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5 So these men said, “We won’t find any fault in Daniel, unless we can find something to use against him from his religious practice” [Or in the Instruction of his God].
6 So these officers and chief administrators ganged together and went to the king. They said to him, “Long live King Darius! 7 All the officers of the kingdom, the ministers, the chief administrators, the royal associates, and the governors advise the king to issue an edict and enforce a law, that for thirty days anyone who says prayers to any god or human being except you, Your Majesty, will be thrown into a pit of lions. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the law and sign the document so that it cannot be changed, as per the law of Media and Persia, which cannot be annulled.” 9 Because of this, King Darius signed the document containing the law.
10 When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went to his house. Now his upper room had open windows that faced Jerusalem. Daniel knelt down, prayed, and praised his God three times that day, just like he always did. 11 Just then these men, all ganged together, came upon Daniel praying and seeking mercy from his God. 12 They then went and talked to the king about the law: “Your Majesty! Didn’t you sign a law, that for thirty days any person who prays to any god or human being besides you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into a pit of lions?”
The king replied, “The decision is absolutely firm in accordance with the law of Media and Persia, which cannot be annulled.”
13 So they said to the king, “One of the Judean exiles, Daniel, has ignored you, Your Majesty, as well as the law you signed. He says his prayers three times a day!”
14 When the king heard this report, he was very unhappy. He decided to rescue Daniel and did everything he could do to save Daniel before the sun went down. 15 But these men, all ganged together, came and said to the king, “You must realize, Your Majesty, that the law of Media and Persia, including every law and edict the king has issued, cannot be changed.”
16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and hurled him into the pit of lions.
The king said to Daniel: “Your God—the one you serve so consistently—will rescue you” [Or May your God—the one you serve so consistently—rescue you].
17 A single stone was brought and placed over the entrance to the pit. The king sealed it with his own ring and with those of his princes so that Daniel’s situation couldn’t be changed. 18 The king then went home to his palace and fasted through the night. No pleasures were brought to him, and he couldn’t sleep. 19 At dawn, at the first sign of light, the king rose and rushed to the lions’ pit.
20 As he approached it, he called out to Daniel, worried: “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God—the one you serve so consistently—able to rescue you from the lions?”
21 Then Daniel answered the king: “Long live the king! 22 My God sent his messenger, who shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t touched me because I was judged innocent before my God. I haven’t done anything wrong to you either, Your Majesty.”
23 The king was thrilled. He commanded that Daniel be brought up out of the pit, and Daniel was lifted out. Not a scratch was found on him, because he trusted in his God.
Chapter 6 of Daniel was set after Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians. (Daniel 5 described that, though not in ways that totally match the non-Biblical records historians know.) Again, the story’s main point was not to document details of Persian governance. It showed Daniel’s refusal to give up his loyalty to God even as he worked with (and faced harassment from) those who didn’t share his faith.
Dear God, the memory of Daniel’s unflinching allegiance to you has sustained your people through many hard times over the centuries. Help it to strengthen me to be faithful whatever kind of “lions” I may face. Amen.
That poor king. Can that be a thing? Is it even a little bit reasonable to feel bad for the king in this? After all, this king is the guy who made it a crime to pray to anyone but himself, and when Daniel chose to pray to God this king had him thrown into a pit of lions. How am I mustering any sympathy for this guy?
Well, sadly, because in this king I can see a little bit of myself. Before you begin to Google details about my kingdom (spoiler alert: I’m not a king). But this guy made a decision, made a rule and backed himself into a corner that he was too proud to step down from. And that I have done.
Not once, but more times than I like to admit, I have made a decision based on something I have “known,” and because of what I believed, I’ve made a rule, drawn a line in the sand and said, “This is how it’s going to be; this is right.” I would love to tell you that the one time I did that, it went well. I can’t tell you that, because it’s been many times and most of those times didn’t go well.
You see, just like it was so easy for the king, it’s easy for all of us to get caught up in rules, in semantics and old thinking, and find ourselves having taken a stand that was based on too little or inaccurate information. And suddenly, as we begin to learn more or see things a little differently, we realize that maybe our beliefs are a bit skewed. Maybe there is more to the story, maybe we don’t have all the facts straight, maybe, just maybe, we need to rethink our stand. Maybe we need to adjust our rules.
The king went along with the crowd. He listened to his advisors tell him that he deserved to be worshipped. I mean, honestly, if your peers tell you that you deserve to be worshipped, aren’t you going to agree? And suddenly, the momentum builds, and we are throwing someone to the lions. Just like the king and his cronies with Daniel, it’s often for something that doesn’t warrant quite that reaction. But here we are, we have made our stand, said our piece – how can we possibly turn back?
Well, hopefully, we look to Daniel. The guy sitting in a pit, scratching a lion behind the ears, patting the king of beasts, confident that his prayers have been heard. Trusting in God.
You see, the king missed the mark. He laid awake tossing and turning, unwilling to say, “I was wrong, I want to do things differently, I want to see things in a new way,” unwilling to ask God to help him do better. That poor king. He did what each of us has done. He dug in, he followed the crowd, and while he was agonizing in his castle, Daniel was confident in his God.
So how do we do better? How do we avoid getting caught up in the letter of the law and failing to be the people God called us to be?
I’m not sure I know. If it was easy, hopefully, I would quit doing it. But I do know this: when I’m making a decision, examining a situation, if I look at the people involved and think “How would I feel if these were my kids, my loved ones, my friends?” Suddenly, things are no longer black and white. My decisions aren’t made because someone nudged me into it.
My God, Daniel’s God, your God, is a God of grace. He doesn’t want us thrown into a pit. He wants to help us learn to love one another, to take a stand for inclusion, to be a force for good. I don’t know about you, but I think the king would have had a much better night if he had been willing to face his advisors and say “No, I won’t allow that, I was wrong and now I know better.” In fact, I bet if each of us was willing to occasionally say “I was wrong and now I know better,” we would rest a little better.
* NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 197796-197799). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** “Look to your fingers. Consider your thumb as your first time of prayer, when you awaken each morning….The next three fingers represent giving thanks at each mealtime. Your pinkie represents praying before you go to sleep at night.” (Hamilton, Adam. The Walk. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition, location 352-357.