God’s People Fail to Repent
“As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (v. 13).- Daniel 9:1-19
Exile—the very sound of the word struck the ancient descendants of Jacob with horror. To be cast out of the land that the Lord swore to Abraham was the final curse threatened upon the old covenant community for persistent, impenitent, and flagrant violation of God’s law as expressed in the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) delivered to Moses (Gen. 15; Deut. 28:15–68). Just imagine what it must have been like to lose one’s inheritance, the place where the Lord promised to dwell intimately with His people. Multiply that pain many times over, and we begin to see how awful the exile was for the ancient Jew.
However, exile was never God’s last word for His people. Our Creator told Moses that He would never forget the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that He would never destroy the people utterly (Lev. 26:44–45). Thus, there always had to be a faithful remnant—Israelites in both body and soul. True Jews such as Daniel, Ezekiel, and Esther, who suffered in exile along with the rest of the Lord’s chosen nation, prove that God kept His promise of preservation. Nevertheless, having but a few godly people was never our Creator’s intent. He purposed to have a righteous nation (Ex. 19:6), so righteousness would have to finally be evident on a corporate level—righteousness not grounded in the people themselves but received through faith alone, due to the work of the perfect Davidic king (Isa. 53). God could not bring His people back fully from exile without true, corporate repentance, for faith without repentance is impossible. He mercifully could bring them back to the land, but without widespread trust in Him, He would not keep His word and pour out the full restoration blessings of the new heaven and earth (Deut. 30:1–10; Isa. 65:17–25).
Given this link between repentance and restoration, God’s promise in Jeremiah 25:1–14 that the exile would end after seventy years was contingent upon the Jews’ turning from their sin. The prayer we read in Daniel 9 indicates that this repentance had not come and was not even on the horizon (see v. 13). This lack of corporate repentance did not take God by surprise. In fact, He ordained it, just as He ordains all things. But that should not be our focus, as it was part of the secret things of God (Deut. 29:29). What we must note is that the exile could not yet fully end in 539 BC, and the fault for that was entirely the people’s own. God would have to dramatically intervene to bring about this repentance and restoration.
Daniel’s prayer that God would not forget His promises of restoration is not based on the inherent goodness of the people but purely on the Lord’s mercy (Dan. 9:1–19). He asked God not to deal with the people as they deserved but to show grace and restore them despite the widespread failure to repent. If we learn nothing else from this prayer, it is that we can never demand God’s favor as if He owes us His kindness. Instead, our plea must always be for His grace and mercy.
Passages for Further Study