Commentary on Daniel 6

Last updated: February 7, 2010

English Translation (ESV)

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the presidents 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. 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 presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors 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.

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. 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.”

14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored 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.”

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. 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. 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.

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.

Notes

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom;

See my comments on chapter 5 for the identity of Darius the Mede. The author may be using hyperbole when he says Darius appointed 120 satraps over the kingdom1 However, the word “satrap” was also used for lesser officials by the Greek historians Xenophon and Diodorus.2 A total of 120 officials would not have been an exorbitant number.

2 and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss.

There is no evidence that there were three presidents (administrators, counselors, commissioners) but there are references to seven presidents in other sources.3

3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

In the Achaemend Empire, the supreme office under the king was called the chiliarch.4

7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors 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.

Verse 4 states that only the presidents and the satraps conspired against Daniel. Therefore it is likely that they are exaggerating when they say the prefects, the counselors, and the governors are their co-conspirators. Those outside the city of Babylon were probably completely unaware of their scheme. It is clear that the presidents and satraps want to outlaw prayers to any god, but it may not be clear why they want to outlaw petitions to any man. Most likely they want to forbid citizens from asking priests to pray on their behalf. John J. Collins finds it very unlikely that an Achaemenid king would establish such a law because the Achaemenids were “exceptionally supportive of the cults of their subject peoples.”5 Stephen R. Miller believes that Darius was setting himself up as the mediator between the gods and men, and not setting himself up as a deity.6 If this is the case the petitioning of gods would be done through the king (the prayers would not be to the king). The den envisaged here is a pit that could be covered with a stone (v 17). There is no evidence of such a method of confinement from the ancient Near East.7 However, the Persians were known to capture lions and for gruesome forms of execution.8

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.”

Esther 1:19 and 8:8 also speak of the immutability of the law of the Medes and Persians. Diodorus Siculus (17.30) stated that Darius III (336-330 BC) could not undo the death sentence he passed on the innocent Charidemus. But it is not clear whether he could not undo the decree or the death itself. Herodotus (3.31) reported that the king of the Persians could do whatever he pleased.

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.

As soon as the document had been signed Daniel knew that he had been framed. If the possibility occurred to him that he could change his prayer routine, or pray without appearing to do so, it was dismissed as out of the question. He steadily continued his lifelong habit of regular prayer, as his accusers expected he would. Had he taken evasive action no doubt some other plot would have been laid against him, and by saving his own skin he would have betrayed the God whom he had served for some seventy years. Nothing would have been gained and he would have lost the oppurtunity to prove the faithfulness of his God.9

There was no consensus among ancient Jews that one had to pray three times a day or that one had to pray on his knees. This verse is merely describing Daniel’s custom.

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.

The seal was a way of checking whether the den was opened during the night.

18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

The nature of the “diversions” is not stated.

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?”

The phrase “servant of the living God” may seem premature on the lips of the king, but it may mean that Darius recognized the reality of Daniel’s deity. Most people in the ancient world recognized the existence of many gods.

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.

“The inclusion of wives and children follows the ancient custom of corporate responsibility rather than the ideal of individual responsibility enunciated in Ezekiel 18.”10

Some critics have pointed with ridicule to the impossibility of casting one hundred and twenty officials plus their wives and children into one lions’ den. Montgomery, for instance, regards this “tragic denouement” as “indeed absurd,” as well as the entire story. The Septuagint, apparently in an effort to counter this criticism, makes the victims only the two men who were presidents with Daniel, and, therefore, his principal accusers. The Scriptures themselves do not say that all the princes and presidents were cast into the den of lions, but only those who accused Daniel, that is, the ringleaders. This served notice on the rest, if they had any further inclination to plot against Daniel, that they too might experience the wrath of the king as well as the judgment of God.11

28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

The chapter closes with a brief historical note that Daniel continued to prosper in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Here again critics have attempted to claim an inaccuracy. The probable explanation is, as has been previously pointed out, that either Darius was a governor under Cyrus and later divided the kingdom to him, possibly at his death, or that Darius and Cyrus were the same person with the word and understood as meaning “even.”12

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Collins, John Joseph, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas Tex.: Word Books, 1989.

Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Holman Reference, 1994.

Walvoord, John F. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation: A Commentary. Moody Publishers, 1971.

1Goldingay, Daniel, 127; Miller, Daniel, 177.

2Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 264; Goldingay, Daniel, 127.

3Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 265.

4Ibid.

5Ibid., 267.

6Miller, Daniel, 180-181.

7Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 267.

8Miller, Daniel, 181.

9Baldwin, Daniel, 129.

10Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 271.

11Walvoord, Daniel, 143.

12Ibid., 144.

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