There are some stories in the Bible that stand out beyond others and are known by virtually every believer and even many nonbelievers. The stories of Noah and the flood, Moses and the exodus, and David and Goliath are premiere examples. The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is probably one of those stories too. Because of that story, most Christians know about Daniel, but his story goes deeper than just that one event.
Daniel’s experience was very similar to another well-known character, Joseph (See Bible Character Spotlight: Joseph). Like Joseph, Daniel was blessed by God with the ability to interpret dreams, and also like Joseph, Daniel was able to use that gift to raise his status in the service of the head of a great nation. In Joseph’s case, his service was to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Daniel, on the other hand, started out under Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.
What’s interesting is that God used Jacob’s service to Egypt as a way of taking care of his people as they were able to move to Egypt and thrive for a while because of what Jacob did. That is a sharp contrast to Daniel’s case. During Daniel’s time, the people of Judah were facing the consequences of their bad behavior. God had allowed Babylon to take over Jerusalem and remove its king. So instead of being saved by finding sanctuary in a foreign land, the Hebrews found themselves as subjects of a foreign king while in their own land. Many were even forced to leave their homes and serve in Babylon.
Daniel along with three others: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were taken and trained to serve the king. Part of that training involved being immersed in Babylonian culture. The young men had to learn the Babylonian language. They were given Babylonian names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respectively. What some might find interesting is that many Christians probably know the Babylonian names of the other three young men better than their Hebrew names. However, most everyone knows Daniel as Daniel.
Perhaps that’s, at least in part, due to the fact that Daniel was defiant from the start when it came to things that would take him away from the culture and rules that God had established for the Hebrews. Daniel understood his position, but he was still determined to stay true to his service to God no matter what, even when it came to what some might see as relatively minor things like what he ate.
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” – Daniel 1:8-10
Very early in his story, we’re already seeing a few things. First, Daniel is loyal to God above all else. Second, God is right there taking care of those faithful to him. Third, Daniel is willing to put God to the test in order to demonstrate God’s greatness to others. Daniel and the other three Hebrews chose not to eat the royal food like the other servants. Instead, they only ate vegetables and drank water. Daniel challenged the guard to see who would thrive better after ten days. In the end, Daniel and company came out on top, leading the guard to change the menu for all the servants.
Just from that action, we see that Daniel, despite being a servant, is able to enact change in the rules that govern him simply by adhering to God’s will. The faithfulness of Daniel and the other young men did not go unnoticed by God.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. – Danield 1:17
God rewarded them with skills that would serve them in their positions and help them stand out amongst the other servants, and stand out, they did.
At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. – Daniel 1:18-20
Here we see another similarity between Daniel and Joseph and several other figures in the Bible. These men of God did not exist in a vacuum. They lived at a time when great leaders had their own advisors and people who had somehow obtained their own special powers and abilities. Yet, by simply remaining true to God, all those other people consistently paled in comparison to God’s servants.
Daniel started using his gifts to great effect right away. The king had a dream that bothered him so much that the failure of his wise men and advisors to interpret the dream led to him issuing an edict to have all of them killed. Daniel stepped up and did what the others could not. He interpreted the dream, which elicited a great response from the king.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” – Daniel 2:46-47
This is another good Biblical example of the actions of those that are faithful to God causing others to acknowledge God’s greatness. The kings of Babylon were similar to the Egyptian Pharaohs in that they served their own set of gods and to some extent were even seen as gods themselves by their people. Just like with the Pharaoh during Joseph’s time, Daniel was able to get Nebuchadnezzar, a so-called god king to declare God’s superiority.
Of course Daniel’s actions did not endear him to everyone. Some of the other servants and officials grew jealous and plotted against him leading to a different king, Darius, being put in a position where he felt compelled against his own desire to punish Daniel. This is what led to that famous story about the lion’s den.
When we look at Daniel’s story as a whole, we actually see that the lion incident was just one piece to a larger puzzle. Whether it was Daniel’s interpretation of dreams; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s survival of the furnace; or Daniel spending a night peacefully with a group of hungry lions, all these events only served to glorify God.
What truly set Daniel apart from some other figures in the Bible is that his actions didn’t just convince one foreign king of God’s greatness or raise God’s presence in one foreign nation. No, Daniel influenced two different kings of Babylon; Darius, a king of Mede; and Cyrus, a king of Persia. Babylon and Persia weren’t two small kingdoms either. They were two of the greatest empires of the ancient world.
Daniel’s actions had a monumental impact. His story shows that even back then, God had not forgotten about the Gentiles. While the real outreach to the people outside of Israel didn’t start until the New Testament, even in the Old Testament, we see that God set things in motion that allowed non-believers to know him and understand that he is supreme.
Daniel’s story ends with a reference to the end times. This time it is Daniel that receives a prophecy, one that we see echoed throughout the Bible and expanded in Revelation. Daniel is also told what his ultimate fate would be.
“As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” – Daniel 12:13
We believers understand that the fate that awaited Daniel is the same fate that awaits all who believe. Just as we can take a cue from Daniel’s life about what awaits us at the end of our lives. We should also take inspiration from Daniel about how we should live our lives now. Maybe we won’t be able to influence kings like him, but if he was able to do all of that by simply remaining faithful to God, imagine what we can accomplish if we follow his example.
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