|Favourite style of art: Dynamic realism|
Just a few notes on my choices here: The angel is present because he's mentioned by Daniel himself though I think it's unlikely he literally held the lions' mouths shut with both hands, especially since that would seem to require a plurality of angels. The idea of him keeping them at bay with a flaming sword comes from Numbers 22 and Genesis 3.Artistic depictions of this scene also frequently feature a cave full of unnaturally tame lions, so much so that Daniel can cozy up to them and even stroke their manes. While I’ll grant that’s a possibility I don’t think it’s a very strong one and is less visually interesting in any case.
As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”
What does this story mean for Christians today who are faced with prospect of either compromising their beliefs, or being faithful to Christ and suffering persecution as a consequence of it? Just “dare to be a Daniel” and God will deliver you from any kind of suffering and persecution that you might be threatened with? Of course not.
I don’t know if Daniel’s enemies hated him because he stood in the way of their ambitions or he could have exposed their own corruption or if it was an extension of their hatred for Daniel’s God. It actually doesn’t matter much because ultimately, Daniel’s real enemies weren’t the other high officials of Persia. Behind the scenes these high officials were being manipulated by higher forces who were utterly opposed to Daniel’s God and to his people. And these cosmic powers are still operating today.
These forces were trying to do what the evil one always tries to do, namely, to destroy every trace of the kingdom of God. We have to go back to Genesis 3:15 to see things for what they really are. In this incident, as in lots of other places in the OT, the destructive power of lions is really symbolic of the chaos and disjointedness and disharmony of the fallen world. This is why the NT describes the evil one as “a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” So when you read about these things that are a part of our fallen and broken world and then you read in Isaiah chapter 11 about the promised age to come when the lion will lie down with the lamb, it’s a preview of what God is ultimately going to accomplish. And in Daniel’s case, his deliverance is, in some sense, a foretaste of the promised, universal, restoration, where lions, whose very nature is to destroy and to consume, were held at bay, unable to destroy or to consume that morning.
So why was Daniel delivered when so many persecuted Christians are not? What was happening is that in a moment of crisis, in order to preserve his kingdom, God brings the power of the coming kingdom, the fulfilled kingdom into this situation of adversity. In other words we’re being given a picture here, in a small-scale microcosm, of a much larger reality. Even though he was a real person and this is not a parable, there’s a sense in which Daniel is presented here as a representative of God’s people as a whole. The lions and high officials represent the gathered forces of darkness who seek to destroy God’s people. They’re examples of the kind of actors who are engaged in this cosmic drama that’s going to continue to play out until the end of history.