For children who grow up attending Bible classes, “Daniel in the lions’ den” may be THE best-known “story” in the entire bible; and the best part is that it’s true– it really happened! We can draw many practical lessons from Daniel’s experience, but surely the primary lesson to learn is that God’s faithful saints are safe even when we are being persecuted.
Even though he faithfully served several Babylonian rulers, when the Medo-Persian empire conquered Babylon the new ruler – Darius – placed Daniel in a position of power (Daniel 6:1-3). This might seem strange to us, since high ranking officials are typically “out of work” whenever a new administration takes over after an election, but verse two explains the new king’s motive in keeping some of the previous king’s bureaucrats; “…that the king should have no damage.” Keeping these servants in their posts let Darius take over Babylon with minimal financial loss!
Daniel was one of three officials put in charge of the whole government, and it didn’t take long for a man with God on his side – and about sixty years of government experience – to favorably impress the king! Many of the lesser officials must have been galled to have this former “captive” elevated above them, so these jealous subordinates laid a trap for Daniel (6:4-9). They schemed to bring Daniel’s faith into conflict with the laws of the kingdom, and fooled king Darius into signing a decree to cause this situation. According to the custom of that day, once it was signed by the king, not even the king himself could revoke it!
The change in the king’s laws changed nothing for Daniel (vs. 10), because he continued worshiping God just as he always had (important lesson for US here!). When Daniel was accused before the king, Darius realized that he had been manipulated by his servants, but had to follow through with the law and put Daniel into the lions’ den. It is interesting to read in verse 16 of the king’s confidence in God’s power to save Daniel, and his sleepless night shows how important Daniel was to him. We learn from the king’s actions the next morning (vs. 24) that the price of persecuting God’s people is truly high, and he proclaims the power and glory of Daniel’s God.
Daniel’s dream in chapter 7 is one of the most vivid images anywhere in the bible. The interpretation of the vision, in verses 15-28, shows that it parallels king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision chapter two, and the four “beasts” Daniel saw parallel the four great world empires that would exist between Daniel and the coming of the Christ (Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome). The number “ten” (vs. 7) represents complete worldly power, conquest, and domination, all of which were characteristics of the Roman empire.
In contrast to the decline and fall of each beast, Daniel sees the saints of God enduring in His kingdom forever and ever (vs. 18), even though the “little horn” of verses 19-28 makes war against God’s people and seems successful (though only for a short time). The description here could fit either Nero OR Domitian, who both persecuted Christians in the first century and claimed that they themselves were “gods.” Alternatively, some believe this image foretells the rise of the Roman Catholic denomination, which persecuted and oppressed all other religions whenever it could. (This was the main view of Protestant commentators in the nineteenth century.) Regardless of how we interpret this image, verse 26 clearly shows that this “beast’s” power and rulership would be destroyed, in clear contrast to the power and longevity of the saints’ kingdom.