Keeping balance in one’s spiritual life is of supreme importance—and perhaps this is why the book of Daniel is given in two such clearly demarcated forms. The first six chapters show us the history of Daniel’s life in Babylon, from the time of his captivity as a youth to his elevation to power in the reign of Darius the Mede. The overall view of these first six chapters is to bring home the concept that our spiritual life is an ongoing progression. Certainly there are hard times, and certainly the selfishness in our characters is often hard to beat. Implicit in the history, however, is the ongoing promise that this evil can and will be beaten. We need to keep this in mind.
As we turned to the prophetic section of the book the importance of the historical section becomes clearer. In chapter seven, in the midst of the horrific vision which tells of our slide into evil, we need to remember the context of the vision—it takes place in the reign of Belshazzar. So does the vision of chapter eight, which describes the alternating states of good and evil, and particularly the state in which evils seems to so completely take over and dominate our minds.
In these visions there is a tendency to feel desperate. Will any goodness ever return to us, will the state ever swing back towards goodness? Daniel’s reaction to this vision was to faint and feel sick for days.
The darkness of night, however, is always broken by the gleams of morning light. In the depths of temptation, even to the point of despair, we are given the gift of the long view shown in the historical section. Belshazzar the king, during whose reign Daniel saw these visions, was deposed by Darius the Mede, and even though he faced terrible dangers during those years, nevertheless, he rose to a position of great power.
Belshazzar, as we have seen earlier depicts states of selfishness and evil in our external life. When we allow ourselves unfettered selfishness, when we willingly permit ourselves to discard the restraining truths of the Word, then our evil will express itself in daily life. Even the good things we do, when done from a selfish motive, are really expressions of evil. Like Belshazzar before us, when we are in this state, we wantonly profane the love of goodness and the understanding of truth given to us by the Lord.
This state, however, never lasts unless we choose to embrace it of our own free accord. As in the case of the four beasts shown in chapter seven, there will be a time of judgment. Like Belshazzar we will be weighed in the balances and found wanting.
The important question, however, is what do we do to turn the tide of evil, or tip the balances of our lives? Even in chapter eight, when Daniel sees the vision of the ram and the goat, he was within the walls of the citadel of Shushan, showing us that no matter how much we slide into evil, the Lord provides that our conscience is always able to be activated, and from that conscience we are able to see our condition, repent and turn away from it.
It follows, then, that chapters seven and eight outline a natural progression from the origin of evil in our lives—described as the beast, to the rule of evil, shown by the actions of the goat. Liberation comes from humility and repentance before the Lord, and chapter nine focuses on repentance leading the way to a fulfilment of spiritual life.
We first met Darius the Mede at the end of chapter five, when he swept into Babylon and killed Belshazzar on the very night of the profane feast. Specific mention was made that Darius was sixty two years old at the time. Analysis of the way Darius exalted Daniel, especially his unwillingness to have him put to death, indicates that Darius represents a person who is in the process of turning aside from pure selfishness into a state where the conscience, symbolised by Daniel, is elevated to high rank. In this state the conscience begins to rule our thoughts as Daniel ruled in Babylon, second only to himself (Cf. Daniel 6:3).
The reign of Darius stands as a counterpoint to that of Belshazzar, both in the historical and prophetical series. In Belshazzar’s reign, epitomising selfishness, Daniel saw visions of beasts putting goodness to flight. Those states, as said before, alternate with other states when the conscience is able to direct our feelings and thoughts. These latter are states of spiritual lucidity and recommitment to regeneration, and by correspondence take place during the reign of Darius.
Daniel, who had lived long in Babylon, surviving both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, found himself an old man. He had been carried into captivity as a young boy, and later watched from afar as Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian hordes. From his privileged vantage point he was aware of the vast number of Jews compelled to live in Babylon on order from the king. He was equally aware of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, and knew that this meant that no sacrificial worship could take place. Yet Daniel also knew prophecies indicating that this state of affairs would not last forever. He states that he "understood by the books the number of years specified … that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem." Years in the internal sense of the Word never refer to time, always to state, and the number of years therefore refers to the states a person must go through in their selfish, or Babylonian, states, before they are set free to live again without the influence of selfishness to mar their lives.
The desolation of Jerusalem is the damage done to the church, or more specifically the states of genuine goodness and truth within us, by the evils of selfishness. Selfishness is the single most destructive human emotion, as we have seen from the violence of its depiction in the actions of Nebuchadnezzar, the profanation of Belshazzar, and in the terror of the beast and the goat. Yet if the human conscience is nurtured and fed, if it is lifted up, as Darius honoured and promoted Daniel, then the conscience will flourish, and spiritual sanity will be restored.
The process takes a lifetime. "Two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings," Daniel was told—alternations continuing through states of temptations until it is possible for a new state to break into our minds and establish itself there.
In chapter nine the seventy years of Babylonian captivity describe the steady breakdown of the power of selfishness over us. "Seventy years" of captivity before release represents the states in us before the Lord is present. When we are in states of selfishness, our selfishness blocks out the presence of the Lord. As we regenerate, however, the selfishness is put aside, and the Lord is able to draw closer. The presence of the Lord in our lives has the effect of further breaking down our selfishness, and ushering in new states of life freed from these.
Seen from this point of view, chapter nine follows clearly from chapters seven and eight. The pendulum of life has swung, we are aware of our evils, in fact we are still immersed in them, but by the power of the conscience we begin the process of breaking free.
Spiritual regeneration begins in humility. Daniel was aware of Israel’s captivity in Babylon, and longed for it to end. In humility he turned his face towards the Lord God, to make his requests by prayers and supplications and to emphasise his grief and mourning over this state of affairs with the time honour practices of fasting, wearing garments of sack-cloth and pouring ashes over his head.
These actions, rooted in the deepest of Old Testament times contain within them the very essence of repentance. We will forever remain slaves to selfishness unless and until we are willing to humble ourselves to the Lord. This begins when we recognise the work of the beast and the goat in our own lives, when we see Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar as twin kings of evil directing our inner and outer selves. It is easy to lay the blame for these states on others, to claim that our up-bringing was not good, for example, but in reality the responsibility is ours. The Daniel side of our minds needs to be active.
The first step of the spiritual activity which will eventually set us free is recorded in the words "Daniel set his face to the Lord God." That single physical motion is the beginning of the series of spiritual events in our lives which will eventually free us from selfishness. In the internal sense the "face" represents our internal states, which gives us the ability to see our lives from a different perspective than simply that of the senses (Arcana Coelestia 358, 5165) As we saw earlier, it was because of Daniel, or our conscience, that we are able to see anything in ourselves at all. Part of the judgment arising from truth is looking at ourselves, as we are, and rejecting the evil or grosser parts of our beings. Daniel turning his face to the Lord God takes on the meaning of a person focusing his or her internals on the presence of the Lord in them. To do this, they have to turn aside from their selfishness.
By fixing our sights on the Lord we are able to begin the process of repentance. Repentance is a process which involves a complete reorientation of our lives. We are told that “actual repentance consists in a person’s examining himself, recognising and acknowledging his sins, praying to the Lord, and beginning a new life” (True Christian Religion 528).
The visions of Chapter Seven and Eight, which show the origin and progress of evil in our lives, can easily be related to the self examination required in repentance. Chapter Nine deals more fully with the acknowledgement of sins, and prayer to the Lord for forgiveness.
Yet repentance can never begin without turning our faces towards the Lord God, for, as in the words of the Psalmist, all our sins are really sins against Him. Recognising this is the basis of true humility.
It is in this humility that Daniel proposed to speak to the Lord. Notice his words as he turned his face towards the Lord God "to make request by prayer and supplication." In the literal sense Daniel is praying for the restoration of Jerusalem and freedom from Babylon. In our lives, our request is for a return to the states of innocence and peace we last experienced in our infant years, with the difference that after regeneration this innocence is an expression of wisdom in contrast with infant ignorance.
Daniel turned to the Lord with "prayer and supplication." These words are not merely repetition of the same thing. In the Word where pairs of words are used in this way, it draws attention to the duality in the Word (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 80-90, True Christian Religion 248-253). The Word is an outpouring of love and wisdom from the Lord, which is reflected in each and every detail, but most clearly when pairs of words are used to describe the same thing. "Prayer and supplication" as a pair of words, meaning the same thing, express both the love and wisdom from Lord, and by using them in this fashion, Daniel draws attention to the fact that our humility and repentance come from both the will and the understanding parts of our being.
Should we turn to the Lord with the will only, we may find that we wish to repent, but do not have any idea of how to do so. The desire may well eventually founder because it is not directed by the understanding. On the other hand, repentance which does not also draw from a will or desire to change has no depth. The intellectual side of our minds alone cannot lead us into a new life. So the two must go together, as partners, to lead us with by the desire of the will according to the wisdom of the understanding. Like Daniel, we need to turn to the Lord with "prayer and supplication."
Prayer, we are told "is talking to God and at the same time some inner view of the things that are being prayed for” (Arcana Coelestia 2535). Prayer is a very necessary part of our spiritual lives. We are told that a person can remove evils "only if he acknowledges the Divine Providence and prays that the removal be done by it” (Divine Providence 184). The power to overcome evils is given in response to the prayer (Doctrine of Life 31), which is described as "a certain opening of the man's interiors toward God” (Arcana Coelestia 2535). As our interiors open to the Lord, the power He used to fight against evil spirits is given to us to use as our own power, which puts us into a state of freedom to resist evil.
Notice Daniel’s actions in prayer. The matter for which he prayed was close to his heart, the deliverance of Israel from Babylonian captivity. He knew the prophecy of seventy years, and knew also that about seventy years had passed since the captivity had taken place. His prayer, however, was not one of demanding his rights, there was no arrogance in his tone, such as we sometime find in our own when we think the Lord has not lived up to His side of the covenant.
Daniel’s prayer was full of inner and outer humility. We see the outer humility first as he prepared himself for prayer by fasting and clothing himself in sackcloth and ashes. As in every detail of the Word this sequence of actions contains within itself a series of states, in this case states preparatory to prayer itself.
Daniel began with fasting. In the internal sense "to fast" means "to mourn on account of the lack of good and truth” (Apocalypse Explained 1189:2). In our prayer to the Lord for help in times of temptation and deliverance from it, it is important to begin with the attitude of recognition that we actually have no real good or truth in us. Our goodness is under control of the love of self, just as Daniel was, in spite of his high position, technically still a captive of the king of Babylon.
We can only begin to really break free of the bondage of self when we come to this recognition—and this is why Daniel had to witness those two terrible visions, so that he, and we through him, could see our own state, and be affected by it, and be moved by a desire to break free from it. The concept of "fasting" therefore, also contains a willingness to enter into combat against the Babylonian side of ourselves (Apocalypse Explained 730).
There is another element in the idea of fasting which is also of great importance here. "Fasting" also stands for the desire to learn the forms of good and the truths of faith (Arcana Coelestia 9050:7). Without this desire our spiritual progress grinds to a halt. A person who has no interest in acquiring knowledge about the forms of goodness and truth closes his or her mind to the presence of the Lord, remaining thus in ignorance and will eventually lapse, without resistance, back into a life of unfettered selfishness.
This fasting is in many ways analogous to the young Daniel, recently carried to Babylon from Jerusalem, when he refused to eat the food from the king’s table. Although he did eat fresh vegetables, technically he fasted in regards to Nebuchadnezzar’s food. "Eating" and "drinking" represent the assimilation of goods and truths in our minds, and in the opposite sense, the assimilation of evil and falsity. By refusing to eat the king’s food, young Daniel showed himself unwilling to partake of the feelings and thoughts arising from selfishness. It was really that unwillingness which sustained him during the course of his life, and now, as he begins to pray to the Lord, he once again fasts.
The reality of this in our own lives is very important. Our conscience is formed partly from an unwillingness to embrace evil, not only once but continually. When we come to repent our sins, this unwillingness has to be at the very core of our spirits, otherwise our repentance will be of no avail.
There are many examples in the Old Testament of people in a state of mourning who fast, wear garments of sackcloth and cover their heads with ashes. In the New Testament the Lord ties together the concept of grieving or mourning with repentance when He said, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Luke 10:13).
It was entirely in keeping with the customs of the Old Testament, therefore, for Daniel in his grief over the captivity of the people, to augment his fast with clothes of sackcloth and ashes on his head. In the internal sense to be clothed in sackcloth means to be in mourning because one does not one has not been receptive of Divine good and truth (Apocalypse Explained 637), and thus that good has been destroyed (Arcana Coelestia 4779). Ashes, which were placed on the head, or sometimes people rolled in them, represent the false thoughts and ideas a person has had on account of evil (Arcana Coelestia 7520).
Daniel’s actions are deeply symbolic of a person who is beginning the process of serious repentance. By fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes he indicates the feeling of humility and sorrow, or contrition, we need in order to truly enter into repentance. While contrition is necessary to motivate us to repent, one needs to be careful that those intense feelings of sorrow about our evil states do not so dominate our thoughts that we feel that the sorrow itself is repentance. One needs to guard against falling into the trap of thinking that we are total depraved sinners without seeing any particular evil in ourselves which can be overcome by repentance (True Christian Religion 513). Repentance is an activity, not a feeling.
Daniel does not wallow in his sorrow, he directs his thoughts to the Lord with the words of prayer and confession. Repentance is a process beginning is self-examination done in a state of humility. A person who is repenting needs to then do two things after self-examination- prayer and confession. As one takes the findings of self-examination to the Lord in prayer, so one confesses ones sins to Him. Confession "will be that he sees, recognises, and acknowledges his evils, and finds himself to be a miserable sinner" (True Christian Religion 539). The person doesn’t need to list particular incidents of sin to the Lord, for the Lord is present in the process of self-examination, but he or she needs to have a clear understanding of the sins to be repented.
Once the person confesses to the Lord, it is necessary to pray to the Lord for forgiveness. Even though the Lord constantly forgives people their sins, but it is necessary to pray for forgiveness for our own sakes because it reminds us that forgiveness comes with the removal of sins, and sins are removed as we refrain from them and enter a new life. We also need to be reminded of the fact that the Lord does indeed forgive us our sins if we repent them. (True Christian Religion 539).
Daniel’s prayer is a model of confession and begging for forgiveness. He begins with a recognition of the Lord Himself. Notice the duality of the terms in his opening, "O Lord, great and awesome God." As we saw earlier, this juxtaposition of two names refers to the qualities of Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. The name used for God in any given chapter of the Word indicates the quality or aspect of God present in the internal sense at that point. Generally the name "Lord" refers to the Lord’s love operating in people’s lives, while God describes the Divine truth which is the vehicle carrying love down to the level at which people can receive it (Arcana Coelestia 2921, 2769).
This opening of a prayer can seem like simply addressing the prayer to the Lord, but it is much more than that. It indicates that in the state of repentance we need to keep two things in mind, firstly, that the Lord is a God of love. Without this idea there would be no real reason to repent at all. If the Lord was a God of anger or revenge, then no matter what we do we would never be able to be reconciled with Him, for no human being can ever hope to prepare for the Lord a state so perfect that He would be appeased. If, however, one sees God as a God of love, then there the quality of mercy is allowed, and from this there is hope. Secondly, by using the term God, we are reminded of the order by which the Lord both creates and governs His creation. This order is inscribed by the Lord on all things, including the process of repentance. Daniel’s choice of words here is no accidental greeting to the Supreme, but carefully chosen because it conveys the fullness of God to us in a state of repentance.
The presence of the Lord in repentance is in order. Daniel continues that the Lord "keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep his commandments." Here again we see the positioning of two issues, covenant and mercy.
The Lord’s covenant, first given to Noah, and reiterated to Abram and many others after him is simple: if people obey they will prosper, if they disobey they will perish. The whole of the Old Testament bears testimony to this covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two parties, and in the Lord’s covenant the two parties are Himself and the human race. The covenant is the promise that people can be regenerated and so conjoined to the Lord (Arcana Coelestia 665, 666). Every impulse towards goodness and truth in our lives bears testament to this covenant.
However, it is also told in the pages of the Old Testament, and in our own lives, that we do not always embrace the Lord’s goodness and truth. We fall short in the part we play in the covenant. The nature of the human being is attracted to selfishness and a desire to dominate over others. This is why we end up captives in our own spiritual Babylon, dominated by Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. Yet within the Lord’s covenant is the implicit promise of repentance. If we turn away from selfishness, the Lord can and will remit our sins, and we will be renewed. Daniel in his prayer is aware of the Lord’s mercy as a factor of the covenant, and appeals to it. We too need to be aware of this, for it inspires us with hope, and spurs us on to a rejection of evil.
Daniel continues then with a confession of the sins of Israel, "we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled." Notice again the duality of phrase, sin and committed iniquity. "To sin" means "to sin, to miss, to miss the way, to go wrong, to incur guilt" (Brown-Driver-Briggs definition no. 2398). While "iniquity" means "to bend, to twist, to distort” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition no. 5753). In these dictionary definitions one sees the fullness of Daniel’s confession. Not only was the sin from the will, which causes one to miss the way, go wrong and incur guilt, but also from the understanding as one bends, twists and distorts the truth. One can trace this process through the pages of Daniel, especially in the historical series, where in chapter two one sees the influence of the evil of selfishness on the understanding and in chapter three on the will. Both need to be cleansed, and so both need to be confessed.
Essentially "sin" is a state of disjunction from the Lord (Arcana Coelestia 4997), it is the breaking of the Lord’s covenant and arises in the loves of selfishness and greed. All people are born with an inclination towards evils, but they are not born "sinners" as is commonly believed by those who propound the doctrine of "original sin." Sin enters a person’s life when he or she becomes, through purposeful action, guilty of evil (Arcana Coelestia 7147), and so separated from the life of goodness and truth which is the basis of the Lord’s covenant.
In order for a sin to be a sin it must be done purposefully, or from intention, while knowing that it is opposed to the Lord’s teaching. We are told that “to sin is to do and think what is evil and false intentionally from the will, for such things which are done intentionally from the will are such as come forth out of the heart and defile man, consequently which destroy spiritual life with him” (Arcana Coelestia 8925).
Recognising sin in our lives, then, is recognition of the fact that we have turned aside from the Lord. We have broken covenant with Him, and can only be lead back into communion with Him through the process of repentance and reformation.
In a similar way "to commit iniquity" means to twist or distort the truth. There is a steady thread of this distortion running throughout Daniel, from Jehoiakim, king of Judah who represents a lust for evil and an aversion to truth (Apocalypse Explained 481:4), to the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans that Nebuchadnezzar called on to interpret his dreams. These represent the habitual thought processes we fall into to protect and enhance our selfish states. Whenever our minds are not directed by the conscience, our thoughts are dominated by the selfish will, with the result that we commit iniquity by thinking selfishly.
This kind of acknowledgement is the beginning of the formal process of repentance. As Daniel says in his prayer, "we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgements." In these words he captures the totality of human evil, both as to its motivation sin and the expressive thought. All sin, in one way or another, is a rebellion against God. As we have seen in earlier chapters Lucifer’s fall was occasioned by his rebellion.
Any general recognition of sin and iniquity of life, however, needs to be more than simply a general statement of evil. It does people no good to simply admit that of themselves they are sinners without specifying at least one sin. A person may know from the Word that he or she is a sinner, but unless that person actually searches out his or her evils, they remain as a source of spiritual infection (Charity 3). If we claim to be sinners without self-exploration, can cannot truly confess ourselves to be sinners (Arcana Coelestia 8390, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 159) for our confession would have no basis in self-perception and would merely be a lip confession, which can be made even by evil men when the thought of hell-fire is present (True Christian Religion 517).
It follows then that Daniel highlights a specific example of how the Jews had sinned against God, which lead to their captivity in Babylon. He said, “Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land” (Daniel 9:6).
The sin of the ancient Jews was the ignoring of and disobedience to the prophets sent by the Lord to lead the people. King after king of Judea set up idols, worshipping them in place of the Lord, until finally the kingdom was overrun, the temple desecrated and destroyed, the people carried off into captivity or scattered. Jehoiakim, king of Judah at the time of the Babylonian captivity is a case in point. His father, Josiah, read the Word and restored the temple. He tore down idolatrous places of worship and re-instituted the Passover (2 Kings 23, 24). Jehoiakim, inheriting the throne at age twenty five, knowing full well the reforms of Josiah, and yet chose to reject these by "doing evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kings 23:37). In this way he ignored the Lord and disobeyed His teachings.
Much the same happens to us. When selfishness controls us it leads us to intentionally reject the teachings of the Word—even though we may pay lip-service to them. The result is a state of disobedience which can only be rectified through repentance. Each alternation of state, when we swing from goodness into evil is such an action. As Daniel says, we do not listen to the Lord’s prophets.
In the literal sense of the Word a prophet is one who preaches the truth, as did Elijah and Elisha, to name but two. However, in the internal sense a prophet represents the teaching itself, thus the doctrine from the Word (Arcana Coelestia 2534). As we have seen earlier, "kings" in the Word represent the ruling principles in our lives, and if these are false, then all our subsidiary thoughts, the "princes" will also be false.
The nature of sin and iniquity, then, is to allow the ruling principles in our minds, our "kings," and our thoughts derived from these, our "princes" to fall into falsity by ignoring the teachings of the Word. When a person can see this tendency within themselves, they are well on the way to truly confessing their sins to the Lord, not as an abstract state of life, but specific incidents of disobedience.
Part of this process of recognition and confession of sins is an observance of the consequences of one’s sins. Remember that Daniel is writing this prayer partly in response to the captivity of Judah—a captivity resulting from the neglect on the part of at least the king of Judah to obey the Word of the Lord. This captivity describes our states when we are held captive by the evils and falsities arising in selfishness. Daniel could clearly see that the historical captivity resulted from the disobedience of the kings of Judah. Can we see that our evils and their consequences are a result of our disobedience to the Lord? Can we come to the point at which we acknowledge our guilt to the Lord in Daniel’s words?
“Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against you.”—Such a cry to the Lord would be cold and sterile if there was not hope of redemption. The historical story of Daniel shows us, however, that there is always hope. The recurring theme is that the Lord is always with us, even in the darkest times to bring the light of knowledge and a renewed commitment to change. In times of repentance this is perhaps more important than at any other time, for when we repent we undertake to change based on our recognition of the states of evil and falsity within us. At those times we need to remember that the Lord does not bear grudges, and that the very force of His Divine Providence is leading us towards heaven.
The measure of the Lord’s mercy is highlighted in the concept that when one sins, one sins against the Lord Himself (Psalm 51:4). Daniel recognises that by not listening to the teaching of the prophets the Jews had "not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God." This is a further development in the recognition of sin in oneself. To reject and be disobedient to the teaching or doctrine of the Word is one thing, for the Word is open to many interpretations, it can be twisted this way and that to suit people’s will. The real damage to the Word comes, however, through the motive for the twisting. As we have seen in many places in Daniel, when the Word is twisted to underpin and protect selfish loves, then one does damage to the Lord Himself, for He is the Word itself. As Daniel points out, the prophets are "His servants," as teaching is a servant of truth itself.
The result is the disjunction of sin, a breaking of the covenant and separation from all the goodness and truth which originates in the Lord, and which is described in the book of Deuteronomy as a curse. There are too many curses to list, but they all indicate various states of evil which befall those who separate themselves from the Lord.
In Daniel the woes of captivity are indicated as being curses from the Lord on the Jews for disobeying the Lord, and it is easy to be sympathetic to this view. Evil, especially selfishness causes life to unravel, if not in this world, then certainly in the next. Relationships based on selfishness will never be happy, conflict dogs those whose only concern is themselves. This unhappiness and conflict may seem to be a curse or disaster sent by the Lord to punish the evil doer, yet it is a great truth that the Lord never punishes anyone for their evils (Arcana Coelestia 696, 697, 1857).
For a person who is in the process of repentance this is both a necessary and comforting thought, for if the Lord cast us into hell because of our sins, all hope would be lost and life would lose its point. We need to know that regardless of how dreadful our evils may seem, and how willingly we allow ourselves to be drawn into them, still the Lord is, as Daniel says "righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice."
It is important in order to keep a state of balance in repentance to remember the times the Lord has helped us in our captivity to selfishness. In his prayer Daniel remembers back to the liberation from Egypt. If we take the historical series of the book of Daniel as our guide, we can see the Lord’s hand in the way He patiently and continually led Nebuchadnezzar through terrible times to the eventual point where the king could praise the Lord as his God. Each detail of that journey is reflected in our progressive liberation from selfishness and all its attendant states. Finally as our inner motivations change, we can be lead to the state depicted in the reign of Darius when Daniel is given charge over the land.
Providence can never be seen in advance, only in hindsight (Divine Providence 178, 187). In the throes of temptation and repentance is seems as if the Lord has abandoned us, yet He is always there to show us the way to a new state of life.
The wonder of prayer lies in the answers. Sometimes people are not certain whether the Lord listens to prayer, and whether prayer can ever change the Lord’s mind about something. This is not, or at least should not be the reason we pray. Prayer is for our benefit, for it focuses our minds upon the Lord and opens up the interiors of our minds making it possible for us to receive His presence. The answers to prayers are seldom given in loud or dramatic ways. More often than not the answer lies in a small quiet awareness of the Lord’s presence. As we are told in the doctrines, the answer comes as “…something like a revelation (which is manifested in the affection of him that prays) as to hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy” (Arcana Coelestia 2535).
Daniel prayed to the Lord for the salvation of Israel, captive in Babylon for seventy years. He prayed with deep humility, with an awareness of the evils of the Jews, and a willingness to confront those evils. The Lord answered his prayer.
When we are in the process of repenting, we too need to pray to the Lord in confession and in prayer for forgiveness and mercy. The fact of saying those prayers is powerful, for in confessing our sins to the Lord we acknowledge from humility of heart that the evils of our lives are not defensible. The action of prayer is, in many ways, the opposite and therefore the antidote to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar in our minds. While they are present we justify our evils, we permit and actively make possible states opposed to the presence of the Lord. But in confession this changes, and our minds are opened.
Supplication, or prayer for mercy does much the same thing. In our Babylonian states we are self-sufficient—we don’t need the Lord or His Word. Our minds are dominated across the axes of our will and understanding just as the he-goat in chapter eight extended the power of his horns to the four winds of the earth. By opening our minds in prayer, however, we acknowledge that this selfish power is not real power. Real power belongs to the Lord who can and will forgive us, and in so doing gives us the power to override selfishness and break its hold over us.
While Daniel prayed, he became aware of the answer from the Lord. The imagery in his words show us a great deal about how the Lord answers prayers from the heart. As he prayed he became aware of "the man Gabriel" who flew swiftly and reached him at the time of the evening offering.
In Chapter Eight we learned that Gabriel was in reality an entire society of angels (Apocalypse Explained 302). Gabriel represents the Divine truth itself drawing near to human conscience (Arcana Coelestia 8192). This is the first part of the Lord’s answer to our prayers. When we pray we ask the Lord to hear us. The essence of prayer in Daniel’s words are summed up in verse nineteen: “O Lord hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord listen and act!”
The Lord listens with His Divine truth, and answers with truth, represented by Gabriel flying down to Daniel, reaching him at "about the time of the evening offering." As we have seen many times in this study, "evening" is a state of obscurity caused by the presence of selfishness blocking out charity and thus faith. When we repent and pray to the Lord we are still in that state of obscurity, and yet part of the answer of prayer is to lift the darkness and give us insight into the nature of our lives and a clearer vision of how to overcome our evils. This is why Gabriel came in the evening, but notice his words to Daniel “Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand.”
The answer to prayers is given as "hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy” (Arcana Coelestia 2535). These spiritual gifts come from the Lord’s love for all humanity, but love is always communicated by means of wisdom. In other words we cannot have a feeling of hope unless we have thoughts of hope. We will not experience consolation unless we know that things will turn out for the better. Without the thought process, faith if you will, there can be no inward joy, for joy, or any emotion cannot exist in a vacuum separated from the thought processes.
The Lord’s answer to Daniel’s, and our, prayers is by lightening the darkness in our minds. Gabriel came to bring "skill to understand," with us that is the skill to see the evils of life clearly. It means breaking away from the persuasive power of the astrologers, magicians, soothsayers and Chaldeans who held such power over Nebuchadnezzar. In the historical series we were shown how they failed the king whose questions could only be satisfied by Daniel, our conscience.
So it is with us. In the process of repentance our conscience leads us to see our sins and urges us to confess them to the Lord. As we do so, the Lord enlightens our minds. This makes it possible for us to see several things from His perspective, firstly the enormity of our sins, secondly the possibility of rejecting them and being forgiven, and thirdly real hope that we will be freed from them. All this takes "skill to understand," and an increasingly clear sight of the Divine truth.
Gabriel then begins to explain to Daniel. He goes back to the very point at which Daniel began his prayer of repentance—the seventy years of captivity in Babylon, saying “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy” (Daniel 9:24).
As we saw at the beginning of this chapter "seventy weeks" means the time of fullness from beginning to end of the Babylonian captivity (Apocalypse Explained 684). This period represents the steady breakdown of selfishness in our lives. When we are in states of selfishness we are held captive by the "Babylonians" within, yet with the rise of conscience to power, that hold is gradually broken, and the process is described by Daniel’s steady rise to power. The promise given to us in the process of repentance, therefore, is that we will eventually be liberated during the course of "seventy weeks."
Daniel was told that the captivity of seventy weeks would be upon his people and the city of holiness. The "people" are those states in us which belong to the church (Apocalypse Explained 684), or, in other words, all the states of goodness and truth, of charity and faith which are oppressed and held in bondage by selfishness. When we are selfish it is impossible to be in states of true charity—we cannot love other people when we love ourselves more, nor can we think in terms of truth clearly when our thoughts are clouded by habitual self justification. In these states of spiritual captivity, our conscience is present, as Daniel was present throughout the entire Babylonian captivity, to lead us to a state of repentance when bondage can be broken.
The "city of holiness" with us relates to the thought process based on truths from the Word which lead us into revolt against selfishness (Apocalypse Explained 684). While we are in spiritual bondage our thoughts are dominated by selfishness, but the Lord provides certain truths from the Word which form the basis of our conscience. These truths are the "cities of holiness" for they are from the Lord and make it possible for the Lord to be present in our minds, even in our darkest hours. It also makes it possible for the conscience to develop to the point where it can enter into active opposition against selfishness.
The seventy weeks "determined for your people and your holy city" are the states of life we pass through as we journey through our captivity. A person cannot repent from selfishness until he or she sees the quality of self, and rejects it, just as Nebuchadnezzar had to be brought down to a point of madness before he could be completely restored, and as Belshazzar had to be weighed in the balances and found wanting before he could be killed. We too have to pass through that process, and allow it to run its course, for it is only when we are moved with horror at our evils, as Daniel was moved to feel physically sick at the sight of the he-goat, that we can be led into true repentance, and then the Lord can come to us in full glory.
Gabriel’s words all built up to this point. One has to finish the transgression, make and end of sins and a reconciliation of iniquity, and then the Most Holy is anointed. In the Lord’s own life this verse meant that He would eventually unite the Divine to the Human through to process of glorification (Apocalypse Explained 624, 684). He did this by continual victories over hell from His own power (Arcana Coelestia 2025).
We overcome hell by the power of the Lord, and when we do so, we come into the states of peace and tranquillity which typify heaven, and yet that can only happen in a state of total rejection of evil and falsity (This state of rejection is called "vastation," and without it the Lord cannot be fully received (Arcana Coelestia 728)).
Having explained this to Daniel, Gabriel continues: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times” (Daniel 9:25).
In history the ancient Jews were liberated from Babylon by king Cyrus. They returned home with the intention of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple armed with the confidence that the cost of rebuilding was be born by the state. Even the vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar would be restored to their rightful places. A tremendous inertia set in, however. Only the oldest of the captives could remember Jerusalem after seventy years, and many of the Jews were firmly established in Babylon. Historian John Bright writes that “the early years of the restoration venture proved bitterly disappointing, bringing little but frustration and discouragement (Bright 1972:361, 363, 364).
These early difficulties were mirrored in Gabriel’s words to Daniel, that from the giving of the command to the restoration of the temple to the coming of the Messiah shall be "seven weeks and sixty two weeks." The "going forth of the command" means the end of the time of preparation. Specifically in the analysis in the Apocalypse Explained we are told that these Word signify the end of the Old Testament because it was fulfilled by the coming of the Lord. The "restoration and building of Jerusalem" describes the renewal of the church by the Lord’s coming (Apocalypse Explained 684).
In the story of regeneration, these concepts can be seen to apply to the establishment of a new state within the human soul who has undergone the process of repentance and who is in process of fulfilling his or her potential of the development of new spiritual states. Thus the "going forth of the command" can be seen to be the process of repentance, which is the true beginning of regeneration, while the "building of the Jerusalem" is the final, regenerated state in which the ends of selfishness have been defeated and one returns to true worship of the Lord in every aspect of life.
As in earlier chapters Gabriel provides Daniel with a time frame for this development. This should not be thought of as natural time, however, but as the progression of state through which one passes between repentance and regeneration. Regeneration does not spring into being fully formed the moment a person decides to repent. It is a life-time process involving the gradual transition from a self-oriented life to a selfless life. To manage this one needs to undergo the rigours of temptation and the discipline of self compulsion.
The time given by Gabriel is familiar. The time between the order and the building of Jerusalem is seven weeks. Here we see the repetition of seven, and the meaning is the same—the full cycle of life, indicating once again that rebirth is an ongoing process.
More interesting, however, is the statement that "after sixty and two weeks it shall be restored and built." The term "sixty two" is only used in one other place in the Word, in Daniel chapter five, where we are told that Darius was sixty two years old when he killed Belshazzar. At that point we saw that sixty two represents a state in which faith is developing, but has not yet reached its fullness, for "sixty" describes the progress we make, while "two" indicates the incompleteness of that progress.
By pointing this out we are prepared to realise that whilst repentance is a major step forward in our spiritual lives, by itself it is not enough. If we persist, however, that repentance will develop into the states of reformation and finally regeneration, and the city Jerusalem will be built in our minds.
The angel says that in sixty two weeks the "street will be built again, and the wall." A "street" describes the truth of teaching from the Word (Apocalypse Explained 684). This is not simply an intellectual knowledge of what the Word teaches but an insight into the relevance of that truth to our lives. This truth is clearly related to the conscience which has been developing in the person throughout the course of his or her life, and which is now coming to fruition in leading the person to repentance.
The New King James version here describes the wall being build around the city, but in the original language the term is more properly translated as a trench, a moat or a ditch (Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition #2742. Swedenborg uses the term "fossa" which is translated "moat" or "drainage ditch"). In the internal sense a "moat" represents the doctrine or teaching which leads a person through life. The street and the moat are two sides of the same insightful concept of truth which the Lord gives to us as a result of repentance and prayer.
However, we should also know, as was mentioned above, that repentance initiates one into states of temptation. As soon as we begin to shun selfishness, there is a reassertion of the selfishness. The result is that we enter into the alternations of state described in Daniel’s visions in chapters seven and eight. These alternations are states of temptation as we struggle to be freed from the evil sides of our personalities, and remain connected to the good. The city, street and moat, therefore would be built in "troublesome times," meaning that our spiritual life is regained with difficulty.
There will even be times when "the Messiah will be cut off," a concept similar to the vision in chapter eight, when one feels that one’s spiritual progress, described by the ram, is scattered by the he-goat. The "Messiah shall be cut off" indicates states of relapse into selfishness (Apocalypse Explained 684), although within that selfishness there is still the hope that as long as our conscience survives, like Daniel in the citadel of Shushan, there will be enough power to turn the corner once again and repent.
This is the promise of repentance. When we turn to the Lord in prayer of confession and thanksgiving, we need to know that while things will ultimately be all right, still there is a hard road ahead. Nevertheless we are not alone. The Lord answered Daniel’s prayer with honesty, and He answers our prayers in the same way. The city will be rebuilt, but there is work to be done in the rebuilding of it. Nevertheless, at the time of repentance, we can experience the hope, consolation and inward joy in knowing that the Lord walked this path before us, and from His own power fought and defeated these same inner demons. He gives us the power to walk that path.