Who do you trust? Warning: This is not a philosophical or theoretical exercise. If you keep reading, there is no going back…
Who do you genuinely trust?
Who do you trust in situations that have a significant impact on your life?
Who do you trust to help you make important decisions?
Who do you trust to be there when you are in desperate need?
I am not looking for a series of qualities, I am looking for a name…
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Do you have a name in mind? Excellent! Now, let’s turn the question around. Would that person say the same about you? Who would turn to you when they needed a trusted friend? Again, I am not looking for speculation, I am asking for a name…
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Last week, we explored the courageous stand taken by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the face of an unjust and arrogant Babylonian ruler named Nebuchadnezzar. When an entire nation bowed in compliance to Nebuchadnezzar’s order to worship a lifeless statue, these three heroes stood their ground. Later, when facing certain death in a blazing, fiery furnace as punishment for their non-compliance, they trusted their lives to a God who could deliver them. And, God did not just rescue them from the fire, but He walked with them in the midst of it.
Unfortunately, given the number of corrupt and immoral individuals who have risen to positions of power and influence over the centuries, stories similar to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not isolated, or even uncommon. Perhaps you, or someone you know, has faced a similar circumstance at the hands of their own version of Nebuchadnezzar. It is not surprising that when we read this story, we quickly identify with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and wonder if we have the courage to stand alongside them in the face of tyranny.
But, let’s turn the question around. What would you do if you were sitting on Nebuchadnezzar’s throne? At some moment in our lives, we all find ourselves in a position when we are called to lead or guide someone else. It can happen in our families, at work, on a team or in school. But, it will happen. In those moments, can those who are depending on you trust that you will act in their best interests? Can they be confident in you to do what is right? If you are truly a leader, they should.
A few chapters later in Daniel, we find a similar story that might give us some guidance as leaders. The background for this story is fairly similar to the world of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The Jewish people are still in exile and under the oppressive rule of a foreign power. However, the Babylonian empire has been replaced by the Persians, under the leadership of Darius.
Darius was very organized and created what many consider to be the world’s first superpower. He built an amazing network of roads, a pony-express system for delivering messages, and his own version of the CIA, called the “eyes and ears of the emperor.” Darius also shared my personal love for org charts. Nothing beats an effective, descriptive and colorful org chart. Darius’ org chart boasted a structure of three presidents who oversaw 120 governors to coordinate operations throughout the kingdom.
One of Darius’ presidents was a highly respected exile from Judah named Daniel. Unlike Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel is a member of the inner circle and one of the highest-ranking leaders in Persia. Unfortunately, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel will face persecution and oppression through no fault of his own.
As our story opens, Daniel is doing such a fantastic job as president that Darius decides to promote Daniel. Daniel’s box on the org chart will no longer be placed alongside the other two presidents, he will be moved above them, placing the entire empire under his control. Remember, Daniel is also an outsider in Persia, so his promotion does not sit well with the other Persian leaders. In order to neutralize the perceived threat that Daniel creates to their power and status, they conspire to unseat Daniel. First, they try to exploit any weakness in Daniel’s integrity and trustworthiness. “But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him.” (Daniel 6:4b)
He is not negligent — he does the things that he should.
He is not corrupt — he doesn’t do the things that he shouldn’t.
He wasn’t conspiring against the Persians.
He wasn’t disloyal to Darius.
There are no legitimate gaps for conspirators to exploit.
You would think that integrity, faithfulness, attention to duty would all be admirable qualities for any leader. Unfortunately, the desire for power and hunger for control gives birth to standards and rules, which are not restricted by the bounds for virtue. So, undeterred, the Persian conspirators decide to use Daniel’s trustworthiness and integrity against him.
It is not fair.
It is not just.
And, it is not new…
Here is where Daniel’s story is similar to the courageous story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. The Persian conspirators appeal to Darius’ hubris. They gather all of the rulers together, except Daniel, and tell Darius that all Persia’s leaders agree that he should issue an irrevocable decree that everyone in the empire should only pray to Darius for 30 days. And, that anyone who disobeys would face a gruesome death.
I have to ask a couple of question here. First, by invoking this rule, is Darius acting in the best interests of his people? Obviously, his empire is composed of a variety of religious and cultural groups. How will this decree affect them? Trustworthy leaders should always ask how their decisions will affect those around them.
Second, where is Daniel? If Daniel was about to be promoted to what appears to be the second-in-command of the empire, I would imagine that Darius would have noticed his absence. Also, the conspirators told Darius that everyone was in agreement regarding the decree. Daniel was not there, so this is simply not true.
Third, I wonder if Darius stopped to ask why this decree was being proposed in the first place? What was the motive? I have never run an empire (I am only permitted limited control of our garage, the backyard and sometimes the grill), but I think that asking “why” would always be recommended before signing something into law.
It appears that the darkness of hubris can be blinding.
But, Darius is not the only leader in this story…
It does not take long for the news of the king’s edict to reach Daniel. What does Daniel do when he learns of the king’s decree?
Stage a protest?
Post an angry face on social media?
Daniel “continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.” (Daniel 6:10)
Consistent. Trustworthy. Faithful.
Because of his faithfulness and consistency, Daniel’s enemies know exactly where to find him. And when they catch him in the act of praying to his God (as they knew they would), they run to tell the king. “Remember, O King, the irrevocable decree that you signed? You know, the one about praying only to you? You will never guess who we caught breaking the law you signed…”
Darius was not happy about their report, but not because someone had broken his law. Darius was upset because he realized that he had been played. He was deceived by his “trusted” leaders, and trapped by his own arrogance. Now, an innocent life hung in the balance.
Darius knew that he could not simply revoke the law that he had signed, but nevertheless he desperately tried to find another way to save Daniel’s life. The great king who wanted to be worshipped as a god, found himself powerless to change his own decree. The king who wanted his people to pray to him, could not save even one of them.
With no solution, and the conspirators gathering like jackals to force the king’s hand, Darius commanded that Daniel meet his death in a den of lions. Once Daniel was inside the den, a large stone was placed over the mouth of the lion’s den, and the king sealed it with his official signet.
This is not the only tomb that was secured with a stone and sealed with the signet of a ruler. Jesus’ tomb was sealed in a similar fashion and for the same reason. Both tombs were not sealed to keep anyone in. They were sealed to keep everyone else out! I believe that Darius hoped Daniel’s God would rescue his faithful servant and he did not want anyone to meddle with the outcome.
Darius did not sleep that night. As the hours passed, the thoughts of the Ruler of Persia turned to Daniel and the den of lions. Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:19-20)
Why would Darius run to a lion’s den that would certainly have doubled as Daniel’s tomb by now? Unless, Darius believed that Daniel’s God could save him. And why would a king who had recently believed that people should pray only to him, suddenly place his hope and trust in Daniel’s God? He saw the consistency, integrity, and trustworthiness played out in the life of Daniel. He saw that Daniel, like Daniel's God, stood for justice and believed that his trust in God would ultimately and always prevail.
Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” (Daniel 6:21-22)
Where was God that dark night? In the den of lions next to Daniel. God did not rescue Daniel from the lions, he joined Daniel with the lions. (That might sound familiar…)
When Darius saw that Daniel was alive and unharmed, he had Daniel pulled out of the den. Then, in the first ever episode of Trading Spaces, Daniel’s overnight housing is reoccupied by his accusers. Albeit, briefly…
In the end, much like the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel is rescued in this midst of the storm by a God who walks with him in the storm. But here, something is a bit different. Darius, the emperor, is rescued as well. Darius made some very bad decisions, listened to destructive advice, and failed to ask good questions. But, Darius is rescued by a friend. A friend who showed him what real trust looks like, without saying a word. Daniel didn’t argue with Darius. He didn’t demand that Darius reverse his decree or threaten divine punishment. In fact, we do not know if he said anything at all, because Daniel does not speak in the story until the morning after being fed to the lions. Daniel did not tell Darius about trustworthiness or integrity, he simply showed him.