Daniel chapter 6 is where we will be spending our time today. And when Joe comes to read it in a moment, you’ll likely recognize that it has some parallels to Daniel chapter 3. Daniel 3, if you recall was the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refusing to bow down to the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So, the king throws them into a fiery furnace, but God delivers them! They survive, and the king recognizes that their God is a powerful God of deliverance.
In this chapter, which is perhaps the best-known story in Daniel, Daniel refuses to give in to pressure, and so he is thrown into a den of lions. So, Joe, would you read for us Daniel chapter 6.
Joe read Daniel 6.
Thank you, Joe. As you just heard, Daniel is faced yet again with another choice: does he compromise in the most seemingly tiny of ways, or does he stay absolutely faithful to his God? If you recall, Daniel has been in exile for decades now, and he has faced lots of pressures to conform to the culture; in the past it was the Babylonian culture, and now it’s the Medo-Persian culture. And yet, even in the midst of so many pressures, not only has he not compromised, but he’s also excelled in his work! He works hard, and does a good job, and obviously this has been recognized especially by King Darius here in chapter 6, as Daniel is one of only three overseers over the entire kingdom.
Just imagine the kind of influence he has being one of these top 3 overseers, Talk about political clout and respect and impact! He has a direct line to the king! So it’s not only these external pressures to be fully Medo-Persian, and do as the Medes and the Persians do, and serve the gods of the Medes and the Persians. But it’s also likely the positive pressure of wanting to remain in an influential position, to better glorify God, or at least to glorify Him on a bigger scale. For Daniel, the smallest compromise, it seems, would help him to keep his influential position, and yet he absolutely refuses to compromise. He is faithful to God, and he trusts God with whatever happens as a result.
Similar to last week, today we will see this narrative split into four different movements or acts. And with those four acts will come 5 lessons of faithfulness. So, act #1:
Act 1: Daniel Faithful and Targeted (v. 1-9).
If you remember, we have a new king, Darius the Mede. And so he sets up 120 satraps to be over all of his kingdom, and they were to report to 3 overseers, one of whom was Daniel. Apparently Darius kept Daniel as one of his top officials. So, in a sense, the promise that King Belshazzar made to Daniel just before he was killed was still able to be fulfilled, even though that promise was made on the day that King Belshazzar was killed. So these satraps, and especially the three overseers, were to do everything they could to make sure that the king received the revenue that was due him by the people, for protection, and leadership, and just loyalty.
Daniel, though, did so well with his job, that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom! He was going to make Daniel the #2 ruler, only under the king himself! This is sort-of a side note, but in a world where it’s difficult to find truly honest, hard-working employees and workers, the truly honest, hard-working employees stick out like crazy, yes? That may not mean a promotion for you if that’s you, but it absolutely will mean that you become a witness to your faith, and an example of the integrity of Jesus himself.
So, Daniel does well, and of course that makes the other overseers and even some of these satraps jealous, or at least that makes sense as to what’s happening here. The text doesn’t actually tell us that they’re jealous, but that would make perfect sense. Maybe they had even heard of the King’s plan to make Daniel his #2. For whatever reason, they want to find some dirt on Daniel. So they go looking, but they cannot find anything. He’s so consistent, and faithful, and honest, that they know the only possible way to get Daniel into trouble would have to be something to do with Daniel’s God.
So that’s how they come up with their plan. They go to the king with this great plan, and to get him to say yes, they butter him up! “Oh, everyone agrees, all the governors and satraps, that no one should make any petition to any god nor any other man except to you, Oh King, for thirty days. No praying or asking for any provisions except from you, Oh King.” They are buttering him up, just flattering him to no limit. So, basically, for these thirty days, King Darius would be the only representative of the gods, the only mediator between the people and the gods.
So they convince him to sign this into law, so that it could not be changed. There’s nothing even the king himself could do to change this without losing face. Obviously, he could sign another injunction to change it, but that would involve losing a considerable amount of the respect of the people, in a time when he’s trying to make a strong statement about Persian power, right? He is the NEW king; so he’s trying to establish his authority. So, he signs this injunction, and he’s definitely not going to change it. There’s one main lesson we can learn from this first act:
Lesson 1: Faithfulness to God might make you a target.
We know this not only from Daniel chapter 6, but also because this is a consistent testimony throughout Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:12-13 say, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” It is a guarantee that if you truly and wholeheartedly want to live a godly life, it will bring you some suffering at the hands of other people. Maybe people will take advantage of you, maybe they’ll insult you; whatever it may be, faithfulness might make you a target.
Not only will people perhaps target you, but the enemy may very well target you. We see throughout the Bible explicit examples of the enemy targeting the people of God: Adam and Eve, Job, Joshua the priest, Jesus, Peter, Paul, so on and so forth. Now, if you’re sitting here somewhat apathetic to your calling as a Christian toward godliness and being a witness; if you’re kind-of indifferent toward Jesus, first I’d encourage you to check yourself. “Test yourself to see whether or not your in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). But 2ndly, the enemy is happy with were you are at. He won’t target you, because he likes where you are at. Maybe a Christian, but kind-of misunderstanding what it really means to be a Christian. The enemy probably won’t target you, but if you’re a believer who desires to become more like Jesus, growing in godliness and maybe actually wanting to reach people with the Gospel. Listen: you might become a target. Because Satan does not want you to do that.
But, that’s no reason for fear. Why? Because the enemy has no power over you that you do not let him have. As adopted children of God, the enemy has absolutely no power over us, unless we give it to him. No matter who may target us, we have no reason to anguish or be discouraged because we’re children of the King. So this targeting that Daniel experienced went farther than how we might be targeted today. We see this in Act #2:
Act 2: Daniel Faithful and Condemned (v. 10-18).
In verses 10-18, we see Daniel going to his house after hearing about the injunction that had been signed. He went upstairs and prayed toward Jerusalem with the windows wide open. He did this three times a day, and according to verse 10, this was just as he had done previously! He’s always done it this way, so he did it again. Then these men who had gotten the king to sign this injunction, of course, came by Daniel’s house, knowing that he did this three times a day. They saw him do it even after the injunction was signed, and then went straight to the king to tell him.
Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t help but read this and think: If Daniel simply would have closed the curtains, he would have immediately disarmed these people who were trying to get him into trouble! They would have nothing on him! I doubt they’re allowed to go into his home and find him there praying; he is one of the three overseers of the kingdom. So, they’re probably not allowed to do that. So, simply shutting the curtains would mean no one knowing, and he could keep his position and his influence and not risk losing it all. I mean, surely his faith would allow him to simply shut the curtains. He could still pray toward Jerusalem and God would still hear him (the curtains wouldn’t muffle his prayers or something). So why didn’t he do this?
Because Daniel was absolutely resolved not to compromise even in the slightest of ways. If this is how he had prayed to God likely for decades, he was not about to change it out of fear of an edict signed by King Darius. He was going to stay absolutely faithful to God. And so, these satraps and overseers take this information to the king: they first make sure the king remembered the edict that he signed and that it could not be changed, and then told him of Daniel blatantly disobeying his edict.
And even though Darius was distraught over finding out that it was Daniel, and apparently tried to figure out a way to save him (it says he “labored till the sun went down to rescue him”), even though he hated it, he felt forced to go forward with enforcing the consequences of disobeying the edict. Verses 16-17: “Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!’” They sealed the mouth of the den, and the king went to his palace, fasted, and couldn’t sleep.
Daniel was absolutely faithful to God; he absolutely refused to compromise, and yet he was condemned to death, and not just any death, but death by lions! Anyone else want to put that on the lower end of how you want to go? We learn two lessons from this part of the story. Lesson #2:
Lesson 2: Faithfulness is not always utilitarian in this life.
What that means is that faithfulness is not always practical. It cannot be judged on immediate results alone. You may have never heard this word before (“utilitarian”), but it’s a good one to know, and I put the definition in your notes. Utilitarianism is basically the idea that, “Actions are right if they are useful or beneficial.” That’s basically it! What determines whether an action is right or wrong is what happens as a result of that action. Not to say that that’s a bad thing to consider, or that we shouldn’t consider the consequences of our actions (we teach our children to do this all the time), but utilitarianism is this mind-set that this is the primary factor in making decisions, and it’s often used to justify making decisions that are unethical or a little bit sketchy.
To put it another way, utilitarianism is having as the primary question with any decision: “Does it work?” There are many practical ways in which that question is important. But when it comes to our faith, think about it: In every humanly reasonable way, Daniel’s decision to pray with the windows wide open did not work! It was not utilitarian! It was not useful! It would benefit no one, would it?! Refusing to simply shut the curtains, would it benefit Daniel? No. Would it benefit the king? No, the king is distraught! Would it benefit those seeking Daniel’s demise? No, they sure wouldn’t learn their lesson! Would it help the Persian people in any way? No! They would lose their best governor! In every possible way, this didn’t work for anyone!
We could even make the argument, from a human perspective, that God would not get as much glory this way! By being thrown to the lions, Daniel would lose his influence, and Medo-Persia would lose their primary evangelist for the Hebrew God. It would be so easy to justify the smallest compromise by simply saying, “This doesn’t work out for anyone.” It doesn’t even seem to work out for God’s glory.
But that’s sometimes one of the most difficult things about trying to be faithful to God in this life. It’s not always practical. It’s not always utilitarian. It certainly does not always end up with you being in a better place. I think of Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity, in Acts chapters 6 and 7: If he just would have been a bit more diplomatic with the Synagogue of the Freedmen? Maybe he wouldn’t have been stoned to death and could have kept sharing about Jesus with more and more people.
This is one of the greatest subtle idolatries, I think, of the 19th and 20th centuries: When it comes to our faith, we think it’s our job to be productive rather than faithful. Our obsession with measurable results, even in the church, and in our very Christian lives, have brought us to a place where we bother ourselves with RESULTS more than we bother ourselves with FAITHFULNESS! Can we let Daniel free us up today?! Our job is OBEDIENCE. GOD’S job is results! Instead of asking, “What works?” The question we need to be asking is, “What does God want?!” Whether it seems to us to work or not.
Utilitarianism in our faith is idolatry, because it puts you and me in the driver’s seat and God in the passenger seat. If there is ONE THING we’ve learned from the book of Daniel so far, it’s that God is God, no matter what is going on. Do not put him in the passenger seat or anywhere else; put him in the driver’s seat. Don’t take him along on your ride. You merely want God to be a part of your life, and maybe be there. Join Him on HIS ride and HIS plan. Do what he says, no matter the results. Be faithful, even when it costs you something. Even when the consequences don’t make sense to you. God is God; he knows what he’s doing.
But how do we do that? When we’ve had utilitarian ethical theory so engrained into us as Americans, nowadays from childhood. When we’re so driven by measurable results not only in business and the economy where measurable are useful and necessary, but now in our faith, and asking the question, “Does it work,” even when it comes to questions of obedience, how do we see clearly what it means to be faithful?! I’m glad you asked. Lesson #3:
Lesson 3: Communing with God will help you see clearly.
I know, so often we see the deliverance from the lion’s den as the focal point of this story. Wow! Look at what God did! And it is a big deal; I certainly don’t want to minimize that. BUT, I think the biggest MIRACLE here is that Daniel kept on praying just as he always had! Even in the midst of this pressure simply to hide his praying (not even stop, he could have kept praying in private and been fine), even with how easy it would have been to justify the smallest compromise, he went on serving God as he always had.
How? Because he was regularly spending time with the Father. That’s what “communing” means. It’s simply intimate communication. This communing with God was Daniel’s worship of God. Prayer, for Daniel, was the way that he continued to worship God while in EXILE! While in a place that is not his home! He was strengthened BY God as he spent time WITH God. He had his mind and heart set more toward his homeland, Jerusalem, more than his current state of affairs.
Look, we are in exile. And the easiest idol to take up in this life is the idol of security and comfort. It’s just a softer form of the prosperity gospel, the thought that God doesn’t want me to be anything except secure and comfortable. The prosperity gospel teaches that God wants us to be rich in this life, and the negative side of that is that God does NOT ever want me to suffer or be uncomfortable. That’s a complete lie. Sometimes faithfulness to God will result in demotions or loss of work, or less opportunity, or tensions within relationships.
And the more we are spending time on our knees like Daniel, praying to God, seeking to hear from Him, knowing Him through His written Word, the more we will see things as they truly are. Like Daniel, we will find joy and contentment in being faithful to God even when there are consequences. And maybe like Daniel this should be a healthy habit!
I get so frustrated with how reactionary we are, and I’m certainly including myself here. It’s like when prayer was a problem, as in no one really did it, like ever? What happened? Well, these movements telling us to set up a time every day, or a few times every single day, where you pray to God. Same times, every day! And then when everyone started doing that, and maybe a few people were overly proud about it, what do we do? We suddenly say praying daily at certain times is legalistic! And we react back to the other side, where prayer should never be organized or prepared or planned. It must be spontaneous, otherwise it’s not the Holy Spirit! Can I just say this? We’re ridiculous sometimes. God wants us to commune with Him! Instead of being obsessed with avoiding legalism or avoiding not praying enough, just pray! If it helps you to set up a habit like Daniel, do it! There’s nothing wrong with that; praise God, do it! And sure, watch your heart and make sure you don’t make that a thing of pride. And if setting up times isn’t for you, that’s fine, just make sure you’re communing with God, praying and reading His Word.
We all know why there’s a problem with 10 supervisors trying to complete some task. Why is that a problem? Because they’re all supervising, telling the others how to complete the task, and none of them are actually doing the work! That’s what I feel like with prayer sometimes. We need to stop telling everyone else how to pray, and just pray! Daniel did, and it strengthened him to be able to stand up against pressure to compromise. The story, of course, doesn’t end there. Act 3:
Act 3: Daniel Faithful and Delivered (v. 19-24).
King Darius, after a night of not much sleep, got up and went quickly to the den and it says he “cried out in anguish, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?’” Verse 21: “Then Daniel said to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him.’”
Then the king got Daniel out of the den and, according to custom, he threw his false accusers into the den. And not according to Israelite custom, but according to the more merciless Persian custom, these false accusers’ families were thrown in as well. And, of course, the lions’ mouths were no longer shut. From Daniel’s deliverance, Lesson #4:
Lesson 4: God will deliver us, maybe in this life, definitely in the next.
This really takes us back to Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, and their response to King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3. When the king basically gives them a second chance and tells them to bow down to the golden image, they respond in verses 16-18: “’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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
They knew that God was able to save them from anything in this life. They knew that! Daniel, while the text doesn’t given us any details about his thoughts, we can imagine he had exactly the same kind of attitude at Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. We, too, can know that God is able to save us from anything in this life. But we also know that the only guaranteed deliverance is ultimately manifested in the next life, when we’re transported into the new heavens and the new earth. He will deliver us, maybe in this life, definitely in the next. Then, what happens lastly, is that King Darius gives a decree of worship to all peoples:
Act 4: Daniel Faithful and God Glorified (v. 25-28).
Because of what has happened, this miracle that Daniel survived the lion’s den, the king writes this decree that all people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, verses 26 and 27: “for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Lesson 5: Faithfulness to God guarantees glory for God.
I want us to see something as clearly as can be here, and it may seem a bit repetitive, but it needs to be repeated: We’re not guaranteed comfort in this life. We’re not guaranteed deliverance in this life, as Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego clearly recognized, and as we see from the lives of Stephen and most of the apostles, who were murdered for their faith: We’re not even guaranteed some relief with new circumstances!
Think about it, Daniel faced so many pressures under King Nebuchadnezzar, and now, multiple kings and an entire empire later, he’s condemned to death again! There’s nothing wrong with trying to change your circumstances, ok? But changing your circumstances will not automatically guarantee that you don’t face the same issues! That’s really a note to be taken for life in general, but it’s especially true when it comes to our faith. Don’t put your hope in some change in circumstances that is coming; put your hope in God who does not change!
There’s almost nothing guaranteed in this life. Everything is shifting sand. But there is one guarantee we can see from Daniel today: Faithfulness to God guarantees glory for God. There is no greater purpose in life than joining God on his plan to reveal and showcase all of his grand perfections. We do that by being faithful. Not by being productive by our standards, or creating some platform for ourselves where we can be seen by lots of people. We glorify God when we’re faith, and we are faithful most naturally when we’re captivated by the awesomeness of our great God. We are captivated by our God as we spend time with Him, knowing Him by His Word.
Think about this: when we’re faced with a decision (work, family, social life), when we’re faced with a decision when refusing to compromise will cost us something—a friendship, a job, a promotion, a letter grade—when we refuse to compromise knowing it will cost us something, we showcase for everyone around us how much MORE God matters to us than that job, or that letter grade, or whatever it is. We point to God’s value and worth.
God doesn’t require a certain amount of productivity, or measurable results in souls saved and good deeds committed; he requires faithfulness, and he takes care of the rest.