Prepare Our Hearts – July 31

A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.

Friday, July 31, 2020
Daniel chapter 6, verses 19-23 listed here.
Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As 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?” 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My 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.” 23 Then 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.

Growing up, the story of Daniel in the lions’ den was probably my favorite Bible story for two reasons. Obviously, first, because my name is Daniel, so it’s always great to read about “yourself.” But also, and more importantly, I love big cats. Lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, you name it, big cats have always fascinated me. Now, somewhat ironically, I am not particularly a fan of pet cats, I am more of a dog person. But there’s just something about those large predators, especially those male lions with their beautiful, majestic manes.

Now, although this is a story that is really familiar to a lot of us, and is a favorite of many Sunday school classrooms, this story isn’t exactly what I would call a children’s story. While it does include the rescue of Daniel from the mouth of the lions, the conclusion is that immediately after this miraculous occurrence, the men who accused Daniel (along with their wives and their children) were also thrown into the pit, and the Lord did not spare them from destruction.

It’s important to remember who Daniel was, and where Daniel was. Daniel was a man of God, an Israelite, who had been captured and exiled from his home as sort of a spoil of war to live in Babylon. The introduction of the book of Daniel tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and along with the spoils of gold and silver, he had many of the best and brightest youths of Israel brought back to Babylon. They were then sent through a process of assimilation and re-education for a period of three years where they would learn the language, the culture, and the customs of Babylon before serving in the royal palace. Remember, Babylon was not just an invading foreign land, but it was notoriously pagan. Babylon was filled with the worship of idols, ritual sacrifice of children to appease their many gods, and all sorts of other wicked practices that God despised. And in this sort of ingenious scheme, the Babylonians knew that if they could take youths and children from the best and brightest and most well respected families and acclimate them into the literature, language, and customs of their conquerers, then there would be less of a threat of rebellion.

Almost all of the exiled Israelites compromised and succumbed to the luxuries and temptations of Babylon…and then there was Daniel. Daniel, along with three of his friends, (we know them by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), remained faithful to their God  in exile. Even among the standouts, Daniel stood out for his excellence and wisdom. He was without compare, not only among the Israelite exiles, but among anyone in the land of Babylon. He quickly rose within the ranks of the kingdom, always remaining faithful to his God. Even when Babylon was captured itself and the Persians under King Darius replaced the Assyrians, Daniel remained a favorite of the king. King Darius placed 120 satraps, think governors, over the kingdom, and then three others in charge of those 120, and guess who was one of the three? Daniel. He was faithful; he was responsible; he was trustworthy. We all know what happens within large governmental bureaucratic systems: waste, theft, and corruption. If you were the king over an expansive kingdom, Daniel was exactly the kind of guy you would want overseeing your affairs.

Now, what happens in the world when someone enjoys success? When they are passing out championships rings, they might as well give you a target to put on your back also. Think of the Yankees, or the Lakers, or the Patriots. When you are successful, everyone else starts obsessing over ways to knock you down. They circle your name when the schedule gets released. You gets everyone’s best all the time. And thats what happens here to Daniel.
As an advisor to the king, Daniel is not just excellent at what he does, he is faithful to who he is.  Without fail, each and every day, three times a day throughout the duration of his captivity in Babylon, Daniel stops what he is doing and prays towards the temple in Jerusalem roughly 700 miles to the west. Why towards the temple? It’s what scripture directed in 1 Kings 8 – when captive in a foreign land, pray toward their land, the land God had chosen and provided for his people. Why three times a day? That was when the sacrifices were offered in the temple. Although Daniel was taken out of Israel, they could not take Israel out of Daniel. For years and years he oriented his life around worship and his time with the Lord.

Daniel’s opponents were wicked, but not stupid, and they quickly realized that the only way to catch Daniel in the act of doing something wrong would be to make a new law he was sure to violate. So they orchestrated a new law which stated that for 30 days, a whole month, no one could pray to any person or any god except King Darius. They presented this to King Darius under the guise of unanimity, making it appear as if everyone, including the three overseers, agreed that this was a good way for the new king to consolidate his power: a chance for the entire kingdom to declare their allegiance. With the trap set, the accusers did not have to wait long outside of Daniel’s house. Knowing that doing so now meant certain death, Daniel continued to get on his knees three times a day in prayer to the God of Israel. Even King Darius was helpless to watch as Daniel was torn from his home and tossed into the pit. For Darius, it was the longest night of his life. The pagan king fasted and prayed for the life of his faithful friend whose fate he had sealed with a stone and his own signet ring. Of course, we know the end of the story. Early in the morning, the stone was rolled away and the king discovered Daniel miraculously spared from the mouths of the beasts. He was pulled from the pit and was restored to his rightful place over the kingdom.

So, what do we learn from Daniel? How can we thrive in Babylon? Here are a few quick things. First, the world is cruel. It is a cruel place for everyone, but it can be an especially cruel place for those who love God because it hates God. If you love God, and attempt to follow God, you will face hardships and difficulties. That’s not a warning, it is a guarantee. Jesus says the world hates you because it hates Me. He also tells us, “in this world, you will have tribulation.” It is just a fact of life. There is no escaping trouble.

Second, obedience matters. There are lots of great excuses to not spend time with God. Daniel had a great excuse. He knew the consequences. To openly bend his knees in prayer to his God was to sentence himself to death. Even though many other Israelites had long ago compromised their faith, Daniel feared God more than he feared man. He understood, like his three friends who were thrown into a fiery furnace for a similar offense, that God could save him from despair, but even if not, he would still bow to no one else.

Finally, Daniel reminds us that God is faithful. Even though Daniel was an innocent man, he was found guilty of violating the law of man, tossed in a hole in the ground, surrounded by lions, sealed with a stone, and left for dead.  Many years later, another innocent man was brought before a pagan official on trumped up charges by jealous opponents. Like Daniel, He did not respond to His accusers. He was denied due process. He was not spared by God but suffered pain beyond description and imagination. Like Daniel, He was placed in a pit that was sealed with a stone. And like Daniel, early in the morning, Jesus emerged from the ground victorious over the grave.

Because Jesus died for us and emerged from the pit, just like He said that He would, we can trust everything that He says. Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” No matter how fiery the furnace, how cunning the enemy, or even how fatal the blow, Jesus promises that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Him.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, although You are the High King of heaven, You condescended to us, stepped into our world, so that we would never doubt Your great love for us. We ask today that You would speak to our hearts and remind us again of Your grace, Your power, and Your provision for our lives. Help us to be faithful to Your call upon our hearts as we live each day in Babylon. Forgive us for our failure and restore us for the road ahead, wherever it may lead. We long for the return of our King, and we pray this in Your name, Amen.