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Daniel in the Lions’ Den (6:1-28)
Daniel’s Position in the Land (6:1-3)
Darius the Mede was ruler in a kingdom with 120 satraps governing over their allotted satrapies. The system of satrapies was set up by Darius I (522-486 B.C.), who was a Persian and not a Mede, and he set up 20, not 120. Later, in Darius’ own records, 21, 23, and 29 satraps are mentioned. Over the 120 satraps specified in the Book of Daniel three presidents were assigned, and one of these was Daniel. The point of all this historical orientation is that Daniel, the Jew, held a very high position in the kingdom of Darius the Mede. Daniel was the king’s administrative officer, whose task was to watch over one-third of the kingdom’s interests so that there should be no misappropriation of the king’s property. Daniel, like Joseph in the Genesis account, made such a good record that a promotion was in process; he was about to be elevated to the position of steward of the entire kingdom. Daniel, who had been made chief of the wise men under Nebuchadnezzar and the third ruler of the kingdom in Belshazzar’s reign, was now on the verge of becoming royal prime minister for the whole kingdom.
Emperor Worship and Its Consequences (6:4-24)
The central section of this chapter is built on the same framework as chapter 3, with similar motifs, except that there the lives of three men were put in jeopardy because of their loyal love for the Lord. In the earlier chapter, worship of a great image was commanded; here worship of any other god except the king was forbidden. Except for these differences the two stories follow the same general pattern.
Enemies of Daniel, fearful of his power and jealous of his position, could find no fault in his conduct or his royal service. But then they remembered his loyalty to the Law of God, and said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God." "Law" as used here would include the whole Covenant tradition, together with devotional habits such as the prescription for daily prayer.
Going to the king, these officials, who were apparently afraid that Daniel’s elevation would mean their elimination, suggested to the king that he should establish a decree for the whole kingdom: ". . . that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions." This kind of law honoring the king was a normal means of establishing unqualified allegiance to the king; that is to say, it was an ancient form of the loyalty oath.
These clever enemies asked that this proclamation be given the status of a law of the Medes and Persians, which could neither be changed nor compromised. To this the king, thankful for his loyal officers, agreed at once. The document was signed and the trap for Daniel was set.
The story makes it clear that Daniel did not pray in ignorance of the law; he prayed in defiance of the king’s demand. This exiled Jew continued the regular pattern for prayer, facing Jerusalem and making prayer morning, noon, and night. The point of the story is simple: no human command may ever be allowed to cancel the command of God. When the State demands for itself that allegiance which belongs only to God, the State then stands under divine judgment.
The plotters reappeared before the king and asked him to confirm his earlier edict concerning worship. This he did without hesitation, repeating the absolute nature of the order. Once the king had thus confirmed the unalterable law, the plotters reported that Daniel had not done according to the king’s will.
The king realized too late that he had been maneuvered into a cul-de-sac, from which he manfully tried to extricate himself in order to save his servant Daniel. The great king, however, was pointedly reminded that the law was unchangeable and must be carried out. Thus the drama is brought to its tensest moment.
Daniel was forthwith cast into a den of lions. In the span of a few short verses his lot has been changed from that of a man expecting a high position to that of a prisoner facing execution. Yet God, who made it possible for Daniel to rise to power, would also protect him from death because he had been loyal in prayer even under threat of death. For those living under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, where every evidence of piety or faith (for example, circumcision, the Law, sacrifice, prayer) was punishable by death, this story would be a powerful encouragement. Israel’s greatness, like Daniel’s, was a gift from God, not an attainment by man; hence Israel must at this moment remember that her redemption was dependent upon the same Deity.
This king, unlike the characters in earlier stories, was most regretful about the necessity which law had laid upon him, so he appealed to the authority which stood behind and beyond the law (vs. 16). He then spent the sleepless night fasting.
With the dawn it was discovered that Daniel had been delivered from the lions because he had been "found blameless" before God and the king. Righteousness was his sure defense and purity his armor. Obviously the King of kings had overruled the order of the earthly ruler, who was now free to set the prisoner at liberty. Man had carried out the sentence of human law, but God had thwarted its fulfillment. That a heathen king should refer to the Lord as the living God and could understand Daniel’s loyalty gives us pause until we realize that the primary concern of the author was not historical fact but theological fact — the faith factor. Only the living God could redeem from such distress. This he would surely do for those who served him continually and were without fault. Later man was to learn in Jesus Christ that there are no perfect Daniels; rather, God the Father redeems those who are fault-ridden but who have been possessed by a great faith.
In order to make apparent the full lesson that righteousness prospers and wickedness must perish, the author recorded the horrible end of those who misled the king. Like Haman in the Book of Esther, they became victims of their own plot. It is true historically that any king of that ancient day who had been duped by his advisers would summarily have disposed of them and their families. This touch removes any doubt about the miraculous deliverance of Daniel because the lions, who did not touch him, immediately consumed the wicked.
Darius wrote a decree, in the form of a confession of faith in Daniel’s God, that all citizens "tremble and fear before the God of Daniel" (vss. 26-27). It should be obvious that the whole story is a vehicle for the expression of faith and that this beautiful confession was put into the mouth of the king so that contemporary readers might know what kind of God it was whom they served. Were we to take Daniel literally, we should find it necessary to assume that the Chaldean Empire and the Median Empire were converted to Judaism. There is no evidence that this happened. But that God the Most High sets up and brings down the great empires of this world is impressively confirmed by history.
The last sentence of the chapter extends Daniel’s life span into the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Thus his experience, having begun under Nebuchadnezzar, spans the reigns of Nabonidus, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede (?), and Cyrus the Great. To say the least, this constituted a long and illustrious life. Moreover, one who served in three of the four great kingdoms could well stand not only as example to Israel but also as proclaimer of Israel’s true future.
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"Commentary on Daniel 6". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany