A Retelling of Daniel in the Lions’ Den
Daniel had become one of the top 3 administrators over the kingdom of Babylon but Daniel had a problem. He wasn’t a native Babylonian. He was Jewish. And those entrusted under his leadership had a problem with this. A big problem. It didn’t seem right that a Jew could be helping govern Babylon.
So the began plotting against him. They knew his steadfast devotion to God so they decided to use this against him. They came up with a plan to get rid of Daniel. Darius had recently been put in charge of Babylon after Belshazzars death, and in the newness of this moment, they convinced him that all of the people should pray only to him the next 30 days. Anyone who prayed to another god or another man should be thrown into the lions pit.
Darius signs the decree without much thought and then these officials under Daniel’s leadership went and waited like lions outside of his home. They waited for just the right moment when Daniel was on his knees in prayer so they could accuse him of breaking the new law before Darius. And as soon as Daniel prayed, they went straight to Darius to inform him of Daniel breaking the law.
And at this point in the story there was no getting out of what was next. Not even Darius could save Daniel from being thrown into the lions pit. SO, Darius goes with Daniel as he’s being hauled off to the pit and in his last words to Daniel tells him, “May the God you so faithfully serve rescue you.”
Daniel was thrown into the pit. A rock rolled over the opening, and the king’s and officials seals were placed on the rock. It would be hard to imagine what must have been going through Daniel’s mind in the moment but I’m sure he leaned on the same thing that he had always leaned on, prayer.
The next morning, Darius hurriedly goes to the pit to see what has happened to Daniel. Daniel! Has your God who you continually serve, rescued you? And Daniel’s reply? May the king live forever.
Daniel had been rescued and in this moment we have to stop and ask ourselves a question. What was it about God that Daniel thought praying to God was worth dying for? And not just dying, but dying a gruesome death. Fast forward all the way to the end of the book of Daniel. It’s written, that at the very end of time, those of us who choose God will rise from death and receive our inheritance. We’ll receive the kingdom. I think Daniel probably understood there could be no resurrection without death and he had come to terms with that.
In the end, God will have moved us from life to new life, and in the words of the Apostle Paul, to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting Daniel finds himself as one of King Darius’s most trusted advisors.
- Upper Level Officials – Propose a law to King Darius that anyone who prays to anyone other the King should be thrown into the lions den. Then like lions themselves, they waited to find Daniel vulnerable praying to God after the law went into affect so they could attack him. They were jealous of Daniel because he was one of the king’s most valued counselors.
- King Darius – Signs the proposed law into existence for the Medes and Persians but then has to reckon with throwing Daniel into the lions den after finding out Daniel had broken the law. The king tries to save Daniel but the officials hold him to the law, turning Daniel over to the authorities to be arrested and his punishment executed. He tells Daniel, “May your God who you faithfully serve rescue with you.” This kept Darius up all night, concerning him greatly. In the morning, after the king discovers that Daniel had been rescued by God, he ordered the officials, along with their wives and children, to be thrown into the den for maliciously accusing Daniel. He then sends out a proclamation that everyone should tremble before the God of Daniel because he is the living God whose kingdom will last forever.
- Daniel – who defies the law and prays to God anyway. The King comes to check on Daniel the following morning, asking, “Has your God saved you?” in which Daniel replies, “Long live the king!” Not a scratch was found on Daniel.
The Tension Daniel, even with the knowledge of knowing he could meet a terrible death, prays to God anyway. He understood that God was greater than even death itself. Daniel thought prayer to God was worth his life.
The Resolution Daniel does survive being thrown in the lions den, and not because of any human power he had to hold back lions, but because it was God who sent angels to hold back lions.
The Through Line When lions are at your door, pray anyway to the God who has ultimate power over death. Again, Daniel thought prayer was worth his life.
Why has this story endured? This story, along with many others in the book of Daniel, is a story of surviving and even thriving in a hostile world.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? The world is still hostile. I think like Daniel, we have to ask ourselves, what happens when we turn off all of the noise and listen to God? To live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
How does this story help us love God? God is the God of miracles and wonders. God performed a miracle for Daniel, but for the early church, the miracle were Christian’s being willing to love their enemies even as they were fed to lions. All of it points to something greater not yet, a creation to new creation story that unfolds throughout the arch of scripture.
How does this story help us love others? Sometimes loving others looks a lot like choosing to love God in the face of adversity, even when it’s going to cost you your life.