Anyone who has been a follower of Jesus Christ for any length of time is most likely familiar with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, and how God miraculously shut the mouth of the lions to save his life (Daniel chapter 6). You may also be familiar with historical accounts of early Christian Martyrs who found themselves in a similar position.
In both the accounts of Daniel and the Martyrs, we find the formal reason for the persecution was either a refusal to pay homage to the king or emperor as divine, a refusal to worship local gods or, or both. In Daniel’s case specifically, it was more of a decision to continually serve the Most High God even though there was a decree against anyone who made a petition to any god or man besides the king. Also in both accounts, we find that the result of breaking these laws was to be thrown to the lions, to be destroyed and eaten.
Another similarity between the two accounts is obedience. These people were so devoted to God that obedience to Him was more important than obedience to a law that would stand in their way of worshipping the One True God. In Daniel’s case, the easy road would have been to simply suspend his habitual prayer activities for 30 days and hope that God would understand his temporary absence. I have written a previous post that drew parallels between prayer and breathing. I dunno, but am thinking I could not go without breathing for 30 minutes let alone 30 days!
The one remarkable difference that has left many of us scratching our heads, is, why was Daniel saved from the lions but the early Christians were not? Daniel himself states it was because he was found innocent before God, but we must assume that so were the early Christian Martyrs as well. So then why did God choose not to shut the mouth of the lions in both cases?
Have you ever thought that, in the case of the Martyrs, more was gained by their death than by the saving of their lives? The seed that was planted in blood by their death was a seed that grew into the unstoppable church! Persecution of the early church sparked the devotion of the followers of Christ and facilitated the rapid growth and spread of Christianity. They glorified Christ by their death.
Back to Daniel and his story, when King Darius realized he had made a foolish decree that put Daniel in jeopardy, the bible says he was “greatly displeased with himself”, for though he was King, he was powerless to change the written decree. Placing Daniel within the lion’s den, he said to him, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.”
Some say that was fatalism on the part of King Darius, others perhaps look upon it as more of a statement of faith. I will let you be the judge of that, but after a sleepless night of fasting and stressing, the King was elated to find Daniel alive and well. Of Daniel and his God, King Darius wrote:
“I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom
men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel;
For He is the living God and enduring forever,
And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed,
And His dominion will be forever.
He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders
In heaven and on earth,
Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Though well in his 80’s at this point in his story, we see that Daniel’s continued life was more important in fulfilling the purposes of God than would have been his death, and it was strategic in ushering in quite a significant change within King Darius and the Medo-Persian empire!
The title I selected for this blog (But if not…) comes from an earlier reference in Daniel’s life, where his three friends and fellow Jewish captives also made the choice not to bow down, and were thrown into a fiery furnace as a result. We see that just prior, in Daniel 3:17-18 they told the then King Nebuchadnezzar, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up”. I can only imagine this was Daniel’s resolve as well.
What is your resolve? In a society today where it becomes so incredibly easy to make excuses to indulge ourselves, save our own skins, and dare to not go against the flow, how will we answer that question? Will we too make the resolve to be so devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ that we allow Him to choose our path for us, and trust that, whether we live or whether we die, He will be honored and glorified through our choices?