The book of Daniel is an intriguing book. Many know it because of the first half of the book. That’s where we read about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that only Daniel could interpret. That’s where we read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace and God protecting them in the midst of the fire. Then Daniel interprets another dream for Nebuchadnezzar. There’s also handwriting on the wall that Daniel is able to interpret. Then through deceit and guile Daniel finds himself thrown into a lions’ den where God protects him, much to the king’s delight. Daniel has a vision of the “Ancient of Days”, an image we’re all familiar with. Then the book gets weird and the childrens’ storybooks stop.
In the second half of the book of Daniel, Daniel is no longer the greater interpreter of dreams and visions. He has great and terrifying visions of things he cannot understand. In chapter 7 after a vision Daniel says his spirit within him was anxious for the vision he had. In chapter 8 the angel Gabriel shows up to explain what Daniel has been shown. And he shows up again in chapter 9. Daniel has more visions that are great and terrifying, and he cannot understand them. Near the end of the book we read these words:
I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.Daniel 12:8–9 ESV
The book ends with Daniel, the great interpreter of dreams and visions, utterly perplexed and clueless about what was to come. When he pleads for understanding he is told that understanding will have to wait. This was probably a blessing for Daniel, for if he were to understand all that would happen in the future, it may crush him. So it is with us. If we knew all that would happen or the depth of suffering headed our way or the pain tomorrow may bring, how could we face it? Just as much, how can we face today and today’s challenges and struggles? It’s too much!
In chapter 10 Daniel reveals to Cyrus something about a great conflict that was to happen. We read these intriguing words.
In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.Daniel 10:2–3 ESV
Daniel’s response to confusion and heartache and suffering was to pray and fast. In this case he was mourning because he saw what was to come and it troubled him. He mourned because of it. Again, it’s a blessing when God does not reveal everything to us! He fasted for three full weeks and spent that time praying. After the three weeks he had another vision. One who looked like a man—an angel—appeared to him and spoke. He told Daniel that he had been sent to him. Then we read one of the most amazing things in all of Scripture.
Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”Daniel 10:12–14 ESV
Did you catch the timing indicated in these words? The angel told Daniel that from the very first day he sought the Lord through prayer and fasting, Daniel was heard by the Lord and from that very first day the Lord sent the angel to him. Then he describes some of the unseen battles that happen in the spiritual realm. The prince of the kingdom of Persia—a demonic being—fought against the angel, preventing him from going to Daniel right away. The battle appears to have been fierce as it lasted twenty-one days. The angel says it wasn’t until Michael, “one of the chief princes”, came to help him that he was able to leave and go to Daniel.
So follow the timeline. Daniel begins praying and fasting, crying out to the Lord. The Lord immediately sends an angel to Daniel but is blocked for twenty-one days. During this Daniel continued praying and fasting for three full weeks. So the angel was involved in a spiritual battle with forces of darkness for twenty-one days while Daniel was engaging in a spiritual battle through praying and fasting for three full weeks—twenty-one days. What would have happened if Daniel had stopped praying on day twenty?
A survey taken a few years ago revealed that more Americans believe in ghosts than believe in demons and nearly twice as many believe in aliens than in demons. The unseen world around is engaged in a battle. As Paul put it in his letter to the Ephesians, we don’t battle against flesh and blood. Our struggle as followers of Jesus is not primarily physical. Our enemies are not other human beings. Our struggle is “against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. The thing is, whether Americans believe in them or not, demons are real and they are powerful. Our response to all this should be Daniel’s response: we must pray and fast, seeking the Lord to fight for us.
We must do what we can. If you’re sick, see a doctor. If your plumbing leaks, call a plumber. If you have electrical trouble, call an electrician. If you have spiritual struggles, however, there is only one to call upon. In chapter 8 Daniel is perplexed about a vision of rising and falling kingdoms and of a king who was to come would be great and powerful—and destructive. Daniel said he was “appalled by the vision and did not understand it” (Daniel 8:27). He had received this encouragement, however:
By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.Daniel 8:25 ESV
As great and powerful as wicked people may seem, they shall be broken—but by no human hand. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, nor should we wrestle with flesh and blood. The weapons at our disposal cannot be seen or felt. We must wrestle with the forces of darkness as Daniel did, through prayer and fasting. We must seek the Lord and his power, for only he can break the greatest of foes.
Regardless of how spiritually mature you think you are, or how much wisdom you may have gained, or even just how stubborn you may be, the truth is each one of us is overmatched in the spiritual battles we find ourselves in. When we’re being slandered online or we struggle with health problems or with financial problems or our temptation to sin doesn’t last all that long because we didn’t resist all that long or when we hate our jobs and want nothing more than to tell off our boss, we’re overmatched. We deal with these problems in the ways we can, whether seeking spiritual advice or a counselor or avoiding temptations or simply practicing self-control, but at its core, the battle is spiritual. And we cannot win. The promise given to Daniel in this obscure section of his book is this: when the enemy is overwhelming and unstoppable and brings death and destruction and deceit everywhere, know that he will be broken—but by no human hand. When the Lord of heaven and earth fights for us, the battle is over before it even starts.
Our response, our responsibility, is to pray. When we see the overwhelming odds stacked against us, prayer is God’s gift to us through which he unleashes power we cannot even see, to bring about our rescue. We must devote ourselves to prayer. Join us on Sunday mornings an hour before the service. We spend time battling in prayer together. Pray in your City Groups. Pray at home. Pray at work. Pray on the way to work. As Paul said, pray without ceasing. The forces arrayed against us are too big to not pray.