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Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire. - Daniel 6:1-3 (NLT)
The story of Daniel and the lion's den is well known. It’s a classic! It’s a tale most people have heard of but may never have actually read. The story is found in Daniel 6, and that’s where we will be camping out this week.
Understanding the setting is key. Daniel was taken into captivity as a young teenager with the rest of the exiled Israelites. Under Babylonian rule, he and his buddies—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—made a vow to be faithful to their God while living in a pagan empire, but none of them was more successful than Daniel. By chapter 6, he had been faithfully serving in the royal government for almost 70 years. (Yeah, Daniel was an old man when he was going toe-to-toe with those lions!) In fact, over those decades, he rose to become second-in-command over one of the most powerful empires on Earth.
The text tells us Daniel had “great ability” and became “distinguished above all the other officers.” Clearly how Daniel approached his work stood out from the crowd. This wasn’t anything new, though; Daniel had been excelling his whole career (Dan 1:4, 17, 20, 2:14, 5:12). His strong integrity, prayerful approach, and diligent work ethic not only served him well but spoke volumes to those in the royal government around him.
Daniel’s name in Hebrew means “God is my judge.” And Daniel lived a life that shouted that truth. He knew that ultimately he would have to give an account to God for how he lived his life—not to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Belshazzar, not to Darius.
In other words, his life was centered on God. It was built on God. And his way of looking at the world was drenched with God. If what God thinks matters most, then you consult Him most. This came out in the way Daniel ate, the way he interpreted dreams, the way he worked, and the way he prayed. His motto was this: “What God thinks and what God does matters more than what anybody else in the world thinks or does.”
Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. - Daniel 6:4-5 (NLT)
We are in an election year, and there’s an unfortunate side of politics that we see way too often. “Opposition research” is the practice of collecting information on a political opponent that can be used to discredit or otherwise weaken them. Daniel’s adversaries try this on him. They check his mail, his financial records, hack his cell-phone, and put him under surveillance… but to their surprise, there was no “dirt” to be found. Daniel had impeccable character.
So they concoct a plan and trick King Darius into signing a decree forbidding prayer to any god or any person except him. Daniel was known for his time spent in prayer to his God, so when prayer was outlawed, he was easy to find. His fate? Being thrown into the den of lions!
“Thrown in the den of lions…” That’s code for the death penalty. They didn’t have electric chairs or lethal injections back then. Previously, under the Babylonians, criminals were executed in a furnace of fire. (Daniel 3:6) The Medes and the Persians, however, worshipped a fire-god, so they refused to execute criminals in the same way they offered sacrifices. Their alternative? Pits filled with half-starved lions.
This isn’t the first time Daniel or some of his friends have refused to bow down to a king. We can learn a lot from their example. Whether we face a fiery furnace or roaring lions, we are in God’s care, and He will work it out for His divine purposes, for His glory!
Hundreds of years later when Peter is writing to encourage suffering Christians, look at what language he decides to use: “[Your faith] is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold.” (1 Peter 1:6–8, NLT) “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through.” (1 Peter 4:12–19, NLT) “[Your enemy] prowls around like a roaring lion… stand firm... and be strong in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8–10, NLT)
Who knows what trial or furnace your faith may be tested in? Deciding now what you will do is the first step to being a person of integrity—deciding now so you don’t have to try and figure it out in the moment. My dad used to tell my brother and I, “Doing the right thing will always cost you something… but it’s always worth it.” Don’t compromise to avoid your faith costing you something.
But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. - Daniel 6:10 (NLT)
There are two phrases that jump out to me in verse 10: “knelt down as usual” and “just as he had always done.” I love that about Daniel!
He was a man of prayer. Not an occasional “pray-when-I-think-about-it” kind of guy, but a consistently devout man of prayer. He prayed every day, three times a day, in the same way, at the same time, and he’d been doing that for his entire life!
Why does Daniel pray toward Jerusalem? Hundreds of years before this event, Solomon advised the Israelites that a day might come when they would find themselves captives in a foreign land. Then the people were to pray to God toward the land, toward the city He had chosen. (1 Kings 8:28–51 and Jeremiah 29:4–7) The exiled Jews no longer had a temple or priesthood, so their prayer was for God to keep His promise and deliver them.
“You pray either towards Jerusalem or Babylon,” says Scottish theologian P.T. Forsythe. “Most of the world begins the day looking toward the world and hoping to get something from it; the Christian looks to the Lord and His promises, entering each day by faith.” The most important part of a believer’s life is the part that only God sees, our daily time of prayer with Him.
Daniel was disciplined. When you see discipline, usually integrity is close by. You rarely find one without the other. This crisis didn’t create the depth in Daniel’s life, it revealed it; and that’s often the way it works. Daniel had walked with the Lord for more than 80 years and knew that His God wouldn’t fail him.
Gary Black, our resident “mathematician” here at Southland, did some math on the whole “praying three times a day for 80 years” thing, and it really is quite extraordinary. If Daniel prayed 3 times a day for 80 years, he would’ve prayed 29,200 times! No wonder that when he heard the king’s decree, he simply went back to his room and started praying. It’s pretty hard to break a habit that you’ve done more than 29,000 times.
Daniel could have compromised and found excuses, but a man like Daniel feared only the Lord, and when you fear the Lord, you need not fear anyone else. That makes any worldly suffering or reward pale in comparison.
“My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight…” The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God. - Daniel 6:22-23 (NLT)
King Darius made every effort to reverse Daniel’s fate. He obviously valued Daniel’s friendship and leadership. His final words to Daniel were hoping that Daniel’s God could somehow save him. And that’s exactly what happened!
So how did Daniel have such peace and courage in the face of death? Answer: He knew God’s track record and he trusted Him. Hadn’t God helped him stand true during his time of training? (Daniel 1) Didn’t God save his life by giving him the wisdom to interpret the king’s dream? (Daniel 2 and 4) Didn’t God deliver his three friends out of the fiery furnace? (Daniel 3)
As an Israelite boy, Daniel had heard the stories of God’s great protecting hand, from Noah to Moses to David. In his adult years, he experienced God’s protection firsthand. Now an older man, Daniel could look back and see God’s guidance in his own life as he had been brought to this high calling. Why would the same God who had sustained him to this point fail him now?
Scripture tells us that Daniel had a copy of Jeremiah’s prophecy with him (Daniel 9:2), so he had read many times, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, ESV)
Daniel’s strong character and convictions came from knowing God’s Word. He meditated on it, memorized it, and let the truth about God pervade every aspect of his life. Having strong moral and ethical principles and remaining steadfast even when it’s not easy or popular became his calling card.
In the wise words of Gary Black, “There’s always a way to compromise for those who want to compromise… but there’s also a way to obey God for those who want to obey.”
Yet, have you ever thought, “What if God didn’t protect Daniel?” Would Daniel have been any worse off? If God had used that moment to bring his faithful believer home and chosen another to proclaim his power to the Persians, Daniel’s eternal fate would have been the same.
The greatest miracle in this story of Daniel is not an angel who shut the mouths of lions, but the strengthening of Daniel’s faith to face certain death in order to proclaim the Lord’s name. May God grant that same faith to us as we face the ridicule, the persecution, and the temptations of this world.
Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world... - Daniel 6:25 (NLT)
King Darius was impressed! He jumped for joy when he saw Daniel alive. First, he had the guys who plotted against Daniel arrested and fed them to the lions instead. This reminds me of Proverbs 28:10: “Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit...” (ESV) Then, Darius put out a pretty extraordinary press release: “Daniel’s God is THE God! Everyone in the kingdom should worship Him!”
Imagine the excitement in the city as news spread about Daniel spending the night in the lion’s den and coming out without a scratch. Here’s the kicker: God could have prevented Daniel from ever going into the lion’s den, but by allowing him to go in and bringing him out, God received greater honor!
Too often, we avoid opportunities like this as much as possible. We do everything we can to dodge undesirable situations or moments where our faith could be tested. But when we do that, we are short-changing God.
Closing thought: God sometimes does His best work through people who aren’t professional clergy. Daniel was a businessman, a manager, a politician… not a priest. He didn’t go to Bible college. He wasn’t ordained. He had a secular education and worked in the public sector. But for over 70 years, he became God’s primary tool for communicating and modeling biblical truth.
Don’t you think He can do the same in your life? Don’t compromise to avoid your faith costing you something. Stand firm, trust God, and be a person of integrity.
This week, we’ve seen a great example of integrity in Daniel. But his story points us to the ultimate example of integrity—Jesus. Jesus’ integrity has huge implications for your life. He’s not just a good model for you; His death and resurrection actually provide salvation for you! Spend time today thanking Him for that!Share Tweet