In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, we meet Hester Prynne. Hester is required to wear the letter A on her chest, the flaming scarlet symbolizing her sin of adultery. But Hawthorne reminds us that perhaps the symbol should not be worn by Hester alone: “If truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom.”
Although they did not bear a scarlet letter, God’s people were experiencing the consequences of their disobedience and sin. They had spent the past seventy years exiled from their land. In today’s passage, Daniel utters a heartfelt prayer on behalf of his people, lamenting the sins of those who have often betrayed and disobeyed God.
Notice first Daniel’s humility in confession (v. 3). He was a respected leader in the Persian Empire, but he put on sackcloth to signify his penitent position before God. Second, notice Daniel’s focus in confession. He began his prayer by keeping the focus on God’s character and love (v. 4).
God’s character provides the context for confession. Our sin contrasts with His faithfulness: “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws” (v. 5). These sins are all too common. God’s righteousness is in direct contrast to our shame and unfaithfulness (v. 7). Daniel notes that outright disobedience against God has brought calamity and trouble upon His people (vv. 11–14).
We have all sinned against God (see. Rom. 3:23). Daniel’s prayer here can be a model of our confession—urgent, anguished, and crying out to God for His mercy while remembering God’s qualities of love and compassion to forgive His disobedient children (v. 19).
We might think our own acts of disobedience against God aren’t really so bad—we never worshiped a carved idol! But, as Daniel reminds us in this passage, our sins are clearly evident when compared to the holiness of God. Today, take a moment to contemplate your own willful disobedience and ask for God’s forgiveness.