Listening In The Lion’s Den

This week, our journey in Daniel continues! Daniel chapter 6 holds one of the most known stories of the Bible, Daniel in the Lions Den. Yet when we focus solely on the character of Daniel, we miss out on some of the important movements in the chapter.

Join us this week as we explore how three characters in this story journey through failure and trials, forming their resilient faith as they spend some time in a cave of lions.

Last year the New Yorker released an article of some of the most commonly misheard song lyrics, and a few of them are pretty funny. Like people mishear Starship’s ‘We Built This City’ and sing ‘we built this city on sausage rolls’ instead of build this city on rock n roll, or of course the ‘sweet dreams are made of cheese’ rather than sweet dreams are made of these. And who can forget the popular Starbucks Lovers conspiracy in taylor swift songs. I was thinking about this a few days ago, during a run I was listening to a song called Take my Hand but Dirty Honey, and i misheared the lyrics ‘take my hand, youll understand, im a sinner too.’ What i heard was ‘take my hand, youll understand, im a salmon tooth.’ We laugh, but at one point or another we have all probably misheard or mis-sung a lyric. Our song remixes altar the meaning of the song, and often the song becomes incompressible because of the new lyric. What we hear, even when its wrong, shapes what we sing. Today we are going to look at a story of three characters, one who listened to what others were saying, he heard the right lyrics, but he was misled and so made some choices that brought him pain and distress. Another character who listened, and listened with wisdom, and yet was still placed in danger. And then the final character, who rescued both the one who listened to the wrong wisdom and the other who listened to the right wisdom. In all we are going to explore the truth that who we listen to shapes who we are when our faith is tested and our resilience is challenged. As we jump into this story in Daniel 6, lets pray. The story we are diving into today is one that is probably familiar; if you grew up in church or know the sort of top 10 stories of the Bible this story found in Daniel 6 is probably in there. This chapter is the story of Daniel in the Lions Den, and yet when we focus only on Daniel we miss a character who struggled, who feared, and who ultimately was rescued. That character is the King in chapter 6, King Darius. Today we are going to look at the stories of both Darius and Daniel, and also look at how God interacts in this story, to understand how who we listen to shapes who we are, and how God interacts with us and rescues us when we choose to listen and be shaped by unwise counsel. Alright, so Daniel and Darius. We meet King Darius in the beginning of chapter 6. Now if you have been in the series with us, you know that Darius is a new king. Up to now we have been discussing and exploring King Nebuchadnezzar. Well between Daniel chapter 4-6 we find that King Nebechadnezzar has died, and his son takes over. Well this son gets assassinated by his brother, classic sibling fun. This brother is then later dethroned during a military takeover, and the general eventually dies and then his son takes over. This son is also murdered, because we love a theme, and a new king is placed on the throne. Now this new king marries a daughter of King Nebechadnezzar, and together they have a son whose name is Belshazar. Now are we going to hear about Belshazzar next week when Matt covers the chapter, but we are skipping ahead a little today. So Belshazzar is the king and then at the end of chapter 5 in Daniel we read that Darius wins the kingship and Belshazzar is slain. So here we have Darius, a Mede-Persian king. We don’t actually know the real name of Darius in Daniel; the name Darius is not an actual name of someone rather it is a title of honor, like Caesar or Augustus which are names we see later in the Roman Empire. The name Darius derives from an old persian word and it means the royal one. So here in Daniel 6 we meet this new king, a new royal one. And before we even get into the action of the story we can reflect on ways that this new King may relate to the central character of Daniel. Both men carry within them this outsider, foreigner experience. And we know that those types of experiences shape you, give you connection points, they bond you in funny ways. My first year living in England I didn’t know any other Americans. It was all brits and irish people, a handful of Europeans and some Africans, but no Americans. I met my first USA link in my second year, and was overjoyed to have common points of communication. We talked about the Real Housewives and about how we missed a few silly things like American pancakes and peanut butter. We didn’t know each other, but we shared a common language around being with each other, and it bonded us. Darius and Daniel are linked by this understanding of foreignness. Both men are operating in seats of tremendous power in places they don’t know. I imagine Darius must have leaned on Daniel to understand customs or calendar rhymes, maybe he leaned on Daniel to understand colloquial terms or why the satraps organized things the way they did. Maybe they gossiped or reminisced about things they missed. Both men, foreign outsiders, ruling in a place they didn’t know. Now of course Darius was ruling because his military overtook the kingdom, and Daniel was in his position because his people were defeated, so some slight differences, but both carried an outsider insider experience that must have connected them, bonded them, in some way. This connection is important because from it stems a relationship of trust and friendship. But back to character one, Darius. Darius, the foreign king, starts the chapter by surrounding himself with trusted advisors and officials. One of these trusted men was Daniel, who was one of three administrators who oversaw 120 satraps. Darius trusted these men around him, they counseled him and gave him wise advice, and Darius took them at their word. He is starting to set up his kingdom, to set up his rule, and so these men aren’t just trusted advisors they are helping him establish power and reign. Darius’s actions automatically strike me as odd. They say that when new CEOs take over a company, or when new Presidents walk in to a white house or to a university, that they often tend to reshape the cabinet and the top authorities. They bring in their own crowds, reshaping what it means to rule and reshaping he people who rule. But Darius doesn’t do this. And we dont know why, we don’t know if he was trying to respect the government already there or if he just had a blind faith in others. We could argue that Darius was a bit dumb maybe, that he trusted people to continue to do what was right for a community they were already building. Darius trusted the officials, and in many ways it reflects this idea that we are wired to trust. In a 2021 article Roderick M Kramer noted that trusting people is in our genes, and it is certainly in our brain. In fact a study showed that trusting others lights up a part of our brain that is linked to the pleasure center, meaning that when we trust people our brain are rewarded and we feel good. This segways into what we call authority bias, Darius trusted the authority figures who were already established in the empire, he listened with eagerness. But sometimes in our lives listening rather than discerning can lead us into trouble. Here is how Darius found that to be true. Daniel 6 continues, Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 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.” So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing. Daniel 6:3-9 King Darius listened, and who he listened to shaped his policies and shaped what he did. And because he listened to unwise counsel he put together laws that challenged his friendships. Darius was swayed, pushed to wrongdoings because he listened to people who were deceiving him. He listened, but didn’t discern. And because he listened to unwise counsel his actions had consequences. Here is how the chapter continues, Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him. Daniel 6:13-14 Darius tried, everything he could, to right the wrong. His friend, his comrade in foreignness, was in trouble it was a human face to the mistake he had made. HIs reaction is so human to me, I don’t know about you but I know that when I sin or do something wrong my anxious brian goes into overdrive trying to correct what I just did. Of course Ill pray about it and repent of it, but I can’t help but try to fix it. Try to make it right, to do undo the wrong. And this is what Darius does and yet even though he was a king, even though he held all the power, sometimes it isn’t enough. So the chapter continues, Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.” Daniel 6:15 Who you listen to, shapes who you are or what you do. Darius was trapped, he listened to the wrong voices instead of discerning with God and he was forced to face the outcome. So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” Daniel 6:16 Darius is locked in this promise, this law he created, a law created out of unwise counsel, and so he has to follow through with it. Darius is distressed when he has to take this action, and as Daniel is sitting in the darkness of the lions cave we read that the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. Daniel 6:18 I have been reading this chapter a lot in preparation for this time together, and I have been struck by Darius’s journey. Darius has all the wealth and power, he is a king in arguably the most prosperous city. He is untouchable. And so he acts and thinks and creates a system in which he theorises that everyone will be working for him, or at least working for his good. And rather than dissect or reflect on what people are telling him he just takes their advice at face value, he listens to the wrong people and creates this mess for himself. And not just a little mess, in the climax of the action Darius can’t sleep or eat or enjoy anything, he is stressed. Who he listened to shaped what he did, and because he listened to unwise things he lived in a state of stress and worry. We often focus on Daniel, and we will later on, but I think a lot of us can relate to Darius either through some experience in our past or in our current lives. I could give you examples, of course, of how we listen to how others define success, how our culture says we need to live or look or what we need to gain. I can give examples of how are parents voices, no matter what age we are, shapes things. I can give examples of how expectations or popularity drive us. But we don’t need examples, because we can all fill in our own blanks on this. We all listen to things, to people, to opinions and we get trapped like Darius. We live our lives listening to and shaping our actions around things that aren’t from God, and it can cause us to define success in ways that leave us feeling empty, in ways that leave us feeling stressed. And certainly in ways that counter what God wants for us or what God is drawing us to. If who we are is shaped by what we listen to, its easy to hear the lyrics wrong. As Darius paces in the blackness of a night, another character in this chapter is experiencing a different but probably equally scary evening. And thats the character of Daniel, our second character in this story. By the time we find Daniel in chapter 6 he is getting up there in age, most scholars would say he is around 80-85 years old. He has walked through wars and tribulations, seen the kings come and go, and yet he has served this foreign land well. Which is why when Darius enters the scene Daniel is said to have distinguished himself, and the king places Daniel as one of three administrators who oversees not only the satraps but also important things for the kingdom. Yet when the new law comes into play, Daniel has a choice. Does he listen and follow the laws of the King, or does he put himself in danger and follow his God. It would have been easy for Daniel to pray in secret, or in the evening. It would have been easy to hide things to follow this law, and yet Daniel places God first. And I think that’s challenging for us if we actually think about it, its challenging to me. We listen and are pulled by a lot of factors in our lives, some of which are good things, and yet at times we miss this small whisper of God telling us to put God first. Telling us as a new creation that God is the ruler of our lives. Daniel doesn’t miss it. One theologian notes that it was Daniel’s prayer and fellowship with God that had safeguarded Daniel from the corrupting influences of the Babylonian culture and so why would Daniel move away from worshiping that God, knowing that God had worked in his life for all those years. So Daniel listens to God, and so we see Daniel praying. And we know the story, the satraps who laid the trap find Daniel praying and so they bring Daniel to the king and the king has to honor the law he enacted and so Daniel gets thrown into a den or a cave with lions. We don’t know Daniel’s thoughts here, they aren’t recorded. Was he afraid? Was he anxious? Was he steadfast knowing God would work? We don’t know. In fact for the first 21 verses in this chapter, as everyone is plotting and being thrown into a lions den, Daniel never speaks. Daniel only speaks in the morning, after spending a night in the den, in verse 21 we find that Daniel says this… “May the king live forever!’ which is sort of the equivalent of god save the queen, a nice little formal moment of recognition of Darius who now stood outside the den. Daniel says, “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 any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” Daniel 6:22 God has sent angels to shut the mouths of the lions, they haven’t hurt me because I was found innocent or righteous in the sight of God. It’s the only sentence Daniel says in this chapter, but it highlights this idea for us today. That Daniel listened to God, and listened to this innate need to worship and commune with God even when the noise, the chatter around him said not to. Listening to God didn’t prevent Daniel from danger, it didn’t prevent Daniel from being thrown into a den, but listening and relying on God kept Daniel from death, it kept him from harm, and it ultimately allowed Daniel to not only see God perform a miracle in his life but it allowed Daniel’s story to be a testimony of God’s greatness to the King, to the kingdom, and to us. Daniel listened, and he was thrown into a den of lions for death, but his faith remained resilient and God answered. Gustavo Gutierrez’s book, On Job, details how the story of Job mirrors the journey that Daniel follows in this chapter. In reflecting on the book of Job, Gutierrez writes that the theme of the book of Job is not precisely suffering- that impenetrable human mystery- but rather how to speak of God in the midst of suffering. Job, the central character in the book, is constantly faced with this question and opportunity, does he speak ill of God or does he speak well of God. Like Daniel, Job suffers throughout the chapters of his book. He may not be thrown into a den of lions but his body is attacked, his wealth and prosperity is attacked, and most importantly the people around him encourage him to speak ill against God, to turn against God, to rebuke God. Job sits in the suffering, sits in the isolation, but as Gutierrez writes Job refuses to utter such a denial. Daniel and Job in their stories suffer pain and tragedy, for no apparent reason and for no cause. And yet both root themselves in and to God. It makes me think of a verse that Jesus will later say. In John 16:33 Jesus tells those around him ‘ I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take Heart! I have overcome the world.’ Daniel in this chapter is the character who suffers, and yet who listens to and for God even in the midst of the suffering. Some of us may relate to the first character, the character of Darius. But some of us may find our connection point today to the character of Daniel. We find ourselves in the waves of life, tossed by the swell or held under by a big wave, and the idea of suffering is real for us. Daniel and Job encourage us to hold fast to God in those moments, even when there’s a lack of clarity or confusion. Daniels story is a tremendous expression of resilience in faith, and he is resilient because he knows our third character in this story. The third character, who may be less obvious than the others, is the character of God. Every story we read in the Bible reveals a truth about God, a characteristic or idea of who God is and how we can relate to God. And Daniel 6 ends with this idea of reflecting on God. After Daniel is rescued from the den Darius throws the satraps and their wives and children into the den, and well they don’t make out alive. Darius’s actions may be brutal, but he follows them up with a reflection on who God is. He says this, “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” Daniel 6:26-27 Darius’s reflections are similar to Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3 who praised God after Shadrach, MIschach and Abednego survived the furnace. The book of Daniel does mirror chapters three and six, so the King’s praising of God makes sense in a literary function. But the praise of God here also reveals insights into the character of God, both how this character is viewed for the people in the chapter but also how God interacts for us today. Scholars unearth three ideas or concepts about God from Darius’s reflection. The first is that we see that Daniel’s God, our god, is alive and shows that He lives by the way he acts in history, responding to the needs of the people. This story highlight’s God’s power and provision. Scholars also find that Darius understands that God’s rule is eternal and never passes away. And lastly, Darius’s speech highlights how God miraculously delivers those who believe and worship him, how he performs wonderful things for those who listen and call on his name. We see here a God who works, a God who listens, and a God who delivers. So what do we learn or what can we reflect on from this chapter. I think there are three formation points that may help us move through the week this week, one we may relate to more than others. The first thing is the obvious, the one that I have been pointing towards, its this truth that who we listen to shapes who we are. And the adverse of that can be said too, because the characters also tell us that who we don’t listen to also shapes us. The idea is this, there will be in our lives a lot of noise around us, people telling us things, culture telling us things, and even religious people telling us things. It is our responsibility to tune into the holy spirit to discern what we hear, listening for the small still voice of the Lord who calls to us and moves us. So our challenge for this week is this, to reflect on who we listen to. In our process of discernment maybe we find that like Darius we have things that we listen to with too much emphasis, or maybe like Daniel we find that as we reflect we see that we are listening to the right things, even if its challenging. We are formed in our listening and some of us may have some work to do on that this week. The second thing i think we can learn or reflect on this story is that, darkness comes. Darius chose to listen to wrong counsel and so he experienced this panic attack of fear and concern and stress. And some of us have been there. But Daniel also experiences a form of darkness in this story. He did everything right, and yet he was thrown into a den where a rock was rolled in front. I can only imagine the literal blackness of sitting in that cave, without light. Both of the characters in this story found themselves in a night of darkness. It is a funny place to sit in, that place of darkness. I can’t help but think of that scene in Batman in which Bane rises from the pit and gives a speech about how he was molded by and shaped by darkness. If we were honest some of us would say the same. If the part of sitting in a den or sitting in anxiety is what most strikes you today maybe you find yourself being formed in a moment of darkness. And if you are there I hope the reminder that characters in the Bible face trials brings your some form of understanding or comfort. We can’t always give reason to why the darkness comes, but we can understand that it does come and that as we are formed in the cave that the third truth brings us hope and resilience. And the third truth, the most fun truth is this, we formed in and through the deliverance of God. God being a God who delivers is one of my favorite characteristics of God that we see throughout the Bible. God delivering Moses and then the Israelites from slavery, God delivering Noah and his family, God delivering Shadrach and Meschah and Abendego, God delivering Ruth, God delivering Esther, God delivering Job, God delivering David. Jesus in a radical act of deliverance taking on a cross. God delivering an early church in Acts and Paul in countless journeys. The bible unearths this characteristics of God delivering, and we see it here. God delivers Darius from the anxiety and shame and guilt of a law created with unwise counsel, God delivering Daniel from a pack of hungry lions. And because our God isn’t defined by time I believe that the God who delivered peace to Darius after an anxious night and the God who delivered Daniel from a den full of starving lions is the God who sits with us here. Whether we are burdened by our own actions or if we are burdened by the actions of others, our God is a God who delivers. I mean, that deserves a shout of praise! We are formed in the hope and knowledge that God is working and delivering us. And this truth and how we are formed in it helps us when our faith is tested and tried. It helps us when we listen to the wrong thing and when we make mistakes, God’s grace and deliverance forms us. And it helps us when we find ourselves in a cave, real or allegorical, it helps us in the waiting and the suffering and the darkness because God is a God who delivers, and we find hope in that. Even if you feel like you’ve been burned by God, like I have and probably some of us have, God delivers. Even when things are outside your control and your processing the negative impact its had on you, God delivers. When those nights get rough, God delivers. May we be a people who carry that message out with us this week, and may we be formed by God when our faith has to be resilient. We have been looking at this book of Daniel and been reflecting on how the book in its entirety explores resilient faith. And thats exactly what we see in this chapter; in this chapter we see a character who stumbles and fails, we see a character who is faithful and focused, both learn what it means to be resilient when the night gets dark and both learn how who they listen to shapes who they are and how they stay resilient as they wait for God’s deliverance. May these characters fill your heart and brain this week as you walk with God. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA

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