By Jeffery M. Leonard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Samford University
Daniel 6:6–13, 16–17, 21–23
The stories collected in the Book of Daniel take place across the backdrop of two major empires — Babylonia and Persia.
Like other empires in the region, Babylonia’s power had ebbed and flowed across the centuries.
The latest (and last) iteration of the empire was the so-called Neo-Babylon Empire, a powerful dynasty whose most famous ruler was the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar.
But less than a century after its founding, the Neo-Babylonian Empire would be eclipsed by an even more powerful empire from the east.
The Persian king known as Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon by claiming that the ancient god Marduk had commissioned him to take Babylon from King Nabonidus, who had replaced Marduk with the moon god Sin.
The priests and the people welcomed him with open arms. The Bible writers gave Cyrus high praise as well because he was the king who reversed Babylon’s policy of exile.
Cyrus ordered that the Jews in exile be allowed to return to their homeland, and he even helped fund their journey.
While many of the Jewish exiles returned to Judah, a significant minority did not. Esther and her uncle Mordecai were among those who chose to stay in exile; so was Daniel.
Now an old man and a trusted servant in Persia, just as he had been in Babylon, it is not surprising that Daniel opted not to return to the promised land.
Nor is it surprising that, despite the high regard in which he was held by most, Daniel continued to face challenges to freely living out his faith.
Changing circumstances should not change our resolve to obey and honor God. (6–10)
The Book of Daniel characterizes its namesake as a model servant to the Persian king. When other politicos in the empire grew jealous of Daniel, they found themselves continually stymied in their efforts to undermine him “for he was trustworthy and no negligence or corruption was found in him” (v. 4).
Unable to nail Daniel on ethical charges, his opponents decided to entrap him on religious grounds instead.
They convinced the king to sign an order forbidding Persia’s subjects from praying to “any god or human being” except the king himself. The punishment for violating this edict was to be death in the lions’ den.
Honoring God often incurs opposition. (11–13)
It is worth taking a moment to “look under the hood” of the actions of Daniel’s rivals.
Their failure to find malfeasance or maladministration on Daniel’s part tells us something important about the book’s hero: Daniel was a man of extraordinary ethical integrity.
The rivals’ decision to target Daniel’s prayer life tells us something as well: The rivals knew Daniel would remain faithful to his convictions no matter what the cost.
God uses our commitment to Him to point others to Him. (16–17, 21–23)
Just as Daniel’s opponents had suspected, Daniel refused to stray from his faith.
Even with the knowledge that praying to his God would mean certain death, Daniel knelt before God three times a day just as he had before the king’s edict was issued. What followed is one of the best-known stories in the Bible.
Despite his desire to let Daniel go, the king was obliged to follow through with his order, and so he had Daniel thrown into the lions’ den. To the king’s great delight, however, Daniel emerged the next morning without a scratch.