The Fig Tree Withers: A Sermon

withered_tree1The following is a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly of God in Lisbon, ND on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19 (NIV)

“The Fig Tree Withers” (Matthew 21:18-19)

Who Was Joseph's Father?

JosephI was asked today about the seeming disparity between the genealogy of Matthew and Luke, both of whom provide a different father’s name for Joseph the (supposed) father of Jesus: Jacob (Matthew 1.16) and Heli (Luke 3.23).
There are two basic proposals:
1) That both genealogies refer to Joseph, with Matthew’s account intended for Jesus place as heir to the throne of David and Luke’s account intended for the actual biological lineage of Joseph.
2) Matthew is recording Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is recording Mary’s. This is supported by numerous early Fathers: Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Justin Martyr.
It has been suggested (in support of the second proposal) that Mary’s genealogy is given under the name Joseph (by Luke) because (A) women were not official heads in the genealogical records of the ancient world, though they could be mentioned (such as in Matthew) it was always in connection to a husband/father, and (B) that perhaps Mary was an only child (speculation, I know) and would be the family inheritor whose husband is then adopted as the heir for her. Under the second explanation it is usually pointed out that this would make Jesus the heir of David (and Abraham) by both adoption (through Joseph) and by birth (through Mary).
What are your thoughts?

IHS – What Does It Mean?

IHSI had a conversation with a couple of the ladies in my church today about a symbol that is imprinted into the fabric lining the bottom of our brass offering plates. I had overheard one of them telling the other that “IHS” stood for “In His Service”. Sounds good enough. Makes sense. It would be a good meaning to take away from it. But that isn’t what it actually means.
I have found that many times symbols have a way of taking on a life of their own and often their significance shifts (sometimes rather dramatically) over time. This may largely be to a lack of pastors and teachers discussing the meanings and significance of symbols within the Church (or perhaps many pastors and teachers don’t know such matters themselves). But we really should take care to do so.
I have encountered times in my own life where folks have decided that such symbols are somehow pagan…often this comes from a lack of historical appreciation. Or because of the lack of historical understanding it was easy for some other folks to force their seemingly spiritual interpretation onto the other folks in order to attack such symbols. Sadly lacking historical appreciation of the Church makes us easy targets for false teaching.
So what does “IHS” mean? It belongs to a VERY EARLY tradition found in the Greek manuscripts of the early church wherein the sacred name (nomina sacra) of “Jesus” (Gr. ‘ΙΗΣΟΥΣ; transliterated as ‘IESOUS) was abbreviated by use of the first two letters of his name (IH – sounded like “yeah”) and the final letter (Σ which is a ‘sigma’ for ‘s’). It is actually a Christogram where the name of Jesus holds great significance and has been used as a tool of veneration among many.  As a Christogram it has been also variantly explained to refer to an abbreviation of the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus, Savior of Humankind” which provides both the sacred name “Jesus” and its implicit meaning found in Matthew’s gospel 1:21: “he will save his people from their sins”).
While the simple misunderstanding mentioned in my church today was nothing significant (it was my own understanding for many years) it simply reminded me of the need to ground the local church in the history of the Church as one guard against false teaching and a greater appreciation for the richness of our heritage as members of the Church universal. Or maybe I’m just sentimentally reflecting on my responsibilities as a pastor and one who desires to find myself an understanding and appreciative member of the wider Church. And I’m convinced such symbols aid our congregations to find creative entrée into discussing and appreciating the rich history of the wider Church. 🙂

Hungry with Questions

Mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication of ...
Yesterday I preached from Matthew 15:29-39 about the feeding of the 4,000 (men, less women and children and not to be confused with the feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children [Matthew 14:13-21]):

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. (NIV)

These are a few of the questions and thoughts I had in my study (and some made it to the message):
* Why did Jesus wait “three days” before the miracle? Or why only wait “three days”? (v.32)
* Folks would be coming and going over the course of the “three days” and it struck me that Jesus chose to act at that point in time with the folks who were gathered at that moment.
* How many of those gathered might be thought to be so hungry and weak that they might “collapse on the way” to get food elsewhere? (v.32) Most, I would imagine would be perfectly fine, but apparently the compassion of Jesus was sufficiently strong toward those who were too weak to go longer that he chose to feed everyone in order to care specifically for the immediate needs of the few.
* Jesus had already fed crowds, now he does it again. Was he really teaching his disciples about the nature of the “God of Israel” who healed the mute, crippled, lame, and blind, and then would feed the masses? (vv.30-31, 36)
* How many of the folks who ate this time had been present for the earlier feeding of the 5,000?
*Whose lunch was taken that day to make lunch for everyone? And why did Jesus only ask about bread, yet his disciples offer bread and fish? (v.34)
* How long would it have taken the disciples to serve all those thousands? How long would it have taken to disperse with the “seven basketfuls of broken pieces left over” to still others who were not present for the initial feeding (since they couldn’t eat all that before it would go bad)? (v.37)
* If the food could be multiplied sufficiently to feed 4,000 men plus women and children, then what was the intention of seven (large) basketfuls of leftovers?
Yep. I tend to have a LOT of random questions and thoughts as I read Scripture. And it just makes me hungry for more. So what questions do you have about this passage? Do you take the time to ask questions of the text and allow a “sanctified imagination” to work through such texts? Do you find certain questions more helpful than others?

Future Reading Plans

While this may be a bit of a stretch, much of it will actually be read by the end of summer and into the fall season.  Many folks have asked what I’m doing now with all my “free time” since I graduated from Seminary.  Well…I’m doing lots of reading as well as will be doing some teaching at several schools in the region (colleges and seminary) over the next year.  Some of the following reading is for the courses I will be teaching, some is for my church and some is just for fun:
Leviticus
John E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC 1992); Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics (CC 2004); Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus (NAC 2000); Allan Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (2006); Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (NICOT 1979).
Deuteronomy
Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (AOTC 2001); Duane Christensen, Deuteronomy (WBC 2 vols. 1991, 1999); Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT 1976); J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy (AOT 2002).
Former Prophets (Joshua-2 Kings)
Robert B. Chisholm, Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook (2006); Terence E. Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (1983); Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (2008); L. Thomas Holdcroft, The Historical Books (2000); David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (2007); Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (JSOTSup 2nd ed.1991); Marvin E. Tate, From Promise to Exile: The Former Prophets (1999).
Psalms
Derek Kidner, Psalms (TOTC 2vols. 1981); John Goldingay, Psalms (BECOT 3vols. 2008).
Matthew
D. A. Carson, Matthew (EBC 1984); R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT 2005); Grant Osborne, Matthew (ZEC 2010); David Turner, Matthew (BECNT 2008).
Other
Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (2000).

Of course, none of this includes the volumes of Barth and Bonhoeffer which I continually am wading through, but it gives a brief look at my reading schedule for the next few months.  I am thoroughly excited about reading these volumes and all the treasurers to be uncovered in the intensive study of Scripture and theology.

"Fourteen" Generations?

This week I preached from Matthew 1:1-17 on the genealogy of Jesus.  Talk about a fun text!  Needless to say, one of the elements of this text that is troubling (at a certain level) is the emphasis by Matthew on “fourteen generations” from Abraham to David, then David to the exile in Babylon, then the exile to the Christ.  When one counts the names in each list it becomes readily apparent that there are not fourteen in all three.  The first is fine, but the other two are not. 

There have been a number of proposals for resolving this and I’ll just mention them briefly followed by my own proposal.
1) At least one of the names should be counted in both lists.  For instance, David or Jeconiah.
2) The three groups of fourteen are meant to refer to six groups of seven (which is considered a number of completion).
3) Fourteen should be understood as gematria (where the letters of the alphabet represent numbers) and David in the Hebrew (דָּוִד dawid – only the consonants have numeric value) is 4+6+4 which equals 14.  Thus, David and Jesus connection to him as the Christ is the central point.

The first should be rejected because there is actually no clear indication of adding only one name twice.  It fails to work out intelligibly in any counting.  The second proposal fails because Matthew emphatically notes “fourteen” and not seven.  This would also place Jesus within the groups and fails to actually count the names.  The third (being the leading preference for interpreting this passage) falls short (in my opinion) because it requires a Hebrew gematria reading of a Greek text, which seems overly complex.  The use of a name being equal to the number is also not noted (as elsewhere in Scripture – cf. Rev.13:18).

My own proposal is simply to consider the “fourteen” generations for each of the groups as referring to the fulness of time.  This is then taken to point to Jesus as the Christ coming in the line of the promise to Abraham to bless all the nations, and to king David to have a son who would sit on the throne forever.  Thus, making this text a wonderful fit for Advent season (on which also see the post by Dan Thompson concerning “hope”).  To be certain, the number “fourteen” in this context is ambiguous at best.  One can only guess that Matthew’s original audience understood what was meant.  So what are your thoughts?

Teaching the NT in Two Weeks (for 7th Graders)

The New Covenant: The Life of Christ (Matthew-John)

The One Who Comes – The path of the LORD was prepared by the coming of John the Baptizer.  Jesus of Nazareth was born to fulfill the word of the LORD and as such was actually the Word himself.  When John baptized Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father spoke His blessing from heaven.  (Luke 2:67-79; 3:21-22) DOVE   
The Message – Jesus message was that the kingdom of God was near: the sick were healed, people bothered by demons were set free and those who knew they were sinners could be forgiven.  He not only preached this message, but had lived in the power of the message by his victories over the temptations of the devil.  The message required that anyone who was going to be a part of God’s kingdom must obey God’s word and therefore trust in Jesus.  (Mark 1:12-15; John 5:24)  BROKEN-CHAIN
The Messengers – Jesus specifically chose twelve men to deliver his message to Israel (and later to the world).  One of them he knew would betray him and the others he knew would abandon him at his final hour, but he still chose all of them.  They were to pass on all that Jesus did and said, and to do this in the power of the Spirit.  Others would also share this message as they had received it.  (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 24:47-49) TWELVE
The Final Week – Jesus was hated for his message because it meant that Jesus is Lord and must be trusted.  This led to him being beaten and crucified by the end of the week of the Jewish Passover.  In Jesus crucifixion, he became the sacrifice for sin for all who would trust in him.  (John 19:16-37; 20:30-31) CROSS
The Resurrection – Jesus truly was dead and remained so for three days in a new tomb.  However, on the third day, just as he had told his disciples, he rose from the dead and taught them over forty days.  He finally ascended to heaven in order to send the Spirit to them ten days later.  (Matthew 16:21; 28:1-10; Luke 24:46-53) EMPTY-TOMB
The New Covenant Community (Acts-Revelation)
Alive with the Spirit (Acts) – Those Jesus sent out received the Spirit for the power necessary to be witnesses about him just as he had promised.  Everywhere they went there were signs and wonders and many people who trusted in Jesus (though many others did not).  Others also joined in the special work of sharing the good news about Jesus in distant places (to the whole world) by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 37-47) FIRE  
Paul and the Churches (Romans-Hebrews) – A man named Saul who had first tried to destroy the Church became a follower of Jesus (changed his name to Paul) and gave his life even while suffering and being imprisoned, to establishing the Church throughout the world because Jesus told him to do so.  As he did this, he would write many letters to the churches, pastors and people he knew to encourage them and to remind them of the things they needed to know and do in following Jesus faithfully as Jesus’ community.  (Titus 1:1-3)  ENVELOPE
James, Peter and Jude – Others also wrote letters to different to remind them of the truth about Jesus and how they were to live because of this.  Two of these are considered brothers of Jesus (James and Jude) and one was among Jesus’ closest disciples.  The call was for right living, but also against false teaching and as a result – sinful living (something which Paul and John also mention regularly).  (James 2:14-24; 2 Peter 1:3-15) ENVELOPES
John (1-3 John, Revelation) – John, the last surviving apostle of Jesus, wrote numerous letters concerning the need for faithfulness to the new covenant in Jesus.  He also received a special revelation of Jesus concerning Jesus coming again in victory and the need to be faithful to the end no matter what comes.  (1 John 2:12-14; Revelation 1:1-8) ‘V’ – (FOR ‘VICTORY’)

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The CAPITAL ITALICS are for picture representations of the respective section.  Each section also has a selective Scripture portion as representative. I taught this over two weeks to our youth following the four weeks through the OT for Seventh Graders HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Daniel 12 – The Vision of the End

11:36-39 – The king who exalts himself.  This king does have certain levels of overlap with Antiochus IV Epiphanes (and many commentators believe that this individual is one and the same), but the description does not fit as it did in the verses prior.  The best explanation seems to be that this king is some yet future king who also exalts himself and of which Antiochus IV was only a type.  He is none other than the “little horn” of Daniel 7 and the “ruler who would come” of Daniel 9:26 (cf. the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess.2:3-12; the “Antichrist” in 1 Jn.2:18; and the “beast” in Rev.11-20).  This king does “as he pleases” and exalts himself “above every god” and even speaks blasphemies against the one true God (cf. 2 Thess.2:4; Rev.13:12, 14-15).  Note that he will have a certain leeway to do what he plans until the “time of wrath” if fulfilled or “complete”.  What would it mean for him to “show no regard for the gods [the Hebrew could also read “God”, but “gods” is most likely] of his fathers”?  It means that he breaks with those before him and does what would have not been thinkable before.  He also shows no regard for the “desire of women” which some have taken as a reference to unnatural inclinations, others as a rejection of the messianic hope of the Jewish people and still others as the god Tammuz who was likened to such (cf. Eze.8:14).  This last is the most plausible given the context of “gods” before and after.  He regards himself and a god of his own strength as his god and even a “foreign god” as his own.  In the New Testament, this “god” is described as the dragon or Satan, but here we are left to wonder at who or what this might be.  He will give great rewards to those who support him.

11:40-45 – The end of that king.  “At the time of the end” points to the time that was to be completed for this king and thus in some sense to the end of all the kingdoms of this world.  The “king of the South” once again may be referring to Egypt though it may also refer to some alliance considered “south” of Israel while the “north” (rather than only to Syria) may refer to some alliance primarily to the north of Israel.  How these are to be conceived is less important than to consider that this is simply the continuing struggle between kings and kingdoms that fight for control over and in the “Beautiful Land” (the land of Israel; cf. Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6; Dan.8:9; 11:16; Mal.3:12).  Many nations and peoples will fall, but apparently the traditional enemies of Israel (Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon – these tribal groups would be in what is now modern Jordan) will not fall to him (contrast Isa.11:14; Mal.1:2-5).  Though he will succeed in his assault against the “king of the south” and many others he will be distraught by news of an impending attack from the east and north and he himself will be at “the beautiful holy mountain” (Jerusalem), but this does not exclude the notion of his forces making their final stand at the valley of Megiddo in what has come to be known as the battle of Armageddon (Rev.16:16).  The end of the king will come and he will not find any help from anywhere – whether his gods or otherwise.  Though he set out to destroy many, he will be destroyed.
12:1-4 – The time of the end.  “At that time” refers to the raging of the last portion of chapter 11 and the raging of the king of the north.  Michael (“Who is like God?”; cf. Dan.10:18, 21; Jude 9; Rev.12:7) the “great prince” is again named and here declared to defend against Israel’s complete annihilation, but not against many being martyred.  The promise of the “time of distress” (Heb. ‘ēt sārâ) is such that there will no other equal for Israel (cf. Matt.24:21 where it appears that Jesus uses the language of the LXX and thus speaks of thlipsis).  According to Zechariah 13:8, only one third of Israel will survive, but it will lead to the ultimate salvation of Israel (cf. Zech.12:10; Rom.11:25-27).  The “deliverance” is not from the first death, but the second death (Rev.2:11; 20:6; 21:8) though this is not at all laid out in Daniel with clarity.  It is notable that only those whose names are “found written in the book” are spared this.  What is this “book”?  According to Goldingay, it would be the citizenry of the “true Jerusalem” (306; cf. Ezra 2; Neh.7; Ps.87:6; Isa.4:3; Eze.13:9); though we might assume this to later be the “book of life” (Ps.69:28; Phil.4:3; Rev.3:5; 20:12, 15; 21:27).  The “multitudes” (Heb. rabbîm) can sometimes mean “all” (cf. Deut.7:1; Isa.2:2), but the typical all inclusive word in Hebrew is kol.  “The emphasis is not upon many as opposed to all, but rather on the numbers involved” (Baldwin 226).  Why are these many said to be sleeping?  The very notion of “sleep” for death implies the reality of the resurrection.  “The words…do not exclude the general resurrection, but rather imply it.  Their emphasis, however, is upon the resurrection of those who died during the period of great distress” (Young 256).  The state of those who “awake”, that is are raised to life, is to either everlasting life or “shame and everlasting contempt”.  Why should these be contrasted and in this manner?  Also, are we to think of a time difference between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked mentioned here?  (cf. Rev.20:5, 12-13 where it is described in terms as separated by the millennium)
Note the blessing that is given to those who are “wise” (or see the footnote in the NIV “who impart wisdom” which may be the likelier reading).  They are described as shining “like the brightness of the heavens” and “like the stars forever and ever”.  How might this blessing be understood?  It was common to consider celestial beings with the notion of the “stars” (Jud.5:20; Job 38:7; Dan.8:10; 1 Enoch 104), but Paul would later take this up as the promise concerning those who were pure and blameless in a wicked and perverse world (Phil.2:15).  John Goldingay makes note that the angelic beings of Daniel have all been described in very human-like terms and as such he notes the contrast as follows: “As chapter 10 speaks of celestial figures who are the embodiments of earthly institutions, so chap. 11 speaks of earthly figures who are the embodiments of spiritual principles” (317).  What does it mean for Daniel to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end”?  It does not pertain to making it a secret since he has already written it down, but instead means that it was to be preserved and protected for the appointed time and the appropriate readership (i.e., the “wise”; see Young 257).  The idea is that only those who are fit to understand this message will do so.  “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” but they will not discern the times nor the message which was to the wise and discerning (Amos 8:2).  It is notable that Daniel is not included among the prophets in the Hebrew canon, but among the writings and it may very likely be because of his emphasis upon wisdom.  As such this suggests Daniel as a form of wisdom literature, albeit unlike the traditional proverbs or the likes of Ecclesiastes and Job.  Yet, Daniel is intended as wisdom for the future generations who will grapple with hopelessness and despair, but must know that if they will remain faithful they will be raised
at the last day and receive their reward despite the terrorizing of the kings of this age and the ages to come.  The end will yet come and the wise know this and live accordingly.
12:5-13 – The end of all these things and of Daniel.  There were two beings, one on either side of the river and one other who hovered over the middle and wore linen and was likely the one from before (Dan.10:5).  Again, Daniel is meant to overhear the conversation.  The question of “How long?” was put to the one hovering over the water who raised both hands which gives special solemnity to the swearing by God (normally only one hand was raised – cf. Gen.14:22; Deut.32:40; Rev.10:5-6) and declares that it will be for “a time, times and half a time” (cf. Dan.7:25; that is for approximately three and a half years).  The time designated was to bring to an end the one who would be destroying the “holy people” (see the NET).  Daniel was still concerned about the outcome of this time that was yet future, but was assured and told that it would be accomplished and would have the effect that was necessary for the wise and the wicked (cf. Rev.22:11).  What should this tell us about applying ourselves to the wisdom of the book of Daniel? 
The final notes about the number of days from the time of the ceasing of daily sacrifices and the abomination of desolation offers a problem to the more simple approximate three and a half years of verse 7.  Instead, 1290 days are first mentioned which would give forty-three months of thirty days each which gives one extra month and also requires thirty day months for the three and half years.  Then the 1335 days for holding out to the end is given which makes for an extra forty-five more days on top of that.  According to John Walvoord, these numbers are necessary for adequate time to deal out judgment and for the establishment of Christ’s millennial kingdom (295-6).  However, it remains rather obscure as to why and without further elaboration elsewhere in Scripture one is left wondering just what was meant (whereas other such issues have had some clarity brought to bear on them by other Scripture).  The best explanation for the days beyond what would be expected seems to be that of Joyce Baldwin: “As in the teaching of Jesus, the emphasis is on endurance to the end (Mark 13:13).  A particular blessing awaits one who goes on expectantly even after the time for the fulfillment of the prophecy is apparently passed, as in the parable of Jesus there is a special blessing for the servant who continues to be faithful even when his master does not come home at the stated time (Matt.24:45-51)” (232).

Daniel 9 – The Vision of the Seventy Sevens

9:1-2 – Understanding the date.  This chapter occurs some time after chapter five and perhaps after chapter six.  If this “Darius” the Mede (which seems likely) is “Cyrus” as explained in earlier notes (6:28) then the year would be 538BC and Daniel would be approximately 82 years old.  The NIV has curiously followed the LXX reading for Darius’ father’s name “Xerxes” instead of the Hebrew reading “Ahasuerus” (both of which appear to be titles rather than proper names according to Miller 240 and Goldingay 239) as most of the English translations do (but see NIV footnote).  In what sense was he “made ruler” over the Babylonian (lit. “Chaldean”) kingdom?  Who might have made him ruler?  The Hebrew is pointed as a Hophal which is passive (he was “made ruler”), but Theodotian, the Syriac and the Vulgate all suppose an active (Hiphil) verb meaning “became ruler” perhaps in order to smooth out the reading. 

Note that Daniel refers to Jeremiah’s book as among the other “Scriptures” (lit. “books” but implying “sacred books”) even though Jeremiah was a near contemporary who wrote his prophecy during Daniel’s youth.  The text Daniel was reading seems to refer to Jeremiah 25:11-12 written in 605BC which was the year Daniel was taken to Babylon and also the Jeremiah 29:10 written in 597BC the year Ezekiel was taken to Babylon (cf. 2 Chron.36:21; and compare Lev.25:8; 26:18).  Daniel read how the desolation of Jerusalem would last only seventy years according to Jeremiah and knew that meant the time was nearing for it to be complete, but he also understood that this did not simply mean that God would accomplish the restoration apart from His people.  How should we understand Daniel taking time to reflect upon the Scriptures in light of his own circumstances and what he felt it required of him?  What might this suggest about the process of the formation of the Scriptures and their early acceptance as authoritative by (at least some of) the community?
9:3-19 – The Prayer of Daniel.  Daniel fully commits himself to humility and sincerity before the Lord as he prays concerning what he has read in Jeremiah about the restoration of Jerusalem.  This prayer finds parallel in the prayer of 1 Kings 8; Ezra 9:6-15; Neh.1:5-11; 9:5-38; Baruch 1:15-38; 1QS 1.22-2.1; 4QWords of the Luminaries.  That he fasted implies this did not happen immediately.  Further, he put on “sackcloth” which was non-traditional clothing that was irritable and was a sign that one was in mourning.  This was also the purpose of the ashes. This is the only chapter in Daniel where LORD (the Hebrew Yahweh) occurs.  There are also many Hebrew manuscripts that read LORD in place of Lord (Heb. ’adōnāy) in verses 3, 15, 16, 17 and 19.  Daniel pleads with the LORD not only as the God of his people, but as his own God.
It is important to note that Daniel begins his prayer with praise and adoration of who God is as well as acclaiming the covenant and the faithful-love (Heb. hesed ; the two should not be read as “covenant of love” like the NIV since they are differentiated in the Hebrew) of God for those who love Him and keep the covenant.  However, Daniel then immediately moves to confession of the failure to live up to the covenant on the part of God’s people and he includes himself in this with the “we”.  He lists six things as confessions: “sin” (Heb. hāttā’) as a general category of disobedience, “wrong” (Heb. ‘āwôn) or crooked, “wicked” (Heb. rāsa‘), “rebelled” (Heb. mārad), turned away from the LORD’s commands and laws and not listened to the LORD’s servants the prophets.  This is quite a litany of charges that Daniel lays out against all of the leadership of his people and, indeed, all of the people themselves including himself.
He ascribes righteousness (Heb. sədāqâ) to the LORD, but justified shame to all of the people who are exiled including the ten tribes of Israel, the people of Judah and specifically His city Jerusalem because of unfaithfulness.  It is because of sin that shame covers them and this is not only shame for themselves but in some sense it is a shame for the LORD whose name they bear.  Daniel moves at times between the second person and third person in his address to the LORD as if to call himself and his people to this joint confession and to faithfulness to the LORD having pleaded with the LORD for his mercy and forgiveness.  Daniel is emphatic about the personal failure of the LORD’s people despite the LORD’s unfailing goodness and despite the clarity of the promise of the covenant concerning the judgment for disobedience (Deut.28:15-68).  In what sense could the disaster brought on Jerusalem be considered worse than that brought on other cities that also were destroyed and/or exiled?  Because Jerusalem was especially chosen of the LORD for His dwelling and personal revelation as opposed to all other cities.  Yet, despite the judgment against their sins there was still no repentance and turning to the truth according to Daniel.  This is not to suggest that there were none who did this, but that the people by and large did not and so as a nation they suffered together under the justified judgment of the LORD.
Daniel reminds the LORD of His deliverance of His people from Egypt which serves as THE sign of the LORD’s faithfulness to His people and of His self-revelation.  He calls on the LORD to hear his prayer for the people, “your city, your holy hill” knowing that the LORD cares and will act according to His own Name.  He prays that the LORD would restore all of this for the sake of the LORD’s name and glory, because the LORD is righteous and merciful and this is the revelation of His very character to the whole world and not because of anything inherently worthy about the people of Israel or the place of Israel or Jerusalem.
9:20-27 – The Vision of the Seventy Sevens.  In the very middle of Daniel’s praying, confessing of sins and concern for the restoration of Jerusalem Gabriel arrives with a message.  The statement about coming to him “in swift flight” in the English suggests that Gabriel flew to him and follows the popular notion of angels with wings despite that this messenger is never described as having wings.  The Hebrew actually may suggest “in my extreme weariness” (Heb. mu‘āp bî‘āp ; see the NASB, NET; Goldingay 228; Miller 250-1) which would fit the context better of one who has been fasting and in intense prayer and given his earlier weariness over revelations from the Lord (cf. Dan.7:28; 8:27; 10:8-9, 16-17). The time of the arrival was the time of the evening sacrifice which places it about 3-4PM even though there would not have been any sacrifices because there was not as yet any rebuilt temple to sacrifice in, but this was a normal time of prayer (Ezra 9:5; Ps.141:2).
The message was released for Daniel as soon as he had begun praying even though he was just now receiving it.  He would receive special insight into what he had been pra
ying about because the LORD considered him “highly esteemed”.  What might constitute this estimation by the LORD?  Whereas Daniel understood correctly that the seventy years were upon him for the end of the exile, yet there were to be seventy ‘sevens’ (that is: 490 years broken into three groups…see the notes below) in order to deal with the sins of Israel completely (“finish…”, “put an end…” and “atone…”) and to fulfill all righteousness (“to bring in…”, “to seal up…” and “to anoint…”).
The decree to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” could either be the one to Ezra in 458BC (Ezra 7:11-26) or to Nehemiah in 445BC (Neh.2:1ff) and would then be the first seven sevens (49 years) to approximately 409BC or 396BC when the project was completed, but in “times of trouble” (cf. Neh.4:1ff; 9:36-37).  The sixty-two sevens to the “Anointed one, the ruler” would be 434 years or approximately (Jesus baptism in) 26AD or (Palm Sunday) 32/33AD.  Though precision of dating the latter in such matters depends upon the highly questionable 360 day Jewish prophetic calendar with a thirteenth month included occasionally to offset for the lack of days that results.  Just who is the “anointed one” which lacks the definite article in the Hebrew as does the “ruler”?  While this could just as easily refer to any king or priest it seems most likely to refer to Jesus as our dating suggests.  Especially since this “anointed one” will be “cut off” that is to say that he will be killed or die and be left with nothing some time after the allotted years noted above.  So who are the “people of the ruler who will come” that destroys the city and the sanctuary?  The antecedent would almost seem to be whomever this “anointed one” was and his “people”, but rather than taking this “ruler” with the “anointed one” that precedes it would seem best to take it with the individual that follows who makes a seven year covenant with Israel and breaks it midway and sets up abominations of desolation until his end.  Between these two rulers there appears to be wars and desolations. 
While it was not readily apparent in Daniel’s day that there would be a gap of time between the last ‘seven’ and the other sixty-nine sevens history suggests otherwise and Jesus own interpretation of the abomination causing desolation suggests otherwise (Matt.24:15; Mark 13:14).  In other words, there appears to still be a future date where the last ‘seven’ years will be accomplished by one who makes and breaks covenant with Israel, putting an end to the sacrifices and offerings three and half years into the covenant and setting up abominations that causes desolation (“on a wing of the temple” should not be read with the NIV, but should read “on the wing of abominations”) until his end.  This means that the temple must still be rebuilt at some time in the future and the sacrifices be reinstituted and Israel will wrongfully make covenant with one who will not be faithful just as they were unfaithful and who will be abominable just as they were abominable.  But the LORD is faithful and merciful and He will use this to bring Israel back to Himself and bring an end to sin as has already now been done through our Lord Jesus Christ, but shall be fulfilled at his glorious appearing from heaven.