7.27 Daniel -- the Lion's Den
Perhaps the most famous Old Testament story, along with David and Goliath. Daniel's crime was praying to God, something he had been doing for decades -- but now a criminal act according to a law dreamed up by his enemies: for 30 days, no one was allowed to pray to anyone except the king (Darius). It was again a play on pride -- the arrogance of the ruler to consider himself not just divine, but above all other gods, alone worthy of prayer.
In many ways, this incident is a repeat of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego:
a. The other advisors and officials were jealous of the Jew in authority.
b. They devised a loyalty test that involved religious observance.
c. The king was a doofus who allowed himself to be talked into setting up the trap.
d. The targeted Jew remained obedient to God.
e. The advisors sprang the trap and accused the Jew to the king.
f. Capital punishment was meted out: furnace or lions.
g. God sent His Presence in some form ("a son of the gods," "His angel") to preserve the righteous.
h. The king was amazed to find the prisoner alive and brought him out.
i. The king praised the God of Israel.
j. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were promoted; Daniel's enemies were thrown to the lions.
It is a wonder that God Himself, after delivering Daniel, didn't throw Darius into the den of lions for passing such a blasphemous decree.
These stories have another dimension, apart from highlighting the "heroic Jew" and the deliverance of God. One theme that reappears is the degenerate state of the Gentile world: Nebuchadnezzar and Darius deified themselves, Belshazzar had no respect for holy things. The Jew, though forced to be a part of their world (by God's judgment), and able to prosper in that world (by God's favor), still retained the mark of distinction, the covenant of separation. He was "in the world, but not of the world." The Jew could deliver the Word of God to the Gentile, but could not expect any response, any repentance, even any understanding -- at least according to the Book of Daniel. Not a single Gentile was converted, and in fact most of them were hateful to the Jews and jealous of their success. Only the chief eunuch in chapter 1 was supportive of them. This is an accurate harbinger of the anti-Semitism that would become a dominant attitude through much of later history.
It is also a very pessimistic assessment of Gentile prospects and capabilities. There is no hint of any redemptive future, any inclusion of the Gentiles, at least in these deliverance stories. They are truly, as Isaiah put it, a "people walking in darkness,... those living in the land of the shadow of death..."(Isa 9:2).