Daniel in the Lions Den
Daniel 6.16-23 (NRSVA)
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!’ 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. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 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?’ Daniel then said to the king, ‘O king, live for ever! 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.’ 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.
This passage is one of the few that almost every Christian and even some non-Christians have come across. It’s a favourite of Sunday Schools and worshipping communities all over the world. The passage has a hero, some bad guys, a conflict and of course a miraculous happy ending. Well a happy ending for Daniel anyway…
Like a lot of Sunday school favourite passages though, we tend to skip the very end of this story as actually, it’s not a happy ending at all. The conspirators who sought to have Daniel killed are instead thrown into the lions den, along with all their families and they receive a grizzly end. Now of course you may say “well James they had it coming” or “they deserved it because they went against God’s will for us to worship God alone”.
Furthermore, if the conspirators didn’t get killed in the end then Daniel being saved earlier on wouldn’t be a miracle. A miracle is when God interrupts the natural order for a specific moment for a specific purpose. In this case the natural order is starving lions eat flesh and the specific purpose is to save Daniel and exemplify his faithfulness to God.
With this in mind, why doesn’t this passage sit right with me?
I am writing this reflection on Easter Sunday. The day when we celebrate Jesus being brought back from death so that all people have the opportunity to inherit eternal life. All people, includes thieves, abusers (physical, spiritual and emotional), adulterers, murderers and of course conspirators How come then in the time of Daniel, those who conspire against the will of God meet a gruesome death, whereas in the time of Jesus’ resurrection they are invited to have a part with God eternally?
Another question that arises from the passage today involves how we regard and engage those who do not have the same faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we do? Especially if they actively and aggressively attack our Christian faith? Do we ask God to throw them to the lions? Do we pick up the servant’s sword and slash their ear off?
I believe the example of Christ in the Passion story gives us a new way of engaging with those who are different to us. We do not repay violence and hostility with violence. Instead, we pray for perseverance, courage and faith as Daniel would’ve in the den. We pray that violent intentions and actions in the hearts of people would be transformed. We also show those who seek to do us harm, the same love, Jesus showed us on the cross. That isn’t easy at all, that’s why we need Jesus’ example and as we journey towards Pentecost we are reminded we also need the Holy Spirit in order to show that love, as we cannot do it in our own strength.
This passage from Daniel is a great example of the power of faith and trust in God. It is a miracle, and we should keep telling the story to our children in order to inspire faith and trust in them towards God.
However, we should also look at the verses beyond the children’s and the passages throughout Scripture, especially the resurrection, in order to discern how God is challenging us to respond to similar situations and people today.
The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Joseph Poole (1958), Community of the Cross of Nails. Available at: http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/ccn/the-coventry-litany-of-reconciliation/ 4 April 2021.