Weekly Bible Devotional
“Going Beyond with Faith”
August 11, 2019
Scripture for Sunday: Daniel 6:13-24
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.”
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. 24 The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
Notes on the Text:
I selected the Daniel 6 text this week because it is one of the stories for our Vacation Bible School this year. The children have been learning this week about going with God “To Mars and Beyond” which is a great combination of a space theme and biblical characters with heroic acts of faith and courage.
The book of Daniel is considered the first “apocalyptic” book in the Bible. The second one is Revelation in the New Testament. Apocalyptic literature is a type of Jewish and Christian writings that first appeared about 250 BCE and continued well into the opening centuries of the Common Era. The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek and means “disclosure,” “unveiling,” or “revelation.” When the people of God experienced oppression, these writings came as a way to give them hope. Apocalyptic books are not predictions about the distant future. They are about a crisis the people were encountering to encourage them to remain faithful under pressure. They use symbols, dreams, and visions to convey this message of hope. It is unfortunate when people misuse these scriptures by taking their symbolic visions and stories as predictions about the end of the world.
Most scholars assert that the book of Daniel was written by an unknown person around the year 164 BCE. Even though the events it portrays were depicted during the Babylonian exile of the year 587 BCE, the evidence from the book shows that it was actually dealing with the persecution of the Jews by the Greeks. For example, the Babylonians never tried imposing their religion on the conquered nations under their control. But some of the Greeks kings did. After Alexander the Great conquered the whole area of the Near East, he left behind a number of successor kingdoms, one of which was the Seleucid dynasty. One of the kings, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, was especially cruel to the Jews. He desecrated the Temple and forbade all Jewish religious practices. As a result, the Jews started the Maccabean Revolt which overthrew the Greeks. The Book of Daniel was written during those years of war. It was a book that said to the people that they will defeat Antiochus and will prevail through their faithfulness to God. At its heart, Daniel is a book of resistance to a system of domination and oppression. It was a call of encouragement to the people to continue to be faithful to the values of God’s love and not the values of the empires and kings. The pressure was on them to accept the values of the cultures around them and to forget what God had called to do and be.
This was the story of Daniel in this book. Daniel, who was a Jewish man, became the second in command to the king of a foreign nation (the nation who conquered ancient Israel), Darius. The other advisors around Daniel and King Darius were jealous and tricked the king into signing a law that would make it illegal for anyone to worship their own gods. The only one worthy of worship was to be the king. And the punishment for disobeying the king’s decree about worship was execution by being thrown into a den of lions.
The temptation for Daniel in the story was to abandon his faith and his identity, but he chose to focus on winning through focusing on his faith even if it meant losing his life. He was not afraid for his life because he believed in the one who gave him life.
The message of faith was very clear and dramatic for the people of ancient Israel as they were going through a time of great fear and oppression. They could not have missed the point and challenge of the story: Stay focused on faith and that will be enough! Of course, this does not mean that people who stay focused on faith do not suffer. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of people suffering for their faith. One such example comes from the story of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12). He suffered and was executed for his faith.
The story of Daniel is a very typical story in our human history when religious or ethnic difference is used to discriminate against people. The people of ancient Israel would have been very familiar with such fear and discrimination and how it was used against them. But in the story was a great message of hope and an invitation to perseverance.
The story of Daniel is about staying focused on faith and doing the right thing according to God even under pressure. Sometimes it is hard to remember this simple lesson of faith! We forget that we belong to God. We get tempted to focus on the things that can never satisfy us. But if we let faith be our guide in life, we can go to wherever life and God call us to bring hope, faith, and love.
Even though we are not living at a time of war and there is no religious persecution in our country, this story is relevant for our day. There are certainly many people who are persecuted for their faith around the world. Here in our own context, we know the pressures of our culture and how they lead us away from being true to our faith. In faith we know that sharing, justice, nonviolence, and love (especially of our enemies) are the values of the kingdom of God. But it is not always easy to live faithfully according to such values. We are tempted by greed, consumerism, busyness, violence, cultural prejudices, fear, and other pressures to believe that if we are to survive or thrive in this world, we must let go of the values of the kingdom of God, or at least just practice them on the side.
When we look at the challenges of our world today, we may feel very discouraged and even become cynical. We imagine that the powers of evil and hate are greater than anything we can handle, but that is the exactly the kind of lie faith calls us to expose. The powers of evil and destruction only win when we feel powerless and overwhelmed. The greatest challenge to our ability to live our lives to their fullest potential is the temptation to focus on overcoming evil instead of focusing on the power of love and faith that is within us. In the movie “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” one of the characters challenges another by saying, “That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”
Focusing on wining and on victory often misleads us to use the wrong tools in life such as power, esteem, and control. It is keeps us locked in a prison of fear. The invitation of faith is to live a different vision of the world and of life; a vision where we focus on what we love within our hearts and souls.
Prayer by Rita Cammack:
Oh how gently You nudge me into the future, O God!
You nudge me beyond my fears, beyond my hesitations, beyond my questions. You nudge me…lovingly, tenderly, persistently to open my eyes and look with You into the possibilities.
Other times, You push me, O God! You push me past my stout reinforcements, past my frozen expectations, past my solidified way of thinking.
You push me…encouragingly, simply, intentionally to push past the confines of what I know and let myself be led into the unknown.
Other times, O God, You seem to carry me into the future! You carry me past my entombed pain, past my erroneous misunderstandings, past my clouded vision of others.
You carry me…then draw me…respectfully, forgivingly, and sometimes tearfully to accept myself and others and let love be the healing core.
And then, O God, You are forever beckoning me. You beckon me to move through the darkness into the light, through doubt into confidence, through denial into acceptance.
You beckon me…patiently, joyfully, reassuringly to trust that You are in the future and to let Your grace be enough for THIS moment! Amen.