Look in any children’s bible and you will find the story of Daniel and the lions’ den. It’s a good, simple, straightforward story which is (mostly) suitable for children and the young at heart. However, this very simplicity makes it a difficult passage to preach on. What is the message it contains? How can we avoid speaking only of Daniel’s good moral example (yawn)? Some points which you may wish to consider are:
🟡 Daniel and his friends have been forcibly taken from their home in Jerusalem, to a strange city, where they are kept by the king as slaves. They even have their names changed from Hebrew names to Babylonian ones. While they have adapted quite well to this situation, and Daniel, in particular has been given more and more responsibility, they still face prejudice. Daniel’s opponents are jealous of his success, perhaps especially because he is an incomer (although the text does not make this explicit). His story may be comforting or challenging for your congregation. Slavery, identity, prejudice are some topics worth exploring.
🟡 Daniel chapter 1 tell us that the story of Daniel begins in the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Jerusalem, during the reign of King Jehoiakim (we heard about him last week in the Book of Jeremiah). This places the first stories of Daniel around the end of the 7th century BC. However, for various reasons, including the accuracy of the visions in the second half of the book, most scholars think that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC when the Jews were persecuted by the Greek emperor Antiochus IV. Whether 7th or 2nd century, this book was written to encourage those who were in danger, persecuted, or far from home. The stories are tangible reminders that God is in control no matter what happens. Your people may need to hear that God is able to change around impossible situations.
🟡 When Daniel is thrown into the den of lions, it seems that this may be a test of his innocence. The fact that the king has a sleepless night worrying about him suggests, at least, the possibility of survival. If Daniel were still alive in the morning, he would be proven innocent in the eyes of God. If he were eaten by the lions, it would prove that he had been guilty all along. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this test is false and misleading. We find this out with the terrible news that the unnamed and innocent wives and children of Daniel’s accusers die with them in the lions’ pit. (The part of the story we don’t tell the children in our churches). The cruelty and injustice of this situation cries out to be addressed.
🟡 Currently, some churches are opening for worship in defiance of government laws surrounding COVID-19 restrictions, and I suspect they would see this passage from Daniel as supporting their actions. After all Daniel is told by the governing bodies not to pray, but he does so anyway. It may be that you need to preach that Daniel was ordered not to pray at all. That is not what is happening to us. We can still pray, wherever we are. We don’t need to be in church. We do need to act responsibly.
🟡 Like Daniel, Jesus was also falsely accused and sentenced to death. Unlike Daniel, he did not escape, but died and was buried in a tomb. However, the One who was able to shut the mouths of lions could also raise Jesus from the dead. Daniel climbed out of the pit unscathed; Jesus burst from the tomb bearing the wounds.
Jean Kirkwood serves as a parish minister for the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) in the east of Scotland, United Kingdom. You can find her blog here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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