Happy St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre Day Everybody


Is this not brilliant?  It is Daniel in the Lion’s Den, painted in 1872 by British artist, Briton Riviere.  Not the most British name is it?  Riviere was descended from the French Huguenots, the Protestants slaughtered by the French regime, a massacre that started on this very evening, 23rd August, way back in 1572 and which peaked over the following weeks.

It’s become known as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the spark that set it ablaze was fierce political rivalry in the French court, stirred up by Catherine de Medicis, who loathed the Huguenot influence over her son.

The sheer, but impotent, rage on the faces of the lions in the face of the humble servant Daniel, thrown to his death for showing nothing but an allegiance to his God above all else, mirrors the terrible rage of the French court during that bloody time doesn’t it?

St Bartholomew had another name of course, Nathaniel, the Israelite and disciples of Jesus in whom Jesus memorably states “there is no guile” (John1:47).

His guilelessness did not stop him being martyred however.  History reports that Bartholomew/Nathaniel had the skin stripped from his body, much as a lion might do to a human.

That lack of guile links Daniel with Bartholomew, and of course links both men with the true Israelite who trusted God above all else in the face of his jealous enemies – the Lord Jesus.

Daniel was hated by his enemies not for his royal court guile, but for his guilelessness and his excellent spirit before King Darius, who sought to promote him because of it.

Any charge against Daniel would have to be conjured up.  And it was clear to his enemies that nothing would stick unless it was to do with the worship of his God.

So too with the Lord Jesus.  Pilate knew it was for jealousy that the religious leaders of the Jews had handed him over.  Not that his more excellent spirit would save him from the jaws of the lion on the cross.  Just like Daniel he had to go.

But just like Daniel – only in an even more spectacular way -, God brought Jesus up of that stone-covered mausoleum, not simply to be showered with honour and glory by a relieved King Darius, but to be given the glorious rule of the universe by His Father.

So here we are in our own time of exile.  The culture rages against the people of God as it has always done.  And it’s tempting to respond in any way except in the one way Daniel did.

When the jealous officials tricked Darius into signing a decree that only the king should be petitioned for a period of thirty days, we are told that:

10 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.

Notice that last clause: “as he had done previously”.  The culture has turned hard against him.  The lions are looming.  But he does not panic.  He does not start to pray like he’s never prayed before.  He does not give up on thankfulness and descend into grumbling about how the culture has turned against him, and used fair means or foul to sideline him. He does what he had always done in his time of exile: puts his hope in the covenant God of Israel.

He turned his face towards the place of his future hope – the new Jerusalem that would be coming – and thanked God.  This was no moan about how good the old Jerusalem was, and how it would be good to get back to those days.  No! It was a prayer of certain hope that God would bring in a new Jerusalem even if he never lived to see it.

Christian, even the new Jerusalem ushered in by God after the return from exile was merely a shadow of the true new Jerusalem that is coming down from heaven, and from whence is our hope. And we may not live to see it.  We may live during an increasing time of cultural hatred towards the gospel that is both licensed and litigious.

Yet in the midst of all of that we don’t need to moan and complain about how the culture has turned against us and how the old Jerusalem worked so well.   We can get on with a guileless, excellent-spirited servant-hearted life in our exile, even if the culture conspires all sorts of ways to make us look like the baddies.

Even if the only charge that can be levelled against us concerns our relationship with our God.

Especially if the only charge that can levelled against us concerns our relationship with our God.

The lions may roar, the culture may desire to pick over our bones and mock our eclipse. But we will open the windows of our hearts towards the new Jerusalem and give our God the praise and honour due to His name.


  1. Stephen,

    Bear with me with a bit of a challenge to your thesis. The picture you draw of Daniel as one going along easily with a cultural shift that disfavors the people of God, so that he blithely lets go the past and orients himself entirely to the future seems jarringly at odds with the theological perspective one finds in the Psalms (many of which were quite contemporaneous with Daniel). Just word-search “Jerusalem” in Psalms, or scan a few (including those imprecatory) for attitudes toward pagan hegemony, to get the drift of what I mean.

    I believe this exilic text offers little support for the notion that we should casually let go the historic gains of Christian influence on our culture while we in historic present step uninvolved to the sidelines.

    Also and as an aside, to ascribe the barbarity demonstrated by humans to something that a lion might do is a terrible slight to the lion! Even if unintentioned, their savagery seems much more humane!

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