In order to get a running start into one of the most famous passages in all of the Bible — Daniel and the Lion’s Den, the last two verses of chapter 5 set the stage for Daniel 6. We’re told, “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.” In one night the Babylonian Empire gave way to the Medes and the Persians. As God foretold back in Daniel 2, the “head of gold” was taken by “another kingdom” typified by the “chest and arms of silver.”
While history is clear the king of this new Medo-Persian Empire was a man named Cyrus the Great, the identity of “Darius” is a bit more complicated. While Darius is referred to in Scripture as the king of Babylon, this can be misleading. Though the city had been preserved during the siege, Babylon was not initially the central capital of this new empire.
For some geographical context, the Babylonian Empire comprised of mostly the known world working west from Iraq. Ironically, Persia conquered the Chaldeans rising from their east in what is present-day Iran. When Babylon fell the Persian Empire literally doubled in size. In order to consolidate power, Cyrus ruled the world from Persia in the east while Darius was charged with overseeing the remnants of Babylon in the west.
The second detail to consider is that, while a man named Darius I would follow Cyrus years later, the man referenced in Daniel 5 and 6 is not the same man. The timeline doesn’t fit. In fact, there is no record of a Darius ruling at this time in any of the historical chronicles.
And yet, that might not be as big an issue as you’d imagine. According to two secular historians (Herodotus and Josephus) “Darius” was in actuality a title given to the man placed over Babylon. The Aramaic word “Darius” simply means “holder of the scepter.”
Historically, we know the main general for King Cyrus was a Mede named Gubaru. Writing to this point, David Guzik observes that ancient documents reveal, following the capture of Babylon, Cyrus granted Gubaru the power to “make appointments, assemble an army, levy taxes, and possess palaces making him in a very real sense the king over Babylon.” In fact, ancient records tell us Gubaru was born in the year 601 making him 62 years old in 539 BC — the year Babylon fell. It seems Gubaru held the title Darius.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into this amazing story… Daniel 6:1-2, “It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss.”
One of the notable differences between the Babylonians and Persians was the power structure central to their governance. While Babylon ruled through the iron will of an absolute monarch, because this new empire was founded on an alliance of the Medes working with the Persians, they governed through agreed upon, accepted law.
For example, we know Nebuchadnezzar’s power was consummate. He would make decrees for the masses he could personally defy or change on a whim. In contrast, as we’re about to see, Persian kings were bound by the edicts they issued just like everyone else.
Regarding the restructuring of the vast Babylonian territories now under their control, we read how “Darius set over the kingdom 120 satraps.” Think of them as 120 district courts set over specific regions charged with the day to day business. These 120 men would then be “accountable” to “three governors” who’d report matters directly to the king. In a twist, we’re told that Darius specifically selected Daniel to be one of the three.
Because Daniel had served in various Babylonian administrations, was well versed in Chaldean law and language, and was chief over the wise men, it’s likely Darius and Daniel already knew each other through years of geopolitical exchanges. As such, Darius knew him to be a fair man of high character. We’ll get the impression they were friends.
Aside from the relational familiarity, in order to aid this peaceful transition of power, as well as maintain a level of governmental continuity, since Daniel was a Hebrew and not a Babylonian, he was the perfect choice to be one of Darius’ most senior administrators.
Daniel 6:3-5, “Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.’”
Daniel is roughly 85 years old. He’d been off the scene enjoying his retirement years when he’s unexpectedly summoned by the Queen to give Belshazzar the bad news God had taken away his kingdom and given it to the Medes and Persians. In a night, one Empire transitions to another, and Daniel once again finds himself being thrust into service.
As one of just three men serving directly under King Darius, it doesn’t take long for Daniel to “distinguish himself above the other two governors and 120 satraps.” In fact, his periodic performance reviews by HR were so stellar, the rumor circulating around the palace was that Darius was actually thinking about “setting Daniel over the whole realm.”
In an act of self-preservation laced with a measure of jealousy, the other two governors along with the satraps set out to dig up something they could use against Daniel. Sadly for them, all of their opposition research failed to find any flaw in Daniel’s impeccable character.
Before we unpack this story in full, I want to take a few minutes and provide a more complete profile of what we know about Daniel through the first five chapters.
For starters, as a teenager, Daniel had to make an important decision. He’d been ripped from his home by Nebuchadnezzar and taken 700 miles to serve in the king’s place. His captors castrated him, stripped him of his Hebrew identity, gave him a new name, taught him new laws, forced him to learn a new language, and adopt a foreign culture.
Though he would serve in the courts of men, in this important and consequential moment in his life, Daniel had to decide which God he would worship? Would he adopt the gods that governed Babylon or would he remain loyal to the God of his fathers?
Right from the jump, we read in chapter one, that Daniel “purposed in his heart he would not eat the king’s delicacies.” Daniel wisely drew a moral line in the sand. He set a boundary concerning his relationship with Babylon. Daniel determined he’d serve faithfully as long as his service didn’t require him to violate his conscious before the Lord.
By the time we get to chapter 6, Daniel is now an old man. His memories of home have faded. He’s been serving the realm for almost 70 years. The Empire that took him captive had fallen and he now finds himself living under the authority of an entirely new set of masters. And yet, never once has this man wavered from the decision he made in his youth.
The second trait we find in reference to Daniel is that on two occasions people said he had “an excellent spirit” and five times this was attributed to the fact he was in-dwelt with “the Spirit of the Holy God.” What’s incredible is Daniel is one of a few Old Testament characters described using terms largely reserved for the New Testament believers!
Amazingly, the pagan people who interacted with Daniel found his spirit to be so pleasant they attribute his demeanor to the divine. People had a brush with the Living God when they encountered Daniel because he was filled with the Holy Spirit!
Thirdly, never forget fruit manifests on a branch because of the nourishment provided by the roots. For the reasons I just mentioned, it was obvious to everyone Daniel was filled with the Spirit of God because of the way he lived! Daniel was different from everyone.
At the end of chapter 1, we’re told “none was found like Daniel… In all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he was found him ten times better than all who were in all his realm.” In Daniel 5 the Queen affirms that in Daniel was “found light, understanding, and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, an excellent spirit, knowledge” so that he could “interpret dreams, solve riddles, and explain enigmas.”
In the verses we just read we’re told “Daniel distinguished himself” from everyone else working for King Darius. The word “distinguished” means to show out. Daniel’s “excellent spirit” was not something he had to manufacture or conjure up on his own…
As a manifestation of his relationship with God, Daniel was filled with the supernatural presence of God which oozed out of his being in the way he lived and the words he said. The Light of God in his heart was not hidden from view, but on display for all to see. Remember it’s impossible to be a witness of an experience you never had. You can’t shine a light you don’t possess. You’ll never have the fruit of the Spirit without the Spirit of the fruit!
The fourth characteristic associated with Daniel is that he was a faithful servant who possessed high integrity and moral fortitude. One of the other unique things about Daniel is he’s one of only a handful of men in the Bible in which nothing bad is ever recorded. In fact, the parallels between Daniel and Joseph (another one of these men) are noteworthy.
Like Joseph, Daniel had been taken captive from his home as a young man.
Like Joseph, Daniel would spend the rest of his days living in foreign lands.
Like Joseph, Daniel was given a new name commemorating a pagan deity.
Like Joseph, Daniel adopted a worldly tongue and dress.
Like Joseph, Daniel purposed in his heart to remain faithful to God.
Like Joseph, while life had dealt him a difficult hand, Daniel made the most of it.
Like Joseph, Daniel refused to compromise his morals in the face of severe temptation.
Like Joseph, Daniel was known as a man who possessed the Spirit of God.
Like Joseph, Daniel was used by God to interpret dreams and speak His truth to power.
Like Joseph, Daniel would serve faithfully gaining the king’s admiration and trust.
Like Joseph, Daniel would be promoted to profound positions of influence.
Like Joseph, Daniel’s character served as a witness of the true and living God of Israel.
Daniel’s integrity was so unassailable that his enemies clearly motivated to find any type of dirt, “could find no charge, error, or fault in him.” Again, Daniel’s commitment and devotion to God was so well known, the conclusion of these conspirators was they wouldn’t “find any charge against him unless they found it concerning the law of his God.”
Daniel 6:6-9, “So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: ‘King Darius, live forever! All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. (Petitions means prays.)
Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.’ (Once signed the decree would be binding.) Therefore King Darius signed the written decree.”
In their plan to take down Daniel, these men want Darius to issue an official decree that for a period of “thirty days” anyone who prayed to “any god or man except the king was to be cast into the den of lions.” Aside from the flattery, since it was so early into Darius’ reign in Babylon, the logic was for this to be a test of loyalty to the Medo-Persian Empire. Anyone who disobeyed would be given a swift execution by being cast into the lion’s den.
While King Darius signs off on the proposal making the decree a law no man could alter, it’s worth pointing out he does so under the false presence “all the governors” were on board. Clearly, this was a lie as Daniel was completely cut out of the chain of command.
Daniel 6:10, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”
Let me make a few observations about Daniel’s decision to engage in what we’d call civil disobedience… Verse 10 opens, “When Daniel knew that the writing was signed.” Right from the beginning it’s important to point out Daniel was aware this was a trap crafted by his enemies to destroy him. He was not ignorant of the law or what had been decreed.
Daniel was aware if he prayed to God during this thirty day period and was caught “the law of the Medes and Persians” required he be “cast into the lion’s den.” Daniel knew the consequences of disobeying the command were severe. He also knew the motivation for the decree had been self-serving and that his enemies were watching his every movement.
To compound matters, Daniel was mindful of the fact his friendship with Darius wouldn’t give him immunity. What’s really amazing is Daniel acts without possessing any knowledge for how the story ends. In fact, he’s never read the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den!
And yet, knowing the stakes and what was likely to result, Daniel “goes home,” proceeds to “his upper room,” and “with his windows open toward Jerusalem, kneels down, prays and gives thanks to his God.” Not only does Daniel do this once, but he proceeds to do this on three separate occasions that very day “as was his custom since early days.”
Let me begin by explaining WHY Daniel would engage in civil disobedience. What’s interesting about the decree was the obvious work around. Look again at verse 7, “All the governors consulted together to establish a royal statute that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except the king, was to be cast into the den of lions.” Notice, the law didn’t require Daniel pray to Darius. It forbid him from praying to his God for 30 days.
This twist on a familiar passage is interesting to me. Pastor’s will say Christians have been called to obey the laws of man until our obedience causes us to defy the laws of God. And while that’s completely true, this story presents another dynamic entirely. When the laws of man forbid us from living out our Christian faith, civil disobedience is also warranted.
You see the decree of Darius didn’t require Daniel do anything specific. He could have kept his mouth shut, stayed at home, waited out the 30 days, and been good. Instead, in telling Daniel he could not pray to his God, the State was forbidding him from doing something central to his faith and relationship with Jesus! In light of such an outrageous decree (like telling people they can’t attend church) Daniel had no choice but to rebel.
Secondly, notice HOW Daniel engaged in civil disobedience. It would seem since the “early days” of his Babylonian captivity it had been Daniel’s “custom” three times a day to enter an “upper room” in his home that had “windows” he could “open towards Jerusalem.” With a view of the horizon, Daniel would get on his knees to “pray and give thanks to God.”
This is so important… A good indicator something is foundational to your relationship with God is when it’s a central component to your daily life. Three times each and every day since his youth, Daniel would take a few minutes to pray and worship God in his home. He had a specific place, a particular posture, and an intentional direction. Knowing the lion’s den awaited, Daniel refused to allow the State to have any say in how he lived out his faith.
And yet, while Daniel chose to defy the order, his attitude remained Godly. Notice Daniel doesn’t rally a protest to take to the streets in defiance of governmental overreach. He doesn’t go into the public square to stage a “pray in” session hoping to become a martyr.
There is zero pride is Daniel’s defiance, nor is there any compromise. For example, knowing open windows would enable prying eyes, Daniel doesn’t change his routine in any way. He disobeys the king’s decree, but he does absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
Daniel 6:11-13, “Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: ‘Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?’
The king answered and said, ‘The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.’ So they answered and said before the king, ‘That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.’
Daniel 6:14-17, “And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, ‘Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed.’
So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.’ Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed.
Darius quickly realizes he’s been hoodwinked. These men set him up because they wanted to take down Daniel. They played on his ego and got him to issue a decree that put the life of his friend in jeopardy. The text tells us Darius “set his heart” on finding a way to “deliver Daniel.” All-day he and his team of lawyers “labored” looking for a loophole in the statute.
Sadly, all his efforts were for not. Daniel was guilty of violating this ill-advised statute. Once the sun finally sets, Darius is forced to “give the command” in accordance with the law he signed. Daniel’s brought to the edge of the pit and “cast into the den of lions.” The first miracle is that Daniel’s old bones were able to endure the 15 to 20 foot fall onto a dirt floor.
As “a stone” was being “laid on the mouth of the den” in order to make an escape or rescue impossible, Darius calls out to his friend by making a most astonishing statement. He says, “Daniel, your God, who you serve continually, He will deliver you.” Again, what a profound life, legacy, and testimony that Darius would say such a thing! It’s also worth point out at no point in the process does Daniel mount a defense or for that matter say a single word.
Daniel 6:18-20, “Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?’”
Darius has been worried sick about his friend. So much so he can’t eat, didn’t want to be entertained, and couldn’t sleep a lick. The moment the sun rose the king “went in haste to the den of lions” and command the stone to be rolled away. He cries out with a measure of trepidation his inquiry might be met with silence, “Daniel! Has God delivered you?”
Daniel 6:21-23, “Then Daniel said to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.’ Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.” (We’ll come back to this…)
Daniel 6:24, “And the king gave the command, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions — them, their children, and their wives; and the lions overpowered them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever came to the bottom of the den.” (Ugh. They don’t include this verse in the children’s Bible presentation of Daniel and the Lion’s Den.)
Knowing he’d been lied too and manipulated, Darius takes drastic and brutal measures. “The men who accused Daniel” along with “their children and wives” are “cast into the den of lions.” Lions who happen to be very hungry on account they’d missed dinner.
While we read such an account and feel uneasy about it, in ancient cultures, it was not abnormal for the entire family of a man being executed to share a similar fate. Not only would this serve as a deterrent for anyone else considering a stupid decision, but killing his wives and children lessened the chance of retribution or vengeance at a later date.
I do need to make one important observation… Men, the decisions you make carry with them profound effects on your wife and kids — for the good or the bad. Stats are clear if a man gives his life to Jesus and makes church a priority, his entire family follows suit.
Sadly, the inverse of this reality is equally true! It’s so heartbreaking when an innocent wife and her children are thrown into a lion’s den simply because a husband acted foolishly and without the consideration of how his decisions might negatively affect his family!
Daniel 6:25-28, “Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God (He’s alive!), and steadfast forever (His actions are sure); His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end.
He delivers and rescues (He cares about His people), and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”
Before we close out this story, let’s get back to the miracle and I want to do so by looking at two important statements. In verse 22, Daniel tells Darius his life was spared because “God sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths.” While it’s entirely possible this was an actual angel sent by God to protect Daniel from being devoured by supernaturally muzzling the mouths of these hungry lions, I have a different theory altogether.
A pride of lions typically exists with a large grouping of females, cubs, a couple of younger males, and an older dominate — think The Lion King. In a pride you’ll find a very distinct hierarchy of authority. Everyone is given a defined role set by the strongest male.
What if the reason these lions didn’t eat Daniel came down to the presence of a much greater Lion who wouldn’t let them? To this point, in Revelation 5:5 Jesus is given an interesting name of particular relevance. He’s called, “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” Could it be the lions in this den stayed down because Jesus the Lion showed up? I think so!
The second statement of note is found at the end of verse 23. We read, “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him because he believed in his God.” So much of the commentary concerning this story focuses on God’s supernatural deliverance of Daniel from these hungry lion’s. Daniel stood on his convictions, would only bow his knee to Jesus, believed in God, and in turn, the Lord saved him! I even heard one pastor I respect make the observation, “Your faith can move the power of God.”
The problem I have with this application of the passage is how hollow it comes across in light of history. You see while God saved Daniel from these lions, He allowed so many other saints to be consumed by lions during the Roman persecution of the early church! Expanding the analogy… It’s true more Christians die in the Lion’s Den then are saved.
When considering this passage there are two overarching ideas you need to keep in mind… First, the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den foreshadows the experience of Jesus!
Like Daniel, Jesus lived in a foreign land that was not His original home.
Like Daniel, Jesus was a man of impeccable character in whom there was no fault.
Like Daniel, Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God.
Like Daniel, when people encountered Jesus they had a brush with the divine.
Like Daniel, Jesus received the favor of both God and man.
Like Daniel, Jesus distinguished himself as one who spoke with authority.
Like Daniel, Jesus had enemies so jealous of His power they conspired against Him.
Like Daniel, Jesus was obedient to God in spite of the obvious threat to His life.
Like Daniel, knowing His death was imminent, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father.
Like Daniel, never once do the Scriptures record any sin committed by Jesus.
Like Daniel, Jesus’ enemies had to resort to lies because of His blamelessness.
Like Daniel, Jesus was arrested by His enemies and charged with breaking their laws.
Like Daniel, Jesus remained silent in the face of his accusers.
Like Daniel, the man who held Jesus’ fate was desperate for a way to free him.
Like Daniel, Jesus was condemned to death by a man who knew he was innocent.
Like Daniel, Jesus had to face his execution alone.
Like Daniel, Jesus was surrounded by vicious animals — Psalms 22:12.
Like Daniel, in His trial, Jesus was ministered too by angels — Luke 22:43.
Like Daniel, Jesus’ body was placed in a pit specifically sealed with a stone.
Like Daniel, Jesus’ friends hurried to the tomb early in the morning.
Like Daniel, Jesus rose up from the pit alive!
Like Daniel, God was ultimately glorified by the way Jesus handled His trial.
Like Daniel, Jesus ascended to the right hand of power and majesty.
Secondly, in light of the experience of Jesus, we should change the way we apply this story. Christian, it is highly likely you will find yourself in a den of lion’s for no other reason than you took a stand for the Lord. And while it’s true God might supernaturally deliver you as He did with Daniel, it’s equally true you might get devoured like Jesus.
And yet, this is the point you need to know… If, like Daniel, you “believe in God…” If you’ve placed your faith in Him… If you trust Him with your present circumstances as well as your future destiny, there is no question — in the end — you will get out of the pit alive! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is ever-present in your time of need!
But know… God didn’t save Daniel FROM the Lion’s Den. Salvation manifested in getting him THROUGH the Lion’s Den. As illustrated by the experiences of Jesus and Daniel… Whether you’re delivered like Daniel or you die like Jesus, your fate remains the same. Not only will God help you through, but He will exalt you from the pit to the King’s palace!
I believe the New Testament saints took great courage from this story in the face of their own persecution because they understood the application was not salvation from trials, but God’s deliverance through trials. To this point, let me close with two passages…
1 Peter 5:6-11, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
2 Timothy 4:17-18, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”
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