Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
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!” And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 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; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
This is perhaps the most well-known passage of the Old Testament. It’s taught in Sunday Schools each Sunday to students of all ages, usually under the moniker of “Dare to be a Daniel.” We can learn from Daniel how to stand fast in the faith, and by trusting God, we too can pass unharmed in the lions’ dens of our own lives. But that’s not the point of this narrative…
Our story picks up in the thick of a conspiracy against Daniel, with the king being used as an unwitting pawn. It would seem as though Daniel had quite the reputation for integrity and service in the land of his captivity, and doubtless, had caused quite a stir among the native Babylonian royal advisers. Being savvy to the laws and customs of the time, they hoodwink Darius into making what was seemingly an innocent proclamation – but one that not even the king himself would be able to reverse – targeting Daniel. Once Daniel was found to have been in violation of such an edict, the gig was up. The king knew his advisors had pulled a fast one on him. He’d been duped. Powerless, he called for Daniel. In some of the most remorseful words recorded by Daniel, Darius commends him to his God as he is cast into the lions' den. One can almost hear in Darius’ voice the recall of the story passed down of how God had rescued the three Hebrew children from the fire his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had thrown them into. Surely, if the Hebrew God could do that, He could safeguard Daniel from the lions…. The stone was rolled over the den, Darius sealed it with his signet, and headed home to the palace, taking it all in.
The text reads at daybreak, he arose “in haste” to head to the den to see what had become of Daniel. He had the stone rolled away, and in perturbation, called out to Daniel. Doubtless to his shock as well as those around, Daniel called back! He declared the angel of the Lord was with him during the night, and the lions’ mouths stayed shut! The text says that Darius was “exceedingly glad” and straightway had Daniel taken up out of the den!
Now, the history of the church is riddled with those who trusted God and were thrown into the lions’ den. Ignatius of Antioch was marched from Syria to Rome only to be tossed, and ripped apart by wild beasts. Refusing deliverance he said, “Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!” And even when he was sentenced to be thrown to the beasts, he spoke, "I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread." History further recounts of Blandina, of Lyon, France, during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius Antonius, who when bound and tossed to the lions, was in such earnest prayer, the lions refused to touch her.
In our western Evangelical minds, we tend to commodify faith, treating it like it’s the Force from Star Wars – if we have it, we can manipulate God into shaping outcomes in our favor. After all, did not God honor Daniel’s faith in delivering him from the lions? Well, not exactly. You see, the faith of Daniel did not determine the outcome – the faith of Daniel was that the outcome did not matter. Whether he was torn apart by lions or whether they left him alone that night – he was going to trust the Lord either way. Ultimately, what this passage is about is not Daniel – he is but a mere agent. This story is about a sovereign God – a God who can deliver youths from the fire; a God who can preserve the lives of His faithful servants, without regard to conspiracies against them; a God who can shut the mouths of lions; a God who can reverse captivity; a God who is faithful to His Word. This is what those contemporary to the times it was written would have taken away from this passage, and this is likewise what we should take away as well. We serve a sovereign God who can and will do anything!