During World War II, a military commander met with ‘General George Patton’ in Sicily. Almost at once, the man gave high praise to the general for his courage and bravery. That’s when Patton replied, “Sir, I am not a brave man, the truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.”
Years later, when Patton’s autobiography was published, it contained this significant statement by the general, “I learned very early in my life to never take counsel from my fears.”
Fear is categorized as a complex base emotion. It is defined as an emotion that is induced by an immediate threat (real or perceived) to one’s health. It manifests itself, most often, in one of three ways; fight, flight or paralysis. What makes fear a complex emotion is that we can also create our own fear and anxiety, when none exists. We can literally be afraid for no good reason.
Case in point, many people saw Stephen Spielberg’s movie ‘Jaws’ back in the summer of 1975. After watching the movie, some people were so afraid of sharks that they wouldn’t get into a swimming pool. I was one of them!
Yet fear also has a good side. It can keep us safe, aware, and protected under the right circumstances. The trick is; knowing when to listen to our inner voice of reason and avoid irrational fears.
Daniel was a man who knew about fear. As a young boy he had been taken by King Nebuchadnezzar’s army and relocated in Babylon. He was a Hebrew in a foreign land; always on guard and careful not to openly offend anyone. Because his situation could change from day to day, Daniel learned to pray to God for insight, strength and peace. It was his relationship with God that helped him overcome adversity on an ongoing basis.
Daniel watched several kings come and go, each time, I am sure he wondered what would happen to him and his friends. But continually, God was able to use him to interpret dreams, visions or riddles when no one else could. It secured his position, created a sense of safety and built him an impeccable reputation.
After King Belshazzar was killed, a general named Darius was placed in charge of Babylon. He was to be the temporary king until Cyrus the supreme leader and future king took his thrown.
The Medes and Persians liked to delegate responsibilities, so Darius appointed 120 governors to rule throughout the kingdom. Then he set 3 commissioners above them, who they regularly reported to; Daniel was one of them.
Because of Daniel’s reputation, and the fact that he was not one of the Babylonian leaders, Darius trusted his judgment. All this was done, to ensure that the kingdom ran smoothly and that the king had proof of accountability. Over the next few years, Daniel distinguished himself far above the others, so Darius decided to make him chief above all the rulers. Some of the other commissioners and governors found this appalling and so they came together to find a way to discredit Daniel.
Daniel, you see, was a Hebrew, a foreigner, and he was pushing 90-years-old. His rise to the top position made the others jealous, envious and filled them with spite. But here is the thing, Daniel’s conduct was so stellar, they couldn’t find any skeletons in his closet.
He was trustworthy, honest to a fault and never negligent. He was so esteemed, nothing would even stick to him. Try finding that in our elected officials today. And on a personal note, how many of us could stand up to that kind of scrutiny? Daniel was a man to be admired, not attacked. But the truth is, living the good life does not guarantee a trouble-free life.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Not maybe, and not, if you live a good life you can avoid it…you WILL HAVE TROUBLE. Period. Expect it. But here is the thing, the better you live your life, the less bad things will stick to you. Daniel was above reproach. So, if they couldn’t bring him down by harming his reputation, they began looking at his personal life. Everyone has weaknesses. Here is the funny part, Daniel’s weakness, they believed, was that he prayed 3 times a day to God. So, they devised a way to use his love of God, to separate him from the king.
Now, I just want to take a moment here. Everyone knew that Daniel prayed to God regularly. He didn’t flaunt it or hide it. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his love for God. In fact, he regularly shared his feelings about God with others. He was a man who not only worshiped, prayed and talked about God, he actually practiced what you believed. He was consistent and known by his faith. I just wonder if, the same could be said about each of us?
Ok, so now, a few of the lead Commissioners and Governors went to the king. “O king Darius, live forever!” they begin, “some of the people in the kingdom still worship Babylonian gods and do not respect your authority.”
And so, all of your advisors have discussed this problem and have come up with a solution. The lie was, they had not discussed this with all the others or Daniel. But this is what they proposed, “We believe that the king should issue an edict and enforce a decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next 30 days, except for you, O King, shall be thrown into a lion’s den before sundown.”
King Darius was good in battle and he was used to men taking orders, but he had very limited exposure to manipulative, seasoned politicians. These men were appealing to his ego and pushing him to make a quick decision and unfortunately that is what he did.
Darius used his signet ring to enact the law and from that moment, set Daniel’s fate. The background here is that once a law was in place, it could not be ignored or altered. That was the rule of law that the Medes and Persians practiced.
Daniel heard about the new law and what do you suppose he did? There was no Hebrew law telling him when or how to pray. He could have just stopped praying for the next 30 days or he could have gone into a closet to pray. But Daniel was almost 90 years old. He was set in his ways. He had a habit of praying three times a day, and he wasn’t going to stop for any man or king. He didn’t flaunt it, he simply did what he always did because that is who he was. Daniel put his relationship with God above everything else. He had his priorities right!
Then, as was his custom, he got down on his knees and prayed at the open window towards Jerusalem. I must say, he was still in pretty good shape in his late 80’s to be able to kneel. And just as soon as he started praying, the other advisors burst into his room and had him arrested. Then, they took him in chains to see the king.
The Commissioners and Governors reminded the king of his law and then they brought Daniel in as one who has violated it.
Hearing this, Darius was beside himself. He was upset and couldn’t believe what was happening. He loved Daniel like a son. So, the king brought in his best lawyers and judges and they looked for any possible loophole, but none can be found. In frustration and final abandonment, the king ordered Daniel to be taken to the lion’s den. It seems his enemies had won.
Poor Daniel had nothing to say. He had clearly broken the law and had no recourse. I cannot imagine the fear he must have been feeling as the death sentence was proclaimed. Frustrated, King Darius walked with Daniel to the Lion’s den. He refused to leave his friend in his hour of need. Then, just before he was to be tossed in, the king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
A lion’s den is actually a pit dug into the side of a hill. There is one door on the side to put the lions in and a hole on top to toss in the victim. The lions are placed in the pit and left for 6 days with no food. Each lion weighs between 300 to 500 pounds and this pit had several.
Now, this is the scene for the execution…the condemned person is taken to the top of the pit and shoved in. Just after the person falls to the floor, the guards also drop in some bloody meat. This makes the wild, hungry beasts go into a frenzy. It is similar to the behavior we might see in sharks.
Back to Daniel,…Daniel’s knees must have been knocking as he heard the lions roar inside that dark pit. They say a lion’s roar is so terrifying and so loud, that it can be heard up to 5 miles away. A lion can roar as loud as 114 decibels or 25 times louder than a gas-powered-lawn-motor. Daniel’s heart must have been racing and sweat poured off his brow, as they pushed him into the pit. A stone was then placed over the hole and the King placed his seal on it, so that no one could open it until he returned.
Then, the king returned to his palace to wait for morning. Darius refused to eat, brushed off all entertainment and was too upset to sleep. He just paced and his mind raced. I imagine he was upset with himself; but then he began to think about how he was manipulated by the other advisors. I am sure that we all have had those sleepless, worrisome nights, where we play-out every possible angle to try and imagine what we could have done differently.
Almost before the sun rises, King Darius rushes to the pit. So just as dawn breaks, he can check on Daniel. He is sure Daniel is dead, but he is hoping against hope for a miracle. “Daniel”, he cries into the darkness, “servant of the living God, has your God, who you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” And at first, there is only silence and his heart began to sink.
Then Daniel answered, “O King, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done anything wrong before you, O King.”
Did you catch that? An angel shut the lions’ mouths. They couldn’t even roar! And they were so calm, that they did not attack Daniel or even scratch him. Not a mark was found on his body. Some Theologians say that the angel made the lions go off to sleep. We do know that lions sleep as much as 20 hours a day. But no one knows for sure what happened in that pit.
King Darius was overjoyed, as they raised Daniel unharmed from the lion’s den. And I can almost hear him say, “Well Daniel, it appears ‘that fear is NOT a factor for you’!”
Then, the king turned his attention to the men who mislead him. He ordered those men, their wives and children to be thrown into the pit. This was also a custom of the Medes and Persians, to punish not just the individual, but also the entire family. And the Bible says they were killed instantly, and all of their bones were crushed. Crushed bones ensure that they will never rise again like the bones that came back to life in the book of Ezekiel.
Then King Darius wrote a letter of praise to God and had it read to all the people in the kingdom. And lastly, the Bible says, Daniel continued to prosper under the Mede-Persian reign.
Now, before we shift away from Daniel’s story, there are just a few things I want to say. Even though God saved Daniel from the Lion’s Den and Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego from the Fiery furnace, many other believers died as Martyrs. We all have heard of the stoning of Stephen and the death of Jesus on the cross. This story is not about doing the right thing to be saved. It is about trusting in God more than fearing mankind.
1 Peter 3 reminds us not to be afraid. Do not fear what others fear. And Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who can take a life instead fear the one who can destroy a soul.”
Then later, 1 Peter 5:7-9 reads, “Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him and stand firm in your faith.”
Some theologians have suggested that Daniel wasn’t even a real person but simply a collection of stories to help Israel stand strong during persecution. But I don’t buy that argument. Jesus mentions Daniel in Matthew 24 and if Jesus believed he was a real man, that clinches it for me.
Few people in the Bible have the integrity, character, wisdom and strength of Daniel. His life is remarkable in a book with many flawed characters. Daniel stands boldly for God through thick and thin. He is humble, thankful and generous. We should learn from him about living fearlessly for Jesus. Like him, we should not be afraid of sharing our faith, we should let people know we pray and never compromise our principles.
And here is the kicker; God used him where he was in his case, it was in bondage. But God can also use each of us, no matter where we are. In fact, God might even have placed us where we are to share the gospel in new ways and with new people. But we have to be bold and trust him!
God can shut the mouths of the lions, so that ‘not even a roar can escape to frighten us. That is the power of our God in heaven. So, Fear Not!
Your assignment is…to be bold this week. Talk to a stranger, a co-worker or friend; look for an opportunity to be open about your faith. Then, if the opportunity presents itself, give your testimony about what Jesus has done for you. Amen.