“A People Restored”: Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Few of us have experienced a Hollywood-type rescue, such as being hostages in a bank robbery to be rescued by a SWAT team or stuck on a deserted island with some shipping packages to be rescued by a passing ship. But we have all been rescued in some way or another, such as being stranded on the side of the road to be rescued by a tow truck or stuck in a mind-numbingly boring conversation with someone to be rescued by a spouse or friend.
We know then, at least to some degree, the relief and joy of rescue. That is why stories of rescue—both true and fictional—resonate so deeply with us.
Not All Rescue Is the Same
The Book of Daniel opens with a couple of the most well-known rescue stories in Scripture. Last week, we looked God rescuing three friends from the fiery furnace and this week, we look at Daniel being rescued from the lions’ den. Both are accounts of amazing rescue, and it might feel like you are repeating the same session this week as last week, only with a different story of rescue. To a degree we are, but there are notable differences. For example, last week we were able to focus on God being present in our trials while this week we focus more on God’s power.
These differences are worth noting because they affirm a bigger, quite important idea: not all rescue is the same. While rescue is an important theme that runs throughout the story of Scripture, we need to be careful not to simplify it. The reasons rescue is needed often differs. The ways rescue comes often differs. The responses of the people being rescued and others often differs.
But there is one other difference we need to be careful to note.
We Cannot Count on Rescue
Rescue doesn’t always come. We need to be clear on this: God is not obligated to rescue people. Every rescue is an act of His mercy and grace. God did not have to rescue the three friends or Daniel. Neither does He have to rescue us.
I worry that we are quick to presume upon God the way we believe He should act. We determine in our minds and hearts what God should do and then we hold Him responsible to do it. We, the creation, like to tell God, the Creator, how things work best. We, the finite, like to tell God, who is infinite in wisdom, what is best. When we put it like this, it’s quite absurd, isn’t it?
For those of us in the American church (perhaps the Western church even), I think it is one part shoddy theology and one part Hollywood. Deep within many of us is the notion that we deserve to be rescued from anything that troubles us—even if it is our own fault that we are in the situation we are in. We see God as a cosmic janitor, always there to clean up our messes and preserve our pleasant, comfortable lives. That’s love, right? And Hollywood has fed into this by allowing us to feast on stories that always seem to have happy endings. Just as the hero defuses the bomb with 3 seconds left, God will always be there to step in and rescue us.
But that is not the way it works. Ask the apostles, all of whom with the possible exception of John who was merely exiled, died as martyrs. Tell that to the countless believers, in the past and today, who have suffered and died for the faith. Tell that to the family who watched a loved one die of a disease or the woman who was trafficked.
Sometimes rescue comes, but at other times it doesn’t. And God is just as good either way.
But There Is One Rescue that Is Sure
There is one rescue, though, that we can count on no matter what because it is a rescue that God has promised: salvation from sin. God has promised that all who trust in Jesus will be saved—rescued—from sin and death. This rescue, a greater rescue, is sure. We are not wrong to presume upon God that He will rescue us in this way. Indeed, it would be wrong of us not to presume it. This is the hope that the Bible gives us—the hope that we are to have. God expects us to rely on this rescue and He delights when we do. Because this expectation frames how we live each day as we await that glorious rescue.
This is why there are so many stories of rescue in Scripture. And this is why rescue resonates with humanity. While we were not made for rescue (the Fall brought it about), we are surely wired for it. And all who trust in Jesus will experience it.
While Daniel suffered but lived, our Lord died a terrible death, as did many Christians who were thrown to the lions … and as many do today. Deliverance may or may not come in this life. We have the advantage over Daniel in that we know the Messiah has come and conquered death for us.” — Angukali RotokhaAngukali Rotokha, “Daniel,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 1100.
Preschool Tip: This week’s story is a common one in kids ministry, but that does not mean you can be on cruise control this week, especially if you teach the younger of our preschoolers. We are still talking about a man thrown into a den of lions, so be gentile and sensitive in how you share the story with your preschoolers.
Kids Tip: Be sure that your kids understand that Daniel had a choice not only on whether to pray or not, but how to pray too. This is important because it can lead to a powerful discussion of taking a stand for the gospel. Daniel could have rationalized his conduct, but he didn’t. Rather, he obeyed God and stayed consistent in his practice of prayer and worship.