This week we’ll look at an ancient story and a twenty-first century story about ferocious lions gone mild. In both of these stories, jungle cats will forego their kill-to-eat instincts and instead leave an older man and, centuries later, a twelve-year-old Ethiopian girl unharmed.
Around 605 BC, the biblical story of Daniel begins when Jerusalem was invaded and its finest youths were carried away to serve a foreign government. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, wanted apt young men from Israel’s royal family of Judah to serve in his court. One young man, Daniel (his Hebrew name meaning “judgment of God”), was destined forever to have a place in biblical and world history. He was given the Chaldean name of Belteshazzar (signifying “keeper of the treasures of the master”). In Isaiah 39:7, a prophecy foretold that the young captives would be made eunuchs. Captives in training to reach high ranks in foreign governments were often rendered impotent so they could not produce offspring to challenge the throne.
Daniel served under several heads of state growing older and older in Babylon. When Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, he appointed Daniel and two others over the 120 governors of provinces. By now, Daniel is an older gentleman, probably approaching 90-years-old. Some governors didn’t like Daniel and wanted to discover unseemly behavior to tarnish his years of service. When they found nothing, they schemed to use his virtuous prayers against him. The governors asked King Darius to sign an edict stating that for 30 days no one could petition anyone except the king.
Their proposed punishment for offenders would be a free overnight stay at the Den of Lions. Once the edict was published, Daniel’s enemies obviously reported that Daniel still knelt at his window facing Jerusalem, and prayed three times a day. Much to the dismay of King Darius, he had to order his valued administrator to a pit of ravenous lions. Darius couldn’t sleep that night, but perhaps Daniel relaxed and dozed off when he saw that an angel of the Lord had shut the lions’ mouths. The ill that the governors had plotted for Daniel backfired, and they and their families were thrown into the pit and devoured by lions.
In Ethiopia in 2005, a group of seven men abducted a 12-year-old girl to force her to be one of their wives. The United Nations reports that in rural Ethiopia still experiences 70% of marriages taking place through abduction. A group of men will overpower a young girl to illegally force her into marriage. Afterwards they beat her into submission, and then they battle among themselves to see who will win the young virgin.
After beating this terrified 12-year-old girl, the seven men began their games to see who would get to wed her. The girl, the youngest of four siblings of brothers and sisters, was extremely traumatized by the events. They held her captive and beat her for seven days. On the seventh day, a group of three Ethiopian lions emerged from the wilds and chased off the seven men. For a half day, the huge cats stood around the young girl, never attempting to harm her. On that same day when the police and her frantic family finally located her, Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo said about the massive lions, "They stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest."
“If the lions had not come to her rescue, then it could have been much worse," explained Sgt. Wedajo. Four of the men were caught and a search was ongoing for the other three.
Every time I read Daniel’s story and this more recent account of the young girl’s rescue and protection, I’m reminded that we serve a God of miracles. God -- who turns things around, reverses nature, raises the dead, calls whales into service, or makes the sun shine longer than usual. Daniel surrounded for many years by foreign gods continued to serve the God of his youth, the God of his old age, “who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Romans 4:17).
When God halted the appetite of lions in Babylon, he got the attention of King Darius, who sent out a message to his entire kingdom that the God of Daniel should be revered. Memorize that message (below). Write it on your number 23 index card and think about our Father at work shutting the mouths of lions centuries ago and 2005 in Ethiopia.
Index card verse for week 22: “He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:27).