Well, we’ve been learning about God’s sovereignty, haven’t we? The Lord God Almighty is the one who rules and reigns over all that he has made, so that all of his creatures and all of their actions are under his control. He raises up and exalts one person; and he brings down and humbles another person. He’s the one who determines what will be.
We saw his sovereignty in chapter 1 when he gave the Israelites into the hands of the Babylonians who took the Jewish nobles into exile. We saw his sovereignty in chapter 2 in the revelation that all the kingdoms of the earth will come to nothing, whereas his own kingdom will fill the earth. We saw his sovereignty in chapter 3 in the way he overruled the king’s decision and he delivered Daniel’s three friends from the fiery furnace. We saw his sovereignty in chapter 4 in the way he humbled proud king Nebuchadnezzar. And we saw his sovereignty in chapter 5 in the way he took the kingdom from Belshazzar and handed it over to Darius the Mede. And we see God’s sovereignty in today’s chapter as well, in the way he frustrated the plans of Daniel’s enemies who wanted to kill Daniel and in the way he protected Daniel his servant when he was thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel’s enemies were brought down low, but Daniel was raised up out of the pit; and, with the Lord’s help, he continued to prosper during the reign of Darius the Mede.
One of the main lessons we can learn from the book of Daniel is that the Lord is sovereign; he rules over all; and he uses his sovereign power and authority for the good of his people, because he’s able to bring low all his and our enemies, and he’s able to save and exalt his people. And so, his people ought to trust in him, because he is sovereign and rules over all. And his people ought to stand firm as Daniel did, because no matter what happens to us, we can rest in the knowledge that our God is on his throne in heaven and he’s able to use even the troubles and trials we face for our good and his glory.
And so, let’s turn to today’s passage which can be divided into three parts. Firstly, in verses 1 to 3, we have the setting or the background to the events of this chapter. Secondly, in verses 4 to 18 we have the plot against Daniel. And thirdly, in verses 19 to 28, we have the conclusion to this story, when the Lord delivered Daniel from danger and revealed to the king that the Lord is King.
Verses 1 to 3
And so, let’s turn to verses 1 to 3 first of all. And we read in verse 1 that it pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom. Darius — you’ll remember from the last time — was also known as Cyrus the Great. He was the king of the Medes and Persians; and I explained last time that the Medo-Persian army broke into Babylon and killed Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, and took over the Babylonian Empire.
Well, one man is not able to rule over an empire by himself; and so, Darius appointed these satraps, these officials, to help him to govern the empire. Presumably the empire was divided into different regions and these officials were appointed to govern the different regions. And then, in verse 2 we learn that the king appointed three administrators to be over the 120 satraps. So, Darius was at the top of the organisational chart; the three administrators were under him; and then the 120 satraps were under them. And the reason we’re told how the king governed his empire is because Daniel was one of the three administrators.
But we then read in verse 3 that Daniel so distinguished himself that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Because Daniel stood out from the others, the king was resolved to make him a kind of prime minister; his second-in-command.
Now, we should probably pause here and take note of the way that Daniel shows us how we ought to live in the world. You see, though Daniel was a Jew and was now living in exile in a foreign, pagan land, far away from the Promised Land of Israel, nevertheless he served the king faithfully and he did his work well. And that’s what we’re called to do. Like Daniel, we’re living far away from our true home, because our true home is in heaven with Jesus Christ our Saviour. By faith we were raised with Christ to the heavenly realms so that we’re now citizens of heaven above. This world is not our true home, because we belong to Christ and we’re waiting for him to come again to bring us to our true home in the presence of God. In other words, we’re a pilgrim people who have been delivered from this present evil age and we’re on our way to our eternal home.
So, how should we live in the meantime? How should we live as God’s pilgrim people? How should we live in this world while we wait until the time when we will enter our true home? Well, we’re to do what Daniel did and we’re to do our work well. And so, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians — where he tells us that we were raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms — Paul outlines how we’re to live as God’s people in the world. And he said to slaves that they were to obey their earthly masters. Now, we’re not slaves, but a slave in Roman society was in many ways like an employee. So, Paul is saying to employees, to men and women like many of us who have jobs with a boss over us:
Obey your boss.
Obey your masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
So, just as you obey Christ, so you’re to obey your earthly master. That’s your duty every day; that’s how you serve the Lord in your daily life: obey your boss. This is the will of the Lord for you. And Paul adds:
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.
Instead of doing our work half-heartedly, we’re to do it with all of our heart.
And, of course, Paul in his letter to the Ephesians also addressed children. Children don’t go out to work; they don’t have a boss. So, how are they to serve the Lord? Well, Paul tells them:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
That’s your work: your work is to obey your parents and everyone else who has authority over you, including your teachers in school.
So, think of Daniel. What was his duty while he lived in exile? His duty was to serve his earthly master wholeheartedly, as if he were serving the Lord. He was to obey his earthly master — even a pagan king — because that is the will of the Lord for his people in every generation.
So, think about that when you go into work or school tomorrow. Or if you work at home, think about that when it’s time to begin the chores. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, as if serving the Lord. Though Daniel was in exile, living in a foreign, pagan land, far away from his true home, under the authority of a pagan king, he did his work well, so well that he distinguished himself among the others. In fact, if you glance down to verse 4 where it tells us how his enemies kept an eye on him to see if he did anything wrong so they could accuse him before the king, you’ll see that they could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Isn’t that a wonderful testimony? His enemies assumed that if they kept an eye on him they’d soon find him doing something dishonest or they’d soon find him taking shortcuts and doing a sloppy job. We’ve all heard about politicians who become corrupt and who use their power and influence for selfish purposes; and they’ve used their office to make themselves rich. Or we’ve heard of public servants who let the public down because they did their work half-heartedly. And Daniel’s enemies assumed that Daniel would be like everyone else and they’d soon find evidence of corruption or laziness. But no. Daniel served his earthly master wholeheartedly and he did his work well, so that they would find no corruption in him.
Well, would your boss or your colleagues say that about you? If you’re at school, would your teachers say that about you? That’s how Daniel served the Lord while he was living in exile; and it’s how we’re to live while we live far away from our true home.
Now, the NIV obscures it, but other English translations make clear in verse 3 that the reason Daniel stood out from the others was because ‘he had an excellent spirit’ in him. Of course, that excellent spirit is the Holy Spirit; and the Lord gives his people the Holy Spirit to help us to do God’s will here on earth, so that like Daniel we will be trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. And so, everyday we should look to the Lord for the help of his Holy Spirit so that we will serve him faithfully in all we do.
Verses 4 to 18
Well, let’s move on to verses 4 to 18 where we have the plot against Daniel. We’re not told why they plotted against Daniel, but it’s not hard to figure out, is it? They plotted against him because the king was about to promote him; and they did not want Daniel to rule over them. And so, they had to do something to turn the king against him.
Their first scheme failed, because Daniel was a righteous man and didn’t do anything blameworthy. And so, they tried again. And they’re very clever, aren’t they? They’re very clever in the way they identified Daniel’s achilles heel, his one weak spot. His one weak spot was his commitment to the Lord and to the law of the Lord. That’s something they could use against him. And they were very clever in the way they were able to manipulate the king: though Darius was the king of this vast empire, they were able to manipulate him in such a way that the king did exactly what they wanted.
So, how did they manipulate the king? Well, they all assembled before the king as one group and pretended to him that everyone was in agreement and there was not one dissenting voice among them. Now, the king should really have asked what Daniel thought of their proposal; but presumably he didn’t notice that Daniel was not there, or maybe he thought that Daniel would say the same thing. In any case, the king listened to their proposal and he agreed with them that he should pass a law that anyone who prayed to any god or man apart from the king in the next 30 days would be thrown to the lions. And then they suggested to the king that he should put this law in writing so that it can’t be changed. And when the king signed the decree, their trap was set. They just had to wait for Daniel to step into their trap.
Do you see how clever they were? And how devious? Well, this shouldn’t surprise us, because what we have here is another example of the conflict that has been going on in the world ever since that day in the Garden of Eden when the Lord God announced to the serpent that he would put enmity between the serpent’s offspring and Eve’s offspring. Eve’s offspring are all those who belong to the Lord; the people he chose for himself and the people he sent his Son to redeem. And the serpent’s offspring are all those who belong to this present, evil age and who refuse to believe in the Lord Jesus or to submit to him. The Lord said he would put enmity between them; and throughout the pages of the Bible we see that enmity in action in all the ways unbelievers hated and persecuted the Lord’s people. And we see it here, in the way these officials plotted together and came up with their wicked scheme to get rid of Daniel.
And once the trap was set, they didn’t have long to wait. Look at verse 10:
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home….
And what did he do? Well, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem and he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God.
Why did he pray towards Jerusalem? Well, he prayed towards Jerusalem because he knew his Bible and he believed his Bible. Back in 1 Kings 8+9 and in 2 Chronicles 7 we read of Solomon’s prayer to dedicate the newly-built temple in Jerusalem. And in his prayer, he envisaged a time when God’s people would go into exile because of their sins. But Solomon pleaded with the Lord to hear his exiled people whenever they humbled themselves and prayed towards Jerusalem. That was Solomon’s prayer whenever the temple was being dedicated; and when he had finished praying, the Lord appeared to him and said that he had heard Solomon’s prayer and would do what he asked: he would hear his exiled people when they humbled themselves and prayed towards Jerusalem. And knowing what God has promised Solomon, Daniel used to pray towards Jerusalem.
And in his prayer, he gave thanks. Isn’t that interesting? His enemies had plotted against him; the king’s decree had been passed; his life was in danger; and yet he gave thanks to the Lord. Well, when we’re worried, when we’re anxious, when we’re in trouble, it’s always a good idea to give thanks to the Lord, because when we remember to give thanks to the Lord, then we’re remembering all the ways the Lord has already helped us. And when we remember all the ways the Lord has already helped us, then we’re reminded — aren’t we? — that we can trust in him to help us again.
And so, despite the king’s decree, we read that Daniel went to his room and gave thanks to the Lord. And, of course, he did it three times a day, just as he had done before. Despite the king’s decree, he wasn’t going to stop doing what he always did; and as he did before, so now he continued to give thanks to the Lord.
And when his enemies saw him praying, they went to the king. And once again we see how clever they were and how devious, because first they reminded the king of his decree; and when the king confirmed that yes, he had passed that decree and it cannot be changed, they had backed the king into a corner and there was no way out for the king or for Daniel. Daniel had to be taken and thrown into the den of lions.
Well, the king tried his best. We see that in verse 14. But there was nothing he could do. And so, he gave the order and Daniel was brought out and thrown into the den. A stone was placed over the entrance; and the king’s seal and the seal of his nobles was placed over the stone so that no one would tamper with it. And the king returned to his palace to spend a sleepless night. And presumably Daniel’s enemies went home to gloat, because their scheme had apparently worked.
As I’ve already said, this is just another example of that conflict we find in the Bible between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. The Lord put enmity between us; and so the Lord’s people can expect nothing else while we continue to live in the world, because an unbelieving world will always despise the Lord’s people. Do you remember what Paul said to Timothy? He said:
all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
It’s inevitable. And sure enough, when we read the book of Acts, we see how those who belong to this present evil age hated the Christians and did what they could to destroy the church. And we know it from our own experience, because we know how an unbelieving world despises the Lord’s people; and how the world treats us as fools for believing in Christ; and the world hates us for what we believe. And we know as well that behind all the opposition we face there’s the devil, who will do all that he can to destroy the church and to take the Lord’s people captive to do his will. He has all his wicked schemes by which he stirs up trouble and opposition against the church.
And so, what are we to do? Well, we’re to stand firm as Daniel did. We’re to let nothing move us. Daniel had always prayed three times a day; and he continued to pray three times a day, because he was resolved to stand firm and to remain obedient to the Lord who commands all people everyone to worship him. You see, that’s the problem with the king’s decree. Back in chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar commanded everyone to worship a false god. But here in chapter 6, King Darius forbade everyone from worshipping the true God. Just as worshipping a false god is wrong, so failing to worship the true God is also wrong. And so, although Daniel had always been trustworthy, and neither corrupt nor negligent, he could not on this occasion obey the king, because Daniel knew it would be wrong not to worship the true God.
Verses 19 to 28
But then, in verses 19 to 28, we have the conclusion to the story. Early in the morning, the king got up and ran to the lion’s den to see what had become of Daniel. He called out:
Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?
Well, Daniel’s God — who is the living God — was able to rescue Daniel from the lions, because he sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions. And so, he was brought up out of the den, unharmed, because he had trusted in his God.
And at the king’s command, all those who plotted against Daniel were thrown to the lions along with their families. The commentators think it might have been the policy in the Medo-Persian Empire that anyone who falsely accused another person would suffer the same penalty as those they accused. And we read how — even before they reached the floor of the pit — the lions leapt on them and killed them.
And at the end of the chapter, Darius issued another decree. And this was a very different decree compared to his first one. In his first decree he forbade everyone from worshipping any god. In this decree he commanded everyone to worship Daniel’s God. They were to worship Daniel’s God, because he is the living God, who endures forever and his kingdom will never be destroyed and his dominion will never end. Earthly kings come and go; earthly kingdoms come and go; but the Lord God, the King of Heaven, lives and reigns forever.
And he rescues and saves. He rescued and saved Daniel from the power of the lions and from all his enemies who wanted to kill him. The Lord God, the King of Heaven, rescues and saves. And many years later, he rescued and saved his Son from the power of death. Just as Daniel had done no wrong, so his Son had done no wrong. Just as Daniel was hated and despised, so his Son was hated and despised. Just as Daniel’s enemies plotted against him, so his Son’s enemies plotted against him. And just as Daniel was condemned to die, so God’s Son was condemned to die on the cross. But just as Daniel was raised up unharmed, so God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was raised up from the grave unharmed to live forever. And just as Daniel continued to prosper, so God’s Son was exalted to the Highest Place and given the name that is above every name. Daniel’s enemies despised him and did not want him to rule over them; but in the end they were destroyed. And all those who refuse to believe in God’s Son and who refuse to submit to him or to yield their lives to him will one day be condemned when he comes again with glory and power to judge the living and the dead. He will come and condemn them; and they will be punished forever for their rebellion and unbelief.
But all those who humble themselves before God’s Son, confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness, will discover that God is gracious and merciful and willing to forgive sinners for all that we have done wrong; and he will add them to his kingdom, which is a heavenly kingdom that will never end, but which will endure for ever.
And just as God raised his Son from the grave and exalted him to the highest place, so he promises to raise up from the grave all who trust in his Son. He will raise them up and they will reign with his Son in his everlasting kingdom in the world to come. And so, you should trust in God’s Son for forgiveness; and you should trust in him for the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life.
And even though an unbelieving world may hate you, and even though those who belong to this present evil age may despise you and persecute you, even though they might plot against you and try to destroy you, you need not be afraid. Why not? Because the God we believe in is sovereign: he rules and reigns over all his creatures and all of their actions. And just as he was able to rescue Daniel from the power of the lions and from all his enemies, so he’s able to rescue us from all his and our enemies. And even when our enemies hurt us, the sovereign Lord is able to turn it to our advantage and use it for our good. And in the midst of the battle, when we’re tempted to give in, he’s able to come and give us the strength we need to stand firm like Daniel and to remain faithful and obedient like Daniel. He’s able to help us to stand firm right to the end; and after the end, after we have died and our bodies are laid in the grave, the day will come when he will raise us triumphant from the grave to live with him for ever and for ever in glory. And so, remember and believe that the Lord our God is the living God, and he endures for ever and his kingdom will not be destroyed and his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves.