In the Furnace of Affliction: Lessons from the Life of Daniel
Carol N. Kaminski (MAOT, MAR, ’96), PH.D.
The afflictions of life can come at any time, at any age. They are often unexpected and can take us momentarily off guard. Sometimes they are intense and short-lived, while on other occasions afflictions of the soul remain with us, and we must learn to bear them for extended periods of time. So the question before us is not whether we will experience affliction—for this is indeed certain—but how we will handle affliction when the crises of life come knocking at our door.
The prophet Daniel experienced major turmoil and uprooting early in his life when he was brought to Babylon in 605 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar had attacked Jerusalem and brought leading citizens to Babylon. Daniel and his three friends are among the exiles. While they are being educated in the literature and language of the Babylonians, God gives these young men knowledge and wisdom beyond their age. Daniel in particular is given the ability to interpret dreams and visions.
Towards the end of Daniel’s life, after serving in the Babylonian court for many years, Daniel witnesses the demise of the Babylonian Empire. Under the new Persian regime, he is given great authority as one of three key rulers. We learn that King Darius (most likely another name for Cyrus) intends to appoint Daniel over his entire kingdom, for Daniel has distinguished himself in leadership (Dan. 6:1-3). Yet at this moment of great honor, which may even be seen as the capstone of Daniel’s political career, a crisis strikes that will bring the prophet to his knees.
The situation takes a turn for the worse when Daniel’s colleagues, who are jealous of him, devise a plan to prevent him from taking up the new position. Not finding anything against Daniel’s character, they request that King Darius sign an edict, which would forbid anyone from making a petition to any god or man besides Darius for 30 days (Dan. 6:7-8). Anyone who refuses to obey the edict will be thrown into the lions’ den. Darius agrees to sign the injunction, thereby establishing it as Persian law.
Daniel hears about the edict and learns that it has been signed. The crisis has now arrived at his door. What will he do? How will he respond?
The first thing Daniel does is enter his house to pray. The crisis has come to Daniel’s door, and the first thing he does is the precise thing that he is prohibited to do! We discover that Daniel prays “as he had been doing previously” (Dan. 2:10). A cursory reading of the book of Daniel underscores that the prophet is a man of prayer (Dan. 2:17-18; 9:3-22). He is also known among his peers to be a man of prayer, for his colleagues anticipate that his commitment to prayer will be his ruin (Dan. 6:5).
You may recall that many years earlier when Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to discover the meaning of a dream, in an act of fury he sent out an edict that all the wise men of Babylon were to be killed, since no one had been able to interpret his dream (Dan. 2). Daniel requested that time be granted him so that he could declare the interpretation to the king (Dan. 2:14- 16). With death at his doorstep, Daniel had again entered his house to pray. This is why he requested the additional time—not to flee for his life, but to seek God in prayer! We find him praying with his three friends, and together they beseech God to grant them the interpretation to the dream (Dan. 2:17-18), which God does.
What do you do when facing the crises of life? Do you have friends like Daniel’s three friends who will pray with you?
I’m reminded of King Jehoshaphat, when the Moabites and Ammonites waged war against him, how he and the people gathered together to pray (2 Chron. 20).
I’m reminded of King Hezekiah, when the Assyrians were threatening to attack Jerusalem (Isa. 36), how he entered the temple to pray, and he sent for Isaiah the prophet and asked him to pray (Isa. 37).
I’m reminded of Paul and Silas, when they were in prison after receiving many blows, how they prayed and sang hymns together, even while their feet were in stocks (Acts 16:22-30)!
I’m reminded of a friend last week who called me. An unexpected crisis was taking place in her condo building, involving the police and a search warrant. She called to ask me to pray, and so at that moment we prayed together on the phone. Prayer is indeed the hallmark of God’s people.
Now, many years later, Daniel is facing yet another crisis, and he enters his house to pray. We are told that “he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day” (Dan. 6:10). Kneeling was a sign of submission and humility before God (2 Chron. 6:13). Even though Daniel had a position of great authority in the Persian Empire, he was not too mighty, or too powerful, or too proud to bow down on his knees before his God. He had seen what happened to leaders who were proud and exalted themselves (Dan. 4:1-37; 5:1-31). Throughout his life he had acknowledged that the wisdom in him had come from God (Dan. 2:19- 23, 28-30). He knew how to humble himself and seek God (Dan. 1:8; 9:3; 10:1-3, 12), and he is now on bended knee, praying and giving thanks to his God. This is where the crisis has led him.
It is important to recognize that Daniel knows who God is. He knows that his God is the all-powerful and all-knowing God of heaven (Dan. 2:20). He is the God who changes the times and epochs (Dan. 2:21). He is the God who removes and establishes kings (Dan. 2:21, 36-38; 4:19-37). He is the God who reveals mysteries and brings to light that which is hidden (Dan. 2:22, 28, 47). He is the Most High God who rules over humanity (Dan. 4:24-25, 34-35). He is the God whose Kingdom is everlasting (Dan. 7:9-14, 27). He is the great and awesome God who keeps covenants (Dan. 9:4). And he is the God who answers prayer (Dan. 9:17-22), as Daniel will discover yet again, this time in the lions’ den (Dan. 6:16-28). Yes, Daniel surely knows who God is—and this is why he prays.
Yet Darius’ men soon discover that Daniel has been praying—contrary to the king’s edict. As a result, he is taken into the lions’ den (Dan. 6:11-16). The king is greatly disturbed over what has taken place. Early in the morning he returns to the lions’ den only to discover that Daniel is still alive! He learns that God has delivered Daniel by sending his angel to shut the mouth of the lions (Dan. 6:22; cf. 1 Sam. 17:37; Heb. 11:33). Daniel has indeed trusted in the LORD his God (Dan. 6:23). This is what God wants us all to do in the circumstances of life, regardless of the outcome, yet our vision of God is often too small.
Amidst the afflictions of life, which will surely come, we need to be reminded afresh of who God is. I do not know what circumstances are before you or what difficulties you are facing which seem insurmountable, but I do know that Daniel’s God is our God, and he has not changed. I do know that he is the all-powerful God, and I do know that he can be trusted. We can join with Daniel and confess that our God is “the great and awesome God” (Dan. 9:4), and we can boldly ask him to “incline your ear and hear! Open your eyes and see our desolations” (Dan. 9:18). We may not have all the answers, but we do know that our God can help us! Lord, help us to fix our eyes upon you, and teach us to pray.