Daniel and the lions’ den—a familiar Bible story that most of us have probably heard thousands of times. I admit that when I hear this story, I typically think of Daniel as the young adult who wouldn’t eat the royal food and stood unharmed in the fiery furnace with his friends. And this is not untrue. At the beginning of the book, Daniel is probably in his late teens/early 20s, but what we don’t always realize is that by the time we get to Daniel 6, he is 80 or 90 years old. A lifetime has passed, and Daniel has always been obedient and faithful. He practiced, as Eugene Peterson would say, A long obedience in the same direction.
As the beginning verses of Daniel 6 illustrate, integrity and obedience were standard practices for Daniel. He didn’t wake up one day and decide to defy the king and continue worshipping the one, true God. The decree of an unbelieving king wasn’t going to stop him from doing what he knew was right and had been doing for nearly 80 years.
Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. Then these men said, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.”
When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:3-5, 10, CSB)
In reality though, the familiar stories we read in the first six chapters of Daniel—refusing to eat the royal food, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the fiery furnace, the handwriting on the wall, the lions’ den—are just a few exciting highlights in the life story of a man who loved and served God most often in the ordinary and mundane. Most of Daniel’s days, the ones we don’t read about in Scripture, were spent as an employee, a friend, a believer who valued his God and his faith above all else.
Ultimately, Daniel’s “long obedience in the same direction” was rewarded. We don’t often hear much about the end of Daniel 6, but it says that King Darius, after witnessing Daniel’s trust in God and God’s power in saving him from the lions, issued a new decree, which directed everyone to worship God rather than himself. God used Daniel’s lifelong example of obedience and trust to change King Darius’ heart.
Currently, Jeff (my husband) and I are teaching a beginning theology class at our church. Some weeks are great—all the attendees are tracking and learning and actually enjoying it! Other weeks are pretty discouraging—people don’t come, everyone seems thoroughly confused, and enthusiasm is lackluster, at best. I’m constantly reminding myself that God, not Jeff and Jen, is responsible for the outcome. He sees the long hours of preparation and prayer and our deep desire for these precious people to know Him and His word more deeply. He also sees our discouragement and feelings of inadequacy. He will do the heart work; we simply need to be obedient. Be encouraged! Your faithfulness makes a difference. You may not see it as quickly or as clearly as Daniel did, but God is always working to draw people to Himself and glorify His name.
For he is the living God, and he endures forever;
his kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end.
He rescues and delivers; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth….(Daniel 6:26b-27a)