“Living securely in an insecure world” was the theme of SIMWorld 2014, the annual SIM NSW conference. Phill Marshall shared some biblical perspectives, especially from the book of Acts.
My own thoughts were drawn to Daniel 6.
A World of Insecurity
Daniel was one of three administrators chosen by Darius to ensure that Darius’ interests are protected. As one responsible to see that the king ‘suffer no loss’ (verse 2) Daniel was expected to put the lid on potential uprisings and ensure taxes were fully collected. Darius recognises that Daniel possesses “exceptional qualities” (verse 3). He is distinguished among the administrators and satraps to such a degree that the king plans to entrust all political power and authority to him.
In the previous chapter it was emphasised that “the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes” (5:21). Daniel 6 ends by making it palpably clear that the authority Darius wanted to give Daniel was actually due to the sovereignty of the Most High. God had determined to exalt Daniel to this position. This meant that nothing could prevent God from accomplishing his purpose.
Jealous Babylonian political leaders sought Daniel’s demise. But, these conspirators were unable to discover any “improper speech” or “corruption” against him. Daniel’s political behaviour was impeccable. Here was a man of complete moral integrity; a man who kept his promises, a man who could not be bribed, a man who fulfilled his obligations.
Daniel’s enemies have identified the fact that Daniel’s supreme authority is “the law of his God.” Therefore they deliberately and cunningly tried to set up a situation where Daniel would be forced to choose between the authority of his God and the authority of the king.
To effect their plot the Babylonian politicians resort to deceit. When they say that “the royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict...”, they are lying because, of course, Daniel is one of the three administrators and he has not agreed to this at all. But they are concerned to make sure that there is no way out for Daniel, so they manoeuvre Darius to not merely publish a royal edict but also to make it legally binding.
What was the force and nature of Darius’ decree? It stated that during the thirty days which followed the decree anyone who prayed to any god or human being except to Darius, would be thrown into the lions’ den (verse 7, 12). Was Darius deifying himself by issuing this decree?
Firstly, it is odd to make oneself a god for just a month. Secondly, the monotheistic worship of Ahura Mazda in pure Zoroastrianism ran counter to self-deification on the part of a king. Even if pure Zoroastrianism was not practised at this time there is no indication that Achaemenid kings had any tendency toward self-deification. We do know that petitionary prayer was a required and regular aspect of Iranian worship and was an essential element of pure Zoroastrianism. Darius the Great prayed not only to Ahura Mazda but to all the gods to keep enemy hordes, famine and the “Lie” away from the empire. Prayer was deemed essential for evil forces to be held at bay. In 3rd century AD Persian theology the king was seen as the representative of deity and could even assume the title “god” (bagh). As such he acted as a mediator. The historical context for Darius’ decree is not clearly presented. Darius may have been seeking to combat syncretism. We know that later, in the 5th century BC, Xerxes 1 destroyed the temples of deities unacceptable to Zarathustra in order to suppress syncretism. It is possible that Darius was agreeing to act as the only legitimate representative of the gods for this period of thirty days. So during this month, as each person directed his daily prayers to the king as mediator, Darius, in a public ritual, would redirect those prayers to Ahura Mazda.
Daniel fully realises that how he responds to this decree, on the face of it, will determine whether he lives or dies. Daniel’s devotion to God means he cannot direct his prayers to Darius. Since the law of the Medes and Persians was unalterable it would seem that his fate was sealed. It would seem that Daniel’s political fortunes are about to collapse and that he himself is about to lose his life.
Living Securely in a World of Insecurity
The world is particularly insecure for the Lord’s people because, as this book illustrates, they will always be targeted by evil forces. Yet, notwithstanding this reality, as this book also illustrates, the Lord’s people, as represented by Daniel, are ultimately secure.
The basis of Daniel’s ultimate security is made apparent in this chapter. After Daniel is miraculously rescued from the lion’s den we read: “And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (verse 23).
It is important to see Daniel’s religious practices, as portrayed in verse 10, as an expression of Daniel’s faith in God. It is important to take this to heart. Some overlook this and simply recommend the practice of a disciplined prayer life which involves the setting aside of particular times for prayer. Discipline is important but the application becomes legalistic if greater emphasis is not placed on the need for the formation of convictions concerning God’s kingship, convictions one is ready to die for if called upon to do so.
Daniel’s practice of praying three times a day represents his own personal devotional habits. It does not represent compliance with any particular command, though it follows David’s example as set forth in Psalm 55:16-10. It does express Daniel’s devotion to “the law of his God” (verse 5). We read in 2 Chronicles 6:36-39:
“When they sin against you - for there is no one who does not sin - and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.”
It is to this “law” that Daniel is devoted. In the upstairs room where he prays three times a day the windows are open toward Jerusalem, that is, toward the place where Solomon had built the temple now eight hundred kilometres away to the west. As Daniel prays he is very much aware that Jerusalem and its temple stand in ruins.
As Daniel faces Jerusalem through those open windows, he is ‘seeking first the kingdom of God’, yearning and praying for the day when God’s kingly rule will be re-established in a restored Jerusalem. He has never reconciled himself completely to life in Babylon. It is impossible for him to be at home in Babylon. In the core of his being Daniel identifies himself not with the Babylonians - and the immediately preceding context has drawn attention to his “loneliness” - but with the people of God.
Daniel knows that he is placing his life in jeopardy by continuing to pray as he does, nevertheless his devotion to God’s law is such that, in his own mind, he has no choice but to maintain his practice. Daniel could have said to himself, “It won’t matter if I stop praying for 30 days. I can resume again once the crisis is over.” But Daniel lives every day for Jerusalem; he breathes Jerusalem. Jerusalem is at the heart of what God’s kingship means for David. To stop praying even for a day would be to undermine God’s kingship in Daniel’s life. Arguably back in Daniel 1 Daniel’s decision not to defile himself with the king’s food was not so much a matter of being scrupulous to avoid cultic defilement, but more a case of avoiding being Nebuchadnezzar’s lackey (in contrast to the standard portrayal in the book of Daniel of Babylonian political officials as servile), and expressing his distinctive and ultimate allegiance to God. Now Daniel sees the situation as much the same. Again he must choose between God the King, as symbolised by Jerusalem, and the Persian ruler. He must choose between the law of his God and the law of the Medes and Persians.
Daniel gives thanks “to his God”, that is, he consciously violates the law of the Medes and Persians which stipulated the execution, via the decree, of “anyone who prays to any god...” (v7).
Although Daniel’s faithful praying “toward Jerusalem” implies his persistent plea that God’s people return to their land, nevertheless Daniel’s praying is not morose and baleful. The chief characteristic of his praying mentioned here is that he ‘gave thanks to God’. Daniel recognises God’s hand in all that has happened, and his thanksgiving points to a conviction that God is still very much in control and has wonderful purposes for his people. Daniel’s praying toward Jerusalem does not imply despair and pessimism, but as his habit of thanksgiving clearly indicates, he is a man of great hope.
Experiencing Extreme Insecurity
The diabolical plan of Daniel’s enemies has succeeded. They have succeeded in creating a situation in which Darius must order the execution of Daniel. When Daniel’s colleagues go to the king it as those who have baited the fish and now take delight in reeling it in.
To implement their evil plan these enemies “discover” Daniel at prayer. Once again special attention is given to the fact that they “came together” in order to accomplish their purpose - an emphasis we have already encountered in verse 7. The chasm between Daniel and his political peers is unbridgeable. Significantly Daniel is asking God for help (verse 11). What kind of help? Daniel knows that the decree has been published, and therefore he knows his life to be at peril. Presumably he asks God for help in this predicament.
This prayer for help is not merely presented as being a natural prayer given the circumstances. It anticipates all that will happen in this chapter. It therefore serves to underline the fact that when Daniel prays to his God it is not just to “any god” (v7); that Daniel’s prayers are not simply the mark of a religious devotee. Daniel really and truly is in relationship with his God. This contrasts with the Chaldean belief that the gods “do not live among men” because they belong to a transcendent realm (Daniel 2:11). By contrast, in this book, Daniel’s God repeatedly demonstrates that he is vitally involved in the continuing historical process.
Once again in this passage the distance between the Babylonians and Daniel is accentuated. This time it is the way in which Daniel’s enemies refer to him as being “one of the exiles from Judah”. This is clearly not just a haphazard mode of identification. Nor do these words merely reflect the Babylonians rejection of Daniel as a foreigner who as such should not rule over them. This is not a simple case of racism. The insinuation is not merely: “what else can you expect from an exile.” The words are loaded having been carefully applied before in the book on a number of occasions. We can compare this with the way in which the enemies of God’s people throughout the world continually seek to depict us as a source of threat to social harmony and well-being.
Of course, the identity of Daniel and his three friends is emphasised at the very outset of the book (1:1-3), when they are described as “some from Judah” (1:6). When Daniel is first introduced to Nebuchadnezzar it is as “a man among the exiles from Judah” (2:25). When Chaldeans denounce Daniel’s friends it is as “certain Jews” (3:12) who are to be sharply discriminated from “certain Chaldeans” (3:8). Belshazzar asked Daniel, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah?”(5:13).
Now yet again our attention is drawn to the essential identity of Daniel - and the Chaldeans have proved to be remarkably perceptive in this respect, as evidenced by their ability to see how foundational God’s law was to Daniel’s life (v5). Daniel is an exile, and the preceding context has made it apparent that this is precisely how Daniel sees himself. It is so essential to Daniel’s self-identity that he think of himself as an exile, that he will court seemingly certain death rather than deny what it means to him to be an exile, namely to be one who lives for the hope of eventual return to Jerusalem.
Darius has Daniel thrown into the lion’s pit. In sharp contrast with the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 3, Darius is not in the slightest offended by Daniel’s devotion to his God. Darius never intended that the decree he issued be applied in this way.
Darius summarises for us the meaning of what we have already been told concerning Daniel’s devotion to the law of his God, and his habitual practice of praying toward Jerusalem three times every day without fail. He speaks of it as Daniel’s “continual service” of God. Daniel is thus understood to be the faithful servant of God.
There is great irony here. Consistently in the book of Daniel the Babylonian officials act as though they were the king’s lackeys and their toady language and tactics are expressive of servility and obsequiousness. Yet Daniel and his friends stand head and shoulders above these fawning boot-lickers in terms of their devotion to the king, whoever he might be. The irony is that their service of God actually makes them better, not worse servants of the king.
In Daniel 6 we see that service of God and service of the king need not be in conflict. When this happens in the book it is because of foolish decisions made by the kings concerned. But Darius himself greatly esteems Daniel’s service and never for a moment thinks that Daniel’s primary allegiance to God undermines his ability to serve him better than any other in the kingdom. And so he even longs that this man who serves his God continually be rescued, and thus be enabled to serve him too.
The irony of the entire situation is indicated by another extraordinary development. The edict had stated that “anyone who prays to any god of man during the next thirty days, except to the king shall be thrown into the lions’ den” (6:7). The king alone stands outside this law. But it is no use Daniel praying to king Darius to rescue him from the lions’ pit. The edict, at least ostensibly, presupposes that the king has absolute control and power. But ensuing events prove this is far from being the case and the king himself is bewildered by his inability to exercise his power and authority to rescue Daniel. He himself is a prisoner of the law that issued from his own mouth, of his own actions. And the supreme irony of this is that, placed in this predicament, the king himself prays to God: “May your God… rescue you!”
Irony is heaped upon irony in Daniel 6. Even though Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den it is actually Daniel who is secure while it is Darius who finds himself experiencing profound insecurity. So we read, Darius “spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him”. The word “entertainment” could refer to “musicians” or “dancing girls” or it could simply be added to reinforce the fact that he did not eat, that is, “no table was brought to him.”
The king’s lack of absolute control is highlighted by mention not only of the stone being placed over the mouth of the pit, but also by the fact that the king, most unwillingly, is forced to seal the stone with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles. The seal tells everyone that Daniel has been thrown into the lion’s den on the king’s authority and that anyone who tried to rescue him would be committing a treasonable act. The king is forced to side with his nobles, the very ones who have manipulated him into acting as he has. The king is not only doing what he does not want to do; not only compelled to follow his own law’s demands to ‘the bitter end’; but also finds himself forced to do what his nobles wanted him to do.
Our Secure Hope of Deliverance
There is added irony in what happens:
“As Darius has sealed the mouth of the pit, so God has shut the mouths of the lions. During the night, Darius has not been able to eat; likewise, neither have the lions. The lions are not allowed to harm Daniel because Daniel has done nothing to harm the king.”
But the irony continues. The conspirators are trapped by their own cleverness. They assumed that the wording of the decree that they drafted would fully achieve their diabolical purpose. But the wording only required that Daniel be thrown into the lion’s den, not that he be executed. They had assumed that the ravenous lions would most certainly tear Daniel to pieces and devour him.
The law, as worded by these evil conspirators, works in the king’s favour. For now he is enabled to interpret the language of his edict as a trial by ordeal. If this had been an execution then there would be no limit on how long Daniel should stay in the pit. But Daniel is able to regard his deliverance as indeed a trial by ordeal, which has proved his innocence (verse 22). By contrast, the instant destruction of the conspirators is not merely fitting retribution but also proof of their guilt.
What follows bears remarkably close correspondence to the description of the deliverance of the three Jews in Daniel 3. Just as God sent an angel into the place of destruction to rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (3:28), so now he sends an angel into the place of destruction to rescue Daniel. In both cases the context in differing ways emphasises the point that the victims concerned are thrown into a place where, humanly speaking, destruction is most assured and inevitable. In Daniel 3 this is conveyed by reference to the fact that those who threw in the three Jews were themselves burnt to death by the flames into which they threw them. In Daniel 6 the same point is made by noting that when the enemies were thrown into the pit they were killed before they even reached the floor of the pit (cf. those killed in Daniel 3 who had not “reached” the furnace).
When Daniel answers Darius he does so as one whose devotion to the king has never been in question. The use of the words “O king” have a completely different ring on Daniel’s lips to the hollow fawning tones of his political peers and enemies (cf. vv6-8). Daniel’s first words match theirs: “O king, live for ever!” But the deceit of Daniel’s enemies makes their similar acclamation spurious. Daniel’s devotion is unquestionable and corresponds to the devotion he expressed for Nebuchadnezzar in 4:19.
Although technically Daniel has broken the law issued by the king, after emerging from the pit Daniel can declare with a clear conscience, “I have never done anything wrong before you, O king.” This is clearly a statement of considerable importance in coming to terms with the nature of biblical ethics. It is in fact possible to break the law of the governing authority without wronging the authority concerned. This conclusion is at odds with those who espouse a strict hierarchichal ethic and who would often argue those placed in analogous situations are required to choose the lesser of two evils. This is not how Daniel views the choice he has made.
God’s deliverance of Daniel is not simply his way of “thumbing his nose against Darius” and showing him who is really the boss. It is an act that vindicates Daniel and this corresponds to the conclusion reached by Nebuchadnezzar following the deliverance of the three Jews. For then Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that they had been right to defy his command and to faithfully serve their God. For this reason he decrees the death penalty for any who would speak ill of God.
The theme of vindication in Daniel is an important one, which emphasises that even in captivity God has a righteous people; those who are innocent in his sight; those he blesses because of their faithfulness to him. It is not necessary for God’s people to be in the promised land in order to live a righteous life. Here biblical thought contradicts all ideologies which believe that character and identity are largely or even completely determined by societal conditions and the environment in which one lives. Daniel and his friends are proof positive that it is possible to live a righteous life in the most adverse and hostile of situations. Although this anticipates the New Testament conception of righteousness, which is not dependent on the enjoyment of particularly Jewish privileges, nevertheless it would be wrong at this point to think that the promised land had now become irrelevant to the righteousness of Daniel and his friends. What makes Daniel a righteous man in this passage is precisely the fact that he is devoted to Jerusalem - the very reason why he was thrown into the lion’s pit.
When Daniel is lifted from the den we are told “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” This clearly echoes Daniel 3 where the faith of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego is also stressed (v28; cf. vv17-18), along with the note that “the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them” (v27b).
In addition to this the word “found” is used in a climactic way. For beginning at 5:11 there has been a continuing stress on this word. Alluding back to the earlier part of the book (1:19, 20; 2:25), the queen (mother?) tells Belshazzar of Daniel, the man who “was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods” (5:11). This same basic sentiment is repeated in 5:12 and 5:14. By contrast, Belshazzar is “found wanting” (5:27). In Daniel 6 there is a continuing play on the words “seek” and “find.” Daniel’s enemies “tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel” (v4) but “could find no corruption in him”, concluding, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless…” (v5). After manipulating Darius we read how “these men went as a group and found Daniel praying” (v11). By contrast we have the image of Daniel seeking God’s help (v11). After Daniel has been thrown in the lion’s den Darius is addressed by Daniel who declares: “I have been found innocent in his sight” (v22). When Daniel was lifted from the den we are informed that “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (v23). Ironically, that which is apparently Daniel’s greatest point of vulnerability – his greatness weakness – is his praying to God. But it turns out that this is actually his greatest strength.
Darius writes to everybody in the kingdom and decrees that all fear and reverence God. This is the first time in the book that a Gentile ruler commands his subjects to relate to God in a positive manner. It is emphasised in the chapter how positively Darius’ heart was disposed toward Daniel. Not only was the king in great anguish when Daniel’s doom seemed inevitable, but also when Daniel was found to be safe “the king was overjoyed.” The warmth of Darius’ feelings for Daniel are matched by his warmth for Daniel’s God. In his decree Darius clearly expresses his admiration for Daniel’s God. However, the fact that he refers to God as “the God of Daniel” indicates that there is still a measure of distance between Darius and this God he extols. Consequently, we are not to think that Darius has been converted.
The stories of the fiery furnace and the lions’ pit represent not only the recording of actual historical events. They are also enacted parables of the condition of Israel at that time. In this respect it is important to remind ourselves that the book of Daniel shows no interest in Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as individuals, but only as a group. This, plus the repeated emphasis on their identity and that of Daniel as “exiles from Judah”, indicates that Daniel and his friends are representative of all Jews in captivity.
The fact that the events of Daniel 3 are paralleled in Daniel 6 also indicates that the event has a wider application than in the lives of the particular persons God delivers. Had not Israel as a captive people been thrown, as it were, into the “fiery furnace” and into “the lions’ pit”? Is not the situation in which Israel was then embroiled one from which there can be no escape? Does not realism force all to acknowledge that the extinction of Israel as God’s people was imminent? Is it possible for God’s people to live in a corrupt and idolatrous society which involves a rule inimical to that of God’s and remain unscathed and pure?
Back in Daniel 3 Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego recognised the possibility that God may not choose to deliver them. Indeed, in Daniel 11:33-35 Daniel prophesies that the wise, that is, God’s true people, “will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered”, ‘stumbling’, even in death, “so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end”, when they will awaken in glorious resurrection to everlasting life and “shine like the brightness of the heavens” and “like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3).
Just as Daniel prospered during the reigns of the Babylonian rulers, now he continues to prosper during the rule of the Persian kings. I have already drawn attention to the significance of verse 10. It is Daniel’s devotion to Jerusalem and longing for the return of his people to Jerusalem which occasioned all that has happened in Daniel 6. It is therefore most fitting, in God’s wonderful providence, that Daniel should prosper until the very time when, under Cyrus, the great decree was issued occasioning Israel’s return to Jerusalem. Verse 28 forms a fitting parallel with 1:21 which is also set in a chapter which has emphasised the tragedy of God’s people being uprooted from Jerusalem. There the mention of Cyrus insinuates that Daniel outlasts Nebuchadnezzar and indeed the entire Babylonian kingdom.
Hebrews 11:34 alludes to the faith of Daniel which enabled him to “shut the mouths of lions.” Within the context of Daniel 6 itself we see that there is little to discriminate between “faith” and “faithfulness.” In Hebrews also faith translates into faithfulness. Biblical faithfulness always presupposes a life of trusting God and true faith is always expressed in a life of faithfulness to God.
In 2 Timothy 4:17 Paul compares his own experience of a malicious attack and God’s deliverance with Daniel’s experience when he remarks, “And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” This deliverance was effected by God for the sake of the broadcasting of his message to all Gentiles. In a similar manner in Daniel 6 the deliverance of Daniel provides a platform for a global declaration of God’s greatness. Paul goes on to say, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” These words could equally have been uttered by Daniel and it may even be that Paul deliberately ‘takes the words right out of his mouth’.
Daniel’s faithful prayers, directed at Jerusalem, are an expression of his “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33). This cannot be put on hold, even for a month. God’s rule is far more important to him than any human rule, no matter how dire the consequences may be of violating human rule.
What does it mean to live securely in a world of insecurity? Only the Lord’s people can so live. We live securely when we live lives of integrity and faithfulness to God which express our confident trust in him as totally sovereign. Not even the place of certain destruction lies beyond God’s sovereign control. He will most certainly deliver us from the realm of death, whether through a miraculous rescue or sparing in this life or through glorious resurrection.
The Lord’s people can expect to suffer. They can expect to be victimised by malicious, hateful forces. But we live securely as we refuse to compromise our relationship with God and continue to live as those who openly place our trust and hope in him. We live as those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This is expressed in a devotion to God’s Word and what it reveals about God’s wonderful sovereign purposes. It is also found in a life of disciplined prayer in which our confidence in God in times of threat and insecurity is expressed in two ways: (1) calling upon him for help; and (2) continuing to give him thanks.
Though this world is indeed a world of insecurity it is still God’s world. Just as God enabled Daniel to prosper and win the king’s favour, so too he may grant us favour with people and varying measures of success in this world. But we never feel as though we belong to this world and the dangers and opposition and insecurities we experience ever remind us that we are exiles. We ever long to live in the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem – in that realm where God’s thoroughly good purposes will be fully realised.