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The Peril of Performing at Prayer

In an earlier post I spoke of the danger of insincere and ostentatious praying, that is to say, performing at prayer for the praise of men. Some have mistakenly concluded that Daniel was guilty of precisely this sin.

The story is familiar to all of us. Motivated by jealousy and resentment of Daniel, several commissioners and satraps of King Darius hatched an insidious plot that would land Daniel in jail, if not kill him. Knowing that Daniel was a man of habitual prayer, they convinced Darius that he “should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days,” except to Darius, of course, “shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7).

The story continues:

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God” (Daniel 6:10-11).

Daniel’s enemies reported this to Darius and were eventually successful in having him thrown into the lions’ den, the outcome of which we all know.

How should we evaluate Daniel’s response to the decree that he not pray for thirty days? Was he deliberately seeking martyrdom? Was he guilty of tempting God when he violated the king’s decree, or was he simply lacking in common sense and wisdom?

Some would actually charge him with being unnecessarily ostentatious. After all, could he not have pursued another course of action? Why not simply cease praying for the period of the decree? Even though that was not an ideal path to follow, what was one month without prayer when compared to a lifetime to serve God?

Or why did he not pray silently so that those who plotted against him would not hear his violation of the decree? Or if not silently, why didn’t he pray secretly? It would have been easy enough for him to have prayed, lying in bed at night, or in a closet, rather than on his knees before an open window.

So at first glance it may seem as if Daniel was guilty of performing at prayer. But a careful look shows that it was precisely because of his sincere and righteous zeal for God that he persisted in his practice. In the first place, Daniel’s habit of praying three times daily before an open window facing Jerusalem was an accepted practice in Old Testament times (1 Kings 8:33, 35, 38, 41-45, 48; 2 Chron. 6:34; Ps. 5:7; 28:2) as was his posture of kneeling (1 Kings 8:54; Ps. 95:6). No one should question Daniel’s motives or sincerity simply because he adhered to an ancient and pervasive custom.

Furthermore, as Leon Wood explains,

“if he should pray elsewhere, those knowing him and his habits, including especially his hostile colleagues, would think that he had ceased, and this would spoil his testimony before them. He had been an open witness before, both in word and life practice; he must continue now lest all that he had done before to influence others to faith in the true God should be for naught. [Recall the words, “as he had done previously”.] The existence of a continued testimony was more important than the existence of his life” (Commentary on Daniel, 163).

Far from being a religious show-off, Daniel was both sincere and righteous in his defiance of the king’s decree. His conscience was bound to the decree of the King of kings. Thus, he prayed on.

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