“That’s Where Prayer Comes In”

A Study of Daniel 6

Introduction: General George Patton was a controversial, hard-charging, colorful man, who was also known for his salty, vulgar language. And yet—I don’t know how to explain this—General Patton believed in prayer. One day General Patton called the Third Army Chaplain, Master Sergeant James H. O’Neill. “This is General Patton,” he said. “Do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” After Chaplain O’Neill hung up he went over to window and looked at the pouring rain. He thumbed through his prayer books, but none of them seemed to have the right message. He so sat down and wrote out a prayer of an index card. Here is what he wrote: Almighty and most merciful Father we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

Chaplain O’Neill took the card to General Patton, who read it and ordered 250,000 of them printed for every man in the Third Army. Then Patton began asking O’Neill if the men in the Third Army had been praying. The Chaplain explained that everyone engaged in battle prays, but perhaps not so specifically about weather. To that, General Patton said these words:

“Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want: by planning, by working, and by praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always the unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure…. God has His part, or margin, in everything, and that’s where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us… But we have to pray for ourselves too…”

General Patton told Chaplain O’Neill to train the men for prayer. And so a quarter of a million solders had prayer cards in their pockets, and in the last days of 1944, during the most critical days of the Battle of the Bulge, the skies miraculously cleared. The rain and fog and snow gave way to clear skies, and the Third Army had its victory.

The remarkable thing is that now, many years later, prayer is being discouraged and forbidden in every public area of American life. For some reason, the secular forces in our nation despise anyone who prays and does everything possible to retard the practice of prayer. Well tonight I want to show you the story of a public official who was forbidden to pray. Our study this evening is from the book of Daniel, chapter 6. We’re reminded as we read this chapter that Daniel’s life had been characterized by prayer. In chapter 2, Daniel and his buddies had prayed earnestly through the night regarding the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Later on, in chapter 9, we have one of Daniel’s prayers recorded for us, and there is clear indication that as he prayed he was engaging in a virtual battle with spiritual forces of wickedness. But it is here in chapter 6 that we go inside Daniel’s private residence in the city of Babylon and see him at prayer.

Let’s begin with verse 1: It pleased Darius….

We were introduced to Darius at the end of the previous chapter, and he presents a bit of problem. One of the unsolved problems of interpreting the book of Daniel is the identity of Darius, for there is no historical reference to him in antiquity. The king of Persia was Cyrus, not Darius. There are two primary solutions, and both are equally likely:

  1. Darius was possibly a localized name or throne name for Cyrus. It was common for ancient rulers to go by different names. In that case the last verse of the chapter—Daniel 6:28—would best be translated, “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, even the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” That translation is perfectly acceptable, and so the writer would have used the name Darius, which was perhaps better known to his immediate readers, but would have clarified at the end of the story that Darius was actually Cyrus.
  2. Another explanation is that Darius was the name or title of a man who was appointed by Cyrus to be in charge of the city or region of Babylon, which would have been a relatively small portion of the vast Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel 9:1 might seem to support his view (“Darius…was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom). Some scholars holding to this view identify Darius with a man named Gubaru, who certainly did rule Babylon during this time. The Nabonidus Chronicle tells us that Cyrus appointed Gugaru as the governor of Babylon immediately after the city was conquered.

So almost certainly, Darius was either a throne name for Cyrus himself or a title for the person whom Cyrus appointed over the city or province of Babylon. In either case, it makes perfect sense and resolves the historical challenges.

Verse 1 continued: It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. (As we saw last week, Daniel would have most likely been over eighty years old at this time.) The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss.

Verse 3: Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Daniel was a man of unblemished character. He reminds me of a New Testament verse—1 Peter 2:12, which says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.”

Verse 5: Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

Verse 6: So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.

This is one of history’s first attempts to use the government to outlaw prayer.

Verse 8: Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing.

The next verse is one of the greatest verses about prayer in the Bible.

Verse 10: Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

This verse gives us so much information about Daniel and his habits. It tells us ten things:

  1. Daniel lived somewhere inside the city of Babylon. He was an urban dweller.
  2. He lived in a house of at least two floors.
  3. He had an upstairs room facing east toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem was in ruins, but to Daniel it still represented home, and the place where the temple had stood, and the place where the temple would again one day stand. And the temple represented the presence of God, so he prayed in the direction of Jerusalem.
  4. He had a spot in this room where he prayed.
  5. He prayed with his windows opened, which presumably meant someone could spy on him if they wished.
  6. He prayed three times a day—perhaps upon rising in the morning, during the luncheon break, and before retiring at night.
  7. This was a long established habit.
  8. His regular posture in these three seasons of prayer was kneeling.
  9. His prayer time emphasized thanksgiving.
  10. His prayer also asked God for help, appealing to God for his needs (v. 11).
  11. He would rather break the law than break his habit of prayer.
  12. God listened, heard, answered, and rewarded Daniel for his faithfulness in prayer.

Verse 11: Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”

Verse 13: Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, prays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.mThen the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed. So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lion’s den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

Verse 17: A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

Daniel slept better in the lions’ den than the king did in his palace.

Verse 19: At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Verse 21: Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in His sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

Verse 23: The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he has trusted in his God.

We can’t help but think here of what happened to Jesus Christ. In some way, Daniel was a harbinger of Christ. Both Daniel and Christ were:

  • Attacked by their political enemies.
  • Placed in a tomb.
  • The stone was rolled in place over the mouth of the cave.
  • The stone was secured with a royal seal.
  • But in both cases the victim came forth alive and unhurt.
  • In both cases there was angelic presence.
  • Being delivered, the men’s followers celebrated.
  • Judgment fell on their enemies.
  • The men who came alive out of the tomb was promoted to a place of great power and authority.

Verse 24: At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they had reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

And now we come to the primary point. This is the recurring truth that serves as the key to chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of Daniel.

Verse 25: Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end. 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.” So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Let me remind you of the outline of the book of Daniel. Chapter 1 is introduction. Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 give us five remarkable stories all with one point—even when it appears God’s program has failed in human history, it has not. The Most High is still in charge of everything. Heaven rules, and the Most High rules in the affairs of men. And, as we see here in chapter 6, somehow prayer plays a part. We can influence our world and human lives more than we realize when we pray as Daniel did.

Conclusion: Elmer Towns is an acquaintance of mine whose ministry I very much respect. As one of the historic forces behind Liberty University, his life and ministry have made a major mark on the lives of thousands of young people. Some time ago Dr. Towns wrote a book about prayer in which he described his first attempt at preaching. He was a student at the college I later attended, Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University), and he did what I later did as a student there—participate in open-air evangelism. In Elmer’s case, these were Saturday night street meetings in downtown Columba, designed mostly to reach soldiers from nearby Fort Jackson. Elmer was a freshman at the time, so he didn’t do any of the preaching. He simply went along to give support and to counsel anyone who responded. But one night in February, 1951, he was assigned to do the preaching. He had never preached before, so he prepared and prepared. He faithfully practiced his fifteen-minute sermon in the full-length mirror in his dormitory room, and he planed to preach from Matthew 7:13-14, which talks about entering through the narrow gate, for broad is the gate and wide is the way that leads to destruction. But the most important thing they did was to pray. Each day that week, he and his buddy who was going to lead the singing skipped lunch so they could meet and pray. There was a prayer room on campus, and they spent their lunch hour each day that week fasting and praying in that room, asking God to bless the meeting on Saturday night. They claimed the promise in Matthew 18:19, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”

Well, Saturday night came and the weather was unfavorable. It was cold and blustery. Only three students showed up. One boy played the pump organ, the other led the music, and Elmer was planning to preach. It was terribly cold, and they could only round up four or five soldiers. Instead of singing several hymns, they only sang one. Almost abruptly they turned the service over to Elmer who, standing in the cold on the street, was about to preach the first sermon of his life. It was a disaster. It was supposed to last fifteen minutes, but Elmer preached the whole thing in less than three minutes. So he repeated the sermon a second time, but he was done in only five minutes. He was in a sheer panic, and he gave the invitation, the guys sang “Just as I Am,” and nothing happened.

But then the most unexpected interruption occurred. There was a loud voice from the back: “MAY I SAY A WORD…?” Looking up, Elmer Towns saw a large Native-American, extremely tall—Towns said 6 feet nine inches—and very imposing. He bellowed again: “MAY I SAW A WORD…?” His request was a command, and everyone stood at attention as he came forward and quoted an entire chapter verbatim. His voice, his piercing eyes, and his huge gestures captivated the tiny crowd. But soon the crowd wasn’t so tiny. More and more people gathered to hear this mesmerizing speaker. Everyone who passed by stopped to listen. Drivers pulled up and rolled down their windows. They double-parked several cars deep, listening to the man. Soon forty or fifty people were semicircled around the man. After a sermon that seemed more than a half-hour long, the man commanded those needing Christ to kneel. All through that group, young men kneeled. And Elmer Towns knelt down to and started counseling them, leading one solder after another to faith in Christ.

“I lead one soldier to Christ,” he said, “and without getting up I crawled on my knees over to the next and led Him to Christ. The two other boys from Columbia Bible College were quickly leading soldiers to Christ, one at a time. When I had led the last soldier to Christ, and there was no one else, I looked around and saw the evangelist was gone. The giant man with high cheekbones and black greasy hair combed straight back was gone. I looked in every direction to find him, but he was gone.”

Elmer Towns later understood that the secret to the night had been more prayer than preaching. “I think God looked down from Heaven and saw (my friend and me) praying every day during the lunch hour, begging for an anointing on (our) first street meeting. When God realized that both young boys were too immature, God had His servant—an Indian evangelist—read and willing to preach the Gospel.”[1]

Daniel would rather spend a night with the lions than miss a day in prayer. He understood the power of prayer. He understood, as General Patton put it, “That’s Where Prayer Comes In.”

[1] Elmer Towns, How God Answers Prayer (2009), chapter 47.