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The Lion Tamer

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Archives / 1974 / July



The Lion Tamer

Desmond Ford
-chairman of the department of theology, Avondale College, Australia at the time this article was written


THE story of Daniel in the lions' den is too often put into the same category as Aesop's fables or the tales of Hans Anderson. To perceive its real intent, however, is to recognize that the story has a depth of daily relevance for every Christian and that it carries a special message for the church as a whole in the last generation of history.

First let us notice its place in the progressive development of the book of Daniel.

Between the prophecy of the image in chapter 2 and that of the beasts in chapter 7 are four narratives. These six opening chapters of Daniel consist of three pairs: 2 and 1', 3 and 6, 4 and 5. Of the last two pairs, the former shows God's omnipresence and His readiness to save in their extremity those faithful to Him, while the latter pair illustrates how the same omnipresent God can humble the insolence of rebel rulers. There is an interesting progression in these chapters also. While in chapter 3 Nebuchadnezzar demands homage for his image, in chapter 4 he advances in self-glorification; and in the next chapter we see the open opposition of defiant blasphemy. Similarly, there is an observable progression in the testing of believers. The three Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused positive homage to the idolatrous image, but Daniel goes further, refusing even the negative homage of omitting his worship of the true God.

The prophetic chapters (2 and 7) show the same issues on a worldwide scale, intensifying the effect of the individual case histories. What overwhelming evidence we have here of the inspiration of this magnificent book!

In chapter 6 we have a man in his nineties meeting the greatest test of his career. The test was precipitated because of his own sterling virtues and his refusal to conform to worldly traditions.

Flattering the king that a decree prohibiting intercession to any god besides him for a month would bring glory to his name, the presidents and princes who were jealous of Daniel succeeded in obtaining the royal signature. Next they planned to catch the man they hated not at rifling the king's purse or falsifying the accounts but to catch him at his prayers. Clarence Macartney has painted the scene:

"The wicked plotters were watching him, and with great satisfaction saw him make those prayers. But others were watching him also. The stars watched him by night; the sun watched him by day; the angels of heaven were watching him too. And God on His throne was watching him, and successive ages and generations of men who love and honour the truth, and men who stand for the truth, from age to age, all watched Daniel on his knees." --Great Nights of the Bible, p. 46.

Daniel did not open his windows. Thus there was no presumption. Neither did he close them. Thus there was no cowardice. He did only that which "he did aforetime," and surely this is the secret of his character. How we will behave in a crisis is largely determined by what we have already been doing day in and day out. A crisis is merely harvesttime.

He Is Able to Deliver

Into the pit they hurled the aged statesman. Right through the day the savage beasts had paced restlessly up and down with flailing tails and earthshaking roars. Cruel hungry fangs ached for exercise and yawning empty bellies longed for nourishment. Daniel's enemies could not sleep for excitement. By now their enemy had surely been dispatched for who is that God who could deliver him? Daniel's king could not sleep for sorrow. He valued his prime minister, and could not trust any other man in his do minion as a replacement. But there was one man who slept. His name was Daniel. Take a look inside that den in the early hours of the next morning. Both man and beasts are asleep, the former with his head resting on the flank of one of the stretched-out lions. The first lion tamer was one who feared God more than he feared the lions.

We are not really surprised by anything in the account. The Daniel who had stood for principle from his teens in an alien environment was not going to swerve at the end of his days. And the God who had kept him amid innumerable perils chose to exercise His saving power till the end. The fearful king tremblingly inquired, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" But later, in a worldwide decree he glorified the God of Israel by saying of Him, "He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions."

God is able to deliver, though He does not always do so. He did not deliver John the Baptist, or thousands of martyrs. Christ Him self was not delivered from the cross. The blood of martyrs has ever been the seed of the church. But because it is written in this same book that the true worshipers of the last days are to be delivered from the final assault made upon them (see Dan. 12:1), Daniel experienced the signal interposition of Providence as an encouragement for all who would study his prophecies in these times.

Striking Parallels

This is not to say that the prophet's way was easy. Few of us would enjoy even tamed lions for bedfellows. And his critical colleagues were as fierce as the animals to whom they later consigned him. Daniel conquered by suffering, and thus we are taught to take up the cross of Christ and conquer in the same way. In many respects Daniel bore a striking resemblance to the Messiah, whom he fore told. Bishop Wordsworth has beautifully expressed the parallels:

"He was a Prince of the House of Judah, and was a man of suffering and sorrow; he was an exile and a captive; he is called 'Son of man.' He is also called a man greatly beloved, a man of desire; or (as it is literally) 'a man of desires,' or even, in the abstract, 'desires,' and thus may seem to be a type of Him who is 'the desire of all nations,' the 'dearly beloved Son,' in whom the Father is well pleased.

"Daniel was like Christ in Wisdom. 'To be wiser than Daniel' was a proverb even in his own day. He was like Christ in dutiful loyalty to rulers who scorned and persecuted him. He was like Him in intercession. He was also like Christ in the manner of his suffering, and in its consequences. He was condemned on account of his reverence and obedience to God.

"The princes of Persia raged against him, as the rulers of judah raged against Christ. Daniel was cast into the pit or den of lions, so Christ is said by the psalmist to be in the pit, and His soul among lions. The prison house of Daniel was closed with a stone, sealed with the king's seal and seals of his lords; a stone was on the mouth of the grave of Christ, and it was sealed with the seal of the chief priests. Daniel arose from that pit to honour and glory; so did Christ from the grave.

"After Daniel's resurrection, a decree went forth 'unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth, Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God, and stead fast for ever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.' And after the resurrection of Christ, a commission was given to the apostles to preach the gospel of peace to all nations, and Christ promised to be with them even to the end of the world.

"After his deliverance from the den of lions, 'Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.' Here is a faint gleam of Christ's glory by suffering. Daniel is described as interceding for his people (like the great Intercessor Himself) and praying for their restoration. And while he was praying, he was visited by Gabriel, the angel whose special function it appears to have been to bring messages of the Incarnation of Christ." Christopher Words worth, Commentary on the Holy Bible, With Notes and Introductions, p. xix.

Besides being a type of Christ, Daniel is also a type of the last church. This is not strange, inasmuch as the only factor with holding the return of our Lord is a people made ready to meet Him ready, because they will be like Him. It is written in Scripture that the harvest takes place "when the fruit is brought forth" (Mark 4:29). Says the inspired writer: "Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own."--Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69.

A Man of Character

Daniel, himself so much like Christ, points to that generation of Christians who will be most like their Master. Our chapter asserts that "an excellent spirit was in him," and that men "could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him." The only excuse for antagonism had to be "concerning the law of his God." Thus it will be again. Revelation 13 enlarges the picture of Daniel chapter six as well as that of Daniel chapter three. Again false religion and civil powers will unite to condemn to death those who are blameless, except as regards their preference for the law of God. The faithful, because they refuse to conform to a decree of false religion, will be surrounded by men as anxious for their death as hungry lions for their prey.

How can we explain the exceptional character of this ancient prophet? What can he teach us in our search for righteousness? First and foremost he was a product of Christian education. He had been reared so faithfully in a believing home that the world's tests broke upon him as helplessly as waves against cliff sides. The Jews have a maxim that says that "Jerusalem was destroyed because the education of her children was neglected." But it is also true that the Jews were restored to Jerusalem as the result of the proper education of a few Hebrew youths, among whom was Daniel.

"This Daniel prospered . . ." says the last verse of chapter 6. There have been other Daniels perhaps, in name, but this one prayed and praised. This Daniel was persecuted, but he was also protected, preserved, preferred, and prospered.

This Daniel believed in the law of his God. Today the only absolute for many people is relativity! Men laugh at sin, but they cannot laugh the results out of their bones, hearts, and homes. It is forgotten that EVIL is LIVE spelled backwards. Christ's way is not merely sanctity but sanity. What He commands, life itself commends. Daniel proved it. And so may we!

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