Sometimes, within the complexity of life, we find ourselves betwixt and between, or confused. We waver, and we worry about gaining approval, being accepted by people, even about being popular. Daniel gives us an example of being well-grounded, properly focussed, and thereby really effective within the community he lived. Daniel embraced the concept of being a citizen of heaven active on earth. In his life, Daniel had a strong sense of identity as one of God’s people.
Daniel has gained a good reputation in the Babylonian kingdom. Daniel was an exile from Judah, taken there when his nation had again been vanquished by the power to the north. But Daniel had been able to gain respect for his abilities in Babylon. Daniel was one who had heeded the words of Jeremiah some time earlier – to seek the welfare of the city in which he was living despite being in exile. Successive kings had come to value Daniel, and trusted him with positions of influence. Daniel had used his power well, and brought his God into a good light. We find him here (at chapter six) in the top-rung of government. Yet not everyone was happy about that! Some may not have liked that he was a foreigner. Some may not have liked that Daniel had demonstrated his faith in a God they did not know. Some may have just been outright jealous. So a plot was hatched!
For Daniel, this would be a challenge; a test of how real and deep his faith and commitment really was. How would Daniel react? Would he give in to this threat to his life? Would fear get the better of him? Whose approval would he ultimately seek? What sort of witness to the true God would he be? Would Daniel try to find some wriggle room? In Daniel chapter 1, he resisted the temptation to accept all the trimmings of distinguished life, preferring to stand somewhat apart, pointing towards a different primary allegiance. Daniel was not going to get caught up in the excesses of royal life, and be absorbed in the that self-serving culture. The palace was where Daniel worked, but not where he gave his ultimate loyalty. So the reader is already primed to expect that Daniel will succeed in staying true to himself. But we wouldn’t want to underestimate the threat of being torn apart by a pack of hungry lions.
The Plot against Daniel
Daniel had gained the respect of King Darius – he had “distinguished himself” in service, and was seen as having an “excellent spirit” (v.3). Even the plotters, no matter how hard they looked, could not find one thing that he could be accused of – “no negligence or corruption could be found in him” (v.4b). But for Daniel to become the number one man, over everybody and under only the king, that was too much for many. Self-interest, jealously, and reckless human ambition was going to be unleashed on the best government official Babylon (or Persia) could possibly have! And this involved a bizarre, yet dangerous, plan to manipulate King Darius into an awkward position. This was politics at its worst; as we see insincerity and personal agendas at play.
First you stroke the king’s ego … as if you’re his best friends and tightest supporters – “O King Darius, live forever” (v.6b)! Then come up with a suggestion that would make the king more powerful and revered: ‘Why don’t we make it illegal to worship anyone else but you’. ‘No prayers shall be offered unless they are to you’. This was something unusual in the usually tolerant Persian empire of the time. Yet offering the powerful even more potential power is often too alluring to resist. And then, you attach a death penalty to anyone who doesn’t take heed of this law! And then, you help set this law in concrete so there is no way out for anyone – a law so permanent even the king can’t change it afterwards. All this without ever letting on who your target is!!
King Darius was completely blindsided, as he would have had no idea that it was Daniel they were after. The king had been tricked, even though his ego had made it easy for the plotters against Daniel. Such was the reliable and public nature of Daniel’s faith in his God, these plotters knew they were potentially on to a ‘winner’! Daniel’s exposed form was such that there was no way he could not pray to his God for one day let alone thirty days!! The very real threat to Daniel, was not just the loss of his job and his place of influence, but the loss of his very life. What would he do? Try and see out thirty days without any obvious adherence to God? Pray in secret maybe? Run? Try to catch a plane to South America? No! Look at verse 10.
In full knowledge of the possible repercussions, Daniel prayed for all to see … on his knees (with the windows of his house wide open) three times a day! What is most impressive about this is that this seems to be so instinctual, so natural; Daniel just continued to do exactly what he had been doing previously. This praying included “praise”, suggesting what? That God’s faithfulness to Daniel in the past would undoubtedly be experienced again. It’s as if he didn’t blink … had no second thoughts … but, any human would have to be affected by the level of this threat hanging over his actions. Yet, if we know what we are doing is right, and exactly what God would have us be doing, then in a way the threat becomes irrelevant. At least this is how Daniel seemed to think and act.
How could this be??
While Daniel lived, worked and served in Persia under King Darius, he was a citizen of a different kingdom. Through the ‘new testament’ we come to know this kingdom as the Kingdom of God. This is the Kingdom that we become a citizen of after we are born anew through accepting what Jesus has done for us. Yet, even in ‘old testament’ times we see individuals who were wholly and utterly God’s people – and Daniel is a primary example of such a one! God came first, and everything else had to fall in behind this primary allegiance. For me, verse 10 is the crescendo and highpoint of this story. Everything that follows is just the natural outflow of Daniel’s commitment.
What else did Daniel pray about??
Fair enough (as we read in verse 11) that Daniel was actively praying for God’s mercy (likely to be applying this to his own current situation). But from what we know about Daniel, it is likely that he was also praying for the bigger picture: for the nation, for the king, for his enemies, for changed hearts, that things could turn around to the good. Through this Daniel would have been open to new insight and Divine encouragement. Daniel would also know that if he was to be thrown into the lion’s den, then God would be there with him.
We note that the windows of Daniel’s house were “open toward Jerusalem”!! For this is the place where his unshakable trust in God had begun. Sometimes when things in life get tricky, or we feel under attack, or we are in a flat spot, we need to open the window to our past assurances of God’s faithfulness. We need to lift the blinds in our rooms and seek the light to enter our darkness. We constantly need to draw on our experience of our ‘first’ love, and all those times when we just know that God is with us blessing us and teaching us and renewing us!
The plotters dob Daniel in, and demand the full force of the law, much to the king’s distress. King Darius, has discovered he has been manipulated and tricked, and wants to save Daniel, and obviously applies some delaying tactics. However, the king is put under extreme pressure, and feels locked into applying capital punishment. Yet still, King Darius, in full regret, hopes that Daniel can in some way survive (refer verse 16b); proposing that Daniel’s God may be able to perform this miracle. In a way, the king, with his hands tied behind his back, was trusting Daniel into God’s hands. Daniel’s life had truly touched the life of King Darius; for this king fasted and laid awake all night in concern for Daniel’s fate, and then rushed to the lion’s den first thing in the morning.
While Daniel may have been a pain to those other misguided officials, he was impressive to the king! And this may have alerted the king to the reality and truth of Daniel’s God. In the morning, King Darius calls out to Daniel with some level of hope and expectation (verse 20). Imagine, for a moment, the guilt this king would be carrying! And what further understanding has this king gained from his night of concerted reflection, when he refers to Daniel as the “servant of the living God”?! A new possibility has been raised in the king’s mind. When Daniel does survive, once again vindicating the rightness of his faith and the truth of his God, the king dispenses with the architects of this evil plot. The righteous one is vindicated, while Daniel’s enemies are defeated.
What King Darius then did to all those who plotted against Daniel, and not just them, but innocent family members as well, is extreme. This king still needed to learn a lot about measured justice. But the point being made here is that God delivered Daniel from a threat that was absolutely real! We also might notice that the law, once seen as irrevocable, that sent Daniel to the lions, was now set aside, under the greater authority of God. The king was liberated from his political straight jacket, and is able to act according to common sense. Daniel was to be released and re-established in his leadership; for surely God had deemed him innocent.
We might want to consider why Daniel survived. According to Daniel’s own words (in verse 22), this was because he was found to be, quote, “blameless” before both God and the king. And then the storyteller tells us (in verse 23) that Daniel was completely uninjured, “because he had trusted in his God”. God honours faith and commitment, and the contribution that Daniel can make … as a citizen of the Kingdom of God – bringing heaven to earth. “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is not how it always turns out for the righteous, but it surely is exciting when it does. In this particular case what a testimony could be told, and it was none other than the king of Persia who told it (refer verses 25-27).
How did all this happen? Daniel’s safety, King Darius’ enlightenment, the vindication of God? Despite being under extreme pressure NOT to do so, Daniel took up his place of prayer, and showed all those around him, friends and detractors alike, that he was God’s person, and that his ultimate citizenship lay with the Kingdom of God. This gives great inspiration and hope to the modern-day followers of Jesus, that nailing our colours to the Jesus-mast, despite the cost, will have the most effective of outcomes.