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Stories from the Bible: A Den of Lions

March 5, 2006

Daniel 6

In the last two or three days, I have received four e-mails from members of the Master Gardeners, e-mails warning about purchasing mulch. Some of you have probably received the same notice, which comes out of the great devastation Hurricane Katrina caused in southern Louisiana. In the city of New Orleans, many homes and buildings were destroyed, as were the forests. The multitudes of trees blown down have been ground into mulch, which is for sale at cut-rate prices. Here is the hitch. The pines in that area were infested with termites unlike those we are accustomed to in the Upstate. The mulch contains the Formosan Termite, which is supposed to have an inordinate appetite. It is very difficult to control. You are likely to get these termites, which are almost indistinguishable to the naked eye, in this low-cost mulch. You can imagine that people will spread it around the foundations of their homes, enabling the Formosan Termite to burrow in the ground and put homes in danger.

Other things far more severe than Formosan Termites endanger our homes. Other things far more severe than an ordinary insect or more dangerous than fire ants or killer bees beset our country and threaten the foundational values upon which our homes and our nation are built.

I heard a story this week about civil disobedience, a story about the conflict between church and state. Apparently, a bill before the Congress of the United States would allow for more stringent actions to be taken against illegal immigrants in our country. The bill would also make it a federal offense for anyone to render aid to these people. For example, if you give food, clothing, or shelter to an illegal immigrant, you would be committing a violation of federal law under this proposed bill. Educating children who had immigrated to this country illegally would violate this proposed law. The bishop of Los Angeles, California, has declared that he will instruct the priests and laypeople in the Catholic churches to continue giving food, clothing, and shelter to whoever comes seeking assistance. The law of the government might actually be at odds with the law of God in this situation. The command to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” or the command to give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus might actually come into conflict with federal law. Civil disobedience is not this bishop’s intent. He says that he agrees with the immigration laws but knows that the responsibility of Christians is to comfort those and help those who have needs.

Living our lives with integrity is not easy, but having a sense of doing what is right every single time for a long time is the task of every Christian. We are to be righteous before God. We are to be people of Christian integrity though we may find that very difficult at times.

When the Nazis invaded northern Europe, some of the leaders of those countries had to take hard stands. King Alfred of Belgium said that if the Nazis were going to back the people of the European countries into a corner, he and other leaders would respond heroically to the tyrant Adolf Hitler. The king of Denmark even went a step further when the Jewish people of that country were ordered to wear that familiar gold Star of David. He responded by having every member of his court wear the Star of David. He even put the Star on horses that pulled his carriage. He said, “If Jews are going to be persecuted in Denmark, all of Denmark will stand with them. We will all be persecuted as Jews.”

You have heard the story of Daniel in the lions’ den since you were a child. You know that Daniel stood for all the right things and even ate the right foods. You know that his stand of faithfulness to his God caused him to be thrown into a den of lions. You might wonder, “Surely, that is a story for children. What does it have to do with those of us who are adults?” When we come to this story of Daniel with new and fresh eyes, we will see that this time-honored children’s story is for every single one of us.

King Darius favored Daniel because Daniel was a man of integrity. He selected three men, a sort of tribunal, to serve as overseers and hold accountable 120 provincial governors called satraps. Daniel was so competent in his duties that King Darius considered promoting him to the number one administrator in the kingdom. You must remember that Daniel was carried into exile at the time of the Babylonian captivity into this Persian kingdom. Now this Jewish man, displaced by exile, is being considered for a high-ranking position. For Daniel, this was a high honor, but the king’s decision stirred up trouble.

Those under Daniel in this organizational scheme became schemers. Jealousy, envy, and bitterness overcame them. Unable to abide the thought that Daniel should have such a high position, they considered how they might entrap him. They knew they would never be able to catch Daniel in any kind of wrongdoing. He was honest in everything he did. He always told the truth and lived his life with integrity before other people. As the schemers conferred in their conniving, they agreed, “We will never catch Daniel in any act of corruption or in any impropriety. Is there another way to trap Daniel?” His enemies decided that they could entrap him at the point of his faithful obedience to the one true God, Yahweh.

They asked King Darius, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to pass a law stating that for thirty days, no one in the kingdom is to worship any other god except you, O King?” Darius, not such a man of integrity, had a big ego. When he heard their suggestion, he fell in love with it. These men also knew that by putting the law into writing, it could not be revoked, according the law of the Medes and Persians in that day and time. Darius yielded to the temptation and signed into law this decree, stating that everyone must worship only him.

Daniel, a man of integrity, would always do what was right and always tell the truth. He would also obey God, even if it meant civil disobedience. Daniel, having such a high-ranking position in the kingdom, knew the law well; however, he went to the upper room in his house as usual, opened a window that faced Jerusalem far to the south, and prayed to his God three times a day: morning, noon, and evening.

Daniel’s detractors did not have to wait long to catch him in the act of praying. They returned to Darius and asked, “King, didn’t you pass the law that stated everyone had to worship only you for thirty days? Daniel, the Jewish man brought here in exile, has violated the law.”

When questioned, Daniel, of course, acknowledged his deed. Though the king admired Daniel, he knew that the law of the Medes and Persians was irrevocable and that he must do as the law required. Sadly, the king recognized that he had no other choice but to pitch him into the den of lions. His last words to Daniel were, “May the Lord you serve continually rescue you.”

The Bible tells us that following his ruling, the king did not have a good night. He did not eat because he could not eat. He did not sleep because he could not sleep. He was not entertained because his thoughts were so much on Daniel. The night must have seemed long for the king. Early in the morning, he ran to the den to discover what had happened to this man whom he favored so much.

Try to imagine the kind of night Daniel must have had. A man who was completely innocent in terms of his integrity, a man completely innocent in terms of his faithfulness, had been trapped because he was obedient to his God. God is always faithful. He never breaks covenant with His people. When the covenant is broken, it is broken not from God’s side but from the side of God’s people. Daniel had not broken the covenant with God. He had done what God expected, but he was punished for his obedience.

Why did Daniel take such a stand? He knew no one could usurp God’s place, not even King Darius. The real question to ask here is, What shall a man exchange for his integrity? Daniel said, “I won’t exchange anything for my sense of integrity.” What shall a man exchange for loyalty, obedience, and faithfulness to God? Daniel’s answer was, “I will not exchange anything for faithfulness to God.” For that, he was thrown into the lions’ den.

When I was seventeen years old, I traveled to southern Rhodesia, the country now known as Zimbabwe, to visit my aunt and uncle who were missionaries. I had an opportunity to go to Hwange Game Reserve near the Zambezi River where I saw all kinds of animals: giraffe, zebra, African buffalo, impala, kudu, elephant, and rhinoceros. One night, a leopard visited the little hut where I was staying. I did not see the leopard, but the German Shepherds guarding us saw the leopard and ran him off the hut.

Once while I was riding as a passenger in a range rover through the area, the driver thought he saw a lion run behind a bush. He said, “Let’s just stop here and wait a few minutes. He may show himself.” We stopped, and the man in the front seat, whom I am sure was from the North, opened the door of the vehicle so that he could take a clear photograph, just in case the lion came out of hiding. As he swung the door open and prepared his camera, the lion came, running full tilt toward us. Just within a few yards from our vehicle, he skidded to stop, gave a tremendous roar, turned, and ran back into the brush. By that time, of course, the driver was already doing about ten miles an hour on his way to fifty, bumping along the plain. The man who had opened the door was scrambling to close it. Seeing that lion up close in the wild was frightening.

The apostle Peter wrote in one of his letters, “Your enemy the devil prowls around the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Daniel was not the only one in danger. We are all in danger, not because we might literally be thrown into a den of lions, but because a prowling adversary would devour us. This opponent is much worse than Formosan Termites. How might this enemy devour us? You can be sure it will be a surprise attack.

Have you heard about Siegfried and Roy, the two men who have had an act with big cats in Las Vegas for numerous years? In October 2003, while they were performing their act on stage, a nine-year-old Bengal tiger attacked Roy, grabbing him by the throat and head and dragging him off stage. Roy suffered severe damage to his head and skull and barely survived with his life. The last I heard, he was in a wheelchair.

You can be sure that the attack by the “roaring lion” will be a surprise. King Darius was attacked at the point of pride. The detractors of Daniel were attacked at the point of envy and jealousy. The one who prowls, roars, and devours knows our weaknesses. For some, it will be lust. For others, it will be bitterness and hatred. The lion attacks at the point of greed, as he did with a man in Georgia before the last Powerball jackpot won by meatpackers in Omaha, Nebraska. This man spent his entire week’s wages buying Powerball tickets. Of course, he did not win. The one who will devour will attack you at your point of weakness.

I invited Norman Gaddis, the highest-ranking United States officer taken captive in Viet Nam, to Spartanburg to speak to a group of Scouts. He told us that when his plane was shot down over North Viet Nam years ago, he was put in solitary confinement for 1000 days, almost three years. Then for another three years, he was housed in a cell with other Americans. At the time of his capture and imprisonment, he was a colonel.
I had an opportunity to eat lunch with him, and I asked, “General Gaddis, what kept you going during that imprisonment?”

This very fine Christian, a member of a Baptist church in North Carolina, answered, “Scripture and prayer kept me going.”

“You mean they let you have a Bible?”

He replied, “No, they did not let me have a Bible. Scripture passages that I had remembered from my youth kept me going. Can you imagine what the story of Daniel in the lions’ den meant to me?” Daniel said that an angel was with him. When he hit the bottom of that pit, he was not alone. He had lived his life with integrity before other people, and he lived his life with an unwavering faithfulness before God. When he was thrown into that pit where he might have been devoured, God provided protection.

Tom, a medical missionary in Madagascar, worked in a field hospital. About once a month, he traveled by bicycle on a two-day trip to the city in order to purchase medicine and supplies for the clinic. At the end of the first day, he would stop and camp and then ride into the city the next day. After loading the supplies, he would again travel two days back home. One day while he was in the city, he saw two men in a knife fight. Tom bent at the side of the man who was badly cut and treated him. Then he sought additional medical care for the wounded man at a hospital.

On Tom’s next trip to the city, he visited this man who wanted to meet with him and thank him for his kindness. The man told Tom, “I want to tell you something. Everyone knows you travel alone. We also know that when you come into the city, you have money and when you leave you have money and medicine. Before I was cut in the fight, other men and I had followed you back to your campsite. We were going to attack you, kill you, and take your medicine and money, but when we reached your camp and saw twenty-six guards surrounding your camp, we decided not to bother you.”

The man’s statement puzzled Tom. He knew that on all of his trips into the city and back to his home, he was always alone. Twenty-six guards did not protect him. Tom later told this story to a church congregation in the United States. When Tom mentioned the date the attack would have occurred, one of the laypeople there stood and asked him to repeat the date. He said, “Tom, on that day, we were praying for you during the men’s breakfast here at the church.” All of the men in the congregation who had been at that prayer breakfast and who had been praying for Tom at the moment he would have been attacked stood. The count was twenty-six.

If we live life with integrity and if we are faithful to God, God will be with us. Does that mean that we will never be hurt? No. You know stories of missionaries, as I do, who have died. It does not necessarily mean that our lives will be spared. It means that the God who loves us is even more faithful than we can ever hope to be. “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you” is His promise. He will be with us.

Dr. Norman Shands’ favorite illustration is the story about a boy in Florida who loved to swim. One day when this boy was visiting his grandparents’ farm, he went swimming in their pond. When he saw an alligator, he turned back toward the dock. His mother saw her child and the alligator and began running toward them. All three arrived about the same time at the end of the dock. Just as the mother reached down and grabbed the boy’s arms, the alligator bit into his legs. A terrible struggle ensued, but the mother literally snatched her son from the jaws of death.

The boy’s legs were so damaged that doctors wondered if he would ever walk again. He also had deep cuts in his arms. His pastor came to visit him while he was in the hospital and said, “I am sorry you were hurt so badly.” The boy responded, “Pastor, the wounds on my legs were caused by an alligator that would have taken me to death. Look at my arms. Those wounds were made by my mother. She held me so tightly that her fingernails cut into my arms. The scars on my legs are the scars of an alligator. The scars on my arms are the scars of love.”

We, too, may have scars of love. The Lord Jesus Christ certainly had scars of love. The greatest expression of God’s love is the death of His Son so that you can be saved from the one who would devour you so that you can be rescued for all eternity.

Have you put your faith in God? Have you said, “O Lord, because of your great love, I want to live as Daniel did, in integrity and in faithfulness to You”? When you commit your life to Christ, you have assurance that will see you through even the most difficult times, the most threatening times. God will be with you always. That does not exempt you from getting hurt, but you will never be alone. We invite you to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. We invite you to make a decision to acknowledge him as the Lord of your life. Perhaps God is leading you to unite with this church by transfer of your letter. Whatever decision God lays on your heart, we invite your response. Let us stand together as we sing our hymn of invitation, “Open My Eyes.”

© 2006 Kirk H. Neely

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