God’s Lion’s Den: The Governmental Problem
Several thousand years ago an incident occurred in the Persian empire revealing a king’s dilemma. The king was Darius the Great, whose kingdom extended over much of the civilized world at that time. The administration of the kingdom was handled by a hierarchy of 120 princes who in turn answered to three presidents, of which Daniel was chief. The empire was plagued with political infighting spurred by jealousy, a malady which often accompanies power. Because of Daniel’s wise and conscientious leadership, he gained the royal preference, which generated two attitudes in the ranks of Daniel’s fellow administrators. The first was spite, in that Daniel was preferred, and the second was a sense of difficulty, because it was not easy to ensnare a faithful and conscientious man. Finally these evil governors enticed Darius to sign a decree which in essence stated that no one in the kingdom was to petition any man or god other than the king for thirty days. The sanction for disobedience was the lion’s den and the decree would stand firm “according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.” The stage was now set for the downfall of Daniel, the Jew who prayed regularly to the God of Israel.
Daniel’s enemies wasted no time in approaching Darius with the reports of their spies. Suddenly the powerful monarch of the Persian empire found himself bound and rendered helpless by the words of his own mouth.
Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O King, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.” Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. Daniel 6:13–14 (NASB)
Darius found himself in the middle of the same governmental dilemma God faced with man. How does a government balance justice and mercy and wisely dispense their consequences for the good of society? The purpose of the laws and courts of our land is justice, not mercy. Every just penalty the lawbreaker pays strengthens moral government; almost every mercy he receives weakens justice, unless government finds a method of blending mercy and justice. Only the gospel can reconcile the two concepts without damaging or misusing one or the other. Had Darius been able to figure out the answer to his dilemma, he would have had to go to the lion’s den for Daniel. He loved Daniel, but not that much.
How would you feel if you turned on your radio and heard the news commentator announce that the President of the United States had just issued a blanket pardon to all of America’s prison inmates? When the prison doors swung open, what message would be written across the face of each prisoner? “You can break the law and get away with it!” Thus, what happens to the law? What happens to the integrity of the lawgiver?
God could never sacrifice the welfare of His government in such a manner. Knowing full well that law without consequences is merely advice, He had to find a viable way to demonstrate to every moral being His respect for the law. Compromise on an issue of such immense importance was simply out of the question. God would remain just and righteous in His solemn responsibility to hold the moral fabric of His kingdom intact.
An expansion of God’s governmental problem (how to remove the just consequence of death from a law violator whom he loves) reveals the following dilemma:
- Man had sinned, violating God’s moral law.
- The consequence of this violation was death.
- Yet God loved his creation and did not want to see him die.
His problem was to find a way to:
- uphold His law,
- show His hatred for sin,
- set the man He loved free without encouraging others to sin.