Angels and Lions
May 16th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
ANGELS AND LIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-16-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The title of the sermon is Angels and Lions. In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we are in chapter 6, and the message is an exposition of verses 11 through 23. And I read just these verses in the middle of the story:
Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest, He will deliver thee.
And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.
Now we begin in our exposition of the eleventh verse. The king has found himself in his own den of dilemma and agonizing frustration. He, yesterday, was deified; he was declared a god for thirty days [Daniel 6:7-9], and he ascended the giddiest heights of ambition. No supplication and no prayer and no intercession could be directed toward any god or any man except to King Darius himself. But he fell into the trap of his own vanity, and now he finds himself a dupe; he is made to look ridiculous by his own courtiers.
Verse  says, “Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself” [Daniel 6:14], all of which is a vivid and loosed portrayal of our own fallen nature and depravity. It is an awesome apostasy, what has overtaken us, all of us. We are fallen in our hearts, and in our minds, and in our souls, and in our lives, and in our dreams, and in our ambitions. Everything about us has with it that concomitant of the drag down of weakness, and mistake, and sin, and iniquity. If the doctrine of the postulate were written in a book, we might deny it and argue against it with great vehemence. But the trouble is, our apostasy, our fallen nature, is a bitter, personal experience, and we all know it and feel it. There’s no one of us but that at times is ashamed with ourselves.
One of the most dramatic things in the Bible is when Elisha anoints Hazael king over Assyria. And as Elisha looks at him and looks at him and looks at him, Hazael is self-conscious. And the prophet begins to weep, and Hazael says, “Why weepeth my lord?” And Elisha replies, “Because I can see what you are going to do to Israel.” Then he describes what Hazael will do against the people of God, and when Elisha describes it to Hazael, Hazael replies, “But, my lord, is thy servant a dog that he should do such a thing?” [2 Kings 8:11-13]. But he did it! [2 Kings 8:14-15]. And all of us are just like that, just like this king. We are fallen, and we are the dupes of our own vanity, and selfishness, and penchant and affinity toward sin; all of us.
Now, this is a strange, strange law. They came to the king, and, baiting him with deity, they enticed him to sign a law that no one could call upon the name of any man or god except the king. And when the king signed it [Daniel 6:6-9], and they found Daniel disobeying [Daniel 6:10-11], they came to the king and said that “Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree which thou hast signed; but he maketh petition three times a day to his God” [Daniel 6:12-13]. Then they remind the king, and said, “Didn’t you sign that decree?” and the king answered and said, “The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which altereth not” [Daniel 6:15].
Well, you couldn’t help but ask yourself, “Why in a great empire like the Medean-Persian Empire, should such a law as that obtain?” Well, I suppose, for one thing, it would deter a monarch from quickly making a decision. If the decision could not be reviewed, he would pause before signing such a decree. I could suppose that another thing would be true; that the people might be helped and blessed if they were delivered from constant change. Every time a whim swept over the king, why, the people would have to rearrange their lives. So what he did didn’t find itself subject to any kind of qualification; it didn’t alter, and the people could base their lives therefore upon the decrees of the king.
I suppose that would be true, but the persuasion of the king that he had to keep that decree; were it not for history, you could debate the nobility of such a keeping an oath. For example, you find that same thing in the life of Herod Antipas. He was so pleased when Salome danced before him that he said, “I will give you anything, even to the half of my kingdom.” Then, when she asked the head of John the Baptist, he was very, very grieved, but for his oath’s sake, the Bible says, and for those that were around him who heard him make it, why, he cut off the head of John the Baptist [Mark 6:22-28]. Now, that’s what happened here with Darius. When he found out the trap in which he had maneuvered himself, when he found that he was the dupe of a clever scheme to kill his great prime minister, he sought every way that he could to evade it, but for his oath’s sake and for the sake of his signing the decree, why, he delivered Daniel to the lions [Daniel 6:14-16].
Now you say, “That is a strange, strange thing, that men would be that way,” but they have been that way all the way through history. For example, did you know it is only recently, it is just recently that a nobleman or an officer in an army could have lived with himself had he not accepted a challenge to fight a duel? Alexander Hamilton—one of the most brilliant Americans who ever lived, and the first Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington—Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, the unspeakable Aaron Burr. All through the years you find men like that. I presume all of us are; we do wrong rather than find ourselves losing face. Nations are like that; so, Darius is like that. Rather than have people say that he wouldn’t keep his word, or he isn’t true to his own, or you can’t count on what he says, why, Darius does wrong, he delivers Daniel to the den of lions [Daniel 6:16]. But he doesn’t do it without an attempt to save him:
Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.
Isn’t that a most unusual thing? This king is pouring his whole heart into that effort to save Daniel. And when he finds himself unable to deliver him, he turns preacher, exhorter, comforter, and when he delivered Daniel to the lions, “The king spake, and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee” [Daniel 6:16].
Isn’t that a magnificent thing? This heathen king is standing on tiptoe to see the dawn of the gospel: “Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee!” [Daniel 6:16]. Thy God––a personal Lord––whom thou servest continually. What a tremendous effect Daniel had upon Darius the king! So steadfast and dedicated and faithful was Daniel in his service to God that that heathen king, watching him, came to the conclusion that no God so faithfully loved and served could but deliver His steadfast servant.
I wonder what kind of an impression we make upon people when they look at our compromises, and our frustrations, and our defeats, and our weaknesses. I wonder if they don’t think we are poor pickings even for the lions themselves. But not Daniel! “Thy God,” said this heathen king, encouraging the faithful servant, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee” [Daniel 6:16].
So let us speak then of the deliverance of Daniel. First, he was delivered to the lions, thrown in the den of lions [Daniel 6:16]. That is exactly what the courtiers knew would happen [Daniel 6:12-13]. He’s an old man; he’s ninety or more years of age. His shock of white hair, his grace, his dignity, his calm assurance, his faith in God: I can just see the grand old man as the tremendous stone is rolled away, and he walks unperturbed into the den of lions. He was willing to be a loser. He had no assurance that the lions would not break his bones and rend his flesh, but he is unafraid, for the man who fears God only need fear no other else in the world. And with great calm, and quiet, and dignity, and assurance, the grand old man walked into the dungeon.
There over the dungeon the great stone was rolled, it was sealed with the seal of the king and of the empire, and night comes [Daniel 6:17]. Daniel in that den of lions is more quiet [Daniel 6:21-22], and at peace than Darius in the palace with all of his luxuries [Daniel 6:18]. For Daniel is at rest in God. And when the nighttime comes for the servant of the Lord, whether it’s the nighttime of the sinking of the western sun or the nighttime of our translation to glory, it is a time of rest for the people of God. In the day, we’re abroad; in the night, we’re at home. In the day, we are stimulated to activity by every outward, creative genius of the hand of the Lord; but at night, God hushes the sounds, and He turns out the lights, and He stops the songs of the birds, and He draws the curtain of tenderest, softest light, and He says, “Hush.”
And as the one hundred twenty-seventh Psalm avows, “And the Lord giveth His beloved sleep” [Psalm 127:2], you know, I can just see that. Bless you, I can just see that. As Daniel prepares to enter into the den, the Lord comes down, and He whispers in the ears of those savage beasts, “Listen to Me,” says the Lord to those ravenous, carnivorous lions, those felines of the forest, those kings of beasts, “Listen to Me,” says the Lord God, “one of My servants is coming down to spend the night with you. Treat him hospitably. Greet him cordially. Harm not a hair of his head, and give your shaggy mane for a pillow on which My servant can sleep for the night.” So Daniel, God’s prophet, lays his head on the mane of one of those shaggy lions; and as he goes to sleep he sings a sweet lullaby:
Angels and lions, watching over me
Angels and lions, watching over me
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Angels and lions are watching over me.
[adapted from “All Night, All Day, Angels Watching over Me,” traditional]
And he’s sound asleep. “For the Lord sent His angel, and shut the lions’ mouths, and they did no hurt” [Daniel 6:22]. How do you like that? Amen!
Oh, dear! If I could just be that way, just resting in the Lord. Does that remind you of Simon Peter? To me, one of the most astonishing things in the Bible—in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, Herod Agrippa I had just cut off the head of James the brother of John, one of the twelve disciples; “And seeing it pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter and put him in prison in order to execute him the next morning!”[Acts 12:1-3].
And you have the story of the deliverance of Simon Peter by an angel from heaven, remember? The angel comes in, and he strikes off the manacles and the chains and the stocks in which Peter is incarcerated, and he opens the great iron door, and leads him out into the street [Acts 12:4-11]; and Peter goes to Mark’s home—and Rhoda, the girl, you know—knocks at the door, and she hears his voice and comes in, and says, “Simon Peter is at the door, he is knocking!” [Acts 12:12-14]. And they say, “That cannot be, that is his spirit [Acts 2:15]. Herod’s already cut off his head.”
Remember that story? Well, do you remember what Peter was doing? The only Christian in Jerusalem that night who was asleep was Simon Peter! [Acts 12:6]. There, between two soldiers, to be executed the next morning, he was so sound asleep that the angel had to smite him on the side: “Peter, wake up! Wake up, man! You’re supposed to be beheaded next morning, don’t you know that? And here you are sound asleep” [Acts 12:7]. That’s God’s servants: “Angels and lions, watching over me.”
Well, now to us. All of us are in a den of lions of some kind, all of us. That’s what it is to be a Christian, is to be thrown into a den of lions. And I don’t mean stuffed ones that are so by looks, but not by nature. For the confrontation in the life of the Christian is not sentimental, it is real! The way is not silken, and smooth, and soft. And I think it is a mistake to tell these young people, for example, that when you give your life to Christ it means roses and a primrose path. It doesn’t! It’s a rowing against the current and the stream; it’s a fight both because of our own fault and nature, and because of the fault and natures of others. It is no easy thing to be righteous, to be a servant of God. The Christian life is a progress through trial and antagonism. The writing has been signed against us. That’s why there’s no truer hymn we sing than that one,
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
[“Am I A Soldier of the Cross?” Isaac Watts, 1740]
All of us are in that conflict; we’re in that den of lions every day of our lives. We struggle with ourselves, and we struggle with a vile, and villainous, and tempestuous world around us! There has never been anyone who escaped that who loved God.
When Abraham was called, “he went out, not knowing whither he went” [Hebrews 11:8]. Can you imagine that? Journeying with his family, had no idea where he was going; just following God. When Moses led his people, he led them through a burning and a fiery wilderness [Exodus 15:22]. When Elijah did his work before God, he did it in the presence of wicked Ahab and Jezebel [1 Kings 16:29-33]. And I haven’t time to speak of the seven thousand unknown names in human chronicles but whose names are written in heaven [1 Kings 19:18]. The apostle Paul himself said, “Yea, and all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” [2 Timothy 3:12], and James starts his epistle off with our falling into trial and trouble and temptation [James 1:2]. But there’s a difference.
There are troubles in the world, and the troubles that people in the world get into, but the difference lies in this: the Christian has with him in his trials and in his troubles the presence of God. The Lord is with him. The Lord is with him, and the Lord makes the difference. You go up behind the back of a Christian to stab him, and God is behind his back. You go in front of the Christian to ambush him, and the Lord God is in front of him. You waylay him on the right, and the Lord is on his right, and waylay him on the left, and the Lord is on his left hand. He is surrounded by the angels of God; “Angels and lions, watching over me.”
In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in that terrible storm at sea, when all aboard thought they would certainly be dashed to pieces, the apostle Paul came forth and said, “For there stood by me this night, the angel of the Lord, whose I am, and whom I serve” [Acts 27:23]. And in the last chapter of 2 Timothy, written in the Mamertine dungeon—where we’re going to be in a few weeks, in that dungeon—the apostle Paul wrote that “at my first appearance before the Roman court, no man stood by me; but the Lord stood by me, and delivered me out of the mouth of the lion” [2 Timothy 4:16-17]. That’s the difference.
“But one other thing, pastor, now, wait! What if the lions had eaten him up? What if they’d broken his bones, and what if they had torn off his flesh? What if the lions had eaten him up, then what?” He still would have won. He still would have triumphed just the same. Had it been God’s will for Daniel to be destroyed, it would have been the same glorious victory, for, you see, it is God’s will that matters, that’s all. Sometimes it is God’s will that we do not be delivered.
It was not God’s will for John the Baptist to be delivered, and Herod cut off his head [Mark 6:27]. It was not God’s will that Jesus be delivered, and He was nailed to the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. It was not God’s will for Stephen to be delivered, and they beat him with rocks into the dust of the ground [Acts 7:58-59]. It was not God’s will for James the brother of John to be delivered, and Herod Agrippa I cut off his head [Acts 12:1-2]. It was not God’s will, finally, for Paul to be delivered, and he was executed by a Roman sword (history). Because he was a Roman citizen, they could not crucify him; they cut off his head. But it was not God’s will either for his fellow Christians; they were crucified. And some of us are going to see the great Coliseum in a few weeks. When you stand there and look down in that Coliseum, think of the Christians by the thousands and the thousands who were fed to the mouths of the lions. Sometimes it is not God’s will that we be delivered.
Well, then what? In the third chapter of this Book of Daniel, the three Hebrew children are standing before King Nebuchadnezzar, who has heated a furnace seven times hotter and into which these are to be plunged [Daniel 3:19]. The three young men said before the king, “Our Lord is able to deliver us; but if not, but if not”—it was in God’s hands—“whether He delivers us or whether He does not deliver us, we will not bow down and worship before that golden image” [Daniel 3:17-18].
That is the spirit of the child of God, “If it is the Lord’s will that I be delivered from the trial, I shall praise His name. If it is not God’s will that I be delivered, but I go through the fire and through the furnace and through the den, then the same Lord God shall deliver me yet, still, in His time, and in His way.”
Well, you come with me and you say, “Look at John the Baptist, for example, look at John the Baptist. What a disaster! What a disaster! They cut off his head, and he lies in the pool of his own blood [Mark 6:27-28]. What a disaster!”
What do you mean, “disaster?” Tell me, when Herod Antipas cut off his head [Mark 6:27], what happened to John the Baptist? He immediately went up to be with God in heaven! The sword just liberated him, and he went to be with the Lord who sent him to be the great messenger and forerunner before His face [Matthew 3:1-3; John 1:19-23]. You know, to destroy a Christian, to cut off the head of a Christian, is just the same thing as if for spite you were to throw a ship into the ocean, you just launch it. It was built on the land, that’s right; but it was made for the sea. And that’s just as right. “Angels and lions, watching over me” [Daniel 6:22]; there is no defeat for the Christian, never.
And the king arose early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.
And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice, saying unto Daniel, [O] Daniel, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?
And the prophet answered, O king, live forever.
My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, and they have done me no hurt.
“Is thy God able?” Let Paul answer it:
Unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think . . . unto Him be glory, and dominion, and praise through Jesus Christ in the church, world without end. Amen.
And when finally that day of translation comes, as it shall for us all, there’ll be angels to bear the soul of Lazarus the beggar up to Abraham’s bosom, up to heaven [Luke 16:22], and there’ll be angels waiting to bear us up on their wings to the glorious home in glory.
O come, angel band,
Come and around me stand
O bear me away on your snowy wings,
[from “O Come, Angel Band,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
Angels and lions, watching over me. How do you like that? Isn’t that all right? I tell you, as I read that Book and think on these things, I sometimes think, “Lord, I’m just going to shout all over the place,” just happy in the Lord! What God can do, and what He means to us, and how He stands by us, and helps us, and encourages us, and sees us through.
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, all of you, a couple two of you, or just you one of you, while we sing our hymn, on the first note of that first stanza, respond with your life. Do it this morning. In this balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment, when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Into that aisle, or down that stairway: “Here I come, and here I am, giving my life to God, trusting Him,” or coming into the fellowship of this dear church, answering God’s call; “Here I come and here I am.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, into that aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, and here I come,” while we stand and sing.