This is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel in the lions’ den.
It’s a story that fascinates, captures the imagination. Children love it, because it’s about lions, loins that roar. Adults love it, because it’s a story extremely well told, and a dramatic rescue miracle.
But it can be hard to relate to. It’s a good story; it’s entertaining. But how does a one-off, miraculous rescue of hero named Daniel speak to the lives of ordinary Christians like us?
The answer is: the story is dramatic to fire our imaginations. But the story is real, and speaks of the same God we have. So we see what it looks like to be a member of the people of God. We see what it looks like to be a Christian. And we see it on a canvas that makes it unforgettable.
Here, then, are three things that happen when you become a Christian.
Some people will hate you.
The first is that some people will hate you. Some people will hate you.
Now, I’m fully aware that many of us here are Christians, but others are still looking into the person of Jesus. This makes me a terrible salesman. “Buy this car,” he says, “and all your friends will envy you.” He doesn’t tell you that this car will make all your friends pretend they don’t know you because they’re so embarrassed you bought a Fiat 500.
I’d actually rather buy a car from someone I trust to tell me the truth. So here it is: become a Christian, some people will hate you.
This story belongs with Daniel chapter 3. They’re a pair. Chapter 3: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the blazing furnace. They’d refused to worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. But God sent an angel into the fire to keep them safe, and they were pulled out alive.
Chapter 6: Daniel is thrown into a lions’ den. He’d refused to stop praying to his God when it became illegal. But God sent an angel into the den to keep him safe, and he was pulled out alive.
The two stories belong together. But we have to look more closely if we’re going to understand why Daniel was thrown into that lions’ den. There are some key differences between the two chapters.
In chapter 3, the Jews were asked to do something that they could not do. They were told to bow down to the statue. They said no. Here, Daniel was asked to stop doing something. Nothing particularly exceptional. He was not to pray to his God any more. He was just minding his business, living out his faith, and he was told to stop.
When we look at what led to the demands, there are further differences. In chapter 3, the 3 Jews were caught up quite by accident. King Nebuchadnezzar was a proud man, full of his own importance. But he didn’t mean to harm anyone. He just wanted everyone to bow to his statue. Where’s the harm in that? But in this chapter, Daniel was deliberately ensnared. They set up the demand that people only pray to the king, deliberately to skewer Daniel.
We’re not told why Daniel was being picked on. Perhaps they got wind that the king was planning to promote him above them. Maybe – but we’re not told that. Part of it was that Daniel was a bit different. When they grass him up to the king, they call him “one of the exiles from Judah”. One of them, your majesty. In any case, Daniel’s religion was well-known. His religion became the means to try and undo him.
He was hated. These men wanted rid of him. And in part, they hated him because he was from a different religion. In the royal court, but never quite fitting.
Now, it may be that you find that surprising. Why should anyone hate an upstanding, God-fearing citizen? Why would they want to hurt someone so innocent? Why would they even go so far as to trip him up to have him executed by the courts.
Good questions. But when you put them like that, someone else comes to mind. This is exactly how they treated Jesus. There’s never been someone so innocent, so God-fearing, so upstanding. Yet people hated him, he was found guilty by laws that had been manipulated to catch him, and placed into a pit with a stone placed over the entrance.
If that’s how they treated Jesus, that’s what we can expect as well.
John chapter 15, verse 18: “‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Indeed, the New Testament tells us to expect nothing less. Here’s Peter in 1 Peter, chapter 4, verse 12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Don’t be surprised. This is normal.
And here’s a very striking thing. Jesus’ teaching on this in John chapter 15 ends with a quotation from Psalm 35. So here’s John 15, verse 25: “But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” That’s quoting Psalm 35, verse 19. The Psalm was written by king David. He asked God to rescue him from those who hated him, and who hounded him. And here’s verse 17: “How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.”
King David was hated without reason. People wanted him dead, and it felt like he was being hunted by lions. Daniel found the same thing – he was hated without reason, and he was thrown to the lions. Jesus was hated without reason, and warned that if they hated him they would hate us also. Like Daniel, he didn’t fit. He was not of this world. And he’s called us out of the world, so we’re in for the same hatred.
Become a Christian. It’s normal: Some people will hate you. Ask King David. Ask Jesus. Ask Peter. And this story shows us very vividly what answer we’d get if we asked Daniel.
There are certain jobs where you know you’ll be unpopular if you do it. You can’t please everyone. Not if you’re a politician, a head teacher, a chief constable. Well here’s another: You won’t please everyone if you become a Christian. Some people will vehemently dislike you for it.
Some people will hate you.
God will save you
The second thing that happens when you become a Christian is that God will save you. God will save you.
God’s ability to deliver his people is at the heart of this story. Daniel was thrown into the lions. Nobody else could save him. The king could not sleep for worrying. Everything seemed hopeless. But God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. So Daniel was safe, Daniel was rescued, and Daniel was lifted out of the pit.
While we’re at that part of the story, maybe it bothered you that the wives and children of the schemers were also thrown to the lions. It should bother you. This was forbidden under Old Testament law. Those who planned harm to others should face the same fate themselves. But only them, and not their dependents. But this is not Israel. This is Persia, and different laws apply.
The climax of the chapter is the decree that King Darius issued to people of every language. Verse 26: “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures for ever; 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.”
God is able to rescue and save. God will save you.
It’s highlighted for us by using the king as a contrast. The king is set up on a pedestal. No-one is to pray to anyone except to the king.
The idea is that the king was the gods’ representative on earth. If you wanted to ask something of any god, you couldn’t go directly, and you couldn’t go through anyone else. You had to approach the king, who represented them. He was the one who could ensure that your requests were met.
The story shows what a massive joke that is. This representative of the gods is so short-sighted that he cannot see that his own courtiers are trying to trick him into passing a law to kill his prime minister. Once he’d passed the law, and once Daniel had obligingly continued to pray, the king tried until sundown to rescue Daniel. But he could not find any way to do so. The gaggle of troublemakers were back, baying for blood. The king was powerless to rescue Daniel.
This king is not a god at all. He’s tricked into this mess, and then he’s utterly powerless to rescue Daniel from the lions. But God can. 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. God will save you.
Now, clearly this is not a promise that God will get you out of every difficulty you will face. This is not a promise of a life that is free of trouble in the short-term. You’d be spectacularly misreading this story to make it say that – this is where Daniel is thrown to the lions!
But it does show us the character of God. God is powerful to save his people.
In the New Testament, we see God rescue us spiritually. The name “Jesus” means “God saves”. The trouble is, you can’t see that happen. It’s invisible. But God has given us this vivid story as a visual aid. A story we can look back on to reassure us that God is a rescuing God.
He carried out the greatest rescue of all time. Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin. He rose from the dead to save us from death.
In John chapter 16, Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble.” Indeed, in the short term, we will have many troubles.
But become a Christian, and you’re worshipping the rescuing God.
God will save you.
God will rule forever
Some people will hate you. God will save you. Third, God will rule forever. God will rule forever.
This is not the focus of this particular story.
But it is here. The king was trapped by his own laws. Daniel’s opponents knew they’d never trip him up unless it had something to do with the law of his God. There’s the question the story is answering: Who has authority to make the laws around here? Who’s laws trump the others? And the answer is that God’s laws win. The king is powerless, but God is the one in control.
But God’s rule is a big theme because of Darius’ decree. It’s the climax to the story, but it’s also the climax to Daniel chapters 1 to 6. It’s the highlight.
We’ve had various royal decrees so far.
Here’s Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter 2, verse 47: “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
At the end of chapter 3, he says this: “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
At the end of chapter 4, he’s moved on: “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”
There was no royal decree at the end of Daniel chapter 5. Belshazzar didn’t live long enough to write one, even if he had wanted to (which is doubtful).
Then we get Darius at the end of chapter 6. It’s the most rounded, the most fulsome, decree of the lot. It’s the climax of all 6 chapters. God doesn’t just rule. He’s to be revered, feared, worshipped. “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures for ever; 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.”
It's what we’ve learnt through 6 chapters of Daniel. God is the living God. Not like the idols, the fake gods, that others worship. Our God is real.
Every other kingdom will come to an end. Every other empire will come to an end. But God’s kingdom will not be destroyed. His dominion will never end. God is the one who is really in charge. God’s kingdom will last forever.
When Jesus started his ministry, the message he preached was this: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
Jesus is the king, and with him the kingdom of God had arrived. His kingdom will grow and grow until it fills the whole earth. His kingdom will last forever.
Have you ever had the experience of going somewhere you grew up, and finding it’s all changed? A shop you used to buy sweets in, gone. A park you used to play in, now built on. Some landmark buildings you remember, replaced by something else. Actually, nothing lasts forever. Ordinary oak trees last about 150 years. Build something that’s designed to last for 500 years, it won’t be there forever. But as buildings, trees, even whole valleys and hillsides come and go, one thing lasts forever. That’s the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So if you become a Christian, you will find yourself on the side of the God who alone will endure. You will find yourself on the side of the God who alone will rule forever. You will find yourself in the one place in the universe that is safe, the one place of security for both time and eternity.
Whether you’re already a Christian, or whether you’re still looking into these things, let’s allow the vivid story of Daniel 6 to calibrate our expectations. What kind of God do we have? What will happen if we follow Jesus?
The answer is that some people will hate us. But it’s infinitely worthwhile. We all need to be rescued from sin and death, and our God is a saving God. We all need to be safe and secure, and our God is a reigning God.
I quoted some words of Jesus earlier. We need to hear the whole sentence: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”