MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 19, 2006 FROM DANIEL CHAPTER SIX

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"An Uchangeable Law, An Invincible God"

MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 19, 2006 FROM DANIEL CHAPTER SIX

 

Read:  Daniel 6:1-28

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom;  2and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss.  3Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.  4Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.  5Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God." 6Then these presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, "O King Darius, live forever!  7All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.  8Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked."  9Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction. 10When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.  11Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God.  12Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, "O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?" The king answered and said, "The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked."  13Then they answered and said before the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day." 14Then 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.  15Then 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." 16Then 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!"  17And 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.  18Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him. 19Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions.  20As 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?"  21Then Daniel said to the king, "O king, live forever!  22My 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."  23Then 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.  24And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. 25Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: "Peace be multiplied to you.

 26I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,

for he is the living God,

enduring forever;

his kingdom shall never be destroyed,

and his dominion shall be to the end.

27He delivers and rescues;

he works signs and wonders

in heaven and on earth,

he who has saved Daniel

from the power of the lions."

 28So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

 

          This week we bring to a close the first half of Daniel and our treatment of these much loved stories of God’s sovereign reign in the midst of his people’s exile.  Of all these stories, perhaps the best known and most loved is the one we read earlier from chapter six.  The story of Daniel in the lion’s den can be divided several ways.  We can divide it into literary units, sectioning it by the various movements of the story’s plot line.  The first eight verses we could call—“the plot is hatched.”  The next section could be “the trap is sprung” with the third being, “God foils the plan” and the final section, “God receives the glory while his enemies receive their judgment.  Within that literary outline is an even more important theological outline.  This and all the other stories up to this point in Daniel are essentially testimonies to the supremacy of God.  Within this story, the key theological truths are:  1.God’s supremacy over his servant Daniel’s conspirators, 2. his supremacy over a pagan king, 3. his supremacy over the law of the Medes and the Persians and 4. his supremacy over the gods of the Persians.  We’ll see all those truths as we survey this wonderful story.

          Within this first section where the plot against Daniel is hatched, the author sets up the story by describing the process the new Persian King, Darius executes to set up his new government.  There are 120 satraps or provincial governors over the entire kingdom.  Over this group are three presidents and the aged Daniel—in his 80’s by this time, is one of those three.  Darius had evidently heard of Daniel’s former years of excellent service and that this man boldly predicted to the former king the fall of Babylon to the Persians.  Verse three tells us, “Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.”  That tells us that this new King had observed Daniel and, like Nebuchadnezzar before him in chapter two, determined to name Daniel as his Prime Minister.  As before, we see the parallels to the story of Joseph in Genesis.  This Hebrew foreigner is repeatedly recognized for his excellence and promoted to the highest levels of government.

          But like Joseph, Daniel is not elevated simply because he was extremely gifted and a hard worker.  Verse three tells us that he was promoted because “an excellent spirit was in him.”  Earlier in the book we have seen the source of this “excellent spirit.”  In 4:8, the pagans recognize that in Daniel was the “spirit of the holy gods.”  Those references inform our understanding of what Darius means when he says that “an excellent spirit was in him.”  The truth is—God is all over Daniel and that’s why this pagan king rejects other candidates who were far more obvious choices for the position.  Think about it.  The other candidates were almost certainly Persians.  How likely is it for a Persian king to name as his second in command a deported Jew who had been taken captive and trained by Nebuchadnezzar?  Daniel was chosen because by the Holy Spirit he reflected the excellence of God.

          The satraps and the other leaders heard of Daniel’s imminent promotion and they are not going to stand for this Hebrew being named to this post.  They endeavor to do precisely what politically ambitious people do today who seek to scuttle the nomination of a candidate they don’t approve—they went looking for dirt and scandal.  To their frustration, they came up empty because as verse four says, “he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.”  Daniel has no skeletons in his closet.  He is truly beyond reproach—squeaky clean.  His enemies were however very clever people and so, lacking an easy way to smear Daniel, they assess their available resources and come up with a plan. 

They were not totally without potentially useful assets.  They had a king, who though he highly regarded Daniel, was an egotist and they could play to that somehow. Second, they had a legal system that exalted the rule of law. The Persian kings were answerable to the law.  In some ways, they were governed by law and not simply the whim of the tyrant.  Finally, in Daniel they had a man who was totally committed to his faith and whose religion was very different than their own or their king’s.  So, utilizing the assets at their disposal, they conceived a plan and devised a trap for Daniel.  They would trick their king into writing one of those unbreakable laws—a law that would, at one and the same time, manipulate the king’s ego AND capitalize on Daniel’s uncompromising religious practice.  It’s brilliant—these are smart people.  They’re just the kind of people God likes to use to manifest his supremacy. 

          Daniel’s obvious devotion to God in the midst of a pagan culture poses a challenge to us who live in an increasingly pagan culture.  His example begs the question—how many unbelievers know US as people who would never compromise our spiritual principles?  These conspirators banked the success of their entire plan on the fact that they KNEW Daniel would not compromise his relationship with God.  They KNEW that Daniel loved his God more than he loved his life.  In verses 16 and repeated in verse 20, the king speaks of Daniel as “continually” serving his God.  How many unbelievers know that we are uncompromising in our spiritual lives as we continually serve God? 

The specifics of their plan are revealed in verse seven.  All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.” Whether the king is simply using this law to unify the religion of his newly conquered people, or whether he is in fact anxious to be revered as a god, the net result is the same in God’s sight.  That is—this man, by agreeing to be prayed to, makes himself out to be a god to whom the God of Israel’s own Hebrew people are commanded to pray.  Even though this king is very sympathetic toward Daniel, we mustn’t allow that fact to obscure the truth that Cyrus is guilty of blasphemy and an open challenge to the God of Israel.  What this law communicated to God was clear.  Your people—the ones who pray to you will for the next 30 days pray only to ME.”

          In verse 9-18, the trap is sprung as the king foolishly signs the injunction.  He unwittingly places not only Daniel, but also himself in a very difficult situation.  For his part, Daniel responds to this challenge just as his adversaries had expected.  Verse 10 says, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”  When Daniel hears about this law, he does what he always did—he goes to prayer.  When the crisis is revealed, he doesn’t have to run around and try to quickly manufacture a strong devotional life to get him through the trial.  Daniel’s devotional bridges to God were already firmly in place.  We dare not miss the connection between Daniel’s intensely influential and courageous public life, and what we discover here about his devotional life.  Daniel was not a spiritual prodigy for whom godly wisdom and spiritual maturity and courage came naturally.  There are no spiritual prodigies.  Living faithfully to God does not come naturally or easily to fallen humanity.  The kind life Daniel lived is the product of much time spent on his knees.  The reason’s Daniel’s life was so incredibly ordered and controlled by God can be traced to this means of grace we call spiritual discipline. 

          Daniel had a very disciplined prayer life.  It was not common Jewish practice to pray three times a day—this was nowhere found in the law.  Also, the typical bodily posture for the Jewish male while praying was standing—Daniel got down on his 80 year-old knees.  Like the other exiles, he faced Jerusalem when he prayed, not because there was anything sacred about Jerusalem.  By this time, the temple had been long abandoned by God and destroyed.  It was simply a good a way to remind the Jews that they were aliens and their God was not the gods of the Persians, but the God of Israel and Israel was to the east.  Daniel refuses to stop praying, deciding like so many other persecuted saints through the centuries that he would obey God, not man. 

This is remarkable because it would have been SO easy to rationalize not praying.  After all, this was only for a month—what’s the harm in not praying to God for a month?  God doesn’t need our prayers, does he?  After all, you could certainly pray in silence while you were on your bed—no one would even need to know about this.  After all, it’s not as if the king were asking for people to bow down to him as Nebuchadnezzar had done in chapter three.  Finally, as one of the three ranking presidents, Daniel could probably find a way to avoid most situations where this “praying to the king” was required—just lay low, don’t make waves and play it smart.

          Why did Daniel not choose to opt for one of those potentially attractive rationalizations?  Because this was a call to violate the first commandment—to relate to a fallen human king as a god and Daniel would not commit idolatry to spare his life, much less remain in the running for an impressive position in some pagan government.  If someone calls you to violate the first commandment and you don’t openly reject that call, they will assume you have done what they asked of you.  That communicates to them that you are alright with idolatry.  Daniel knew the truth Jesus would later articulate in Luke chapter nine, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”  [v.25] Daniel here models for us a person who could have easily rationalized compromise, but instead chose to place his life on the line rather than betray God.

          Daniel’s enemies, who quickly discovered his violation of the king’s law, immediately go to the king and report the matter.  As we later discover, they did not realize the folly of this plan, which not only trapped Daniel but also the king, and rule of law or not, it was never a good idea to try to manipulate an Ancient Near Eastern king.  The story makes clear on several levels that Darius does not want to throw Daniel to the lions.  He tries to find a way around the law and is in anguish when he cannot find a loophole.  He even appeals to Daniel’s God before he is placed in the lion’s den. “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”  While Daniel is in the pit, the king can’t sleep all night, refuses food—he’s a mess over this.  The author tells us these things, not only to show us the personal regard the king has for Daniel, but also to contrast Darius, who claims for himself the privilege of God—to receive prayer, with the God of Israel.

          While God is in heaven quietly executing his sovereign plan of deliverance through his angels, this human king is tied in knots professionally, legally and emotionally.  Ernest Lucas comments, “There is irony in the fact that the king who sought to portray himself as the one through whom everyone’s petition could be answered finds that he cannot bring about the one thing that HE wants to happen.  He is trapped by his courtiers and his own immutable decree.”  Darius, far from being sovereign in this situation, finds himself powerless even to change an injunction he himself had signed into law.  Again, must see the contrast between this wannabe divine, who is pictured here as something just short of a buffoon, while the Almighty King of Israel is revealed to be great among the nations.

          As Daniel is lowered into this pit of lions, we must remember the truth we saw in chapter three in the fiery furnace story.  That is—God does not always rescue us from the trial, but much more often in the midst of the trial.  He allows this old man who had been so faithful to him to be lowered into this pit filled with hungry lions and there he stayed all night.  In a matter of hours, his position radically changes from being one of the most respected leaders in the most powerful empire on earth, to becoming a source of protein for hungry lions.  God not only allowed but superintended this precipitous and shocking fall from power. 

Why?  As we said in chapter three—because God receives much more glory from foiling a trap that has already been sprung, than by merely preventing the trap from being executed in the first place.  It doesn’t take manifestly divine power to outsmart a few envious bureaucrats.  That happens all the time.  But only God can shut the mouths of hungry lions.  So, if today or in the future you find yourself in the lion’s den—sure that it would take an act of God to rescue you, know this—that context is perfect for God’s glory to be revealed in you.  God was also glorified in Daniel’s choice to face death rather than betray the covenant.  Daniel’s act of devotion shows God to be worthy of his very life.  That supreme value and worth of God would not have been displayed apart from Daniel’s willingness to become lion food.

          Beginning with 19, God foils this plan of these jealous conspirators.  At the break of day, the king has the seal over the stone broken and personally and “in haste” goes out to the pit and declares, “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!  22My 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."  God shows his glory here in several ways.  First, he displays his supremacy over this unbreakable law, not by breaking it, but by trumping it.  Although God chooses not to alter the law sentencing Daniel to the lions, he does alter the lions.  In modern parlance, he doesn’t take the guns away from those in the firing squad; he just takes away their bullets.  In ways that are not specified, an angel shuts the mouths of the lions.  The angel’s impact on these lions in Daniel’s case is revealed by his absence in the case of Daniel’s enemies who are fed to the lions and who meet their grisly demise before they reach the floor of this pit.

          God is also glorified as he is repeatedly called “the living God” by the king both before and after his rescue of Daniel.  That’s not an accident.  It’s the author’s way of communicating that this God, who is not only alive but also active and almighty, is a far cry from the dead pagan idols of Persia.  In this sense, God shows his supremacy over this new raft of pagan gods the Persians bring with them.  In light of salvation history, the most important question concerning God’s rescue of Daniel is, why?  Why did he rescue Daniel when countless other servants of God have been martyred through the centuries?  It would be easy to conclude from this story that as long as you are faithful to God and innocent of any crime as Daniel was, then God will rescue you from trials.  A couple of things need to be said.  One scholar rightly cautions us in this area, “When God intervenes it is to accomplish his purposes, not ours.”

          The reason God rescues Daniel has little to do with Daniel and far more to do with the fact that his rescue of Daniel suited his purposes.  Jesus knew this arrangement in the garden of Gethsemane.  That’s why he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.”  Second, ultimately God delivers everyone who faithfully endures persecution.  Sometimes that deliverance is through a miracle like this one and sometimes it is through death.  All people can do is kill you—then, you’re free.  That truth is at the heart of this seemingly absurd statement Jesus makes in Luke 21, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  17You will be hated by all for my name's sake.  18But not a hair of your head will perish.  19By your endurance you will gain your lives…even if you die”  Think about that one.  You will be put to death…but not a hair of your head will perish.” That’s not a contradiction.

          The deliverance that matters far more than deliverance from any temporal physical suffering and death is deliverance from God’s judgment.  If that were our priority, we would have no trouble understanding the words of Jesus, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.  In Mark 13:13 he says, “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  Many of those martyrs worldwide whose persecution the church recognized last week have learned to look at life like that and there will be a crown in heaven for them.  This story in chapter six ends like some of the others—with a pagan king worshipping the God of Israel and he testifies to the same truths  Nebuchadnezzar had earlier.  God is the living God and unlike Cyrus, his “kingdom shall never be destroyed and his dominion shall be to the end.”

           There is much more that could be said from this treasure trove of truth, but let’s close with three points of additional application.  First, this story like the others, teaches us that God has a passion to reveal his glory to the nations through his people. We see this through the lens of global missions in the fact that the king’s decree in praise of God was an international encyclical.  That is, this was not simply a spontaneous remark an astonished king makes in the presence of a miracle.  He directs that this decree be circulated [verse 25] “to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth.”  Although God certainly rescued Daniel to encourage his own captive Jewish people, his broader purpose was that this king would speak of his glory to all the nations.  Notice two ways Daniel glorifies God.  First, through his unimpeachable character that the people around him knew was rooted in his continual devotion to God.  Second, by the display of God’s power in rescuing him from the lions.

          As we compare those two ways God is glorified with the North American church, how do we stack up?  The answer is—not well.  As many studies have repeatedly cited, the statistics on the evangelical church in America show very little if any difference between us and the pagans around us in the television shows we watch, the movies we rent and even the rate of divorce and abortion we permit.  The church is far from squeaky clean in America.  If you were to ask the average pagan in America what most impresses them about the evangelical church, my strong suspicion is that the response would have far more to do with the temporal political power we can muster, than the holy character of God we are called to reflect.  This is due in part to the fact that, as we have seen, the character of God is more often clearly seen among his people in contexts of persecution and that leads to a second point of application.

          That is, God’s glory is often revealed through the suffering of his people. The first half of the book of Daniel is greatly encouraging to the church for good reason.  God shows himself to be so intensely active and powerful in the lives of Daniel and his three friends.  But we must not forget that God’s activity is consistently manifest within the context of the suffering of his people.  Think back through the chapters.  In chapter one, God is active in the context of Daniel and his associates as they will likely be expelled from the Royal Academy because they refused to eat pagan food.  And that was the best case scenario—they could have been imprisoned or killed for asking to edit the king’s menu. 

In chapter two, when God is glorified in revealing Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream to Daniel, that only occurs after Daniel and his friends have been placed under a death sentence by the king and were in fact on the verge of their execution.  In chapter three, God is glorified in Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s life, but his activity is revealed in the context of their being thrown into a fiery furnace.  In chapters four and five, God actively reveals to Daniel an interpretation of a dream and the prophecy of the demise of an empire, but Daniel has to deliver this horrifically bad news to kings who had the power to kill him for ruining their day.  And finally here in chapter six, God is clearly active, but in the context of his servant being thrown to the lions. 

God is brought much glory in this first half of Daniel in the lives of his servants, but it did not come cheaply.  This is not to say that God is only glorified in his people when they are suffering.  That is not at all the case.  He is also honored through his merciful deliverance of us from trials and pain.  The point is simply that we need to allow texts like this to reprogram our minds from a prosperous evangelical culture that consistently implies that God’s job is always to deliver us from suffering.  The truth is—only when it is in HIS best interest—when that would most glorify him.  That means that when we pray for God’s glory to be revealed in our lives, it is best to remember this, not to scare us, but to keep us from misunderstanding how God is most greatly glorified. Now, this suffering ultimately brings much joy in this life and the next.  I can guarantee you that if Daniel were here today, he would express no regrets!  Hebrews chapter 12 says of the ultimate suffering Servant, Jesus, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  There is joy in the midst of the suffering that brings God much glory.

And our third and final point is related to that text.  That is—This trial of Daniel’s points to a much more important one to come.   This story is filled with elements that point to an even more dramatic trial to come later in salvation history.  John Goldingay writes of a future Servant who, “…too, is a victim of conspiracy and betrayal from people whose position is threatened by him and who seek occasion to manipulate higher authorities into executing him…he too is arrested at his customary place of prayer.  These higher authorities, too, find no fault in him and labor to free him, but are reminded that the law forbids it.  He too, has to rely on God to deliver him as his tomb is sealed.  Indeed, he actually dies, and injury can be found on him after he comes back from the dead:  more extraordinary is it, then, that very early at sunrise, he, too, is discovered to be alive after all.”

When God allows Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den, he is pointing forward to His Son who he will not spare, but will instead crush on Calvary’s cross so that through his suffering we might come to know freedom from sin’s penalty and the fear of men and freedom to serve him in the power of His Excellent Holy Spirit, living before him beyond reproach in the midst of pagans who do not know him but who, through us can see his glory.  May God give us the grace to live and, if necessary die for the glory of God and our salvation.

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