|Cyrus the Great Cylinder|
6:1-5 – The kingdom of Darius the Mede. Joyce Baldwin argues rather persuasively that “Darius” may have been Cyrus’ enthronement name used only in his first year (29-31; 141fn107; cf. Dan.5:31; 9:1; 11:1). At the very least, it seems very probable that the two names “Darius the Mede” and “Cyrus the Persian” refer to the same individual (without further evidence forthcoming to demonstrate just who this “Darius” might otherwise be…since the conjectures of Gobryas, Ugbaru or even a mythical composite character seem untenable at best). The “and” in the NIV and other translations (Aram. conjunctive waw) can in fact be read as “even” or “that is” in Dan.6:26 (see the NIV footnote) reading “during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian”. This proposal seems more probable than that this individual was only a king of Babylon and not the ruler of the empire whose decision would be irrevocable.
Darius is said to have appointed 120 satraps to give oversight to the kingdom. A satrap was a sort of governor and over these he chose three individuals to give specific oversight…Daniel being one of the three. The 120 would not necessarily each oversee one satrapy, but may have simply shared duties over various regions. The numbers listed for satrapies elsewhere range in the twenties (though Esther 1:1 lists 127 during the later reign of Xerxes). The special appointment of Daniel due to his exceptional qualities made him a target for those who were jealous of his position. This does not necessarily mean that all 122 men were involved in the conspiracy against Daniel, but only that there was a significant group that was leading the way against him. They were forced to admit that any accusations against him would not be successful unless it pertained to the “law of his God” because Daniel was above any sort of reproach, and was a faithful Jew.
6:6-9 – The decree. The plan was to convince the king that there was agreement among all of his officials that he should issue a 30-day decree demanding that all prayers be offered to (through?) him for that time period. The Medo-Persian (Achaemenid dynasty) were Zoroastrians more clearly under the later named Darius I though possibly as early as our king Cyrus (here called “Darius”). Under Zoroastrianism, there was a single god that was worshipped, Ahura Mazda, whom the king was the earthly representative of and so it would not be a far stretch for Darius in Dan.6 to receive prayers or be a mediator of prayers. Besides it would be supposed that this may serve to unite a newly gathered empire in their whole-hearted service of their new king. They further clarify that this decree should be put in writing so that, according to Medo-Persian law, it will be unalterable (cf. Esther 1:19).
The punishment that they surmised would be appropriate was to be “thrown into the lions’ den.” This “den” would have been some sort of pit where lions would have been kept for just such punishments. There likely would have been two compartments to this pit with a divider between them. The lions would be in one part for attacking their victims and that portion would also have an opening for throwing in the victims from the top and sealing it with a stone. The other portion perhaps would also have some hole for enticing the lions into it in order to move them and replace the divider so that any scraps, feces and bones could be removed as needed from the pit where the lions would be kept.
6:10-15 – Daniel’s prayers. It was not a matter of Daniel’s ignorance of the law that led to his violating it, but with his full knowledge of it he went home and did as he had always done…he prayed three times a day (cf. Ps.55:17, 18; Didache 8; though Psalm 119:164 mentions seven times a day). “It is not, as with his three companions [in chapter 3], a question of a positive sin which he will not commit, but of a positive duty which he will not omit” (Miller 182, citing Driver). Daniel apparently had a room on top of his home built with a window specifically facing towards Jerusalem so that he could pray facing in that direction (cf. 1 Ki.8:35, 38, 44, 48; 2 Chron.6:34). Not only was Daniel praying as was his custom, but he was “asking God for help.” What kind of help? Was he asking for help for himself or for the king or for Jerusalem? “To Daniel…this was subterfuge, and he did not swerve whatever from his usual customs in prayer….What a testimony Daniel had that even his enemies knew he would be faithful to God although it would cost him his life” (Walvoord 138). Daniel’s enemies went out of their way to spy on Daniel and report as a group to the king what Daniel had done and make sure the king would enforce his edict. They made sure to mention that he was one of the “exiles from Judah” perhaps in order to emphasize that even though he had been brought as an exile over 70 years prior, he still remained Jewish in his religious practices of prayer (among other things) and was not integrated into the society as they were.
6:16-24 – Daniel in the lion’s den. The king begrudgingly followed through with his edict and had Daniel thrown into the lions den even at his old age and even though he was among those most reliable in his new kingdom. Darius stated “May your God…rescue you” (an imperfect verb and not a jussive as the RSV translated it) meaning that this was not simply a wish, but that Darius was committing Daniel to the hands of Daniel’s God knowing that only Daniel’s would have to be the one to rescue Daniel. The KJV translation suggests too strongly that it certainly will happen which Darius does not seem so convinced about and so he called to Daniel in “an anguished voice” the next morning. Darius is convinced that if anyone will rescue Daniel it must be Daniel’s God, because Daniel has given himself so completely to his God that there could be no other outcome that could be positive and perhaps Darius had heard the stories of deliverance that Daniel recounted for him. The king was so distressed about having Daniel thrown into the lion’s den that he could not even do what he would normally do – whether eating or entertainment (whatever the Aramaic dahăwān seems to signify—which is difficult to define), or even to sleep.
It was a custom that once the sun began to dawn a sentence had been served if the individual had survived the night and so the king rushed to the lions’ den even if not fully convinced that he would find Daniel alive or well. Did he call out to Daniel expecting a reply or was this more rhetorical? Note Darius’ use of “the living God” in reference to the God of Daniel (cf. Deut.5:26; Josh.3:10; 1 Sam.17:26; 2 Ki.19:4; Jer.10:10; 23:36; Hos.2:1; Ps.42:3; 84:3). “This rich OT title for God suggests not merely that God is alive rather than dead, but that he is active and powerful, awesome and almighty, involved in bringing judgment and blessing” (Goldingay 133). At any rate, he received the reply of Daniel wishing him long life.
Daniel also testified that God had sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions (Heb.11:33), because of his innocence before God and the king. As Daniel’s three friends has bodily testified to their deliverance in the fire, here Daniel’s body gave testimony once it was lifted out of the den that it was in no way harmed (Ps.91:9-16). Is this intended to be a universal promise of deliverance for all of God’s people? Certainly not. Many have paid with their lives as Hebrews testifies and as our Lord Jesus Himself testified. But our God is able and no law of man can over-rule the obedience that is due the Lord. How might we understand his deliverance? (cf. Isa.11:6; 65:25; Hos.2:18) “In the man of God the powers of the world to come have broken in, in anticipation of what will be when the king comes to reign” (Baldwin 145).
The king then commanded all those who had conspired against Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den. Was it all of the 120 or considerably less? The LXX states it was the two other administrators, but this seems a gross re-adjustment to try to downplay how many were involved. While this punishment may be understandable (Gen.12:3; Deut.19:18-19; Esther 7:9-10) for those specifically involved, how should we understand throwing the wives and children of the conspirators in as well? (cf. Num.16:27-33; Deut.24:16; Josh.7:24-25; Esther 9:25; Isa.13:15-16) There is not really any condoning of this practice by mentioning it, but only a record that it was carried out (on this being something carried out elsewhere among the Medo-Persians, see Herodotus Histories 3.119). The account also notes that those who were thrown in did not even reach the floor of the den before the lions killed them and “crushed all their bones” thus demonstrating the miraculous nature of Daniel’s deliverance and the judgment against those who tried to harm Daniel.
6:25-28 – The decree of Darius to all peoples concerning the God of Daniel. Whereas Nebuchadnezzar had issued a decree against anyone who should speak a word against the God of the three in Dan.3:29, Darius actually commands people everywhere to “fear and reverence the God of Daniel”. This is not a command against, but a command for. Does this command exclude the worship of other Gods? By no means, though it does make clear that Daniel’s God endures when other’s do not and that Daniel’s God performs the miraculous and delivers. This will be poignant for those who face what is revealed in the chapters that lay ahead in Daniel…particularly as other kingdoms and kings are named that are off in the future who will seem to have authority and power that are unlimited. However, God is sovereign and able to deliver His people through whatever they will suffer if they will endure and remain faithful. This chapter closes with the note that Daniel then prospered under the Medo-Persians in an era when God would restore Jerusalem, return the captives and rebuild the Temple. It could be said of Daniel that in his old age as he “prospered” in Babylon that he had indeed become a light to the Gentiles by the mouth of Darius (cf. Isa.42:1-12; 49:1-7; Zech.2:11; 8:20-23).
John Goldingay notes the similarity and contrast between Jesus final days and Daniel 6, when he writes how Jesus, “too, is the victim of conspiracy and betrayal from people whose position is threatened by him and who seek occasion to manipulate higher authorities into executing him, professing that they have no king but Caesar. They, too, will eventually pay for their hostility, along with their children. He, too, is arrested at his customary place of prayer. These higher authorities, too, find no fault in him and labor to free him, but are reminded that the law forbids it. He, too, has to rely on God to deliver him as his tomb is sealed. Indeed, he actually dies, and injury can be found on him after he comes back from the dead: more extraordinary is it, then, that very early, at sunrise, he, too, is discovered to be alive after all” (136).