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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 6




Chapter 6 Darius Begins to Establish Persia Rule; The Lion’s Den.

Darius now set about organising the affairs of Babylon. But his preference for Daniel, and his thought of making him second only to himself, aroused jealousy among his other appointees, who used his relative innocence to set a trap for Daniel.

Verse 1-2

The Setting Up of the Administration.

‘It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, who would be throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, that these satraps might give account to them, and that the king should have no damage (suffer no loss).’

Darius immediately set about establishing the administration of the conquered kingdom. He appointed one hundred and twenty ‘kingdom guardians’ over whom were three presidents. Babylonian ‘satraps’ have already been mentioned in Daniel 3:2-3. We must not read into the title the same position as that of the satraps of the later Persian kings who were given large satrapies to administer (much larger than anything that could possibly be in mind here). Indeed ‘Satraps’ are also mentioned in inscriptions who were nothing like either. Their purpose here was to pacify the territory, prevent any rebellion, and collect revenues, reporting back to the three presidents. The use here and in Daniel 3:2 may be simply an instance of using a title current to the writer under the Persian empire to translate a different title in Akkadian, or it may be that the old Persian title had been borrowed and had crept in to describe Babylonian administrators. Such borrowings between languages constantly took place then as they do today.

One of the presidents was Daniel. When Darius took over the throne Daniel was ‘third in the kingdom’ and a foreigner with no specific loyalty to Belshazzar, and yet known to the Chaldeans. And what was more he had proclaimed his downfall and a Persian victory. He was thus an ideal person to help to cement together the new Babylon.

Verse 3

‘Then this Daniel was distinguished above the presidents and the satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.’

Daniel proved exceptionally able. This was due to the Spirit of God at work through him (compare Daniel 5:11-12). He was so successful that the king considered the possibility of giving him sole charge under himself.

Verse 4-5

The Trap.

‘Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find some grounds of accusation against Daniel as touching the kingdom, but they could find no grounds of accusation or fault, because he was faithful, nor was any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, “We will not find any grounds of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with respect to the law of his God.” ’

There is no area where jealousy and envy are more apparent than in politics. While he was but one of them they were reasonably satisfied, but the thought that he should be over all of them was more than they could stand. So they set about looking for hidden skeletons, or signs of carelessness with regard to his fulfilment of his duties. But they could not find any. He was hard-working, efficient and honest, as the king had already noticed.

Thus they recognised that he had only one point where he could be attacked, and that was in his strange loyalty to the King of heaven as against all other gods. There was his weakness. So they set up a plan.

Verses 6-8

‘Then these presidents and satraps came thronging to the king and said to him, “King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the deputies and the satraps, the counsellors and the governors, have gathered together to establish a royal decree, and to make a strong interdict that whoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, except of you, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict, and sign the writing, that it be not changed according to the law of the Medes and the Persians which do not pass away.” ’

It is deliberately stressed that they all put pressure on the king together, and that they gave the impression that this was a show of unity and the desire of all. This alone could have made the king do such a foolish thing. (This alone makes it apparent that this Darius was not Cyrus, nor Darius II).

We must recognise that Darius was probably a general promoted to kingship, that he was relatively inexperienced in kingship, and that he would want to please those whom he had appointed. It was suggested to him that it was a popular request, and it was very flattering. And it suggested that he was becoming popular himself. He possibly did not take the consequences of it too seriously, for what would it mean? Simply that for thirty days public religious affairs and requests in Babylon should be conducted through him. (Who would know what men did in private?) He did not suspect a thing. After all that was almost what happened at the akitu festival. There the king represented the whole people and was their figurehead. And it was after all being suggested by his own appointees as a whole. He could probably see no reason why all should not agree with it.

‘Or man.’ That is, using a priest or other religious figure. Thus it would prevent the priests being seen as too powerful.

The success of the scheme depended on persuading the king that it was not too unreasonable, and in obtaining the decree in writing so that it could not be changed according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, and in making it ambiguous enough so that it could catch Daniel within its wording. It is not the first time that a foolish monarch has been persuaded by flattery and deceit to do something unwise, but he had no suspicions that it was a trap for anyone, and if the people wished to make him a kind of mediator with the gods, why should they not? He probably saw it as a positive move rather than a negative one. There was a tendency among the Persians to deify their monarchs. It would give him higher status.

‘The law of the Medes and the Persians which do not pass away.” ’ They are saying that once made such a law stood firm. It should not be changed. Compare Esther 1:19; Esther 8:8. It is said of Darius III that having made a decision for someone’s execution, which he afterwards regretted, ‘he immediately repented and blamed himself as having greatly erred. But it was not possible to undo what was done by royal authority’.

Verse 9

‘For this reason king Darius signed the writing and the interdict.’

He yielded to pressure from his advisers and signed the short term decree, prepared by others, probably without reading it too carefully Perhaps this was why his rule did not last very long. He was seen as too pliable, and too easily deceived, and too willing to sign decrees for personal reasons. The decree would then be proclaimed before the people.

Verse 10

The Trap Is Sprung.

‘And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went to his house. Now his windows were open in his chamber towards Jerusalem. And he knelt on his knees three times a day and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done before.’

It is possible that neither the king nor Daniel saw the decree as preventing private devotions, for all Daniel had to do was to avoid his window and then no one would have known what he was doing. He knew that the decree had been signed, and possibly that it was ambiguous, but saw no reason in it why he should alter his religious habits of worship. Otherwise why should he not have approached the king about it?

Alternately it may be that he did it boldly, although not ostentatiously, in order to encourage his fellow Israelites in Babylon not to change their practises. Sometimes prominent leaders have to be bold in order to encourage the flock. All eyes are on their example. If so it was the result of a steady faith, not a seeking for martyrdom.

He prayed ‘towards Jerusalem’. Compare 2 Chronicles 6:21; 2 Chronicles 6:37-39; Psalms 5:7. For three times a day compare Psalms 55:17, although it was not a requirement. The fact that he knelt suggests the urgency of his prayers for Jerusalem (compare Daniel 9:3). Normally the Jews stood when they prayed (see 1 Chronicles 23:30; Nehemiah 9; Matthew 6:5; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11; Luke 18:13), but they knelt (and prostrated themselves) when they felt a more urgent need (compare 1 Kings 8:54; Ezra 9:5; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5). But he also gave thanks. This was general worship, not a deliberate provocation. It is a good practise to have set times for prayer. Then it ensures that it does not get crowded out of a busy life.

The fact that his windows were ‘open’ suggests non-latticed. It may thus have been a window in the roof chamber whose purpose was to take advantage of any cooling breeze.

Verse 11

‘Then these men thronged together and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God.’

No doubt they first sent spies to check on the facts, (they knew that he continued to pray regularly), and when they were sure, all went together to observe his behaviour.

Verse 12

‘The king replied and said, “The thing is true according to the law of the Medes and Persians which does not pass away.” ’

The king confirmed his decree possibly secretly pleased that they showed such concern about it. It was decreed and binding and permanent for the thirty days.

Verse 13-14

‘Then they answered and said before the king, “That Daniel who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, does not regard you, O king, nor the interdict that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.” Then the king, when he heard these words, was extremely displeased, and set his heart on delivering Daniel, and he worked hard at rescuing him until the going down of the sun.’

Note their methods. They drew attention to the fact that he was a foreigner, that he was deliberately and provocatively taking no notice of the king, and that he was presumptuously breaking the decree, and doing it regularly.

But the king was not deceived. He now realised what these men had been doing, and that they were succeeding through his own folly. He was angry with himself and angry with them. He had not really been bothered about being the only mediator. As far as he was concerned it had just been a formality, a gesture. So he set about seeing what he could do to remedy the situation.

He probably consulted with lawyers to examine the wording carefully to discover if there was any way by which he could remedy the situation. They no doubt studied the decree diligently. But it had been worded to meet up with such an eventuality. After struggling for the remainder of the day they could find no way round it. It may well be that it was meanwhile the lawyers who were able to tell him something of Daniel’s past history and suggest that perhaps his God could look after him.

Verse 15

‘Then these men thronged to the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and the Persians, that no interdict or decree that the king establishes may be changed.” ’

The men were relentless in their pursuit of Daniel. They knew that they had got their way. They stressed to the king the unchangeableness of the law. In a way it was a good law. It prevented the law being changed suddenly to suit someone’s convenience. The same applies in many civilised societies today, in that the law cannot be changed retrospectively, although modern law courts are not quite so relentless. He had no choice. He must carry out the decree.

The choice lay before him, seal Daniel’s fate or be reported to Cyrus about his failure to fulfil his own decree. The consequences of that would not be pleasant for him, and it was very likely that the overlord would enforce the decree anyway to maintain the sanctity of the law. So he gave way, partly no doubt because he did recognise the binding nature of the decree. He had been caught out, but he was not at all pleased.

Verse 16

‘Then the king commanded and they brought Daniel and threw him into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “Your God Whom you serve continually, he will deliver you.” ’

No time is wasted on the details. Daniel would be brought in before the king to answer the charge. He would stand their boldly and declare that His God could deliver him, just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had done so long before (Daniel 3:17-18). And the king would remember strange things he had been told about this man and his God, and he would begin to hope. Perhaps it was true. Perhaps his God could help this man. Then with grief he passed the sentence and Daniel was taken out and thrown in the lions’ den. And we can be sure that they were hungry lions, kept hungry for such a purpose. It is significant that whereas Nebuchadnezzar had used fire, Darius did not do so. To the Persians fire was sacred. Instead they tossed men to the wild beasts.

We know nothing about these lions’ dens. It had a hole in the top through which food could be dropped and through which people could see the lions. It had a door in the side which had to be sealed with a stone, for the den would sometimes have to be cleaned out, and further lions would be introduced through it. And it was through one of these that Daniel was tossed into the cave. But not before the king had declared his weak but growing faith. “Your God Whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” It was only a hope, but there was no one who deserved it more than Daniel.

Verse 17

‘And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den. And the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed in respect of Daniel.’

These formalities would follow a normal, laid down, solemn procedure. The stone would be set against the entrance and sealed, although it would normally be free for opening if necessary by the keepers. Then the sealing around the stone, possibly of clay, was sealed with the king’s seal and that of his highest officials. It was thus made safe. No one could tamper with it without it being discovered. No one could alter what had been done. This was a strong warning that a condemned criminal was inside and that no one must open the cave without permission from the highest authorities. There is possibly a hint here that normally Daniel’s seal would have been one of them. But the great lord was now a common criminal because of his trust in God.

Verse 18

‘Then the king went to his palace and passed the night without food. Nor were diversions brought before him. And his sleep fled from him.’

It is to the kings credit that he was genuinely greatly distressed. He could not eat and he waved away the diversions with which his servants sought to distract him. He wanted no entertainment. He was torn apart by what had happened. His feelings must have been very mixed up. He knew that he had been hoodwinked, and was perhaps already planning the fate of the men who had done it. He knew that he had been foolish and had behaved as no king should behave. He knew that he had had to pass a death sentence that should never have been passed. And he knew that he had brought about the death of an old man who did not deserve it, a good man, a man whom he had trusted. No wonder he could not eat or sleep.

Verse 19

‘Then the king rose very early in the morning, and went hurriedly to the den of lions, and when he came near to the den, to Daniel, he cried with a griefstricken voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God whom you continually serve, able to deliver you from the lions?”.

It is made clear here that the king was genuinely concerned for Daniel. In many ways a king’s life is a lonely life. He can trust few. He has close relations with few. So that when he finds someone whom he likes and trusts a strong bond can be built up. And that would seem to be the case here.

It would seem that the sentence required that the condemned man spent the night in the den of lions. The lions would have been kept hungry, and usually no more than a night was required. So at the very first moment that he reasonably could, probably as dawn was beginning to break, he went himself as fast as he could to the lion’s den. There was still hope in his heart that a miracle might have happened. And as he drew near and spotted the hole that looked down on the cave he could not restrain himself, and in a griefstricken voice cried out. Daniel had told him that he served the living God, not a god of gold or silver or stone. Well, was it true?

So as he scrambled towards the hole that would tell him the worst, he cried out, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has He done it? You have served Him faithfully. Has he delivered you?’ Both doubt and fear and hope were all being expressed. He was beside himself. And then came the sound that he had not dared to hope for.

Verse 21-22

‘Then Daniel said to the king, “O king live for ever. My God has sent his messenger and has shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not hurt me, because before him I was found innocent, and also before you, O king, I have done nothing that could hurt you.” ’

So well trained was Daniel in court procedure that the greeting to the king fell from his lips automatically. But then came the reproof. Daniel had been grieved and hurt. His God had sent a messenger, an angel (compare Psalms 34:7; Psalms 91:11-13), who had closed the mouths of the lions, for He had found Daniel innocent, as the king should have as well. He felt that his loyalty had been betrayed by the earthly king as it had been upheld by the heavenly One, and he made it known. He had been deeply hurt.

Verse 23

‘Then was the king glad beyond measure, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found on him because he had trusted in his God.’

The king virtually ignored Daniel’s words because he was so glad. And he commanded that Daniel immediately be taken from the den. This would be done by men who were on guard at the den in shifts, night and day. And no hurt was found on him. It should be pointed out that to examine for this last would be the automatic reaction of anyone observing someone who had come out of a potentially dangerous situation. It is not a question of miracle but of human nature. (Our newspapers would say, ‘and there was not a mark on him’). But it did of course enhance the miracle as well. And the lesson is pointed out. It was because he had trusted in his God. But that was exactly what the king was thinking.

Verse 24

‘And the king commanded and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they threw them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives. And the lions had the mastery of them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever reached the bottom of the den.’

The accusers would be the spokesmen, the ones who had thrust themselves on the king’s attention and had been most adamant that Daniel should die. They were brought, possibly one by one, with their families as soon as they could be found. The first thing that they knew about it was the hammering on the door in early morning, and then the arrest, along with their wives and children, and then they were dragged out screaming and thrown into the den of lions through the hole above the den. And the result was awful and revealed that these were no cosseted lions. For as soon as the bodies reached the lions they were on them, tearing away at them even before they reached the floor of the den, and they were torn to pieces and their bones laid bare. We must allow for a little exaggeration which was to demonstrate the voraciousness of the lions.

It was a normal part of Persian justice, as with most ‘justice’ in those days, that wives and children be included in the punishment. The thought was probably that the evil root be removed. But it was terrible nonetheless.

Another lesson that was no doubt intended to be brought out was that what they had sown they had reaped. What was done to them was what they had wished on Daniel. The king had spent a sleepless night, and he had no doubt planned his vengeance already, but we see here the oriental despot, freed from the restraint of a decree, and carrying out his sentence in his own way. He was re-exerting his authority in the only way he knew how.

This was probably not written exultantly. It was more the deliberate and important contrast between deliverance and judgment that mattered. To those who are His, and faithful to Him, deliverance. To those who set themselves against Him, judgment.

Verse 25

The King’s Second Decree.

‘Then the king wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages who dwell in the land. “Peace be multiplied to you.” ’

This is a deliberate imitation of Daniel 4:1. The same word means both ‘earth’ and ‘land’. But the king wrote to a far lesser audience than Nebuchadnezzar. However, the vanity of kings is such that they do see their kingdoms as constituting their ‘whole world’, and this was the recognised greeting of Babylonian kings. Indeed ‘to all the peoples, nations and languages who dwell in the land’ (Cyrus in contrast was known as ‘king of the lands’) was probably the heading of the tablet, followed by the recognised, ‘peace be multiplied to you’. Daniel probably had a hand in this decree as his enemies had had their hand in the previous decree.

Verse 26-27

‘I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even to the end. He delivers and rescues and he works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.’

Darius calls on all his peoples to honour the living God of Daniel. Note the contrast between the temporary dominion and kingdom of Darius, and the dominion which ‘will be even to the end’, and the kingdom which ‘will not be destroyed’ of the living God. He delivers and rescues His people, performs signs and wonders on their behalf, delivers them from the fire and has delivered Daniel from the wild beasts. This is all leading into chapter 7, and is essential to it. There we will learn of the wild beast empires from which Israel will be delivered, closing the mouths of the wild beasts. It was necessary that, before that, Israel should know that the living God is steadfast, and that He delivers and rescues His people and does signs and wonders on their behalf. Without the first part of the book the last part would be terrifying.

This decree witnesses to the hand of Daniel. There is an echo here of the words of Daniel in Daniel 2:44; compare Daniel 4:34. ‘He will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed -- and it will stand for ever’, and of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:28; ‘he delivered His servants who trusted in Him’, and Daniel 4:2; ‘the signs and wonders that the Most High God has wrought towards me’. It is also a brief testimony to what the book of Daniel is all about. Chapter 7 will outline it in more detail. This constant repetition of ideas and phrases is evidence of the unity of the book.

Verse 28

‘So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.’

Here the writer first refers to the king under whom Daniel prospered, and then to his overlord, Cyrus the Persian. This dating in the name of two contemporary kings is well testified to in inscriptions and records around that time. (Whether they are contemporary or successive kings cannot be determined from the text, which is neutral in this regard, and it would be dishonest to suggest otherwise on either side).


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 6:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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