I came across a most striking passage about the prophet Daniel this week. An exiled youth from Israel, he quickly rose in the ranks of Babylon to become one of King Darius’ top administrators. He made the other bureaucrats look bad because of his excellent skills and impeccable character. They couldn’t find any malfeasance with which to accuse Daniel, so in their fierce jealousy they looked for a way to bring accusation “in connection with the requirements of his religion” (Dan. 6:4-5).
Their plot was to convince the king to enact a foolish decree demanding that they worship him alone. If they worshiped any other “god” they would be thrown into the lion’s den. To ensure that the king would not change his mind or relent, they applied to it the unbreakable seal of the law of the Medes and Persians. Here’s my favorite part:
When Daniel learned about this decree, “he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God” (v. 6:10).
I love this picture of the serene confidence Daniel carried in amidst a corrupt pagan culture. People could threaten him all day long, and it wouldn’t sway him in the least from worshiping the true God.
Although a hostage to a conquering power, and a forced immigrant to Babylon, he had been chosen (along with three of his Hebrew friends) for Nebuchadnezzar’s leadership training program because he was “strong, healthy, and good-looking,” and because he was “well versed in every branch of learning, gifted with knowledge and good sense, and with the poise needed to serve in the royal palace” (Dan. 1:4). Beyond that, “God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the time…and God gave Daniel special ability in understanding the meanings and visions of dreams” (v. 1:17). They were a very gifted little group of Jewish pals.
Their gifts brought them to the close attention of a succession of kings, and they were promoted to top leadership positions. But it was their devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that got them into trouble. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to an enormous idol, declaring that their God could save them. Their loyalty to their God allowed them to boldly attest that even if God didn’t save them, they weren’t going to bow down to the king’s stinking statue. They got thrown into a furnace so hot the soldiers throwing them in burned to a crisp.
Daniel went without resistance to the pit of lions, and the king stayed up all night worrying about him.
God came through for all four of these courageous, faithful covenant-keepers. They conducted themselves like Jesus, “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). The flames didn’t touch the three young men, and the lions didn’t come near Daniel. But Jesus completed his act of sacrificial faith.
In a culture becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, I ask myself: If the culture dictated that I deny my faith in God, threatened me to abandon my worship, or bullied me into worshiping idols, would I go to my death rather than betray the Lord? Would I be brave? Would I keep him first in my heart and mind like Daniel and his friends, and worship him as usual? Just as I have always done?
This is not a popular notion, but anyone who can’t say yes to these questions Jesus says is not fit to be his disciple. A saved Christian maybe, but not a true disciple. (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27).
Daniel and his three friends, and Jesus Christ himself, are our biblical examples of absolute loyalty to the one true God.*
*I’d also add Stephen to that list. (Acts 7)