“Ordinary Heroes: Daniel”
Rev. Melanie Homan
October 2, 2016
Scripture – Daniel 6:1-20, 16-24
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. 4 So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. 5 The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
6 So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
10 Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.
16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” 17 A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” 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. 24 The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
I asked Janet to tell the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den to our kids this morning – but to be honest – it was for all of you, too. Maybe you remember hearing the story of Daniel and the Lions when you were young. Maybe you’ve NEVER heard the story until today. I remember a version of the story from when I was a kid, but it was bits and pieces and not exactly reflective of the actual story. My vague recollection was a guy who was thrown in a deep dark dungeon to be fed to hungry lions, except that the lions didn’t want to eat him, which was WEIRD, because it goes against the laws of nature. And I never really picked up on “why” Daniel was put in the den in the first place.
Daniel was a Jew and he was living in Exile. The Jews had been conquered by the Persians – throughout their history they were often conquered by one group or another, and at this time in history, it was the Persians. We can think about the laws of nature and the laws of God – but, the biggest problem Daniel faced was the law of Persia. The rule of law for the Persians was UNCHANGEABLE. Written in stone. King Darius’ advisers were jealous of Daniel, and they wanted to bring him down. That was no easy task because he was a person of such integrity. They knew Daniel prayed everyday to his God, so they told the King to make a law that said – “no praying to God”. Darius doesn’t seem to be that great at thinking for himself, so he just goes along with it. Once it was law, it could not be changed. Daniel could not, in good conscience, follow this unchangeable law because it was his practice to pray three times a day to God.
What would you do if there was a law that did not allow you to practice your faith, under threat of death? I’m thinking – well, Daniel could have just done it on the sly. Who needs to know you are praying? Do it secretly and you’re safe, right? Just don’t announce it to the world. But, that’s exactly what Daniel did. He openly defied the law. He flung open the windows of his home so that everyone could SEE that he was defying the law. Hmm. Sort of sounds like civil disobedience.
Ghandi, when trying to change the seemingly unchangeable system of oppression in India and South Africa, often grounded the non-violent civil disobedience they practiced – in the book of Daniel. In his writings, Ghandi said that Daniel was “one of the greatest passive resisters that ever lived.” Daniel flung open the windows to say – the rule of law is not the same thing as God’s law. He couldn’t follow the law because “it offended his conscience, and he accepted the punishment for his disobedience.” He accepted death over not being allowed to pray to God. He didn’t fight it. He accepted his fate….and he joined the lions in the den, which is where God intervened. In the face of what seemed unchangeable, change happened. The lions didn’t act the way lions are supposed to act. The laws of Persia, the laws of nature – what seems unchangeable – were transformed by God.
It takes a lot of courage to take on the risk of nonviolent resistance to create change. That’s what Daniel did. We are not often faced with a life and death choice, where our conscience requires us to decide how we will respond to unjust laws. But, it happens all over the world, right now… for Christians, for Muslims, for Jews. It’s World Communion Sunday, when we remember people all over the world who are gathering and sharing bread and wine and remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and some share that bread in peace, while others share that bread in the midst of great danger.
Daniel is a model for generations of people who have risked their lives – who have accepted the consequences of civil disobedience – to create change.
When I first selected the scripture for this story about Daniel, I cut it short. I didn’t include the end. Because it makes me very uncomfortable. If we stop SHORT of the end, we have a heart warming story of what happens when you stand up for what you believe in and everything works out in the end. Well, everything worked out in the end for Daniel.
But it didn’t work out for so well for others. What happened next? Daniel 6:24 “The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.”
Rage. Not only were the men who set this trap for Daniel thrown into the lions’ den themselves, but so were their wives and children….their entire families were killed.
How can there be integrity and faithfulness when innocents are killed? Does one wrong somehow justify other wrongs? Should one act of violence give way to multiple acts of violence? Daniel is a model for peaceful resistance, for civil disobedience, for standing up for one’s beliefs. But, that’s where the modeling should end. Responding to violence with more violence – that’s what happened with Daniel and the Persians. May we take all the lessons this story has for us into account when we hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in another and look at what’s going on in the world right now. May we embrace Daniel’s integrity and faithfulness to God, but resist the vengeance the story, that followed.
If we can indeed resist vengeance, then we will have changed one of those seemingly unchangeable laws of human nature. Alone, we can’t. But as we see throughout our scriptures, with God, the impossible becomes possible, and the unchangeable is changed. With God’s help, we can.