In the Den of Lions

Daniel said to the king, ‘O king, live forever! 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’” (vv. 21–22).

- Daniel 6

Daniel 6 brings us to the Persian period of the old covenant era. At the beginning of the seventh century BC, the prophet Isaiah foresaw that the southern kingdom of Judah would be exiled into Babylon but that a ruler named Cyrus would later conquer Babylon and send the Judahites back to their land (Isa. 39; 45:1–13). In 539/538 BC, this prophecy was fulfilled when Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus’ general Gobryas captured the city of Babylon and deposed co-regents Belshazzar and Nabonidus, killing the former and exiling the latter (Dan. 5:30). Babylon became a part of the Medo- Persian Empire, and Cyrus installed Darius the Mede to govern Babylon and its territory (v. 31). Darius is likely the ruling name of the Persian general Gubaru.

Unlike the Babylonians, who took people from their homeland, the Persians relocated displaced peoples in their empire back to their own countries (2 Chron. 36:22–23). Many Jews returned to the Promised Land, but many also remained in Babylon, including Daniel, who was in his late seventies or early eighties at the time of the return in 539/538 BC. He remained a key part of Babylonian society and was the chief advisor to Darius (Dan. 6:1–3). The governor’s other advisors were jealous of Daniel, but because of the prophet’s outstanding reputation, the only way to get rid of him was to outlaw Daniel’s piety (vv. 4–5). They told Darius that the advisors unanimously agreed that a new law should be put in place whereby the governor alone would represent the divine for thirty days. During that time, only prayers o‰ered to Darius would be legal. Darius was fooled by these liars—after all, Daniel would never have suggested this plan—and established the law that they had suggested (vv. 6–9).

If we are not careful, we might misunderstand what the prophet did next. When Daniel prayed to the one true God, he was not instigating confrontation but rather going about his normal routine (v. 10). He had prayed before the ban, and he would continue to pray after it. Daniel models how we should respond if we ever face the threat of the state. We should not be unnecessarily antagonistic, though we must obey the Lord regardless of whether the governing authorities permit it. Like Daniel, we should not go out of our way to fight with the ruling authorities, but neither should we bow to ungodly demands. Moreover, when we are faithful to the Lord, He will be faithful to us. He may not rescue us from the lions’ den like He did Daniel, but He will save us forever, granting us eternal life (vv. 11–28; Dan. 12:2)

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments on today’s passage that true piety is both internal and external. It is “not only the duty of offering to God the sacrifice of prayer in our hearts, but that our open profession is also required, and thus the reality of our worship of God may clearly appear.” Daniel was recognized for his piety, so when his piety was outlawed, he was easy to find. Though we should not be cantankerous, the world should know by our actions that we love the one true God.

Passages for Further Study

Daniel 3
Matthew 10:26–33

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