Monday, July 07, 2014

Daniel in the Lions' Den

Daniel's Answer to the King by Briton Riviére (1890)
This past Sunday I finished my series on the stories in the book of Daniel. The last one is a familiar story, in fact, when I asked if anyone had ever heard it or read it, virtually everyone in the room raised their hands. You can read it in Daniel 6, but let me briefly summarize it here.

A new King, Darius, is ruling over Babylon where Daniel has spent most of his life as an expatriate (not by his choice, I might add). Darius is a smart and powerful man, and he sets up a hierarchy of officers and governors to ensure that he maintains control over this newly conquered land. Daniel finds favour with the king and quickly rises to prominence. This leaves the other leaders with a bad taste in their mouths (yep, it's jealousy) so they hatch a plot to get rid of Daniel. Since they can find no fault in his work, they decide to attack his loyalty to Jehovah, the God of the Jews. It's pretty easy to convince a king addicted to power to issue an edict which declares that he alone should be worshiped for the next thirty days. And it was just as easy to walk in on Daniel in the midst of his daily prayer routine after the edict was issued. When the malcontent leaders brought their charges against Daniel, serious charges of disobeying the king's direct order, the king was very upset. The last thing he wanted to do was get rid of his most valued leader, but he could not reverse the edict.

Reluctantly, the king had Daniel tossed into a den full of hungry lions to meet his fate. The king uttered some final words to Daniel, "May your God, the God you have served so faithfully, rescue you," and then spent a sleepless night troubled by the unfortunate turn of events.  The next morning the king was out at the lions' den first thing, calling out, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, the One you have served so faithfully, been able to rescue you from these hungry lions?" Daniel responded that, yes indeed, God had rescued him. The king was beside himself with joy. After Daniel had been extricated from the den, the king issued an order for the conspirators and their households to be tossed to the lions. They were not as fortunate as Daniel and lost their lives. Darius then drew up another edict and instead of commanding people to worship him, insisted that all people fear the God of Daniel. The story ends with Daniel continuing to thrive under Darius.

As I was researching this chapter, I came across several articles which identified a chiastic structure in the story. This is a literary device especially common in ancient literature such as the Bible. Basically, chiastic structure is an inverted parallelism used to add emphasis and bring clarity. As contemporary readers, we are taught to look for the main point at the beginning or the end, but the chiastic structure places the focal point in the middle (like the juicy meat in a sandwich).

Here is one example of the chiastic structure in Matthew 6:24 (taken from Thomas B. Clarke).
A  No one can serve two masters
     B  either he will hate the one
         C  and love the other
         C' or he will be devoted to one
    B' and despise the other
A' You cannot serve both God and money

The parallel phrases are identified by corresponding letters. To modern readers, this verse seems to be pitting God against Money, as if they are in opposition, but the chiastic structure reveals that the central idea has to do with love and loving the right master, not with a power struggle. Pretty cool, right?

So what happens when we look at the story of Daniel and the lions' den through the chiastic lens? What becomes central to the story is not the happy ending for Daniel and the justice served to the evil conspirators, but the reaction of Darius. Let me draw on the work of Biblical scholar, Wayne S. Towner, for the parallels in the story.

A  Introduction: Daniel's success (v. 1-3)
    B  Darius's edict and Daniel's response (v. 4-10)
        C  Daniel's opponents plot his death (v. 11-15)
            D  Darius hopes for Daniel's deliverance (v. 16-18)
            D' Darius witnesses Daniel's deliverance (v. 19-23)
        C' Daniel's opponents sentenced to death (v. 24)
    B' Darius's edict and doxology (v. 25-27)
A' Conclusion: Daniel's success (v. 29)

While deliverance is definitely a focal point, the person most affected is not Daniel, but Darius. Daniel seems rather unperturbed about his fate; he serves at the pleasure of High King Jehovah and at this point in his life (he is in his eighties) knows that while kings are fickle, God is faithful. However, Daniel's faithfulness to God and God's faithfulness to Daniel result in remarkable changes in King Darius. Here are the ones I noted:

1. Darius has HOPE that Daniel's God is the real thing. In contrast to the culture of power and competition that Darius lives in, Daniel and his relationship with God are based in trust and friendship. This paradigm, so foreign to a conquering king, is nevertheless extremely attractive to him.
2. Darius is a WITNESS to the faithfulness of God. This is due to Daniel's refusal to hide or downplay his devotion to God. It is also due to Daniel's willingness to suffer at the hands of faithless men for this supreme loyalty.
3. Darius exhibits JOY and EXCITEMENT at the deliverance of Daniel from certain death. Darius saw a demonstration of values directly opposite to those of his cutthroat world and it gave him joy! Darius declared that Jehovah's kingdom would never be overthrown, in effect recognizing that here was a power greater than his own. Quite a statement coming from a king who had overthrown a few kingdoms himself.

Like Daniel, I am someone who lives in a land other than the one in which they were brought up (life as an expat). It is not always easy to live in a foreign place, but Daniel shows us how to do this in a way that not only honours God but is good news for our current place of residence.

Inspired by this story, here is a prayer I wrote for expats:

Let us be bringers of HOPE to the world.
Let us allow people to WITNESS the faithfulness of God in our lives (and not hide it).
Let JOY and EXCITEMENT follow us as we live as citizens of the kingdom of God.
Let us operate from TRUST and FRIENDSHIP instead of power and competition.
Let this land be a better place because we are here.

3 comments:

Shelley said...

very cool! I love Darius' response too. It was almost like his own fleece.
thanks Matte!

Anonymous said...

Do you think this is a true story?

Matte Downey said...

That's an interesting question. Some parts of the Daniel narrative can be substantiated by other historic sources, others cannot. Does this make them any less true? I don't know.

Tolkien observed that when you tell children a story they often ask, "Is it true?" They don't really mean, Did you get all your facts straight?" but it is their way of trying to discern what type of story is being told.

We learn many things from fiction, fantasy, legend, tradition folklore, and we learn different things from historical accounts, family history, research data, etc. A more appropriate question might be, "What type of story is this and what can I learn from it?"