Daniel in the lion’s den.
Three kinds of person.
There’s the person who hopes that people of faith will prevail, but doesn’t believe that they will.
There’s the person who fears that people of faith will prevail, and believes that they might.
There’s the person who knows that people of faith can prevail, but believes that isn’t his business.
And we have all three in this story. Darius – yet another king, now clearly ruling the Persian empire. His politicians, clearly worried that someone who was ‘not one of us’ would get to exercise power in the country. And Daniel, who just carried on being Daniel.
Let’s take a look at the three kinds of person.
There’s the vested interest. Those who feel threatened by confident faith; who see integrity and honesty as dangerous to their way of life and their progress. And it’s interesting to listen to much of the campaigning of groups opposed to the church sounds just like the attacks of Daniel’s enemies: they try first to find fault with the conduct of his work, then they move on to manufacture conflict based on his faith. Here’s what’s interesting. Although they acknowledge his honesty and integrity, his declared allegiance to the God of all Nations is enough reason for them to manipulate Darius to have him removed. That’s going to happen.
Then there’s the open agnostic. Someone who is disposed to doubt, but willing to concede the possibility of faith. Darius was one such. Ready to admit that God might be around – and on this occasion at least, in a position to influence others.
You notice that Daniel really isn’t pictured as doing anything at all other than his job at this point. Daniel doesn’t get a chance to speak until after he is condemned. Nothing unusual about that – he’s in the grip of forces way bigger than he is.
But Darius respects Daniel, admires him, and ‘makes every effort to save him.’ Still – he doesn’t really believe that Daniel is going to survive this.
And in this he represents so many today. A huge number of people still in this country don’t feel antagonistic towards Christian faith, and are genuinely moved by the commitment and dedication of Christians. Darius is open – but he still doesn’t believe, and that means he doubts. He really isn’t sure that Daniel’s God is involved in the world in any real way. He issues the command for Daniel to be thrown in with the lions, and he hopes against any real kind of hope that Daniel will survive.
That’s the kind of uncertainty that we have to live with in the people we can hope to reach – and it’s so important that we learn to recognise the signs of faith – I mean, you might think that someone who condemns you to death is an unlikely candidate for conversion, but Darius is so close!
And then there’s Daniel.
Now I don’t want to overstate what I’m about to say. There are quite a few folk – David, Solomon, maybe Paul at times – who do think strategically. But Daniel does what men and women of faith do a lot in scripture, and it’s a good antidote to a tendency that has become widespread in the church today.
Daniel, throughout the whole book, responds to God’s prompting. First, when Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, and Daniel responds to save the wise men (and himself). Then later when Belshazzar has a dream – the queen suggests calling for Daniel. Now Daniel is just going about his business, and he does absolutely nothing to respond to the plotting of the enemies. ‘When Daniel heard, he went home and prayed just as he had done before.’
Daniel sees the changing situation. He is absolutely confident in the power of God – he is a man of faith. And how does he respond? By leaving the outcome completely in the hands of God. It’s the others – those who don’t believe – that run around plotting and scheming. Even Darius works hard to change the situation. Daniel just doesn’t bother.
Those who have strong faith throughout scripture tend to show it through prayer and patience, not through frantic action or even through careful planning. The belief that God is in the ebb and flow of human history – even the reversal of fortune of believers – is often a mark of strong faith.
Live faithfully, and trust God to bring about the right outcome. That’s what Daniel does. Not least because he’s not afraid – if God is going to lead him to victory through death, then that’s OK.
Business thinking pervades the church. The common saying ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail’ is widely accepted as true for the church. But I’m not convinced. God cares more about the integrity, the truthfulness, the honesty of our living. And we could do a lot worse than follow Daniel’s example – live faithfully, and trust God with the outcome. Wouldn’t it be a relief? To let go of that drive to come up with the Big Plan that saves the church in the UK, and just to have time to concentrate on faithful living, genuine worship, courageous witness and generous service. After all – those are demanding enough!
At the start of this story, Daniel is threatened by powerful and hostile enemies. He works for a King who doesn’t believe in his God, and certainly isn’t about to take any risks for Daniel’s sake. And he’s still far from home. He’s not only a foreigner; he’s now a civil servant who worked for the previous administration. And the new King has some mighty hungry weapons of mass destruction.
But look where it all ends. The enemies are gone; Daniel gets a promotion; Daniel emerges un-eaten; and the King (6:26) testifies publicly that he now worships Daniel’s God. Result! And all Daniel has done is carry on praying just as before. He only speaks one sentence in the whole chapter! None of this is planned by Daniel. Actually, throughout his entire life Daniel never once takes the initiative.