Insights from the life of Daniel
“He determines the course of world events: He removes kings and sets others on the throne” (Dan 2:21)
“He decides who will rise and who will fall” (Ps. 75:7)
If God has elevated you to a position of responsibility, Daniel would be a good person to study. Even though he and his people were second-class citizens in Babylon, God gave Daniel favor with the King, and he was made the ruler over one of the greatest political establishments that has ever existed. He accepted the responsibility and excelled at the job but eventually had to draw a line in the sand. However, his story involves more than the fact that he went to the lion’s den for his faith. The context in which he governed is also a major part of his story, and the fact that the rest of his story is included in the Bible is a message in itself. There are many lessons in Daniel, and one of them might be that God was showing us that believers can live for Him in leadership roles even though our core values are not the cultural norm.
When we study the lives of great men and women, it’s important to understand the world in which they lived so let’s take a cursory look at Babylonian culture. The administration that Daniel served was not a kind, benevolent nonprofit institution. He had to manage a staff and a nation of people whose lifestyles and values were abominable to the laws of his God. Absolute power was used to control the people and lives were expendable at the whim of the king. Even government officials including Daniel could lose their heads for disloyalty or incompetence. Slavery was condoned in a culture of brutality and indifference for the welfare of people. He had to watch his back constantly because people who despised his values were out to get him. He had to be smart, politically astute, tough, persuasive, and able to withstand intimidation. It’s an understatement to say that Daniel lived and worked in a vile and corrupt culture. Although he wasn’t able to change the culture, we have to believe that he saved many lives and was an agent of moderation and restraint. He knew that it was impossible to take a stand on every issue that came across his desk so he must have spent hours and hours thinking and praying about when and where to draw the line. He chose the moments well because when they came (and he chose only a key few), Daniel used his influence with consummate skill. Daniel must have often been discouraged, even to the point of saying, “this isn’t worth it.” There must have been many times when he wanted to give up, but God had brought him to a position of leadership, so he didn’t quit no matter how bad it got. It may make us uncomfortable, but we have to face the fact that Daniel would not have survived as long as he did if he had taken a stand on every issue. He surely must have lobbied the king for causes he felt strongly about but did not quit when things didn’t go his way. He had an uncompromising faith, but he could not have been an absolutist except when the issue caused him to compromise his loyalty to God. He must have accepted trade-offs that caused consequences he privately abhorred because he knew that “bomb throwers” limit their ability to accomplish what God wanted him to do. In spite of the setting he lived in, God made it possible for him to forge a strong faith that stood the test even when his career was on the line, and he faced a den of hungry lions. Daniel and his friends Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego show us the strength that a small group of like-minded people can develop in this kind of setting. They struggled with the same issues because the King had also appointed them to positions of authority.
Today, believers in positions of responsibility must also work with people whose motivations and values are hostile to the interests of God. Daniel is a good example of how to live with the imperfect but understand where to draw the line. If God has elevated you to a position of responsibility, can you represent Him in the real world of business and politics in spite of the deterioration of our culture? Like Daniel, you may not be able to reverse the cultural slide, but you can be God’s agent of moderation and restraint with occasional victories. My prayer is that God would use these thoughts to challenge and inspire believing leaders to develop the character of Daniel.