How to Tame Lions
January 23, 2000
The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in all the Bible. Little children love it and Sunday school teachers love to tell it. In the days of slavery this story became the basis of many Negro spirituals. It has encouraged the people of God for thousands of years. And why shouldn’t it? The story is filled with unexpected twists and turns and the good guy wins big and the bad guys … well, the bad guys are torn to pieces. Along the way we learn the secret of Daniel’s success. Somehow he managed to survive and thrive in a spiritually hostile environment.
That point is a good place to begin because Christians live in a world of spiritual hostility where the temptation to compromise our faith is with us every day. The world doesn’t want its conscience pricked and doesn’t reward those who dare to stand up for what they believe. In some parts of the world, standing up for Christ means suffering and death. In America (and in most countries in the West) it means ostracism, ridicule, scorn, being left out and perhaps being passed over. It often leads to tension at home and on the job.
The Right Kind of Enemies
The book of Daniel tells us how to live for God in a hostile environment. His example shows us that it can be done but not without discomfort. If you don’t compromise, you are sure to come into trouble sooner or later. The story of Daniel and the lion’s den reminds us that there is a spiritual battle raging all around us. The devil himself is like a roaring lion who would devour us if he could (1 Peter 5:8). Therefore, it should not surprise us if the devil has an army of supporters whose major call in life is to harass us, trick us, and trip us up if they can.
You can tell a lot about a person by the quality of his enemies. Daniel must have been a good man because he had the right kind of enemies. The people who hated him were no friends of God. They came after his faith because they could find no fault in him, and they had no answer for what he believed.
Before we jump in, remember these two facts: 1) Daniel is now a very old man. He came to Babylon as a teenager. All his adult life has been spent serving in the courts of various pagan rulers. Now he is over 80 years old. 2) He is now serving under a new king named Darius who rules over a new kingdom, the Medo-Persian empire. The names have changed but the spiritual challenge is the same. Will he remain faithful when the pressure is on?
I. The King’s Decree
As this chapter opens Daniel is once again about to be promoted to high office. Evidently Darius recognized him as a man of integrity and wanted to make him second in command over the entire kingdom. That’s when the intrigue begins.
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” (Daniel 6:4-5).
This is what his enemies discovered when they examined his life:
He was faithful in his duties.
He was faultless in his character.
He was fervent in his prayers.
These are three marks of godliness even unbelievers could see. The people who watch you can tell if you work hard at your job. They know what kind of character you have. And if they watch long enough, they will learn whether or not you are a person of prayer. Whatever is in your heart will come out sooner or later, and people who don’t know the Lord will know the truth about you. In Daniel’s case even his enemies had to admit he had no glaring weaknesses.
No finer thing could be said than for your enemies to admit that they can find nothing wrong with you. Horace Greeley had a saying that Harry Truman liked to quote: “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow, only one thing endures—character.”
Doing Right is No Guarantee
Daniel was hated because he was successful and he was godly. This week I spoke with a businessman who is going through a hard time and doesn’t understand why. In times past his company had gotten into trouble because they hadn’t always followed the rules and regulations in great detail. But this year they had gone to great lengths to be above board and beyond all question in the way they do business. But now a customer is refusing to pay them and is even spreading rumors about the company throughout the community. The businessman wanted to know why God was allowing this to happen. I think my answer surprised him: “God wants to teach you that even when you do everything right, you still have to trust in God. Doing right is no guarantee everything will go right.”
Let’s suppose that your enemies decided to check you out the way the satraps came after Daniel. Suppose someone hired private investigators to look into every aspect of your life, public and private, past and present. What would they uncover? Suppose they checked out your …
High School & College records How you treat your children
Phone calls Shopping habits
Internet usage Financial records
Favorite TV programs What you do on vacation
Video rentals Every relationship you’ve ever had
Tax returns Every corner of your bedroom
Business deals Police record
How you act on the job How you deal with the opposite sex
Your vocabulary at home Jokes you tell
How you treat your spouse Places you visit
Could any of us survive that kind of scrutiny? Daniel did. The investigation revealed that he had no obvious moral weaknesses. Try as they might, his enemies found nothing wrong in his life. He lived so consciously in God’s presence that he was a man “above reproach.”
Daniel’s One “Flaw”
But Daniel did have one “flaw.” He was utterly predictable in his daily prayers. He prayed every day at the same time in the same way so that his enemies realized this was where they could catch him. I’m sure you’ve heard this question: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” When they arrested Daniel for being a man of prayer, the evidence against him was overwhelming.
So the satraps asked Darius to pass a 30-day law forbidding anyone to pray except to Darius himself. In effect, they said, “O king, how would you like to be God for a month?” Sure, why not? That appealed to his pride. Why not be God for a month? It might be fun. So Darius signed the law, knowing that it could not be repealed, not even by himself. He had no idea that Daniel was the intended target.
Meanwhile the satraps are chortling together. They knew Daniel would break the law. That is, they knew Daniel would keep on praying just as he had always done. Daniel was a victim of his own integrity. He was predictably faithful to God. If he had been a flaky believer, this evil plot would never have worked. His troubles came not from his weakness, but from his strength.
II. The Prophet’s Devotion
So what do you do when you discover that your enemies have passed a law aimed at one person, and you are that person? It’s like walking around with a bull’s eye on your shirt. How you respond at that point tells a great deal about your character. Daniel 6:10 reveals the secret of his greatness:
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.
Note the last phrase—”just as he had done before.” For perhaps 85 years Daniel had prayed three times a day. Perhaps it was 7:00 AM, 12 noon, and 5:00 PM. Each day was always the same. Wherever he was, he stopped to pray at 7 AM, 12 noon, and 5 PM. Like clockwork, his daily routine revolved around three times of prayer: 7, Noon, and 5; 7, Noon, and 5; 7, Noon, and 5; 7, Noon, and 5. If he had a business trip to some remote province, he never varied: 7, Noon, and 5. If he had a few days of vacation, it was the same: 7, Noon, and 5. You could set your watch by his prayer times.
I did the math and asked myself, “How many times would Daniel have prayed if he prayed three times a day for 85 years?” The answer comes out to over 93,000 prayers. No wonder he simply went back to his room and started praying. An 85-year habit is hard to break. For him, prayer was like breathing. He wasn’t about to stop praying just because some snot-nosed satraps threatened his life. After all, he was 85, he wasn’t going to live forever anyway, and he wasn’t afraid to die. So when they tricked Darius into signing the 30-day law, Daniel just went ahead with his daily routine. No big deal. He went home, knelt down, faced toward Jerusalem, and offered his prayers to God. He did it knowing that his adversaries would catch him.
A Million Prayers!
Lest it be thought a small thing to pray three times a day, consider this. At Calvary we have over 1100 people who attend each Sunday. Suppose each of us decided to pray three times a day. That would total over 1 million prayers offered to God by our congregation each year! If all of us would begin to pray on a regular basis, the volume of prayers going to heaven would dramatically increase, and we would see remarkable answers from God.
Remember who Daniel is. He’s one of the top three men in the Medo-Persian empire. No doubt he had a plate full of heavy responsibilities. Yet he still had time to pray three times a day. And I’m sure the reason he prayed that way was because he knew if he didn’t live by a schedule prayer would soon be squeezed out. Prayer was so important to him that he was willing to die rather than give up his right to pray to God.
If you stop praying, the world will stop bothering you. The lions won’t come near you. Your family will finally think you are normal again. Your boss will think you are one of the boys. The lions win when we are silent. The great mark of true faith is that we keep praying.
It’s easy to think of reasons why he might have disobeyed. He could have simply closed the windows and the satraps wouldn’t have seen him pray. Or he could have said, “I’ll pray in my heart. No one will know.” After all, he was being forced to do this against his will. And it was only for 30 days. He might have reasoned that by going along with the law, he could use his influence to help others. Certainly he must have known that if he didn’t go along with the law, the lions would eat him alive. But none of those excuses were needed because long ago Daniel had made up his mind to serve God no matter what. In a sense, his prior obedience made it easy for him. He had no decision to make. He just kept on doing what he had been doing all along.
The Real Lion’s Den
One writer remarked that Daniel’s bedroom was the real lion’s den. That’s where the battle was fought and won. By committing himself to continuing in prayer, he won the only battle that mattered. When he won there, the real lions were no problem. We think the miracle was that Daniel survived a night with the lions. That’s a miracle, to be sure. But the greater miracle was that he continued to pray when his life was on the line.
So what do you do when they call for the lions? You don’t change a thing. Keep on serving the Lord, keep on doing right, keep on living for Christ, and then let the chips fall where they may.
Darius now realizes he has been tricked. He likes Daniel and immediately begins seeking loopholes to prevent him being thrown to the lions. But even the king could not repeal his own law because that would make him look weak and ineffective. No, the law must stand and Daniel must go to the lion’s den. But Darius is rooting for the old man. In verse 16 he wishes Daniel well with these words, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6:16). What a testimony this is to the reality of Daniels faith. Even unbelievers recognize true faith in God, and they respect it.
So Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den, which was a pit dug into the ground with an entrance from the side for the lions and with a huge boulder placed over the top so there could be no escape. It was a crude and very effective form of capital punishment. No one ever got out alive. And certainly not an old man over 80. Daniel was as good as dead the moment they threw him in. Or so they thought.
Notice Daniel’s Three “Did Nots:”
He did not try to escape the consequences of his decision to obey God.
He did not know what would happen.
He did not make a deal with God to save himself.
Evidently Daniel was not afraid to die. He may have suspected that God would rescue him, but he could not be sure until the moment came. I do not doubt that he had some anxiety when they took him to the pit. And I’m sure he was praying as they flung him into the darkness. Then he hit bottom, slid along the dirt and came to rest on his backside. He could hear the sound of the lions breathing a few feet away. But there were no roars, no menacing movements, no teeth tearing into his flesh. As the seconds ticked away, he began to relax. Minutes passed and then hours and the lions did not touch him. Daniel later said that an angel came to rescue him. Did he have a conversation with the angel? We do not know for sure, but I think he probably did. Who knows? Maybe the lions became like cuddly kittens and Daniel played with them all night long.
The fear of death keeps many of us paralyzed in the time of crisis. Have you ever wished you knew how long you were going to live? If so, I’ve got news for you. There is a site on the Internet called Deathclock.com where you can type in your birth date and your sex, hit a button, and within a few seconds, the screen will reveal your projected date of death using standard actuarial tables. Last night I punched in the information and within a few seconds I saw this sentence on the screen:
Your personal day of death is …
Wednesday, July 8, 2026.
Then a second screen appeared with this additional information:
Seconds left to live …
I was glad to see that according to the tables I have 26 years left because on my father’s side of the family, most Pritchard men don’t live that long. On my mother’s side people live into their late 80s so I guess there is a “genetic war” going on inside of me.
In the end I put no credence in Internet sites and actuarial tables. My life is in God’s hands and all my days are written in his book. I cannot die one second before my appointed time, and I won’t live a second longer either. In 1681, Richard Baxter wrote these words that have become a great comfort to me:
Lord, it belongs not to my care whether I die or live,
To love and serve thee is my share, and this thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad that I may long obey:
If short, yet why should I be sad to soar to endless day?
Christ leads us through no darker rooms than he went through before,
He that unto God’s kingdom comes must enter by this door.
Come Lord, when grace has made me meet, thy blessed face to see;
For if thy work on earth be sweet, what will thy glory be!
My knowledge of that life is small, the eye of faith is dim;
But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with him!
It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., changed the face of America with these words: “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Daniel had discovered something worth dying for, which is why he kept on praying when others would have quit. Since he wasn’t afraid to die, he had the courage to live for God in a hostile pagan world.
III. The Lord’s Deliverance
That night the king didn’t sleep well, but Daniel slept like a baby. The king tossed and turned, paced the floor, refused all offers of entertainment, and even refused to eat. Early in the morning he rushed to the lion’s den, hoping against hope that Daniel had somehow survived. When all is said and done, it is better to be a child of faith in a lion’s den than to be a king without God in a palace. I don’t doubt that Daniel slept well, using one lion for a soft pillow and the long flowing mane of another lion for a blanket.
It’s true that God didn’t prevent him from being thrown in the den. But the Lord went in with him. That’s why, when morning came, he was still alive, unharmed in any way. When they pulled him out, he had no wounds. No one had to apply any first aid, they didn’t call 911, and Daniel didn’t have to go the hospital for observation. Though he was an old man, he came out at least as healthy as when he went in. Thus does God take care of his own.
The Lions in Daniel’s Den
God shut the mouths of the lions so they could not harm his servant. Consider the matter from the lions’ point of view. How frustrating to see a large meal and be unable to eat it. If they don’t get Daniel out of there, the lions will die of hunger. You’ve heard it said that Daniel was in the lion’s den. It turns out the lions were in Daniel’s Den.
Back to Darius for a moment. When he came rushing to check on things early in the morning, he cried out, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:26). The pagan ruler is cheering for Daniel’s God to come through. He recognized the genuineness of Daniel’s faith and though he did not believe himself, he hoped that Daniel’s God would deliver him.
Verse 23 tells us why the miracle happened. “He trusted in his God.” Nothing fancy there. For over 80 years Daniel’s faith had rested in the God of Israel. That wasn’t about to change at this late date. Daniel simply kept on trusting in God, and as a result, the lions couldn’t touch him. Faith believes God, even when belief is unbelievable.
The end of the story comes quickly. First, the enemies who plotted against Daniel are thrown to the lions, along with their wives and children (verse 24). Then Darius offers public praise to “the God of Daniel” (verses 26-27) who is the living God who endures forever. He rescues and he saves, and he is the One who delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. What amazing words coming from the lips of a pagan king. Or perhaps he is a pagan no more. Perhaps like Nebuchadnezzar he became a believer in the one true God. We won’t know for sure until we get to heaven, but I would not be surprised to see Darius there.
Lessons for Modern-Day Daniels
Let’s wrap up this study by considering five lessons for modern-day Daniels who find themselves facing the lions every day.
It is possible to live a pure life in the midst of a thoroughly pagan world.
Daniel’s story demonstrates that if you make up your mind (or “purpose in your heart”) to serve God, you can do it even in the very center of pagan government. Sometimes I talk with believers who complain about the difficulty of being a Christian in a secular environment. And sometimes they relate stories of how they suffer ridicule and humiliation because of their faith. Certainly I do not doubt the truth of what they say. But at some point we have to say to each other: Stop complaining. You’re absolutely right. Working in one of those big high-rise office buildings in downtown Chicago isn’t like working at a church camp. So be it. We have to face the fact that not everyone shares our faith, and then we have to go on from there. You can live for Christ on the job, in your office, in your classroom, or in your neighborhood. There is always a way to compromise for those who want to compromise. And there is always a way to obey God for those who want to obey God.
Christians who live for God should expect opposition.
Daniel had his share of opposition and he lived a blameless life. If you set out to live for the Lord, sooner or later (probably sooner) trouble will come your way. This is part of what Jesus meant when he spoke about “taking up your cross daily” and following him. The jealous satraps are never far away. Ironically, the more honest you are, the sooner they will attack.
God can use us to touch unlikely people when we are faithful to him.
Daniel 6 emphasizes the powerful effect that Daniel’s personal integrity had on Darius. While it is true that many of his colleagues envied Daniel and plotted to kill him, it’s also true that he made a huge impact for good on the mightiest man in the world.
We never know who is watching us or what they are looking for, but this story teaches us that not every unbeliever hates Christians. For every satrap out there planning our downfall, there is a Darius keeping an eye on us, hoping that our faith may prove to be genuine. Such people have little or no faith and deep inside, they want what we have. Even though they may never say so, they are cheering for us because they hope that what we believe will turn out to be true.
Last week I listened to a successful businessman tell how he came to Christ. It seems that he had a Christian friend whose life made a huge impact on him. Day after day he watched his friend, studying how he handled the problems of life, and listened as he openly declared his faith. Eventually the businessman said to himself, “I want what my friend has,” and he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Some Darius has his eyes on you right now. Be careful about what you do and say. Your example may be leading someone to heaven, or through carelessness you may be leading them in an entirely different direction.
God is able to deliver his people from any danger they face.
If God can deliver Daniel from the lion’s den, he can surely deliver you. Generations of Christians have taken strength from this story because in the end, the hero isn’t Daniel, it’s Daniel’s God. That same God is sovereign over those who plot against you. And he is sovereign over the lions who surround you. Take heart and trust in God. He can deliver you from whatever is troubling you this very moment.
God always delivers in his own time and in his own way.
This is the necessary balance. Does God always deliver his people? Yes, indeed, but not always in the way we expect. Not all our prayers are answered in the way we pray them. And in the end, we must confess that it is good that God has veto power over our fervent petitions. Sometimes God overrules because he sees the bigger picture and knows that he can glorify himself in some way other than by delivering us from a difficult situation. This story ought to be a great encouragement to us because from it we learn that God can and sometimes does deliver in amazing and miraculous ways. Therefore, let us pray with confidence to a God who can stop the mouths of any lions we may face. And if God should choose to answer in some other way, we may rest secure that God makes no mistakes and (as King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way) “everything he does is right” (Daniel 4:37).
Daniel and Jesus
Before we leave this story, I would like to point out the gospel in Daniel 6. Daniel the man is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ who, though he was innocent, was envied and hated and condemned to die. He too was let down into a pit of death and a stone was rolled across the entrance and an official seal placed across the stone. Just as God sent an angel to Daniel, he also sent angels to the Lord Jesus Christ to testify “He is not here. He is risen just as he said.” From that pit of death came forth the Prince of life. He is the One who has conquered death for ever and ever. Because of him, we know that to be absent from the body is not to be dead, but to be present with the Lord.
He is Daniel’s God. His name is Jesus. He is our Savior and our Lord.
The same God who rescued Daniel will rescue you from your sin if you will trust in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who trust in him are counted righteous in God’s eyes and their sins are forgiven forever. If that’s what you need, and if that’s what you want, then run to the cross. Do not delay. Run to the cross and lay your sins on Jesus. In one shining moment your sins will be forgiven and you will receive a brand-new life. This is God’s promise to those who trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
And for all of us there is much to encourage us in this beloved story. In the days to come we will all face hostility in one form or another because of our Christian faith. Those who serve the Lord never have an easy road in this world. But be of good cheer. If we will be faithful, God can use us to touch many people, including some in high places who watch us from a distance and cheer us on, hoping that our God will deliver us. Here is a prayer that I pray for myself and also for everyone reading these words:
Lord, I do not ask for an easy road but for courage to walk the path you set before me. I thank you that my life is in your hands and that I have nothing to fear because all my days are appointed by you. Give me the faith of Daniel. May my colors be clear so that everyone will know that I belong to you. I do not pray for a den of lions but I ask for courage to go there if that be your will for me. Above all else, may you be glorified in my life so that others will see Jesus in me. I pray this in the name of him who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Amen.