A sermon on Daniel 6 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 24 July 2022
As we’ve said before, the book of Daniel teaches us how to live in Babylon. I know we don’t live in Babylon, but we live in a kind of Babylon, just like Daniel did, when our values seems strange to the dominant culture around us, when holding onto our faith feels like swimming against the current.
Today we come to our last message from this remarkable book and so it’s important to take stock and ask ourselves, what have we learned? What have we learned about living in Babylon?
If Daniel teaches us anything it is that it is possible for God’s people to succeed even in Babylon. Daniel started at the very bottom of the Babylonian public service and worked his way right to the top. And it was no accident. He not only made use of his God given talents, but he consciously applied himself to showing wisdom and tact. While others panicked, he remained calm. While others were afraid, he was brave. His attitude and abilities made other people’s lives better and he was rewarded for it. God’s people showing God’s wisdom can succeed in God’s world.
We’ve also seen that the rulers of Babylon have consistently used violence and force to get their way. The Babylonian empire was created and maintained by its armies. The rulers used threats of death to enforce compliance. Daniel showed that the person of God is called to a better way of life – caring for others, using their gifts for the benefit of others.
We’ve also learned that although human rulers seem to do whatever they want, God is king above them. God raises them up. He calls them to account for their decisions and actions. He brings them down if necessary. Human rulers are temporary, but God’s rule is eternal. Trusting God is the winning move in the game of life.
We’ve also learned that our decisions and actions matter. Because death doesn’t protect the wicked from justice and death doesn’t rob the righteous from their reward. But God will raise up the dead and they will receive justice. In God’s eternal kingdom death will be no more and his purpose of life will reign supreme.
So lastly we’ve learned that living in Babylon we must often draw the line that we will not cross. We must obey God when his will is clear rather than human rulers and not stray into behaviour that contradicts our faith. In fact, obeying human rulers rather than God is the worst losing strategy, because it will have serious eternal consequences when God’s kingdom comes and his justice reigns. What we do in life and the choices we make matter.
We finish this extraordinary book today by looking at its most familiar story: Daniel in the Lion’s den. And it will, of course, reinforce many of the lessons we’ve already learned. At the start of Daniel chapter 6, Daniel is an old man, still serving the king. He was a teenage boy in chapter 1 in about 600 BC. Now during the rule of the Persians in about 540 BC he is in his late 70s or early 80s. And still working hard. He has risen to the top of the public service in Babylon and is one of three men to whom all the other governors and administrators in the empire must report. In fact, the king was planning to promote Daniel even higher, to become his right hand man, with no other person above him or beside him.
This high status annoyed the men under him and they decided to get rid of him. They investigated his life, looking for any weakness that they could exploit to take him down. They couldn’t find it in his way of life. Daniel did not indulge himself in any illegal activity. They couldn’t find it in his work. Daniel was good at his job and conducted it with complete integrity. He was neither corrupt nor negligent.
The only weakness they could find was in his faith in the God of Israel, his obedience to the true and living God. Having looked over his life from top to bottom they knew that he was so consistent that if they could create a situation where he would have to choose to obey or to lose his job or even his life, they knew he would choose to obey.
What’s your weakness? If your enemies investigated your life from top to bottom and from inside out so that all your secrets were known, would they have to concede that your only weakness that they could exploit was your unshakeable allegiance to the Father of our Lord Jesus? May we all confront our every weakness until that is the only one left.
Daniel’s enemies came up with a plan and they brought it to the king. They said,
O King, live forever. The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.
The plan not only played on Daniel’s faith but also on the king’s own arrogance. Imagine if it were suggested to you that no one was allowed to pray to any god or any person or any thing except you on pain of death. But it is, unfortunately, the kind of arrogance that is all too common. People carrying on like they are God, like they have to be obeyed no matter what, and like any question, even the smallest suggestion, is a threat to their leadership.
God forbid that anyone behave like that in our church. Only God is God in his world. Only God should be God in his church. God is after all the best qualified for the job.
But Darius thought that it was a great idea that he should be treated like the only god for a whole month without thinking once of the consequences. Later in the story we will see how much he cared for Daniel and wanted to protect him and to rescue him. But there are no heroic qualities in Darius. His arrogant folly put his friend’s life in danger.
And it was made law under the rules of the laws of the Medes and the Persians that said that no law can be repealed. That rule was meant to be a safeguard against hasty decision making. It was meant to be a loud, Wait, making people think before changing the laws that had worked perfectly for generations. Because once it was changed it couldn’t be changed back.
Unfortunately, as shown in Daniel chapter 6, it could easily be manipulated to give a very different result. What it will mean is that once the king realises that his favourite, Daniel’s, life is in danger he can’t go back on the plan.
What does Daniel do when he finds out about the law? Does he run away? Does he pray in secret? Does he organise a petition to change the law that says that laws can’t be changed? Or does he make a show of his defiance, praying openly in the market place, making the king look bad. No, Daniel does what he normally does. In direct disobedience to the king’s own proclamation he prayed as he usually did.
When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Like it said, “just as he had done before”. This is Daniel’s integrity, his consistency. He won’t back down, but he doesn’t do it in a way to embarrass the king. It’s not about disobeying the king. It’s about obeying God. If he had been in the habit of praying secretly, he would have kept doing that. But his enemies knew that if Daniel didn’t change, they’d be able to see if he obeyed the king’s law or not.
And so the trap was set. The king, when he learned that his foolish new law had endangered his favourite and most trusted advisor, he tried to get Daniel off. But he couldn’t. Reluctantly, he gave the order for Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den. He said to Daniel,
May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!
It would have been a very good prayer, if he hadn’t been asking for Daniel to be rescued from his own lions because of his own folly and arrogance.
As dawn broke the next day, the king hurried to the mouth of the den. After spending a sleepless night in helpless anxiety, he rushed to see if Daniel was still alive.
Daniel, he cried, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?
Not, “did he rescue you from the lions?” But, “has he been able to rescue you from the lions?” Yes, he is able. Daniel’s God is able to rescue him. For he made everything. His angels make the sun to rise in the morning. His glory shines from the stars at night. He sustains his creation, providing food for the fiercest lion to the meekest mouse.
Your God, the God you serve, is able to rescue you. He may not. He may choose not to. His glory and his plans may be better served in other ways. But he is able. God can. The true and living God can. He can do all that you hope and more than you can imagine.
Daniel answered the king,
O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.
God rescued Daniel by sending his angel to shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel didn’t survive by hiding from the lions or by running all night, but because an angel sent from God stopped them from attacking him. It was a miracle, confirmed later when Daniel’s enemies were punished by being sent to the same fate and they were killed the moment they hit the floor of the den.
God sent his angel to rescue Daniel because Daniel’s case was brought before the heavenly court, sent on appeal to the higher court of God’s own justice. It reminds me of how God vindicated his Son, our Lord Jesus. Who was condemned to death for telling a lie, claiming to be the Messiah, but raised to life by his Father because he had told the truth from the beginning.
It reminds me that we look forward to the return of God’s Son to overturn the world’s corruption and lies against God and to confirm his Father’s justice when we appear before his judgment throne. We too long for a vindication, not just ours, but God’s when he is seen to be right and fair in all he does and all creation acknowledges him as Lord.
The king had Daniel pulled from the pit, his enemies sent to suffer the fate they had planned for him and then he issued this proclamation:
In every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.
Sadly again it is not quite a conversion. Yes the king acknowledges Daniel’s God to be the living God. But he is still Daniel’s God and not his own. May the true and living God not just be someone else’s God, but to be our God as well. For his dominion never ends. He rescues and saves and performs signs and wonders.
In conclusion, what we see here in this story is a clear contrast between the king and Daniel. Both of them were trapped by Daniel’s enemies in the plot to kill him. Daniel’s only weakness was his consistency and faith. His enemies could rely on him to be the same tomorrow as he was yesterday.
But the king’s weakness was his arrogance. He claimed the privilege of the holy gods and only ended up putting his friend in danger. In this contrast we see wisdom and folly. The wise person knows God and acknowledges him. The wise person serves God and obeys him. The wise person sticks to his faith whatever the temporary risk for the sake of the eternal reward. The foolish person claims and seeks all the glory. They carry on as if they are God. They not only put themselves in danger but everything they love as well.
This is what it means to live in Babylon. Surrounded by fools, we seek God’s wisdom and put it into practice in our lives. We pray to him and put our lives in his safe hands.