Reader: “He prayed three times a day,”
Response: “just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.”
Scripture: Daniel 6:1-28
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.
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. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”
So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.
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. Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”
“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”
Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”
Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.
In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”
So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”
A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.
Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “Long live the king! 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. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”
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.
Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den.
Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world:
“Peace and prosperity to you!
“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel.
For he is the living God,
and he will endure forever.
His kingdom will never be destroyed,
and his rule will never end.
He rescues and saves his people;
he performs miraculous signs and wonders
in the heavens and on earth.
He has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
After Shadrach, Meshach and Abdnego yesterday, how could we not do the story of Daniel in the lion’s den today? But there are more reasons as we’ll see. By this time in his life, Daniel was between eighty and eighty-five years old. He was serving his third king, Darius the Mede. As a young man he had served Nebuchadnezzar and then Belshazzar and now Darius. (Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian may have been two names for the same person or they could have been two different men ruling in the Medo-Persian empire.) Daniel served them all with great distinction and a vibrant testimony to the living God. In all those years in a foreign and pagan culture, Daniel did not get pushed off course in his faith and devotion to God. He served with honor in the leader’s eyes of that world, without absorbing the surrounding culture, a model for us.
There are similarities and differences in the stories of the Three in the furnace and Daniel in the den. Both were subjects of great jealousy and violent wicked plots to end their lives in torturous ways through fooling gullible kings with bogus laws. In both instances the question posed by the kings was, “Is your God able to save you?” The power of God was in question. While there is no record the either king embraced the living God as the sole god, they nevertheless proclaimed protection for the Hebrew God and uttered words of praise.
It is interesting the administrators and high officials saw Daniel’s religion as having rules that needed to be followed. Daniel’s daily prayer was not a matter of following rules, but rather, living out a communion with his God. So when he heard of the decree to pray only to the king, naturally, Daniel would not do so as his allegiance was not to Darius, but to YHWH. The Three had the very same reason not to bow to the golden image. Like in the earlier story, the evil perpetrators waited for their moment and reported the violations to the king. Then there were the arrests, one to the furnace and one to the den of lions.
This is Eastertide. You might be asking, why these stories from the book of Daniel? Both are shadow types of the resurrection. Think how Jesus’ situation parallels these stories. Both the furnace and the den were a type of tomb. Innocent men were falsely condemned and sentenced to violent painful deaths. All the victims were steadfast in their ultimate trust in God. In Daniel’s case, he was thrown into the den which was then sealed with the king’s seal and the administrator’s seal in the same manner that Jesus’ tomb was secured with Caesar’s seal. Like Pilate’s wife (Mt.27:19), both kings had trouble sleeping the night. Like Pilate, both kings knew of the victim’s innocence. In fact, the words of Darius are strikingly similar to Pilates’. Darius “tried to think of a way to save Daniel.” In Luke’s words, “Pilate tried to release him, but . . .” Like Jesus, the four Old Testament men were delivered victorious from their “tombs.” What was to be certain death was miraculously averted by the power of God’s intervention. And both Nebuchadnezar and Darius referred to the God of the Jews as the “living God” in contrast to their dead idols. Further, in Daniel’s case, the betrayers, like Judas, received a deadly sentence for their evil plans. On a passing note, the ruling Gentile powers pronounced death to the persecuted Jewish subjects. There is one massive difference between the four death-sentenced Jews and Jesus. All four were spared death in their “resurrection.” Jesus was not spared death but died conquering death once for all in achieving his and our resurrection.
In these famous First Testament stories of Jewish history we have precursors to the New Testament resurrection of Jesus and what is to us, the certainty of our own resurrection. The Lion from the tribe of Judah is the one who has rescued us from the fires of hell and tomb of death. Hallelujah!
Music: “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” arr. Hogan Nathaniel Dett Chorale
Prayer: O Lord, give us grace, we beseech Thee, to hear and obey Thy voice which saith to every one of us, “This the way, walk ye in it.” Nevertheless, let us not hear it behind us saying, “This is the way;” but rather before us saying, “Follow me.” When Thou puttest us forth, go before us; when the way is too great for us, carry us; in the darkness of death, comfort us; in the day of resurrection, satisfy us.This I pray in the name of Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign, one God, world without end. Amen. ―Book of Uncommon Prayer, Christina Rossetti, p.127