Daniel 6, Daniel in the Lions’ Den: Civil Disobedience

Daniel 6 The Lions’ Den

Though I love Rembrandt’s paintings of Daniel, especially of the Handwriting on the Wall, I take issue at the interpretation which Rembrandt renders in his Daniel in the Lions’ Den. The issue I take with it is the look on Daniel’s face. Rembrandt portrayed him as terrified.

 Daniel portrays himself as a flat character. We know that he will always react in a certain way. The king is the one who has the trouble. This is the same thing we see throughout the book. This section of Daniel was written for Babylonians, specifically those who speak Aramaic and would be familiar with the Medo-Persian law customs. It was written for those who were in turmoil over the possibility of there being a transcendent God who judges the world. Curiously, Daniel is not the one portrayed as losing sleep, or with fright on his face. Darius was!

Dan 6:14  When the king heard this,26 he was very upset and began thinking about27 how he might rescue Daniel. Until late afternoon28 he was struggling to find a way to rescue him.


Dan 6:18  Then the king departed to his palace. But he spent the night without eating, and no diversions38 were brought to him. He was unable to sleep.39

Daniel’s turmoil was not mentioned, Darius’ was. The point is that the reader is to identify with Darius. The reader’s way of life and worldview are being called into question and brought into the lions’ den. The question is: what was the nature of the critique?

Three pieces of the Medo Persian worldview were criticized in this passage.

  • The Highest Good
  • Infallibility of Man
  • The Extent of the Authority of the State

1.  The Highest Good

What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

God’s glory is the highest good for all mankind. Though most men live by a highest good, their version of it is not God’s glory.  The Highest good for man is the satisfaction of animal desires. When I was a young ignorant semi-charismatic fundamentalist I use to see everything as motivated by a hidden spiritual conspiracy. When I got older I realized that money became the highest good for men and this lead to all the evil in the world. However, money is only a means to the end of feeding the avarice of men. Money buys happiness, at least animal happiness.

This was the goal for the conspirators. It is far too superstitious to think that there is a hidden agenda dark and spiritual which guides these evil men. Perhaps there is in the sense of the world the flesh and the devil all play a role in human temptation.

It seems that the schemes of man, though evil, are not so overt as the Devil’s. Typically there is no restraint in the cases of demonic possession. We see this for example when  the legion of demons were cast out of the man from Gadarenes and went into the heard of pigs and drove them into the Sea of Galilee. The Devil’s MO is death and destruction. Humanity however is more subtle, because of God’s restraint of their sin. Men are afraid of being openly evil, so they do their evil in ways that are socially acceptable, or at least, not public and overt. This is what Daniel faced. The conspirators were simply jealous of what Daniel had.  Their action is understandable  enough, and it does not require some semi-angelic agency.

                a. Religious/Ethical Dilemma: The conspiracy of the politicians was specifically religious. They used Daniel’s convictions against him.

Dan 6:5  So these men concluded,8 “We won’t find any pretext against this man Daniel unless it is9 in connection with the law of his God.”

They thought this was checkmate.  What is amazing though is that they did not care for the people whom they served, nor for the good of the king, nor for the possibility that Daniel’s God would care, nor for Daniel himself. It was a collusion which was feeding, and would ultimately be for the lining of their pockets. Their highest good was their avarice.

b. Deification of Creation:  Intriguingly the state had deified the King.

Dan 6:7  To all the supervisors of the kingdom, the prefects, satraps, counselors, and governors it seemed like a good idea for a royal edict to be issued and an interdict to be enforced. For the next thirty days anyone who prays12 to any god or human other than you, O king, should be thrown into a den of lions.

They also had deified their laws.

Dan 6:8  Now let the king issue a written interdict13 so that it cannot be altered, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed.14

 The highest good, though, was not the state, but it was the comfort of the politicians. It was a game being played where they used the cultural strength of the Persian laws, the pride of the King, and the Law which Daniel obeyed in an elaborate plot for their good. The avaricious life is the end and highest good of all men, and a particularly statist form of paganism seeks the highest good of a select and small group.

Daniel on the other hand believed and lived out the glory of god as his highest good. Simple enough, the will of God, not the comfort of the creation is the highest good of the Christian life. Our life is on one of manipulation of the various structures around us for the sake of our satisfaction, but the glory of God. This is a liberating feeling. We can simply do what God wants us to do and be satisfied that is is the just and right cause.  

2. God’s Truth -The Infallibility Principle

                Calvin drew the conclusion from Daniel’s response to the king…

Dan 6:22  My God sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not harmed me, because I was found to be innocent before him. Nor have I done any harm to you, O king.”

That the law of God was contrasted to the law of the Persians. Both were thought to be infallible and higher than the King. See Dt 4:2, Dt 18… Rom 13…

This sort of satire was also seen in the book of Esther when King Xerxes made a decree that his wife Vashti come to “show her beauty” at his party (Esther1 :10-11). She declined, so he made another decree that she could not come (19). This is in the infallible law of the medes and Persians which “Cannot be changed.” Finally he made a decree that…

Est 1:22  He sent letters throughout all the royal provinces, to each province according to its own script and to each people according to its own language,44 that every man should be ruling his family45 and should be speaking the language of his own people.46

This is profound because it shows the issue with making human laws infallible. If one law becomes undesirable there will be another law to voids whatever aberrant act was formerly illegal. Legislation on top of legislation. Agendas and justice appose one another.

Similarly here the King sought for some technicality.

Dan 6:14  When the king heard this,26 he was very upset and began thinking about27 how he might rescue Daniel. Until late afternoon28 he was struggling to find a way to rescue him.

Dan 6:15  Then those men came by collusion to the king and29 said to him,30 “Recall,31 O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no edict or decree that the king issues can be changed.”    

There was no way to fix the mistake. Thos who set up the collusion were clever enough to make the king helpless.

The satire here shows that the word of God is authoritative simply because God is infallible. God is totally self conscious. Being that God is infinitely aware of his being and all recesses of the created universe as well, both simultaneously and infinitely, therefore God is true. Being true, all god says is true. Obviously scripture is in human language and contexts, so it requires interpretation. Nevertheless, the bible is true because it is God’s word. The source of the words is what makes it infallible.

2Ti 3:15-16  and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  (16)  Every scripture23 is inspired by God24 and useful for teaching, for reproof,25 for correction, and for training in righteousness

The point therefore of this passage is that God does not change, therefore, just because Daniel was in dire circumstances, the command to “have no other gods” was no less in force.

We don’t have grand human conspiracies all around us like this one. The difficulty is not just guarding ourselves to obey God in the face of trial but in the face of normal life. It is my heart which gives me the most trouble. I don’t have that many temptations around me when compared to Daniel. In some ways this can be dangerous simply because I seem to be at rest from temptation. However the sinful desires which drove Adam to sit idly by while Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil still resides in me because of the curse. Therefore I need to be careful and diligent, as Paul told Timothy, to be equipped for “every good work.”   

Rule of Law. Another great idea in this chapter is the notion of infallible law as above the king. The rule of law was a concept pioneered in human record by Moses, then by the Christian Church, and in through the middle ages, and somewhat into modernity. Here we see this biblical notion of the rule of law. The law is above the King. The king is a minister of justice to bear the sword for the sake of peace, truth and justice.

Both Daniel and Darius acted on principles which were higher than themselves. Here we see both acting on a rule of law, which they both respected. Though Darius would want Daniel to live, he respected the law of the land.

Dan 6:17  Then a stone was brought and placed over the opening35 to the den. The king sealed36 it with his signet ring and with those37 of his nobles so that nothing could be changed with regard to Daniel.

Dan 6:18  Then the king departed to his palace. But he spent the night without eating, and no diversions38 were brought to him. He was unable to sleep.39

Similarly, Daniel obeyed the Law of his God,

Dan 6:22  My God sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not harmed me, because I was found to be innocent before him. Nor have I done any harm to you, O king.”

But we also see that there is a silent, or implied, critique of the law which Darius followed. What is the most interesting about this is when Daniel says that both he was found innocent (which is a divine passive, referring to the fact that God was the one who found him innocent) but also “did not do [Darius] any harm…” The idea is that Darius was required to enforce laws that were based in the truth and justice of the created order, not those which served himself. The highest good comes back to the forefront here. Darius, and all kings, should be careful to enforce laws which are just.

Natural and Creational Law: Now, this brings up the distinction between the views of natural versus creational law. Often there is a lack of clarity in contemporary Reformed theology which lend to the appearance that we hold to a law of nature which is rationally understood and found by the ingenuity of men. Many good presuppositional theologians fail to make a distinction between creational law and the rationalists’ natural law. The same ideas are at play here with Zoroastrian deism contrasted to Daniel’s Judaism.

The difference is that the rationalist’s law is based in human reason seeks to know the realm of the true/forms. Either data or rational arguments lead to that which is good and just. The problem with this is that it begins and ends with the desires of men. It is autonomous and ultimately worships the creature rather than the creator. They believe that God’s character can be known by the human mind, but the problem is in this quest for illegitimate religious knowledge they base their conclusions on the creature rather than the creator.

This is what is clearly seen on the practice of the Persian court. They have laws which, though they may have began with nobler intentions, degrade into the worship of the King, the deification of the state, and the avarice of politicians. The Persians were correct in shifting the principle of infallibility to the Medes and Persians rather than to God almighty, because they are not his Laws. This is shown to be the case from both Daniel’s estimation of the laws in the passage, and the clear contradiction of the first two commandments (Exo 20).

Creational law rejects the world of forms which can be ascended and captured by human reason. Nevertheless we do hold that God has created the world with certain definite structures/orders and has interpreted it by his infallible word. These laws are not a perfect/infinite replica of God in space and time, but they are analogous to him (unlike Zoroastrianism).

The creation, and especially complexly, man, were created in the image of God. This means that everything which man learns, he learns from God’s revelation. Our rational minds may interpret rightly or wrongly, but God has shown himself to be true. God has ordered the universe. There is some difficulty in interpreting the creation because of human sin and perversion of God’s order. Therefore his word helps us understand the standards, customs, and institutions which are good, true, and just.  The goal therefore is not to know the creator directly and without mediation, but to know his will for us in the authoritative Word of God.

3. God’s Justice –Civil Disobedience

This leads to the final point of this section. When is civil disobedience necessary, if at all? The Plea from the Lion’s Den was “I was found innocent.” Daniel acted on principle and was found guilty before the state and was punished.  By this deliverance god was showing his verdict on the issue was supreme over Darius’

Nevertheless two things stick out. 1. Daniel counted the cost. 2. Daniel bore the punishment.

Firstly, many want to think of civil disobedience in a way that looks like protesters and coalitions. Daniel took a different tactic. He simply walked up to his upper chamber, opened the windows to the public, and prayed to his God. He sinned against the state belligerently, relligerently, and publically. He thus counted the cost. He would rather suffer the wrath of his enemies than have to stop serving his God.

 I have to admit that I like Daniel’s style, but don’t know if I would have the chutzpah to take this strategy. Daniel truly feared God more than men. He was not ashamed to be called on of God’s people. This was rooted in a fear of the one who could kill the body as well as the soul, not he who could killed the body only.

Secondly, Daniel bore the punishment faithfully and quietly. This reveals a trust in the faithfulness of God. Perhaps he was told prophetically that he would be spared, but we do no have the indication that he would be. It was Darius who implied this.

Dan 6:20  As he approached the den, he called out to Daniel in a worried voice,40 “Daniel, servant of the living God, was your God whom you continually serve able to rescue you from the lions?”

In Darius’ words there is a sense of irony. He said, without knowing if Daniel would call back up, “Did your God rescue you?” I don’t think he knew that Daniel would answer. So here we see the king humbled and moved by the words of Daniel to exact an eye for an eye on those who did this to Daniel. In Israel, if one were to bring a false accusation against someone, he was charged with the same crime as that person who he accused. If one accused another of murder falsely, then that was murder and thus require the same penalty as such. This is what we see in verse 24.

Dan 6:24  The king gave another order,42 and those men who had maliciously accused43 Daniel were brought and thrown44 into the lions’ den — they, their children, and their wives.45 They did not even reach the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

The King may have gone a bit overboard in throwing them and their children in the lions’ den, but still, here we see a picture of the vindication of God’s people, and the destruction of God’s enemies. In both cases we see God’s justice meted out by the king’s hand at last.

On the issue of civil disobedience though, these two qualifications should not be taken lightly.

1. One must disobey.

2. One is willing to suffer the consequences of the state.

The second is the difficulty, and the one that most “victim status” groups don’t want to take. Thankfully, there is little that impinges upon our liberties now, but still, the church has lived through many eras when the true religion was punished. And, many still do today.