Daniel’s Prayerful Predicament

Jay: Daniel, a Jew, became a favorite of the non-Jewish king of Babylon. The king’s nobles were jealous of Daniel and, knowing his devotion to the Jewish God by seeing him pray at his window (visible from the street) three times a day, they conspired to persuade the king to decree a 30-day prohibition on any prayer not directed at him, the king. Transgressors were to be put to death. (The story can be found in Daniel 6.)

Daniel, obedient to his God, and as expected by the conspirators, ignored the prohibition and continued to pray at his window. They promptly reported him to the king, who was distressed but could not overturn the decree, so Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den and left to his (presumed) inevitable fate. The following morning, when the door to the den was opened, Daniel walked out without so much as a scratch on him.

The king was impressed by the apparent protective power of Daniel’s God and decreed that this God was to be worshiped henceforth. Daniel’s detractors were thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children, and none survived.

Daniel’s story tends to be told, especially to children, as an example of obedience; but it might usefully be examined from the perspective of prayer. Daniel’s willingness to enter the lions’ den was a statement that prayer is more important than life itself; that prayer is worth dying for. Further, Daniel evidently was unwilling even to compromise. He might, for example, have closed the shutters to his window, so that he would not have been observed to be breaking the decree.

Kiran: It seems to me the story is not about prayer but about loyalty. Prayer was just Daniel’s way of showing his loyalty to God.

Chris: Through prayer, Daniel had developed such a strong relationship with God that his mortal life mattered little to him—he trusted God completely.

Donald: It is a childish story in its preposterous plot of hungry lions sparing one man while devouring everyone else. And what did Daniel feel was worth dying for: Was it his relationship with God, or the act of prayer itself? And why would he not compromise, and avoid praying by the window?

Jay: Aren’t prayer and a relationship with God inseparable, at least as it seemed to Daniel? Is not prayer essential to building and maintaining a relationship with God?

Jazlin: Daniel had a close relationship with the king as well. Perhaps in ignoring the decree he was arrogantly testing the strength of his relationship with both God and the king.

David: What would have been wrong with obeying the decree? If slapped in the face, the ideal Christian response is to turn the other cheek. Would praying to the king not simply have amounted to turning the other cheek on Daniel’s part, after having been slapped in the face with the decree? Is life not so sacred that suicide, whether in the form of stepping willingly into a lions’ den or of strapping on a suicide bomb vest, is not a sin?

Kiran: It would be difficult to maintain a relationship with God if one were prohibited from communicating with Him. And since He cannot be seen, prayer is the only direct medium of communication, though of course one can communicate indirectly through one’s relationship with one’s fellow wo/men. It seems to me that prayer is essential to having a relationship with God, but it need not be done ostentatiously in one’s window.

Jazlin: Jesus also told us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, so Daniel might legitimately (from a Christian perspective) have obeyed the king’s decree on that basis. The decree was more a matter of paying respect to the king than of worshiping him. Daniel seemed to want to test the king’s friendship for him. He was acting a bit like a spoiled brat.

Kiran: The decree seems to me to have been about worship, not mere respect. Daniel was responding to the same sort of challenge presented to the disciples who were told to eat unclean animals, and to the Hebrew worthies Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were told to bow to the false god of a predecessor to Daniel’s king.

Jazlin: When I visit a Hindu temple I have no problem eating the sacrificial food that is left for the gods there, because I am not a believer of the Hindu faith. If I were, I would not eat it.

Michael: In Catholic school we were told that the prayer of saints as they were martyred would have protected them from the pain of torture. But it always struck me that the protection did not extend to their necks, since their heads were invariably cut off (I mean, of course, that they died) in the end. Death appears to be God’s limit. When it comes down to the wire, God seems powerless. In Daniel’s case, I share the view that he was just being arrogant.

Jazlin: Daniel was testing God as well as the king.

Chris: Daniel’s detractors knew exactly what Daniel did in his daily life, including who his God was, why Daniel prayed to Him, and how important was his relationship with his God. Daniel had probably discussed all of this with them–they had been thrown together in life, they knew one another. There can have been few secrets between them. So they knew which buttons to press. They knew that his relationship with God was sacrosanct and that he would therefore not interrupt it, not even temporarily for just 30 days.

Donald: But he went over the top. He could have kept the relationship with God intact throughout the period of decree simply by praying in private or in his head. Prayer should not be public and ostentatious anyway.

Mikiko: Jesus said we should pray in private (Matthew 6:9), but in Daniel’s case, he was required to pray facing the Ark of the Covenant. The window happened to face Jerusalem, where the Ark was then located. So he was being ritual, not ostentatious.

David: Jesus taught that our indirect relationship with God through our brother and sister should take precedence over our direct relationship with Him through worship at the altar. If we have a problem with someone, we should forget about the altar and go fix the problem. Daniel could have done that, but he chose to stay at his window, which was essentially his altar.

Jazlin: Daniel’s prayer at the window was his way of witnessing.

Kiran: Much as we want to build a relationship with God indirectly through our care for others, we so often fall short. The direct way, through prayer, saves us from that failure and reminds us to keep trying to turn the other cheek.

Don: Could prayer be more for people than for God? Is the proper outcome of prayer to benefit people rather than God? God knew Daniel and his faithfulness—Daniel had nothing he needed to prove to God. The true beneficiary of his action in continuing to pray was the king and his subjects, including the Jews of Babylon.

Jay: If the story was intended purely as Jewish propaganda to support the supremacy of the Jewish God, the aspect of prayer would not have been necessary. The story is about the power of God to protect and save those who are faithful to Him, yet prayer is at the crux of this story. Did it have to be the crux? If so, why? Some of us seem to think it’s because of prayer’s importance to our relationship with God, but Don suggests its importance lies in its impact on our relationship with others.

David: Daniel went willingly to a horrible death the lions’ den, yet Jesus did not go willingly to face a horrible death on the cross. He prayed, in the garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his death, that His “burden” would be “lifted”—but only if it was God’s will. The difference between the willing sacrifice of Daniel and the unwilling sacrifice of Jesus perhaps means that sacrificial death is a matter for the divine, not to be contemplated by mortals.

Don: From Daniel’s point of view, death might have been preferable to a life without prayer.

Aishwarya: If a relationship is good, there is no need to test it. Especially in a life or death situation, one is not going to worry about testing relationships with those around one. If there is a way out of a needless death, just take it. Don’t debate the minutiae. If I am unemployed but pray ritually at set times three times a day, and I am offered a job interview at one of those times, I am not going to jeopardize the job opportunity for the sake of one prayer session. It’s not a matter of prioritizing job over God: My relationship with God is such that I know He will understand that there are things I must take care of in the mortal world. Maybe a friend needs my help to fix his car and it happens to be prayer time—God would want me to help my friend.

Michael: Unfortunately, religion creates the misconception—the illusion, even—that God is an external entity in some far-away place called Heaven. I think God is internal—He is part of us, therefore the relationship always exists and is unbreakable.

Jay: Can it be strengthened?

Michael: On my part, perhaps, but not on God’s.

David: Perhaps Daniel was reaching out to the God who was evident in the king’s concern for Daniel. As Don, said, the king was the real beneficiary here. Why can’t the Bible just say so?!

Mikiko: We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

Donald: There is great value in hearing new and sometimes startling insights from people of other faiths. It makes us look afresh at our Scriptures and tends to bring greater enlightenment.

Jay: If you thought Daniel’s story was a bit over the top, wait till next week, when we will discuss the story of Samson, to be found in the Bible’s Book of Judges, chapters 13 through 16.

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