O Lord, Delay Not
by Robby Higginbottom
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 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. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. 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. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 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.
“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. 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. 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. 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.”
If we’ve ever felt like we had to wait a long time—for a birthday, the first day of summer break, a driver’s license, a job, a relationship, a child, an answered prayer—we’re not alone. The Bible is full of men and women who waited, not weeks or months or years, but decades and even centuries to see God’s promises come to fruition. When Daniel prays, “O Lord, delay not” (Daniel 9:19), he joins Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and countless saints who could have made the same plea. We want the answers right here and now, yet the Lord continues to work out His purposes on a global scale across millennia. In the school of discipleship, one of the Lord’s main teaching tools is waiting. The Lord enrolled Daniel in this course at an early age, and Daniel has much to teach us about waiting for the Lord, whose will and timing are perfect. When Daniel perceives that his people’s exile will come to an end after seventy years, it doesn’t lead him to despair, but to prayer (Daniel 9:2-3). His prayer focuses on God’s faithfulness and the people’s unfaithfulness. After pouring out his heart, Daniel concludes, “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” (Daniel 9:19).
As we enter Advent, it’s helpful to remember that the word means “coming” or “arrival”. We live in the tension between two comings. We joyfully remember Christ’s first coming, and we longingly wait for His second. Before the Incarnation, God’s people questioned His timing and struggled to wait. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). What seemed like an unacceptable delay was the Lord’s perfect timing. After two thousand years, how are we doing with the waiting?
Daniel’s cry is a gift to us because we can see more than the prophet could. Daniel prays, “O Lord, hear, pay attention and act,” and we know that the Lord has answered. He heard the Israelites groaning in slavery in Egypt; He heard Daniel groaning in exile in Babylon; and He hears us groaning in a world bruised and broken by the Fall. The coming of Christ is the greatest proof that the Lord has heard, paid attention, and acted. Daniel prays, “O Lord, forgive,” and we know that the Lord has answered. The faithful, righteous Lord lived, died, and rose again for His sinful people. Have we truly felt the power of the assurance of pardon we hear on Sundays: “Friends, believe the good news: in Jesus Christ we are forgiven”? Finally, Daniel prays, “Delay not, for Your own sake,” and we know—as strange as it seems to our finite minds—that the Lord has not delayed. As Peter writes, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
This Advent we can pray, “O Lord, hear, forgive, pay attention, act, delay not.” And we can know that He has answered us and will answer us. He may not answer when or how we expect. He will answer for the sake of His glory, and that is ultimately for our good. As we wait, are we resting in our faithful God, the One who came and will come again?