Forming Faith Blog

Daniel the Hero (November 29, 2020)

Daniel and the lions’ den is both a fun and meaningful story that teaches the audience that God is faithful to us and will reward faithful living.

A male lion against a black background. Daniel got thrown into a lions' den.

I love a good story. One might say I’m a story addict (to use the term “addict” non-technically). Something with a plot will likely hook me, even if it’s a bad plot. As I’ve mentioned—ad nauseum—that’s one of the reasons I love the Narrative Lectionary, and therefore create faith formation resources to support it.

Among my favorite stories in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are the tales of Joseph, Ruth, Esther, and Daniel (the first six chapters). They are quite spiritually meaningful, but they are also fun (Ruth is less “fun,” but she’s such a compelling character it doesn’t matter).

Daniel the Hero

What makes Daniel’s stories engaging? As for the character, Daniel is admirable, a hero. He is a paragon of Jewish virtue, a man of unwavering faith amid a dominant pagan culture. He is also highly gifted, intelligent, and handsome, a man chosen by God to rise to almost ultimate power within a foreign empire (initiated by the interpretation of a king’s dream, no less). Sounds a bit like Joseph, doesn’t it?

A Furnace and a Den

Two of the most well-known stories in the Book of Daniel are about the three men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lions’ den. These two are so parallel that it could not be an accident.

In the first,

  1. Daniel’s companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego attain important governmental positions.
  2. The king decrees the worship of an idol upon pain of death.
  3. Certain “Chaldeans” denounce the Jews to the king.
  4. The three men stay strong in their faith, disobeying the decree.
  5. They are thrown into an impossibly dangerous situation (the fiery furnace).
  6. God saves them.
  7. The king is amazed and praises their God.

 In the second,

  1. Daniel attains a very important governmental position and may soon become the second-most-powerful position in the kingdom.
  2. Jealous officials plot against Daniel as a power grab. They get the king to decree the worship of only himself (still idolatry).
  3. The officials denounce Daniel to the king.
  4. Daniel stays strong in his faith, disobeying the decree.
  5. He is thrown into an impossibly dangerous situation (the lions’ den).
  6. God saves him.
  7. The king is amazed and praises Daniel’s God.

Reading carefully, you can see that this is an unrealistic story with over-the-top details, similar to the story of Jonah. It is highly unlikely that a young foreigner would have such staggering success that he would become the second-most-powerful person in the empire (and leave no non-biblical records). A king would not—probably could not—write an irrevocable interdict forbidding all worship other than to himself. The king would likely believe that without worship the pagan gods would be angry and most likely punish the city (and king) severely. And, if you are going to punish someone by feeding them to wild animals, you would do that in public so that everyone could see what would happen if you disobeyed the king. Sheesh, that’s like “ruling by fear” 101.

Not the Point

The fact that it is highly likely that these stories are ahistorical, isn’t the point and not even relevant. Entertaining fiction is not necessarily fluff; they can teach and inspire, sometimes more effectively than facts.

The Point

The moral of the story (stories) is that—even in exile in a foreign land—the God of Israel is still the supreme God and will reward faithful living. This is also a power fantasy for the audience. A person like me (idealized) is in a similar, faith-challenging situation (though far more dramatic). Our relatable—but almost perfect—hero stands strong in his faith and amazing things happen.


This Sunday begins the season of Advent, a season of hope. Many of the people of Israel hoped for a messiah to come and rescue them, which we believe happened in the birth of Jesus in a little town of Bethlehem. We also look with hope to the return of this Messiah for the fulfillment of the promised rescue. Just like Daniel, and Daniel’s audience, we look with hope to a faithful God who saves.

Free Resource

This week, we are providing a story review litany and related prayer activity for intergenerational/family worship based on our story in Daniel. This comes from our new Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home family curriculum. The litany can be used at home or in online worship and the prayer activity can be done at home or at church (or many other places).

In these darkening days, may God provide you with hope.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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