In 605 BC a young man named Daniel was captured when Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army marched to Jerusalem and took many of the people back to Babylon, along with some of the vessels used in the temple. Many of them were trained to work in the king’s administration, including Daniel.
Throughout his years in Babylon Daniel was able to interpret dreams (Daniel 2:31–45; 4:19-27) and interpret prophetic messages (5:13-31). In chapters 7 and 8 Daniel is given prophetic visions that he struggles to understand. In chapter 8 the angel Gabriel is sent to him to explain one of the visions (8:15–27). Daniel says that he lay sick in bed because he still could not understand the vision.
In chapter 9 Daniel is reading the prophet Jeremiah who prophesied that the exile in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25). Daniel recognizes the reason for the exile: the nation of Judah had sinned against God and worshiped other gods. He prays this to God:
O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.Daniel 9:18–19 ESV
Daniel pleads with God for mercy, but not because he and his people were righteous. His plea for mercy was based entirely on God and his righteousness. Daniel doesn’t plead for mercy because he and his fellow Jews were deserving of such mercy, but because God is rich in mercy. God’s character was the basis for Daniel’s prayer.
The context for the prayer was Daniel seeking to understand the scope of the exile. Jerusalem’s “desolations” would last seventy years (Daniel 9:1–2). In response to his prayer, God sends the angel Gabriel once again.
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.”Daniel 9:20–23 ESV
Daniel was pleading with God for mercy and declares emphatically that his plea was based on God’s righteousness, but did you catch the reason Gabriel says he was sent to Daniel? He says that the moment Daniel began praying for mercy for Jerusalem Gabriel was sent to him. Why? “For you are greatly loved.” What an incredible declaration of the greatness of God!
In our understanding of love, love is rooted in the object of the love. I love tacos because tacos are delicious. I love cycling because cycling is enjoyable. I love my wife because she is amazing. God loves us—but not because we are so amazing. God loves us because he is righteous and holy and good and merciful! God’s love for us is great because God is great.
This simple and profound truth is liberating. It frees us from ever having to earn God’s love because his love—and therefore acceptance—is rooted in himself and not in us. We are free to receive it, to enjoy it, to rest in it. There are many who do not yet know this love, who have not received it. As we pray today, let’s pray for our community, for those who do not know the Lord. Let’s pray for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with those the Lord brings into our spheres of influence, that we might proclaim the riches of his love and the mercy he offers so freely. Pray that our church can be a beacon of hope in a world that desperately needs it.