Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Faith in the Lions' Den

Part 6 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 6:1-28




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!” (v. 16). 


God to the Rescue

The theme of the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. “In spite of present appearances, God is in control.” [1] If God is in control, do that mean that God always will rescue his people? No, God doesn't always rescue us. Sometimes we feel like the psalmist when he wrote, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1).

But sometimes God does rescue his people. Daniel 6 tells the story—a very famous story—of a man who was rescued by God.


Daniel Gets into Trouble

At the end of chapter 5, Babylon was defeated by the Persians (with the help of the Medes). Now “Darius the Mede” (5:31) rules over Babylon. [2] And Daniel—who is now over 80 years old—becomes one of Darius’s favourite people. Darius likes Daniel so much that he plans to “set [Daniel] over the whole kingdom” (v. 3). This causes the other government leaders to become jealous of Daniel—so jealous that they want to get rid of him somehow.

Daniel’s enemies try to dig up some dirt on Daniel. But they (unlike the enemies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton) can’t find any dirt on Daniel. Finally they say, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (v. 5). What an incredible testimony to have!

So Daniel’s enemies trick the king into making a law that they think Daniel won’t obey: “Whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions” (v. 7). What does Daniel do? Does he stop praying to God? No, he continued to pray like he had prayed before—three times a day. [3] After his enemies spy him praying, they report Daniel’s disobedience to the king. Darius realizes that he’s been tricked, but the law can’t be changed. [4] So Daniel is cast into the lions’ den (v. 16).


The Den Was Not the End

If you rearrange the letters of “den,” you can spell “end.” But the den of lions was not the end for Daniel. The king yells to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” (v. 16). And that’s what God did. After a sleepless night, Darius rushes to the lions’ den to see if he’s still alive. [5] He calls to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (v. 20). Daniel answers, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me” (v. 22).

The story of Daniel and the lions’ den is very similar to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. God is able to rescue us from any danger, but he isn’t obligated to rescue us (“But if not,” 3:18). Biblical faith is not confidence in what I think should happen; it’s confidence in God. We are to trust God and do what is right no matter what the outcome might be.


A Rescue for All of Us! 

“For every Daniel, whom God delivers from the lions’ den, there are hundreds of nameless martyrs whom God did not deliver.” [6] When a rescue doesn’t come for us, we can identify with Jesus. He prayed to be rescued from the cross: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). But he still died.

There are many similarities between Daniel and Jesus. Both Daniel and Jesus had jealous enemies who conspired to have them killed. Both Daniel and Jesus were arrested while at prayer in a private location. Pilate, like Darius did for Daniel, worked for the release of Jesus. But in the end, both Daniel and Jesus were turned over to be executed. Both Daniel and Jesus were put inside a sealed pit. The big difference between the two is that Daniel emerged from the lions’ den without a scratch, while Jesus was dead when his body went into the tomb. The superiority of Jesus over Daniel is that, though Jesus died, he emerged from the tomb alive!

Daniel’s rescue foreshadowed a greater rescue to come—a rescue from the consequences of our sins through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not rescued so that you and I could be rescued!

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[1] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 19.
[2] Skeptics try to discredit the Bible by saying that there is no historical record of “Darius the Mede.” But remember that for many years people said the same thing about Belshazzar.
[3] Does this mean that people who live in a place where it’s illegal to practice Christianity should pray in public? No, description is not necessarily prescription.
[4] According to “the law of the Medes and the Persians” the injunction could not be revoked (v. 8). 
[5] It’s ironic that Darius was the one who had trouble sleeping that night.
[6] Iain M. Duguid, Daniel, 102.
[7] The Jesus Storybook Bible says, “God would keep on rescuing his people. And the time was coming when God would send another brave Hero, like Daniel, who would love God and do what God said—whatever it cost him, even if it meant he would die. And together they would pull off the Greatest Rescue the world has ever known” (159).