A Foreigner on Track for Promotion
God’s patience towards sinners is enduring, but when judgment is determined, nothing can thwart His purpose. The judgment of Belshazzar described in Daniel 5 providentially coincided with Darius’ conquest of Babylon. The overturning of the mighty kingdom recalls Daniel’s prophecy about a second kingdom: Medo-Persia. Chapter 6 continues to unveil the life of the exiled Jew, this time under Medo-Persian rulership. What will the new kingdom bring?
For both political and economic benefits, Darius decided to leave the main structures of the newly occupied empire intact. Aside from this, we learn that he intended to “build his administrative success on Daniel.”[i] Several reasons account for this. First, as stated in the Bible, Daniel “began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit” (6:3). That in itself is a weighty cause, but Doukhan points to three other factors that might have contributed to Darius’ interest in promoting Daniel: (1) like the king, Daniel was a foreigner, a stranger in the land of Babylon who could become a loyal ally; (2) Daniel had predicted the fall of Babylon and the coming to power of Medo-Persia, and (3) Daniel had already served in positions of high responsibility. Exactly to what extent the Babylonian Empire owes Daniel its greatness is beyond our ability to know, but it is safe to assume that his leadership is partly to account for the kingdom’s flourishing.[ii]
So, Daniel is about to be promoted. But as history and human nature have often shown, promotions are not always a cause of celebration. Perhaps even less so when a foreigner is on track for it. Remember, too, that the last king of Babylon had thrown Daniel into obscurity, despite his long and valuable service to Nebuchadnezzar. Darius is about to reverse the power trend at the court and bring Daniel back to prominence. The competition is not content. Their envy and misery, in fact, stops nothing short of plotting murder.
A Murderous Race for Status
Interestingly, chapter 6 includes several aspects that parallel chapter 3, where Daniel’s three friends are plotted against, common phrases (“set up,” “accuse,” “decree,” “with haste”), the similar development of the two stories, as well as their parallel ending. Daniel now experiences what his friends had lived through many years back. Furthermore, both chapters begin with a kingly desire to strengthen the empire and the summoning of high officials, whose shared hatred and jealousy of the Jews births an ingenious plan meant to accomplish two things: earn the king’s favor through flattering and eliminate the foreign and superior competition. [iii] The text details how they went about this:
4 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.” 6 Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! 7 All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. (Daniel 6:4-9)
Sin likes company, so dishonesty follows duplicity. The delegates’ speech before the king implied that all officials were in agreement with the plan, when in fact one of the three top executives, Daniel, was fully ignorant of it. Flattered with the idea of supremacy and craving the loyalty of his new bureaucrats, the king agreed. His trust seems rather naïve, yet the easy invasion of Babylon, which was more of an invitation than a conquest, might have motivated his confidence in the administration. After all, if indeed all agreed to pledge their allegiance to him and ensure everyone across the empire does the same, what harm could this cause him?
As it turns out, the genius of wickedness gained a huge leap in the race for status and power. Instead of being elevated, Darius had been set up. He had signed his own harm, if not personal harm, certainly political and economic, seeing that Daniel’s recognized talent was to fall prey to hungry lions. His inappropriate expectation of adoration turned against him.
Prayer Above Political Pressure
How did Daniel respond to this life-threatening situation? The mandatory worship of the king did not seem to disturb the Hebrew, who met political pressure with prayer.
10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. (Daniel 6:10, 11)
The author could have simply said that Daniel continued praying to God, but instead he mentions that, as soon as Daniel knew about the decree, he went home, in this upper room, and with windows open towards Jerusalem kneeled three times a day as he had been doing before. This abundance of detail is no waste; rather it emphasizes Daniel’s determination and such busyness with prayer that he had no time and room for hesitation. The prophet knew that the law was not revocable and met the reality of his seemingly impending death with a composure worthy of the highest admiration. The fact that his prayer time overlapped with the timing for sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem is also a demonstration of faith in a hopeful future—one of liberation and restoration. Yet this may not be his immediate future.
Of course, Daniel could have chosen to pray secretly. After all, one’s intimate relationship with God needs not be put on display. But a change of habit would have disguised a denial of God, for “when the authorities outlaw prayer, to pray in hiding is to imply that the king is greater than God.”[iv] Daniel did not regard highly his own life and was willing to go to rest, unless God deemed otherwise.
Assuming the success of their plan, the bureaucrats went again before the king in order to elicit Daniel’s death condemnation. Notice again that they referred to Daniel as an exiled, a foreigner whose fidelity to his religious commitments and habits clearly appeared to contest the king’s authority. Perhaps he was not as loyal to the king as Darius had presumed.
“12 Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, “Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?” The king replied, “The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day. (Daniel 6:12, 13)
Their motives now evident, the king was stuck between two hard choices: to allow the death of an innocent, loyal, and gifted official, and rule in a context of betrayal and humiliation, or to allow the death of an innocent, loyal, and gifted official, and rule in a context of betrayal and humiliation. Indeed, the laws of Darius’ empire did not allow for the correction of royal decrees. Thus, the king ended up prey to the pride of infallibility, facing an irremediably double-lose situation. There was no way out of this conundrum—at least none in the king’s control. Darius was now as powerless as Daniel. The officials knew this and insisted on the due course of action:
14 Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed.” (Daniel 6:14)
Darius authorized the death decree with deep anxiety and a silver lining of hope that lied solely in the power of the invisible God Daniel served.
6 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.”17 A stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing would be changed in regard to Daniel. 18 Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. 19 Then the king arose at dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. (Daniel 6:12-19)
Difference and Distance
Daniel’s composure and the calm atmosphere his inner-peace brought to his home are superbly contrasted with Darius’ anxiety and the palace where no music plays and food is absent. Two spatial markers entwined with three temporal markers express the king’s angst. As soon as the king heard this statement, he labored until sunset to deliver Daniel (6:14). Each character took immediate action upon receiving gloomy news. Daniel prayed—which should cost him his life, while Darius sought a solution whereby Daniel would not lose his life. But Daniel ended up being thrown in the den of lions, and Darius went to his palace (6:18) where he spent the night (6:18) awake and in distress, without food or music—something notably out-of-step with a culture centered on food and entertaining fellowship.
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The distance caused the king anxiety: both the distance between the place of projected death (the den) and the place where the death was decreed (the palace), as well as the temporal distance between Daniel’s casting into the den and the next day (the night). Eager for this distance to dissolve and with it his misery to be dispelled, he not only awaited this ending awake, he even shortened the distance as, at dawn, at the break of day (6:19) he went to the den in haste.
While the spatial and temporal markers contrast the two characters, faith unites them. Both Daniel and Darius believed in God. The strongest indicator that Darius had some faith in God is in the fact that he spoke to Daniel, and, in all appearance, even expected a response.
20 When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” 23 Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. (Daniel 6:20-23)
This disclosure towards the end of the story makes Darius’ agreement to sign the decree all the more startling. The book of Daniel repeatedly shows that all attempts to assume the role of God come with consequences. If Darius did believe that there is a God who can rescue his worshipping servant Daniel, why on earth would he sign a decree diminishing this God to begin with? Both Daniel and Darius exhibited faith, but Darius’ incipient faith left room for anxiety, unlike Daniel’s long-nourished and deeply-seated faith that engendered inner-peace. Both believed that God can save Daniel, but one was ready to accept either outcome, while the other, troubled by guilt over his foolishness, appeared unready to deal with potential losses.
As usual, God’s intervention is redemptive, meaning He is not just interested in reinstating the proper hierarchy; He deeply cares about winning the heart of the king. In this aspect, Darius appears more docile than Nebuchadnezzar. It only took one experience to get the Medo-Persian king to not only acknowledge God but sincerely declare His excellence:
25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! 26 I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25-27)
As for the jealous and duplicitous faultfinders, they and their families were thrown in the lions’ den where they found their end (6:24). This exceeding act of justice was meant to prevent retaliation, safeguarding the kingdom from betrayal and political insecurity. If all officials (except for Daniel) agreed on the murderous and humiliating plot, it would be interesting to know how many lives this purging cost. But that is beyond our knowledge and rather extraneous to the point. Of course, as Doukhan notes, “violence for God does not atone for violence against God,”[v] and forced adoration of God can be as ineffective in the human-God relationship as plain defiance of Him. The wisdom of leadership is often a strange thing, but one aspect that emerges clearly from this story is that Darius was ready to repent and recognize the superior wisdom and power of God.
Secrets of Success
Let’s talk powerlessness. I mean complete, utter powerlessness—situations where you cannot do anything at all to control the looming outcome. I have my fair share of stories. I am sure you do, too. Powerlessness is the end of ourselves. It is where we do one of two things: we give in to fear and resentment, or we trust God more fully than ever before. The first comes more naturally but is a dangerous door towards a sinking spiral of estrangement. The latter is not easy but is a secure door towards uplifting reconciliation. It was mistrust that broke the divine-human relationship in Eden, and only trust can mend that relationship. God has already provided the reason for our trust. Jealousy, betrayal of an innocent, political strategy, attempts to rescue the accused, a sealed tomb, and emerging alive from it—all these parallel the story of Daniel with the story of Jesus.[vi] It is in Christ’s death that we find a full demonstration of His love—a love that engenders trust and remains our surest source of strength when facing life dilemmas. It is a trust that says: “I know that God can choose to intervene, and I will wait for the effects of His choice whatever they may bring into my life; for the wisdom of providence is concerned first with the expansion of God’s eternal kingdom of love and only secondly with the length and/or quality of my life this side of eternity.” When we truly understand the magnitude and the depth of God’s love in sundering the Trinity for the sake of mortal humanity, we can begin to formulate prayers of trust like the one above. I have no doubt that, in some form or another, God always honors such prayers.
[i] Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 88.
[ii] Doukhan, 88.
[iii] Doukhan, 88.
[iv] Doukhan, 92.
[v] Doukhan, 95.
[vi] Doukhan, 97.