Remember, Daniel and his pals are in captivity under world superpower Babylon, which is then overthrown by the Persian empire. YHWH's covenant people are under His hand of judgment because of their whoredom and stubbornness to His covenant love while they were in the land He promised them. Within this context, I love the two snapshots of trial some of these young Jews face while under foreign kings:
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah [affectionately Rack, Shack, and Benny] in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion's den.
These little stories have snuck their way to flannel graphs and cartoons for 40 years, but there is something extra in them that is sweet to see.
- In both stories, the young guys find themselves in their respective predicaments because they refuse to bow the knee to the temporal religious-political systems above them. This results in their execution.
- In both situations, their executioners are slain, showing that there is a justice that transcends worldly authority and empire.
- In both situations, the Jewish fellows being killed seem to be somewhere in between "minimal" to "not-at-all" on the nervous scale. But the text gives us the reason behind this.
- Both stories show that they TRUSTED their God [3.28, 6.23]. Strange that this is what Abraham did before torah and Jesus [Gn 15.6], what the people did when they were redeemed from Egypt [Ex 14.31], and what we're called to do as well [Rom 4.5] - just trust.
- At the end of both stories, the kings in charge each sent forth a decree. Each decree was addressed to "all peoples, nations, and languages" [4.1, 6.25]. Why in the heck does that sound so familiar? Oh, maybe it's because the whole story ends with God's covenant people under different religious-political systems, far from their promised land, knowing that they get to be a part of God gathering people from "every tribe, tongue, and nation" [Rev 5.9, 7.9].
- This decree went out from two different pagan kings, from two different passing empires, at two different periods of times. But somehow, both decrees said essentially the same thing: "Peace and Shalom is multiplied! There is a God Most High - the God of Daniel! He works signs and wonders! And His kingdom and dominion are everlasting!"
So, here's the deal. The fiery furnace and lion's den are marginal kids' stories at best. They might be able to entertain because kids know that fire is hot and lions are scary. BUT, and this is a huge BUT... If you walk away from those stories without seeing God as the faithful and true King, then your blind to the Bible and only have a half of one eye opened to decent kids' entertainment.
The God of Israel is the King of all kings. His kingdom has been brought nearer to us in Jesus to include peoples from every tribe, nation, and tongue. If that is not the seasoning that flavors Daniel, we might just miss it elsewhere.