Not much is known about the birth or parentage of Daniel. The biblical data concerning these details is limited to the opening verses of his book (Dan. 1:1–5). We do learn that he was among the Israelite youths of royal birth taken into Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC. Scholars generally agree that Daniel was about 15 years of age at this time. Daniel’s three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were among those who accompanied him to Babylon where they were subjected to a process of conditioning for the king’s personal service.
Daniel’s character was shown at the outset of the captivity as he made an appeal to the commander of the officials in charge of this process of conditioning to abstain from the regular diet imposed upon the youths. Daniel 1:8 states that this action was a result of his having “made up his mind that he would not defile himself” with these provisions. God blessed Daniel’s integrity and also granted him and his friends great wisdom, and Daniel was given the special ability to interpret visions and dreams (Dan. 1:17). He had many important opportunities to exercise this gift in the service of rulers, and each time he relied upon God and gave Him all the glory for his success (e.g. Dan. 2:25–49, Dan. 4:19–27, Dan. 5:13–30).
Daniel lived in a time of great tragedy for Israel. The moral and spiritual fiber of the nation had been declining for centuries, but Nebuchadnezzar’s victory served as the confirmation that Yahweh was keeping His promise to bring a curse upon His people if they failed to keep His commandments (cf. Lev. 26:14–39; Deut. 28:15–68). Although he was born into such a tumultuous period, Daniel was privileged not only to serve the government of the Babylonian Empire, but to see it come to an end at the hands of the Medo-Persians after Belshazzar’s blasphemous, drunken party (Dan. 5:1–31). He was further privileged to find favor with Darius, the regent governor, and to rise to the level of statesman within this great, successive power as well.
The scope of history which Daniel was able to see was not limited by his own lifetime, for God used him as a unique channel through which to record prophecies of the far-distant future. While the first half of the book of Daniel is mainly history, the second half is primarily prophecy. But as spectacular as the prophecies of the book of Daniel may be, they do not outshine the character of the man whose name it bears. Without a doubt, one of the most prominent features of Daniel’s uncompromising life in the midst of opposition was that he was a man of prayer.
Only a handful of passages give us a snapshot of Daniel’s prayer life, but they are loaded with principles that all believers of every age would do well to imitate. In the remainder of this post and the posts that follow, we will explore four aspects and six attitudes of prayer. The aspects are themes which compose the act of prayer, while the attitudes make up mindsets that permeate throughout the day and fuel our focused times of prayer.
“As spectacular as the prophecies of the book of Daniel may be, they do not outshine the character of the man whose name it bears.
While Daniel was far from a self-centered man, he was not afraid to call upon the Lord for provision. When Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, who had been sent to execute all of the wise men in Babylon because of their lack of the ability to fulfill his demands of relaying and interpreting his dream, approached Daniel, Daniel appealed to him for time to obtain the interpretation of the king’s dream. After having received this permission, he went straight to his friends to gain their help in requesting from God revelation of the interpretation (Dan. 2:1–18). H.C. Leupold observes that Daniel’s primary motive for this request was that he and his friends might be delivered from execution and that this is not necessarily a selfish prayer, for God often has greater purposes in mind in situations such as this one.
When Daniel’s fellow statesmen had devised a scheme to incriminate and dispose of him by convincing Darius to sign an irreversible law banning anyone in the kingdom from praying to any god or man except him, he continued on with his usual practice of praying three times a day with his windows open toward Jerusalem (Dan. 6:6–10). The term translated “prayed” could well be rendered “made petition,” for in the particular form used here it means “to seek grace or favor for oneself.” It is likely that Daniel was requesting divine assistance in the midst of his personal difficulty. Additionally, Daniel’s habit of praying toward Jerusalem was a custom that began with Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Ki. 8:33–35), in which he spelled out the behavior of those who turned to Him in humility and confession during times of national defeat and oppression.
A third example of petition offered by Daniel is found in chapter nine, and is the most profound prayer of the book, not only for its richness, but for the amazing answer it precipitated from God. Daniel records that, after reading about Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the time-frame of Israel’s captivity, he prayed to the Lord with great humility, confession, and then followed with a powerful petition for himself and his people. Daniel’s particular request was not necessarily for a revelation about the fuller meaning of Jeremiah’s prophecy (which he received), but for God’s wrath to be averted and his favor to come upon His people once again (Dan. 9:16–19). Daniel’s prayer was not the least bit presumptuous, for he was simply following the biblical pattern set by Solomon for the faithful remnant of God’s people and asking God to fulfill His promises which had been prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 29:10). Daniel’s focus was clearly upon God’s glory, not merely upon himself or his people; he desired God to fulfill His word for the sake of His name (Dan. 9:19; cf. Ex. 32:11–13).
Daniel’s prayers of petition are a good reminder for believers to heed Jesus’ command to ask God for things, for He desires to act in their behalf (Matt. 7:7–11; Jn. 14:13–14). The key is that our prayers must be according to His will, as Daniel’s were. We must never be presumptuous or selfish, but always submit our petitions with pure motives (Jas. 4:3).