A story told in the Hebrew scriptures offers a dramatic interplay of manipulation and honor, kings and kingdoms, power and powerlessness. It is the story more commonly known as “Daniel and the Lion’s Den.” But this title, accurate though it is in terms of the dramatic climax, actually misses the main actors entirely. Ultimately, the story is a depiction of power and weakness at play in two very different kingdoms and communities. On one side stands Darius, the mighty king and ruler of the people and nations, powerful sovereign of the powerful majority. On the other side is the God of Daniel, king of a community in exile, the ruler of a minority people whose city lies in ruins. The question of sovereignty seems as though it has already been answered quite definitively.
Most of us are not familiar with the devastating encounter of the powerlessness of exile and the forcible display of the powers that created it. Nonetheless, every aspect of our lives is touched by issues of power and weakness. The question of control and power is common to our relationships, communities, politics, business, education, and religion. Unfortunately, our common experience of the struggle is not to say we are well or healthily adjusted to it, far from it. Of course, it is easiest for those who actually hold any given power to be the most unaware of the dynamics of powerlessness upon others. For others, the struggle to be in control, to challenge authority, to make a name for ourselves, is largely thought of as a dynamic that is outgrown with adulthood. So in the face of authority issues, we say things like, “Teenagers will be teenagers!” Or we diagnose the battle to be in control as “middle child syndrome” or “terrible twos,” all the while failing to see our own struggle with similar dynamics. Still for others, questions of power involve wondering if they will ever have a voice, if anyone with power is listening, or if they have been forgotten and silenced indefinitely. Admittedly, to be conscious of the struggle is far better than being complacent about the question of power in general.
The story told in Daniel 6 begins significantly with a king who is for all practical purposes very much in control. Daniel, a Hebrew slave in exile, is found by king Darius to be distinguished in a way the king believes he can make use of and Daniel is given a position of authority in the kingdom for the sake of the king. But as the story moves forward, we see king Darius played like a pawn and Daniel is found guilty by the law of the land. To his utter dismay, king Darius finds himself bound by the law that his own lips decreed. Darius is the most powerful king in the world, and yet he is powerless beside his own decree, powerless to save his trusted servant. Whether Darius himself sees the irony in his power and position, we are left to wonder.
Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel once noted that faith depends on what we do with our ultimate embarrassments. We are the greatest miracle on earth and do not see it; we search for sovereignty in things unsovereign and regard as ultimate what is not ultimate. We live in the shadow of a sovereign Creator, and we go on playing king and queen like we are in control anyway. In the face of injustice, with Jerusalem in ruins, the silenced Daniel nonetheless becomes a herald of God’s sovereignty, though control appeared to be so clearly in other hands. And to the exhilaration of Darius, Daniel emerges from the lion’s den unharmed, saved by the only one who could save him.
The story ends with the proclamation of a new decree by king Darius, the mighty one with power and a voice, here writing to “all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world” of a far greater power:
“May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:
For he is the living God,
enduring for ever.
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion has no end.”(1)
The act of God in the lion’s den is indeed a plot that shows God as faithful and just, aware of the plight of the weak and silenced. But the act of God in the eyes of the mighty king Darius, who has recognized the superior might of a greater Sovereign, is perhaps the true sign and wonder. At the heart of the Christian religion is a God able to wield what is foolish to disrupt the wise, what is weak to disrupt the strong. At the crux of every question of power and weakness, sovereignty and control, justice and injustice is the Son of God who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form.”(2) The throne of our hearts will not remain empty; the question of sovereignty must be answered.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Daniel 6:25-27.
(2) Philippians 2:7.