Plot against Daniel
6 Darius decided to appoint one hundred twenty chief administrators throughout the kingdom, 2 and to set over them three main officers to whom they would report so that the king wouldn’t have to be bothered with too much. One of these main officers was Daniel. 3 Because of his extraordinary spirit, Daniel soon surpassed the other officers and the chief administrators—so much so that the king had plans to set him over the entire kingdom. 4 As a result, the other officers and the chief administrators tried to find some problem with Daniel’s work for the kingdom. But they couldn’t find any problem or corruption at all because Daniel was trustworthy. He wasn’t guilty of any negligence or corruption.
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.”
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.”
Daniel in the lions’ pit
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.”
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.
Thoughts on the passage:
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, famously wrote, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” When I hear this quote and think about the story of Daniel I don’t wonder if we are facing such a danger today because like Daniel we are living in a conquered land, but unlike Daniel, we lack the power of our faith and have become a dead sect.
At a basic level, the story of Daniel is about trusting in God. Daniel has faith in God and his faith is able to protect him in the lion’s den. When we teach this story in Sunday school, this is the message that we try to get across to the children. We want them to know that even in scary times and hard places, God will be with them. This message holds power for us too. We also need to know that God will be with us in the dark places and the lion’s dens of our lives.
The fact is that there is a lot more to this story than this just this simple message. The story of Daniel is just about having faith in God, but it is also about the challenges of living as a conquered people in a foreign land. The story teaches us about the challenges of staying true to our faith in the midst of great pressures and even threats of death. In Daniel’s story we see an example of how to resist the pressures to conform to society at large and instead remain faithful and true to God, even if it means dying for our beliefs.
I think there are two reasons that we do not go into more detail about the story of Daniel. The first is that we are members of the predominant culture here in the United States. We do not find it easy to associate with and identify with the plight of Daniel, who has been taken from his homeland, stripped of his identity, and now is being forced to give up his faith as well. His experiences seem very different than ours and we are not sure how to relate. The second is that Daniel’s choices are scary and daunting. He makes a choice to risk death for his beliefs, continuing to pray even when he knows it is against the law and making no effort to keep his actions secret or defend them when accused. He is willing to die rather than betray his faith, and we are not sure we are ready to pay that price.
I suspect that we all would agree that we are supposed to be followers of Jesus and to do what he asks. Yet, how many of us are really ready to sell everything we have, leave our families behind, and follow Jesus wherever he leads us? Put in those terms, claiming to be a Christian, a follower of Christ, gets a little more daunting. Again, if asked most of us would agree that God is important, if not central to our lives, and yet how many of us would willingly face death to practice our faith. If a law was passed tomorrow that made it an offense punishable by death to go to worship on Sundays, would you be here next week? I know the answer I should be ready to give, but I am not sure what I would do if that actually happened.
Thankfully, we do not live a society that forces these stark choices on us, but I think that is actually the danger. Daniel lived in a time when his faith was facing a real, direct, and obvious threat. People in Babylon were seeking to destroy the culture and faith of the Israelites. They did it by forcing them to take new names, Daniel was known as Belteshazzar. They were removed from their homeland and scattered across the empire. Laws were erected to keep them from praying to God. All of these actions were a direct assault on their culture, identity, and faith. We do not face those same challenges.
I would posit however, that our faith is under-assault. I am not sure that I am willing to call the United States and our culture a foreign power, but it certainly has a corrupting influence on what it means to be Christian. I would be willing to say that if anything we live in a world that has been conquered by sin, and that if nothing else we are all captive to sin and that sin is eroding our faith. Unlike Daniel, it has been happening so gradually that we do not realize what we have been doing.
A couple of years ago we repealed a law in Minnesota that prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays. To be honest, as a non-drinker, I did not even know that this law existed. I am also fine with it being gone, it was a last holdout of a series of laws that helped to protect and enshrine Sunday as a special day. I am not sad that the law is gone, but I am sad that we have allowed Sunday to become just another day in the week. This is just one of the ways that we have seen our faith give in to the larger pressures of society.
It does not have to be this way. No, I am not saying we need to storm the capital and demand that we reinstate all the laws that prohibit any sort of non-church related activities on Sundays. Instead, we can each make a choice as Christians to place more of a priority on our faith than we currently do. Doing so is harder now because we do not have the guidance of the laws to make it easier and we exist in a culture that does not see the value in honoring the Sabbath as we do. That is okay, we are not doing this to fit in with others, we are doing it to be in a better relationship with God.
Now, Sunday morning is an easy example to pick on when it comes to our faith. Wesley would be the first to note however that simply coming to church on Sunday, does not fix the problem. After all, using his words, that would just be another example of “fitting the form of religion but lacking its power.” The power comes from our faith. The power comes from our belief in God. The power comes from us sticking with God even when the rest of the world is turning away.
To try and explain this using a personal example, I have been on a bit of a roll recently when it comes to my running. I do not know whether it is the fact that I have lost weight, the work I have been doing with a trainer, or the dedication I have to working out this summer, but whatever the reason is, things have been going good for me. Both in my training runs and recent races I have been running faster than I have before. It feels good to achieve success. Usually, after a successful race like the one last weekend, I naturally find myself looking forward to the next challenge and imagining the great things I can accomplish. Winning has that effect.
This is different than how I usual feel in August. Usually, when I am running regularly in August it is in training for the Twin Cities Marathon. August is usually the part of my training where the wheels start to come off. I start training in May, the weather is nice and the short runs you start with all feel amazing. June and July only build on this as my early success helps me ramp up to the medium runs and I am still feeling on top of the world. It is in August when the heat and the long runs come together, and I start to wonder what I am thinking to be training for a marathon. Usually in August I am not so sure about this running thing. At this point usually it is only my investment of money and pride that keeps me going. It is hard to stick with something when you are struggling.
On a big picture level right now, Christianity is losing rather than winning. The churches across the United States are declining, not growing. More and more people are turning to other places for a sense of belonging, comfort, and strength rather than God. We face an epidemic of addiction to drugs. We face serious threats to our climate brought on by our priority for economic growth rather than sustainable growth. We face rising threats of nationalism and violence as people seek to gain a sense of identity not as children of God but as members of a nation, class, or group. All of this losing makes it hard to hold onto our faith. It can be easy to just give up and give in to the pressures all around us.
Daniel trusted that God was with him. Three times a day he would fall on his knees to God. He did it facing Jerusalem, hoping and praying that one day God would deliver him back out of exile to his home. He was willing to do keep doing this, even when it meant the possibility of death. He walked into the lion’s den, not knowing what would happen but knowing that God would be with him. He was sealed in, like a tomb, and do you know what happened, resurrection!
The story of Daniel is not just a story of being faithful to God. It is not just a story of holding onto our beliefs in the midst of hard times and a foreign land, it is a story of resurrection. Like Jesus, Daniel emerges from the tomb in the morning unharmed, whole and well. The lesson of Daniel is a lesson of resurrection, a reminder that death itself is not the end but a beginning. If we really believe in resurrection, then what are we afraid of when it comes to living our faith. If we really believe that God is with us no matter what and will bring us through the darkness to a new a glorious dawn, then what is holding us back from living that out right now? Amen
Questions to Ponder:
What ways do you feel society pressures you to give up your faith?
Who is someone you know who has stuck to their faith in the midst of adversity?
What lion’s dens or tombs are you facing where you need faith in the resurrection on the other side?
Ever-present God, you are with us in the good and the bad. In the midst of our success you are there cheering us on and in times of loneliness, loss, and exile you are there too. Help us to feel your presence even in those hard moments. Help us resist the temptation to give up on you or to lose faith. Give us the strength and courage to remain true to you even in the midst of adversity. May your love and light surround us each and every day. Amen