Daniel in the Lion’s Den

For more study see commentary on Daniel 6.

At the end of Daniel 5, the Babylonian empire fell in the span of one sentence. Literally overnight there was a changing of the guard and Daniel found himself under a new king. Under King Belshazzar, Daniel had lost his position for some reason or other. The most likely reason was that Daniel was a man of light and darkness hates the light. Wise men seek out the best advice possible while foolish men seek out yes men who tell them only what their itching ears want to hear.

This happened in Daniel’s day and it will happen more and more until the day of Christ’s return as Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

In the end, if Belshazzar had been exposed to Daniel’s influence, history may have played out differently. Belshazzar may have humbled himself before the Lord instead of setting himself up as an enemy of God. But the foolishness on the king’s part ushered in a new era in Daniel’s life as well as the nation of Israel as we’ll see in a few weeks.

Daniel 6:1-3

1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

Even though Daniel was in his early 80’s he wasn’t ready to retire yet because God was not done with him. As a pastor I find it sad that some Christians believe that they reach a point where they no longer have to serve. Certainly as we age, what we can do changes from time to time. I’ve had to warn people that if they keep going like they used to that one day they are just going to drop over dead.

There reaches a time when most of us will have to slow down and we won’t be able to do everything that we used to. And when that day comes, it doesn’t mean that we’re done with our work. It means that we train the next generation to stand in the gap. If you can’t get out and visit any longer, you pick up the phone and you give someone a call or you put a card or letter in the mail. And if you’re really limited in your abilities, you better at least be spending time fervently praying for your pastor and church.

It appears that time had not slowed Daniel down or dulled his intellect. As a teen Daniel impressed Nebuchadnezzar with his wisdom, as an old man Daniel impressed Darius with his intellect. Not only was he made one of the top three administrators in the entire kingdom but the king was preparing to set him over the whole kingdom.

Vs 4-5

4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

Daniel is not liked by the other officials and they look for ways to have him removed from power. This could be a simple power grab with each person thinking that if Daniel is removed that they would be up for a promotion. Likely it is more than this however. Because Daniel is incorruptible, he won’t accept corruption from those beneath him. He won’t allow them to abuse their power or take kickbacks from other people or anything of this nature.

There is also probably a dislike of Daniel because He is a follower of God. Daniel’s presence shines a harsh light on their own sins. This happens a lot in Christianity today. We don’t need to preach against sin for people to be uncomfortable being around us. Just by not participating in it, it can cause guilt and shame among those who participate in the activity. They see that they are doing wrong by the fact that someone else does not participate in the activity.

A few years ago I was working as an office temp. I made no effort to hide the fact that I was a pastor but I didn’t go out of my way to press it upon them either. As Christmas drew near, the plans for the office Christmas party drew near. Of course the plans for the party involved alcohol and the tension in the room grew as the discussion continued. I said nothing about it but the expectation was that I didn’t approve of drinking and people felt uncomfortable about this. Fortunately for them and me as well, I didn’t continue at the job until Christmas as I was hired as a full time pastor shortly after this meeting.

Daniel is likely a victim of this. He doesn’t need to ram his faith down people’s throats for others to be uncomfortable around him. After searching for a way to get rid of Daniel the officials decide that the only basis to attack him is his faith.

Vs 6-9

6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.

We find a couple of things here. First of all, the men who are trying to trap Daniel are liars. This is no surprise as they tell the king that all of his officials have agreed that everyone should pray to him for the next 30 days. Of course Daniel didn’t agree nor was he even consulted.

Next, we find the trappings of vanity. This is similar but not quite the same as Nebuchadnezzar’s sin of pride. Nebuchadnezzar had pride in his accomplishments and all that he had achieved but did not acknowledge God as the source of these things. Darius is focused on himself as well but it’s not anything that he has achieved. He just wants adulation. He wants something that he doesn’t deserve.

These two tricks are literally the oldest in the book. How did the serpent deceive Eve? Genesis 3:4-5:

4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan lied and appealed to vanity by telling Eve that she would become like God. Satan moved Darius’s officials to lie and to appeal to his vanity. It’s the same play from the same playbook!
The final thing to note from these verses is confirmation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar was told that another empire would follow his but that it would be inferior in power. Here we see one of the ways in which the following empire was inferior to Nebuchadnezzar’s. The law of the Medes and Persians did not allow for changes. Once a decree was issued, it was set in stone. Nebuchadnezzar on the other hand could change the law at his slightest whim. If he changed his mind and decided to do something different, his new word was law. Not so with the Medes and Persians. This is the same law that causes problems for the Jews in the book of Esther.

Vs 10-12

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 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 human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”

Daniel is not concerned about the decree. He has seen God’s protection before and has no need to start to question it at this point. He does not alter his routine or do anything to hide his faith. So it is no surprise that the officials find him praying to God.

The officials want to be certain that Daniel – and Darius – are trapped before they tell him the news that Daniel has been found praying to God. One can imagine how badly this could work out for them if Darius learns of their plan before it is truly set into place. However, Darius confirms that it is law and that it can’t be revoked.

Vs 13-14

13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

Compare Darius’s reaction to Nebuchadnezzar’s when he learns that three of his officials are not bowing down to worship his idol. Nebuchadnezzar is incensed at the news while Darius is troubled. This gives us a better idea of the difference between pride and vanity. Pride feels as if it is deserving of the recognition it receives. Vanity can quickly be shown for how foolish it is.
Darius knows that he has been tricked and he attempts to rescue Daniel until sundown – probably the time at which the law required him to carry out the sentence. Darius is probably not a believer at this point but his heart is much softer than Nebuchadnezzar’s was in the same situation.

Vs 15-16

15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
16 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!”

Being caught by his own laws, Darius issues the decree to throw Daniel into the lion’s den. But his statement is one of sorrow and contrition for having to do so. Nebuchadnezzar boasted “then what God can save you from my hand?” Darius instead asked that Daniel’s God save Daniel from his own hand.

Vs 17-18

17 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. 18 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.

The stone rolled into place on top of the lion’s den draws an obvious parallel to the stone rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb. Both situations looked absolutely hopeless from a human perspective. The fact that the king spent the night without eating or entertainment could indicate that he was fasting and praying, just as he had seen Daniel do.

Vs 19-20

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 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?”

Darius had faith that God was able to rescue Daniel. Why else would he arrive early in the morning only to peer into a grizzled scene of the remains of his most trustworthy administrator? His question is not, “Are you there?” It is not “Did you somehow survive the night?” It was, “Did the God whom you continually serve rescue you?” Darius has faith that Daniel’s God could rescue even from a hopeless situation.

Compare this to the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had repeatedly told his disciples that He would rise from the dead. Yet none of them waited outside of his tomb on the third day, wanting to see if it had come to pass. Those who did come, came to prepare the body of a dead man. Even after they were told that Jesus had risen from the dead, they weren’t able to believe. Darius shows up at the crack of dawn, expecting to find Daniel alive whereas the disciples didn’t show up and expected Jesus to still be dead.

Vs 21-23

21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 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, Your Majesty.”
23 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.

Daniel’s statement, “May the king live forever!” is not just a formality. Darius had found salvation that night! Daniel knew that only a man who expected to find him alive would be at the lion’s den at first light and call out to him.

Just as with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, when Daniel is lifted out of the lion’s den he is in perfect condition. When God performs a miracle, He does so completely. Obviously not being torn to pieces by the lions is a miracle. But consider the fact that this is an 80 year old man who was thrown into a pit that was deep enough that he had to be lifted out by others. Most 80 year olds are concerned about just falling in their driveway, let alone being forcibly thrown into a pit. But there is no wound on Daniel.

Vs 24-28

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.
25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
“May you prosper greatly!
26 “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.
27 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.”
28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Wickedness doesn’t prosper. Sometimes judgment is not as swift as it is in this instance but God is not mocked. One can imagine the laughter and celebration that the officials had the night before at the thought of getting rid of Daniel. God gets the last laugh though.

Psalm 2:1-6 says:

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill”

The story ends with wickedness being punished, righteousness being rewarded, and a king finding salvation in the Lord. The real celebration is in heaven.

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