This week's Bible Study - November 22, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
"You want a friend in this city? [Washington, DC.] Get a dog!"
Harry S. Truman
If you were able to choose, would you rather that everyone else around you had the same beliefs as you, or would you choose to swim upstream on your own, against the flow? Most of us would likely say that we would like to live in a place where people had the same general beliefs and standards of morality as ours. Perhaps this is why we, as believers, get so frustrated when we see our society moving further and further away from Christian ideals and standards. It would seem that the things that most people value today are further and further from what we know God has called us to do. It wasn't all that long ago when prayer was in school and it was not considered intolerant to share your own beliefs with others. Note that even then, there were still many societal problems. For example, our country used to have many race related issues (and it is not as if they are all solved today). Much progress has been made since the mid 1950s to address some of the larger issues, but it takes a long time to change the thoughts and attitudes of everyone. A century prior, although prayer was in schools and schools were largely Christian based, the issue of slavery was still occurring, even among many believers. We could write pages and pages regarding the issue of racial problems, but the point is that even when some things may have seemed to be more 'godly', there were other issues in how people were treated that was far from what God had ever intended.
We can acknowledge that being a believer is not going to be as easy as just doing what everyone else is doing. There will comes times when we will have to resolve to take a stand. In some places, it may be easier to stand, but in other places, even hinting that you have Christian beliefs can put you at risk for losing your job. To take a stand does not mean that we have to be confrontational towards others, but that we are willing to draw a line as to what we will or won't do, and sticking to it.
This lesson is less about confrontation and conflict, although acting faithfully can sure lead to that. Acting faithfully is deciding what you will do ahead of time and sticking to it. For a period of time, it may take resolve and at other times, it may become more habitual. (We all know how difficult it is to create good habits, and how quickly we can lose them if we are not diligent). At times, acting faithfully may be applauded by those around you and at other times, it can make you feel like an outcast. As we go through this lesson, we will see how the faithfulness of Daniel was actually used against him. The exact scenario is unlikely in our society, but you likely will see many parallels to our current day.
King Darius, the king of the Medes, appointed 120 straps to rule throughout the kingdom. Satraps were roughly equivalent to what we would call governors and were used often in the Mede and Persian empires. Daniel was distinguished among all of the administrators because of his exceptional qualities. In fact, the king had planned to set him over the entire kingdom. God had blessed Daniel in so many ways, but you can sense what is likely to come next. When someone is recognized by the king, the boss or whoever is in charge, others tend to get jealous pretty quickly.
We read that other administrators tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in the way that he conducted his government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and seen to be neither corrupt nor negligent. This would seem to be something good to have on one's performance evaluation, but it seemed to incite the other administrators all the more. It didn't occur to these others that Daniel would have been an ideal leader, which would have been good for them and their nation. Why couldn't they just stop and realize that it would actually be a good thing to work for Daniel?
None of these good qualities stood out to those who spoke against him. They had allowed their disdain against Daniel to totally cloud their thinking. Try as they might, they couldn't find any basis for charges against him unless it had something to do with the law of his God. They obviously knew that Daniel was a God fearer, but somehow they couldn't equate that with having any tie to him being blessed as he was. Have you ever found that you had something against someone else in such a regard that you couldn't even find a good thing to say about them? It may be one thing to disagree with someone or to want to avoid them, for a number of valid reasons, but when we think of someone as being all bad or all good, problems will begin to accrue. In fact separating a person into all good or all bad is actually one sign of a personality disorder called 'splitting'. We don't see that the administrators were saying that Daniel was 'all bad' but they did let what they didn't like and feared about him, to cloud their judgment.
So the administrators and satraps had to devise a plan. We don't read of how they came up with it, but surely they got together to talk about different ways to conspire against Daniel. They went as a group to the king and started out by buttering him up - May King Darius live forever! They continued to say that all the administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors had all agreed about something that should happen. All of them. (Do you recall that Daniel was one of the primary administrators? Was he in agreement? This is a pattern that we see quite often today. One lie leads to another lie which leads to another lie which… well, you get the picture.)
They convinced the king that he should issue an edict and enforce a decree that all in the kingdom would pray to only the king for the next 30 days. They said that others could not pray to any god or human being. Perhaps if they said only God, Darius would have been clued in and thought about Daniel. However, they intentionally confused more facts and the way they presented it so that he was less likely to truly consider the impact of the decree. They continued to 'suggest' that if anyone was found praying to another god or human being, they should be thrown into the lion's den. They essentially strong-armed the king into writing the decree, in such a way that it could not be altered.
Daniel learned that the decree had been published. Once again, he wasn't part of the group that had taken this to the king, although they certainly implied that ALL of them were in agreement. Daniel didn't make a beeline to the king, but considered the decree and went about his business as he had always done. He went back home to his upstairs room and got down on his knees, praying at the window that faced towards Jerusalem. He continued to give thanks to God, just as he had always done.
The others who had convinced the king to make this decree, knowing what Daniel did all of the time, had engineered the circumstances in such a manner as to trap him. As a group, they went into his home and up the stairs, and found him praying. Isn't it amazing to think of the nerve of these people? They didn't just happen to be walking along and came across him, but they set a trap and waited for Daniel to take the bait (by doing what he always did). When they found Daniel, he was praying and asking God for help. Daniel knew the situation and I am sure that it was heavy on his heart and mind, so he took his concerns to God.
After the group had found Daniel, they went to the king and reminded him about the decree, asking as if they needed to make sure what it said. Darius said that it was true and that the edict stood. It was out of the king's hands and according to the law of the Medes and Persians, it could not be repealed.
Then they brought up their real concern, saying that Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, paid no attention to the king or the decree that was put into writing. He still prayed three times a day, which was a clear offense of the decree. To begin with, do you see how they described Daniel? In truth, he was one of Darius' closest administrators and was obviously well thought of and trusted by Darius. However, they referred to him as one of the exiles from Judah, as if he was in 'that group' and could not be trusted. Often, when people try and wage a campaign against others, they will try and confuse who the 'others' really are. We see this so often in our modern day affairs, as people tend to paint others as entirely one way or the other, which only tends to cause entire groups of people to distrust each other. Perhaps you have seen this in your personal life, where someone has been painted to be all bad and you went along with it. Or, perhaps you have made the mistake of doing this to another person. Painting a person as all good or all bad is obviously a bad painting job.
We read that when the king heard of Daniel, he was greatly distressed. I feel sure that he asked himself why he had not thought of Daniel prior to this point in time. Why didn't the king consider Daniel when it was said that 'all' of the administrators agreed that this was a good decree? The king regretted his actions and tried to do whatever he could to save Daniel. However, the men came back to remind him, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians, no decree or edict that the king issues could be changed.
Reluctantly, the king gave the order and Daniel was thrown into the lion's den. The king said "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you". It was obvious that the king regretted the decision that he had made and hoped beyond hope that Daniel would be saved. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are directly responsible for something that someone else would have to endure and you had to sit and watch what happened? An easy example, without life or death implications, can often be found in an athletic event. There may be times when a player makes an obvious mistake that takes his or her team from a certain victory to allowing the other team to have another last minute chance. In high profile games on TV, the camera will often keep showing the player who made the mistake and the sincere look of hope is etched on his or her face. I'm sure if this event was televised, Darius would have been most certainly distraught.
A stone was placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed the den shut. The decree was irrevocable and now the punishment had to be given to Daniel, despite the feelings of the king. We read that Darius could not eat. He could not sleep. He could not be entertained. He was obviously depressed and it likely kept going through his mind how he had directly contributed to the demise of Daniel. In the morning, he hurried to the den, calling out to Daniel, hoping against hope, that the living God, Daniel's God, whom he served continually and faithfully, had been able to rescue Daniel from the lions.
Daniel answered the king. How do you think the king felt? I am sure that he felt relieved beyond any explanation. Daniel honored the king, but he gave glory to His God, whose angel had shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel said that he had done no wrong before Darius. Even though he had not obeyed the edict, it was not a valid edict to mandate to all people. In essence, it was an invalid constraint to place upon Daniel or others. At times in our lives, we will face constraints placed upon us by the government or by other authorities. The vast majority of them are ones that we need to follow (even when we don't like them), as God has told His people to submit to the ruling authorities. However, there will come times when we need to make a choice as to whether we will submit and go against our beliefs. Will we be faithful? There may be other times when we put unrealistic constraints on others, or have had them put on us. We need to be careful when we throw ultimatums out towards others in our personal lives, because it is truly unfair to impose our wishes on anyone else and get mad that they didn't adhere to them. In fact, many ultimatums end up backfiring - especially when done from completely selfish motives that take only 'one' view into consideration and that being that 'I get what I want, no matter what!!' Many people confuse boundaries with ultimatum's, and while some boundaries do have an ultimatum attached, the boundary is set as a form of protection so that a person is not used, mistreated and even manipulated by others. Which is exactly what happened to King Darius. He was manipulated by people who had an agenda that was clearly not in the Kings best interest, but in the best interest of the Administrators. Too bad the King didn't take some time to see what might have been motivating these Administrators before he agreed to such a severe edict.
I'm sure the King was relieved to hear the news that Daniel hadn't been harmed. In fact, he was overjoyed that the Lord had saved Daniel from the lions, and gave orders to lift him out of the den. There was no wound found on Daniel, because he had trusted his God.
The king was no longer concerned about the Mede and Persian law regarding edicts, especially now that he had seen what God had done for his servant, Daniel. How could Darius contend that it was right for him to ask others to not pray to this God? The king had those who had falsely accused Daniel brought in and thrown into the lion's den, along with their entire families. The lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. As it turned out, it wasn't that the lions were simply vegetarians!
The king wrote another decree stating that all people in every part of his kingdom must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. He went on to say that Daniel's God is the living God and he endures forever. His kingdom would not be destroyed and his dominion would never end. God rescues and saves. He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He rescued Daniel from the lions. From this point on, Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius. His faithfulness was certainly rewarded.
If you were Daniel today and others conspired against you, are you living in such a way that they would have to search and search to find anything to go after? Sometimes, we find that we make it too easy, by our acts of unfaithfulness. Certainly, we all have skeletons in our closets and we know that we have issues that we need to address, at least regarding some aspect of our lives. Live in a way that you make it more difficult for people to attack your integrity. Live faithfully.
We see when people act as a group, it can become very much a farce. Just because something is said by a lot of people does not make it true. Be careful of falling into group mentality. Make sure that you examine truth on your own. As much as I consider myself to be conservative, I find that quite often stories are skewed in that direction by some news reports, just as they are often skewed in another direction by the opposition. Learn to search for truth. This is not simply about a political agenda, but is applicable in our personal lives. I've personally seen situations in life where so much has been said about people that was not true (and verifiably not true), that I tend to take what I hear from others with a grain of salt. When you find that folks are intent on attacking others, you can most likely be sure that there is an agenda of some sort that is not entirely truthful. Perhaps God is calling you to be that person that can dissuade a group from attacking another person and find instead, a way to bring truth and peace to the situation.
We read that Daniel did as he always did. He didn't wait for someone to say he couldn't do what he knew he was supposed to do to take a stand. He continued as he had been. Sadly, I think many believers today would only start praying daily if they were told that they couldn't. Or, they might start reading the Bible more consistently, if they were told that they couldn't have a Bible. Perhaps we will meet resistance such as this someday, but don't wait until that day to start living faithfully (and think that you will). Daniel did what he knew was right all of the time, despite what others said. Are there changes you need to make today?
Being consistent and being faithful is only good if you are consistent and faithful in the right things. Many today choose the wrong things on which to take a stand. While it may appear that they have value in some season, as time goes on, things change and if you have stood on the wrong things, you are no better off that those who have not stood faithfully ever. When we stand on the right things, the things which God has clearly made known to us, we will be standing on things that are of value and can increase our impact on the world.
Daniel survived being thrown in the lion's den. Has every Christian who has taken a stand survived the 'lion's den'? Certainly not. In situations today, we don't know why sometimes God acts and other times, He seems to be silent. We know that there are many martyrs who have given their lives in a time when it seems that God could have easily done something. There are people who have dealt with terminal illnesses and lost their battle, while others have been healed. We think we would like to know why God chose to heal one person and not the other. At some point, we may know, but I would grant that even if we did know today, it would not soften the blow of losing a loved one prematurely. We know in Daniel's case that God was acting in a way to impact the kingdom. We would like a decoder ring to know when God is going to do something or will not, but we do not have that luxury. We are called to pray to Him for deliverance and to put our faith in Him, regardless of the outcome.
Daniel's actions had a huge impact on the king, and consequently, the kingdom. King Darius certainly made many more in his kingdom aware of Daniel's God. Are you having an impact on those you are around? Notice that it wasn't just the administrators that were thrown into the lion's den. Their whole family was thrown in with them and they were all devoured. Devoured….that's a strong word and hopefully comes as a warning that when we lie, as did the administrators, we impact others around us, including the ones we love the most. Lies can be malicious and the equivalent of murdering a person's reputation and tainting their character, and they carry a heavy consequence. This is especially true when situations arise in families. When lies are told about one person to another for the sake of securing ones 'allegiance' to a particular family member, the cost can be insurmountable. It may appear that the one who throws things into confusion is getting away with it, but we know that God knows what is going on and that what is done in the dark will come to light. Even if you find yourself being lied about, stand firm and be faithful. Realize that we are accountable to God, as opposed to others, much as David stated in 1 Samuel 24, when he had the opportunity to kill Saul. David said, "May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you".
We are being watched whether we know it or not and we will make an impact on those around us every day. If you do things right or wrong, there will be some collateral impact on others. There are two extremes where people tend to go. On one hand, many believers want to withdraw from or stay away from the world, so there impact on others is minimal, at best. This is not what Jesus or Paul or Daniel did. They were in the world, but they did not become like the world. The other extreme comes when believers just chuck everything they believe to the side and begin to live just like everyone else. In Romans 12:2, we are encouraged to not become conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In this way, we can come to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. When we become conformed to those around us, we lose out opportunity to have a positive impact on anyone else.
Are you faithful in the way you live your life? Don't wait until your faithfulness is put to the test, and think that you can start being faithful when that happens. Each of us are at different stages of different spiritual maturity, but none of us have arrived to be the people we have been called to be, all of the time. If there are things that God is exposing to you now, pray and ask God for help to make the changes required, so that you can act faithfully.