Bible Commentary: Daniel 6

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Daniel 6

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Daniel in the Lions' Den

Once again, we encounter Darius the Mede—here in a rather important context. As noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Daniel 5:31, various theories have been advanced as to his identity. Most commonly accepted today is that he was either identical with Cyrus or that he was Cyrus' governor over Babylon, Gubaru.

That Darius passes a decree that no god or man other than him could be petitioned for 30 days and that he wields such other power besides perhaps makes it difficult to our sensitivities to see how this could have been a lesser ruler than Cyrus himself. Yet it is certainly possible that a sub-king such as Gubaru, as the representative of the sovereign, was invested with the full authority of Cyrus in the higher king's absence. (And the exaltation of the ruler above the gods of the land was probably deemed more to symbolize the dominion of the Persian state than to exalt Darius personally.)

Interestingly, archaeology has revealed that there was great focus on Gubaru's authority only a few years later. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "As [commentator] Whitcomb (p. 35) points out, the statement in 6:28—'and the reign of Cyrus the Persian'—may very well imply that both of them [Darius and Cyrus] ruled concurrently, with the one subordinate to the other (i.e., Darius subordinate to Cyrus). It would seem that after he had taken care of more pressing concerns elsewhere, Cyrus himself later returned to Babylon (perhaps a year or two afterward) and formally ascended the throne in an official coronation ceremony. It was in the third year of Cyrus's reign (presumably as king of Babylon) that Daniel received the revelations in chapters 10-12. Yet it is also evident from the cuneiform records...that Gubaru continued to serve as governor of Babylon even after Cyrus's decease. The tablets dating from 535 to 525 contained warnings that committing specified offenses would entail 'the guilt of a sin against Gubaru, the Governor of Babylon and of the District beyond the river {i.e., the regions west of the Euphrates}' (Whitcomb, p. 23)" (note on Daniel 5:30-31).

Reading chapter 6, we learn that "one of Darius's first responsibilities was to appoint administrators over the entire territory won from the Babylonians (v. 1). The 120 'satraps' chosen by him must have been of lesser rank than the 20 satraps Herodotus mentioned (3.89-94) in listing major districts composed of several smaller regions (e.g., the fifth satrapy included Phoenicia, Palestine, Syria, and Cyprus). Here in Daniel the ahasdarpenayya ('satraps') must have been in charge of all the smaller subdivisions. But over these 120 there were three commissioners (sarekin, v. 2), of whom Daniel was chairman (v. 3). In view of Daniel's successful prediction in Belshazzar's banquet hall, it was only natural for Darius to select him for so responsible a position, though he was neither a Mede nor a Persian. His long experience and wide acquaintance with Babylonian government made Daniel an exceptionally qualified candidate. But after he had assumed office and turned in a record of exceptional performance, it became obvious that he had superhuman knowledge and skill; and he became a likely choice for prime minister.... [But] just as his three friends had become the target of envy many years before (ch. 3), so Daniel encountered hostility in the new Persian government. Undoubtedly the great majority of his enemies were race-conscious Medes or Persians, and they did not take kindly to the elevation of one of the Jewish captives" (note on verses 1-4). Of course, there is also a natural tendency within administrative structures for people to become jealous when better-qualified individuals among them are promoted above them.

Daniel's enemies could not dig up any dirt on him. Knowing his reputation for faithfulness to his God, they decided this was the only area they could get him into legal trouble—by making up a law contrary to his religious practice. "The government overseers (v. 6) came to the king 'as a group'.... As an official delegation, they presented their proposal, falsely implying that Daniel had concurred in their legislation. 'The royal administrators [of whom Daniel was chief], prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed' (v. 7)—i.e., in drawing up the decree. Darius should have noticed that Daniel was not there to speak for himself. Yet Darius had no reason to suspect that the other two royal administrators would misrepresent Daniel's position in this matter, and certainly the reported unanimity of all the lower echelons of government must have stilled any doubts Darius had about the decree. The suggested mode of compelling every subject in the former Babylonian domain to acknowledge the authority of Persia seemed a statesmanlike measure that would contribute to the unification of the Middle and Near East. The time limit of one month seemed reasonable. After it the people could resume their accustomed worship. So, without personally consulting Daniel himself, Darius went ahead and affixed his signature or seal to the decree (v. 9)" (note on verses 6-9).

The new law could not be rescinded (verse 8). "Once a royal decree had been issued, it could not be revoked—even by the king himself. It remained in force until its time of expiration. The practice of creating an unchangeable law may follow from the idea that changing a decree was an admission that it had been faulty" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 8).

Despite the severe penalty mandated for disobedience, Daniel would not be deterred from his regular prayers to God. It is interesting to consider that he could have resorted to praying to God in secret. And no doubt he often did anyway, just as all believers. Indeed, it seems that Daniel perhaps prayed in open sight three times a day toward Jerusalem to serve as a continual witness of God to the pagan empire and as an example to the Jews in captivity to be bold in their devotion to God and their faith in His promise of future return to the Holy Land. The morning and evening sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple had been a continual public witness of the true religion in Judah—and as noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Daniel 9, there seems to have been a relation to those offerings and Daniel's example of regular prayer. Perhaps Daniel, as the senior Jewish official in the empire, saw it as his duty to continue a form of that witness. Whatever the reason behind his practice, he no doubt felt that to cease from his practice in the face of a contrary religious decree would have been quite a witness of itself—a witness of compromise, godless fear and apparent denial of God. In no way would he, prophet of the Most High God who had humbled Nebuchadnezzar and had later given Babylon into the hands of Persia, cower at this plot against him and attack on his faith. He trusted God to defend His own holy name.

When the conspirators reported Daniel's disobedience, the king was very displeased with himself (verse 14). "For the first time the real reason for the decree dawned on him. He probably realized that he had been manipulated by Daniel's enemies, and he regretted his failure to consult Daniel before putting the decree in writing. Undoubtedly Darius respected Daniel for his consistent piety to his God. Throughout the day he tried his best to save Daniel's life. He may have thought of ways of protecting him from the lions, perhaps by overfeeding them or by covering Daniel with armor. Such schemes would have been interpreted as subterfuges undermining the king's own law. A miracle was Daniel's only hope. Darius undoubtedly respected Daniel's God—the God who had enabled him to interpret the letters on Belshazzar's wall and who had made Daniel the most able administrator in the court. Could it be that this God might save him? In all probability Darius had also heard of the deliverance of Daniel's three comrades from Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. By sunset, therefore, the king had resigned himself to comply with the conspirators' desire; and when they again reminded him of his irrevocable decree (v. 15), he was ready to go ahead with the penalty. Yet to show his personal concern for his cherished minister, Darius went with Daniel to the very mouth of the pit where the lions were kept" (Expositor's, notes on verses 13-17).

And so Daniel was cast into the den of lions and sealed within. People today often imagine a young, vigorous Daniel in the pit with the ferocious beasts. But the prophet was an old man, in his early 80s. All his life God had proved faithful. This night would be no exception.

The king spent the night fasting (verse 18). Whether he just couldn't eat, or refused to as a form of penance, or was actually trying to seek Daniel's God is not clear. But the next morning, he rushed to the lion's den and called out to Daniel, "servant of the living God" (verse 20). And Daniel answered back, "O king, live forever!" "Though this is a standard way of greeting a king (see Daniel 2:4; Daniel 3:9; Daniel 5:10; Daniel 6:6), it is ironic here because Daniel, who has just been made alive by the God whom even Darius confesses as 'the living God' (v. 20), blesses the king with the wish that he should live forever. That is literally possible for the king, of course, only if he comes to know Daniel's God who is the source of life, as the lion's den episode shows so clearly" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 21).

The king then issues a new order. "Without any judicial hearing or trial, King Darius, absolute monarch that he was, ordered Daniel's accusers to be haled before him and then cast with their families into the pit they had conspired to have Daniel thrown into. Presumably Darius considered them guilty of devising the decree that could have deprived the king of his most able counselor. Furthermore, they had lied to the king when they had averred that 'all agreed' (v. 7) to recommend this decree, when Daniel (the foremost of the administrators) had not even been consulted in the matter" (Expositor's, note on verse 24). Yet what of the families? "What Darius did seems arbitrary and unjust. But ancient pagan despots had no regard for the provision in the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 24:16): 'Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin'.... Perhaps Darius acted as he did to minimize the danger of revenge against the executioner by the family of those who were put to death" (same note).

Darius then issues a new decree that Daniel's God, the living God, be honored. Perhaps this was after the original 30-day decree had expired. As for Daniel, his position as prime minister was now secure, and he apparently continued in it until his retirement a few years later.

Supplementary Reading: "Daniel--God Is My Judge”, Good News Magazine, Sept.--Oct. 1996, pp. 17-19, 31

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