The problem with Christianity is that people judge Christ based on the people who claim to be His followers. Christians are often called hypocrites because they say one thing and do the opposite. They know the right things to do, and they can and will tell you what they are, but they aren’t always strong enough to avoid making the mistakes themselves. Paul understood that. (Romans 7:21-25) He encouraged those to whom he ministered to live in a way that could not be criticized so that their ministry would not suffer because of their faults. (Titus 2:6-8, II Corinthians 6:3)
Daniel was a shining example of this kind of integrity. King Darius had appointed Daniel as one of the supervisors over the satraps—government officials—and the king was so pleased with his service that he intended to give Daniel authority over his entire kingdom. The satraps and other supervisors would have to answer to Daniel. (Daniel 6:1-3) For some reason, people who do well are not always respected for their abilities; often they are despised. That was the case with those who envied Daniel’s position, so they tried to find a way to discredit him. (Daniel 6:4) Since Daniel not only did not commit any crimes, but apparently also made no mistakes, the other officials had nothing that they could charge against him. They knew that the only thing that would work was to create a conflict between the laws of the land and the laws of God whom Daniel worshipped faithfully. (Daniel 6:5)
In later verses you will see that the supervisors and satraps deceived the king into making a law that would prohibit Daniel from worshipping God and which would land Daniel in the lions’ den. (Daniel 6:6-28) But God was with Daniel, and he was not harmed. In the end, Daniel was rewarded for his integrity, and he prospered during the reign of King Darius. Those who accused him ended up in the lions’ den instead.
Who is watching your every step to see if you live up to the beliefs you claim? You can be sure that someone is. What was true for Daniel is true for us too. If we do what is right in God’s eyes, we can trust Him to take care of everything else. (Matthew 6:33)
How many of you had pancakes for supper yesterday? According to Facebook status updates, a lot of my friends did. They all seemed to enjoy eating the pancakes, and the annual societal permission to have breakfast for supper, but I’m not sure that all of them really understand the reason for Pancake Tuesday, nor the significance of Ash Wednesday which is today.
Neither Pancake Tuesday nor Ash Wednesday is mentioned in the Bible. Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent, which is the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. Lent was originally a time of fasting for the purpose prayer, self-examination and repentance. It is representative of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. (Luke 4:1-13) Pancake Tuesday started for practical reasons. If parishioners had to give up certain things for 40 days including, butter, milk and eggs, they would see to it that they didn’t go to waste. The making of pancakes would use those things up. Somehow something is lost these days when you make your pancakes by adding water to the powder from a box.
On Ash Wednesday, penitents in some faiths have a cross drawn with ash placed on their foreheads by the priest. The ashes are created by burning the palms from Palm Sunday of the previous year. All very symbolic, and based on the way that people expressed repentance and grief in the Bible. (II Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 42:5-6, Matthew 11:21) But like a lot of traditions, sometimes the symbolism stays even though the reasons for it have been lost.
The true spirit of humility that is supposed to be represented by fasting in sackcloth and ashes is well demonstrated by Daniel. (Daniel 9:3) Daniel prayed on behalf of Jerusalem for forgiveness of sins he did not commit, and for mercy from God towards the city. (Daniel 9:4-19) Daniel knew that the restoration of the city of Jerusalem depended solely on God’s grace and mercy, and not on anything that the people could do. Putting ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday also symbolizes this humility, but it means nothing if that humility is not truly in your heart.
Peer pressure, pride and regret. When most people read Daniel 6, they admire Daniel’s integrity or consider what they can learn from him. But what can we learn from Darius? Darius was a new king who greatly respected and trusted Daniel and appointed him as one of the top leaders of the land. He knew that Daniel was a man with an extraordinary spirit—wise, honest and full of integrity. Darius intended to appoint him over the entire kingdom. (Daniel 6:3) We will see when we get to Daniel 6:16 that Darius knew that Daniel served God continually. Daniel was dedicated; his faith was not something that he took lightly.
The other leaders knew this too, but they didn’t admire Daniel; they were envious of him. So they conspired against him. However, they could find nothing to charge him with because all his ways were upright. They knew that the only way they could entrap him was to make a law that contradicted a law of God. They lied to Darius, telling him that everyone was in agreement with their proposal. Since Daniel was one of the top leaders, Darius would have assumed that Daniel was included in the “everyone”, but he obviously was not. Daniel would never have agreed to a plan that would make it unlawful for him to pray to his God. What made Darius agree to such a thing? His pride allowed him to be deceived by the flattery and false promises of men who had ulterior motives. Interestingly in Daniel 4:37, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power to bring down those who live in pride. Daniel had explained that very thing to Nebuchadnezzar’s son just before Darius became king. (Daniel 5:18-20) Now Darius was falling into the same trap, and would risk the life of the man whom he trusted to oversee his entire kingdom.
When Darius learned that Daniel was to be convicted, he immediately regretted his actions. There was no doubt that Daniel was guilty; Daniel did not deny it. Nor did he do anything to try to save himself. Though he had no assurance that God would save him, he trusted God to do whatever He deemed best. Darius did try to do something, but unfortunately there was nothing he could do. The best he could offer was to encourage Daniel with the words that his God would rescue him. Darius would certainly not have signed this edict if he had considered the possible consequences of his actions, but he only realized them when it was too late. For some reason the Medes and Persians trusted their kings to make such good laws that there was no recourse or appeals process to change them. (Esther 1:19, Esther 8:8) Was this pride too? In both Esther and Daniel, the result was regret. Thankfully, in both cases there were people who prayed to God, and God demonstrated that He was more powerful than the most adverse circumstances.
God saved Daniel from the lions, and He gave Darius a second chance. His next edict was that throughout his kingdom the God of Daniel was to be worshipped. If Daniel (and Darius) had not gone through this hardship they would have missed the opportunity to testify to God’s power and glorify Him. So what can we learn from Darius? 1. Consider people’s motives when they pressure you to do something. 2. Consider the consequences before you make a decision. 3. Don’t let foolish pride sway your choices. 4. Trust God to take care of things when you can’t.