Posts in Old Testament
Darius and the Lions' Den

The account of Daniel 6 has been long labelled “Daniel and the lions’ den.” But what if, in actuality, this narrative has little to do with Daniel?

B.B. Warfield famously quipped:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted: the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or not at all perceived before.[1]

By this Warfield encourages us to read backwards: to use the lenses of the New Testament as spectacles through which we read the Old Testament. Again, the New Testament does not add anything to the Old Testament that was not intrinsically present beforehand. Rather, it illuminates and makes plain a layer of meaning that was previously obfuscated because the mystery, i.e., Christ, had not yet been revealed (Col 1:26).

Daniel 6

Daniel, a godly young man[2], faithfully served his king to the point that his honest, hard work was being recognized—he was going to get promoted. His fellow satraps, however, grew jealous that Daniel was quickly becoming the king’s favorite. They wanted to depose him by exposing his faults. Unfortunately, they could find nothing. They conspired to trap him, and knew the only way to do so was to tread on Daniel’s religion. They tricked the king into signing a law that forbade prayer to anyone other than him for an extended period of time. Daniel, after realizing this had happened, went to his home to showcase his civil disobedience by opening his windows and praying so that all could see.[3] He was found out, and sentenced to death by lion.[4] To the dismay of the king, Daniel was thrown in the lions’ den. The king came to check on Daniel the next morning. To his surprise, Daniel was unharmed; an angel closed the lions’ mouths. The evil satraps were then judged, and Daniel “prospered” (v. 28) during the reign of Darius.

The end.

At this point, we ask questions like: What is your “den of lions”? Is it your boss/coworkers? Are you putting your faith in God to rescue you and deliver you? Truthfully, I am not trying to pooh-pooh moral, practical, and relevant applications of this text. What I would prefer, however, is a better reading of the text that leads to the next level of application.

Reading Backwards

Before we begin to read backwards, I do want to point something out. After analyzing the narrative, I would suggest that the main character in this story (outside of God) is not Daniel, but Darius. Daniel’s fate is tied to the law of the Medes and Persians, and the climax of this narrative is whether Darius would rescind his unjust injunction. Does this seem like a stretch? I don’t think so. How do you determine the main character in a movie? It’s the character the camera follows in the apex of the crisis. After Daniel is thrown in the lions’ den, the author follows Darius home recording his emotional constitution, thereby choosing not to depict this supernatural deliverance—creating a disparity between Daniel 6 and its chiastic twin, Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s deliverance in the fiery furnace). Therefore, we can confidently state that Darius—not Daniel—is the main character of this scene.

So what? How does that change anything when it comes to our reading of the text? Paul alludes to being rescued from the lion’s mouth in 2 Timothy 4:17–18. After informing Timothy that he had been abandoned and harmed, he gives thanks to the Lord who stood by him and strengthened him, with the end that he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Timothy 4:17). Though this was the result of God’s saving effort, Paul does not present this as the purpose of God’s saving effort. Paul says that the Lord stood by him and strengthened him, but he adds this purpose clause: “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17, emphasis added).

Along with the greeting, final instructions are often seen as the crust of the epistles. We typically glaze over them: “Grace and peace, yeah, we get it Paul. I know, you want to say hi to some friends, ask for a favor, and end with a benediction.” But I believe that Paul’s usage of this metaphor gives us insight into the true purpose of Daniel’s salvation from the lion’s mouth. Paul says that although he was persecuted and abandoned by all, the Lord stood with him and rescued him from the lion’s mouth, with the intent that the message of the gospel would be proclaimed to Gentiles.

When we bring Paul’s purpose clause back to Daniel our angle shifts. It evolves from “God delivers his faithful servant who refused to commit idolatry” (which is true!), to “Darius the Mede (a gentile), king of the known world, witnesses the saving power of our God, and then from his own hand proclaims it ‘to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth.’” (Daniel 6:25)

Now the application questions break free from our personal solar system, where we are the sun and moon, and the gravitational pull is our joy alone. How can we suffer in a way that magnifies God’s name, and makes him known to those around us? Knowing that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him—that means his glory and our joy—how does this change the way you see your past/present trials? How can we break free from the cycle of Darius, Herod, and Pilate of seeking the approval of men over God?

After the resurrection, Jesus walked alongside the road to Emmaus and taught two of his disciples how to do exactly this: reading backwards (Luke 24:13–31).[5] The reality is that we are just scratching the surface.[6] With the light of the New Testament, we can walk through the once “dimly lit chamber” and look behind the armoire, under the bed, and on top of the dresser.

  1. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfied, Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 141–2.  ↩

  2. Though in reality, he was likely in his late eighties when this account took place.  ↩

  3. Daniel is oft cited as the paragon of civil disobedience. It is noted that his act was civil (both in scope and method) and public (he opened his windows). Despite the frequency of this claim, however, Daniel did not open his windows to showcase his civil disobedience. The text points out that he is doing what he has always done (v. 10). That it becomes a matter of civil disobedience is the satraps’ issue, not his. We know that by this time, some of the Jews in exile had been permitted to return to their homeland under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Daniel longed to dwell in the Lord’s land, with the Lord’s people, and he opened his window “toward Jerusalem” to look out to the holy city (cf. 1 Kings 8:46–48).  ↩

  4. It is my contention, as well as a great deal of other commentators, that this incident with Daniel and the lions was an ordeal, and not an execution. An execution is an immediate death sentence of a condemned person. An ordeal, on the other hand, is a fatalistic test of sorts to determine culpability. Longman reminds us that there was a biblically sanctioned ordeal set forth in Numbers to determine whether a woman suspected of adultery was guilty (Num 5:11–31). An individual suspected of a crime is thrown into a river. If he or she dies, they are guilty. But if they survive, they are innocent and set free. One proof that this was not an execution: executions do not have time limits. Another proof is the language Daniel uses when Darius comes to ascertain the state of his friend. Daniel reports that the angel stopped the lions’ mouths “because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm” (Daniel 6:22, ESV). He attributes the fact that he is unharmed as a proof of his innocence. And lastly, this explains why the satraps and their families were subsequently tossed to the lions: to ascertain their guilt. The glorious irony of it all, this law of the Medes and Persians “which cannot be revoked” (v. 8, 12) fails, and God’s law prevails. In Deuteronomy, God’s law states that if someone brings a false charge against a person, and his or her testimony is found to be false, then the punishment pronounced on the innocent party is carried out on the false witness (Deuteronomy 19:18–19). In Daniel 6, the instrument of ordeal assigned for Daniel was turned against those who first set out to trap him. As the law of the Medes and Persians flounders in impotence, God’s law is fulfilled.  ↩

  5. For more on reading backwards, I would highly recommend Hays’ book, Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2014).  ↩

  6. Daniel being thrown into the pit of lions evokes the account of Joseph being tossed into a pit (Gen 37:24). The irony of Daniel’s accusers suffering the instrument of torture they had intended for him mirrors the story of Haman being hung by the gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. Daniel laying with lions unharmed illustrates “My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords…They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves” (Psalm 57:4–6, ESV). Daniel laid unharmed by these wild beasts, and Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:13, ESV emphasis added). The satraps and officials plotted against Daniel, though he was said to be innocent. The pharisees and sadducees plotted against Jesus. Pilate, like Darius, sentenced an innocent man to death through much consternation. Before he was arrested, Daniel spent his time praying in an upper room (Daniel 6:10). On the night before Jesus was arrested, he, too, went into an upper room to have the Passover with his disciples (Mark 14:15). Daniel is said to have been placed in a pit, which was subsequently sealed by a stone: “And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den” (Daniel 6:17, ESV). So, too, the Son of man, after his death was placed in a tomb and it was secured by “sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:66, ESV) . In Daniel 6:19, Darius is said to have made haste to this sealed tomb at the break of day. In Matthew 28:1, at “dawn of the first day” the two Marys made haste to “see the tomb.” Finally, notice that when Darius addresses Daniel, there is no mention of a stone. It appears as though, the angel rolled the stone away. We know Jesus’ stone was rolled away, serving as a symbol that communicates the reality that the grave could not hold him. The fundamental difference in the two accounts: Jesus really did die and was raised, whereas for Daniel an angel shut the lions’ mouths and when he emerged from the den “no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God” (Dan. 6:23). Jesus trusted God, too, but he was bruised and pierced for our transgressions, and God’s victory over his wounds and death was all the more overwhelming.  ↩

God's Purifying Work

By c. 740 BC the wickedness of Judah, particularly its political and religious center in Jerusalem, had become unbearable for the Lord. When God looked at his people what he saw was not the child he had raised to walk in his ways, but a rebellious and wayward son (Isaiah 1:2-3). They were sick, infected with a disease that spreads more quickly than any other and with more devastating effects, (i.e., sin) (1:5-6). Their religious and moral life had deviated from the ways of the Lord so much that he referred to them as "rulers of Sodom" and "people of Gomorrah" (1:10). The problem wasn't their lack of religious observance, they kept that up just fine and it had become unbearable to the God who ordained those sacrifices and festivals (1:11-16). At issue was the blood of the innocent and helpless on their hands; what God desired was their pursuit of justice (1:1-17). In what can only be seen as a public "dressing down" of his people, God offers the promise that their sins can be cleansed (1:18). If they will return to him by becoming obedient they will receive his blessing, but otherwise they can only expect destruction (1:19).

Yet even this destruction is redemptive. As the image below shows, Isaiah 1:21-26 (NIV, 1984) lays out the situation as God's sees it, his plan to "purify" them, and his ultimate purpose in this work.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.01.40 AM
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.01.40 AM

The passage centers on verse 24-25a and God's vengeance on his enemies—his people! He will right every wrong, and true justice will reign. In this way God brings genuine restoration and renewal so that righteousness and faithfulness become the very identity of those who are unrighteous and unfaithful.

In a generation marked by unrighteousness and unfaithfulness even in the church, we would do well to thank God for his purifying work. Judgment on the church is not for our destruction, but for our sanctification.

"Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God" (1 Pet 5:16-17).

lessons from job
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[1]

The God in your mind is the God that you in turn serve. Tragically, it must be said that this sentance can be stated inversely: the god in your mind is the god that in turn serves you. For some, God is the puppet master behind the curtain controlling all things from the maximal to the miniscule. For others, God is the sad lonely grandfather sitting in His heavenly nursing home, wishing that His children would come and visit Him. One thing is certain, the God that berates Job with questions, violated every notion of what Job had thought and heard God to be. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).[2]

Job’s friends came to convince him of what he already knew: God is good, He wouldn’t allow this to happen to him for no reason. However, their presumption as to why God allowed it was wrong (Job 42:7). Being certain that God’s vindication and blessing were to be fulfilled fully here on earth, they had an almost karma-esque perception of God. According to that reasoning, since Job was once so highly blessed and favored and then suddenly lost everything, it was clear to them that it was because Job was in sin. Job, being sure of nothing else but the fact that God could not be charged with wrongdoing in this, had no argument against theirs’ but his innocence. Job’s only plea to God was that he could make his case before Him (Job 13:3). Then, God responds...

Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you're talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers (Job 38:1-3, The Message).

God shows no signs of mercy in His incessant questioning of Job:

  • “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).
  • “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this” (38:18).
  • “You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” (38:21).
  • “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” (38:13).

The thesis of God’s questioning of Job is this: who are you to question Me? Job had complained that he could think of no reason why God would allow a righteous person to be afflicted by evil. So, God challenged Job to offer his solutions, but Job had none.[3]

While at first God’s response could be read as if He is being defensive, this approach would be missing the point completely. God is not listing His great works to simply put Job in his place, but to instruct Job that He functions on another plane that he could never fathom. He (God) is teaching Job the long lesson that He spoke succinctly through the mouth of Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Put another way, Job had been saying throughout his story, "I know for a fact that there can't be any good reason that a good God would allow this specific thing to happen to me. If only I could tell Him that." And God responds with, “There could be all sorts of good reasons why I allowed something to happen that caused suffering, despite your inability to think of them.” If there is an infinite God big enough to be mad at for the suffering in the world, then there is also an infinite God big enough to have reasons for it that one cannot think of.[4]

Job responds with the only proper thing to say to such a question, “surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).” While Job may have been wrong in his assumptions about the nature of God’s will, yet “in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). Even though God’s reasoning escaped him, he refused to accuse God of wrong doing. Additionally, he learned the invaluable lesson that obedience to the Lord is not determined by comprehension of His plan but is rooted solely in one’s trust that He is good. He surrendered to the answer that every reader of his story will receive to their question of why, “Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King."[5]

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).


1 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarpersCollins, 1992), 1.

2 Unless otherwise noted, all verses are quoted from the English Standard Version.

3 Good News Editor, “What Job Learned by Suffering”,,Accessed 9/3/2012.

4 Timothy Keller, “The Faith to Doubt Christianity”, Accessed 9/3/2012.

5 5 C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (New York, HarperCollins, 2005), 79.