The courtyard was filled with royal officials, governors, various advisors and philosophers. King Darius’ party was a success judging by those in attendance. His top event advisors sent out most of the invitations as a means to add to the king’s robust political pull. There was a harpist robed in a flowing white Persian costume with flowers in her long thickly braided dark hair standing by the entrance. A weathered woman fortune teller entertained guests under a purple canopy protected from the sun on the far side of the courtyard, away from the king’s space.
Darius was tired of greeting people who were clearly there to push their own agenda. He sat on his golden throne shaded by potted palm trees, trying to act interested. A boy had been employed to fan the king yet beads of sweat were still upon his brow.
The king greeted the last of the guests and then rose with expediency hoping the shift in movement would find some breeze. However, his guards flanked him too closely, as if guarding against relief itself. He quickened his step and was pleased to see the guards did not. He needed space to breathe and think. His thoughts were of Daniel, one of his governors. He was pleased with Daniel’s work ethic, attention to detail and fairness. He wanted to give him a promotion but had been met with opposition from key royal officials. They gave Darius conflicting viewpoints on Daniel’s behavior. Each one of the complaints were investigated and found to be baseless.
He made it to the edge of the courtyard where a fountain had been erected in honor of the fish god. There were tiny spawns swimming about as the water bubbled and gurgled. When they grew bigger, the fish merchant would take them elsewhere and replenish the supply. For now, they swam about with vigor in the large space.
The king noticed Daniel standing off to the side of the gathering. He was talking to a child who looked intent on every word coming from his mouth. That was another reason Darius liked him, he was kind to everyone despite age. Many of the adults that he knew would not give a second glance at a child; even here Daniel was entertaining the young one.
“Daniel!” the king said walking towards him with an outstretched hand. “Good to see you my friend.”
Daniel accepted the king’s hand and nodded his head slightly. The king knew he would not give him the traditional bow and it didn’t bother him. The other governors in the crowd were staring and shaking their heads, scowls on their faces, displeased at the overt break in tradition.
“Looks as though I have upset my colleagues again today, your highness.”
“Don’t worry about them, they are only upset that they didn’t get the same greeting from me. Limelight and all, eh?” The men exchanged glances and laughed softly.
“Tell me Daniel, how are you faring? Is all well? How are the people in your jurisdiction? Walk with me, I find the air more pleasant when not sitting still.”
“As you wish.”
They turned and walked in the direction of the purple canopy, yet this was still 100 yards in the distance. Daniel was silent, waiting for the king to spark up the conversation; there were a few traditions that he observed. The clinking of the guard’s armor filled the silence.
“Daniel, there is something weighing on my mind that I would like to discuss with you. I am very pleased with your business conduct and integrity.”
Daniel nodded slightly.
“I have also investigated a few complaints recently that turned out to be misunderstandings, likely lies.”
He looked at the king and raised an eyebrow.
“Not to worry my friend,” he patted his shoulder. “I desire to promote you to oversee all the governors, if you will agree to it.”
Daniel turned to the king, smiled and accepted the king’s outstretched hand. “Your majesty, I am honored, thank you.”
In the middle of the courtyard, the head royal officials gathered discussing the improper behavior of the king and Daniel. This issue was far from new, yet no matter how many times they spoke to the king, he would not forfeit the friendship; nor listen to the reasoning of their complaints.
“What are we going to do about Daniel? The king won’t listen to reasoning,” said Ali-Naj.
“It’s an impossible situation,” Nahor stated shaking his head and waving a hand. “Why the king doesn’t see that his behavior is ostracizing other key officials as well as making himself appear weak. If we ever need political allies it is now. He is jeopardizing everything!”
Shirac furrowed his eyebrows and whispered, “If only Daniel were to die. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about this.”
Nahor and Ali-Naj nodded their heads in agreement.
The group looked at the king and Daniel who were now laughing together and making different hand gestures, likely telling each other stories.
“He is wasting his time with Daniel, and it will be a big mistake if he is appointed head Governor. We can’t have an outsider lead all of us.” stated Shirac. “This needs to end.” He started to walk toward the men on the bench but was stopped by Nahor.
“What are you going to do? You’ll make a fool of yourself in front of everyone. This is not the way to handle it. Patience.”
“I’ll bide my time now; I guess you are right. Let’s think about this and I will also ask the opinions of some magistrates who are of the same thought.”
“Agreed,” replied Ali-Naj and Nahor.
“I’ve kept you away from your guests long enough,” said Daniel rising from the bench. “I must be off to make Sabbath preparations.”
The king rose and nodded his head, “I understand.”
“Shalom my friend.”
The king embraced Daniel, patted his back and then walked off toward the waiting ‘audience’. He always felt better after a visit with Daniel; with a refreshed spirit, he felt prepared to deal with the double talkers and power seekers.
The morning was light with a soft cool breeze. Daniel opened his balcony door, letting the sun stream in to the house. It was a simple living space complete with a bedroom, chest and water basin.
Daniel prayed on his balcony three times a day facing Jerusalem, in observance of the Israelite tradition, on bended knees and with folded hands. He kept a mental list of those in need as well as prayers of thanksgiving and protection. He looked forward to this time of peaceful communion with God. He sought guidance and believed God would grant him the wisdom needed for himself and his people. Some had fallen from the faith, citing impatience with waiting, disbelief in God or the burden of prayer and sacrifice. They had either quit believing all together or sought the religion of the surrounding regions. Daniel’s experience thus far had proved that God did exist, and He is Sovereign; there was no room for doubt in his heart or mind.
Daniel’s face was warmed by the sun as he knelt to pray. The noises from the street below rose up to the balcony but he was accustomed to this environmental background and it did not distract.
Shirac walked below weaving through the crowd and steeling glances at Daniels home. He had been unable to find any fault in the man and felt that this issue could only be resolved by an accidental death. He noticed Daniel praying and the idea hit him at once. He had seen him pray before and never thought anything negative about it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He hastened his step to meet with his co-conspirators.
“Good morning, King Darius,” Nahor bowed low followed by Shirac and Ali-Naj. The trio had requested a special meeting with the king to discuss matters of great urgency.
Darius held out his sceptor for approval. “Rise men. What matter do you bring me this morning?” He was frustrated with them. The last five times they requested a special meeting with the king it was to complain about Daniel.
The king was sitting on his bronze throne in the great room, a fire in the center pit accompanied by an attendant to ensure the stability of the flame fighting against the cold of the morning. The cock crowed in the distance as the sun peaked over the horizon. The great room was a space open on three sides, with the mountains visible in the distant east. There had not yet been enough material to build the other sides of the walls.
Shirac bowed again for dramatics, “Oh Great King. You are the Greatest in the land. May the gods bless you forever. Oh King, you know that whatever you ask of us, we will do. Oh, what great power you have, oh King. May your name be Great.”
“Yes, yes,” replied the king, smiling; it did feel good to have his ego stroked.
Nahor approached the king with a scroll and quill. “We worship and adore you king and have written a decree in honor of you. Your signature will allow us to worship you and give you praise more ardently. It simply states that the next 30 days are dedicated to you, Oh King. If anyone is found worshiping other gods or praying to them, or any human, in the next 30 days they will be thrown in the lion’s den.”
Darius sat back in his throne, rubbing his chin and thinking. “Hmm…. It is quite a thoughtful honor you have given me. Do you think the kings in the other regions will be jealous of this? Do any of them have such laws?
Shirac and Nahor exchanged glances. They had not counted on such questions. Ali-Naj stepped forward after a moment’s pause.
“My king, I have looked into this matter some and I cannot find any such decree. This would be a first. I am sure they would be jealous, but also have the wisdom to follow suit.”
The king’s heart skipped a beat. To be worshipped and adored solely for a month. No more offering to the fish god, the sun god or the moon god for the next 30 days? This certainly would increase his coffers and maybe he would have enough to build the rest of the great room.
Darius smiled at the men. “I like the idea. Where’s the quill?”
Nahor handed the white feathered quill and held out the ink jar for him. Shirac and Ali-Naj nodded at each other inconspicuously. Each of them congratulated himself quietly at resolving the Daniel issue. It would be an accidental death after all, at the mouths of the lions.
Daniel made his way to the office for his duties and set about looking over the new requests that had come in from the townspeople. Some regarding business establishment, other regarding late taxes. He worked diligently by himself for an hour before his helper arrived to distribute any responses.
Eliab had just started his fourth year as Daniel’s assistant. He knew, better than most, the daily routine of the governor. Eliab routinely arrived on working days after the him, giving the senior official time to collect his thoughts and plan for the day. When Daniel took his mid-day break to pray, Eliab would break for a quick lunch and then continue any required errands.
“Daniel,” Eliab called. “Did you hear the news today?”
“What news, my son?”
“The King signed a new decree. It dedicates thirty days to the worship of the king, starting today. So, I guess you won’t be able to take your mid-day break.”
“Why would that be?” Daniel put the scroll down that he had been reading and looked at the boy.
“Well, you can’t pray…um…to any other god except the king. Maybe you want prayer time for him though?” The boy’s voice raised and octave with the last question as he shrugged his shoulders.
“That is impossible. King Darius would never sign such a thing. You must have misunderstood or maybe you were not listening well. Did someone tell you this straight away or did you hear this by eves dropping again?” He raised an eyebrow.
Eliab dropped his head, “Eves dropping, sir,” he whispered.
“Ah-ha! What did I tell you of such things?” He waved a hand at the boy.
“Yes, sir. I know.” He paused, thinking. “No good ever comes from snooping around.”
Daniel nodded, returning to his papers. There was a small stack today and he likely could get through all of them before evening. After the brief rebuke that started his day, the young boy was especially chatty. The rest of the morning passed by without incident. The young boy made two errands prior to the break, each time bringing back more papers to review. The day’s deadline would now be pushed.
As Daniel made his way home for the mid-day prayer and break, he noticed a scroll nailed to the decree post. As he read it, his heart dropped. The boy was right, the king had signed such decree.
Now, more than ever, Daniel knew that he needed to pray. He walked home with a determination in his step, he knew who was behind this law. He walked out to his balcony, at the appointed time, knelt down and prayed.
Moments later, a noise from inside, let Daniel know his practice had been observed. His prayer became audible. “May the Lord God protect me from my enemies and deliver justice to the evil doers. May you not find not fault with me, oh God. Protect me, I pray.”
The guards seized him roughly and dragged him down the stairs, moving too fast for him to get his footing. The lion’s den was in walking distance of Daniel’s home and in close proximity to the king’s residence. Darius kept the lions in the cave mostly because he was in awe of the creatures and enjoyed viewing them. He made sure they were well cared for; however sometimes they did help him deliver justice. This was an exception, not the rule.
Darius was present when they arrived. He stepped forward to meet his friend and was hindered by his guard that reminded him it would not be good to touch the condemned.
Tears fell down his cheeks as the realization of effects of his actions would cause Daniel.
“May your God protect you,” he said struggling against the guards who were blocking the path to his friend. “I’m sorry, I would rescind it if I could, my friend. I pray your God protects you!”
The barricade of the pit was lifted, a rope place around Daniel’s stomach and he was tossed into the darkness. The scent of animal waste, and what reminded him of wet cat was mixed with an unfamiliar stench. He found his footing and stood up before his eyes could catch up to his new environment. He heard a low growling in the background and dropped to his knees, sliding on an unfamiliar substance.
“Oh Lord,” he prayed. “Darius has been fooled. I pray for his protection and for mine. You are the God of Abraham, and Isaac. I trust in You. If it is Your will, may I live tonight and continue in your service. Oh God, hear my prayer.”
Daniel felt a lion bush his side and heard him sniff. He braced himself praying again, this time louder. He felt a soft vibration through the coat of another lion and realized that the big cat was purring. A sudden impulse later, his hand was scratching behind the ear of another one. He found himself the center of attention of these fierce creatures looking for affection. He prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer for continued protection, a prayer of awe in the presence of such powerful beasts. And then he slept, the pillow for his head being the stomach of one of the big cats. Another one lay over him to keep him warm.
In the morning, King Darius came early to check on his friend. “Daniel!” he called lifting the gate to the den. “Daniel!”
“I’m here.” He looked up shading his eyes as the sun was streaming through the hole. He looked around to see the beasts still sleeping. “Do you think you can pull me up now?”
“Yes!” he answered heaving the rope up. “Hold on.”
When Daniel was lifted out of the den the two friends embraced. The king laughed at first, a nervous laugh which quickly turned into weeping. He held his friend tightly asking for forgiveness for his stupidity.
“It’s ok, my friend. I’m ok.”
A growl from below reminded the men of their surroundings. Darius untied the rope from Daniel’s waist, and they turned to go.
“Wait,” Daniel stopped. “I think the lions are really hungry. What can we get them to eat? It’s not fair to them to keep them so.”
“I have an idea.”
The men walked back to the king’s palace. Daniel was given clean clothes and a huge breakfast. Darius punished the trio of evil royal administrators who had threatened the life of his friend… and the lions were finally fed.
This story is based in Daniel 6 and is packed with powerful messages for us today. The key message is that Daniel prayed boldly. He observed the traditions of three daily prayers as was common to his people. More significantly, he prayed boldly and openly even after a decree was set that explicitly forbid such prayer.
Intimidation to oppose God’s will can come in many forms for us today. Another key to face the giants of this world is to pray boldly. Spending time with God, communing with Him and diving into His presence will give you strength beyond words. A situation may not end like you or I would like, but God’s Sovereignty is something that can be counted on, always. Dare to be a Daniel; who knows what lion God will place at your feet!