When King Belshazzar had been the ruler in Babylon he had not wanted to know of any prophet from the Lord. All that was changed when God intervened and wrote four words on the wall of the palace. Only Daniel could interpret the handwriting on the wall, and he alone of the wise men of Babylon had the authority to tell the king, “Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (5:27). Awareness of these extraordinary events made the new king, Darius the Mede, take notice of Daniel. “It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel” (6:1). These three men would check the reports that were coming to them from the 120 satraps all over the Empire, but of these three Daniel was supreme. We are told that “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” (6:3). There were those amongst the 120 satraps and the 2 other administrators who heard of Daniel’s elevation to office with deep jealousy, that a foreigner, this Old Testament Messiahist had such power in the land. Daniel was a man of such renowned integrity, unbribable whether by gold or even a smile, and unafraid of men’s frowns. He was the man who was going to monitor the bureaucracy and vested interests of Babylonia. Daniel is now in his 80s, meticulous and straight; we would say that he was ‘one of the old school’.
One meets Christians like that even today. They are not always easy men to work with, because their consciences are tied to the book of God. But they are safe men as colleagues. Grudgingly admired by the world they are sometimes more shamefully treated in some evangelical congregations because they do not fit in with a casual ethos and stress upon youth leadership. In Babylon an orchestrated campaign developed to get rid of Daniel. They began by checking out on “his conduct of government affairs” (9:4). The equivalent of the investigative journalists of Babylon were sitting at Daniel’s front door, and searching through his rubbish for evidence of some misdoing. It was a forlorn task. They found no dirty linen at all. Daniel lives a modest, self-denying, sleaze-free life. He is a man of total honesty with nothing to hide. They had to give their own rueful testimony to his integrity, “They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy, and neither corrupt nor negligent” (6:4).
Although no sins of Daniel are recorded in Scripture we know that Daniel was not a sinless man because in his prayer he stands with the people and acknowledges his own shortcomings. Daniel was a man of like passions as ourselves, but each day on at least three occasions he got down on his knees and he appropriated his Saviour. God was his refuge and strength. Daniel was about 85 but undiminished. He was not a nostalgic man looking back to ‘good old days.’ Daniel would say, “I lived by faith in God. He makes me more than conqueror.” That is where he got this exceptional endurance, so that in old age he was abounding in God’s work. When he is set over the whole kingdom he doesn’t wink at the world and think that all is fair in politics. He didn’t say to himself, “I’ll cheat as little as I can. I’ll turn a blind eye to things just very infrequently”. He didn’t plead, “Well, a man has to live.” Daniel hated the smallest sin, and was never “corrupt nor negligent” (6:4). To sustain himself on that narrow path he went to the secret place three times each day.
When the gates of hell want to destroy Daniel that secret place is where they attack him. They will use his piety against him. They will point at his praying and his seriousness about divine things. They know there is no hope of attacking him anywhere else. If they make false accusations that Daniel is putting his hand in the till, no one will believe them. One thing they can guarantee about Daniel is that he will not stop praying. So the administrators and satraps go as a group to Darius, the mighty conqueror, and they persuade him to issue a decree forbidding prayer for a month except to himself. Darius is easy to persuade. He would be a god for 30 days. Why not ? He could see the advantages of that. There would be no more differences of religion in the Empire. Names and sects and parties would fall. “Darius the god” would be all in all. He would be the one deity worshipped in all the empire. What a unifying factor in this cosmopolitan state. Perhaps after the trial thirty-day period the people will like it so much they would want to keep it.
What about Daniel? The delegation who had spoken to the king knew it was impossible for him to go without praying for a month. Actually for him not to pray for a day would have been an impossibility, so they thought they had snared Daniel. This book of Daniel is a history of a great battle that is continually taking place between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God, between Satan and Christ. When the satraps want to remove Daniel from office they choose to do it by discrediting him, and self-promotion is their only purpose. Satan has another scheme: he wants to stop Daniel praying. Satan doesn’t care if he continues as the Prime Minister. Satan’s concern is Daniel’s intercession.
Imagine if I opened a curtain on one side to reveal a lion ready to pounce, but when I opened the other end of the curtain there was Satan prepared to devour us. Whom would you most fear? You say that you would be most afraid of Satan. But there are evidently Christians who are more afraid of lions than they are of Satan. As well as the lions at the end of this chapter there is a lion at its beginning. Satan is like a roaring lion and as he goes about looking for anyone he can devour a prime target is this man. He wants to stop Daniel addressing the throne of grace. In other words, there is an easy way to dodge the threat of lions’ dens and that is to stop praying. Dangers which we cannot see with our eyes or hear with our ears are far more threatening than visible things. It was wonderful when Daniel braved the lion’s den. It was more wonderful when he constantly overcame his laziness, his cold heart, the temptations of the flesh, and turned away from a hundred and one other details claiming his attention. Daniel bowed before God and prayed day after day, with principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness of this world working all around him to stop him seeking the face of God. The great miracle in Daniel 6 is that he continued to pray.
If the people of God stop praying then no lions will threaten them. The boss will stop grumbling at you. Your unconverted family will think you are ‘normal’ again. Life would be far easier at that level if Christians stopped praying, because the lions win when we are silent. The great mark of true faith is that we keep praying. It shows that we fear God more than we fear men. Satan could see what being to the throne of grace had done for Daniel for over 80 years. There were lessons he had learned at the feet of the Lord that he could not have learned anywhere else. Satan knew that the church would triumph in Babylon only if it went in its weakness to God and asked for grace. That would be a church with a future, for God is not deaf to such a people. When it is pitch black all you need is one single light and then darkness no longer prevails. The destiny of the Church in Babylon was decided in Daniel’s room. The great battle took place there, not in the lion’s den, but at the open window looking to God. What were the snarls of lions compared to that warfare ?
We are told that Daniel prayed three times a day (6:10): that is, Daniel prayed more than a thousand times every year. If each of us prayed as often as Daniel prayed then by the time of the next Conference this congregation would have prayed more than a million times. That will not be easy. Prayer is inconvenient, because there is always something else to do, and many sins hinder us. In real prayer there are routine clichés that have to be killed, pious mumbles and rhythms to break down. Yet prayer is essential as the breathing of the soul, and without it our soul dies. In prayer we articulate our faith and live it out. If a law were passed in Wales that prohibited anyone praying during the next month most Welshmen could very self-righteously keep that law with little inconvenience at all, except for a feeling of outrage at the loss of civil liberties. It would make no difference to the lives of most people. But what is frightening is how many Christians live without prayer. How many church officers, ministers and preachers live without prayer. Why don’t we make an impact on the nation ? Why isn’t the church stronger? Why aren’t there more conversions? Because the plot against Welsh pray-ers has succeeded ! Yet, why are we as strong as we are? Why are we as full of grace as we are? Why are there conversions? Because the plot against Welsh pray-ers has failed. There are men and women of prayer in the land. But there is something more wonderful. There is somebody exalted to the right hand of God and he ever lives to make intercession for us. Sometimes we are so moved by someone’s praying for us at a crisis in our lives. Their prayers have lifted us, and we go in the strength of that intercession for a few days. Then we think to ourselves, “Here am I so encouraged by my friend, my pastor praying for me like that, but at God’s right hand I have some one constantly whispering my worthless name in the ears of his Father in heaven and so he saves me to the uttermost. Christ takes my prayers and de-sins them making them a sweet savour to God.” Our prayers today are not Make me like Daniel, but Make me like the Lord Jesus.
When the state tells you to do something that God forbids then, with all the reluctance in the world, you have to disobey Caesar. So when Daniel knew that the decree was signed, immediately he went home and prayed. He behaved as he always did, no matter how many laws of the Medes and Persians were forbidding his conduct.. If God’s Word for you is more than a great old book or a useful standard of conduct then Daniel’s response will find an echo in you. There have been times when you have read it and you clutched that Bible to you with a lump in your throat thinking, “How wonderful ! I have the word of God ! I have this book that comes from another world !” Then prayer that follows will not be a tedious formality, it will be a river of life, a consuming fire which nothing can extinguish. How can you ban such prayer? It is laughable. It is like forbidding the tides, or prohibiting lightning. You stop praying, and you sign your death warrant. Only someone who has never prayed will not pray for a month. Daniel could not stop praying if there were as many lions in Darius’s den as there are slates on the roofs of Aberystwyth.
It is as impossible to stop praying as the Christian ceasing to be grateful for his salvation. So Daniel couldn’t stop being Daniel, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he went to his room to pray. The text makes that transparently clear. When Daniel learned that the decree had been published he went to his room. Daniel did not fall into some trap. Daniel did not intend to plead, “I didn’t know”. He knew the decree, and the consequences of defiance. He went to that upper room and laid his life on the line, as if he were deliberately walking to the gallows. He went, “just as he had done before” (6:10). That day was no different. It was just an ordinary time of prayer. There is no need to embellish that. Nothing is said in the Bible about what Daniel felt, it simply tells us what he did.
If anyone had stopped Daniel and asked him, “Do you feel torn between the choices of serving the king and serving God ?” Daniel would have replied that there was only one option. Have you come across Christians who are always meeting problems of guidance in the Christian life ? It is so perplexing for them following the Lord. They have ‘problems’ about courtship, or about worship, or about recreation, or about fellowship, or about Sundays. Poor Christians, it is so perplexing for them to follow the Lord. But many so-called problems are at root matters concerning the cost of obedience rather than inadequate guidance. It is not that they do not know what to do, but rather the narrow path is a lonely one for this next stretch, or the cross the Saviour has given them to carry is particularly heavy. What faced Daniel was not a matter of guidance but of fundamental obedience in his life. Who was Daniel’s Lord ?
So Daniel “got down on his knees and prayed” and what was the theme of his praying ? “Giving thanks to God” (6:10). He was so grateful that God knew him and that he knew the Lord. Such faith is the victory that overcomes the world. When we know God, we also know who we ourselves are, and we know our duty. We don’t just scratch our noses in a restaurant before we eat, we pray. No one has to close his eyes to pray. There are times when a sick old lady in a hospital says, “If you knew me, you’d know I wasn’t a sinner,” and all the ward seems to be listening for your answer. No one needs to close his eyes when he prays for help on such occasions. Daniel could have continued for a whole month to pray inwardly. He needn’t have gone to his room to pray, need he? He needn’t have kneeled down before the windows opened towards Jerusalem. “Avoid needless offence,” people are telling us all the time. We are told that if we were not so American, or so Welsh, or so uneducated, or so cerebral, or so traditionalist, or so old, or so young, or so theological, or so untheological that we would behave in a different way. “Those evangelicals,” people mutter, “they’ve got difficult personalities, haven’t they?” So men array before us the alleged benefits of belonging to the coming hyper-denomination (“It’s just around the corner”), and of the healing nature of inter-faith meetings in a divided society. What we believe we are told is “just your opinion.” Certainly no one has the right to be a bigot, or an ignoramus, or an obscurantist, or to hate his neighbour. Rather let us, like the Lord Jesus, grow in favour with men, be loving neighbours, and do good to all men. Above all let us do what God says and believe what God has revealed. If Daniel had acted according to the advice of worldly wise men his life of usefulness would have been all over eating the royal food and wine as a teenager. But God had had the prior claim to Daniel’s life for more than threescore years and ten. If we looked through the windows of Daniel’s home we would be seeing the greatest statesman of his age, maybe of any age, and he is on his knees, speaking to God, just like that mother we thought about. She was nursing a 48 hour-old baby and speaking to the same heavenly Father that Daniel was addressing. This colossus was praying simply like a child in his Father’s presence. What greater hope could there be for the future of our nation than statesmen like that ?
I was visiting a Presbyterian minister in Inverness. He had once been a pastor in Canada and when the former Lord Chancellor had cause to visit Toronto he would ask if he might stay with him and enjoy Highland fellowship. Once when he was staying at the Manse the pastor said to the statesman that it was a mission week and they were visiting some homes. The statesman volunteered to go with them, and so they entered a run-down tenement block full of the alienated and dispossessed members of society. They knocked on one door and there stood a single mother who invited them in. The minister told me how he sat quietly and listened to the statesman as he went through the gospel point by point with this young girl, who had no idea that she was listening to a man who held one of the greatest offices in the British nation. Can you think of more hope for the next millennium than a nation to have leaders like that ?
After Daniel had given thanks we are told that he went on to “ask God for help” (6:11). Both he and all the people of God with whom he stood in the solidarity of faith needed divine assistance. We are told that as a stranger amongst the Babylonians he opened the windows of his home towards Jerusalem, to God’s “beautiful land” which was then like a wilderness. Are we above the use of such a lawful stimulus to prayer as that ? Are there not the remembrances of God’s mighty works in our land which can stir us to pray at this hour ? If Daniel, so methodical and regular in prayer, appreciated the windows open to Jerusalem we must see whether our sloth needs such stimulants. When we feel ourselves to be too sluggish in prayer we may collect all the aids which can arouse our feelings and warm our hearts.
Daniel also “got down on his knees and prayed” (6:10). The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the Pharisees who prayed on tiptoe so everybody could see what they were doing (Matt.6:5). We are told that the Lord Jesus kneeled to pray (Luke 22:41). If anyone had the right to be casual and folksy with God, chatting away with the Ancient of Days it would have been he who was in the beginning with God and in the beginning was God. But when as the God-man he spoke to his Father from this fallen world he kneeled down. There was no sin in him, and nothing to bring a frown to the countenance of his heavenly God, but as a creature, a real human being, he got on his knees. That posture of Jesus tells us a lot about acceptable worship. Let us like Daniel, “be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire'” (Hebs.12:28).
Then the officials of Babylon went out hunting ! These elite men, the cream of Babylonian society, with all their education, and everything that Babylon could offer them “went as a group” (6:11). Imagine it ! Someone notices this band of self-important officials purposefully hurrying along the road. “Where are you going – for a meal? ” “No.” “Going to the Baths ?” “No”. “Going to see the Hanging Gardens ?” “No.” “Going hunting ?” “No.” (It was getting embarrassing). “Fishing ?” “No. If you must know … we are going to catch a man praying.” These are diplomats: the Foreign Office of Babylon, and they are out hunting an old man whom they think they have caught in their trap. They intend to find him on his knees worshipping God.
Having caught Daniel in prayer the men reported back to Darius and they told him that they had caught a revolutionary red-handed. “Well done, men,” said the king. “Bring in the traitor,” they cry, and in comes old Daniel. When Darius heard what had happened he was deeply humbled. We are told “he was greatly distressed” (6:14). What a fool he had been. He was sorry for Daniel, and for Babylon. He was sorry for these idiots because of the malice that festered in their hearts. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Don’t we know such times ? All day he tormented himself – was there a way out? “He was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him,” (6:14) But Darius is trapped by the snare he himself has created. The king had lost his freedom in Babylon because his pride had enslaved him. Freedom is a state of mind. Daniel was as free as a bird in Babylon. Peter in prison could sleep so soundly that an angel coming into the room couldn’t wake him. “He struck Peter on his side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up !’ he said” (Acts 12:7). Daniel knew God could close the mouth of every lion if He were pleased to spare his servant. All Darius had were the clichés of religion, but none of its reality: “‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you,'” (6:16). Darius is like any number of politicians or comedians who end their routine with a weak ‘God bless’.
So into the den of lions went Daniel. The den would be in cellars with an opening for food which would have to be officially sealed, it being too easy having killed someone to dispose of his body by night through that dark opening. The king would have a signet ring, and the nobles would have their signet rings and they officially sealed the end of Daniel. But the victory was won long before this time in Daniel’s room, when he prayed, not when he was thrown into the den, nor even when he was drawn out of the den. That night another king of Babylon could not sleep (2:1), nor could he eat (6:18) because of the activity of the living God. At first light, as the weak sun was shining over Babylon, “the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den” (6:19). There he shouted for Daniel with a voice of anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions ?” (6:20) Daniel responds from that dark stinking hole graciously and correctly, “O king, live for ever ! My God sent his angel and he shut the mouths of the lions.” (6:21). Where do you find true majesty ? It is not always found in a palace in the behaviour of members of a royal family. But it can be found in a stinking den of animals. Composure, dignity and peace there, while fear and worry rage in a king.
How was Daniel saved ? Two answers are given to us. The first is from Daniel’s perspective, and it is spelled out in Hebrews 11 – it was by faith that Daniel “shut the mouths of lions” (v.33). That truth is also found in our narrative: “when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (6:23). Daniel’s confidence was in God, believing that if the Lord had willed it then not one lion would harm him. He believed that God had the supreme authority to change the instincts of wild beasts and make them like playful kittens. So with that calm assurance into the den he went. Daniel knew that he was not going alone; there was a sovereign Protector with him. Faith in God keeps each Christian safe.
The second reason that Daniel was saved was that during that evening, when all the angels of heaven gathered together to receive their night duties from their Lord, one of them was given this extraordinary task, “Go to Babylon. There my beloved servant Daniel is to be thrown into a den of lions. Keep the mouth of every lion closed.” That angel came at the speed of divinity and did God’s bidding (6:22).
Of course, those two reasons are inseparable. Believing prayer pulls down divine aid. When Peter is in prison the church is praying and the angel delivers him. The excitement of this chapter is not the deliverance, but the trust. God does not always rescue his faithful servants from the stake. Daniel’s miraculous deliverance is exceptional. The question is always decided by the issue of what gives greater glory to God. Oftentimes martyrdom does that. But in this instance God determined that Daniel was of more use to him alive. He a work for Daniel yet to do and grace to perform it. Richard Baxter wrote,
Lord. it belongs not to my care whether I die or live.
To love and serve Thee is my share, and this Thy grace must give.
There was to be yet another monarch over Babylon, named Cyrus. God had prophesied (Isaiah 45:1) that a king bearing that name will be the one to restore His people. Daniel will be given grace to serve God and his cause under Cyrus. So the prophet is delivered from death, and Darius is more confirmed than ever in the indispensability of Daniel. He issues a decree to his entire empire that all must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. He extols the power of Daniel’s Lord in the most God-honouring language, adding ultimately, “He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (6:26&27). So, far from being cruelly murdered, “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (6:28).
As we turn away from this great historical event let us think of another man, greater than Daniel, let down into a pit of death, and a great stone rolled across its entrance and sealed. Do you remember when the angels were gathered before God to receive instructions for that day, one was sent (was it the same angel ? One day we will know) to roll the stone away. From that den of death came forth the Prince of life. He is the one who has conquered death and has kept it dead for ever and ever. So that today, to be absent from the body is not to be dead, but to be present with the Lord.
He is Daniel’s God.
He is Jehovah Jesus.
He is our Saviour!