The Lions’ Den (Dan 6:1-23)

The forbidden food, the difficult dream, the fiery furnace and the writing on the wall. If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks you will know that Daniel and his friends have had some amazing adventures and been through some sticky situations. It is the sixth century BC and Daniel and his Jewish companions are in exile in Babylon. Despite all the trials and trouble they’ve faced, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have survived. In fact, thanks to God, Daniel hasn’t simply survived, but thrived.

Distinguished Daniel!

Because as we join our story today, Daniel has just been appointed as one of the three most powerful people in the land. The new king, called Darius, has made Daniel one of his chief ministers, one of his top advisors, one of his right-hand men (v.2). In verse 3 we are told that even amongst his fellow high-flyers Daniel was “distinguished”.

In addition to his natural talents, Daniel was a man who loved God and sough to live the Lord’s way. Daniel prayed three times a day – and when he wasn’t praying, he conducted himself in a manner that honoured God. In verse 4 we’re told he was totally trustworthy and hardworking – not corrupt nor negligent.

Its clear that Daniel worshipped God not just in his prayers, but throughout his daily life. I hope we all try to do the same. Whether we are working at home, employed in an office, or volunteering in our community, I hope we all want to work hard, be honest and do our best. Like Daniel, let’s worship God with our whole lives, Monday to Friday, not just here in church on Sundays.

Daniel was so good at his work, that he attracted the attention of the king. We are told in verse 3 that king Darius wanted to make him his number one man – he was planning to make Daniel his Prime Minister, his most trusted advisor.

But not everyone was so keen on Daniel. Some of his fellow administrators were jealous of Daniel’s success and wanted him out of the way. And so they devised cunning plan to catch him out. In verses 6 to 9 of our passage we are told that they persuaded proud king Darius to pass a new law:

• A law that said no one could pray “to any god or man” except the king.
• A law that could not be changed.
• A law that said anyone who disobeyed would “be thrown into the lions’ den”.

How would Daniel respond to this deadly decree. Would this distinguished young man worship the king, or keep praying to the one true God?

Defiant Daniel!

The answer is that Daniel defied the king. Despite the new law he still prayed to his God: “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God,” just as he’d always done (v.10).

Daniel had resolved to do what was right, not what would keep him out of trouble. He had decided to defy the king rather than disobey his God. Like Daniel, I hope we will all have the courage to consistently obey God – even when the consequences may be costly to our popularity, our prosperity or our future prospects.

For Daniel, of course, the consequences were VERY costly. He had broken the unbreakable law, and had to be punished. Not even the King could cancel his decree (v.15). So Daniel was arrested and thrown into the lions’ den (v.16). It seemed that no one, not even the King, could stop him from shortly filling the stomach of a hungry lion! Surely distinguished Daniel’s luck must have run out. Stuck in a lion’s den, a stone sealed over the exit, and nowhere to run. Surely, it was about to be the end of Daniel?!

Daniel delivered!

But where the king failed to help, God succeeded – because he sent an angel to “shut the mouths of the lions” (v.22) and save his faithful servant Daniel. Our passage tells us that the king had a restless night and could not sleep. But Daniel in the den was at peace, protected by an angel of the Lord.

The following morning Daniel tells the delighted king Darius that he was delivered from death by God. Distinguished, defiant Daniel had been delivered by his Heavenly king.

As I finish this morning, there is no doubt that Daniel is a true hero. He is a man who knew God personally, a man who worshipped God with his daily life as well as with his lips. Someone we should all look up to. But we shouldn’t stop there, because Daniel’s life also points us to a man who came 600 years after he was born. Because Daniel’s life points us to Christ, a man even more distinguished than him.

i) Like Daniel, Jesus was totally obedient to God. He always did what was right, whatever the cost. In obedience to his Heavenly Father, he was willing to defy the religious and political elites of his day.

ii) Like Daniel, Jesus’ words and deeds provoked a mixed response. Crowds loved him, and so did his disciples, but he also provoked envy, jealousy and misunderstanding by the scribes and Pharisees of his day.

iii) Like Daniel, Jesus was also unfairly arrested and condemned. He too was sentenced to execution and left for dead in a stone cold tomb.

But wonderfully, like Daniel, Jesus was also delivered from death by divine intervention. His obedience and faith was vindicated by his Heavenly Father, just as Daniel’s was. So when the stone was rolled back on the first Easter morning Jesus too was found alive. By God’s grace he too had defeated death, paid the penalty for our sin and is now alive for evermore!

So as impressive and distinguished as Daniel is, Jesus is even more magnificent. He is the One worth trusting, knowing and following forever. Jesus alone can deliver us from the snares of death and give us life forever in his father’s kingdom.

In our Bible story today, King Darius rejoiced to see Daniel alive. As Christians, how much more should we celebrate to know that Jesus is alive!

Phil Weston