Don't Run From Lions
The most well-known story from the book of Daniel is the famous "Lion's Den" tale. It goes something like this: the King is tricked into taking an ego-trip and decrees that nobody can pray to any god except for him. Daniel disregards this entirely and continues praying to the God of Israel, which gets him executed by being thrown into a den of lions. But miraculously, Daniel's faith in God holds true and an angel protects Daniel by calming the lions.
This story is so famous because of the miraculous elements in it, but also because it affirms the power of faith in God. If we refuse to morally compromise ourselves and stay true to our convictions, God will save us from those who oppose his followers.
But there is more to be learned from this episode. "Daniel in the Lion's Den" takes place within the larger book of Daniel, and the context of the whole book adds some significant symbolic meaning to the story.
Lions in the story of Daniel are significantly tied to the nation of Babylon. This is the empire that destroyed Jerusalem and took the Jewish people into an exile that would last 70 years. Babylon was a world power that had risen up and fought against the mighty Assyrian empire. The Babylonian King Nabopolassar had a son, a prince named Nebuchadnezzar who would go on to take his father's throne and become a major player in the history of Babylon and the story of God's people.
Whenever Nabopolassar or Nebuchadnezzar went, they conquered more territory for Babylon. One of the symbols for Babylon - which can still be observed in some ancient artifacts and artwork - was a Lion with wings. The Babylonians, who were expert engineers and craftsmen, often made these beautiful works of art out of colorful baked pottery that would be given a glassy finish by heating them in fiery furnaces. And so, these images of lions became known in the world as symbols of the power of Babylon.
In the story of Daniel, when he is thrown into the den of lions, it represents an even bigger story that is going on at the same time: God's people have been thrown into a den of wild beasts - the kingdoms of the world. The Jewish nation feared what these kingdoms might do to them, and Daniel's story inspired them with the thought that even though they were in the midst of "lions," God was still with them.
Daniel and his people could not run from the great Lion, Babylon, that had taken them captive, but God gave them the strength and wisdom to stand and face their captivity. God does not leave his children to fight alone, even when our problems are things we have brought onto ourselves. That much is true for you as well. God stands by those who are struggling and fearful. You can always call on him in the midst of lions.
- Read Daniel 1:1-4. How many people did Nebuchadnezzar bring to Babylon? Was it all of the nation of Israel or just a few people?
- Have you ever gone through a difficult or painful situation and wondered why God let it happen to you, but not to other people? Or have you seen that happen to someone you know? How does that kind of situation make you feel? How have you dealt with those feelings?
- Read Daniel 1:5-7. Why do you think the Babylonians tried to change the names of these Hebrew boys?
- What is identity? How do you know what your own identity is?
- Have you ever had someone question who you were or try to impose a new but false identity onto you? How did you deal with that?
- Read Daniel 1:8-16 and note especially the request Daniel and his friends make about food.
- Were Daniel and his friends vegetarians? (See Exodus 12:1-14 and Leviticus 7:1-21.)
- Or did they have another reason for refusing the food the king offered them? Note that earlier they were being re-educated into Babylonian culture and customs. What differences do you know about Jewish culture that might have affected how they viewed food?
- Read Daniel 1:17-21. What kind of knowledge did Daniel and his friends excel in? Did they master only knowledge about the Bible and the religion of Israel, or also the other subjects that the Babylonians instructed them in? Does God forbid us from studying "secular" topics, or can someone still truly follow God while also being informed about the sciences, philosophies, languages, and art forms of this world? Why or why not?