by Pastor Cherie Johnson
The past several weeks we have been looking at some of the prophets of the Old Testament to show how God used them to help people. Two weeks ago we saw how Elijah helped a widow and her son. Last week we saw how Elisha (Elijah’s servant and successor) helped an enemy general, Naaman.
This week, we will be focusing on Daniel. You should know that Daniel live long after Elijah and Elisha.
Daniel was living through the Babylonian Exile. By this time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel has already been conquered and assimilated into Assyria. Many years had gone by, and Assyria is overwhelmed by Babylon. Meanwhile, Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) does not learn the lessons of the Northern Kingdom and continues to worship other gods and otherwise disregarded God’s law. They abandon God, and after much pleading and opportunities to repent, as detailed in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, God allows them to be conquered by Babylon.
After more rebellion, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon brings all of the leaders and the young elite to the city of Babylon. He brings them, so they couldn’t stir up rebellion back in Judah. This is the Exile.
Daniel and his friends are part of this elite group, and they are to be trained in the ways of the Babylonian government. For one thing, it gets them feeling like they are a part of this new country, and Babylon gets the benefit of having more bright young people in their government.
God told the people that the Exile would be for 70 years, so they should build lives there, yet they are to remain faithful to God. Daniel, and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do just that, and they thrive in this environment. They are put in high leadership positions.
The 70 years pass. Daniel is in his 90s, and King Nebuchadnezzar has died. His grandson, Belshazzar, is on the Babylonian throne. He shows contempt for God by using items plundered from the Temple as his dishes as a dinner party. God was not pleased.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Seeing the handwriting on the wall?” It is inspired by what happens next. Writing appears on the wall and Daniel is asked to interpret it. Among other things it says, “You [Belshazzar] have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Then, on that very night, the Medo-Persian army enters the city of Babylon and unseats Belshazzar. He is replaced by King Darius.
King Darius ends the Exile and allows the people of Judah to go home, but not everyone leaves. After all, God told them to build their lives in Babylon, so many stay including Daniel.
Darius is the new king in this land, and he has to set up his new administration. This is where we pick up the narrative.
1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
6 So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered–in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
The king answered, “The decree stands–in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”
13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
15 Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
16 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!”
17 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. 18 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.
19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 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?”
21 Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! 22 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.”
23 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.
Over the last several weeks, we’ve been looking at how God used prophets in the Old Testament to help people, thereby showing us how we can help people, how we can be used by God.
This week, Daniel helps us. How does he help us? Daniel was living in a foreign land, and he had to figure out a way to live his life and, in fact, thrive but still faithfully follow God.
As Christians, we are called, and you may have heard this before, but we are called to be “in the world, but not of the world.” On the surface, it can sound like Christian-ese jargon, but in reality, it was the kind of thing Daniel was doing in Babylon. Obviously, Daniel wasn’t a Christian, but he was our ancestor in the faith. If you think about it, we are living in a world that looks a lot like Babylon. We are called to live in this broken world, even thrive in it, but not become corrupted by it.
Before the Exile, in Judah, the people were surrounded by others just like them. As a culture and society they strayed off the path God set before them and adopted outside gods and customs, but they were still all together as a people.
Now, in the Exile, they were the outsiders. They didn’t have the luxury of picking the parts of the Babylonian, and then the Medo-Persian, culture they wanted. They had to adapt to all of it while trying to maintain their faith towards God and their distinctiveness as a people.
Many were able to prosper, as Daniel did, maybe not to the same extreme, and he was able to do it being known as a Jew. Some people tried to succeed by hiding their distinctiveness and their culture, as you may notice in the book of Esther, which is set a short time after the Book of Daniel. However Daniel never tried to hide who he was, while doing the best he could in his work.
That is what we are called to do. We are called to be distinctive, to be known, while having to live in this broken world.
Daniel not only survived, he thrived. He does his job so well that he was about to be appointed over the whole kingdom. It wasn’t until then that he was seen as a threat. His religion, his foreignness, was not held against him. Even in this episode, no one thought less of him because he was Jewish though they used his faith to try to get rid of him. They only decided to go that route after all other ideas failed.
As a group, they went to King Darius, and they appealed to his vanity. That is the only reason that I can see as to why this plan worked. Otherwise, Darius seems like a very competent king, but can’t you see it? “O King, write a decree that for 30 days people can only pray… to YOU!!!” Whew! Head rush!
One thing we learn through this is that the Medo-Persians were a nation of laws. Judah was a nation of laws. We in the United States are a nation of laws. At the time, it wasn’t such a common thing. The rules didn’t change at the whim of a king. It would seem to encourage caution in enacting new laws if they could not be repealed. Apparently Darius’ mind was someplace else that day. He didn’t even ask Daniel, his most trusted advisor, what he thought about this law before going forward. I presume Daniel was his most trusted advisor if Darius was about to put him over the whole country.
What was Daniel’s response when he heard about the decree? He prayed to God, just like he did every day. He didn’t allow it to change his spiritual practices. When he was discovered, he was praying to God for help.
That is one of Daniel’s examples to us. Luckily, we in Joseph Oregon are not put into the kind of danger Daniel was through our spiritual practices, but it does identify us as distinctive.
I’ll admit it. I don’t always say grace before a meal. I may pray many other times during the day, but not necessarily before meal. We never did it in my family growing up, so it’s not something I think about, but I probably should.
I have a friend who does it all the time. One time he and his friend had a simple grace in a fast food restaurant over a burger and fries, and the man at the next table asked if they were Christians. Through this simple practice, they were able to demonstrate their distinctiveness. The man at the next table was also Christian, and this served to strengthen him in his faith. Who knows who else noticed and was either inspired or intrigued? Some may have thought they were strange, but that is part of being in the world but not of the world. We are supposed to seem a little strange.
So, Daniel was caught in the very subversive act of praying to God, and the officials reported to King Darius. The way they do it almost seems insolent, like they have to threaten him with his own law. Of course, he doesn’t know that the victim of his rashness is Daniel.
In the book of Esther, we learn what a dangerous thing the officials did by approaching the King in this way. As I mentioned earlier, Esther also takes place in the Medo-Persian Empire though a few kings later. There it says in chapter 4, “If a man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law – all alike are to be put to death. Only if the King hold sout the golden scepter to someone, may that person live.”
Daniel is teaching us how to live as followers of God in a broken world. These officials are teaching us not to compare ourselves to others. They should have concerned themselves with their own responsibilities and jobs and not worried about Daniel.
Obviously, they had nothing to fear from Daniel since, “He was trustworthy and neither corrupt or negligent.” If they had concerned themselves with their own jobs, perhaps they too would prosper. Instead in the next verse they lose everything, including their lives for trying to get Daniel killed. All over comparison, jealousy, and covetousness.
Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us (Mt 5:44). Daniel really wasn’t their enemy, but they certainly viewed him as a threat. You know the people who are doing their job so well, they make everybody else look bad. I was actually told that on more than one occasion. Each time, I was new on the job, and I wanted to make sure they kept me around. Then I’d have someone tell me, “Slow down, you’re making the rest of us look bad.” I wasn’t trying to make anyone look bad. I wasn’t particularly trying to make myself look good. I was just trying to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
If these officials that were looking for a way to get rid of Daniel, just worried about their own job instead of what someone else was doing, they all would have been better off… And happier too!
There is nothing that is depressing like comparing your life to someone else’s. There’s a new syndrome or something since the popularity of Facebook. It’s a depression brought on by looking at everyone else’s posts, seeing how great everyone else’s lives are, and feeling like they don’t measure up.
The only one to compare yourself to is yourself, and how you were doing yesterday. How are you doing on your walk with Jesus? Better than yesterday? Great! Not so well? You have a fresh opportunity tomorrow.
I heard something recently from Andy Stanley. When you’re looking at everybody else, you are not seeing their whole life. You are looking at their highlight reel, the mountain peaks. You don’t see the valleys. It’s just the same on Facebook. You are seeing photo shopped and edited pictures of
their vacation. So when we compare ourselves to the other people, it’s not even real.
Meanwhile, Daniel just kept on keeping on. Despite being confronted by an unjust law, Daniel remained a good administrator, loyal and incorrupt. He trusted God. As King Darius said, “Your God, whom you serve continuously.”
Does this mean if we trust in God, nothing bad will happen to us? No. Daniel was still put in the Lion’s Den. Just like it didn’t mean that for Daniel friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were put in a furnace because they would not bow down to an idol (Dan 3).
They said this to King Nebuchadnezzar. “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hands, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the statue of gold you have set up” (Dan 3:16-18).
God can rescue us from the crisis, like he does with Daniel in the lion’s den. They don’t touch him. The rescue could be an avoided disaster that we didn’t even realize we missed. I think God does this for us all the time. The accidents we don’t get into, the problems we missed. It might be because someone stopped us to talk in the grocery store. It made us a few minutes late. We are annoyed, but it helped us to miss encountering a problem entirely.
How many of you remember the Back to the Future movies? Apparently, this past week we reached Back to the Future day. It was the day when Marty McFly went into the future in October 2015. At the end of one of these movies, Marty is tempted to drag race with someone, and he resists. Just a few seconds later, he sees that if he had raced, he would have hit a very expensive car that effectively would have ruined his financial future.
Once in a while, when it’s really close, we realize what would have happened if we were there a few seconds sooner or later. We have a chance to see how God saved us from a crisis.
God can go with us through the crisis. We don’t avoid it, but God is right there with us every step of the way. Sometimes we don’t feel it. Sometimes we feel that God has abandoned us, but God is always there. He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).
Or, God can save us by bring us into his presence. In other words, we die, but we get to be with God. Ultimately, that’s what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are saying to King Nebuchadnezzar.
Jesus did not promise as a smooth life. In fact in John 16:33 he says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And, in Hebrews 13:5 it says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
We live in a broken world. We may not be able to be sure of many things, but one thing we can be sure of is that we will have a God that walks through it with us. With Jesus we have someone who understands how it feels. We know we have an advocate for us, even if we don’t feel it in the moment.
Daniel shows us the way. In the Babylonian Exile the Jews felt utterly abandoned by God, and yet Daniel persevered. He continued to be faithful to God. He obeyed God’s instructions to settle and make a life for himself in the strange and foreign land, but he did it without being assimilated into this new world where he found himself. He maintained his distinctiveness. He remained faithful to God in the most dire of circumstances, and none of us could have a better example than that!