One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted is the way that far too many Christians misapply Scripture. Second Corinthians 3:13 has been misapplied to argue against wearing masks. Revelation 13 has been misapplied to warn against taking vaccines. Among others, Daniel 6 has been misapplied to argue for the church resisting government mandates and restrictions.
I don’t intend to argue in this brief devotion about whether or not Christians should resist government mandates. That is a discussion for another time and place. I do want to try to uncover the principles of resistance we should draw from this chapter. To do that, it is important to first review how the events here recorded unfolded.
The Babylonian Empire had been displaced by the Medo-Persian Empire, and a man named Darius had taken a position of rulership in the city of Babylon. Darius implemented an elaborate administrative system to guard the empire’s interests and Daniel quickly became renowned among the leaders in this system. This invited the ire of his fellow leaders, who sought a way to bring him down. Knowing that their only hope was to find fault with regard to his faith, they persuaded Darius to implement a law forbidding prayer except to the king himself. When Daniel persisted in praying to God, his fate was sealed and he was cast into the lion’s den, where he experienced supernatural protection.
As I have said, this story has been used to argue for Christians making a public stand against unjust laws. This is wrongheaded for at least two reasons.
First, we should note that the unjust law in this instance affected Daniel’s private worship, not his public worship. Its affect (if any) on synagogue worship is not the focus of the story. Instead, the law prevented Daniel from praying in his own house. There is no indication that Daniel insisted on prayer in public. There is no indication that he called for his three friends to join him in a legal challenge against unjust public discrimination. The focus of this story is that the law prevented Daniel from worshipping God in his private capacity, which is pressure to which he would not cave.
Second, we should note that Daniel’s response to this unjust law, far from rallying public support for disobedience, was simply to continue doing what was right and to prepare to face the consequences. Simply stated, he prepared himself for death. This is the way that Christians have historically fought for their beliefs: by embracing death. Christians have long understood that the best way to take a stand is to quietly continue doing what is right and trust God to vindicate righteous behaviour.
Please do not misunderstand: I do not mean to suggest that there is never place for Christians to protest in the public square. I am not suggesting that there is never place for Christian churches and organisations to protest injustices by following legal channels. I am suggesting that that is not the lesson that we should draw from Daniel 6. This chapter teaches us the necessity of gospel-centred courage to take a personal stand for what is right, regardless of the consequences we might face.
When Daniel persisted in prayer despite the law to the contrary, he had no promise that God would deliver him from death by lion. Children’s story books frequently offer illustrations of Daniel calmly sitting alongside the lions, gently stroking their manes with a big smile on his face. These illustrations come from the artist’s imagination, not from the narrative before us. I like to imagine that Daniel was terrified that night, perhaps curled in a corner as the lions menacingly prowled around him. I like to think that his faith enabled him to endure a frightening situation, rather than taming ferocious, hungry beasts into tame pussycats. Perhaps I am as guilty as a typical artist of drawing on my own imagination, but I think my imagination is better suited to the definition of “faith.”
Regardless, we learn from Hebrews that Daniel, with the other heroes of the faith, embraced their fate with hope of something beyond. There was a promise that lay before them against which death paled. They could embrace death because a better day lay ahead. Death was not the worst thing that could happen because death was only a temporary interruption in eternal life with God.
We should learn this lesson. When we face temptations to forsake our devotion to the Lord, his promise of ultimate vindication and eternal life should enable our obedience regardless of the consequences of which we are warned.
As you meditate this morning on Daniel 6, ask God for the strength to take a stand in your devotion to him regardless of the consequences that obedience invites.