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In The Lion's Den

Daniel  6

When they told me I got to do a lesson on Daniel in the Lion’s Den -- it was not pleasant. Every 3 year old in Sunday School knows the story; this was going to be a cure for insomnia.

But I looked at it again, for the Scripture is never without new insights and profit, no matter how many times you read it. As you grow in Christ, so does the depth of the Bible. Even the old and familiar can be new again. So, let’s look at an old friend through new eyes.

The Auditor

{6:1} It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, {2} with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss.

-- Daniel 6:1-2 (NIV)

Let’s make no mistake as to what is going on here: it’s money. Tax money, to be specific. These satraps are charged with handling the king’s money, and Daniel and the other administrators are charged with being their auditors. Hence the phrase, “the king might not suffer loss.”

Isn’t it curious how things don’t change? 2500 years ago, integrity was a key requirement for government office. Have things changed that much? Some seem to think so. Today we have the idea that parts of morality can be broken off and kept separate. It’s OK to cheat on your wife, of course, as long as you don’t fudge your tax records. We have a president who thinks that his infidelity to his wife is irrelevant to his presidency. Perhaps his infidelity is irrelevant -- but his integrity (or lack of it) is not. Integrity means a one-ness of person. It means that you keep your promises -- whether these are made to your wife, your government, or your small children. Some questions to consider, for politicians today:

·        Does character count?

·        Is morality really made of little, separate pieces?

Envy and Corruption

{3} Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. {4} At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. -- Daniel 6:3-4 (NIV)

Envy is the sin of the have-nots against the haves. So said Dorothy Sayers. Here we have a different form of envy: the envy of integrity. Daniel has it, and they know it. In the fashion of those who covet that which is their neighbor’s, if they can’t have it, they’ll make certain Daniel can’t either. There is a Christian response to this. I am reminded of the preacher who was faced with the fact that two nearby churches had world famous preachers in their pulpits. He said he had poor attendance -- until he began praying for the success of his rivals. They were so successful that their churches overflowed -- and the overflow filled his.

We also see in this passage the basic mechanism of corruption: group theft. Embezzlement is done in the middle of the night and fog; corruption is so much easier because everybody does it. If everybody does it, then who needs to hide it? But look what one man does to corruption -- and look what it almost costs him.

A testimonial to clean living

{5} Finally these men said, "We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God."

-- Daniel 6:5 (NIV)

How many of us could pass this test? These guys, who do not believe in Daniel’s God, know quite well that he does. They are so confident of his belief in God that they figure it’s the only way they can trap him! I would wonder aloud whether or not anyone would think of trapping me this way.

The King and the Law

{6} So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: "O King Darius, live forever! {7} The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions' den. {8} Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered--in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed." {9} So King Darius put the decree in writing.

-- Daniel 6:6-9 (NIV)

Flattery is the enemy of the ruler, then and now. We have seen in our own lifetime how the “imperial presidency” has produced the hubris which brings men to fall. Think how it must feel to have every one in the room, smart and able people all, start their sentences with, “Mr. President, ...” This does not go well with humility as a virtue.

The ancients knew this, and they faced from it a problem which is with us today. How do we keep the king underneath the law? Here are some of the solutions which have achieved fame - justly or unjustly:

·        The Persian method - the law can’t be changed, even by the king. The law “which altereth not (KJV)” provided a security to those under the king. In essence, the approach is, “I can play by any rules you like -- just tell me the rules, and don’t change them.” This passage shows the danger of this approach.

·        The English method -- as shown in Magna Charta. The law is the Common Law; it exists independently of the king, and the king is subject to it. The king and Parliament may amplify and extend it, but it exists first and foremost.

·        The American method, which substitutes the Constitution, with its checks and balances, for the Common Law.

·        The humanist method, which holds that man is the author of right and wrong, and that these change with the situation. Now the whole concept of king under law is trivial -- we just change the law. (And who better than the king? The Fuehrer is always right!)

The habits of a Godly man

{10} Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. {11} Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. -- Daniel 6:10-11 (NIV)

Some might ask why Daniel prayed three times a day. This is not commanded, but is a custom of the Jews. It seems a good number:

·        You don’t want to pray too often, for the temptation is to trivialize prayer into “Me and Jesus in the phone booth.” (Remember the rabbi and the emperor).

·        But three times a day puts God in your daily life so frequently that you notice it. As I write this, I must sit in the hot tub three times a day, twenty minutes each. It gets your attention. (Should I not be praying in the hot tub, redeeming the time?????)

Note too that Daniel goes to prayer after he learns the decree is published. This is no mistake. It is not an oversight. Daniel knows who is sovereign, and worships him. There is no god before Him.

Note too that your “private life” is fair game for the state -- if you’re in their way. All this talk that religion is what you do with your solitude is nonsense. If you are a Christian, your prayer life will flow into your public life. The state will not like this either.

It is no surprise that Daniel is “asking God for help.” I suspect this is not so much specific defiance of the king’s decree as it is the acknowledgment that Daniel needs it.

The trap sprung

{12} So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: "Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions' den?" The king answered, "The decree stands--in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed." {13} Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day." {14} When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him. {15} Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, "Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed." {16} So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!"

-- Daniel 6:12-16 (NIV)

{Note: The NASV phrase the last phrase as, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.” This may be yet another testimonial to God shining through Daniel.}

The king knows when he’s been had. His conduct shows two things:

·        He know where the right lies. He tries his best to find a loophole to save Daniel. He is worried and upset.

·        He also is a prisoner of his own system. Ultimately, he must do as he was trapped into doing.

In the Lion’s Den

{17} A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. {18} Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. {19} At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. -- Daniel 6:17-19 (NIV)

{Note: the signet ring and seal are done with wax or lead. By doing this, Darius ensures that Daniel cannot be removed by mortal man without his knowing it.}

The righteousness of Darius, limited as it is, is shown here. Some thoughts on Darius:

·        He’s basically a fair man, for he is sick with worry about this. He feels guilty.

·        The first change he gets, he’s there to help.

·        He “means well feebly.” No command decision comes from Darius; perhaps he was not that sure of his position with Cyrus? The commanding position of courage in character is shown once again.

Daniel Saved - by innocence and trust

{20} When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?" {21} Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! {22} My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king." {23} The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. -- Daniel 6:20-23 (NIV)

Daniel is saved in the lion’s den. The Scripture gives us three reasons why God did this for Daniel:

·        He is innocent before God.

·        He is also innocent before the king. How many of us feel pious in the presence of God, but don’t really mind cheating our boss a little?

·        He trusts God. He goes into the lion’s den knowing that God can save him -- even if he doesn’t know if he will save him. Whatever his fate, it belongs to God.

A dark passage

{24} At the king's command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. -- Daniel 6:24 (NIV)

This is one of those verses we’d like to skip over. We can look this in a number of ways:

·        The king viewed the lion’s den as the later English would treat “trial by ordeal.”

·        The fact that Daniel is spared means he is innocent -- and therefore his accusers must be guilty.

The sticking point is here: why are the families thrown in too? What did they ever do? This is a typical American view; there is no collective responsibility. Darius might have made these arguments:

·        By destroying the family, I eliminated all possibility of vengeance and retribution.

·        By destroying the family, I emphasize the fact that punishment is not just on the guilty man, but on his family. This is a greater deterrent. Think in our own time what would happen if the parents of taggers went to jail!

Daniel might have quoted the Scriptures:

{18} 'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.'

-- Numbers 14:18 (NIV)

{28} For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off; -- Psalms 37:28 (NIV)

The Character of God Revealed

{25} Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: "May you prosper greatly! {26} "I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. {27} He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions." {28} So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. -- Daniel 6:25-28 (NIV)

It’s interesting to end this lesson with what Darius has learned about Daniel’s God:

·        He is the living God -- not a concept, not an ideal, not a wood and stone idol, but living.

·        He is eternal, living forever.

·        Not only is He eternal, but his dominion is eternal also. God reigns!

·        He is no far off, cosmic concept. This is the God who rescues and saves, who performs signs and wonders.

It seems to me that Darius the Mede knew him better than many men today!

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