The Living God
February 25, 2024

The Living God

Series:
Passage: Daniel 6:1-28, Psalm 2
Service Type:

He is the Living God
Daniel 6:1-28
by William Klock

 

Last Sunday we read those closing words of the fifth chapter of Daniel that tell us Belshazzar, the very night of his feast, was killed and that Darius the Mede received the kingdom.  Daniel 6 picks right up from there.  Let’s look at Daniel 6:1-9.

 

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials 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. 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.”

 

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials 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. 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.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.  (Daniel 6:1-9)

 

Darius the Mede.  You might remember that last week I said he’s a bit of a mysterious character.  I think the author of Daniel does something very deliberate here that would, to the original hearers, have signalled a change in the sort of story being told.  Unless you’ve studied Ancient Near Eastern history, this won’t seem important.  If you have studied Ancient Near Eastern history, when you hear “Darius the Mede” it’s going to catch your attention.  It’s not right.  Darius wasn’t a Mede; he was a Persian.  And he didn’t rule before Cyrus; he ruled almost twenty years after these events, after the exile was over, and after Daniel had died.  Jews would have noticed the same thing.  Darius figures heavily in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophetic books of Haggai and Zechariah.  So I think that a Jew hearing this—especially as the story continues—would see it as a signal that the genre, that the type of storytelling has changed.  And there’s good reason for the storyteller to make this change.  Chapters 6 and 7 are transitions in the book of Daniel from those earlier stories that were a type of wisdom literature, to Daniel’s apocalyptic vision.  We’re moving from the historical to the prophetic and apocalyptic and the book does that with one last story about Daniel in exile, but this time it’s—well—the best thing I can think to call it is a “prophetic parable”.  It’s a story that serves a different purpose than the other stories.  As we move from the historical to the apocalyptic, this story of Daniel in the lions’ den makes us pause as it reminds us of the big picture, the big story about the God of Israel and his people, it reminds us that he’s got a plan and is directing history towards an end goal, and it reminds his people of their place in that big story.

 

So it begins with Darius.  On the one hand, in the previous verse he’s called “the Mede”, but here he’s the Darius who organised his empire into satrapies.  That’s exactly what Darius the Great—who followed twenty years later and was a Persian—that’s what he did.  I don’t think this isn’t a mistake or a historical error.  This character is a sort of a composite of pagan kings who represents, who stands for something in the story.  Again, we’re moving from history to parable here.  Think of the parables Jesus told.  This character represents the faithful in Israel.  That character represents the unfaithful.  And that character represents the gentiles.  Here the king and his satraps represent the rulers of the gentiles.  And Daniel represents Israel.  Like Daniel, Israel had the Lord’s favour.  She was his favourite amongst the nations and the nations became jealous.  And that’s exactly what happens to Daniel in this story.  When they see how he’s been elevated and has been given authority over them, the satraps chafe.  He was one of the exiles.  He wasn’t one of them.  He didn’t deserve his special status or his high rank or his favour with the king.  So they get together and conspire against him.

 

There are echoes of Psalm 2 here.  In fact, I think if you wanted to turn Psalm 2—which is one of those big picture psalms that ends up pointing us to Jesus—if you wanted to turn Psalm 2 into a parable, I think it would end up looking a lot like Daniel 6.  The psalm begins:

 

Why do the nations rage

         and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

         and the rulers take counsel together,

         against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds apart

         and cast away their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3)

 

Notice where they attack Daniel?  It was “the law of his God”.  He was blameless in everything so they go after his faith.  And in that they’re not just attacking Daniel.  Through Daniel, this is an attack on God himself.  It echoes what it meant in the Old Testament to stand against Israel and, looking forward to Jesus and then to the church, to attack Jesus was to attack God himself.  Think of Jesus’ confrontation with Paul on the road to Damascus: “Why are you persecuting me?” he asked Paul.  To attack the church was to attack Jesus himself.  To attack the Lord’s anointed is to attack the Lord himself.

 

So these men go to the king—all of them.  The satraps, who were viceroys over the provinces; Daniel’s two fellow triumvirs; and all the other counsellors and officials.  It’s quite the gang.  Everybody hates Daniel.  But they know that Daniel has favour with the king, so in order to take Daniel down, they’re going to have to deceive and manipulate the king.  So they hatch this scheme to recommend a law.  This injunction will ban everyone in the empire from petitioning any god for thirty days.  For that time period, everyone will be required to petition the king and only the king.  And the penalty—you know the story—the penalty for anyone who breaks this injunction will be the lions’ den.

 

Again, the details signal that this isn’t the same kind of story we’ve had before in Daniel.  It’s a parable.  As the nations rage against the Lord and his anointed in Psalm 2, all the king’s governors and counsellors rage against Daniel and, through him, his God.  The decree is not something that a Persian king would have signed—or a Babylonian or any other Ancient Near Eastern king, for that matter.  The Jews who read this would have known that.  The Persians were known for their religious and cultural tolerance—and especially their friendliness to the Jews.  Not only were they tolerant, but the Persian kings were Zoroastrians and would never put themselves in the position of the gods.  But even all that aside, to ban prayer to the gods was religious and political suicide.  Nabonidus got into trouble for downgrading Marduk and elevating Sin.  You can imagine the sort of trouble a king would get into if he made it illegal to pray to anyone but himself.  And, of course, why for only thirty days?  If you’re going put yourself in the place of the gods, why not do it permanently?

 

The absurdity of the law is meant to highlight the unhinged rage these men had against Daniel and his God and reflects the real-life experience of Israel, beginning with Pharaoh and running all the way through their story down to Antiochus Epiphanes.  Men who so hate the Lord and his anointed that they’ll cut their own noses off to spite their faces.  Even the punishment seems to be deliberately over the top.  As far as we know, no one in Babylon or Persia kept lions around in a den.  Kings might catch and release lions for hunting, but they didn’t keep them as pets or to execute prisoners.  But this threat hanging over Daniel represents the very real threat hanging over the faithful in Israel.

 

And looking to pagan kings for help was hopeless.  As much as he favoured Daniel, Darius, this great emperor, is a pathetic dupe, conned and fooled by his advisors and hobbled by his own laws.  In contrast to the perfect law of the God of Israel, the great law of the Medes and Persians—like so many other human laws—is arbitrary, short-sighted, and self-defeating.  What was Daniel to do?  Look at verse 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.

 

What was Daniel going to do?  We’ve seen in the earlier stories that sometimes the wise thing for God’s people to do is to keep their heads down and pursue a quiet faithfulness.  Being faithful doesn’t always mean sticking your head off so that it can be cut off.  But Daniel knew these guys were watching him.  He could have closed his shutters.  He could have gone somewhere out of sight to pray.  But to do that in this case would be to betray the Lord.  So he continues to pray as he always had: morning, noon, and evening.  And as he prays he does so in the direction of the temple in Jerusalem.  That was a tradition begun by Solomon at the dedication of the temple and Daniel continued it and in that he declared his hope.  For all his status and privilege in this foreign land and with a foreign king, he made it clear that his ultimate hope lay in the promises of the God of Israel to deliver his people from their exile and to return them to the promised land.  Daniel knew that God is faithful and because of that he trusted him—not only that, but he made that trust public.

 

And, of course, the inevitable happens.  Verse 11:

 

Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 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.” 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.” (Daniel 6:11-13)

 

So they go back to their spying on Daniel to confirm what they were already sure he would do.  And then they take their evidence to the king.  Their smarminess if palpable.  “O King!  Did you not sign an injunction that anyone who petitions anyone but you shall be cast into the den of lions?”  Like the king wouldn’t remember if he’d signed such a petition.  Again, we get a sense of just how pathetic earthly kings are and how foolish it is to put our hope in them.  “Oh yes,” he says, “Of course I remember.  It’s now the unchangeable law of the Medes and the Persians.”  We’re left wondering how busy the king has been, because surely, if everyone had taken this law seriously, Darius would have been swamped with petitions—but we don’t get the impression at all that anything like that has happened.  If these guys had been bringing their petitions to the king, they hardly needed to ask him if he remembered signing the injunction.  So either these guys have been ignoring it and praying to their gods anyway or—and this is the implication—they’re a bunch of impious louts who don’t pray at all.  They stand in stark contrast to Daniel, who prayed three times a day and, no doubt, used that time to lift up the king and his empire to the Lord.  These other guys show that they don’t care about the king; they only care about themselves and their own power and status.  Verses 14 to 18:

 

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. 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.”

 

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

 

The king now regrets his decision, but there’s nothing he can do.  The greatest king, the most powerful man in the world stands useless and powerless to save Daniel or to intervene on his behalf.  Even as he exhorts Daniel to pray to his God for deliverance, the king is commanding Daniel to be thrown into this pit of lions and sealing the opening with his own signet.  But now, what the satraps and counsellors intended as a punishment and execution, the king unwittingly turns into a contest, a trial.  Will Daniel’s God deliver him?  The den is sealed.  No one can intervene.  The Most High God has, in his sovereignty, used the wickedness of evil men and the foolishness of the king to orchestrate a situation that will reveal his glory.  In that, the lion’s den points prophetically to the tomb in which Jesus lay.  What will the king find when the stone is rolled away?  Has evil won the day or has the living God?

 

And, not unlike Jesus’ friends, the king goes home and, too anxious to eat or sleep, he paced and prayed.  And in the next verse we can almost see the king’s robes flying behind him and hear his sandals slapping as he runs—in a very unkingly fashion—to the lions’ den at sunrise.

 

Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 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?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 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.” 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.  (Daniel 6:19-23)

 

Unable to move the heavy stone himself, the king calls out to Daniel: “O servant of the living God, are you still there?  Has the God whom you so faithfully serve delivered you from the lions?”  That the king speaks of the living God is a powerful witness.  Living God doesn’t just mean that God isn’t dead.  It means that God is active and powerful, that he is awesome and mighty, that he brings judgement and blessing.  Again, the satraps and counsellors expected an execution, but Darius has turned this into a contest.  Will the God of Daniel act?  Will he vindicate himself by delivering his servant?  And, of course, God has done just that.  The king hears Daniel’s voice echoing up through the stone.  “O king, live forever!  Yes, my God has delivered me!”  In an echo of the fiery furnace episode, God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths and Daniel is alive and well.  There’s not so much as a scratch on him.  The king’s men roll the stone away and Daniel emerges unharmed, because he trusted in God.  The God of Israel has won the contest.

 

The satraps and triumvirs, and counsellors of the king have lost.  So the king turns the tables. Verse 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.

 

Presumably this means that all 120 satraps with their families are thrown to the lions.  Again, the scene isn’t realistic and trying to figure out how this could possibly be done is to miss the point of the parable.  This scene calls back to the Lord’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”  And to passages like Isaiah 41:11: “Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.”  And, again, I think this what Psalm 2 looks like as a parable.

 

He who sits in the heavens laughs;

         the Lord holds them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

         and terrify them in his fury, saying,

“As for me, I have set my King

         on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

         today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

         and the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron

         and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;

         be warned, O rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear,

         and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son,

         lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,

         for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:4-12)

 

The psalm is a declaration of the Lord’s intent to be glorified.  He has made a people for himself and even given them a king and through them he will be glorified.  He will be glorified in the nations and kings who see him at work in his people and give him glory and he will be glorified as he vindicates his people and judges their oppressors.  And that’s just what we see as the satraps are thrown to the lions and as Darius’ glorifies the Lord in the closing verses of the story:

 

Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. 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.

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.”

 

So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Daniel 6:25-28)

 

The historical Darius was what we might call an evangelical Zoroastrian.  History—not to mention lots and lots of his own inscriptions—show that he was single-mindedly devoted to Ahura Mazda.  But this is a parable and the king here is a composite.  He represents the gentile kings of the earth.  While the satraps represent the gentiles who will persist in their unbelief and eventually be judged, the king here represents those kings—like the ones we see in Revelation—who see the God of Israel as he vindicates his son and as he vindicates his church, and who end up believing and coming to the New Jerusalem to glorify this living God.  Darius’ decree is echoed by the songs we hear in the heavenly throne room in John’s vision as they acknowledge the saving power and everlasting dominion of the God of Israel.  In that I think we see the prophetic side of this parable that transitions us into Daniel’s apocalyptic vision.

 

In that, it points us powerfully to Jesus in the same way that Psalm 2 does.  The psalm is about Israel and about King David, but it points forward to Jesus who would embody Israel and Israel’s king to accomplish the saving work of God and the establishment of his everlasting dominion.  Daniel’s dilemma points to Jesus.  When Daniel went home to pray, he knew he would fall afoul of the king’s new law.  He knew he would end up in the lions’ den.  He didn’t know if he would live or die.  He had the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, but would the Lord send his angel again to deliver his faithful servant?  Miracles don’t happen every day—that’s why they’re miracles.  What were the chances that it would happen twice?  But Daniel knew that he didn’t have a choice.  He could dishonour God by hiding his prayer or he could give glory to God by showing his unwavering faithfulness to him.  Daniel chose to remain faithful and to glorify God and in that he points to Jesus.  Daniel knew with certainty that the living God vindicates his anointed.  And Jesus knew that too.  We don’t always know what form that vindication may take or when it may happen.  Daniel escaped without a scratch.  Jesus was scourged, beaten, and killed.  But in the end the Lord vindicated both and revealed his glory to the watching world.

 

And in that there’s the reminder—and I think maybe the main purpose of this prophetic parable:  Brothers and Sisters, the Lord does not merely glorify himself.  He has, to use the imagery of Psalm 2, anointed a people for himself and that people—first a small ethnic group in the Old Testament, but now a worldwide family of people united to Jesus and filled with God’s own Spirit—the living God has anointed a people for himself, a people full of his own life, that we might reveal and proclaim his glory to the world and that he might reveal his own glory as he vindicates us before the watching world.  There’s a reason why God’s people are called to a life of humility, sacrifice, and even martyrdom.  There’s a reason Jesus calls us to take up our crosses if we are to follow him.  Because the Lord reveals his glory in our deliverance.  He slays the dragon and rescues his bride and becomes the hero as the world watches.  To quote the Roman scholar and priest, David Burrell, who died a few months ago, “We are never enjoined in the Scriptures to accomplish anything. The recurring theme of the psalmist, who summarizes as only poets can the sweep of God's covenanting with his people, is that we are to recount—often and loudly—God's accomplishments, his great deeds on our behalf.”  Brothers and Sisters, if we have really and truly believed the good news about Jesus and all the long history of the Lord’s faithfulness to his people, if we really believe that good news, it ought to work out in our lives as we recount—often and loudly—what he has done.  Because we want to proclaim his greatness, his goodness, and his faithfulness for the sake of his glory and because we desire for the whole world know him as we have—so that one day the knowledge of his glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.  Hebrews famously speaks of the great cloud of witness around us, witness who ought to inspire us to faithfulness.  But, Brothers and Sisters, remember that you and I are, ourselves, are part of that cloud.  As those witnesses exhort us, we exhort each other and those who will come after us.  So let us be faithful in running the race that is set before us, knowing the mighty deeds of our God, knowing his faithfulness, and above all looking to Jesus who has perfect our faith by enduring the cross, despising the shame, and because of that, is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we confessed in today’s collect, we have no power to help ourselves.  You are the living God who, through the death and resurrection of your son, has gracious restored us to life.  Keep the cross ever before us that we might always remember our helplessness and your great grace and might and often and loudly proclaim your glory.  Through Jesus we pray.  Amen.

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