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King Darius and the Lions’ Den

Darius couldn’t sleep. He had tried everything a king could. He called for a court musician to play something soothing. He called the for court chef to fix him a midnight snack. He called the court physician to give him something to quiet his thoughts and help him rest. But he still could not sleep that night.

All he could do was think of his trusted servant Daniel. How had it all gone so wrong? He realized it was his own fault. They had used his own pride against him. “Oh king you are so great and wonderful,” the spokesman of the large group of nobles had said, “You are so great and wonderful that we believe everyone should pray to you and no other god for the next month.” It made him feel important and great to sign the declaration and say, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”

But he had not foreseen the consequences. Now Daniel who had been such a trusted advisor was spending the night in pit of hungry lions. Sure Daniel’s devotion to the God of his conquered homeland was quaint, but now it had landed him in trouble. Could this God of a conquered people possibly save him from the hungry lions? Darius could only dream of the possibility.

When morning came Darius made his way to the pit. Dare he look inside? What would he see? The gruesome remains of his trusted friend? The light of the morning sun did not yet reach into the pit so in desperate hope Darius called down. “Daniel. Could you still be alive? Could your God have possibly saved you?”

Daniel called back, “Long live the King, O Darius. God sent an angel to rescue me and shut the mouths of the lions. I have lived and will serve you.” Darius praised Daniel’s God and quickly called for a ladder to get Daniel out of the lion’s den. He then declared that people throughout the kingdom should revere Daniel’s God!

The story of Daniel and the Lion’s den is also the story of King Darius and the Lion’s den. The king, who viewed Daniel’s God as a defeated deity, ends up praising God. Daniel’s faith in God and God’s loyalty to Daniel impresses Darius. Darius and others in that polytheistic society could see the power of the one true God who Daniel served.

The book of Daniel tells of events that happened to exiled Jews during the period of the Meds and Persians. But most Bible scholars believe that the book of Daniel took the form we have during the period of the Greeks, several centuries later. These stories of faithful people of God living under the rule of polytheistic kings were told to inspire later generations living under rulers who believed is a different set of gods. The message is that those who remain faithful will be delivered. The Almighty is a God of deliverance and salvation.

You know we live in a polytheistic society. Our society may not worship statues of gold or stone but it certainly worships idols: idols of materialism and hedonism, idols of wealth and power, idols of ideologies and political parties, but God is a God that will deliver us. When we face the lions’ dens of this world, God will protect us. Like the anthems said, “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel, then what not every man?”

Wait a minute! Time out! Really!? Is the Bible really saying that God will always deliver anyone who is faithful? So if we are faithful and we are thrown into lions’ dens, God will send an angel to shut the mouths of the lions?

Let me tell you about Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was a faithful Christian who lived in the first century. He became the third bishop of Antioch in about 67 AD. He is considered one of the early church fathers and his writings give us a window into the early church at the time when much of the New Testament was being written. Early in the 2nd century around 107 AD, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, he was arrested and sentenced to death in the Colosseum. According to church
tradition he was thrown to the lions, but God didn’t shut the mouths of the lions. The lions tore him to pieces.

This was not an isolated incident. There are hundreds of other accounts of early Christians being fed to lions or other wild beasts, or being burned alive, or being killed by gladiators, or being crucified, or killed in other gruesome ways. What about all those other Christians martyrs down through the ages? If my Lord delivered Daniel, then why not every man or woman?

At this point you may be ready call time out. You may be thinking “Wait a minute preacher! Are you saying that God doesn’t save the faithful like God delivered Daniel?” No, I am not. I am saying we have to be careful how narrowly we define “save” or “deliver.” I am sure there were occasions when potential martyrs were “delivered’ from death by the hand of God. But there were also many others where they were “delivered” though death.

The martyrdom of those faithful believers in the early church was a witness to the Romans and to other Christians. In fact the word “martyr” comes from the Greek word for “witness.” Their witness of faith, by facing death, impressed the Romans. Perhaps it played a major role in the rapid spread of Christianity in those early years. It was also a witness that encouraged later Christians who faced persecution and possibly death.

On an individual level I would argue that all those martyrs were delivered. They may have suffered a physical death, but they gained eternal life. They were delivered through death unto eternal life. And they were given the opportunity to serve God and witness to God’s grace and goodness right up to the end!

I would also argue that on a corporate level the Jews of Daniel’s day and the Christians of Ignatius’ day were also delivered. Many died for the faith in both eras, but the faith they died for survived and flourished. The polytheistic faiths of their persecutors have died out, but Christianity and Judaism have survived and thrived down through the ages to our day. The Almighty has delivered the people of God through many persecutions down through the millennia.

So is Daniel unrealistic in its depiction? Again I would say, “No, it is aware of the realities of martyrdom.” The book of Daniel hints at this. Earlier in the book in chapter three it tell another story of three young Jewish men who faced death for their faith.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown in to a furnace for not bowing down to a golden idol. The king asked them “What god is able to save you from my hand?” They replied “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

The writer of the book of Daniel was well aware that many were martyred in the Persian and the Greek periods, but that does not diminish the greatness of God.

So what do we, in the 21st century, take away from this? There are Christians who are still martyred for their faith. Most likely, however, we will not face death for our beliefs. But we may face persecution. We may lose promotions and business accounts because we refuse to use dishonest business practices. We may lose the respect of those who consider our values out of place in a post- Christian society.

When you are thrown by the world into a lions’ den, know this. The lion may eat you, or like Daniel it may not. But you will be delivered. God will be faithful to you and see you through the trials of life. You may lose your business, or your job, or your status, or your life. But God will save you.

And your sacrifice will be a witness. A witness to your persecutors. And a witness to other believers. God will deliver you: it may be from death or it may be through death, but God will deliver you. “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel. Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel, then why not every man!”

Date Posted Title Listen Download
Oct 11, 2015 King Darius and the Lions’ Den Listen Download