Daniel and the Lions’ Den
Time has moved on quickly in the early chapters on Daniel. In the opening chapter Daniel and his friends were teenagers carried away from Jerusalem in exile to Babylon in the year 605BC. By the time we reach ch.6 some 66 years have passed by and Daniel is now an old man in his eighties.
For most of that time Daniel had served been a faithful servant of the Babylonian Empire during which time he had earned himself a solid reputation as a good man, a godly man, who was upright and dependable. It appears however that after the demise of Nebuchadnezzar Daniel’s career went into decline too.
The episode with one of Nebuchadnezzar’s successors, Belshazzar, served to bring Daniel back in to the affairs of government once again. Although Daniel’s promotion under Belshazzar was of brief duration (Belshazzar died the very day he put Daniel in high office) he would still have an important role to play in the life of the Empire. The new King – Darius who was head of the Medo-Persian Empire that conquered Babylon maintained Daniel in office and quickly discovered that Daniel was an exceptional man.
Envy and Jealousy
The NT teaches us that:
2Tim.3:12 "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,"
And Daniel’s experience is an OT illustration of just how true that is.
It is simply naive to imagine that everyone wants to have exceptional men occupying positions of high office especially when their core qualities might, like Daniel’s be:
This man Daniel was able to stand out even among the most gifted and able of men and Darius, having entrusted him with a position of authority among the three chief ministers in his realm, did not take long to realise that Daniel was the best of the lot.
Darius knew he could trust Daniel to protect the king’s interests and so he prepared to make him his Prime Minister. His reasons were multiple:
Daniel possessed an excellent spirit
He had carried out his responsibilities well
He had no guilty errors or mistakes for which he might be called upon to give an answer
In short no-one could successfully bring any sort of complaint against him for there were no skeletons in any of his cupboards!
Darius liked and trusted Daniel but the same could not be said for some of the other high ranking officials. Maybe some were envious of the influence this old man was able to exercise – if he was out of the way they might aspire to the office he held; others perhaps were frustrated that they could not use the positions they had to line their own nests with such a man as Daniel around. Everyone knew Daniel would never play ball with anything dubious or dishonest.
As I was thinking about this during the week I couldn’t help thinking the recent political scandal over MPs and their expense claims. With the elections for a new Conservative Party leader that have been taking place it would seem that most if not all of the candidates have something in their track record they’d rather others forget about.
Daniel might well be blameless and irreproachable but that wasn’t going to keep him out of trouble for he had his enemies who were eager to trip him up.
You must realise too that if you seek to lead a godly life as a Christian man or woman you may run in to similar scrapes. And, yes, it can all seem so unfair when it happens that you might be tempted to be angry with God and reason with yourself that it isn’t worth the effort if this is what happens to you.
But remember, the Scriptures warn you that this sort of thing will occur and why should you imagine yourself to the exception to the rule? After all you are a follower of Jesus-Christ and was it "fair" what happened to him? He went around teaching, doing good and healing those who were sick yet he was spurned, scorned and sacrificed by those he came to help and save. If you follow a crucified Saviour don’t bleat if troubles come your way too rather react as did the apostles of old who rejoiced to be counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus!
It is quite a tribute to a person when their most fervent adversaries can find no fault in them. And such was the case with Daniel. But his adversaries didn’t give up. If Daniel wasn’t guilty of any crime they would so manipulate things to make him appear in a bad light. And they knew what was their best shot – it had to be something to do with Daniel’s religious belief and practice. So they came up with a plan of action that they felt sure would catch Daniel out. And so they lay their plans with a heady concoction of lies, dissimulation and a bit of flattery thrown in for good measure.
Centuries later the religious leaders in Jerusalem would do something very similar to bring down the prophet from Nazareth – truths, half-truths and downright lies mixed together with a deliberately negative slant cast over it all and they too had their way as the Christ was consigned to Calvary’s Cross.
Down through the centuries similar things have happened causing Christians, the salt of the earth, to be treated as though they were the ones who were corrupting society. It is happening still in our day when in the name of tolerance and equality Christians are pressured to give their approval to patterns of behaviour that God has declared to be off limits.
But back to Daniel – what was this about "fake news"?
The other high officials came up with a plan that they thought would work in their favour. They would flatter the king’s pride by suggesting that he ought to play god for an entire month. You’re worth it they said to him – we’re all agreed – issue an irrevocable decree that declares that prayer is only to be offered to you for a month, and if anyone disobeys let him be thrown to the lions.
We like to be told by others how much they appreciate us, how important we are etc. etc. but we need to be careful that we don’t get led into taking foolish decisions however much we might be encouraged to do so.
But why was it "fake news"? Well apart from the obvious fact that Darius was not up to being a god for a day let alone a month was everyone really agreed as to the recommendation as they made out? The context would seem to indicate very clearly indeed that Darius’ best minister and most faithful servant was not involved at all. If Darius had reflected just a little instead of being puffed up by the proffered honours he surely would have realised that this godly man could never have made such a suggestion.
But the "fake news" was believed and quickly a new piece of legislation hit the statue books. It probably wasn’t the first law that hastily and foolishly passed and it certainly hasn’t been the last. Some serious unexpected consequences were about to come to light.
Daniel Prays On
Daniel had been in the habit of praying for a long time now. He had been doing it for years: three times a day he would open his window that faced towards Jerusalem and he would pray. He had been in exile for approaching 70 years and he was still praying, still trusting and serving his God. Surely God would understand if he took a break for a few days to let the situation calm down! But no, Daniel had no intention of stopping praying and he wasn’t about to alter his habits to give the impression he was either.
I wonder how easily some of us might be encouraged to give up on praying for thirty days. I wonder whether any of us would find it really easy because we’ve already effectively stopped praying anyway.
Oh to be faithful like Daniel!
And of course it doesn’t take his adversaries very long to pop round to his home and check and yes, of course, they knew it all along, Daniel would keep on praying – a man like him would do nothing else!
I don’t know whether others prayed during that time – the only person they were interested in was Daniel – if only they could get him they would have won and get him they did.
Darius is Jammed into a Corner
He hadn’t seen it coming – that new law was just designed to inflate his ego a bit – yes, it was on the statute books and yes he had passed it according to the law of the Medes and Persians as an irrevocable law, yes, the punishment was there too. Did Darius wonder why his officials had come to him and were quizzing him about it all? Did he think it was another moment for personal pride?
Then the hammer blow falls and instantly Darius realises he has made a dreadful mistake but try as he might he can’t do anything about it. Daniel pays no attention to you, they said, he ignores the injunction you signed – he must die.
Now there was half-truth in this. Daniel did disobey the injunction but there is no indication that his disobedience indicated a lack of respect for the king and what is more the king knew Daniel well enough to realise it. It was a foolish law and Darius came to see so too late and wouldn’t it rather be foolish to obey such a law than to follow it?
The Bible does not on the whole encourage lawlessness, recognising that the civil authorities are appointed by God for the well-being of society. The result is that Christian men and women are vey largely law-abiding and law-upholding members of society. But, and it is a big but with big consequences, civil authorities can sometimes overstep their responsibilities and require what God most decidedly does not.
Do you remember how the apostles reacted when forbidden by the authorities of their day to stop doing what the resurrected Jesus had commanded them to do? This is how they responded:
Acts 4:19-20 "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
Such a response earned them a severe warning which would later be followed up with sterner treatment.
Daniel could best serve his king by being faithful to his God and Darius knew it but they were now caught up in an inevitable process. Daniel was headed to the lions’ den
The Lions’ Den
If you’ve ever watched a nature programme about lions you’ll probably be aware that they tend to live out in wide open spaces and sleep up in trees – you probably have only rarely if ever seen a lion in a den. A lioness will sometimes withdraw with her cubs to a den for safety but in the normal scheme of things lions don’t live in dens.
So what are we to make of this story in Daniel? Is it just what critics would want to dismiss as another piece of evidence that you simply can’t trust the Bible? Well the answer to that last question is a definite no!
In the ME lions were seen as royal animals and one of the popular ways for a monarch to demonstrate his power was for him to kill lions. The trouble is lions are strong and many men are inherent cowards. Consequently men like to stack the odds in their favour. Lions were specially kept and in ways which would diminish their natural forces. Kept in dens lions would become weaker allowing for an easier kill in a specially prepared arena. Lions weakened in this way would be hungry and aggressive and definitely a very great danger to an unarmed isolated individual.
And so Daniel was cast into the den according to the flaw that Darius regretted having signed into existence.
As Darius abandoned Daniel he cried out somewhat forlornly:
v.16 ""May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!"
He then went home where he spent a restless, anxious and sleepless night but he was at the den early the next day! As he approached he cried out again in anguish but not in hope:
v.20 "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?"
Can you imagine his surprise when he heard Daniel politely reply:
vv.21-22 "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm."
I don’t know about you but if I ever had to spend a night with some lions I would want to keep as quiet as possible for fear of drawing their attention but not Daniel! God had taken care of him by sending an angel and he was going to speak about it. At the same time he declared how his deliverance was testimony to his blamelessness – he had not been wrong to ignore a godless edict and God had vindicated him. Daniel’s deliverance from the lions’ den was similar to the deliverance of his three friends from the fiery furnace – both were pale shadows of a far greater resurrection from the dead that would be secured with the literal physical resurrection of Jesus!
Now it would be very wrong of us to assume that God must intervene to secure a temporal deliverance for all his servants and indeed many have been faithful unto death but we must take from this account the faithful ability of our God and understand the greater deliverance to which all smaller deliverances point.
Darius was overjoyed – his best politician was safe and sound – now it was time to deal with those others who had worked against the true interests of the empire.
The end of the incident occurs when the men who strove to secure Daniel’s downfall are themselves cast along with their families into the den. Before their feet touch the bottom they have been broken to pieces by those lions. The completeness of their destruction serves to highlight the divine intervention that had protected Daniel. Those lions hadn’t been so weak or so tired that they couldn’t do anything, they had been stopped from harming God’s man but when that restraining hand was withdrawn those lions were a violent execution squad!
A God to be honoured
Darius had signed a decree that was a monumental mistake. Now, at the end of the chapter he sends out a second decree and this one is much, much better.
Threats of death are replaced with a desire for peace to be experienced and multiplied.
Gone are the foolish proud proclamations that prayer must only be made to him for thirty days to be replaced by an exhortation to fear the One True Living God, the God that Daniel knew and had served for so long. This God is sovereign in a way that no earthly king can ever dream of being. This is a God who doesn’t do stupid things but a God who works wonders and miracles. This is a God who knows how to take care of his own.
I don’t know what effect Darius’ second decree had on those who heard it. I don’t know what your reaction is to this same God. Darius knew him as Daniel’s God, we know him as the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
What will you do with this great God? Will you repent of your sin and cry to him for salvation or will you press on regardless and lose out on everything that might be yours by his grace?
I urge you all to believe in him, to trust him.
And may God have mercy on us all!