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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 6



Verse 1


1. Princes — Rather, as R.V., “satraps.” As to the number of satraps the Greek has one hundred and twenty-seven and Josephus gives the number as three hundred and sixty. That Gubaru — who was probably Darius the Mede, see Daniel 6:31 and Introduction, III, 3, (5) — did appoint “governors” over the province of Babylon, the inscriptions prove, though they do not state the number of these governors, or whether the legislation ever took practical effect. This act of Gubaru may have been confused later with the well-known division of the empire into some twenty satrapies by Darius Hystaspes.

Verse 2-3

2, 3. Over these subordinate governors presidents were appointed, “of whom Daniel was one,” to see that the collection of the royal revenues, etc., was properly attended to; and presently “the king” (Gubaru?) even considered placing him over the whole realm — the province of Babylon.

Verses 4-6

4-6. The native Babylonians and Medes, jealous of the new honor contemplated for the Jew, Daniel (Daniel 6:3), plotted together to bring him into disfavor because of his religion — which example has been followed by many politicians since in many lands. They therefore “rushed tumultuously” (as also in Daniel 6:11; Daniel 6:15) before the king, after the manner of all orientals when laboring under excitement.

Verse 7

7. They told the king that all the “presidents” (though this was not true of Daniel, Daniel 6:2), “the deputies and the satraps, the counselors and the governors” (R.V.) favored a royal decree and “strong interdict” which should provide death by the lions (see note Daniel 6:16) for any person who “offereth prayer or presents petition [namely, in prayer] to any god for the space of thirty days, save only to Darius the king” (Greek). The statute asked for was so absurd that it has seemed incredible to many that these officials would have dared to demand it or that any governor in his senses would have yielded to their clamor. Such a decree, if it represents literal history, stands conspicuously alone, most of the supposed parallel instances cited by Delatre and Knabenbauer needing corroboration. Darius here is as crazy as Nebuchadnezzar! Yet it can be said that a “religious riot” has always been especially feared by wise kings; that in the multitude of antagonistic faiths gathered in Babylon such a riot was not at all impossible; that the worship of the king, who was supposed to be the incarnation of deity, may have been considered a public pledge of allegiance to the government (see note Daniel 3:6) and that it might have been supposed, therefore, by Darius that this edict would restrain the people from processions and ceremonials which might prove offensive or dangerous and unite the mongrel population in a public act of loyalty to the new dynasty.

Verse 8

8. For Medes and Persians see Daniel 2:39-42; Daniel 7:5.

Verse 10

10. Through the latticed windows of “his upper room” his enemies see Daniel offer his prayers and thanksgivings as heretofore three times a day (Psalms 55:17) with his face toward the ruined temple. (Compare 1 Kings 8:33; 1 Kings 8:35; 1 Kings 8:38; 1 Kings 8:44.) This fixed order of prayer at 9 A.M., 12 M., and 3 P.M., is generally acknowledged to date back among the Jews at least to the captivity. It was probably the omission of sacrifice during the exile which led to this. It is interesting to note that even as early as the fourteenth century B.C. recesses probably for prayer — corresponding to the modern Mohammedan kibla, which originally faced Jerusalem, not Mecca — are found in ancient Egyptian houses. “The orientation of many Christian churches and the eastward position frequently observed during certain parts of the service are survivals of this early Jewish custom.” — Prince. Daniel is not necessarily represented here as overvaluing the ritual of prayer, as the Jews did, for example, in Maccabean time. He simply shows himself too brave to hide himself away during his devotions because his religion had become unpopular. This picture of courage and calm trust has inspired many a persecuted band of Christians in the stormy centuries of the past, who have rejoiced in the steadfastness of this hero who, at any risk, “three tymes in the day bowide his knees and wirshepide and knawelichide byfore his God” (Wyclif’s Bible). In the catacombs the fresco of Daniel in the lions’ den is common, and at least one of these probably dates back to the first part of the second century (American Journal of Archaeology, July-September, 1894).

Verse 11

11. Instead of “then these men came tumultuously, and found Daniel” the old Greek version has “and they watched Daniel.”

Verse 14

14. It has been suggested that a counter edict condemning the executioners of the former edict to a similar punishment with Daniel might have saved the king’s honor. (Compare Esther 8:11.) Certainly the later Persian kings had no difficulty in persuading their jurists to interpret these immutable laws to suit themselves.

Verse 16

16. Thy God… will deliver thee — As De Wette once wrote, “Darius shows superabundant faith here.” A Babylonian king to make such a speech as this must have had more faith in Jehovah than the followers of Daniel’s God then or now. (Compare note Daniel 3:18). One ancient text in the same spirit adds this encouragement from the king: “Be of good cheer until the morning.” (See Introduction, II, 3.)

Verse 17

17. Literally this den of lions is called a pit, and many critics have depended upon this as one of the best proofs of the absolute unhistoricity of the whole story. So Graf (Biblical Lexicon) asks how the lions could live in this “hole of a cistern,” and Reuss (La Bible) ridicules the idea that there was room for the lions and satraps and all the other officials in this “pit” which could be closed with a single paving stone! It is astonishing that these suggestions should have been considered weighty by Farrar and Prince and so many recent writers. While this word “pit” did often mean a dark hole or cistern, yet like our word pit (for example, the pit of a theater) it had a larger meaning, “sometimes even standing for Sheol” (Meinhold). Certainly, as Kuenen acknowledges (Onderzoek, ii, note 487), this modern notion of what the “den” must have been is quite inconsistent with the writer’s own idea, for he saw no need of a miracle to keep the lions from stifling in this dark vault which, according to these modern critics, was rendered air-tight when a stone was laid on its one small opening at the top! It seems far more reasonable that this “den” was somewhat like those now used in oriental countries. Host (quoted by Urquhart) describes one of these which he saw in Morocco, belonging to the emperor and sometimes used by him as a place of execution for criminals. It was a large square cavern below the level of the ground, open at the top but surrounded with a wall. A door in this wall constituted the mouth of the den from which steps led down to the vault below. A partition and trapdoors very similar to those used in modern and ancient lion cages enabled the keeper to clean the cages or separate the animals at will. That the Assyrian and Babylonian kings did make a specialty of captured lions, and did at times throw criminals to these beasts, is proved over and over again from the inscriptions. Several portable cages of lions, the doors of which are raised by attendants who stand on top protected by an iron screen, are pictured on the monuments. The custom of sealing the king’s treasure chambers and wine cellars with the royal signet was universal in ancient Babylonia. Even many of the clay letters and official documents of the days of Nebuchadnezzar and earlier were placed in clay envelopes and sealed. The seal was worn by every Babylonian except those of the lowest classes. It is stated that the door was sealed not only with the signet of the king but also with that of his nobles, “that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel” (R.V.), that is, in order that no one, not even the king himself, could illegally deliver him without being discovered. Gregorius Bar-Hebraeus (thirteenth century) said it was sealed with the king’s seal that the nobles might not kill him, and with the nobles’ seals that they could not say that the lions had been well fed and therefore no miracle was necessary for Daniel’s deliverance. This does not ill accord with the lesson emphasized all through this chapter (as in chapter iii), which is evidently the antagonism of the world-monarchies to righteousness, and Jehovah’s ability to preserve miraculously all of his true worshipers and bring the heathen to shame.

Verse 18

18. The great king spends a sleepless night in repentance for his hasty act. The “fasting,” which was a sign of sorrow and fear, would naturally be accompanied by prayers and probably sacrifices. (Compare Daniel 10:3, and Jonah 3:7.) There was no feasting in the palace and no “dancing girls” (R.V., margin) were allowed in his presence.

Verse 19-20

19, 20. One ancient Greek version adds that the king took the “satraps” with him. The king voices here the great question to which this entire book gives the answer: Is thy God, whom thou servest continually [Syr., faithfully], able to deliver thee? Not the men suffering in the midst of the Maccabean persecution alone, but men in all ages have needed to hear a glorious affirmative in answer to this question.

Verse 22

22. Hath sent his angel — On Daniel’s view of angels see Daniel 8:16. (The primitive LXX. omits this statement.) The Persian kings would naturally interpret such a reference as this as applying to the “messenger” (angel) of Ormuzd. (See Speaker’s Commentary.) Daniel ascribed his deliverance to the fact that he had been true to his God while he had also been true in his allegiance to his king. “See how ready the angels are to minister to the heirs of salvation.” — Wesley.

Verse 23

23. For him should be omitted. The last clause is also omitted in some ancient texts.

Verse 24

24. This awful punishment upon those who had with their tongues “eaten the pieces” of Daniel (see note Daniel 3:8) is not inconsistent with some of the actions of some despots; yet the fact that it can be mentioned by the author without a note of disapproval may show his own feelings toward the persecutors of his religion. The Old Testament is not the New Testament, and our Lord’s teaching of love for enemies is not so universally practiced yet in the Christian Church that we can afford to cast any stones at an ancient Hebrew who triumphs because of the downfall of those who have persecuted him and his people. The destruction of the innocent families of these guilty men is in accordance with the Babylonian and Persian custom. (See also Daniel 3:29.) The old Greek text states that only two men and their families were thus executed.

Verses 25-27

25-27. This decree resembles very greatly, even in phrase, some of the speeches made previously to or by Nebuchadnezzar (chaps. ii, iii). The old Greek version follows a very different text and closes: “I, Darius, will worship and serve the God of Daniel all my life, for no idols made with hands can deliver as Daniel’s God delivered Daniel.”

Verse 28

28. See note Daniel 1:21. There is shown here no false idea of the succession of kings, as Prince and others claim, providing “Darius the Mede” be Gubaru. [See Introduction, III, 3, (5). For Medes and Persians see Daniel 2:39-42; Daniel 7:5.] It has long been felt that this verse could not have been written by the ancient Daniel. Von Gall (1895) thinks that perhaps Ezra added it, but this is a dangerous hypothesis in view of recent researches (Introduction, II, 4, 7). The most ancient Persian sculpture known, carved probably by a Greek artist, is the full-length portrait of this famous king in bas-relief. His face is distinctly European; his head, as also a little statuette held in his hand, is surrounded by Egyptian uraei; his body is furnished with wings like the Assyrian genii. (Compare Daniel 3:2.) Several inscriptions of Cyrus and his immediate successors are found written in three languages — Assyrian, Persian, and what is probably Median. The pythoness of Delphi had prophesied that Cyrus would vanquish Croesus (B.C. 554): —

When Media’s king shall be a mule

Soft-footed Lydian by the foal

Of pebbly Hermos fly nor stay

Nor dread the coward’s name that do.

Herod., 1:55.

He was probably looked upon as a “mule” because he was the offspring of the Persian or Elamite king, Cambyses, by his Median wife. Whether or not Cyrus was by blood a Persian, he certainly does call himself in his inscriptions “King of Persia,” which is all that this verse demands. Both the Babylonians and the Hebrews welcomed the rule of this strong but kindly king,

Who came, by gifted eye descried afar,

Monarch of men and thunderbolt of war.

Earl of Carlisle.

For further particulars regarding Cyrus see Introduction, III, 3, (6), and for his “religion” see Journal American Oriental Society, 1901, pp. 160-184, etc.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Daniel 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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