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Daniel in the Lions’ Den
(Chapter 6 verses 1-28)
Daniel chapter 6 verses 11-14
Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”
Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
God was a witness to Daniel’s prayer, but he was not the only one. Daniel’s enemies knew what Daniel’s prayer habits were, and they went to his house to spy on him. They found what they wanted and reported him to the king.
King Darius may have wondered why this prominent group of government officers should have had to ask, “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” But the king did not have to wonder for long.
“Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you.” If King Darius had not realized up to now that a conspiracy against Daniel was afoot, these words certainly showed him. Daniel’s rivals could have identified him as “the appointed head of the presidents and satraps,” but by referring to him as “one of the exiles from Judah,” they tried to put him in a bad light. The mere fact that they referred to his Jewish background shows they held it against him. They wanted the king to look upon Daniel as they did: as an outsider, with no real loyalty to king and empire.
God’s Eighth Commandment urges us to put the best possible construction on our neighbor’s words and actions, to take what our neighbor says and does in the kindest possible way. Daniel’s accusers, however, put the worst possible construction on his actions: “He continues to pray because he has no regard for you, O king.”
The king’s reaction was not at all what the conspirators had hoped for. “He was greatly distressed.” They had secretly hoped the king would be furious that one of his subjects—and a top official, at that—would have dared to disobey him. But Darius knew Daniel too well to believe the accusation of disloyalty. The king had not realized his decree would require Daniel to compromise his faith. The last thing the new king wanted was to begin his reign with religious persecution. Adding to his unhappiness was the sober realization that his desire to have his ego flattered was now going to cost him his best government official.
“Therefore, he was determined to rescue Daniel” (literally, “he set his mind on delivering Daniel”). At the moment, all the king could think about was finding a way to save this faithful civil servant. Darius also knew he didn’t have a lot of time, since ancient justice moved swiftly. It was the custom to execute judgment on a criminal the same day his sentence was pronounced. The king therefore made every effort until sundown to free Daniel from his death sentence. No doubt he had his legal experts check whether there was any possibility of canceling the cruel decree he had signed or of making an exception in Daniel’s case. Too late the king realized the law he had signed was unjust. But it was a law of the Medes and Persians.
Daniel chapter 6 verses 15-18
Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.
There was no longer any doubt in the king’s mind that his own servants had involved him in a plot against Daniel’s life. These conspirators, first of all, had persuaded him to issue the fateful decree. Then they were conveniently on hand to witness Daniel’s continuing prayer. And now they were pressuring the king to enforce the death penalty. Darius realized he had been used by evil men. They were interested not primarily in the welfare of the empire but only in furthering their own careers.
Meanwhile, the corrupt politicians soon realized that the king knew he had been trapped and that he was now looking for some loophole that would enable him to save Daniel. To make sure the king could not make an exception in Daniel’s case, they reminded the king that the decree he had signed was absolute and could not be changed.
With a heavy heart, King Darius gave the order to carry out the death penalty. He ordered his guards to arrest his faithful old servant and to throw him to the lions. Although he was prepared for this, it still must have come as a shock to Daniel. Not only that he was under arrest, but under the death sentence—and for the crime of talking to his heavenly Father!
As the guards prepared to march Daniel off to his death, the king spoke this wish: “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” Remember that Darius spoke as a heathen. According to his belief, the gods often intervened in the affairs of men. The king tried to assure Daniel that if any god would intervene for a worthy man, Daniel’s God surely would for him. How unusual that a heathen king would attempt to comfort a man he had just sentenced to death!
The pit was perhaps a cave, most likely with one opening at the top and another at one side, through which the animals were admitted. The person to be fed to the lions was let down through the opening at the top. The side opening was blocked with a stone and sealed. The seal, perhaps similar to the one that sealed our Lord’s tomb, was made of wax or clay and was imprinted with the seal of both the king and his nobles. The stone therefore could not be moved without the approval of both the king and his officials.
The king returned to his palace, sick at heart. He realized he was responsible for a terrible miscarriage of justice that was going to send an innocent man to a gruesome death. The fact lay heavily on his conscience. He had no appetite, and he was unable to sleep. The statement “without any entertainment being brought to him” is a puzzling one, primarily because Bible scholars are not sure what the Aramaic word translated as “entertainment” really means. The Greek translation of the Old Testament translates it as “food,” as does Luther’s German Bible. Dictionaries give various meanings: “musical instruments,” “dancing girls,” “concubines.” What complicates the problem for the translator is that the passage here is the only time this particular word is used in the entire Old Testament. This much is clear: the king’s attendants brought none of the customary entertainment to the king, since he was deeply disturbed.
It is not difficult to imagine some of the thoughts that came to Daniel during the night he spent in the den of lions. It would have been easy for him to think God had forgotten him. The thought must have occurred to him, “What a strange way for the Lord to end a life spent in his service! For 80 years I have been loyal to the God of my fathers. As a youth I was deported and have had to spend my whole life in a heathen land. And now this is how my life in this faraway land is to end—torn limb from limb by hungry lions!”
Daniel chapter 6 verses 19-20
At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
King Darius was at the lions’ den at the crack of dawn. In the dim light he called out to Daniel, unsure whether Daniel would be able to answer him or not. “Daniel, . . . has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you?” The king knew that Daniel had not been disloyal to him, but that Daniel had spent his whole life, including 60 years in government service, in continuous service to God.
The king’s words strike us once again as typical of a heathen. Although he called Daniel’s God “the living God,” he was very likely using a name he had heard Daniel use for God. He himself, however, had not accepted this one and only true God as his God. By reemphasizing that Daniel had served God continually, Darius expressed the typically heathen view that when a person had fulfilled his obligation to the gods, he stands a good chance of being rewarded by his gods. There is no true faith here.
Daniel chapter 6 verses 21-23
Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”
The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
The king was first surprised and then delighted to hear Daniel’s answer from the dark pit below. “O king, live forever!” This was not the dying gasp of a man mauled by wild animals; this was the cheerful greeting of a man who knew the proper way to address his king. Daniel had been accused of disloyalty to the king, but even under these trying conditions, he declared his willingness to be subject to Darius. There was no disloyalty on Daniel’s part and no resentment over the unfair treatment he had received. Daniel’s cheerful reply indicates that he had probably slept better in the lions’ den than Darius had in the palace bedroom!
“My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me.” The only true God, the God who had made himself known to ancient Israel and had even given them his written Word, had sent his angel to rescue his faithful servant and to frustrate the evil plot that the conspirators had hatched.
Why had the Lord delivered Daniel from the teeth of the lions? Half a century earlier, the prophet Jeremiah had stated the reason clearly:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning.
(Lamentations chapter 3 verses 22-23)
Daniel knew this, even though he didn’t say it here in just so many words. What Daniel did say showed that he felt it necessary to clear up another misunderstanding. Daniel’s loyalty to the king had been called into question, a terribly serious charge to bring against the chief officer of the kingdom. Daniel explained to the king: God’s act of sending his angel to deliver me shows that I am innocent—not sinless, but innocent of the charges raised by the enemies.
“My God sent his angel.” The angels are God’s ministering spirits, whom he sends to serve those who will inherit salvation. Daniel knew that
The angel of the Lord encamps around
those who fear him,
and he delivers them. (Psalm 34 verse 7)
Surrounded all night by wild beasts, Daniel remembered his Lord’s promise:
If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge—
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
(Psalm 91 verses 9-11)
We don’t know whether the angel who shut the lions’ mouths appeared visibly to Daniel in the den, as he did to Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace. Even though Daniel may not have seen God’s angel, he knew that God had sent one to rescue him.
“The lions have not hurt me!” The king couldn’t believe his ears. Could this be true? He quickly gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den and had him examined. Not a scratch was found on him, “because he had trusted in his God.” The king was convinced that the stern requirements of Medo-Persian law had been fully met. A man had been sentenced to death, but God had very obviously overruled the death sentence. The king’s hands were tied by his decree, but God’s hands were not. Darius was powerless to reverse a royal decree; God was able to nullify it.
Daniel chapter 6 verse 24
At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.
The morning that brought good news to King Darius brought bad news to the families of the conspirators. They had gone to bed the previous evening confident that Daniel, the hated Jewish official, would soon be dead. Now they learned to their dismay that not only was Daniel alive, but they themselves were going to receive the awful fate they had planned for him.
Although it seems foreign to our system of justice, Medo-Persian law extended the punishment even to the wives and children of those who plotted Daniel’s death. The Greek historian Herodotus gives us this description of Persian laws: “Some laws are abominable, through which, because of the crime of one person, all his relatives are put to death.” The king’s decree now cost the lives of many of his top government people—probably not all 120 satraps, but at least the ringleaders in the plot against Daniel. But the king apparently felt that anyone who would sentence an innocent man to death was not to be trusted with government office.
The men who had planned for Daniel’s death were themselves thrown to the lions, along with their families. “Before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.” There is no gloating here on the part of the writer. He is simply reporting the gruesome details, because they provide a striking example of divine justice. These details also illustrate how great the miracle of Daniel’s deliverance was. If God’s angel had not shut the mouth of these lions, Daniel would have suffered the same fate his enemies did.
The psalmist David, who knew from personal experience what it means to be persecuted while innocent, wrote:
He who digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit he has made.
The trouble he causes recoils on himself;
his violence comes down on his own
head. (Psalm 7 verses 15-16)
The jealous politicians who had tried to dig a pit for Daniel managed to fall into it themselves. Saint Paul expressed the same truth this way: “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians chapter 6 verse 7).
The Bible contains dozens of accounts that illustrate how God delivers his children from physical danger, as he did Daniel. Perhaps it ought to be emphasized, however, that God does not always reward his children’s trust the way he did Daniel’s. Think of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts chapters 6-7); he did not experience God’s deliverance the way Daniel did. God has different ways of delivering his children. Sometimes our gracious God keeps harm and danger away from his children. Then again, he may permit it to come to us (as he did to his own dear Son on Calvary) and makes it serve our lasting good and our eternal welfare. Whichever way the Lord chooses to protect us, the child of God will pray:
My times are in your hands. . . .
Let me not be put to shame, O LORD.
(Psalm 31 verses 15 and 17)
Daniel chapter 6 verses 25-28
Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land:
“May you prosper greatly!
“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God,
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.
He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
There were two significant results to Daniel’s miraculous deliverance. One has already been mentioned. Those who plotted against Daniel suffered the violent death they had planned for him. The second result is reported here. King Darius issued a decree honoring Daniel’s God.
Under Medo-Persian laws, the king could not recall his former edict, but since God had plainly overruled it, the king issued a new decree that superseded the old one. Far from forbidding prayer to God, the new edict commanded people all across the empire to tremble before the great God of Daniel. It could well be that Daniel had a hand in composing the new law. It called attention to Daniel’s miraculous deliverance and ordered everyone in the Persian Empire to stand in awe of Daniel’s God.
How tragic that God’s great miracle had so little effect on this king! Darius, a heathen who worshiped many gods, was not renouncing his heathen gods or the worship of many gods. Neither did he command that people in his empire worship Jehovah alone. But he did make one thing perfectly clear. He wanted his citizens to show respect for the God of Daniel. He wanted no Persian to do anything to bring down the anger of this powerful God.
Darius did not confess Daniel’s God to be the only God, just the greatest of many gods. Even though Darius was not a believer in the true God, what he said about Daniel’s God is true: “His kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.” God does on occasion proclaim his truth even through the lips of the heathen. The king’s decree would go a long way to making the life of Jews easier in their adopted fatherland.
“So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius.” God still had work for Daniel to do. As was pointed out in the introduction, many of the Jewish exiles chose not to return to Judah when King Cyrus authorized their return. Although God’s enemies had tried to remove Daniel from his position in the government, God prospered his career. The Lord enabled him to continue to work for the welfare of those Jews who chose to make their home in the province of Babylon. God saw fit to extend the useful service of Daniel, so that he also served great King Cyrus, who apparently took over the direct control of the province of Babylon after Darius’ death. (See footnote 1.)
The final verse of this chapter may also be translated, “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” According to this understanding of the verse, Darius could be another name for Cyrus. We discussed this in the commentary on the opening verses of Daniel chapter 6.
This account closes the historical section of the book. The author’s purpose has been to show the miracleworking power of Israel’s God among a heathen people who were holding his people in exile. Through these miracles God reassured and encouraged his people, until such time as he saw fit to deliver them.
The End of Part 6.2