To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. – Daniel 9:8-10 ESV
It’s clear from reading his prayer, that Daniel was well aware of Judah’s guilt and culpability. He knew there very presence in the land of Babylon was evidence of their own sin and rebellion against God. And they needed to own their shame. They had brought it on themselves. In allowing the Babylonians to defeat them and take them into exile, God had simply fulfilled all that He had warned would happen if they failed to return to Him. He had given them ample warning and more than enough time to change their minds (repent) and avoid the coming judgment that Jeremiah and so many other prophets of God had warned was coming. But as Daniel confessed to God, “We have sinned against you.” He openly admitted that “we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” No excuses. Any shame they were experiencing belonged to them. It was their own fault.
But then Daniel says something that illustrates a remarkably stark contrast between mankind and God. “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness.” They are His because they are an expression of His very nature. Shame, guilt and sin belong to man because they are expressions of his nature. You can count on it. These characteristics always show up eventually. Why? Because man can’t help it. As Paul so painfully reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Solomon echoed that sentiment when he wrote, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). In His prayer at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon had asked God, “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near…if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (1 Kings 8:46, 48-50 ESV). Solomon’s request had foreshadowed the very circumstance in which the nation of Judah found itself. They had sinned. God had given them over to their enemy. He had sent them into exile. But He was also about to show them His undeserved mercy and shower them with His forgiveness – in spite of them. There was no indication that the people had “with all their mind and with all their heart” as Solomon had prayed. They had not pleaded with God in the land of their captors. The only one praying seemed to be Daniel. And yet God heard his prayer. And because mercy and forgiveness belong to God, He is free to give them whether they are deserved or not. As Paul so aptly puts it, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18 ESV). We can’t earn His mercy and forgiveness. We are incapable of doing anything that will force Him to give us what we so desperately need. But He gives mercy and forgiveness because He chooses to do so. That is the very hope of the gospel. Sin belongs to mankind. Mercy and forgiveness belong to God. Our sin can only produce death. God’s mercy and forgiveness result in life. And nowhere is that more evident than in the greatest expression of God’s mercy and forgiveness: His Son Jesus Christ. Paul states that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Christ’s death was the ultimate act of God’s mercy. He died in our place. He took on our sin and suffered our punishment, so that we might receive God’s judicial pardon and be released from all condemnation. He died so that we might live. And all of this in spite of the fact that mankind had proven itself completely incapable of faithfulness to God. In fact, Paul says, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). The worse sin got, the greater God’s grace became. God paid the ultimate price for the sin and rebellion of men. He gave His own Son as the sinless sacrifice required to satisfy His own just judgment of sin. He paid the debt we owed with the blood of His own Son. Mercy and forgiveness belonged to Him and He expressed it through Jesus. And while God could never count on us to remain faithful, we can always count on Him. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV). Mercy and forgiveness belong to God, and He shared both with mankind through the loving sacrifice of His own Son. Rather than give us what we deserved: death, He gave us what we could have never earned: Life. The story of the Bible is summed up in the words of Paul to Timothy. “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Timothy 2:13 NLT).