Daniel in the Lion’s Den
The Neo-Babylon Empire fell to the Medes and Persians in October 539 BC, the government of the now Persian province of Babylon is under Darius the Mede. Daniel 6 records an incident that occurs in the royal courts of Darius, a few years after he succeeds to the throne.
“... Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.” (5:31)
Who is Darius the Mede? The historical accuracy of the Book of Daniel has been questioned, since Darius the Mede is not found elsewhere in ancient history, and it is clear from cuneiform sources that Cyrus II was the conqueror of Babylon, and therefore the immediate successor of Nabonidus and Belshazzar. Many critical scholars have considered Darius a “historical construct”. However, Daniel seems to be talking about a historical person in both chapter 5 and 6:
“So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” (6:28)
The book of Daniel has repeatedly proved its historical accuracy, and it is important to focus on the message of Daniel 6, and not become lost in trying to reconcile a historical detail. However, the two most likely candidates to explain who Darius was are:
- Cyrus the all-conquering king of the Medo-Persian Empire, there are a number of instances in history where a king has been referred to by two different names. An example is Ahasuerus from the book Esther who was called Xerxes by the Greeks. Dr. Ralph Wilson suggests that Daniel 6:28 may then be translated as “… Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, namely the reign of Cyrus the Persian”.
- The most likely explanation is that Darius was the title given to the ruler of the province of Babylon, just as Caesar was for the Romans, or Pharaoh for the Egyptians. So, Darius was the title for a Mede called Gubaru, who was appointed to the position of ruler of Babylon by Cyrus. Persepolis was the capital city of the Medo-Persian empire, so it would have been very unlikely that Cyrus would have established his throne at Babylon. Most Biblical translations record Daniel 5:31, as “Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old,” which implies that he was appointed to the position.
Chapters 2-7 of Daniel cover three chiastic parallels, with Daniel 6 recording the second account of Jews being sentenced to death for practicing their faith. In chapter 3 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are condemned to the fiery furnace, and now in chapter 6, Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den. In both cases, unscrupulous men in the royal court see the righteous Jews as hinderances to their self-interests, and look to use the vanity of a pagan king as the means of disposing of the impediment. However, the two narratives emphasise that no matter what forces are drawn up against God’s faithful servants, He is able to deliver them.
The story of Daniel in the lions’ den has been a Sunday School favourite, as an excellent example of faith overcoming adversity. Also, a popular sermon topic from pulpits as far back as the early Church, as a typology of the resurrection of Jesus.
Daniel the Overseer (6:1-2)
“It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss”.
Darius the new ruler of Babylon establishes the structure for the governing of Babylon, “The Kingdom” of Babylonia would be divided into 120 provinces, each ruled by a governor with the Persian title of “satrap”. Then three men would be appointed to oversee these governors, to ensure they were not corrupt, and were diligent and efficient in their duties. The fact that Daniel is chosen as an overseer when he is an old man, being in his early eighties, shows the outstanding quality of the man, his experience and excellence in leadership.
The incorruptible Daniel makes Enemies (6:3-4)
“3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him”.
By the time of the Medo-Persian conquest of Babylon, Daniel would have gained many years of experience as a senior official in the royal court. A man of his abilities, with God’s blessing upon his life, would not be overlooked by the new ruler, and having been given the opportunity, Daniel once again excels. It is an extremely poor indictment of mankind that few politicians who attain high office are free of the stain of corruption, and it seems that all of the governors of Babylonia expect to profit from their position of authority, but they are unable to because of the high moral standards of Daniel.
When a person’s life is put under the microscope, few are able to escape the errors of their past being revealed, Daniel, however, is the exception. He is found to be faithful in his duties, responsible and diligent, with no “error or fault” to be found in his actions. No accusation could be made against Daniel, so plan ‘B’ is then enacted, if they cannot find a legitimate accusation, then they need to create one.
Prayer to God is Banned (6:5-9)
“5 Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God’. 6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, ‘O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counsellors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked’. 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction”.
The only way Daniel’s enemies could find a complaint against Daniel, was if they were to pass a law that would be in contradiction to Daniel’s faith in God. Daniel was a man of prayer, fasting regularly and praying three times a day (Daniel 6:10), according to Jewish tradition. So, a law preventing Daniel from praying would be a law Daniel was sure to break.
Just as Nebuchadnezzar had looked to use the golden image to establish himself as ruler in the minds of the Babylonians, so Darius as new ruler, would see the advantages of the prayers of the nation being directed to him for a month. The decree also would appeal to the hubris of the pagan king, and this is what the conspirators were counting on. Darius is also deceived by the conspirators who assure him that the decree has the unanimous support of “All the high officials” (Vs 7), however, Daniel would certainly not have even been consulted.
Daniel Prays Three Times a Day – as Usual (6:10-11)
“10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God.”
We are able to learn valuable lessons from Daniel, a dedicated man of prayer:
- Daniel prayed privately, not like the Pharisees who made a public spectacle of their prayer. Daniel went to his own house, and knelt before an open window that faced Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:30).
- Daniel kept to the Jewish tradition of praying three times a day, it is important for all believers to set aside a regular time of prayer.
- Daniel prayed from a position of humility and reverence, on his knees.
- Daniel despite knowing that his life was in danger he gives thanks to God; a much repeated command for New Testament believers, is to give thanks to God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Daniel’s Enemies Report Him to the King (6:12-13)
Daniel’s enemies, were well aware of his devotion to God and commitment to prayer, so they would not have had to wait long for the opportunity to personally witness him praying. Then they report him:
“12 Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, ‘O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?’ The king answered and said, ‘The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.’ 13 Then they answered and said before the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day'”.
As with Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews in the Medo-Persian empire, which is recorded in the book of Ester, a decree passed by a king could not be repealed (Esther 1:19; 8:8). However, Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), Esther’s husband, was able to pass a second decree allowing all the Jews in his empire to defend themselves on the day they were to be slaughtered, thus successfully negating the evil plot by Haman. However, there was no such opportunity for Darius to correct his rash decree, which was exactly what the conspirators were planning on.
Darius Seeks to Rescue Daniel (6:14-15)
“14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he laboured till the sun went down to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, ‘Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed'”.
Darius realizes that he has been duped. I use the word duped as it has connotations to the foolishness a person feels after realising that they have been easily manipulated. Darius not only feels foolish, he is distraught, he values Daniel’s wisdom and his dedication to the important work as an administrator, and tries to undo his mistake but cannot. Daniel must have had quite an effect on the king, for the king to try so hard to find a loophole to free Daniel from the judgement of the decree. Finally, all Darius can do is give Daniel a word of hope – a statement – your God will deliver you. The situation is out of the hands of man, only God can save him.
The Persians worshipped a fire god called Atar, so they did not use fire for execution as the Babylonians did (Daniel 3). The Greek historian, Herodotus, records a number of methods used by the Persians for the death penalty, but as Herodotus was very likely biased and wanting to portray the Persians as barbarians, we cannot be sure of their validity. However, being thrown to wild animals was not a common practice of the Persians, and it was the Roman Emperors hundreds of years later, seeking new ways to entertain the crowds that made the practice popular. The lions that Daniel faced were very likely part of the royal Zoo, and the death penalty coming from the minds of men who, because of their frustrations with Daniel, wanted him to be torn to pieces.
Darius despite all his efforts has no other option, he orders the execution to be carried out.
The Lions’ Den (6:16-17).
“16 Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” 17 And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel”.
Just as God used the demonic inspired plot to kill the Jewish youths by fire, to reveal Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, God will turn the tables on Satan’s plan to eliminate Daniel, and use the plot to reveal Himself to Darius. Darius is impressed by Daniel’s devotion to God, but that will soon change to amazement. Daniel found himself in deep trouble because of his devotion to God, but now, that devotion, is going to be rewarded with an amazing miracle, and a revelation of the true God to a pagan king.
The narrative implies that the lion-pit had a ground floor entrances, and an observation platform in the roof through which they could be observed and fed. Daniel would have been pushed in from the side of the den and the entrance then sealed.
Note that it is not only Darius’ ring that is used to seal the opening to the den, but also the satraps, they did not trust their own king, believing he might make an attempt to rescue Daniel.
Daniel Is Delivered by an Angel (6:18-23)
“18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him. 19 Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?’ 21 Then Daniel said to the king, ‘O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm’. 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God”.
The narrator gives a detailed account of how distraught Darius was, as he anxiously waited for the night to end. However, there is good news for the king, just as God had shielded Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from harm, unscathed by the flames of the furnace (3:27), Daniel is resurrected from the lions’ den with not a scratch on his body (6:22). Daniel “trusted in his God,” and so was preserved through faith. The author of Hebrews, in his record of people of faith writes:
“ Who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions…” (Hebrews 11:33)
Daniel’s Accusers Executed (6:24)
“24 And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces”.
No one had to encourage Darius to hold the evil administrators to account, he had been manipulated by these scheming individuals, and they had plotted against a valued servant of the nation. Darius was furious, and there would have been a definite satisfaction at his being able to sentence these men to the same punishment that they had designed for Daniel.
Verse 24 gives the reader the stark reality of the danger Daniel faced. Firstly, the number of lions in the den was very large, considering the fact that all the plotters, and their families were devoured by the lions. Then, Daniel’s explanation that an angel ensured his safety by closing the lions’ mouths is confirmed, when the lions are shown to be ravenous, devouring all who fell into the den.
Darius’s Proclamation (6:25-28)
“25 Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: ‘Peace be multiplied to you. 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27 He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions. 28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian”.
There is a distinct contrast between the two decrees of Daniel 6: The first decree is problematic, made in haste and based on pride – the consequence is that the first decree results in death. While the second decree points to the truth, and directs all who read it to life. The description of God by Darius shows a significant spiritual enlightenment:
- “The living God”.
- “Enduring forever”.
- An everlasting Kingdom.
- Rescuer and Deliverer.
- Performing signs and wonders.
- He is able to deliver His servants.
Daniel 6 follows a very similar pattern to the narrative in Daniel 3 (Chiastic): There is a test of faith where God’s people take a stand for their convictions, and because of their faithfulness and obedience God miraculously protects them; there is then a revelation of the true God to pagans, who then are able to testify to the greatness of the God of Israel.
Daniel 6 has a number of valuable lessons for the believer:
- There are three main types of Christian witness to the unsaved: confront, debate and example. When a person is directly asked if they know Jesus, or a similar salvation question, they are being confronted. Secondly, a person may be questioned about their world view, and shown the flaws of their belief through debate (Christian apologetics). Finally, the example of a person’s lifestyle can be a powerful testimony to the truth, for the unbeliever. The character of Daniel was an example to the pagan Persian king.
- The self-discipline of a regular prayer life is vital for keeping a strong close relationship with God. Daniel is humble and reverent in his approach to God, recognizing His all-encompassing authority, and giving thanks for His guidance.
- God consistently brings His servants into positions where they can be a testimony to the unsaved, even if at times the circumstances may be life threatening.
- Once more the book of Daniel makes it clear that God is able to deliver His servants from all of the world’s dangers.
- Through Daniel’s faithfulness, God is able to reveal Himself to the most powerful man in the kingdom, and through the king, reach all his subjects.
- In the days coming, there will be persecution for Christians in the West. We need to focus on the real hero of Daniel – God. Just keep doing what we have always done, worship God, love God – proclaim the gospel. God is able to protect us, and the worst others can do to us is send us to be with the Lord.