Daniel and the lion’s den is perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved stories in the Bible. King Darius made a decree that no one was to make a petition to any god or man for thirty days except to him. For thirty days Daniel would need to abandon his customary practice of praying thrice daily before his open window in the direction of Jerusalem, or else be thrown into the den of lions. For thirty days! “Well,” we say, “that’s not too bad.” It isn’t as if he had to bow down to an idol as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were required to do. All he had to do was stop praying openly for one month. He could close his window so his prayers would not be seen or, better yet, pray in bed at night. He could let his devotions slide for a month. After all, there are many so-called Christians today who probably allow a month or more to slide by without any significant devotions.
We may think like that. Doubtless many do. But not Daniel! Instead we read that “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.”
I like those last words: “as he had done previously.” This was a pattern with Daniel. The outside world may have been changing, but God had not changed and Daniel was not going to allow his relationship to God to change regardless of the shifting circumstances.
I want you to see two things about Daniel: First, Daniel was the smallest of all possible minorities at this time – a minority of one – but although he was only one man among many hostile enemies, he was the one man who knew the true state of affairs in this struggle.
At this time Daniel probably did not even have the support of his three friends. Either they had been transferred to other parts of the empire or they had died; Daniel was now elderly. Here was one man standing alone in the midst of an utterly pagan culture. All were against him. Any who knew his convictions would have laughed at them. Yet in all this vast empire Daniel was the one man who really had it together. He knew that there was a true God, and he knew who that true God was. He knew that God was powerful. He knew that God could deliver him, if He chose to do so. Above all, he knew that obeying and serving the one true God had to be the supreme goal in his life.
That leads to the second important thing about Daniel, namely, what he knew he practiced openly. Some people maintain their belief in God privately and confess Him if asked. But they do not want to offend anyone. They do not want to be seen as religious. So they back off. They retreat. They privatize their convictions. Daniel did not do that, and in this he showed true greatness.
We need more Daniels. We need more people who are willing to bring their awareness of God and His laws off the reservation, who are willing to open their windows and honor Him before a watching world.
The end of this story is the least interesting part, because we know it already. Darius did not want to see Daniel killed. So he tried to find means to escape the force of the unchangeable edict, to no avail. The law had to be enforced. So at last the king had Daniel thrown to the lions, calling out, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
The king could not sleep, he thrashed about, & very early in the morning he rushed to the lions’ den to see what had become of his most influential administrator. “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
What kind of answer do you think Darius was expecting? “Grrr” from the lions? I do not know. But I do know that the lions were silent. God had shut their mouths. So when Daniel spoke he was heard clearly. “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and the lion’s 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.” The king had Daniel drawn from the den. He had the conspirators and their families thrown into it. Then he issued a decree with which the story ends:
“For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 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.”
We must say in all honesty that God does not always rescue His servants in this fashion. Hebrews speaks of those who by faith “shut the mouths of lions.” But immediately after that the book also speaks of those who “were tortured and refused to be released … faced jeers and flogging … were stoned … were sawed in two … were put to death by the sword.”
God calls some to win by living. Others are called to win by dying. But in life or death God rules and we are called to serve him. Will we do it? The world needs those who know God and who will live for his righteousness even when the entire culture turns ferociously against it. God is God – practice His presence.