One of the more frustrating elements of life is a lack of consistency. We are frustrated by the inconsistency of athletes, politicians, and the legal system. Children are confused when parents or teachers fail to discipline consistently. The thing we most want from a friend or mate is consistency. Unfortunately, it is elusive.
A lack of consistency is one of the greatest hindrances to people embracing the gospel. Many appear to act faithfully only when they see it as advantageous. Some make great proclamations but in the way they live their life they deny what they proclaim.
This morning we look at one of the most famous stories in the Bible. It is the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den. It is really an illustration of consistency.
As we begin chapter 6, Daniel now resides in a different empire. In the first five chapters the Babylonian Empire was in power. At the end of chapter five the Babylonian King was conquered and the Medo-Persian Empire had begun. The first verse says,
It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom
History records the Babylonians were conquered by King Cyrus of the Medes and Persians. There is no reference to anyone by the name of Darius the Mede and of course this raises the voice of the anti-supernatural skeptics once again.
It is possible that we just have not yet found a record of Darius (like it had been with Belshazzar). It is also possible that Darius was another name for Cyrus. In verse 29 we read, “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Most translations add a footnote that says the verse may also be translated, “the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” In which case, Darius and Cyrus are different names, for the same person.
The new Empire needed to be organized. Darius divided the Kingdom into 120 different areas. He appointed a governor (called a satrap) over each area. He appointed three men to serve as the Executive Administrators to oversee these 120 governors. Darius must have asked around to discover the most trustworthy men around. One of those men was Daniel who is now in his eighties. This promotion became a major test for Daniel.
Consistency of Faith
Our text tells us,
Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. (3)
Anytime someone gets a promotion, some of the people who were passed over will resent the honor that was given. They will feel “passed over” or diminished. It was clear to everyone that Daniel was the favorite of the Emperor. The two other administrators and some of the satraps wanted to get rid of Daniel. He was old and in the way.
The next two verses talk about the character and consistency of Daniel,
At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (4-5)
What stirring verses these are. “They could find NO corruption in him.” Major Political appointees and candidates have to go through a “vetting” process. This is when their background is checked carefully for any problems that might be brought forward to disqualify them for office. Most of us have experienced a little of this when we apply for a job. You are asked for references so that a future employer can check your past experience and job performance. Adults who chaperon at a Youth Work camp must go through a background check to see if there are any problems that might disqualify you from service.
Let’s be honest: even though most of us would survive background checks and might survive a vetting process . . . we all have areas where if we were examined closely enough weaknesses would become evident. Daniel was examined and found consistent.
It was this consistency that his opponents used against him. He was so consistent in his faith and devotion to the Lord that the men who wanted to dispose of him knew that this is where he was vulnerable; he would never deny or betray the Lord.
The question I ask myself is this: could this be said about me? Could that be said about you? Is our faith so consistent; our devotion so solid; our love for the Lord so captivating; that people know that we would never compromise our devotion to Him?
If you are like me, these questions provoke some tough analysis. How often have we demonstrated that though we claim to be followers of Christ, we will follow Him only if
- It does not interfere with other things on my calendar.
- It does not cost me anything.
- It does not require that I make choices that might make me unpopular.
- It does not require me to give up or delay what I want to do.
- It does not interfere with my job.
- It does not inconvenience me.
The truth is that the people around us can usually see our inconsistencies better than we can. People can see our commitment is “soft”. They know they cannot count on us to be consistent.
However, because Daniel was a man of consistent faith his opponents came up with a way to set him up. A group of the leaders came to the King and said all the leaders agreed that in order to solidify the people’s loyalty to the King, it would be best for him to command that no one was to pray to any god or individual other than the emperor for 30 days. To drive home the importance of this law, anyone who broke the law (and they had one particular person in mind) would be thrown to the lions.
Daniel’s opponents appealed to the vanity of the King. Flattery is often a trap to get us to do what the flatterer wants. They were not concerned about the King at all . . . they were only concerned about their agenda. The law was established according to the “Law of the Medes and the Persians”. This meant it would be a law that could not be rescinded. (We see the same issue in the book of Esther).
This principle of an irrevocable law was designed to guard against rulers showing favoritism to some and not others. It was designed to facilitate justice. It was a good principle but it was being used to manipulate Darius (as it was used in the Book of Esther to manipulate King Xerxes).
Courage of Faith
List carefully to verse 10,
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (10)
Daniel knew the law. He knew what the consequences would be. Still he went home and prayed (as he always did) anyway. It would have been an easy thing to say, “This is only 30 days, I can go without praying for that period of time” or “there is no way to stop me from praying silently in a way in which no one would notice.” Daniel did not change his practice.
Daniel was not provoking a confrontation. He didn’t flaunt his habit of prayer. He just did what he always did. He went to his place of prayer (his upper room) and prayed three times (morning, noon, and evening), on his knees, out loud, with his windows open, facing Jerusalem. Daniel never forgot God’s promise to bring the Jews back to Israel. So, every day he faced Jerusalem as a way of looking forward to that day when God would bring them home.
Did Daniel break the law? He did. He followed a principle that is affirmed throughout the Bible: “When we are told that we must choose between obedience to the laws of men or the laws of God we must choose to follow the Lord.” This principle of “civil disobedience” is stated well in a document signed by over 500,000 Christians (including me) called the Manhattan Declaration. It says,
We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but under no circumstance will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
Daniel was loyal to the Emperor as long as it did not mean he had to be unfaithful to His Lord. In the Bible we read that the disciples were told to stop preaching about Jesus. They refused. Some went to prison. Some were executed.
In Germany during World War II many believers broke the law of Germany when they hid their Jewish neighbors. Some were told they must only preach what the German government approved. They disobeyed. Some were imprisoned. Some were executed.
Today in various parts of the world Christians are told that it is illegal to own a Bible or to talk about Jesus. Some are told that it is illegal to become a follower of Jesus. However, these brothers and sisters have concluded that they must obey God, rather than men. We, who are often unwilling to be slightly inconvenienced for the Lord, find this hard to understand.
Even in our own country people do not understand why we resist the redefinition of marriage and stand opposed to abortion. It is not because we are narrow-minded or that we are mean-spirited. It is because we have determined that we must abide by God’s definition of marriage and His command that we revere all life. In other words, we must obey God rather than men. We face the same choice as Daniel: will we continue to serve, honor and obey the Lord or will we give in to external pressures to save ourselves?
Daniel knew he was being set up but he chose to trust God rather than his own schemes. He does not resist arrest or plead with the court. He rested in the Lord.
Deliverance of Faith
We are told that these men “caught Daniel in the act” of praying. Remember, he was on the second floor of his home! It was because this was a set up and because Daniel was disciplined in his practice of prayer that “catching him” was easy. When they had enough evidence for a conviction they went to the King and reminded him of the law that he signed. They had backed the King into a corner. He had no choice but to have Daniel arrested.
Apparently, the law stated that the sentence needed to be enforced before the sun went down. Until that time Darius looked for any loophole to save Daniel (14). He liked Daniel. He knew this was a set-up. He also knew the law could not be revoked. Finally, the King had Daniel thrown into the lions’ den. The King sent Daniel away with these words, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
Darius liked and respected Daniel. He seems to have also respected Daniel’s faith. Surely Daniel had told Darius some of the stories of his life. I suspect he told him about his three friends who were saved from the fiery furnace. Darius was hoping the same would be true of Daniel.
A seal was put on the mouth of the den to make sure no one tampered with the stone. The King couldn’t eat or sleep all night and wanted to be left alone. It is reasonable to think that he uttered some prayers to Daniel’s God.
There was a custom that a person would be pardoned if he was tortured and did not die by the following day. So the next morning Darius went to the Lion’s den and called out to Daniel hopefully, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
When the King heard that Daniel was unhurt and that God had sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lion he quickly had him pulled out of the den. The fact that the lions did not attack was a sign of Daniel’s innocence.
Cynics suggest that perhaps Darius had overfed the Lions so that they were not hungry. However, what happened next dispels such a thought. The false accusers and their families (which may have been a custom to make it impossible for family members to retaliate) were thrown into the den in Daniel’s place and the lions (who were very hungry) attacked them before they ever made it to the ground.
I see three different applications for three different groups of people. First, for those going through difficult times we are reminded that God is bigger than your need.
Daniel has shown us that God protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. He protected Daniel in the Lion’s Den. God took down the great King Nebuchadnezzar, and that God knows and directs the course of history.
The Bible doesn’t teach that His followers will always be saved from the trials of life. The Lord was crucified, Stephen was martyred, Paul was left for dead, and some of the great Kings were killed in battle. We have read in recent months of missionaries who have been executed for their faith.
What we know is this: God can give us the strength to meet the trial and to overcome it. He is honored by our trust. So hang in there Christian friend. Our challenge is to adopt the attitude of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that “whether or not God saves us from the furnace, we will not deny Him.” We must focus not on the difficulty but on the wisdom, strength and superior power of the Lord in every need. Hang on! Trust Him! Rest in His sufficiency and strength.
Second, let me speak to the believer. Daniel reminds us of the importance of consistency and discipline. We admire Daniel’s consistency and we need to recognize that you can’t develop consistency without discipline. Daniel early on determined to follow the Lord with his whole heart.
People don’t just go out and run a marathon. They train for the marathon for months before hand. They run every day, and as they do, they build up endurance and strength. It is the same for those who know spiritual strength. They have trained by
- Making time daily to read and study the Scriptures
- Working at making prayer a vital part of their life
- Consciously seeking to be faithful to the Lord in everyday choices
- Planning schedules and activities around worship and personal Bible study
- Daring to step out in faith to do what God tells them to do in the Bible
- Guarding what they feed their minds and hearts
- Daily monitoring their living and confessing any sin they find
- Honoring God in the way they spend our money
- Setting aside times of quiet to listen for the whisper of God
Daniel’s story calls us to dig deep and to get serious about faith. We must understand that we cannot have a faith like Daniel living the way we are currently living. We can’t know God’s peace, God’s power, and God’s deliverance by serving Him half-heartedly. It is time to train spiritually and to train well.
Finally, a word to the person who is on the outside looking in: This account extends and invitation to entrust yourself to this magnificent God. Maybe you have been in the church for years or maybe you are new to this whole “Christianity thing”. Perhaps you have viewed it all as superstition.
As you hear this story today I encourage you to embrace, follow, and serve the God of Daniel. I know that you may have been disillusioned by those who profess faith but are inconsistent. You may even bemoan the “hypocrites in the church”. I apologize for the way we have distracted you from the real issue: the Majesty, sufficiency, and power of our Lord
We may be inconsistent, but the Lord is not. His love for you does not waver depending on the weather or the pressure of the day. I testify to you as one who has come to trust Him in my life. However, I do not call you to follow me. The invitation is to follow Him!
Daniel’s story is inspiring because Daniel’s God, our God, is astounding. God always acts consistently toward us. His invitation is unwavering: if you will put your faith in Him. He will change you. He will lead your life and He will do it forever. He is consistent.
The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is an account that should challenge all of us. It challenges us to serve and follow the Lord with the same kind of consistency that we count on from the Lord.