Exposition of Daniel 6:19–28, Ranking Guests for Breakfast

Daniel 6:19–28

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
“May you prosper greatly!

26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

After spending a sleepless night, at the breaking of dawn Darius goes quickly to the lion-pit holding Daniel (verse 19). Darius at the cistern’s entrance is a picture of both anxiety and hope. Without court protocol he loudly shouts Daniel’s name, calling him “servant of the living God” (verse 20) and reminding us that God’s ability to rescue Daniel is still a question. That issue is quickly resolved when Daniel implicitly prays, “May the king live forever!” (verse 21). This dramatic and moving greeting mirrors the king’s implicit prayer  “May your God … rescue you!” (verse 16) when Daniel was condemned to face the lions.

Daniel is always looking for ways to speak about God, which should serve to remind us not only of our own mission for Christ but also that this book is not primarily about Daniel. He swiftly explains that “My God” — to distinguish Yahweh from the pantheon of Babylonian deities — “sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (verse 22). It is ironic that Darius, Daniel and the lions were all without food during the long night. The statement that the angel “shut the mouths of the lions” is figurative of total protection since lions can kill a man in other ways as well.

Verse 22 looks on Daniel as being on trial in two venues, before God and before the king. The angel’s protection proves Daniel’s innocence before God, and he further claims to have done no wrong before the king. Darius had never believed any such thing in the first place and orders that Daniel be lifted out of the cistern (verses 22–23). Daniel is closely inspected and found to be without injury; this state is attributed to his faith in Yahweh, and it shows how completely God has overpowered both wild lions and Medo-Persian capital punishment.

However, the vindication of Daniel is the condemnation of his accusers. When verse 24 mentions “the men who had falsely accused Daniel,” we learn from Miller that “‘falsely accused’ is literally ‘who had eaten his pieces.’”[1] The NET Bible Notes for verse 24 point out that “The Aramaic expression is ironic, in that the accusers who had figuratively ‘eaten the pieces of Daniel’ are themselves literally devoured by the lions.” This is a concrete, if ironic, example of a common biblical principle related to judgment: measure for measure.  Jesus said, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

That whole families were executed for the guilt of one person was the Persian custom during those times[2], and the practice serves to remind us that our sin affects all we know and love. Proving that they are both vicious and hungry, the lions “crush their bones” before they even reach the floor of the cistern. Dinner had been quite a disappointment, but breakfast proved memorable for all involved.

An empire-spanning decree

Once again one of the greatest rulers in ancient times feels moved to tell his people about the mighty acts of Yahweh (verses 25–27). Aside from being personally awed by the events, the king finds it necessary to explain how unbreakable Medo-Persian law could be overruled in the case of Daniel, which explains why the decree ends with “He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27b).

The wildly fluctuating status of Daniel may provide the occasion for the decree, but the heart of the king’s message is designed to make sure that the people of the empire do nothing to offend “the God of Daniel” (verse 26a). HCSB gets the right sense by saying “people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel” (verse 6:26a). Trembling before God and being afraid before God are Aramaic participles that imply continuous action. Darius offers five reasons that make this ongoing attitude an absolute necessity:

“he is the living God and he endures forever” (verse 26)

“his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (verse 26)

“he rescues and he saves” (verse 27)

“he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (verse 27)

“he has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27).

If there is one thing our contemporary world has forgotten, it is the absolute need to fear and tremble before the living God, the enduring ruler who holds the power of life and death. We who have been rescued by trusting in Jesus must remember that, even in his own family, our God disciplines those he loves.

We have said before that we consider Darius the Mede to be the same person as Cyrus the Persian, also known as Cyrus the Great. This issue arises again in verse 28, where Miller explains: “If one holds that Cyrus and Darius were the same person … the phrase may be translated ‘during the reign of Darius, even (namely) the reign of Cyrus the Persian.’ If [this] view is correct, Daniel was thereby specifying for the reader the identification of Darius the Mede — he was the same person as Cyrus the Persian.”[3]

While the identification of Darius is interesting, it is not vital. What we must never forget is that God rules in heaven and on earth. He is the only one who can rescue and save, and he has done so through Jesus Christ!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 187.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 174.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 189.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!