclusively in Scripture within the context of a man’s relationship to God. Christ’s sacrifice as the Lamb of God was the only means through which we could come near to God, and our worship of God through yielding to him is our spiritual act of worship. And through this act, we lose nothing, but gain all the riches and promises of Christ.
And there’s our motivation! We can enter His gates– as a sacrifice– with genuine joy and praise because by this we draw closer to Him. Paul drives the point home in Romans, saying that when we offer our bodies and lives as a sacrifice in worship, God can transform us by renewing our minds—showing us “how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (Romans 12:2) And as we come to know God– the God of grace, mercy, and perfect, pleasant will—intimately, then truly better is one day in his courts than thousands elsewhere. (Psalm 84:1) Even as a sheep!