Last week we talked about four young men who at the beginning of the Exile were taken from Judah to the heart of Babylon, and there trained in literature and language to work in the king’s court. These young men were named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but they were also given Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
These four young men stayed faithful to God even in this far off land, amongst the pressure to conform to Babylonian ways, and this actually led to them distinguishing themselves amongst all their peers. So the king of Babylon—at this time a guy named Nebuchadnezzar elevated them above all the other wise-men of Babylon.
The wise-men of Babylon are not happy about this. From their perspective, these four guys are outsiders and nobodies. They’re from a brand-new region just conquered by the empire, the edge of the empire, from the Babylonians perspective, they’d probably view these four guys as crazy hicks. And here the king is, elevating them above everyone else. So these other Babylonian wise-men aren’t going to let this stand. They’re going to take every opportunity they can to knock Daniel and his friends down a peg, if not out-right kill them. But they can’t attack them directly, without getting the king’s wrath. They need the king to be behind them. So let’s see what happen.
Open your Bibles and flip to Daniel 3:1-7.
3 King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, 4 the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” 7 Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Nebuchadnezzar, the king, makes a huge golden statue. A cubit is about the length of your elbow to your fingertips, about a foot and a half, so 90 feet tall. So Nebuchadnezzar has this thing built and then calls for all his important people to come to its dedication to see its awesomeness. But you see—this isn’t just a statue. It’s not just like a king making a memorial. This is an idol, to be worshipped by all the people. And they are told that whenever they hear a certain sound they are to fall down and worship this status.
Someone please read Daniel 3:8-15.
8 Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good.[a] But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”
So this statue is made that people are supposed to worship, and amongst the crowd there to worship it are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And the other wise-men see that those three guys—those three Jewish guys who have been raised above them and who they hate—aren’t going along with the kings decry. They don’t kneel when they hear the sound, they don’t worship the statue. They refuse.
Of course the king didn’t see this. He only knows it happened because these other jealous guys bring it to his attention, but as soon as he hears this he’s furious. How dare these guys not do as the king demanded! The king is the highest authority in the land! How dare they go against him!
So the king has these three guys brought before him. And the king? Well he’s willing to give them another chance. He reminds them what the rules are—that they’re supposed to worship this golden idol—and then gives them an ultimatum. If they don’t do this while the king is watching, then they will be thrown into a blazing furnace to be burned alive.
Let’s see what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do. Someone please read Daniel 3:16-23.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.[a] 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20 and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics,[b] their trousers,[c] their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
Faced with death, these three guys respond that they will not worship the idol. They say “Go ahead and throw us in the furnace. God will deliver us if he wants. But we will not worship the idol.”
Nebuchadnezzar is furious is at such defiance. He orders the furnace heated up as hot as it will go and then they bind the three men. They get thrown into the furnace—and the heat is so hot it kills the men who get close enough to even throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego close. So those three guys just fall down bound into the furnace.
Someone please read Daniel 3:24-30.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25 He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”[a] 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics[b] were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar is staring into the fire trying to watch these defiant rebels burn and he’s like, “Hey guys, how many men did we throw into the fire?” The answer is three, but as Nebuchadnezzar looks into the ire he sees four men. Not only does he see four men, but they are no longer bound and they’re walking around the fire unhurt. And the fourth guy? Well, he looks different from the other three guys, almost god-like.
So Nebuchadnezzar calls for them to come out of the fire, and the three guys walk out—no fourth guy in sight at this point. And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are unharmed. Not even their clothes or hair is singed.
They were saved from the fiery furnace by God, and the fourth figure with them was an angel or representative of God. Nebuchadnezzar realizes their God saved them and that their God is mighty. And he makes it illegal for anyone to speak out against the God of Judah.
Then he promotes the three guys. So the plan of the other wise-people to have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego killed totally backfired. Now the three of them are even more important.
While Nebuchadnezzar is king, Daniel and his friends don’t have to deal with much more faith based persecution. But no one remains king forever. Nebuchadnezzar dies and a new king comes onto the throne.
First there is Belshazzar, who becomes king after Nebuchadnezzar dies. We’re going to skip him but there is one famous passage that has to do with him—not famous because it’s a story we tell very often, but famous because there is a phrase or saying that comes from this section of the Bible: “The writing is on the wall.”
In this story, words are written on a wall as if magically, or by a divine hand and no one knows what it means. It’s in some other language. And Daniel is able to interpret it. And the writing basically means that this king Belshazzar is going to die soon and a new king will be put in his place.
If you ever hear someone say “The writing is on the wall,” it’s a phrase that usually means that the danger or inevitably bad consequences are apparent and there is no way to get out of it. That phrase comes from this story, where the writing was on the wall, and the writing did talk about inevitable bad consequences that came true, and no one could read it except Daniel. So that’s just a fun fact!
But there is one more really famous story about Daniel that we’re going to touch on—that perhaps you may have heard before. Belshazzar also dies—he gets killed—and a new person becomes king of Babylon. His name is Darius. And he’s an okay king as far as these sorts of things go. But once again the other wise-men and advisors are going to try to get rid of this trusted Jewish person that they hate. They want Daniel gone. So they’re going to create a set of circumstances to make it happen.
Someone please read Daniel 6:1-5.
6 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. 4 So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. 5 The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
So Darius has 120 “satraps.” A satrap is a provincial governor or local ruler. And he puts three “presidents” this version says over them. My other version says “commissioners.” So basically three guys that those 120 guys answer to, and then probably those three guys answer to the king. And Daniel is one of those three guys.
The king chose Daniel based on his merit, and the other governors are not okay with it. So they try to find dirt on Daniel, to try to find some way to show that he is not loyal to the king or doing something wrong. But they can find nothing. Daniel has served loyally. Except…they realize, Daniel will always obey the law of God above the law of the land. So if they can find a scenario where those two things contradict, Daniel will obey God and not the king, and then, maybe then they can get this Daniel guy out of there.
Someone please read Daniel 6:6-10.
6 So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
10 Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.
They make a plan. They go to the king and appeal to his ego. They tell the king that he all the wise-men and rulers of the land under him agreed that the king should make a law saying that for thirty days no one should pray to anyone except the king. Remember, back then, kings were also viewed as minor gods. So that wouldn’t necessarily seem crazy to a Babylonian to pray to the king. But these guys say for 30 days no one should pray to any other god throughout the entire kingdom, and if they do and they’re caught, they should be thrown into a den of lions, to be eaten alive.
Clearly Daniel wasn’t there when the law was signed or for some reason was silent about it, but either way, he knows its signed. He knows this is the law of the land—and probably a trap for him—and that it is technically illegal for the next thirty day for him to pray to God. But Daniel continues to go home and pray—three times a day—just as he had always done.
He will not let a law of man stop him from following God.
Someone read Daniel 6:11-15.
11 The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. 12 Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.”
14 When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. 15 Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
The other guys—the conspirators this section calls them—they know Daniel prays to his God and probably knows how often he prays—they’ve probably noticed the times of day when he goes him. So they catch him in the act. And then they go to the king and they’re like, “Hey king, we found a guy, he’s not obeying your law, that you just made, remember? He’s praying to someone else. So we should throw him in the lion’s den and be done with him.” They’re very careful not to name Daniel at first.
The king is like, “What? Someone is breaking my law! Who and how dare they! Yes they should die.”
And the conspirators are like, “It was Daniel.”
This upsets the king. Because he likes Daniel. He doesn’t want to kill him. But he also made the law. He can’t back down on his own law without looking bad to all of this people. However, it says he makes every attempt to save Daniel. He’s probably trying to find some loophole in the law, some way he can say that “yeah even though that’s the law, Daniel is exempt because of this other law.” But he finds nothing.
And the other guys are like, “What are you doing king? It’s the law. The law cannot be changed. WE have to obey it.” There is no way for the king to go out of this and save Daniel. It’s not within his power.
Someone read Daniel 6:16-23.
16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” 17 A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
The king has no choice but to give the command. And Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. The kings only parting word is that he hopes Daniel’s God will deliver him.
It says they lay a stone over the mouth of the den, so it’s probably some sort of cave where these lions live. And the king himself seals it with his own ring so that if the stone is disturbed they will know and see and answer to the king.
Then the king goes home and fasts and doesn’t sleep. He’s worried and distressed about Daniel.
As soon as the night is over—as soon as its dawn—the king runs to the lion’s den. He cries out as he nears, “Daniel, are you alive???” And Daniel responds, “Yep. God sent an angel who closed the lions mouths, because I am blameless before both him and you. I have done nothing wrong.”
The king is so happy Daniel isn’t dead and has him taken out of the den. He is unharmed, and he is placed back in his station as an important man in the kingdom of Babylon.
The king had no power to save Daniel, but God did.
In both of these stories—the one about the golden idol and this one with the lion’s den—we have stories of people standing up against the entire world when it sided against them, standing up for their god and their beliefs and refusing to just go along—even though obeying the laws of Babylon and the insane random decries of the king would be far easier to do. But they knew following God was more important, even in a world where they were hated and outnumbered.
This isn’t just peer pressure. This is life and death pressure. But they stayed strong, and followed God, and God spared them because of it. Not everyone gets spared for standing up for God—we’ve seen this before in the Bible and we’ll see it later. Stephen, the first Christian martyr is a good example. He stands up for God and he’s killed for it. But we shouldn’t just stand up because we think God will spare us from the consequences. Daniel didn’t know if God would save him. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego probably thought they might die. But they stood up for their beliefs because it was the right thing to do.
We should stand up for God and we should do the right thing, even in the face of awful consequences. We’ll see this again in the next story we’re going to study: the story of Esther.