Commentary on Daniel 6:6-27
The beginning of the advent season takes us to Daniel 6. In the midst of the Persian Empire, diasporic Judeans struggle to maintain their fidelity to God.1
The figure of Daniel has emerged as “distinguished” due to his “excellent spirit” (Daniel 6:2). Consequently, he holds a place of responsibility in the imperial court. At the same time, he is still an outsider due to his devotion to the Lord. The passage alternates between three points of view throughout the chapter.
- The Presidents and Satraps
These men are people of power and influence, but this influence also brings deep insecurity. They recognize Daniel’s spirit, but instead of deferring to Daniel, they collectively scheme to assault his character and entrap him. They do so through calculated steps of flattery and manipulation of the king. The unity of these men is astonishing. Anyone with experience in a board meeting of privileged (whether a faculty board, elders, bishops, pastoral staff, etc.) will understand the difficult of reaching such clear consensus as stated in Daniel 6:7 that “All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed … ” Although Darius signed the injunction, it was clearly a calculated manipulation to produce the written document, which they will later use against Daniel. They are labeled as “conspirators” (verses 11,15), using the document to force the king to execute an innocent Daniel for his public worship of the Lord. Such an action is an irresponsible stewardship of the privilege that they had originally been given by the king (Daniel 6:2)
- King Darius
Whereas the king’s court is presented as insecure and fanatical, Darius is portrayed as good-natured, but a weak and ineffectual leader. Although historically we know Darius as one of the longest reigning leader of the enormous empire, Daniel 6 presents more of a caricature of a fumbling king. When confronted with the trap to execute Daniel, he is easily swayed by the counsel, and persuaded by flattery (“Long live King Darius”) and manipulation (“Your majesty must recognize”). Rather than acting within legitimate royal authority, his counsel corrals him into an unjust execution. He ends us attempting to mollify the terrible judgment with the words, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you” (Daniel 6:17). I’m not sure if the exclamation point of the New Revised Standard Version is warranted. The king does not stand as one with much effectual authority. The continued actions of the king show empathy, but mostly emphasize his weakness without sleep, nor food. His anxiety is paradoxically related to powerlessness, typically not reserved for a king, as Darius had access to the finest food and best beds of the empire.
Daniel embodies the ideal of faithfulness. Already, we know that we has worked himself into a position of influence within the Persian court, to the point that the others go through so much effort to permanently strip him of influence. They knew that his character was unassailable, so they maneuvered the king into a position of sending Daniel to death. Knowing the new edict, Daniel continues his act of prayer to the Lord, willingly falling into the trap of imperial counsel, and resulting in an immediate death sentence through the lions.
This is a relatable moment for your community. Sometimes, our suffering comes to us quite deservedly, through poor decisions or our own neglect of God. But in this case, suffering comes completely due to the sins of others. Daniel 6 gives no indication of any anxiety, though admittedly, the text is silent in the final moments as the stone is sealed against the lion’s den. But at the end of the time, in complete darkness and the constant threat of danger, when pulled from the den, Daniel praises Darius (mocking?), then gives credit not to his own character, nor faith, but to the protective angels. This is different from the narrative voice that declares that it was Daniel’s “trust in God” (Daniel 6:23) that saved him.
But Daniel is no pushover. He also declares his own innocence before the king. The text ends with major role reversals for the three main parties:
- Instead of condemning the innocent to execution, Darius commands his men to rescue Daniel.
- Instead of acquiescing to the counsel, Darius brings them to death. He includes the families of these leaders as well, hints that it is both punitive, but also ensures against any future foment against the king.
- Instead of an ineffective, bumbling ruler, Darius now embodies a decisive king, condemning the guilty, rescuing the faithful and promoting worship of the Lord.
As we enter a period of reflection on the incarnation of Christ, Daniel 6 provides three different perspectives on our own life. We may enter and examine times when we have misused our power in heinous ways like the presidents and satraps. We must examine the times when, like Darius, we refuse to stand up for injustice and remain passive and ineffectual. And we must also look at Daniel as a model for us on suffering innocence. I personally think that the Christological interpretation of Old Testament texts is way overdone in pulpits. But in this case, I believe that Daniel 6 warrants self-reflection on Christ. This will help us capture an essential part of the Advent, and prepare us for a rich season of reflection.
Christ will come again
These narratives are well-known within many communities. Daniel in the lion’s den, as well as earlier narratives of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (Daniel 2) and the story of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). These chapters of Daniel read and teach well with memorable characters, tension and triumphant resolution. But as a note, remember that the book of Daniel weaves these narrative accounts with the more cryptic visions (Daniel 7-12) with strange creatures and mysterious symbolism. Very few venture to preach on these texts. It is worth reflecting that the weaving of these genres was deliberate, and that something about being a Judean in a vast empire would jive well with these grand apocalyptic visions in which justice comes. In this sense, Daniel 6 is particularly fitting as we think through the most famous vision in the book of Revelation. God grants us the strength to worship now, but that in the future we can anticipate the return of Christ.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.
- Commentary first published on this site on Nov. 27, 2016.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
God of deliverance,
You rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions when he was punished for worshiping you. Liberate all who are endangered for the sake of their faith, and rescue us from anything that separates us from worshiping only you, for the sake of the one who made your name known to all people, across land and seas, Jesus Christ, our redeemer. Amen.
Creator of the stars of night ELW 245, H82 60, UMH 692, NCH 111
The glory of these forty days ELW 320, Verses 3, 4, H82 143
Blessed be the God of Israel ELW 250, UMH 209
We are waiting, William Paxson
November 29, 2020