The Prophet DANIEL: When God’s Commands And The Government’s Are In Tension

Written by Wes Walker on March 6, 2022

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Daniel was a good kid in a bad situation.

He was a devout Jewish lad at a point in Israel’s history where the entire country was busy getting their teeth kicked in by a heathen Empire for having blown off God one too many times.

He didn’t personally do anything wrong, but that didn’t stop him from finding himself facing the same fate as the rest of Israel — he too, was carried off to a live under a foreign king in a strange land, far from his home and the Temple at which those of his people who still did so would worship God.

Two situations in particular put Daniel’s faith in conflict with the government commands. How he handles those situations shines helpful light on how we can navigate similar situations in our own day.

The first situation was when Daniel was one of the promising Jewish youths who was called up to Nebuchadnezzar’s court to be trained in the ways of his captor’s country. He’d be given the same food the king ate, the same wine the king drank, and the top-tier education available in his day.

This was complicated by the fact that Daniel was a devout Jewish boy, who kept Kosher. He and his Jewish friends couldn’t eat the meat offered by the pagan king. So Daniel made a counter-offer. He asked if they could eat just vegetables and water for ten days and then the eunuch whose job it was to make them healthy could examine whether they were as healthy as the others. (They were.)

In the second situation, Daniel had already been established as a worthy advisor for the royal family. Some rivals were moved by jealousy and hatched a plan to destroy Daniel.

Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

As you might expect, Daniel continued to pray despite it being illegal. He was caught. He was given the death sentence in this instance, he was thrown to be devoured by lions.

We all know how that story played out… the LORD stopped the mouths of the lions, he survived until morning and was taken out unharmed. His accusers were thrown into the den, where they were immediately devoured.

What can we learn from this?

In the first instance, Daniel was commanded to eat food that he, as an observant Jew, was forbidden to eat. That situation offered a middle ground where he could obey the king without violating his conscience before God. He ate veggies and drank water. The law allows for that in clean conscience.

In the second instance, there was direct conflict between the command of the king and the command of God. In that case, Daniel continued to pray to God and let God himself look after the consequences of his obedience.

Daniel’s friends, famously, had a similar story where their lives were also preserved because they obeyed God rather than man.

When the state makes demands of us, we need to evaluate those demands, whether they can restrict our freedom without compelling us to disobey God. If they can do that, then what the State demands of us is not sin, and any decisions we make that follow can be calibrated accordingly.

But if there is direct conflict between the will of God and the will of the state, we are faced with a choice of defying and sinning against a thrice-holy God, or defying man and facing the legal consequences of that defiance.

What would Jesus say in such situations? We don’t have to wonder. He gave us explicit instructions. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

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