T HE words which Jeremiah the prophet had spoken long years ago had come true. The people of Babylon, that great heathen city, had taken Jerusalem, had thrown down its walls, laid the temple in ruins, seized all its treasures, and carried off its people captive.
Now among the people carried off to be slaves there were several young princes of the royal house of Judah, and one of these princes was Daniel, the hero of this story.
Daniel was quite a boy when he was taken away to Babylon, and although he was a prisoner he was not treated as an ordinary slave. He was trained and taught at the king's court to be a special kind of servant, one who was to "stand before the king."
Daniel in the King's Court
It was a wonderful court, and a wonderful country where he received his training. The great walls round the city were so wide that chariots drawn by four horses could drive round the top of them, and there was even room enough for the horses to turn. Inside the walls the city was like a garden of delight, green with parks and forests, gay with beautiful flowers, and sweet with the scent of spices.
But more wonderful still was the king's palace, set high in the middle of the city, built on terraces of flower gardens and crowned with the temple of the Sun-god whom these people worshipped. There it rose, building upon building, all of different colours—orange, crimson, gold, yellow, blue, and silver—and at the top a silver shrine, almost too dazzling to look upon.
It was a very rich country, too, where cornfields spread their gold in the sunshine, and harvests could be gathered in several times a year, where the air was always soft, and where, if there was not enough rain, the thirsty land was watered by innumerable canals.
But although it was all so fair and rich, Daniel never forgot his own beloved country—never forgot to look towards Jerusalem when he said his prayers to God; and never once did he worship the Sun-god at that silver shrine.
And as he grew to be a man, the people of the court began to know that he was always to be trusted, that he was not only very clever but straight and true and fearless. It was for Daniel that the king called when he was in trouble and wanted to know the meaning of his dreams. It was Daniel only who could read the strange writing on the wall, which warned the people of Babylon that an enemy king would soon take the city and rule there.
Then, when the warning came true and the strange king, whose name was Darius, had taken the city, Daniel was still a favoured man, although the golden city was almost destroyed.
King Darius quickly discovered that Daniel was the wisest of all his servants, and the one who was most to be trusted; so he made him a governor of the land, and gave him many honours.
But the other people of the court did not like this. They were jealous of this man whom the king honoured, and they soon began to hate him and to lay cunning plans to get rid of him.
Very carefully they watched him day by day, and tried secretly to find out if there was not something crooked about his ways. But it was no use: Daniel was absolutely straight, and as faithful to the king as he was to God.
Faithful to God! Ah! his faithfulness was the one thing they might use against him; there lay the one way in which they might hurt him.
So these cunning men went to the king, and asked him to make a new law, forbidding any one to ask a favour of any god or man, except the king, for thirty days, and threatening that whoever did so should be thrown into the den of lions.
The king was quite flattered, and very willingly set his seal to the new law. He never thought there was anything underhand about it, or dreamed that the wicked men were planning something evil.
But Daniel knew at once what it meant. It was a trap set specially for him. Either he must give up his daily prayers to God, or be thrown to the lions.
He did not hesitate one instant. He did not even say his prayers secretly where no one could see him. Instead of that, he opened his window wide, the window which looked in the direction of Jerusalem; and he knelt at the open window in full view, and prayed to God three times a day, as he had always done before.
Of course, the wicked men were watching for this, and they were overjoyed at the success of their plan. They did not lose a moment, but went straight to the king.
"Hast thou not signed a decree," they said, "that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?"
"The thing is true," answered the king, "according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not."
Then the men triumphantly told their story. Daniel, the king's favourite, had disobeyed the king's law, and had prayed to his God, not once, but three times a day.
Then the king was very sorry, and very angry with himself, and he tried to think of every possible way to save Daniel.
But there was no way. Daniel had disobeyed the law, and the punishment must follow. When the king's seal was once set to a law, it could not be broken, even by himself. So in the evening Daniel was brought out to be cast into the lions' den, and the king's heart was heavy with sorrow. Only one faint gleam of hope there was.
"Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee," he said, as he bade Daniel a sorrowful farewell.
But although he spoke such brave words, his heart was very heavy, and his hope was dim. He saw Daniel lowered into the den, he put his seal upon the stone which was laid upon the mouth of the den, and then he returned to his palace so full of grief that he could neither sleep nor eat, but lay awake all night, watching for the morning to come.
Meanwhile, down in the dark den, Daniel was fearlessly waiting for death. He was quite ready to die if it was God's will. He waited for the great, fierce beasts to spring at him in the darkness; he listened for the sound of their feet. But instead there was the sound of an angel's wings, and the light of an angel's face shone in the darkness. And when he looked at the prowling beasts, lo! their mouths were shut by the angel's hand, and they could do him no harm.
So in the early morning, as the first gleam of light shone in the sky, when the king came hurriedly to the mouth of the den and cried, with a bitter cry of sorrow, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? "the answer came clear and strong from the depths below
"O king, live for ever. My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt."
"God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths."