Sunday, January 29, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 22, The Lions' Den

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 22
The Lions' Den

Darius has labored feverishly all day to find some way to keep from throwing Daniel in the lions' den. The king foolishly listened to his officials when they suggested he deserved to be worshiped as a god for thirty days, and that anyone who prayed to a god or human being other than Darius during those thirty days should be thrown into the lions' den. This was a plot hatched by jealous men to rid themselves of Daniel because they knew he would keep on praying to his God the same as always. Now Darius is caught in his own trap and Daniel is caught with him.

The day is almost done and the officials lose patience with the king. "Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, 'Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.'" (Daniel 6:15) When an execution order was passed in ancient times, it was to be carried out the same day. Darius has run out of daylight and these men aren't going to wait any longer. They remind him he will be breaking the laws of his own government if he fails to carry through.

When Daniel heard of the decree he simply went about his life as normal. He didn't run to the king in a panic and beg for pardon or for a second chance. He didn't flee to the desert. He just kept on doing what he had been faithfully doing for many years: praying to God three times a day. He didn't stop praying to God in order to obey the king's decree. When his enemies found him in his room on his knees, the Bible tells us he was "asking God for help". As David said in his prayers for help in Psalm 60 and Psalm 108, human help is worthless. Daniel knew the law as well or better than anyone; he realized Darius couldn't save him. He knew no help was forthcoming from the citizens of Babylon; they hated him because of his success. Daniel's only help was the living God and it was to Him he turned.

"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!'" (Daniel 6:16) Darius appears to be a better man than King Nebuchadnezzar was before his conversion. Before throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar asked them, "What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" He soon found out there was a God able to rescue, mighty to save. Darius, despite his desire to be worshiped for a month in order to unify the people and gain their allegiance, lacks the gigantic ego of Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of boasting that no god can rescue anyone from him, he expresses the hope that the God of Israel will rescue Daniel. If God overrules the execution order, no one can argue against Darius setting Daniel free. This king is willing to recognize the authority of a higher power and he hopes that higher power has mercy on Daniel. In granting mercy to Daniel, God will also be granting mercy to Darius for his foolishness.

God doesn't keep Daniel out of the lions' den, yet we never doubt that God loves Daniel dearly. Sometimes when God doesn't keep me out of the lions' den I find myself asking Him why not. If He loves me, why doesn't He let me skip the lions' den altogether? This past week has been extremely upsetting for me. Someone I'd hoped would be healed went on to be with the Lord. A prayer about something in my own life, something I hoped to avoid, wasn't answered in the way I wanted. My household has been going through a tough time for a couple of months now and I've been battling depression. Life gets me down sometimes and I wouldn't want you to think that God so graciously allows me to write this daily blog because I'm somebody who has it all together. I don't have it all together. Nobody does. Neither did Daniel because, godly man though he was, I believe he was afraid while he was on his knees asking God for help. Of course he was afraid. His life hung in the balance. He didn't know if God would keep him out of the lions' den altogether. He didn't know if God would let Darius throw him in. He didn't know if the lions would eat him or if God would come through with a miracle. 

Daniel was afraid. Daniel may have had the same kind of doubts you and I have when faced with terrible troubles. He knew he had served and loved the Lord as best he knew how, but he didn't know whether God would bring him out unharmed or if he would be taken out of the world that same day. Daniel was willing to keep serving God either way, but I believe Daniel was scared and I think in his fear and distress he did the same thing you and I do when in fear and distress: he asked God why this was happening to him. We are going to find out why God didn't keep Daniel out of the lions' den. That would have been an impressive feat but God intends to perform such a stunning miracle that Daniel's faith will be strengthened like never before, a pagan king will give glory to the God of Israel, and the citizens of Babylon will be confronted with the reality of such a mighty God. These things would not have happened if God had kept Daniel out of the lions' den. What great miracles does God intend to work in our own circumstances? In what ways will He strengthen our faith by allowing us to go into the lions' den? In what ways will He proclaim to the world, through us, that He is the living God and the only God? We never doubt that God loved Daniel; why do we doubt that He loves us? Trouble doesn't indicate a lack of love. In the life of a believer, perhaps trouble indicates that God is on the move, about to do something big. Today's passage of Scripture speaks to me in my current circumstances and I hope it speaks to you too. Sometimes we don't have it all together and we don't have to. Our God has it together. His strength is made perfect in weakness, as He told the Apostle Paul. Our weakness serves to show us, and the world, that the power is of God and not of us. When we are weak, He is strong. 

"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. 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." (Daniel 6:17-18) The king and his officials sign the death warrant. No human being had the power to change it. But God, who created life, has the power to change it.

"At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. 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?'" (Daniel 6:19-20) I picture Darius flinging the covers off and jumping out of the bed in which he spent a miserable and sleepless night, running on shaking legs to the lions' den, hoping with everything that is in him that Daniel's God has come through. Then I picture him nearly collapsing in relief when this happens, "Daniel answered, 'May the king live forever! 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, Your Majesty.'" (Daniel 6:21-22)

Something new occurred to me this morning when reading our passage and I was not able to really find any clear references or opinions on it in any of my commentaries or online sources, but I wonder if God's "angel" in the lions' den was Christ. He was the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He is often called "the angel of the Lord" when He makes pre-incarnate Old Testament appearances. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that this was a Christophany, (an Old Testament appearance of the Lord), and that He Himself touched the mouth of each lion in the den and commanded it to stay closed. If the Lord stood in the fire with Daniel's friends and held the flames back from them, I can easily picture Him standing with Daniel in the lions' den all through that dark night. Sometimes in our troubles we cry out, "Lord, where are You?", when all along He is standing right there with us. He's in the midst of the fire with us. He's in the lions' den with us. He is never any closer to us than when we are in trouble. David, while in terrible trouble and on the run for his life, said in Psalm 34 that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, that His ears are attentive to their cries, that He hears and delivers the righteous, and that He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A guest preacher at my church interpreted Psalm 34 in an unusual way a few Sundays ago but I believe his doctrine is sound. His message was titled "God Plays Favorites" and he said that, when we are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, that's when God is closest to us. That's when, in a sense, each of us is God's favorite. We are the child who most needs His attention and He is there to give it. I think he makes a beautiful point and it got me to thinking. Say, for example, we are out in the yard with our children and they are happily running and playing. But one of them falls down and skins his knee and starts crying. Wouldn't we immediately run to that child? Wouldn't we be, in that moment, physically closer to the hurt child than to the others? Isn't that what God, in His role as loving Father, also does? So that means God has been especially close to me this past week, even when I doubted Him, and that means He is especially close to you in your troubles. 

"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. At the king's command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones." (Daniel 6:23-24) Ancient customs were very harsh. Entire families suffered the wrath of kings. It hurts us to think of it but we have to draw our comfort in knowing these innocent children entered the presence of the Lord that day. We don't know what their fate would have been had they grown up in a pagan culture, bowing down to useless idols. Hard as it is for us to contemplate them going into the lions' den, perhaps it saved them from a worse fate. The prophet Isaiah once said that the righteous are sometimes taken from this world in order to spare them from evil. (Isaiah 57:1) The same could be said of the innocent. We are heartbroken when someone is taken from this world in their youth or in the prime of life, but Isaiah says there are cases in which this is the mercy of God.

"Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: 'May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end. He rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.' So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian." (Daniel 6:25-28)

If God had never allowed Daniel to go into the lions' den an entire chapter would be missing from our Bibles. It's been a chapter of hope and comfort to many. It's been a chapter of hope and comfort to me today. Right now you may feel like you're in the lions' den and you may be wondering why God put you in it. I wondered the same thing all last week. But now I know He's right here in the lions' den with me. He's with you too. And He's going to do big things.

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