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The Lions’ Den

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6.16-23.

Who does not know the story of Daniel in the lion’s den? However, there is one aspect of it that almost all of us get wrong. We generally see Daniel as a young man, but we forget that this incident takes place in 538 BC, not long after Cyrus the Great has conquered Babylonia and placed Darius the Mede in charge of the province. By then, Daniel has already been in Babylon for 67 years, occupying top government posts under Nebuchadrezzar and Balshazzer. His deportation to Babylon from Jerusalem had taken place in 605 BC when he was just a “young man” of about eighteen. So now, when he is being dropped into the lions’ den, he is about 83 years old!

Is that important? Only that it is surely a matter of wonder that, after 67 years in exile, living among foreigners who worshiped other gods, Daniel had remained devoted, faithful and unswerving in his worship of (and witness to) the one true God. Those who were jealous of Daniel and the respect in which he was held by Darius had sought to “dig the dirt” on him, but “they could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6.4). So instead they had persuaded Darius to decree that, for a month, no one should pray to anyone except Darius himself. Why? Because they knew that Daniel went to his windows that faced Jerusalem and prayed there to his God three times every day and that he was not likely to stop doing so in the face of Darius’s decree. They were correct. Daniel continued to get down on his (arthritic?) knees morning, noon and night, just as he always did (Daniel 6.10); and his enemies had him where they wanted him.

So Daniel faces execution and there is nothing Darius can do to save him … except to express the forlorn hope that the God whom Daniel “serves continually” will rescue him. Or perhaps it is not so forlorn? Unless the hope has some real substance, why would Darius be off to the lions’ den at the crack of dawn to ask Daniel if he is still alive? No one ever comes out alive, so why would Daniel? Because, presumably, Daniel’s faith has continued to burn so strongly and steadily throughout that Darius himself has caught some of it. And how amply it is repaid as from the bottom of the pit Daniel shouts “God save the king!”

“God sent an angel who shut the mouths of the lions,” Daniel tells Darius. Is that what Daniel had prayed for? He would know his psalms and perhaps he had prayed Psalm 22 as he was about to be thrown into the den. “But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions” (Psalm 22.19-21). If so, his prayer had been answered.

But it is interesting that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews sees the story a little differently. In his great roll-call of the people of faith in chapter 11, and with a clear reference to Daniel, he speaks of those “who through faith … shut the mouths of lions” (Hebrews 11.43). Daniel says it was because of his “innocence” that an angel shut the mouths of the lions; the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says it was through faith that Daniel shut their mouths.

And faith like that is God-given. We don’t need to “work it up”. My own testimony is that when such faith is needed it is supplied. A few years ago, for instance, I found myself in such financial difficulties that I faced certain bankruptcy and the loss of our home and everything we have. I could see no way out at all. The lions were hungry and I was going to them! But God gave me the faith to believe that he would deliver me and, miraculously, he did. I came out of the den not only “with no wound found on me” but more “healthy” financially than I had been before the troubles started.

I know with Daniel that God is a “living God” and I know too that he can still rescue his people from the lions.

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