The Great War
Key Verse 10:1
“In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.”
In chapter 9 Daniel prayed. Read Daniel 9:1-5. “In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.’”
There are many things we learn here from Daniel about prayer. He was first and foremost a Bible student. He studied the word of God diligently. And when he studied the Bible God opened his heart to see many things. He discovered the will of God for his people. For 70 years they had been in exile. There was no doubt why they had gone into exile. We may blame wars and nations and leaders for the ravages of war, but ultimately we know that God himself leads and oversees history, and decrees all that is to happen. 70 years ago, the people of Israel were overrun by the brutal Assyrians who ravaged their country, and forced the people into exile to Assyria and Babylonia. The reason this happened, as the Bible tells us was because the people of Israel had deserted God. God had warned them time and again, if they didn’t remain closely knit with him, he would do to them what he ended up doing, which was to exile them to Babylonia. Let’s go back to Daniel. Daniel knew well enough why they had been exiled some 70 years ago. But Daniel wondered how long this exile and punishment they were suffering would go on for. So he turned his heart to studying the word of God, the Bible, and here is what God revealed to him as he studied the word of God. “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.”
The Lord revealed to him the meaning of the words of Jeremiah the prophet regarding the time of God’s promised liberation. It was going to be 70 years. And Daniel saw that the 70 years had already passed. So what did he do? Well, he gave himself over to prayer. That is exactly what we have been talking about for weeks now. This is prayer according to the will of God. Daniel had many personal needs. But in comparison with the will of God to liberate the people from their slavery in Babylon, Daniel’s personal needs seemed trivial (as our own personal needs usually seem when we look at the big picture of what God is doing or wants to do). Daniel had learned the will of God through Bible study. He realized that God wanted to set the people free. So he set himself to pray for the will of God. In other words, he gave himself over to pray for the liberation of his people to begin. His prayer is recorded here in chapter 9. And we can look at it some other time if we want to study the details of his prayer. But for now, there are a few things that capture our attention in his prayer.
We see that he was a humble man. Daniel was a great man of God, and a great statesman in Babylon. But when he came to God in prayer he neither came as an honored and important statesman nor did he come before God as a great man of God. He came as a sinner. He says it himself.: “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.” He knelt down and confessed that he and his people were great sinners, that they had one and all violated the law of God. Daniel was one of the purest and most devout of the exiles to Babylon. When he was captured and taken into exile, he was a child. He could not have participated in the sins of Israel which led to the exile. But when he knelt down to pray, he prayed as a sinner together with this people, one to blame for all that had happened to them. It takes humility of heart and a thorough knowledge of one’s human sinful condition to pray like that. He prayed confessing his sins and the sins of his people. His prayer reveals a whole lot more about prayer in the school of prayer. It reveals what our attitude of prayer should be. it reveals the level of earnestness when one prays. Daniel exemplified all that. But what concerns us most here today, is that Daniel really prayed according to the will of God. He found out that God wanted to liberate his people, and that’s what he poured himself in prayer over before God. He thanked God that the time of exile and punishment were at an end. He prayed for the liberation of his people. He prayed that now that the 70 years were over, his people begin their journey back home to Israel to begin rebuilding the city and the temple. We have in past years studied both the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Bible. So we should be familiar with Daniel’s prophesy coming true in part, because both Nehemiah and Ezra did return to Israel with a large community of exiled and began the rebuilding project God inspired them to begin.
Daniel prayed. And here’s what happened in answer to Daniel’s prayer: “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— 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. He instructed me and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision.’” (Daniel 9:20-23)
And so if you read further in Daniel Chapter 9 you will see that God gave him an answer to his prayer. He basically told Daniel many things that would happen in the near future, as well as in the distant future all the way to the end of time. I am saying near, distant and end times because the prophesies the angel told Daniel regarded events that happened and that are yet to happen in our times. This is why this prayer is so significant to us Christians as well. While some of the visions Daniel received may or may not have yet happened, it is not clear. But the important thing is that Daniel’s prayer was answered. It was also answered in the form of a vision. Yet, it was a vision that Daniel could not fully understand. He understood that God would restore surely restore the exiles. But the details of this restoration were unclear to him. Still, there was much Daniel could not understand.
Which brings us to chapter 10. Here is what happened in chapter 10. Chapter 10 is taking place three years later. In chapter 9 verse 1 we see that he prayed in the first year of King Cyrus and in chapter 10 verse 1, the events taking place were in the third year of King Cyrus. What do you think happened during those 3 long years? We are certain that during those 3 years, several things become clear to us. We can be sure that during those years Daniel prayed faithfully. And we can also speculate what he might have prayed for. He surely prayed for the restoration of his people to their land, for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. But he also prayed for understanding of the vision he had received. Much of it was unclear to him. Here is something else we can be sure of as well. In spite of God’s promise to liberate the people from exile and to restore them, the people were not moving. There was no major move from Babylon to Jerusalem. Things were slow, almost too slow. Nothing was happening. And this is where Daniel comes into the picture, three years later. During those 3 years he prayed. He prayed to understand why nothing was happening, why God’s promise was not being fulfilled. Then verse 1 tells us that a revelation was given him, in response to his prayer. Look at verse 1 “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.” What he received was amazing. He received a message from God. And the message was regarding a war. What he saw was the answer to his prayer as to why nothing was happening. The work of God was at a standstill because there was a war— a spiritual war in the heavenly realm— a war that was being fought with Daniel and his people, and against Daniel and his people. And this is exactly what we want to talk about today, the war that Daniel envisioned.
When Daniel prayed, and God answered by showing him a great war, look at what Daniel did in verses 2-3: “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” Daniel had prayed for understanding as to why the work of God, the return of the exiles, was at a standstill. And God had answered him by opening up the curtain that separates the physical world from the spiritual world, and showing him that the reason things aren’t progressing as they should is because there was a spiritual war going on. In other words, Daniel prayed and God was answering his prayer. But it wasn’t that simple. Daniel’s prayer (and all prayer for that matter) was what God wanted him to do. But there were forces in the heavenly realm that were fulfilling Daniel’s prayer, while there were other opposing forces that were engaged in fighting against the will of God which Daniel was praying for. That was what God had showed him. This is what God also wants to show us about prayer. That prayer is part of a great spiritual war going on in the heavenly realm.
First of all, let me say that another answer came to Daniel in response to his 3 week prayer. After realizing in verse 1 that there was a spiritual war going on which he was engaged in through prayer, God went ahead and revealed to Daniel the full meaning of what Daniel could not understand from his vision in chapter 9. But here is what I want to point out to you here. I want to point out the fact that the answer that came in verses 4 to the end of the chapter (and beyond) was also part of Daniel’s prayer struggle. Some might think that it was simply a vision of an angel that appeared to him to explain things to him. But the reality is that we don’t know if the answer that came to him in this chapter were during or at the end of the 3 week prayer he engaged in. In other words, it is not necessary that Daniel received this answer right after the 3 weeks were over. It may well have been that as he mourned and prayed for 3 weeks, the vision came with an answer in this chapter.
And this is why we associate this chapter of the vision with Daniel’s prayer. He was engaged in prayer when it happened. And so this chapter clearly shows us the true nature of prayer like no other in the Bible. It shows us that prayer is a struggle, a fighting, and very much part of the ongoing war in the heavenly realm between the forces that are bent on fulfilling the will of God and the forces that are bent on opposing the will of God. There is no doubt that the forces that fulfill the will of God always win. But that does not negate the fact that prayer remains to be a struggle, a battle that we either engage in or don’t.
Look at verse 1 again. “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.” What Daniel saw here in the vision in answer to his prayer, was a message about a “great war”. This is the eternal spiritual war which is taking place in the heavenly realm, which at the same time is a reflection of the spiritual war taking place right here in our lives in this world. Simply speaking, and which most people fail to see, is that we are in a constant war. We cannot see it with our eyes. But the truth is that every fiber of our being, our very hearts tell us that there is a war raging on all sides around us. From the moment we are physically born, there is a war in the heavenly realm bent on destroying our soul. And a war that pushes our lives in the direction which the devil would have us go so that we might forfeit our souls. And many have already forfeited their souls as they become casualties of war. The world and its people think that they are going about eating and drinking and having fun, enjoying all the pleasures of this world. They think they are secure in their lives, but the truth is that no human being can avoid the war over their souls and many lose it. The only way not to forfeit our souls is to find shelter in our Lord Jesus who gave his life that we might not become casualties in this spiritual war. Jesus died so that we might live a new life escaping the fate of all who live and die in this world. That there is a war in the heavenlies over the souls of men is a fact, a fact that every human being who stops for a moment to consider how easy it is to lose their soul for the scarps of pleasure that the devil gives them in this world.
But the great war that is going on in the heavenlies is not only over the souls of men. From the moment that we are born again as a Christians, as children of God who have safeguarded our souls to the Lord, from that moment, we can attest to the fact that we are in a constant spiritual war with ourselves, with the sinful nature. The new testament is full of truth about that war that is raging all around us. A war to discourage us, to make us give up and give in, to make us renounce our life of faith and mission to a life of humdrum and laziness, a life of no consequence, where our lives are no more than to exist and survive in a world that is pressuring us to follow its ways. From the moment that we are born spiritually to the family of God, we can attest that everything seems to be against us. We can’t seem to do anything right. The moment we feel a little stronger spiritually, suddenly something happens and we have a great fall. A war is going on to make us despair of life and to give in to fatalism and to whatever small comfort we can have in this world. A war is going on within the Christian to obey or not to obey God, to serve or not to serve, to love or not to love, to forgive or not to forgive, to pray or not to pray. The greatest of wars is against our prayer life. Why? Because the devil knows the power of prayer. He knows that only prayer can defeat the hordes of evil things that keep us down, that keep us victimized by our own fears and sorrows, our own bitterness and sense of failure. The devil knows that if we only learn to pray, we would rise above the world and do what we are meant to do, which is to serve and honor God, to love him and to love one another, which to the devil is an abomination, an abomination he would go to great lengths to hinder and halt. The devil knows that if he can but hinder our prayer life, he would keep us ineffective and unproductive. This is the great war that God also showed Daniel is going on, especially in relation to his own prayers.
Daniel realized what was hindering the work of God from progressing. He realized that his people were discouraged, uninterested, unexcited about the return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and temple. He realized that his people were being unreasonably comfortable when they should be eager. They were laze when they should be diligent. They were despaired when they should be faithful and prayerful. They were not doing a thing to advance the work of God and to obey the will of God. When God opened up that window into the spiritual world to see what a great war is going on to advance the will of God on one side and to resist the will of God on the other side, Daniel was overcome with dread. What could he do as a man? He could do nothing. Actually he was a statesman, a close confident of the king. So he could have asked the king’s favor to order the people to return, to shake up the leaders to begin fulfilling the will of God. But Daniel did not do that. He also knew that human effort only goes so far. We may be able to push people around to do this and that for the Lord, but we cannot inspire their hearts to willingly obey his will, and to do what only God can help them do. So Daniel did what he knew to do best. He prayed. As a shepherd for the people, and as a servant of the glorious God in heaven, he knew he needed to do something. So he prayed for them. What did he pray about? The door to return was open, but no one was going through. Daniel understood that the devil was behind this. That he although the devil cannot stand in the way of the will of God, he can resist it, and he can discourage the people telling them that their hopes were pointless, that their situation was hopelessly impossible. So Daniel understood that he needed to undo what the devil was doing. Jesus said the same thing to us when he encouraged to bind and loosen things on earth and things in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
Usually this too is our own situation as well. God’s blessings are at hand. Nothing which is promised to us in the Bible is not already given to us, just as much as when God opened the door for the people’s return, no one could shut it (Revelation ). But while the devil cannot close the door that God has opened in truth, the devil works hard to close the doors in our own hearts. For example our triumph is guaranteed, our future security is certain, our fruitfulness and our spiritual growth is sure. But the world makes it impossible for us to believe that our security is guaranteed, our spiritual growth is imminent, our triumph is at hand. It is a daily struggle for us— not a struggle to receive God’s blessings and triumph for example, because we already have it— but a struggle to believe and to hold on to what has been given to us. It is a war going on in our spiritual inner being to believe, to trust, to give God our hand that he might lead us. We are promised that God would use us as fishers of men for example, but the young people of today seem impossible to reach. So we believe the lie instead of the promise. Think on this a little bit, what God has promised you, what you believe that God has or should have already given you, but you do not have yet in your hand. As I said it is a great war going on in our hearts, a war that Daniel, the great man of God, realized cannot be fought humanly but only through prayer. So he prayed.
Now let us take a look at a picture of Daniel’s prayer struggle. Look at verses 7 through 21. In these verses the angel who came to speak with Daniel on God’s behalf told him something very important. He clarified to him why it took so long for the angel to come to Daniel with an answered prayer. Read verses 12-14. “Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” What he is saying is that God answered Daniel’s prayer but the angel who was sent to explain the meaning of the vision in chapter 9 was detained by the war. We cannot fully understand this, because it is truly something hard to understand. But we can trust the word of God, that the reason he was detained was because an angel of the devil fought hard to prevent the angel whom God sent to Daniel from reaching him. He did not need to explain to Daniel this, but God deeply respected and honored Daniel, the man of prayer, and showed him the full impact of the spiritual war going on in heaven, which reflected and influenced what is going on in Daniel’s world. In other words, the war in heaven is closely tied to the events that happen on earth. When God delays in answering a prayer, it is not always that God is unwilling or not listening, but because there are unseen forces fighting against Daniel and us. This truth we must see so that in our prayer life we might not be discouraged and give up too easily, but continue to pray. We are not only praying. But we are fighting in that great war.
Of course some might think that Daniel was a powerful man, confident and faithful and so God would gladly answer his prayer. But who am I? And why should God bother with a lowly prayer servant like me? In this battle recorded here in chapter 10 we see clearly that such thinking is wrong and has no foundation. It is a thinking of those who are tricked by the devil’s wiles to think that their prayers are ineffective and unproductive, because they are lowly Christians with no clout like Daniel. But I want you to trace Daniel’s behavior during the vision or prayer that he was engaged in with the angel. Notice words like “I was left alone” and “I had no strength left” and “My face turned deathly pale” and “I was helpless” and “I stood up trembling” and “My face to the ground and [I] was speechless” and “I am overcome with anguish” and “I am helpless”. These words tell us of the common humanity of this man Daniel. They define to us our human situation before God, that whether we are strong or weak, faithful or doubtful, young or old, no matter, in the great war that is going on, we can only say honestly with Daniel: “Lord I am overcome with anguish. I am helpless and trembling.” Lord I need you to strengthen me so that I might go on praying. Daniel was engaged in prayer, and during his prayer, he felt all these things that he confessed repeatedly in his prayer. In this war we are engaged in, especially our battle to pray, we are like Daniel, helpless and without strength. But thankfully we see in these verses that God had to repeatedly touch Daniel to strengthen him. God had to repeatedly encourage him so that he might continue in prayer, as the vision was given to him. The angel could not speak to Daniel other than the word God had given him to speak. So we can say that Daniel was repeatedly strengthened through the word of God. He was repeatedly given God’s blessing to overcome his trembling heart and to stand steady until the prayer was over. I am saying this because in prayer, while we pray, we sense the spiritual world and it is frightful to see the reality of what prayer is all about. It is a war. In this war, we cannot fight with our human strength because human strength or ability or power are vain, What matters is that we are equipped with the word of God which strengthens us, and as God blesses us in prayer we go on fighting to the end, until the will of God is fulfilled.
Some people give up too easily. At the sign of some fatigue, or discomfort they stop praying, or they are distracted. Daniel was a man like you and me. He experienced all that we might experience from day to day as we come before God in prayer. But when he struggled to fight in prayer, God himself strengthened him and made him a source of blessing for the fulfillment of God’s will. It was his own struggle in prayer that gave us these two great chapters to show us something important about prayer. They were recorded not only to reveal prophesy but to teach us to pray in like manner. How can we when we are so weak? We can when we understand the nature of prayer— it is a spiritual war— and when we believe that we who are redeemed by the Lord are as privileged to pray through the blood of the Lord Jesus as was Daniel, and to serve our purpose in prayer in our own lives. Amen.