“The handwriting’s on the wall…”
“We’re walking into the lion’s den…”
It might not surprise you to hear that these well-known English idioms trace their way back to the biblical story of Daniel. Daniel is best known for his journey into the lion’s den when he defied a monarch’s edict. The story of Belshazzar’s feast, where Daniel interprets writing that miraculously appears on a wall, has been recounted in numerous works of literature.
But what catches my eye as I read through the book of Daniel is not the lions’ den or the miracle handwriting, but Daniel’s life of prayer. We see in the first chapter of the book that Daniel and his friends were dedicated to the Lord God of Israel by their commitment and behavior. When Daniel faced a challenge of interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, we read that he and his friends “plead for mercy from the God of heaven” (2:18). In answer to those pleading prayers, God miraculously provided when the pressure was on for Daniel. Clearly, Daniel was a man of prayer when faced with challenges.
Yet as we read on, we find that Daniel was a man of prayer at all times, not just in times of challenge. In fact, it was Daniel’s consistency in prayer that provided the opportunity for him to be sent to the lions’ den. Out of jealousy for his position, Daniel’s enemies realized that they could not catch him up on issues of integrity or character but only if “it has something to do with the law of his God” (6:5). So, they trick King Darius into signing off on a law that prohibits prayer to anyone but the king himself for a thirty-day period. Undaunted by this situation, Daniel returned home and did what he always did: “three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (6:10). Daniel was consistent in prayer.
In chapter 9 of the book, we find Daniel poring over the Hebrew Scriptures of the prophet Jeremiah. There, Daniel discovered that a seventy-year period was decreed for the exile of God’s people (Jeremiah 29:10) and that the end of that time is drawing near. Daniel’s response is not to lurch into action and set up a strategy for returning the people of God to their homeland. Instead, his immediate response is to turn to God in contrite prayer. His heart is broken over the sin and idolatry of His people and, in Daniel 9:4-19, he offers one of the most moving and powerful prayers of repentance in the entire Bible. Daniel’s prayer eventually takes him into a time of deep repentance accompanied by a vision of God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel. Daniel was a man of prayer that took sin and wrong seriously. Action was required, but it was not actually to come through Daniel. God had that task for Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet it was Daniel’s humble prayer that catches the eye in Daniel 9.
So, who is Daniel? The un-eaten prophet of the lions’ den? The reader of divinely-sourced dreams for earthly kings? A person of integrity in the presence of great earthly power? Yes, without a doubt, Daniel is all of these things. Yet at the core of Daniel’s life is an intimacy of relationship with God that is birthed in the crucible of prayer: enduring, consistent, and humble.
[For more on Daniel, consider following through the Eastbrook Church preaching series, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.”]