Bible Passage: Daniel 6:1-28
We have all heard of the Christian punchline: “Be in the world but not off the world.” This is a rough summary of The Prayer of Jesus Christ written in John chapter 17. Many of us can feel this tension in our lives, we can feel that we don’t quite fit in when we interact with the philosophies of the world. In education and social media when we talk about ethical issues, in some countries the tension is much stronger than what we experience here in Australia. Some governments demand conformity in thought; some communities persecute Christians to their deaths. But sometimes we can think of being in the world as something static, here in the world and we have to endure suffering. David Mathis wrote an article on Desiring God about 10 years ago on this very topic. He said that we’re not just being in the world, we were purposely sent into the world for a mission. Enduring suffering is what we must go through, in order to accomplish that mission. In our passage today we see the example of Daniel, someone who feared God but lived among people who despised God. We will learn from Daniel what it means for Christians to be in the world but not of the world, to accomplish the mission that God has for us.
Daniel chapter 5 documented for us the fall of the great Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian Empire reached its peak under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar, he defeated many nearby countries including Israel and he took some of the young men of Israel back to Babylon to receive Babylonian education upon graduation. These young men were to serve the king as his counselors and among these young men of Israel were Daniel. Although this book was named after him, Daniel is not the main focus of the story. Instead The Book of Daniel is a story about the God of Israel who rules over history. God determined that Israel, His people, would be defeated by Babylon, this defeat was to serve as a punishment for the many evils they have done for their refusal to repent. Even though Israel was defeated the God of Israel was not the Lord who is the creator of the universe continues to display his power and authority that is unparalleled to the great Kings of this Earth through the words of this humble man by the name of Daniel. This man is a humble man because while he is one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, his works were not accompanied by miracles unlike other prophets. He was nothing but a person who believed in God. When Daniel was taken to Babylon, he was just a 12-year-old boy. He served the Babylonian Empire since then for almost 70 years. Then Babylon was defeated by the Persian army and the last king of Babylon Belshazzar was executed. Now Daniel serves a new king, the Persian by the name of Darius.
We need to talk about who Darius is, because according to historical records the ruler of the Persian Empire who defeated Babylon was Cyrus. But here in Daniel chapter 6 The King is called Darius. What is going on here? Because of the lack of historical data outside the Bible to prove the existence of this Darius, many Bible scholars have concluded that Darius was a made-up character. They further concluded that the story of Daniel in its entirety was also made up and is not a reliable historical record. How should we explain this? The word Darius literally means “Lord” or “King”. It is likely that in this case Darius was not a name, but a title given to a person named “Gubaru” who was a general of the Persian army. He was the one who conquered Babylon for Emperor Osiris and later the general was made the ruler of Babylon under Cyrus. The case of Darius was very similar to the case of Belshazzar in Daniel chapter 5. The king of Babylon was called Belshazzar however historical records suggest that the last king of Babylon was Nebonidus. Because of this Belshazzar was also declared to be a made-up character, that is until more historical results were found proving that Belshazzar was actually the son of Nebonidus who ruled over Babylon under his father. But ultimately what these scholars are challenging is not the existence of Darius or Belshazzar but instead the reliability of the Bible. It is interesting how the reliability of the Bible is often questioned even though it is one of the most complete historical records in existence. Why is the Bible under so much scrutiny? Ultimately it is because the Bible claims to do what mankind cannot do. The Bible reveals mysteries, supernatural realities, things that we cannot observe nor prove. The Bible also claims to be able to tell the future, so it doesn’t only record history it also predicts history. Because the records in the Bible exceed what is humanly possible, the world cannot accept what it says and herein lies the contradiction of the world. They want the Bible to prove the existence of God but when the Bible does prove that God exists by predicting the future, they said it is impossible because there is no God.
If the Bible cannot exceed human capability then it is a book written by humans not by God. But if indeed the Bible is the word of God then why did it conform to the limitations of man. Around 150 years before the story of Daniel happened, God gave a prophecy through Isaiah this prophecy mentioned clearly that someone named Cyrus would destroy Babylon and liberate the people of Israel. This is written down in Isaiah chapter 45. To another prophet by the name of Jeremiah the Bible also predicted that the people of Israel will be taken as captive in Babylon for 70 years and after that period they would return to Jerusalem. These prophecies come true indeed, Babylon was defeated by Cyrus the Persian emperor and when the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem it was the 70th year since Jerusalem fell. Daniel served Darius who was appointed to be the ruler over Babylon by emperor Cyrus. King Darius divided the land of Babylon into 120 sections and appointed one governor over each of these 120 sections. Apparently, King Darius trusted Daniel so much that Daniel was appointed as the highest of the three High officials who would rule over these 120 sections. King Darius trusted Daniel wholeheartedly not only because Daniel was capable but more importantly because he was faithful. At some point the other high officials wanted Daniel gone; maybe it was because of jealousy, maybe because he would not tolerate corruption. For whatever reasons these officials then tried to find fault in Daniel, but they could not.
This is such an amazing testimony, it is so easy to find fault in a public figure especially when he or she is a political figure. Daniel seemingly did the Impossible, Daniel was so faithful to God and to King Darius. This is what his political enemies said of him in Daniel 5:5, it says we shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God. In other words, this is what they were saying we would never find fault in Daniel because he is so faithful to Darius, but we can definitely trap him because we know he is even more faithful to his God than to Darius. This is the most beautiful compliment anyone can give to a Christian. We shall spend some time analyzing Daniel’s faithfulness. What does it mean to be faithful to God first? This faithfulness can be summarized into two points: a great overlap and a great distinction.
1. Firstly, there is a great overlap between what God wants for us and what Darius or the world wants of us. For example, Darius loves a government official who does not steal money from his Treasury, who executes Justice, who defends the innocent, who works hard and does his best for his master. Daniel deed did all these things because God commanded all these things. This is where Daniel’s faithfulness to God and to Darius would overlap. In The Sermon on the Mount when Jesus was calling us Christians the salt and the light of the Earth this is what He said in Matthew 5 16. In the same way let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
2. To a certain degree the good works of Christians can be seen and approved by the world however, while there is a great overlap between what God wants for us and what the world wants for us there is also a great distinction between what God wants of us and what the world wants of us. This is where we can witness to God through the things we cannot agree. In the same sermon before Jesus said this blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. At some point the world would not approve of your obedience to your God because the world redefines its own purpose and happiness apart from God. It rearranges its priorities to place the self above God, to place a desire above their responsibility to God.
The fundamental difference between Christianity and secularism is worship. Who do you worship? It is a battle between the worship of God and the worship of self. Worship is precisely the trap that these government officials have prepared for Daniel. These high officials agreed to go to King Darius and make a suggestion to him. They said to the king in Daniel 5:6-7, O King Darius live forever we agreed that the king should establish an ordinance that whoever makes a petition to any God or man for 30 days except To You O King shall be cast into the den of lines back in ancient near East. Kings were widely believed to have a special connection to the Gods and this connection was the very reason why they became Kings in the first place. So to honor King Darius and his special connection to the Gods and as the representative of God on Earth the high officials proposed that for 30 days everyone must make all their petitions through King Darius alone. King Darius must have been very happy with this suggestion because one he didn’t even realize that Daniel was missing from among the officials and two because he approved the Proposal with his signature which according to the Persian law cannot be revoked. This also happened in the Book of Esther when King Ahasuerus made a decree to destroy the people of Israel that he could not take back. When Daniel knew that the document had been signed by the king, he didn’t make any complaint to the king. Daniel knew what was going on, he knew that the officials have succeeded in trapping him. He also knew that King Darius had been deceived because he was proud.
So what did Daniel do? Daniel 5:10 says he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber opened to a Jerusalem, he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God as he had done previously. Why was Daniel praying to Jerusalem? Was it some sort of superstition or personal ritual or even worse was Daniel idolizing the city of Jerusalem? Dr Ian Dugout provides an answer in his commentary, later in Daniel chapter 9 it is revealed that Daniel Prayed regularly for Jerusalem, it wasn’t some sort of ritual to face Jerusalem. Instead, Daniel was praying according to the prayer King Solomon made when he dedicated the temple to the Lord. In his prayer King Solomon prayed like this, he anticipated a time in the future when the people of Israel would sin against God so badly that they would be exiled from their own country and when that happens King Solomon made a plea to God. God when that happens when they are exiled from their country and when they do repent and pray to their country, please hear their prayer and forgive them. This is recorded in First Kings chapter 8. What Daniel actually did was remembering King Solomon’s Prayer and re-enacting it. It was 70 years of consistent prayer facing toward Jerusalem repenting of their sins on behalf of the people of Israel. Daniel knew, even though his life in Babylon was extravagant and very comfortable, it was not his home, and his greatest desire was God’s mercy for his people and his Hope was that God would bring them back to Jerusalem according to God’s promise. The decree of Darius was simply not enough to disrupt his routine of repentance and hope in God.
Was Daniel foolish or stubborn or even wrong? He could have satisfied both God and dares if he simply prayed privately with his windows closed. Moreover, God never commanded His people to pray openly facing toward Jerusalem with windows opened. Was standing wrong? Now that we have experienced a pandemic and we have wrestled with the decree of the government. We can immediately see how Daniel’s disobedience to Darius is significant to us since Daniel’s actions were portrayed positively in the Bible. What he did was approved by God so the right question to ask is what was the principle behind Daniel’s actions. Some Christians suggest that it was a principle of unreasonableness. Since public prayer facing Jerusalem was not commanded explicitly by God, King Darius’s decree was not a direct violation of God’s law. They say but even when the king’s decree does not explicitly violate God’s law we can choose to disobey as long as it is unreasonable. These Christians would apply this principle for example to the mask wearing mandate. They said that we do not need to obey the law because it was an unreasonable request. In other words, the principle is this: we do not need to submit to Earthly authorities if it does not make sense to me personally. This principle is false because it began with a false premise that what Darius banned was not simply public prayer to God, but any prayer to God. Even if Daniel prayed privately in his room with the windows closed, he would still be disobeying Darius. The question for Daniel was not whether he should obey an unreasonable law or not. The question was whether he should make his lawful disobedience public or not. In every other way Daniel submitted himself under Darius’’ rule and served Darius as his master, but since this one decree violated God’s law, disobedience was unavoidable for Daniel. What was Daniel’s response? He didn’t choose to hide himself while he prayed, he knew it was a trap and still he went ahead with it. He opened his windows to pray three times a day facing Jerusalem in front of everyone in Babylon.
It is this public display of lawful disobedience a pattern we should follow. On one hand, the Bible commands us to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and to visit those who are imprisoned for His sake –these actions would definitely result in heavy persecution back in the first century. But on the other hand, we see Christians scattered and fled to other cities when heavy persecution came to Jerusalem. While some Christians chose to stay in Jerusalem including the Apostle Peter, they could have stayed, and they could have faced the unreasonable injunction of the Roman Empire. They fled and God blessed their fleeing so that the gospel spread to the ends of the world. The same way we also see many places where churches are banned, and Christians are persecuted and hunted down. There are churches who remain open and public churches who remain underground and hidden from the sight of people. A public display of disobedience is not a direct command from God, the choices between public prayer and private prayer in Daniel’s situation are both not wrong. When we have to make a decision between the two, let us not look down on the other side thinking of them as either foolish or timid. But two things are clear to all of us: firstly, our allegiance to God comes first before our allegiance to earthly kings; secondly when the time comes, we shall not deny Christ even in the face of death. In the end Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. At that point the story of Daniel could have ended. God never promised to save his people from every single harm. If that is the case when there is no guarantee that Daniel would be saved, why would Daniel still obey God and risk his life, because he knew that only the Lord is the maker of heaven and earth is worthy of worship, and also because he knew that his soul is safe in the hand of God. Even if he should die in the lion’s den, his soul would return safely to God just as the Bible says fear not the thing that can harm the body but not the soul. By God’s grace Daniel did not die in the lion’s den. Ironically it was the other high officials who were thrown into the lion’s den and immediately killed. Daniel’s life was an example of what it means to be in the world but not of the world.
Even when Daniel was second in command in the entire Kingdom under King Darius, he was still being plotted against. This shows how naive it is for us to assume that we can play according to the world’s rules, win their trust, gain power influence and then execute and exercise Christian influence safely and effectively. The truth is living as Christians in this world will never get any easier no matter who you are. Expect that persecutions will come, you may be ridiculed or be excluded, be rejected or be hated. Just as the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12 indeed all who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Daniel was able to endure his fair share of persecution because two things: first he understood his mission, two he understood his safety. He understood that he was sent to Babylon for a reason even though suffering may come in a process. He was determined to follow through on his mission and what would God accomplish through him. The thing is he didn’t know God’s plan, if he would die in the lion’s den, all he knew was that he had to be faithful to God no matter what the situation was, and he would be right on track. Daniel’s life did not convert the entire Babylonian Empire nor the entire Persian Empire. What was his mission then? His testimony did convert at least two people Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. Secondly not only that he understood his mission, but he understood his safety in the hand of God to be in the world but not of the world.
Daniel was a shadow of the Christ who would come. While Daniel accomplished a heroic feat, he was not a hero, the suffering servant that would suffer to save Israel. He still prayed to God three times a day facing Jerusalem awaiting that salvation to come. He is only an under-hero, not a superhero. But Jesus Christ is coming into the world fulfilling all the prophecies and expectations. It was God’s decision to send his only son Jesus Christ into the world, to redeem the world. For Jesus to enter the world would mean suffering but He understood His mission and He knew that suffering is the pathway to accomplishing that mission. What was his mission? To die for the sins of the world. He didn’t come just to suffer; He came to accomplish His mission even if it means suffering. Likewise, Jesus also sends us into the world to redeem the world by making them disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus says to us peace be with you as the Father has sent Me even, so I am sending you. We are here for a purpose; the persecution we must endure has a reason and the reason is the salvation in death and the death of Jesus Christ that is freely offered to all. In the end, Daniel escaped destruction by the mouth of lions, but God did not let Jesus Christ escape His death. Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross, and He suffered persecution to the point of death in order to save His people in His death. The prayer of Daniel was fulfilled, true Israel people who belong to God are ultimately safe and secure. Everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ will no longer bear their sins, their guilt and their own doings, they are relying on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. They are forgiven and loved. This is the righteousness of Christ given to us.
As we look at Daniel, let us understand two things; one it is something we should exemplify to, and it is someone who points to our superhero Jesus Christ who came to do what Daniel did not and could not and who was not saved from the lion’s den, who died for us willingly to accomplish His mission. Just as Jesus did so we shall accomplish our mission on this earth as we follow him.