We love the book of Daniel!
Many of us enjoy a familiarity with this prophetic gem dating back to our childhood: the furnace, the lions, the stunning accuracy of its prophecies. But hidden beneath all this lies an amazing story about prayer and the supernatural. Perhaps more than in any other place in Scripture, God briefly parts the curtain between the seen and the unseen and gives us a tantalizing peek at what happens when we pray.
Daniel, by now a senior citizen, knows that God’s people and city are not faring well. The restoration of Jerusalem faces serious opposition. In response to this crisis, Daniel fasts (Dan. 10:3) and prays. At the end of 21 days he receives a vision. Awestruck, Daniel can hardly breathe; he lies flat on the ground and can’t stop shaking. An angel touches and strengthens him; he cowers on the ground on his hands and knees (verse 10).
The angel then says, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you” (verse 11). How encouraging! In response to earnest prayer God acted by sending an angel to Daniel—as He had done already in the previous chapter (Dan. 9:23).
The angel continues: “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, . . . your words were heard; and I have come because of your words” (Dan. 10:12). Incredible—God acts in answer to our prayers!
But wait, you say—Daniel was praying 21 days ago. What was the holdup?
The next verse is, in our minds, surprising, perhaps even baffling, and definitely one of the most intriguing passages of Scripture. Listen as the angel explains what happened “on the way”:
“But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia” (verse 13).
What? He got “held up” on the way? He got “stuck” with this “prince” for the 21 days Daniel had been fasting and praying? What prince, and why (and how?) did the prince hold him up? What kind of resistance did the prince offer? And why did the angel need “help”—as if he couldn’t accomplish what he was attempting to do without that help?
Evidently God sent the angel “from the first day,” but no answer appeared for 21 days because of supernatural background action.
To make matters more intriguing, the Hebrew word translated “prince” occurs 420 times in the Old Testament but not once does it refer to a king.1 This has led some translators to render the Hebrew of verse 13 as “spirit prince” (NLT),2 “angel prince” (TEV; Message),3 or even “guardian angel” (CEV).4 Many commentators5 then conclude that this “prince” against which the angel struggles (again in verse 20) is actually an evil supernatural being whose assignment is the people of the Persian Empire.6 Whether the angel wrestled with a supernatural or human prince, it is clear that Cyrus was hindering the path of success for God’s people.
WHAT ABOUT OUR PRAYERS?
There are a number of important lessons involving our prayers:
First, from the moment we begin to pray, God hears us. How eagerly, almost impatiently, parents wait to hear their child’s first words. They listen carefully for those memorable one or two syllables. As our children grow older we still eagerly wish to know their needs, and hear ourselves saying: “Don’t cry. Just tell me what you need.” How much more will our Lord strain His ears to hear our every prayer. “A divine hand is reached toward you. The hand of the Infinite is stretched over the battlements of heaven to grasp your hand in its embrace.”7 What a thrilling picture of God—eagerly leaning over the banisters of heaven and reaching down to us. Recently our 8-year-old daughter unknowingly reiterated the unspoken cry of our world as she was about to fall asleep. She asked: “Does God really hear me when I pray? There are millions of people in the world.” Psalm 33:13-15 says, “The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. . . . He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.”
Second, a delay doesn’t mean God isn’t working in the background. Perhaps there is a difficult, seemingly impossible situation with a spouse or a child, and when you prayed, things seemed to get worse. When God seems to be deaf, passive, uninterested, and far removed—remember the angel’s words to Daniel. God heard Daniel’s humble, submissive prayers immediately, but supernatural background action caused a delay. “Heavenly beings are appointed to answer the prayers of those who are working unselfishly. . . . Each angel has his particular post of duty, which he is not permitted to leave for any other place. If he should leave, the powers of darkness would gain an advantage.”8
Sometimes God allows delay simply for our good. Up to age 27, I (Heather) was praying for the right husband, if indeed I was to be married. Did God hear my prayer immediately? Certainly. Did He answer it immediately? Seven years I waited for “Mr. Right,” who also was waiting on God for the answer to his prayers. Looking back, I’m so glad for the seven-year delay! “God does not always answer our prayers the first time we call upon Him; for should He do this, we might take it for granted that we had a right to all the blessings and favors He bestowed upon us. Instead of searching our hearts to see if any evil was entertained by us, any sin indulged, we should become careless, and fail to realize our dependence upon Him.”9
So what happened with the angel of Daniel 10? “For three weeks Gabriel wrestled with the powers of darkness, seeking to counteract the influences at work on the mind of Cyrus. . . . The victory was finally gained; the forces of the enemy were held in check all the days of Cyrus.”10 For some reason, still unclear to us, it “is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask.”11 If you are interceding for others, be one who decides to “pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Your words are heard! And in the grand scheme of the great controversy between good and evil, God has somehow decided that He will act when we pray, and answer when we ask.
1 F. D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1955), vol. 4, p. 859.
2 Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
3 Bible texts credited to TEV are from the Good News Bible—Old Testament: Copyright © American Bible Society 1976; New Testament: Copyright © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976. Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission.
4 Scripture quotations identified CEV are from the Contemporary English Version. Copyright © American Bible Society 1991, 1995. Used by permission.
5 Ellen White allows for this possible interpretation: “For three weeks Gabriel wrestled with the powers of darkness” (Prophets and Kings, p. 572). The SDA Bible Commentary also allows for this. However, commentators such as William Shea believe the word refers simply to one of Cyrus’ senior officials. See William Shea, Daniel: A Reader’s Guide (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2005), pp. 236-238.
6 If the “spirit prince” interpretation is adopted, it need not be confused with the “territorial spirits” concept used often by Pentecostal/Charismatic interpreters; note that Daniel nowhere attempts to command the demon of Persia to be cast out.
7 Ellen G. White, in Bible Echo, Dec. 1, 1892.
8 Ellen G. White, Lift Him Up, p. 370.
9 Ellen G. White, Our Father Cares, p. 100.
10 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 572.
11 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 525. Heather and Bill Krick live in California, where Bill is the director of literature ministries for the Central California Conference and Heather homeschools their two daughters, Savannah and Heidi.