The Point: God is greater than those who oppose you.
Daniel and the Lions’ Den: Daniel 6:6-22.
 Then these presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, "O King Darius, live forever!  All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.  Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked."  Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.  When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.  Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God.  Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, "O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?" The king answered and said, "The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked."  Then they answered and said before the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day."  Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him.  Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, "Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed."  Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!"  And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.  Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.  Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions.  As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?"  Then Daniel said to the king, "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." [ESV]
“The first point to observe in this chapter is that Daniel had learned how to live as a pilgrim. From the outset of his career in Babylon, Daniel was in his culture but not of his culture. On the one hand, he didn’t withdraw from Babylonian culture as far as he could in order to avoid being stained by it. On the contrary, he had now served the empire faithfully for almost seventy years. Far from using his age as an excuse to retire, he continued to serve the new administration. Belshazzar had been replaced as king by Darius, and the Babylonian empire had been replaced by that of the Medes and the Persians, but Daniel kept on serving [1-5]. In fact, Daniel served the empire so well that he continued to get promoted. When King Darius decided to diversify authority in his new kingdom by appointing three administrators over the 120 satraps, or provincial rulers, of his kingdom, Daniel was one of these three. There is a certain irony in Daniel’s appointment as one of the three de facto rulers of the kingdom, given Belshazzar’s promise to make Daniel third ruler of Babylon [5:29]. In effect, Daniel received Belshazzar’s reward in spite of his death. Yet Daniel did such an excellent job in this role that Darius planned to set him in an even higher position, over the whole kingdom . Even while Daniel served the Babylonian and Persian empires well, though, he was not shaped by their values. Graft and corruption were widespread in the ancient world, as they are in much of the modern world; how easy it would have been for Daniel to justify taking a little back of everything the empire had stolen from himself and from his people. Yet Daniel’s life was so completely free from corruption and negligence that his enemies could find nothing to use against him, even when they searched diligently for it [4-5]. They recognized that they would never find fault with him unless it was in regard to the law of his God. What an incredible testimonial from the enemies of Daniel and of his God. Yet Daniel’s goodness did not win him friends on all sides. Instead, his faithfulness to his duty to God and man made him powerful enemies. Some sought to bring him down, probably both because they were jealous of his success and because his incorruptibility was restricting their ability to use the system for their own personal benefit. When Daniel’s enemies brought the charge against him before the king, they called him Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah . They meant it as an insult, a slur that after all these years of living in Babylon, he was still essentially foreign and therefore untrustworthy. His deepest loyalties lay elsewhere. In fact, this was the highest commendation they could have given him. After all these years, even though Daniel served the empire faithfully, Babylon was not his home. He was nothing more and nothing less than a pilgrim there. His citizenship was elsewhere [cf. Phil. 3:20]. The second point we need to see in this chapter is that Daniel had learned how to be persistent in prayer. Daniel’s enemies knew that in order to bring a charge against him they would have to engineer a clash between the law of his God and the law of the state. They knew that if Daniel had to choose between obedience to his God and obedience to the Persian authorities, loyalty to his God would come first. Once again, this observation should be both challenging and convicting to us. Daniel’s enemies were totally confident that he would rather die than disobey his God. They knew that he would sooner go to the lions than give up his practice of daily prayer. Would our friends and acquaintances, never mind our enemies, say that about us with equal confidence? Is our commitment to constant prayer so obvious to everyone we meet? In view of Daniel’s commitment to prayer, the administrators and the satraps conspired together and went to King Darius with a proposal for a new law [6-9]. Daniel’s enemies suggested that the king should issue a decree that for the next thirty days no one was to petition any god or man except the king himself, on pain of being thrown into the lions’ den . The intended significance of the new law is not entirely clear. Presumably, Darius was not declaring himself to be divine for a one-month period, nor is there any indication that this was a trial period that would be extended if the scheme proved popular. Most likely, Darius viewed this law as a political rather than a religious edict, a means of uniting the realm by identifying himself as the sole mediator between the people and the gods, the source of their every blessing. This edict thus functioned similarly to Nebuchadnezzar’s enormous golden statue. Doubtless Darius was also flattered by the thought that all of his officials wanted to introduce this new edict – so flattered that he didn’t notice that Daniel wasn’t among them. Whatever the king’s motives, he quickly signed the edict into effect as a law of the Medes and Persians which could not be changed [8-9]. There are a number of different ways in which Daniel could have responded to this edict. You or I might have rushed before the king to protest the unfairness of the new law or gone home in tears to complain to our friends about it. When Daniel heard about the new law, however, he continued to do exactly what he had always done. Three times a day, it was his habit to go to his upper room to pray, bowing down with his face towards Jerusalem, giving thanks, petitioning and imploring his God . There was no biblical command that required Daniel to seek God in this way, but he had made a habit of doing so. As a result, what is remarkable in his behavior is not so much that the crisis drove him to his knees, but rather that it didn’t break his regular routine of prayer. He didn’t hide himself away in an inner room to pray, in the hopes of remaining undiscovered. When prayer becomes fashionable, praying in secret may be a good thing, but when prayer is proscribed, to pray in private becomes an act of cowardice. It would mean pretending that we are complying with a decree that seeks to write God out of our lives, and this was something Daniel was not willing to do. Nor did Daniel immediately cry out to God for deliverance from this unjust edict. Rather, he began by giving thanks, just like normal. Isn’t that remarkable? As he faced imminent death, knowing that his enemies would certainly see him and use his prayers against him, Daniel was on his knees, giving thanks to God. How amazing is his faith! Here is a good test of the depth of your prayer life: how much of your time and energy in prayer is spent complaining about the circumstances of your life and asking for things to be different, and how much is spent in giving thanks for God’s overwhelming goodness? The more clearly we see who God is and the great things that He has done for us, the more consistently our hearts will be moved to praise and thank Him, whatever our external circumstances. What is more, by beginning with thankfulness, we tune our hearts to remember God’s past faithfulness to us, which will render us better able to trust His wisdom and power to answer our petitions for the future. In view of what followed, it must have appeared to Daniel at first that his prayer had not been answered. The plotters came and found him praying and petitioning his God . Since Daniel prayed publicly three times a day, it probably didn’t take a great deal of skill on their part to catch him in the act. Yet surely God could have closed their eyes as easily as He later closed the mouths of the lions, so that Daniel could have prayed unhindered. Could He not in this way have spared Daniel from the whole ordeal? Certainly, He could have done that, but His purpose was not to save Daniel from trials but to save Daniel through trials. There were lessons that Daniel and those around him would learn, that could be learned only by Daniel going into the den of lions. This too is an important point for us to understand. God is not committed to our comfort. He is not committed to making our path through life smooth. He is committed to sanctifying us and demonstrating His own glory in and through us; and, very often, that commitment means He will subject our earthen vessels to pressures that would certainly shatter us, were His grace not sufficient for us. The Lord will take you into the eye of the storm, to show that He is the storm’s master and that He can make your fragile vessel float safely through to the other side. His wonderful plan for your life is to sanctify you through trials and tribulations [1 Peter 1:6-7]. When the conspirators approached King Darius, they didn’t immediately denounce Daniel but first asked the king to reaffirm the unchangeability of the decree, in order to make it hard for him to circumvent it. Only after he had affirmed that this was indeed a law of the Medes and Persians that could not be changed did they announce the fact that the edict convicted Daniel [12-13]. This news distressed the king, for he was sorry to lose a faithful and honest servant, and he sought for a way to rescue Daniel from the fate the law dictated. Yet when the conspirators came at sunset and reminded the king that the laws of the Medes and the Persians could not be changed, he conceded and made arrangements to throw Daniel into the lions’ den . So Darius abandoned Daniel to his fate in the lions’ den. To make sure that no outside help was given to Daniel, the mouth of the den was covered with a stone, which was then sealed with the signet rings of the king and his nobles. Humanly speaking, Daniel was left all alone to face his fate. Yet Darius’s last words to Daniel point to a higher source of help: May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you . That brings us on to the third point that we need to see in this chapter, which is Daniel’s preservation in the lions’ den [17-23]. The story contrasts with sharp irony the experience of Daniel and Darius during the night. King Darius returned to his palace, where he spent a harried and sleepless night, unable to enjoy his usual comforts of food and entertainment. At dawn, he arose and hurried to the lions’ den, crying out as he went, deeply concerned for Daniel. Meanwhile, in his response to the king’s anguished cry, Daniel sounds as calm and untroubled as if he had spent the night in his own bed rather than with the lions [21-22]. It is clear that, contrary to all expectations, Daniel actually spent a far more comfortable night in the stinking pit than Darius did in his royal luxury. Daniel’s fearsome lodging turned out to be a den of angels rather than a den of lions; the angel shut the mouths of the lions and kept God’s servant safe. What a stark contrast this provides! King Darius had at his disposal every pleasure that the ancient world had to offer, yet he could not enjoy any of them, while Daniel had nothing except the presence of his God with him in his trials and yet enjoyed a peaceful night’s rest. This shows us that true peace does not come from the possessions that we accumulate but from the presence and favor of God in our lives. What was meant to be a terrifying and deadly trial for Daniel with the lions instead became a strengthening encounter with the angel. God was with him and preserved him safely through the ordeal. Yet it is not as if the lions had been defanged by the angel and turned into purring tabby cats. After Daniel’s release, the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions , in accord with the common principle in the ancient Near East that anyone who made a false charge against someone else should be punished by receiving the same fate they had sought for their victim [see Deut. 19:16-21]. The experience of the conspirators in the den was the exact opposite of Daniel’s: before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces . What made the difference in their fate? Why was Daniel spared by the lions, while the conspirators were consumed by them? Daniel explained to King Darius that the lions were unable to hurt him because he was found innocent in God’s sight, for he had never done anything to harm the king . The heavenly tribunal was the one whose decision truly counted: the Most High God holds the true power of life and death, not any earthly king. His experience in the lions’ den confirmed the basic truth that God is the judge. God had judged him “not guilty” and so he emerged from the lions’ den without a scratch. God had indeed answered his earlier prayers and showed him His mercy. Equally, the conspirators’ fate demonstrated that they had been judged and found guilty by God, not just the earthly king, confirming the justice of their sentence of death. This contrast is ironically highlighted when we compare Daniel’s address to the king from the pit with the king’s later edict. Using the forms of conventional politeness, Daniel began, O king, live forever . Yet Darius himself was forced to confess that the king who truly lives forever is the God of heaven, not the rulers of the earth [25-27]. In response to Daniel’s deliverance, King Darius issued a counter decree nullifying his original edict. In this decree he commanded fear and reverence for the God of Daniel, the living God who rescues and saves [26-27]. Of course, no one can enforce devotion to God by decree, anymore than anyone can crush it by decree, but the edict was nevertheless a tangible testimony of God’s work in convincing Darius of his existence and power. The Lord had once again brought the ruler of the mightiest of empires to acknowledge His greatness and power, as well as the fact that His kingdom would truly last forever. In the experiences of Daniel and his three friends, God demonstrated that He could keep His people safe in the midst of their enemies. Life in exile would never be easy, nor would it ever be home. However, through God’s faithfulness, it was possible for His people to survive the exile as strangers and aliens, serving the earthly empire in which they found themselves, even while they looked for another city that was yet to come [Heb. 13:14]. This is how Daniel 6 addresses us as well, for we too are strangers and aliens in this world. We should learn from Daniel’s experience that the world in which we live is a dangerous place. This world is not our home and never will be. Yet at the same time, we must also recognize that the enmity of the world can never hurt us beyond what the Lord permits. The Lord is our true judge: His verdict on us is the one that really counts. Therefore, in the midst of the greatest of trials and suffering, even when we are persecuted for the faith, we can have a peace that will astound the world, for the Lord holds even our oppressors in His hand, and says, “Thus far and no farther.” But does Daniel 6 really give us a realistic perspective on persecution and suffering? Isn’t it true that for every Daniel, whom God delivers from the lions’ den, there have been hundreds of nameless martyrs whom God did not deliver? Haven’t God’s faithful ones suffered terribly over the centuries, sometimes at the mouths of lions, or being burned alive in the fire? Aren’t believers still suffering terribly around the world today? Where is God in these situations? Were these believers less faithful to God or less important to Him than Daniel was? To answer these questions, we need to see that Daniel 6 provides something more than simply a model of how God deals with suffering believers, or how, like Daniel, we are supposed to stand firm under trials. Rather, Daniel 6 is a foreshadowing in history of the verdict that will be delivered on all believers on the final judgment day. Daniel endured the test of the lions’ den, emerging safely out the other side, because God judged him and found him not guilty; as a result, the lions, which acted as God’s agents of judgment, did not harm him. However, the unbelievers who plotted against Daniel were found guilty and crushed by God’s judgment. They and their families were sentenced to death in a foreshadowing of that final covenantal judgment. On the last day, all those who are in Adam will be declared guilty and will share their fate of destruction, while all those who are in Christ will be found not guilty and will share Christ’s glory and exaltation.” [Duguid, pp. 90-104].
Questions for Discussion:
1. Note how Daniel shows us how to live in the world but not of the world. Daniel faithfully served various kings and continued to be promoted to more powerful and responsible positions. But he always placed his devotion to God above any worldly power and wealth he received. How does Daniel show his devotion to God in this passage?
2. Continually in the life of Daniel we see how his faithfulness in the service of the kings cause others to be jealous of him. What did his enemies do in this passage to put an end to Daniel? How did his enemies use Daniel’s faithfulness to God to attempt to bring him down? Note what this says about the character of Daniel that the only thing his enemies could use against Daniel was his devotion to God. Is our commitment to constant prayer so obvious to everyone we meet? Are we willing to be known as a person of constant prayer?
3. Summarize Daniel’s faith and witness under the kings he has served. How have they responded to his God. Why? What do you learn from Daniel about how you are to serve your employers? Does your employer see your faithfulness to God in how you work and live? How can the way you act at work be a faithful witness to God both to your employer and to your fellow workers?
Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.
Daniel, Iain Duguid, REC, P&R Publishing.
The Message of Daniel, Ronald Wallace, Inter Varsity.
The Prophecy of Daniel , Edward J. Young, Eerdmans.