There was in the land of Judah a wicked king-named Jehoiakim, son of the good Josiah. While Jehoiakim was ruling over the land of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, a great conqueror of the nations, came from Babylon with his army of Chaldean soldiers. He took the city of Jerusalem, and made Jehoiakim promise to submit to him as his master. And when he went back to his own land he took with him all the gold and silver that he could find in the Temple; and he carried away as captives very many of the princes and nobles, the best people in the land of Judah.
When these Jews were brought to the land of Chaldea or Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to the prince, who had charge of his palace, to choose among these Jewish captives some young men who were of noble rank, and beautiful in their looks, and also quick and bright in their minds; young men who would be able to learn readily. These young men were to be placed under the care of wise men, who should teach them all that they knew, and fit them to stand before the king of Babylon, so that they might be his helpers to carry out his orders; and the king wished them to be wise, so that they might give him advice in ruling his people.
Among the young men thus chosen were four Jews, men who had been brought from Judah. By order of the king the names of these men were changed. One of them, named Daniel, was to be called Belteshazzer; the other three young men were called Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They were taught in all the knowledge of the Chaldeans; and after three years of training they were taken into the king's palace.
King Nebuchadnezzar was pleased with them, more than with any others who stood before him. He found them wise and faithful in the work given to them, and able to rule over men under them. And these four men came to the highest places in the kingdom of the Chaldeans.
At one time King Nebuchadnezzar caused a great image to be made, and to be covered with gold. This image he set up, as an idol to be worshipped, on the plain of Dura, near the city of Babylon. When it was finished, it stood upon its base or foundation almost a hundred feet high; so that upon the plain it could be seen far away. Then the king sent out a command for all the princes, and rulers, and nobles in the land, to come to a great gathering, when the image was to be set apart for worship.
The great men of the kingdom came from far and near and stood around the image. Among them, by command of the king, were Daniel's three friends, the young Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. For some reason, Daniel himself was not there. He may have been busy with the work of the kingdom in some other place.
At one moment in the service before the image, all the trumpets sounded, the drums were beaten, and music was made upon musical instruments of all kinds, as a signal for all the people to kneel down and worship the great golden image. But while the people were kneeling, there were three men who stood up, and would not bow down. These were the three young Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They knelt down before the Lord God only.
Many of the nobles had been jealous of these young men, because they had been lifted to high places in the rule of the kingdom; and these men who hated Daniel and his friends, were glad to find that these three men had not obeyed the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had said that if any one did not worship the golden image he should be thrown into a furnace of fire. These men who hated the Jews came to the king and said:
|O king, may you live for ever! You gave orders that when the music sounded, every one should bow down and worship the golden image; and that if any man did not worship, he should be thrown into a furnace of fire. There are some Jews, whom you have made rulers in the land, who have not done as you commanded. Their names are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They do not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up.|
[Illustration: Nebuchadnezzar was fitted with rage]
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with rage and fury at knowing that any one should dare to disobey his words. He sent for these three men and said to them:
|O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, was it by purpose that you did not fall down and worship the image of gold? The music shall sound once more, and if you then will worship the image, it will be well. But if you will not, then you shall be thrown into the furnace of fire, to die.|
These three young men were not afraid of the king. They said:
|O King Nebuchadnezzar, we are ready to answer you at once. The God whom we serve is able to save us from the fiery furnace, and we know that he will save us. But if it is God's will that we should die, even then you may understand, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image.|
This answer made the king more furious than before. He said to his servants:
|Make a fire in the furnace hotter than ever it has been before, as hot as fire can be made; and throw these three men into it.|
Then the soldiers of the king's army seized the three young Jews, as they stood in their loose robes, with their turbans on their heads. They tied them with ropes, and dragged them to the mouth of the furnace, and threw them into the fire. The flames rushed from the opened door with such fury that they burned even to death the soldiers who were holding these men; and the men themselves fell down bound into the middle of the fiery furnace.
But an angel befriended them and they were unhurt.
[Illustration: An angel befriended them]
King Nebuchadnezzar stood in front of the furnace, and looked into the open door. As he looked, he was filled with wonder at what he saw; and he said to the nobles around him:
|Did we not throw three men bound into the fire? How is it then that I see four men loose walking in the furnace; and the fourth man looks as though he were a son of the gods?|
And the nobles who stood by could scarcely speak, so great was their surprise.
|It is true, O king,| at last they said to Nebuchadnezzar, |that we cast these men into the flames, expecting them to be burned up; and we cannot understand how it happens that they have not been destroyed.|
The king came near to the door of the furnace, as the fire became lower; and he called out to the three men within it:
|Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye who serve the Most High God, come out of the fire, and come to me.|
They came out and stood before the king, in the sight of all the princes, and nobles, and rulers; and every one could see that they were alive.
Their garments had not been scorched, nor their hair singed, nor was there even the smell of fire upon them.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar said before all his rulers:
|Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who has sent his angel, and has saved the lives of these men who trusted in him. I make a law that no man in all my kingdoms shall say a word against their God, for there is no other god who can save in this manner those who worship him. And if any man speaks a word against their God, the Most High God, that man shall be cut in pieces, and his house shall be torn down.|
After King Nebuchadnezzar died, his kingdom became weak, and the city of Babylon was taken by the Medes and Persians, under Cyrus, a great warrior.
THE STORY OF DANIEL IN THE LIONS' DEN
The lands which had been the Babylonian or Chaldean empire, now became the empire of Persia; and over these Darius was the king. King Darius gave to Daniel, who was now a very old man, a high place in honor and in power. Among all the rulers over the land, Daniel stood first, for the king saw that he was wise and able to rule. This made the other princes and rulers very jealous, and they tried to find something evil in Daniel, so that they could speak to the king against him.
These men saw that three times every day Daniel went to his room and opened the window that was toward the city of Jerusalem, and looking toward Jerusalem, made his prayer to God. Jerusalem was at that time in ruins, and the Temple was no longer standing; but Daniel prayed three times each day with his face toward the place where the house of God had once stood, although it was many hundreds of miles away.
These nobles thought that in Daniel's prayers they could find a chance to do him harm, and perhaps cause him to be put to death. They came to King Darius, and said to him:
|All the rulers have agreed together to have a law made that for thirty days no one shall ask anything of any god or of any man, except from you, O king; and that if any one shall pray to any god, or shall ask anything from any man during the thirty days, except from you, O king, he shall be thrown into the den where the lions are kept. Now, O king, make the law, and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, for no law among the Medes and the Persians can be altered.|
The king was not a wise man; and being foolish and vain, he was pleased with this law which would set him even above the gods. So without asking Daniel's advice, he signed the writing; and the law was made, and the word was sent out through the kingdom, that for thirty days no one should pray to any god.
Daniel knew that the law had been made, but every day he went to his room three times, and opened the window that looked toward Jerusalem, and offered his prayers to the Lord, just as he had prayed in other times. These rulers were watching near by, and they saw Daniel kneeling in prayer to God. Then they came to the king, and said:
|O King Darius, have you not made a law, that if any one in thirty days offers a prayer, he shall be thrown into the den of lions?|
|It is true,| said the king. |The law has been made, and it must stand.|
They said to the king: |There is one man who does not obey the law which you have made. It is that Daniel, one of the captive Jews. Every day Daniel prays to his God three times, just as he did before you signed the writing of the law.|
[Illustration: Thrown into the den of lions]
Then the king was very sorry for what he had done, for he loved Daniel, and knew that no one could take his place in the kingdom. All day, until the sun went down, he tried in vain to find some way to save Daniel's life; but when evening came, these men again told him of the law that he had made, and said to him that it must be kept. Very unwillingly the king sent for Daniel, and gave an order that he should be thrown into the den of lions. He said to Daniel: |Perhaps your God, whom you serve so faithfully, will save you from the lions.|
They led Daniel to the mouth of the pit where the lions were kept, and they threw him in; and over the mouth they placed a stone; and the king sealed it with his own seal, and with the seals of his nobles; so that no one might take away the stone and let Daniel out of the den.
Then the king went again to his palace; but that night he was so sad that he could not eat, nor did he listen to music as he was used to listen. He could not sleep, for all through the night he was thinking of Daniel. Very early in the morning he rose up from his bed and went in haste to the den of lions. He broke the seal and took away the stone, and in a voice full of sorrow he called out, scarcely hoping to have an answer:
|O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God been able to save you from the lions?|
And out of the darkness in the den came the voice of Daniel, saying:
|O king, may you live forever! My God has sent his angel and has shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because my God saw that I had done no wrong. And I have done no wrong toward you, O king!|
[Illustration: DANIEL'S ANSWER TO THE KING -- |Then said Daniel unto the King, O King, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me.| -- (Daniel 6: 21-22.)]
Then the king was glad. He gave to his servants orders to take Daniel out of the den. Daniel was brought out safe and without harm, because he had trusted fully in the Lord God. Then by the king's command, they brought those men who had spoken against Daniel, and with them their wives and their children, for the king was exceedingly angry with them. They were all thrown into the den, and the hungry lions leaped upon them, and tore them in pieces, so soon as they fell upon the floor of the den.
After this king Darius wrote to all the lands and the peoples in the many kingdoms under his rule:
|May peace be given to you all abundantly! I make a law that everywhere among my kingdoms men fear and worship the Lord God of Daniel; for he is the living God, above all other gods, who only can save men.|
And Daniel stood beside king Darius until the end of his reign, and afterward while Cyrus the Persian was king over all the lands.