- a servant of kings
- an explainer of dreams
- a man beloved of God
You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. —Exodus 20:3-5
As a teenager, Daniel was deported (taken away) from his home in Palestine and resettled in Babylonia. There he entered a three-year training program to prepare him for service in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. God gave Daniel the gift of interpreting dreams and understanding visions, and this power brought him to the attention of the King. He rose to prominence in the government of Babylon because of his excellent work. Eventually he became the trusted adviser of King Darius, and that’s where our lesson begins.
While serving King Darius, Daniel ran into grave danger because he prayed to God. It seems strange that something like personal prayer could be a life-and-death matter. But Daniel risked his life in order to pray. When you hear the whole story, you’ll agree that he did the right thing.
STORY AND STUDY
(This story is found in Daniel 6.)
Daniel’s habit was to pray three times a day, kneeling by a window in the privacy of his room (Daniel 6:10). There are many things Daniel could have been praying about. He was in charge of the wise men and the functionaries (officials, bureaucrats, employees) employed by the King. Daniel was a loyal servant of the King, but he always put God first and didn’t violate any of God’s laws. He had official duties as a governor and a manager of the men who worked for him. This was particularly challenging because King Darius and his officials did not worship God or live by His laws.
Daniel’s habit was to pray three times a day, kneeling by a window in the privacy of his room.
Daniel could also have been praying for his people, the Jews, who were in Babylonia. At least one-quarter of the population of Palestine was taken captive and moved away. They had to leave their homes and start all over in a new land. Although they were allowed many freedoms in Babylonia, they longed for their former home (Psalm 137:1-6). Daniel knew from reading the words of the prophet Jeremiah that the Jews would return to their homeland after 70 years in Babylonia. At the time of this story, the end of 70 years was close. Daniel may have been praying for understanding of how this homecoming would happen.
In one of Daniel’s most famous prayers (Daniel 9), he grieved over the sins of his people and prayed for God’s mercy. Toward the end of his life, Daniel prayed about a vision of the future brought by messengers from God (Daniel 10-12).
“Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard.”
In summary, God loved Daniel because he was a humble man and prayed regularly with all his heart. God said to him, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words [prayers] were heard” (Daniel 10:12).
Pause for thought: This scripture is wonderfully encouraging. God hears prayers and answers our prayers at a time and in a way He knows is best.
Jealousy and envy
Daniel did his job so well that some of the Persian officials became jealous: “Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps [administrators over the provinces in Babylonia], because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him” (Daniel 6:3-4).
There was nothing the officials could bring against Daniel because of his excellent record. They couldn’t attack Daniel’s habit of praying to God, because the King allowed the Jews to practice their customs. Ever since he entered the royal court as a youth, Daniel had been free to pray to God and practice His way.
Since the officials couldn’t find a reason to get rid of Daniel, they laid a trap for him. They brought a declaration to King Darius and asked him to make it a law, a particular kind of law that couldn’t be changed.
Factoid: This was called a Law of the Medes and Persians, and it meant that once the King signed it, no one could change the law. Not even the King himself.
For this decree to be made into a law, they lied to the King and said that all the governors and officials had agreed that it was a good declaration.
They said, “All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions [prays to] any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions” (verse 7).
Daniel, however, had not seen the declaration and therefore had not agreed to it. He was not consulted by the officials, although the King was led to believe that he had been. In other words, the King assumed the declaration was good and that Daniel had agreed to it. So he signed the document and made it an unchangeable law.
When Daniel heard about the law, he immediately turned to God.
When Daniel heard about the law, he immediately turned to God. He went home, and in his upper room, with windows open, in full view of anyone who wanted to spy on him, he knelt down and prayed to God. This was in violation of the law just signed by the King, and of course spies watched him (verse 11). They trapped him in the act of praying to God instead of praying to King Darius.
The spies charged Daniel with praying to someone other than the King. He had broken the law! They added a lie to the charge saying, “That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day” (verse 13). Of course this was not true! Daniel had always served Darius faithfully, truthfully and respectfully.
The jealous officials reminded King Darius that breaking his new law resulted in a death penalty, so the King had to put Daniel to death. This greatly displeased the King because Daniel was his friend and top adviser. He certainly did not want to put him to death, but what could he do? Although the officials had lied to him, Darius had signed the law and couldn’t change it.
The death penalty at that time meant being thrown alive into a den of lions.
King Darius was deeply concerned for his loyal administrator: “And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him” (verse 14).
The death penalty at that time meant being thrown alive into a den of lions. It was a terrible way to die! Daniel was an old man at this time—probably in his eighties—and the King was heartsick about condemning him to death. But he was forced to do it. As Daniel was being thrown to the lions the King said, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you” (verse 16).
“Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.”
The den was sealed with a great stone so no one could attempt a rescue, and the King spent a sleepless night. Early in the morning he crept out and made his way to the lions’ den and called out to Daniel, “Has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (verse 20). And Daniel answered that God had delivered him by sending an angel into the den to shut the lions’ mouths.
“No injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.”
Daniel came out of the den without a scratch. The Bible states, “No injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God” (verse 23).
Death penalty again
The King was relieved and wrote a special decree about God, which you can read in Daniel 6:25-27.
Afterward the King rounded up all the officials who had lied to him in the attempt to trap Daniel. They would have the same punishment—death by lions—that they sought for Daniel. So, in a terrible moment, these men died in the manner they had planned for Daniel (verse 24).
In his decree, King Darius stated what he had seen with his own eyes, that God “delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27). Based on what he had personally witnessed of God’s power, the King said that everyone in the kingdom “must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (verse 26).
Everyone should be “amazed, surprised, astonished, filled with wonder, filled with reverence, full of worship” for the great God.
One of the reasons the story of Daniel is recorded in the Bible is to report the miracle that really happened to Daniel. The word fear that King Darius used means more than being afraid; it means that everyone should be “amazed, surprised, astonished, filled with wonder, filled with reverence, full of worship” for the great God. That’s a good way for us to be too!
How old was Daniel when he was cast into the den of lions?
Why didn’t Daniel just pray secretly to God so the spies couldn’t see him?
Do you know what happened to Daniel’s three friends when they wouldn’t bow to a golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar set up? Read their story in Daniel 3:1-30.
Notice that the jealous officials died in the lions’ den, just as they had hoped Daniel would die. Do you think this punishment was a good one? Why would watching this punishment stop other officials from plotting against one another?
Why do you think Scripture says the King was displeased with himself? (See Daniel 6:14.)
How do you think Daniel knew an angel shut the lions’ mouths? Could God have saved Daniel some other way? Why do you think He saved Daniel inside the lions’ den rather than just miraculously letting him out or killing the lions?
1. Internet Search
Look up “lions” on the Internet and find out what they eat. Are they really man-eaters? Do they eat anything besides meat? Look up “lions’ den” and see if you can find any pictures of what the den might have looked like. Are there any animals more frightening than lions?
2. Are You Daniel or Someone Else?
Since this story has such great conversation points, you and your friends or family members choose parts and read the words exchanged between the jealous officials, the King, and Daniel. If you have time, write out a script in your own words of what the characters said. If you have fun doing this, trade parts and see if you can make it just as interesting a second time! You will find that acting out the story helps you appreciate the meaning.
3. To Tell the Truth
Daniel didn’t hide his faith in God, even though it must have been frightening to face the death penalty. Ask your parents or older friends if it was ever hard for them to explain their beliefs to other people. Have they learned some good ways to answer questions?
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