Into the Jaws of the Lions
OCTOBER 8, 2020
The stories that really grip us take a theme or an idea to its fullest depth of meaning through more than just rote explanation.
Take the Broadway turned Disney+ hit film Hamilton, whose main character’s ambition is captured in him proclaiming early in the plot that he is “not throwing away his shot.” This idea consistently drives him forward throughout the course of his career but its full meaning isn’t realized until the end of the play where … (spoiler alert!) … Hamilton’s last act on earth is to, in fact, throw away his shot as he fires his pistol into the air during a duel. The story of an ambitious, glory-hungry young man evolves into a deeper portrait of the main character as an upstanding man of resilience, who spares the life of his enemy.
Shows and narratives like these are compelling because we are all made in the image of the Ultimate Storyteller. The climax of his story is good news for all who hear it, and it takes on many shapes and sizes in the Old Testament, often showing up in surprising places and within unexpected characters, like an unbelieving king in the book of Daniel.
The king’s law is broken
In the 6th chapter, Daniel is accused of breaking the king’s law and, if there is to be justice in the land, he must be thrown into the lions’ den — which almost always ends very badly for people who spend the night. The king is distraught because he is a big fan of Daniel and so he does everything he can, working tirelessly all day to undo the verdict. We watch the scene unfold with anticipation, hoping for some clause to be discovered that vindicates Daniel or prevents his punishment.
But the law is the law, and this king is powerless to save his friend.
Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.” So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
A stone is rolled in front of the den and the king returns home and waits on standby all night, soaking his robes in sweat & crossing his fingers, waiting for the morning report.
At the first light of dawn, the king gets up and hurries to the lions’ den to find Daniel miraculously unharmed. He is bewildered by what he is seeing and yet rejoices that the claws and jaws of the lions had been somehow stopped. To which Daniel responds:
My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”
The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
Daniel’s role in this short story as one who trusted God and is therefore spared from sure death is both remarkable and exemplary. Despite breaking the law, God miraculously intervenes on Daniel’s behalf by staying the hand of punishment. It is grace, not law-keeping, that delivers Daniel from the open-mouths of the hungry lions. But the bigger story of God’s grace to Daniel is seen when we overlay these themes with the rest of the 65 books of the Bible, all written to reveal to us a better King’s response to lawbreakers.
Befriending the King of kings
King Darius causes us to long for a king who can do more than wait on standby when his hands are tied by the law and his friends are brought to death row’s execution chair. We want a King with greater ability and character — a King who will not twiddle his thumbs wishing for his friends to save themselves.
The New Testament teaches of a King who does not idly wait for someone else to intervene amidst the certain death of his friends. Nor does he loophole the law. Instead, after the death sentence is rightly charged to all of us who have fallen short of the law’s requirements, this King steps into our lions’ den by climbing a wooden cross. Far from leaving unharmed, Jesus allows the teeth of God’s wrath to tear him to shreds. Only by his death is our vindication made possible. Someone has to pay the penalty incurred, and like John Krasinski’s character in A Quiet Place sacrificing himself to save his family, Jesus lays down his life in love for his own.
Daniel’s friendship with king Darius is powerless to prevent his punishment. But he is spared because he is befriended by a better, bigger King. The One who wears the title King of kings. The scars on his hands shout how our lions’ debt has paid in full. That we, like Daniel, are lifted from our misery by the self-giving friendship of Christ. By his wounds we are healed.