We’ve come a long way in biblical history, and now because they broke the covenant, both Israel and Judah have been cast out of the Promised Land.
It seemed like the end of the nation, the end of God’s blessing to his people, and the end of the promise. Ah, but even in exile, God loved his people. In fact, he raised up godly men even while in a far-away land.
And that brings us to Daniel.
Captured, he travels across the desert, along with the other children of Israel, all the way to Babylon. With each step he leaves behind his beloved home and inches closer to a land brimming with enemies.
Once in the mighty city, his captors recognize his skills and haul him to the king’s palace to learn the ways of the Babylonians. He excels. The king especially values Daniel’s wisdom and assigns him to lead a certain band of wise men … called magi. Mmm hmm.
I wonder if when he plodded across the desert, his feet aching, his forehead scorched from sunburn, if Daniel ever wondered, “God, what are you doing? How is all of this possibly fulfilling your plan for your chosen people?”
When writing contracts don’t come fast enough, or my husband’s job goes sideways, or my kids fall short of my expectations, I wonder that too. “This isn’t how things were supposed to go, Lord. I thought we were on the same page.” It’s hard to trust that he knows best. So hard.
As difficult as it is, I know the way back to trusting him. It’s listening to him through his Word and crying out to him in prayer. The Word and prayer. When I veer from those two things, I become parched and empty.
Daniel seems to know this too. He prayed every morning, even in exile. But soon a group of political officials decided they didn’t like Daniel and all his religious-ness.
So they got an idea to trick King Darius into writing a decree. If someone prayed to anyone but him, he would be thrown into, you guessed it, a nasty pit filled with lions.
A death pit.
What happens next? Even though he knows he will be killed, Daniel keeps praying, “just like before.”
Wouldn’t it be hard to pray? This verse makes Daniel seem so calm. “Another day, another prayer time.” If it were me, I doubt I would so easily trust. I tend to question and whine and panic. I’d be thinking, After all you have done to raise me to a position to help your people, now I face death—for praying? What are you doing, God?
But Daniel doesn’t fret, rather, the one who freaks out is King Darius. He loves Daniel and desperately tries to save him, but even he can’t go against his own decree.
So late that evening, after darkness comes, Daniel, innocent of any wrong-doing, is delivered to the death pit.
That night, the king can’t eat or sleep. His most-trusted adviser is spending the night with a pride of ravenous lions. How his thoughts must obsess over that terrifying image. What grief, despair, and helplessness he feels.
Then, at the first light of dawn, the king gets up and runs to the tomb—I mean lion’s den. Does he find Daniel ripped to shreds?
Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”
In the dark of night, Daniel descends to his death. Those who love him mourn, but at dawn’s first light, he’s found to be alive and is raised from the pit. Sound familiar?
But the story doesn’t end there!
Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
What? People in every part of his kingdom? That’s a lot of people. Jews, gentiles–everyone!
God had a plan to save the whole world all along. He used the exile of the Jews, and Daniel’s life—including his night with the lions—to prepare the way for his children from outside Israel to come to him. He used Israel and Judah’s sin, their breaking of the covenant, to spread his loving gospel to the world. Just think about that.
Isn’t he amazing?
As for Daniel, remember his job? He was the boss of whom? The magi. Now he not only possessed the freedom to teach them about his God, but the magi must respectfully learn.
The magi? Have you heard of them before?
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matt. 2:1-2
It’s the same group, descended from those Daniel taught! And just like King Darius’s edict commanded, they honor this new king, bring him gifts and even their worship.
The Messiah’s birth reminds us that God’s promise reaches those outside. He doesn’t forget the far-away ones, but sends a star to light their way.
And he doesn’t forget me–no matter how far I fall, how dark my night seems, how impossible my circumstances–he calls me from my place of exile to worship the newborn king. And he doesn’t forget you, either, friend.
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Eph. 2:13
Follow the example of the magi this Christmas. Seek him. Worship your king in humble gratitude and in jubilant rejoicing. Remember how far he’s brought you, and contagious love will spring from your words, thoughts, and actions.
Remember, he loves you like there’s no tomorrow.
Shine your light: What is your favorite part about your worship service? How does God use it to help you grow in your faith?