Relevant Verse: Daniel 6
Theme: Being in the world but not of the world
Leading Question: How can believers be in the world but not of the world?
Daniel 6 recounts the attempt of jealous officials in the court of Darius to eliminate Daniel. He is sentenced to be thrown to the lions but survives because of God’s intervention. The many parallels with the story from Daniel 3 are intriguing. Similarities in vocabulary are as follows:
- The list of officials (3:2, 3 and 6:7)
- The Jews “pay no heed to you” (3:12 and 6:13)
- “I make a decree” (3:29 and 6:26)
Similarities in structure and theme in Daniel 3 and 6 are as follows:
- The order to worship false gods (3:1-9 and 6:1-8)
- The faithful refuse the order (3:10-13 and 6:9-18)
- The faithful sentenced to death (3:14-18 and 6:19-24)
- The faithful delivered and the king repents (3:19-28 and 6:25-28)
- The king utters a hymn of praise to God (4:3, 34-35 and 6:26-27)
The two stories are important in the structure of the book. In Daniel 3 only Daniel’s friends are mentioned, while he himself is mysteriously absent. In Daniel 6, however, he is subjected to a very similar test and, just like his friends, he is miraculously saved by God.
The event in this chapter is not explicitly dated, but it must have happened shortly after the fall of Babylon, around the year 538 B.C.E.. The territory of the Medo-Persian kingdom stretched between Egypt and India (Esther 1:1). The small kingdom of Judah belonged to its fifth satrapy. The founder of the empire, Cyrus the Great, was known throughout the region as a tolerant emperor, whose generous policies supported the local government laws and freedom of religion.
Daniel 6 begins and ends with Daniel’s success at the Medo-Persian court. His arrest and sentence, match his release and his enemies’ doom. At the heart of the story is Daniel’s deliverance. A saving decree replaces the fatal one. The chapter ends with yet another hymn of praise to Daniel’s God.
The main historical problem with Daniel 6 has to do with Darius the Mede. He is mentioned in the Book of Daniel as king of Babylon between Belshazzar and Cyrus the Great, but he is not known to history, and no additional king can be placed between the known figures of Belshazzar and Cyrus. Nevertheless, numerous attempts have been made to identify him with historical figures, with the following being perhaps the best-known candidates:
- Darius the Great (Darius I Hystaspes), c. 550–486 B.C.E. However, this historically known Darius was the third Persian emperor after Cyrus.
- Astyages. Astyages was the last king of the Medes; he was defeated by Cyrus in 550 (or 553), and there is no record of him being present at the fall of Babylon.
- Cyaxares II. Greek writer Xenophon tells of a Median king called Cyaxares, son of Astyages; other Greek historians say that Astyages had no son. Xenophon is not given credence by historians.
- Cyrus. This argument hinges on a reinterpretation of Daniel 6:28, “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, and the reign of Cyrus the Persian”, to read “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, even the reign of Cyrus the Persian”, making them the same individual. William Shea, an adventist scholar, comments that it would be strange to refer to Cyrus the Persian, as Darius the Mede, and strange also to refer to the same king as Cyrus in some passages and Darius in others.
- Cambyses II. Cambyses was Cyrus’ son and his successor as emperor. The Babylonian records indicate that Cyrus installed him as regent in Babylon, but he was not a Mede, his father was not Ahasuerus, and he was probably not sixty-two years old.
- Gubaru (or Ugbaru, called Gobryas in Greek sources), the general who was the first to enter Babylon. Cyrus seems to have given him administrative responsibility for Babylon after its capture. William Shea argues for Gubaru/Ugbaru as Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel.
According to Daniel 6:1-6, the new ruler of Babylon organized his kingdom according to Median and Persian rules. He appointed a council of 120 administrators or satraps, placed a triumvirate of three with the highest level of authority over the 120 satraps, and planned to name Daniel the chair over the triumvirate, basically making him Prime Minister of the Medo-Persian Empire.
In chapter 6, Daniel’s prayer habit takes center-stage. He takes no precaution to hide or disguise his prayer life or to change his devotional habits during those critical thirty days when the law spoke against him. He prayed three times a day with his windows opened toward the city of Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10).
Before we ask for Daniel’s reasons to pray publicly, we must understand the significance of the Laws of the Medes and Persians. These laws go back to most ancient times and have become famous for their varied scope. One of the extraordinary provisions of the ancient Median and Persian laws was that the Great King granted public audiences in the open to his subjects, so that any person of any status could come and present petitions to the king, even petitions against the highest leadership in the empire, including the king himself. By law, the king had to see that such petitions were not obstructed, and a herald would pronounce the direst consequences to any one attempting obstruction against this law. See the record here: http://www.parstimes.com/law/ancient_persia_laws.html.
With regard to the irrevocability of the Median and Persian king’s law, as implied or mentioned in Daniel 6 and in the story of Esther, there is no specific historical evidence of such a provision. However, it is important to understand that it took about three months for a message to be carried throughout the entire Medo-Persian empire (see Herodotus, 5:50–54). Thus, the conspiring satraps in Daniel 6 could say, that once the king had issued the decree, there was no mechanism for retracting it. What was irrevocable then was done by those who were able to skillfully manipulate the king.
After learning about the legislation that Darius had signed, Daniel must have thought of his options:
- Obey the new law, making his petitions to the king.
- Appeal to the king to change or repeal the law.
- Cease praying and making petitions to his God for the period of 30 days.
- Limit his prayers to private places where he could not be seen by other people.
- Continue to pray as he had always done.
Questions: Why did Daniel simply not pray out of sight? Is he just stubbornly clinging to religious practices? After all, is not prayer a private matter? Even Jesus advocates for private prayer and expresses disdain for those who pray in public (Matthew 6:1–6). Doesn’t he? What compelled Daniel to pray publicly, knowing it would bring him to the lion’s den?
The reason for Daniel to pray publicly is in another prayer—Solomon’s inauguration prayer of the Temple in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 8:23–53).
When they sin against You, . . . and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, … if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul … and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; . . . then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people (1 Kings 8:46-50 NASB, emphasis mine).
Now we understand that Daniel’s public prayers have always been an open protest against the empires of the time, first Babylon, and now in Daniel 6, against Media and Persia. Daniel, the captive from Jerusalem, the seasoned politician of the highest office after the king, who has worked all his life for the wellbeing of the world kingdom, and has been a friend to the most powerful ruler (see Daniel 4), has also, for all his life, publicly demonstrated that he and his God do not approve of the dealings of the empire. To overpower and take people’s lands, to kill, displace entire people groups, make them slaves, and take them into captivity is against God’s will. In his prayers Daniel longs for Jerusalem, the city and the Temple left in ruins.
All his time in captivity, Daniel, in essence, risked his life for taking a knee against the oppressive powers of the empire and for the release of his people. No wonder then, that the law of the empire condemned him to be killed and eaten by lions, the very symbol of the empire. However, Daniel’s enemies had not realized that the law of their empire held no power over him, for he had protested it already in front of open windows, day after day, in plain sight. The captive was free, every time he lifted his voice in prayer. Even the empire’s lions were incapacitated, for “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” (Daniel 6:22). Daniel was not the enemy of the state to be devoured; the agents and accomplices of coercive imperial power were.
Questions: What is the significance of this story? What is the main message you have derived from studying the narrative sections in Daniel 1–6?