Sunday November 10th 2019
Pastor Galen Zook
Daniel and the Lion’s Den
The story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den is one of the favorite and most-loved children’s Bible stories of all time.
Daniel was a Jewish man who became one of the top leaders in Babylon and was favored by the king. He was a man of such honesty and integrity that the only fault his rivals could find with him was that he was so religious.
His rivals, who wanted to see his downfall, went to the king and recommended that the king make it illegal for anyone to pray to anyone other than the king for thirty days. But Daniel was a man of such great faith and courage that he knelt in front of his open window three times a day to pray before the God of heaven – despite the fact that the punishment for doing so was to be thrown into a den of lions.
Sure enough, his rivals came and caught him in the act of praying, and although the king did not want to follow through on the punishment because of his love for Daniel, he had to do so because the law could not be changed. And so Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions.
The king paced back and forth all night. He couldn’t eat or sleep, and in the morning, he rushed to the opening of the lion’s den and peered inside and called out to Daniel. Sure enough, Daniel was alive, unhurt, unscathed, and uneaten by the lions. An angel of the Lord had shut the mouths of the lions and they did not even touch him.
Daniel was brought out, and the king threw Daniel’s enemies into the lion’s den instead, and before their bodies even hit the ground they were torn to shreds by the ravenously hungry lions.
Then the king sent out a royal proclamation to the whole kingdom, saying that everyone should “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions” (Dan. 6:26-27).
This is an amazing story of God’s faithfulness and of God’s ability to protect us even in the midst of the most dangerous circumstances we might face in life. We should stand in awe of God’s power and might, as the king proclaimed.
What’s also rather amazing is the boldness, courage, and faith of Daniel, that he would resist the law of the king, and continue steadfastly practicing his faith even when it became illegal to do so.
Overview of Daniel’s Life
Although we often think of Daniel as a young man when he was thrown into the lion’s den, the reality is that Daniel had been faithfully serving in the king’s court for many many years before he was thrown into the den of lions. In fact, it’s estimated that Daniel would have been over 80 years old at the time of this story! Daniel’s faith was not the faith of a brash young man. Rather, his was a deeply profound and mature faith that had slowly deepened and developed over many years of faithfully living for the Lord.
Also interesting to note is that Daniel was not a religious leader. He was not a prophet or a priest, although he did have prophetic gifts. Daniel was a bureaucrat, a politician in a secular government. And he not only served through multiple administrations, but he served even through various regime changes and government takeovers. He served under King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Darius the Mede, and King Cyrus of Persia. Throughout every revolt and change in government, Daniel continued to rise to the top and gain favor with each new king, something that is rather remarkable in and of itself.
But throughout all of this, Daniel never compromised or neglected his faith in God, despite the fact that he often faced pressures to abandon his faith or conform to the secular culture around him.
How did Daniel gain such confidence, boldness, and courage, that he would remain steadfast in his faith, despite such extreme external pressures? And what might we learn from Daniel’s story?
The First Test — Food
Well for Daniel, it all started way back when he was a young man and was first brought to Babylon.
When Daniel was probably still a teenager, Daniel and several close friends of his were taken captive against their will from the city of Jerusalem, along with all the best and brightest of the land of Israel. According to Daniel chapter 1, he and all of the other young men who were taken captive into Babylon were handsome and smart and of royal lineage.
Although it was not their choice to go to Babylon, when they arrived in Babylon they were given royal treatment. They were housed in the palace, and given food to eat from the king’s table. They were enrolled in a three-year intensive leadership training program where they were educated in the language and literature of the Chaldeans, with the intention that at the end of the program they would be given positions in the king’s court.
Daniel and his friends were already highly educated and had showed much leadership potential, but the opportunity afforded them in Babylon was a world-class education by top-notch scholars and professionals. And they seemed to enter in wholeheartedly.
There was one aspect of the program, however, in which they refused to participate, and that is that they refused to eat the meat and drink the wine that was offered to them from the king’s table. Instead they asked to be served a vegetarian diet instead.
Now this may seem like an odd thing to do. They had been taken far away from their homeland, taken captive against their will, forced to relocate and be reeducated, to learn a new language, even given new names. Why would they refuse to eat the rich and wonderful food that was provided for them?
While we don’t know exactly why Daniel and his friends refused to eat the meat that was offered to them, there are several possibilities. Perhaps it wasn’t “kosher” meat. The meat offered to them might have been pork or shellfish, or some other kind of meat that was prohibited for the Jewish people to eat according to the book of Leviticus (Lev. 11).
Perhaps it was meat that had first been offered to idols, something we see come up as an issue in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 10:28).
But whatever the reason, Daniel and his three friends decided that this was one area in which they were not willing to compromise. Daniel went to the palace master to ask that an exception be made for him and his friends, but the palace master declined out of fear of the king.
But Daniel didn’t give up. He went to the palace guard, who was under the authority of the palace master, and he asked the guard to test him and his friends for ten days by giving them a diet of vegetables and water, and then comparing them to the other young men in the program. The palace guard complied, and sure enough, after ten days Daniel and his three friends were healthier than all of the other young men who had consumed the meat and wine given to them by the king.
Now although this may have seemed like an insignificant matter, and even though no one back home would have ever known if Daniel and his friends had eaten the forbidden foods, I want to propose that taking this stand, and refusing to eat the food that was offered to them by the king was a critical juncture in the faith lives of Daniel and his friends. If they had given in and partaken of the food and wine that was offered to them, then it would have been easy for them to continue to compromise and give in, little by little to assimilate and to lower their standards, until eventually not only their unique culture and way of life, but their whole religious identity would have been wiped away altogether. If they had given in and compromised on the issue of food, then it would have been harder to take a stand later on when they were asked to bow to a golden image, or pray to the king.
Taking a stand on the relatively insignificant issue of food, helped Daniel and his friends grow in their faith and courage, their conviction, and their trust in God. It helped set them up well for the battles that they would face later on in life when the stakes were much higher and when the press to compromise and assimilate was even stronger.
The Testing of Their Faith
And sure enough, in the book of Daniel, we see Daniel and his friends face multiple battles. Daniel is forced to interpret the king’s dream, upon pain of death, in chapter 2. (The interpretation included telling the king rather bad news about his kingdom. And no one wants to be the bearer of bad news to a king who is already angry!)
In Daniel chapter 3, Daniel’s 3 friends refuse to bow to the king’s golden statue, and they are thrown into a fiery furnace, but God protects them and brings them out safe and sound. Daniel is asked to interpret writing that miraculously appeared on a wall, which turns out to be a prophecy of destruction in chapter 5. And then of course in Daniel 6, Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den because he refused to discontinue praying to the God of Heaven.
In each of these occurrences, Daniel and his friends refused to bow to pressure or take the easy way out. They stood for what was right, they spoke the truth, even though it could have cost them their lives. In each situation, they maintained their integrity, and they grew wiser, more full of faith, and more secure in God’s ability to protect and provide for them.
Dare to Be a Daniel
So often we look at the heroes of our faith, men and women who acted with courage and bravery, and we rightly aspire to be like them. But we wonder if would be able to act so heroically, if we were called upon to do so? Would we be willing to stare death in the face, and would we be able to rise to the occasion and do something so magnificent?
But what we often don’t realize is that faith so often grows incrementally. Often faith starts small, but the more we exercise our faith, even in seemingly insignificant ways, or when no one else is watching, the more our faith is stretched, the stronger it gets.
On the other hand, just as muscles atrophy when they are not used, so our faith withers when we constantly push aside our convictions in favor of what’s easier, or more comfortable, or less likely to make us stand out. The more we give in and compromise, the more our faith becomes shallow or even nonexistent.
And so if we aspire to be like Daniel and his three friends, then we don’t need to wait until we are faced with a fiery furnace or a den of ravishingly hungry lions to act heroically. We can take a stand here and now, in large and in small ways, by speaking the truth, even when it feels costly. By refusing to give in to negative peer pressure. By faithfully and humbly praying and living out our faith, even when no one else seems to be watching.
Let us take a stand for God, in large and in small ways. With God’s help, let us seek to be people of honesty and integrity even in the small things, so that we can have the strength and courage to do great things if and when we are called upon to do so. Let us exercise our faith on a daily basis, so that our faith muscles do not grow weak. And let us look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).