Restoration for God's Sake
There is a notable and somewhat startling pattern towards the end of Daniel’s prayer. As he appeals to God for the forgiveness of sins and restoration, he emphasizes the name and glory of God above all else. It can almost appear to be manipulative as Daniel appeals to God’s own name and glory as the basis for God hearing his prayer. And yet, such an emphasis and basis for appeal is really the only ground for restoration. Thus, Daniel prays for restoration for God’s people, not for their sake, but for God’s own sake.
Let’s consider the biblical data first and then turn to some application. In my opinion, the best way to present the biblical data is to visually highlight the three ways that Daniel bases his appeal for restoration on the name and glory of God. In the verses below, Daniel’s appeal to God’s name is italicized, his appeal to the Lord’s possessions is underlined, and his appeal to God’s honor is bolded.
15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16 O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. (Dan 9:15-19 ESV)
Note the interconnectedness of these three ways that Daniel appeals to God’s name and glory. Because God had made a name for himself in the way that he brought his people out of Egypt, his name is at risk of losing honor now on account of the fact that those things upon which he has placed his name—this people, Jerusalem, and the temple—lie in shambles have become a byword (an object of scorn). Therefore, for God’s own sake to sustain the revelation of his righteous acts and great mercy, Daniel pleads with God to hear his prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem, the people, and the temple.
Now, this appeal for God’s own sake is saved from being a rank attempt at manipulation by the prior content of Daniel’s prayer. Daniel has rightfully acknowledged that God’s people have no leg to stand on when it comes to asking for restoration. In fact, it seems from Daniel’s prayer that the majority of God’s people appear to have given up on living a life of repentance. Thus, the restoration of God’s city and people for God’s own sake is the only legitimate grounds for making the petition. Daniel is not trying to manipulate God but to point to the best and only worthy reason for God to hear, forgive, pay attention, and act.
This is instructive for how we pray and who we are. Our life of repentance, expressed in our prayers and our walk with God, has as its ultimate purpose the reflection and extension of God’s glory. Moreover, the ground-floor motivation for confessing sin and seeking restoration and forgiveness is so that both we and those around us might give praise to God for his compassion, mercy, and steadfast love. After all, it is only because of his compassion, mercy, and steadfast love that we have any hope of forgiveness in the first place. Thus, the shorter catechism teaches us that our chief end is to glorify God—including in our life of repentance.
But don’t forget that as we glorify God, we also enjoy him and subsequently enjoy the good gifts that come from him, especially forgiveness of our sin, restoration of a right relationship with him, and the joy of salvation through Jesus Christ. When we pray for forgiveness and restoration for the sake of God’s name, our hearts are primed to reap the joy of salvation. As we glorify God, we enjoy him; as we enjoy him, we cannot help but to glorify him.