Daniel 6; Jeremiah 29: 1 – 14.
The Prophet Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles in Babylon was to live as normally as is possible as a subject people among their enemies, retaining their faith in Yahweh, and faithfully praying for Babylon’s welfare, with a promise that they will be returned to Judea (Jer 29:4-14). It is highly conventional as a captive population that the typical human predilection would lend itself to a reclusive survival mode, devoid of open socialisation and entrepreneurship. However, this change in the Jewish perspective formed the foundation for thriving in an oppressive alien society, and no doubt led to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego embracing their atypical predicament within the animistic Babylonian court. What can we learn from their commitment to this divinely-appointed treacherous transition as one empire fell and another rises up?
With the ascent of the Persian King Darius, Daniel remarkably survived the purge of Babylonian officialdom and was appointed one of three commissioners in the kingdom, reporting directly to the King (Dan 6:1-2). The traits that distinguished Daniel and brought him to the King’s notice were his extraordinary spirit, incorruptibility, diligence and efficient contribution to the Persian empire (Dan 6:3-5). Constrained by divine appointment, Daniel was the epitome of apolitical humble faithfulness in serving whichever king who came to power. In reality, he became God’s salt in the most difficult adversarial situations, where abject prejudice and malevolent jealousies persisted, buoyed by duplicitous and self-serving bureaucrats. Nevertheless, he remained dedicated in his daily devotional exercises with Yahweh (Dan 6:6-13); practising his faith openly, irrespective of the King’s fatal decree, without a need to push-back. Even in the lions’ den, his life was entirely surrendered to God (Dan 6:14-24). The core of Christian maturity is the practised realisation that God is supremely the Lord over all life in our total engagement with our fallen world, and He will never forsake us, notwithstanding the circumstances we may find ourselves (c.f., John 15:18-27).
Typically, the episode of the lions’ den illustrates that bad things do happen to good people. But whenever God displays His gracious power (i.e., over the docile lions in this case), it is always to demonstrate the redemptive inclusiveness of His gospel towards the salvation and restoration of His created order (c.f., Rom 8:18-25) – a further explicit testimony to King Darius and the whole royal Persian court. The King’s anxiety through the night over Daniel’s safety among the lions was despite his prior knowledge of Yahweh’s earlier interventions over Daniel and his three friends (during the Babylonian interlude) and his affection for his outstanding commissioner (Dan 6:16-27). What did the King see in Daniel that elicited his acknowledgement of Yahweh’s profound ability to deliver him?
It is not wholly unrealistic to expect that a person like Daniel, an alien and a monotheist worshipper, stuck out like a sore thumb within the Persian political hierarchy; where everything he stood for and represented was in stark contrast to his milieu. Undoubtedly, he did not choose his environment nor to be moulded in the likeness of his God (c.f., John 15:16-17; Rom 8:28-29), but indubitably, he always had a choice to compromise to alleviate his deleterious circumstances. Did the King catch a glimpse of his authentic ‘unveiled face mirroring the glory of God’ that endeared Daniel to him? (2 Cor 3:18). Or was it Daniel’s quintessential wisdom and his fear of his Lord which wrought about his fearlessness of man that attracted the King? What we do know is that Daniel had first tamed ‘the lions’ in his own heart for God to subsequently tame ‘the lions’ that threatened his life. In this concluding segment of the narrative (Dan 6:25-27), King Darius’ insights into Daniel’s testimony of his God formed the basis for his decree to all his subjects, “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” Invariably, for God is my Judge (the Hebrew meaning of the name ‘Daniel’) becomes a truism only when we fear nothing else except Yahweh (Prov 9:10; Prov 14:26; Rom 12:2).