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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Daniel 6

 

 

Verses 10-28

STOPPING THE MOUTHS OF LIONS

ON the view which regards these pictures as powerful parables, rich in spiritual instructiveness, but not primarily concerned with historic accuracy, nor even necessarily with ancient tradition, we have seen how easily "the great strong fresco-strokes" which the narrator loves to use "may have been suggested to him by his diligent study of the Scriptures."

The first chapter is a beautiful picture which serves to set forth the glory of moderation and to furnish a vivid concrete illustration of such passages as those of Jeremiah: "Her Nazarites were purer than snow; they were whiter than milk; they were more ruddy in body than rubies; their polishing was of sapphire." [Lamentations 4:7]

The second chapter, closely reflecting in many of its details the story of Joseph, illustrated how God "frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; confirmeth the word of His servant, and performeth the counsel of His messengers." [Isaiah 44:25-26]

The third chapter gives vividness to the promise, "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." [Isaiah 43:2]

The fourth chapter repeats the apologue of Ezekiel, in which he compares the King of Assyria to a cedar in Lebanon with fine branches, and with a shadowy shroud, and fair by the multitude of his branches, so that all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God envied him, but whose boughs were "broken by all the watercourses until the peoples of the earth left his shadow." [Ezekiel 31:2-15] It was also meant to show that "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." [Proverbs 16:18] It illustrates the words of Isaiah: "Behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled." [Isaiah 10:33]

The fifth chapter gives a vivid answer to Isaiah’s challenge: "Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up and save thee from these things which shall come upon thee." [Isaiah 47:13] It describes a fulfilment of his vision: "A grievous vision is declared unto thee; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media." [Isaiah 21:2] The more detailed prophecy of Jeremiah had said: "Prepare against Babylon the nations with the kings of the Medes. The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight One post shall run to meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to show the King of Babylon that his city is taken at one end…In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they shall rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the Lord How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men; her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men; and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts" [Jeremiah 51:28-57]

The sixth chapter puts into concrete form such passages of the Psalmist as: "My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword"; [Psalms 57:4] and-"Break the jaw-bones of the lions, O Lord"; and-"They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me" [Lamentations 3:53] -and more generally such promises as those in Isaiah. "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord." [Isaiah 57:17]

This genesis of Haggadoth is remarkably illustrated by the apocryphal additions to Daniel. Thus the History of Susanna was very probably suggested by Jeremiah’s allusion [Jeremiah 29:22] to the two false prophets Ahab and Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadrezzar burnt. Similarly the story of Bel and the Dragon is a fiction which expounds Jeremiah 51:44 : "And I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up."

Hitherto the career of Daniel had been personally prosperous. We have seen him in perpetual honour and exaltation, and he had not even incurred-though he may now have been ninety years old-such early trials and privations in a heathen land as had fallen to the lot of Joseph, his youthful prototype. His three companions had been potential martyrs; he had not even been a confessor. Terrible as was the doom which he had twice been called upon to pronounce upon Nebuchadrezzar and upon his kingdom, the stern messages of prophecy, so far from involving him in ruin, had only helped to uplift him to the supremest honours. Not even the sternness of his bearing, and the terrible severity of his interpretations of the flaming message to Belshazzar, had prevented him from being proclaimed triumvir, and clothed in scarlet, and decorated with a chain of gold, on the last night of the Babylonian Empire. And now a new king of a new dynasty is represented as seated on the throne; and it might well have seemed that Daniel was destined to close his days, not only in peace, but in consummate outward felicity.

Darius the Mede began his reign by appointing one hundred and twenty princes over the whole kingdom; and over these he placed three presidents. Daniel is one of these "eyes" of the king. "Because an excellent spirit was in him," he acquired preponderant influence among the presidents; and the king, considering that Daniel’s integrity would secure him from damage in the royal accounts, designed to set him over the whole realm.

But assuming that the writer is dealing, not with the real, but with the ideal, something would be lacking to Daniel’s eminent saintliness, if he were not set forth as no less capable of martyrdom on behalf of his convictions than his three companions had been. From the fiery, trial in which their faithfulness had been proved like gold in the furnace, he had been exempt. His life thus far had been a course of unbroken prosperity. But the career of a pre-eminent prophet and saint hardly seems to have won its final crown, unless he also be called upon to mount his Calvary, and to share with all prophets and all saints the persecutions which are the invariable concomitants of the hundredfold reward. [Matthew 19:29] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been tested in early youth: the trial of Daniel is reserved for his extreme old age. It is not, it could not be, a severer trial than that which his friends braved, nor could his deliverance be represented as more supernatural or more complete, unless it were that they endured only for a few moments the semblable violence of the fire, while he was shut up for all the long hours of night alone in the savage lions’ den. There are, nevertheless, two respects in which this chapter serves as a climax to those which preceded it. On the one hand, the virtue of Daniel is of a marked character in that it is positive, and not negative-in that it consists, not in rejecting an overt sin of idolatry, but in continuing the private duty of prayer; on the other, the decree of Darius surpasses even those of Nebuchadrezzar in the intensity of its acknowledgment of the supremacy of Israel’s God.

Daniel’s age-for by this time he must have passed the allotted limit of man’s threescore years and ten-might have exempted him from envy, even if, as the LXX adds, "he was clad in purple." But jealous that a captive Jew should be exalted above all the native satraps and potentates by the king’s favour, his colleagues the presidents (whom the LXX calls "two young men") and the princes "rushed" before the king with a request which they thought would enable them to overthrow Daniel by subtlety. Faithfulness is required in stewards; [1 Corinthians 4:2] and they knew that his faithfulness and wisdom were such that they would be unable to undermine him in any ordinary way. There was but one point at which they considered him to be vulnerable, and that was in any matter which affected his allegiance to an alien worship. But it was difficult to invent an incident which would give them the sought-for opportunity. All polytheisms are as tolerant as their priests will let them be. The worship of the Jews in the Exile was of a necessarily private nature. They had no Temple, and such religious gatherings as they held were in no sense unlawful. The problem of the writer was to manage his Haggada in such a way as to make private prayer an act of treason; and the difficulty is met-not, indeed, without violent improbability, for which, however, Jewish haggadists cared little, but with as much skill as the circumstances permitted.

The phrase that they "made a tumult" or "rushed" before the king, which recurs in Daniel 6:11; Daniel 6:18, is singular, and looks as if it were intentionally grotesque by way of satire. The etiquette of Oriental courts is always most elaborately stately, and requires solemn obeisance. This is why Æschylus makes Agamemnon say, in answer to the too-obsequious fulsomeness of his false wife, -

"Besides, prithee, use not too fond a care To me, as to some virgin whom thou strivest To deck with ornaments, whose softness looks Softer, hung round the softness of her youth; Ope not the mouth to me, nor cry amain As at the footstool of a man of the East Prone on the ground: so stoop not thou to me!"

That these "presidents and satraps," instead of trying to win the king by such flatteries and "gaping upon him an earth-grovelling howl," should on each occasion have "rushed" into his presence, must be regarded either as a touch of intentional sarcasm, or, at any rate, as being more in accord with the rude familiarities of license permitted to the courtiers of the half-mad Antiochus, than with the prostrations and solemn approaches which since the days of Deioces would alone have been permitted by any conceivable "Darius the Mede."

However, after this tumultuous intrusion into the king’s presence, "all the presidents, governors, chief chamberlains," present to him the monstrous but unanimous request that he would, by an irrevocable interdict, forbid that any man should, for thirty days, ask any petition of any god or man, on peril of being cast into the den of lions.

Professor Fuller, in the Speaker’s Commentary, considers that "this chapter gives a valuable as well as an interesting insight into Median customs," because the king is represented as living a secluded life, and keeps lions, and is practically deified! The importance of the remark is far from obvious. The chapter presents no particular picture of a secluded life. On the contrary, the king moves about freely, and his courtiers seem to have free access to him whenever they choose. As for the semi-deification of kings, it was universal throughout the East, and even Antiochus II had openly taken the surname of Theos, the "god." Again, every Jew throughout the world must have been very well aware, since the days of the Exile, that Assyrian and other monarchs kept dens of lions, and occasionally flung their enemies to them. But so far as the decree of Darius is concerned, it may well be said that throughout all history no single parallel to it can be quoted. Kings have very often been deified in absolutism; but not even a mad Antiochus, a mad Caligula, a mad Elagabalus, or a mad Commodus ever dreamt of passing an interdict that no one was to prefer any petition either to God or man for thirty days, except to himself! A decree so preposterous, which might be violated by millions many times a day without the king being cognisant of it, would be a proof of positive imbecility in any king who should dream of making it. Strange, too-though a matter of indifference to the writer, because it did not affect his moral lesson-that Darius should not have noticed the absence of his chief official, and the one man in whom he placed the fullest and deepest confidence.

The king, without giving another thought to the matter, at once signs the irrevocable decree.

It naturally does not make the least difference to the practices or the purposes of Daniel. His duty towards God transcends his duty to man. He has been accustomed, thrice a day, to kneel and pray to God, with the window of his upper chamber open, looking towards the Kibleh of Jerusalem; and the king’s decree makes no change in his manner of daily worship.

Then the princes "rushed" thither again, and found Daniel praying and asking petitions before his God.

Instantly they go before the king, and denounce Daniel for his triple daily defiance of the sacrosanct decree, showing that "he regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed."

Their denunciations produced an effect very different from what they had intended. They had hoped to raise the king’s wrath and jealousy against Daniel, as one who lightly esteemed his divine autocracy. But so far from having any such ignoble feeling, the king only sees that he has been an utter fool, the dupe of the worthlessness of his designing courtiers. All his anger was against himself for his own folly; his sole desire was to save the man whom for his integrity and ability he valued more than the whole crew of base plotters who had entrapped him against his will into a stupid act of injustice. All day, till sunset, he laboured hard to deliver Daniel. The whole band of satraps and chamberlains feel that this will not do at all; so they again "rush" to the king to remind him of the Median and Persian law that no decree which the king has passed can be altered. To alter it would be a confession of fallibility, and therefore an abnegation of godhead! Yet the strenuous action which he afterwards adopted shows that he might, even then, have acted on the principle which the mages laid down to Cambyses, son of Cyrus, that "the king can do no wrong." There seems to be no reason why he should not have told these "tumultuous" princes that if they interfered with Daniel they should he flung into the lions’ den. This would probably have altered their opinion as to pressing the royal infallibility of irreversible decrees.

But as this resource did not suggest itself to Darius, nothing could be done except to cast Daniel into the den or "pit" of lions; but in sentencing him the king offers the prayer, "May the God whom thou servest continually deliver thee!" Then a stone is laid over the mouth of the pit, and, for the sake of double security, that even the king may not have the power of tampering with it, it is sealed, not only with his own seal, but also with that of his lords.

From the lion-pit the king went back to his palace, but only to spend a miserable night. He could take no food. No dancing-women were summoned to his harem; no sleep visited his eyelids. At the first glimpse of morning he rose, and went with haste to the den-taking the satraps with him, adds the LXX-and cried with a sorrowful voice, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, hath thy God whom thou servest continually been able to deliver thee from the lions?"

And the voice of the prophet answered, "O king, live forever! My God sent His angel, and shut the mouths of the lions, that they should not destroy me; forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I committed no offence."

Thereupon the happy king ordered that Daniel should be taken up out of the lion-pit; and he was found to be unhurt, because he believed in his God.

We would have gladly spared the touch of savagery with which the story ends. The deliverance of Daniel made no difference in the guilt of his accusers. What they had charged him with was a fact, and was a transgression of the ridiculous decree which they had caused the king to pass. But his deliverance was regarded as a Divine judgment upon them-as proof that vengeance should fall on them. Accordingly, not they only, but, with the brutal solidarity of revenge and punishment which, in savage and semi-civilised races, confounds the innocent with the guilty, their wives and even their children were also cast into the den of lions, and they did not reach the bottom of the pit before "the lions got hold of them and crushed all their bones." They are devoured, or caught, by the hungry lions in mid-air.

"Then King Darius wrote to all the nations, communities, and tongues who dwell in the whole world, May your peace be multiplied! I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for He is the living God, and steadfast forever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion even unto the end. He delivereth and He rescueth, and He worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who delivered Daniel from the power of the lions."

The language, as in Nebuchadrezzar’s decrees, is purely Scriptural. What the Median mages and the Persian fire-worshippers would think of such a decree, and whether it produced the slightest effect before it vanished without leaving a trace behind, are questions with which the author of the story is not concerned.

He merely adds that Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and of Cyrus the Persian.

The Prophetic Section Of The Book.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Daniel 6:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/daniel-6.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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