CDPCKL · How to Worship While In Exile (Daniel 9:1-24)

How to Worship While In Exile (Daniel 9:1-24)

When Daniel was just a boy, back in Jerusalem, his father would have taken him to the temple for worship at certain special times of the year. Daniel would have stood there with his father and brothers and uncles and cousins, singing the psalms and hymns of his people, watching while the priests performed the elaborate rituals of sacrifice upon the altar that stood between the people and God’s holy presence. Sacred animals would be killed. Their blood would be dedicated to God, their bodies consumed by fire, but their meat would be roasted and distributed so that the people could share a meal with God and with each other. And as they returned home each time, Daniel’s father would have explained to him that — through those sacrifices, through that shared sacred meal — their family’s sins were atoned for, their fellowship with God restored. 

And several times, when Daniel went to worship with his father, he would have seen a prophet preaching there in the courtyard of the temple: a man named Jeremiah, who was probably in his 40s when Daniel was about 10. This prophet was always telling the people that their sacrifices and their worship was actually a waste of time if they did not also repent of their idolatry, their obsession with prosperity, and their unjust treatment of the poor. He was constantly warning them that, if they did not repent and return to the true heart of worship, the Babylonians would eventually come and totally destroy Jerusalem. 

Now, quite naturally, this prophet Jeremiah was constantly being arrested and put on trial for disturbing the peace. Several times he was almost executed for blasphemy. But he continued to preach and plead with the people. And during one of the last sermons Daniel would have heard from him, Jeremiah declared that the brand new king of Babylon — a man named Nebuchadnezzar — would soon carry God’s people away into exile, where they would serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. 

Sure enough, just a few months later, Nebuchadnezzar took control of the whole region, from Syria to Egypt, and the king of Jerusalem signed a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar, along with all the other kings in that area. And to help those kings remember to be faithful to their treaty, Nebuchadnezzar took hostages from the households of each king. And so Daniel — who was apparently related to the king of Jerusalem — found himself taken away to Babylon with a large group of other hostages: cut off from his family, cut off from worship, cut off from the sacrifices, cut off from the source of forgiveness and fellowship with God. Instead, he found himself enrolled in the Royal University of Babylon, and taught everything the Babylonians knew about economics, politics, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, magic, idolatry — everything he would need to know in order to serve in the Babylonian government. 

But even though Daniel was far away from the holy places of his God, even though he was surrounded and defiled by the idolatrous culture of the Babylonians, it soon became clear that Daniel’s God was still with him there in exile, guiding him, protecting him, giving him hope that through his father’s prayers and sacrifices at the faraway temple, Daniel’s sins were still being atoned for along with the rest of his family. 

Unfortunately, about seven years later, the king of Jerusalem broke his treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled against him. So Nebuchadnezzar sent an army over there and captured that king and replaced him with one of his nephews, one of Daniel’s cousins. But that nephew only got to be king for three months before Nebuchadnezzar decided it was just too risky to leave such a strategic city untouched. So he visited Jerusalem again; the nephew surrendered without a fight, and Nebuchadnezzar carried off all the upper classes of the city, leaving behind only the lower classes. 

Daniel would have been in his mid-20s when that second batch of exiles arrived. And this second batch contained many of the noblemen and elders and priests of Jerusalem. It is likely that Daniel’s father, mother, brothers, cousins, many of his royal relatives were among those exiles, including both of the most recent kings. The prophet Ezekiel was also part of that second batch. But there is no evidence that Daniel ever got a chance to connect with anyone from that group, because most of them were scattered throughout all the difference provinces of the empire, while Daniel remained stationed in the capital city. 

So that must have been a great discouragement for Daniel: realizing that his father and brothers were no longer able to offer up prayers and sacrifices on his behalf. Still, there were a few priests remaining in Jerusalem, and every year on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would make one particular sacrifice and the sins of the entire nation would be wiped out — including Daniel’s. And Daniel would also have held onto the hope that somehow, someday, some members of his family might one day return, pass through the gates, and worship God once again among the congregation of the faithful. 

Well, unfortunately, this second batch of exiles also included some false prophets. And these false prophets began to take advantage of this hope. They began to tell the exiles, “Don’t worry la! We are only going to be here for a year or two — then we all go home! God does not want us to actually suffer! So hang on! Keep your bags packed, because we are going to be back home before you know it!” 

This, quite naturally, caused problems. Many of the exiles — longing for confirmation of this hope — started paying these false prophets to have dreams and visions and new revelations from God…which is exactly what these false prophets wanted, false prophets are always figuring out ways to get rich on religion, that is one of the marks of a false prophet. Many of the exiles did keep their bags packed. They refused to farm the ground or go to work, thinking, “why bother? Why should we invest here when we could be on the way home tomorrow?” 

Then a letter arrived from Jerusalem — a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah, who had been left behind in Jerusalem with the lower class people. And this is what the letter said: “‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.” Instead, “this is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.’ So: unpack your bags. Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Increase in numbers there; do not decrease.” 

This letter would have been copied and distributed. And no doubt Daniel received a copy, which he read, and then put away in his files, and then went back to work, praying that he might live long enough to see that day. 

But about ten years after that, Jerusalem rebelled against Babylon yet again. And for Nebuchadnezzar that was the last straw: he beseiged the city and utterly destroyed it, emptied it, carrying the rest of the people away into exile, leaving only ruins behind. The temple was gone. The sacrifices stopped. And God’s people entered into a long, dark night of the soul as, year by year, their sins accumulated unforgiven, unatoned for, each generation dying in the desperate hope that, someday in the future, the temple would be rebuilt and that somehow God might provide a sacrifice so powerful, so holy, and so complete that all their sins would be washed away and their spirits redeemed from the place of the dead, lifted up to live forever in God’s presence… 

Fifty years passed in this way. Nebuchadnezzar died — and still Daniel served the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar’s sons took power, one by one, and died — and still Daniel served the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson came to power, and then died when King Cyrus conquered the great city of Babylon. The Babylonian empire is no more, replaced by the Medo-Persian empire — and so: what now, for Daniel? Sure, he survived the fall of Babylon, but his life’s work is gone! Not a trace of the empire he served remains. Here he is, eighty plus years old, all the investments of a lifetime wiped out, and now he has to start all over again at his age? 

But then, in the middle of the chaos and disorganization that always follows the fall of an empire, Daniel remembers something he read once when he was a young man, still in his twenties. So he goes back and digs through the sixty or seventy years of journals and files and paperwork that he has accumulated in his office…and there it is: the letter from Jeremiah the prophet that said, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will fulfill my good promise to bring you back.” 

So now Daniel knows exactly what he is supposed to do next. This is what he did — these are his words from his journals of that time: 

[3] So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 

Daniel is powerless. This is the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent). Darius is the new governor of Babylon, installed there by the Persian King Cyrus. It is Darius’ job to reorganize the government, to turn Babylon into a productive and obedient colony of the Persian empire. So Daniel doesn’t know if he still has a job or not. Yes, he was prime minister for about five minutes before Belshazzar died, but that is probably not a point in his favour, because why would Darius trust a civil servant who was obviously so well trusted by the previous government? 

Daniel’s personal future is in complete doubt. He may not survive this transition from Babylonian to Persian rule. But he is certain that God’s people are going to survive and thrive — and now that he has refreshed his memory of God’s Word through Jeremiah, now Daniel knows that the time of their deliverance from exile is near. 

So what does he do, now that he is powerless, now that he has no status in government or anywhere else? 

He prays: 

[4] “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, [5] we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. [6] We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. 

[7] “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. [8] We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. [9] The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; [10] we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. [11] All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. 

Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. [12] You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. [13] Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. [14] The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him. 

Daniel’s prayer is so clear here that I hardly feel I need to comment on it: he is basically admitting that his people deserved to be conquered and carried off into exile, that God was basically keeping his promise to discipline them if they refused to repent. And he is admitting that, even now, after many decades in exile, his people still do not deserve to go home, they are still just as sinful as ever. 

So Daniel cannot pray and say, “Look, God, at how well-behaved we are now! We have learned our lesson…so please let us go home.” Instead he makes this appeal: 

[15] “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. But: [16] Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. 

[17] “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. [18] Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. [19] Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” 

See, Daniel has a problem, the Jewish people have a problem, and it is sort of a ”chicken or egg” problem: they need to perform sacrifices in Jerusalem in order to be purified as a people, but they cannot perform sacrifices in Jerusalem until after they have been purified. So which comes first: sacrifice, or purity? 

So all Daniel can do is appeal to history: once upon a time, God saved his people from slavery in Egypt — not because they were righteous, but simply because they were his people. And so all Daniel can do is remind God that he has done this once before, and then beg God to do it again. So Daniel prays here and says, “God, you are the one who called us your children. Yes, we are terrible children, rebellious children, embarassing children — the whole world is laughing at you because we are so badly behaved! — but still we are your children! So please, for the sake of your reputation: bring us back to Jerusalem!” 

But there is a deeper longing at work in Daniel’s heart here, as he prays. It goes somewhat unspoken, but it is still present: see, Daniel is not just asking God to forgive, and let his people rebuild the temple, and restart the atoning sacrifices they so desperately need. The Holy Spirit within Daniel is also longing for the final, great sacrifice at the final, great temple, the sacrifice that will purify God’s people completely, once and for all. 

Daniel’s concern here is not just to wipe away the piled up sins of all these past decades without sacrifice, Daniel is also concerned about all the sins that will pile up again in the future. When Daniel begs God in verse 16 to “turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem” he means not just now, but forever and for always: “Please, God, put an end to sin so that you will never have to be angry with us again!” 

See, Daniel knows that this whole cycle could repeat, even after they rebuild. God’s people will surely compromise with the nations around them, they have a long history of that already. They will, mostly likely, refuse to repent, no matter how many prophets God sends to them. And if that happens, then eventually God will have to destroy the temple again, and scatter his people once more among the nations. 

In fact, Daniel knows that this cycle will repeat, at least in some fashion. Back in Chapter 7, a vision told him that, in the future, a terrible, boastful king will corrupt God’s worship for a time, times, and half a time. Then, in Chapter 8, a vision told Daniel that, in the future, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will cause deceit to prosper among God’s holy people, and then, when they feel secure, he will destroy many. 

After his vision in Chapter 7, Daniel’s face turned pale, but he kept the matter to himself: he did not know what to say or what to think about this terrible revelation. Two years later, after his vision in Chapter 8, he was exhausted and appalled, the vision was beyond understanding: he had no idea how to respond to what God was showing him. But now, eight years later, he finally knows what he wants to pray for: what God’s people really need is a temple — a Most Holy Place — that cannot ever be defiled ever again. What God’s people really need are circumcised hearts that will know how to repent, that will know where to turn to find atonement for wickedness, that will finally know how to live lives of worship leading to everlasting righteousness. 

Now, we are going to pause here for a moment to discuss two things that may have occurred to us: 

First, why is Daniel praying about this now? No matter how we stretch the dates, the promised seventy years are nowhere near completed. Daniel has only been in Babylon for about 65 years; the second batch of exiles for about 55 years; the final batch for only about 45 years. So why does Daniel think the time of their deliverance is near? 

Second, why is Daniel praying at all about this? Jeremiah has already guaranteed that God will bring them home, so why does Daniel feel like he needs to beg God to let them go home? 

Okay. First question: why is Daniel praying now? Why does he think the seventy years are almost finished? 

Because the ”seventy years” are a concept more than a measurement of time. 

We have already discovered, in Daniel’s writings, that the concept of “seven times” passing by is a reference to God’s complete refining of a person — especially of a king. A king’s sins are not private, they affect whole nations of people. And so, when a powerful individual consistently abuses their power over a long period of time, God will eventually put them through some trial that forces them to pay the complete penalty for all the evil they have done. If that person repents during that process, they are refined and restored; if they refuse to repent, they are judged and destroyed. 

Well, “seventy years” is 7 x 10 years. So that is seven — the concept of a completed perfection — multiplied by ten — which is the concept of a completed grasp, a completed fulness. 

Now: what does that mean? Well, in the ancient Jewish writings we find that this concept of “seventy times” passing by is a reference to God’s complete refining of a nation. 

To summarize then: in scripture, “seven times” is God’s complete refining of an individual; “seventy times” is God’s complete refining of a nation. 

…and there is more to these concepts, but you’ll have to come back next week to join that discussion. 

So if these numbers are not really meant to be exact measurements of time, if they are, instead, exact measurements of a refining process, how does Daniel know that the “seventy years” are almost finished now? 

Because he read Jeremiah’s letter! “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will bring you back!” Now, is Babylon’s refining process complete? Yep! One of Babylon’s kings repented and acknowledged God’s rule, but the ones who followed did not, and so now the empire has paid the ultimate penalty: it is dead. Therefore, very clearly, it is time for God to bring his people back home! 

In short: Daniel is not looking at a calendar and trying to add up the dates, he is looking at the situation and applying God’s Word to it, just like he did last week when he read the writing on the wall. 

But this just leads us to our second question: why does Daniel bother to pray about this, if God has already promised to do it? 

This one is more difficult, because it is a common problem for all of us, right? 

Many of us have wondered why we should bother to pray if God already knows everything we are going to pray for and everything that is going to happen. And there is a mystery here for us: the bible tells us that God ordains and sustains every future event, and the bible tells us that our prayers work alongside God’s will in such a way that we actually participate in shaping the future. The bible teaches us that God ordains the end results, he also ordains how we get to those end results, and he does all this without violating human free will. 

Let me explain how that process worked in this case: 

When Jeremiah first preached in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem, God made sure that Daniel would hear that message. When Jeremiah wrote his letter to the exiles, God made sure that Daniel would receive a copy. And through all of Daniel’s decades of service in Babylon, God made sure to mould him into a man who relied completely upon God’s Word and prayer for everything. That way, when God’s judgement upon Babylon was completed, God knew that the very first thing Daniel would do — out of his own free will! — is pray about the next steps, and basically make redemption happen! 

We could explain it like this: God ordained — before the beginning of creation! —  a “seventy year” process and fixed end-point for the Babylonian empire. At the same time, during those ”seventy years”, God was also preparing a messiah for his people: a saviour who would ”activate“ the plan through his prayers. This was a man whose every instinct told him to offer up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the only one who could save him and his people from death. 

And here we find out that Daniel was heard because of his reverent submission: 

[20] While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— [21] while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. [22] He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. [23] As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” 

Doesn’t that just make the puzzle even more profound? Gabriel says, “As soon as you began to pray, God acted!” God answered Daniel’s prayer even before he prayed it! 

Which just makes us wonder all over again, “why should we bother to pray?” 

But what if that had been Daniel’s attitude? Then he would not have prayed — and God would not have answered before he prayed, because there would not have been anything to answer… 

All we can say for sure is this: Daniel’s prayer at this point in time was a necessary part of God’s plan. But God does not exist in time the way we do, so when he responds to our time-bound prayers is not limited to our understanding of how time flows. 

That’s it. That’s all the explanation we get. I really think this is going to be a mystery for us until the day comes that we shall know fully, even as we are fully known. 

So here is Gabriel, the angel that Daniel has already spoken with two times before. Apparently Gabriel’s special assignment from God is to explain things to Daniel. 

And Daniel records that Gabriel arrived around the time of the evening sacrifice. Now, there is no more evening sacrifice: the temple is gone. But the time of the evening sacrifice also marks the end of the Jewish day, and the end of fasting and sorrow. This would have been time of day when faithful Jews would finish their prayers and sit down to eat, to break their fast in faith that God has heard them. 

For Gabriel to arrive at just this moment was God’s way of telling Daniel, “Okay, enough! I’ve heard you. Take off your sackcloth. Wash the ashes from your hair and face. Eat something. Because I have a special word for you.” 

So now, Gabriel goes on: “Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision: 

[24] “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.” 

Daniel was praying for two things: an end to the seventy years of exile from God’s presence, and a restoration of God’s temple, God’s worship — hopefully forever. 

Well, Gabriel has just answered both of Daniel’s requests — but the answers are sort of a “good news, bad news” thing. 

First, the bad news: there is going to be an extension on the seventy years. Yes, God’s people will get to go home to Jerusalem shortly. But as Daniel has just admitted in his prayer, they are still far from perfect. So they are going to have to pass through seven more “seventies” before the refining process is complete. It will take seven more “seventies” for God’s people to finish their transgressions, to put an end to their sins, and to atone for their wickedness. 

But that is also the good news: the refining process will be completed. By the end of those seven “seventies”, God will have brought in everlasting righteousness, he will have sealed up vision and prophecy, and anointed the Most Holy Place. In other words, all that Daniel has been longing for will be fulfilled: the building of the temple that can never be defiled, the offering of the sacrifice that will wipe out the sins of God’s people once and for all. 


Now, we are going to have to return to this passage next week, because Gabriel is not finished yet: he is planning to offer Daniel more details about the events that will take place during these seven “seventies”. So, make sure to come back for that. 

For today, as we move on to consider how our Father wants us to apply this passage to our lives, we are again going to go back and see how Daniel’s life in exile was recorded as a guide for God’s Jewish people during the centuries that followed their return to Jerusalem. 

In particular, we are going to notice the pattern of Daniel’s worship. Previous chapters, previous episodes, have given us great insights into how Daniel interacted with foreign kings and cultures while he was far away from home. This episode shows us how Daniel continued to interact with God while he was far away from home. 

As we have already noticed, when Daniel was a child he was taught a particular form of corporate worship that was centered around sacrifice — but then that was taken from him, and the whole system destroyed. 

And so during those long years of waiting in Babylon, Daniel — and all God’s people — had to make a decision: now that the sacrifices are no longer possible, does this mean we should stop worship until the temple can be restored? 

The answer, obviously, was no! Of course worship should continue! 

But what form should this worship take, if it cannot be centered around the sacrifices? 

Worship during the exile began to be focused upon God’s Word it a way it had not been previously. The sacrificial system might be dead — but God’s Word is not, and really the whole sacrificial system was built on promises contained in God’s Word anyway. And so, during the exile, Jewish people began to meet every week in small communities of 10 families or more. They could not go on pilgrimage to the temple anymore, they could not perform the sacrifices necessary for atonement, but they could still sing the songs of God, they could still pray, they could still read their sacred scriptures and encourage one another with God’s promises that, one day, there would be a perfect king and a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice performed in a perfect temple — when the sins of all God’s people would be wiped out forever. 

It was this worship, founded upon God’s Word, that gave the Jewish people hope while they were in exile, hope that one day they could be forgiven. It taught them how to live, it taught them what to look forward to, and it taught them what to pray for — just as it taught Daniel today. 

And they discovered that this system of worship was so rich, so life-giving, that when they got back home to Jerusalem and Judea, they just kept right on doing it! The temple sacrifices were restored, the system of pilgrimage to Jerusalem started up again — but the Jewish people never forgot how precious the Word of God had been to them during that long dark night of the soul. So they built meeting halls in every village, in every town, places where everyone could gather for worship every week. They called these buildings “synagogues”, which is just a Greek word that means “gathering place”. They started a whole industry of scribes, copying and copying and copying the sacred books, because they wanted every synagogue to have its own collection. They taught every young man — and even some of the young women — to read, because they wanted every husband, every father, to be able to disciple his family directly from scripture. 

So the exile actually changed Jewish worship forever: those seventy years in captivity actually made the people stronger, drew them closer to the Words of Life. 

But what does all this have to do with us? 

Well, as Daniel feared, the terrible cycle did repeat: the rebuilt temple was destroyed again, the sacrificial system ended — this time forever — and the Jewish people scattered throughout the earth. 

But before that happened, just as Gabriel promised here, God laid the foundation for a new kind of temple, a temple that can never be defiled, never be destroyed. And this set things up so that, even as the old temple grew old and crumbled away to dust, the new temple grew up through its center like the Tree of Life outgrowing the husk of its own seed. And that temple has almost completely filled the earth at this point in history. 

But where is this great temple? Surely we would have noticed a building so large that it has filled the earth? 

Well…the temple is right here. We are that temple. Actually, our congregation is just one tiny part of the temple, each baptized believer among us like a living stone in the walls of the living temple that is Jesus’ global Church. 

But how is this possible? How can we claim that Jesus’ Church is some kind of global indestructable temple? Why can’t the Hindus or the Buddhists or the Muslims make the same claim about their religious communities? 

Because God built the foundation of Jesus’ temple around the one and only sacrifice Daniel’s people had been longing for: the sacrifice so powerful, so holy, and so complete that all the sins of all God’s people — past and future — were washed away once and for all. In fact, that sacrifice was Jesus himself, God’s only truly eternal Son, who volunteered to be the sacrifice that would purify God’s people forever, whose living blood and living Spirit would bind God’s living stones together with an unbreakable cement. 

So the reason Jesus’ Church cannot ultimately be defiled or destroyed is because its foundation is the living Word of God, its walls and roof the living people of God, and the mortar that binds it all together the living Spirit of God. 

Okay. But how does worship at this new kind of living Spiritual temple actually work? The old Jewish temple had an altar standing between the worshipers and God’s holy presence, their worship was centered around a system of sacrifices that kept them in fellowship with God. Our worship is founded upon God’s Word, but what is it centered around? Do we still have an altar? 

Well, yes: there is an altar in Jesus’ Church — but it no longer functions as an altar. This altar has not actually been used as an altar for almost 2000 years…it is a museum piece, really: a memorial of Jesus’ final sacrifice. It is still standing there between God’s people and God’s holy presence, but the fires no longer burn upon it, its sides are no longer splashed with blood, now it stands dry and clean and shining for us to approach without fear of death or burning. And so, because this altar no longer functions as an altar, in our church we generally call it a table. And the reason we call it a table is because this is still where we come and eat of Christ’s sacrifice, this is still where we come and share a meal with God and with each other, and go away restored. 

So, going back to our earlier question: what does Daniel’s new style of worship in exile have to do with us? 

What I am trying to show us is this: the worship that we enjoy together here every week is a direct lineal descendant of the worship that Daniel helped to invent more than 2500 years ago. Even the elements of our liturgy here today — the pattern of worship we follow every week — are the same elements, the same patterns that were developed in ancient synagogue worship from Daniel’s time onward. Most people do not realize it, but the things we do here: singing, praying, reading, talking, eating, drinking — our worship has been going on in this form for 2500 years. 

Daniel and his people were forced to innovate during the years of their exile: they had to design a new kind of worship without an altar, without sacrifices at the center of it. At first, this was intended to be a temporary kind of worship, because — really — it was worship with a giant hole in the middle of it. It was worship simply designed to maintain their hope that one day the altar would be restored and they would once again have access to God’s presence on earth through sacrifice. They had no idea that the temporary kind of worship they invented during their years in Babylon would turn out to be the only permanent kind of worship, centered around the only permanent altar and sacrifice. They had no idea that we would be here, 2500 years later, people from every nation on earth, dancing the same ancient liturgical dance, singing the same sacred songs, reading the same living Words, eating the same timeless sacrifice from the same table, the same Tree of Life that Adam once ate from…! 

So, practically speaking now, how does our Father wants us to apply this passage to our lives? 

That’s easy! because we are already doing it. Our Father wants us to continue to follow Daniel’s example of worship in exile: reading and understanding the Scriptures, praying for God’s kingdom to come, and then rising to break our fast as the time of the evening sacrifice draws near. Every time we do this, we are entering the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of the firstborn. We are coming to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of any other sacrifice. 

The only difference is that Daniel’s people were looking forward to Jesus’ sacrifice, while we are looking back in remembrance of it. But in everything else, we share the same faith, we practice the same worship, we participate in the same fellowship with the same God that Daniel’s people did. 

So let’s celebrate that now. 

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