The Lions’ Den | Daniel 6

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, “cxa

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.

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. 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.”

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.

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. 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.

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 ESV

Once the temple was finished, King Solomon stood before the people of Israel at its dedication and led them in prayer to the LORD:

O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive…

If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord GOD.

1 Kings 8:23-30, 46-53


Here at the conclusion of Daniel’s first half, which we have titled Fear God; Honor the Emperor, we reach at last the most well-known story within the book: Daniel and the lions’ den. Given that many of us have a familiarity with this text, my prayer is that we would approach it with fresh eyes to behold the wondrous truths within such a marvelous passage.

The chapter opens where the previous concluded. The Babylonian Empire is no more, for the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon and executed its final king, Belshazzar. Now Darius the Mede sat upon the throne. Daniel is the only historical record which names Darius the Mede, at least under that name, which was also true of Belshazzar only couple hundred years ago. Since his identity is still mostly shrouded in mystery, theories abound. The most common are that Darius was either the Median name of Cyrus[1] or that he was Cyrus’ general or some other ruler who governed over the province of Babylon under Cyrus’ reign. Personally, I think the second option to be the most likely, that Darius was a Median king who either co-reigned or ruled under Cyrus but was historically eclipsed by the Cyrus (who, let us not forget, is often called Cyrus the Great). Furthermore, since Darius ascended to the throne at around sixty-two years of age, his reign may have been very brief, making evidence very scarce.

Nevertheless, we find that Darius began to govern his kingdom via a hierarchy of 120 satraps, who report to three high officials, who report directly to the king. Darius appointed Daniel to be one of the three high officials, which is interesting considering Belshazzar’s promise last chapter, and he had plans to make Daniel into the ruler of the whole kingdom, over everyone but Darius himself. But while Daniel found much favor with Darius, the satraps and his two fellow high officials had a great disdain for the man of God. The text gives us no reason for their hatred, but given that they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him (v. 4), we can assume that they actually despised Daniel’s unwavering integrity and faithfulness. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 5:8 reminds us that oppression of the poor by governing officials should not shock us. When sinful hearts receive authority over others, the outcome very often becomes an abuse of power. We can, however, safely assume that Daniel did no such oppressing, and his honesty was likely to act as a spotlight shining upon the dark dealings of the other rulers. In other words, they hated Daniel because he was a child of light, whose very presence and character exposed their own darkness. As Jesus spoke to Nicodemus,

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3:19–21

The wicked will always hate Jesus and His people, for the mere presence of light and truth threatens to shatter the lies and darkness in which they dwell. As the world continues to grow increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should learn from Ecclesiastes and not be shocked. If the world killed Light Himself, we who are children of light should expect nothing less.

Yet so great was Daniel’s integrity that his enemies were forced to make an astounding confession: We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God (v. 5). Their only hope for plotting against Daniel was to leverage his piety against him. As we will see shortly in verse 10, they all clearly knew that Daniel was a man of prayer to God, for he did not hide prayers toward Jerusalem. Thus, in verses 6-9, they convinced Darius to make prayer to anyone other than himself illegal for the next thirty days. Darius likely signed this decree, trusting the word of his officials and thinking that doing so would be a unifying act for the Babylon now that it was under the rule of the Medes and Persians.


Daniel’s response to Darius’ decree in verse 10 is worth lingering over for a moment. 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.

After hearing that prayer to God had been forbidden for thirty days, Daniel went to his house, knelt at the windows, and gave thanks to God toward Jerusalem three times a day. Yet notice how the verse concludes: as he had done previously. Evidently, this was simply Daniel’s regular prayer routine, which perhaps he had been doing for all seventy-ish years of his captivity. Indeed, the fact that he prayed toward Jerusalem was a sign that Daniel was still clinging by faith to the words of Solomon’s prayer from so long ago. He was looking toward the land that God had given them after He rescued them from Egypt, the same land that Daniel’s people had polluted with idolatry and greater wickedness than even the godless nations that surrounded them. Yet God had redeemed them to be a people of His own possession, and Daniel believed that God would restore them again. The LORD would enable them to rebuild both Jerusalem and the temple. He believed all of this, even though he would very likely not live to see it. This was the significance of Daniel’s prayer routine.

And Daniel did not veer from his habitual faithfulness. Upon the threat of death, he did not cease to pray altogether, nor did he refrain from praying in front of his open window. How easy would it have been for Daniel merely to hide his thrice daily prayer? After all, Darius wasn’t restricting prayers to God permanently; it was only for thirty days. And if Darius’ edict was to promote the unity of his new kingdom, how would it look if Daniel, one of his three high officials, refused to comply? The excuses for ceasing or hiding could go on.

Yet Daniel also did not hole himself within his home and weep lamentations to the LORD over the decree. Instead, he simply went about his regular three prayer times and gave thanks before his God. In the face of death, Daniel continued to thank God. Duguid provides a sobering thought for us today in relation to Daniel’s actions:

Here is a good test of the depth of your prayer life: how much of your time and energy in prayer is spent complaining about the circumstances of your life and asking for things to be different, and how much is spent on giving thanks for God’s overwhelming goodness? The more clearly we see who God is and the great things that he has done for us, the more consistently our hearts will be moved to praise and thank him, whatever our external circumstances. What is more, by beginning with thankfulness, we tune our hearts to remember God’s past faithfulness to us, which will render us better able to trust his wisdom and power to answer our petitions for the future.[2]

What was assumed to be true of Daniel’s three friends in chapter 3 is stated explicitly of Daniel in this verse. This act of extraordinary faithfulness that Daniel displayed was simply the overflow of ordinary, everyday faithfulness that he had practiced throughout the years. This meant that Daniel did not need to sway to the right or to the left to remain faithful; he merely continued to do what he had always done. The times changed around him, but Daniel remained steadfastly rooted in the LORD. He saw kings rise to power, only to die the same as the poorest beggars within their kingdom. He watched Babylon conquer the world, only to be conquered themselves by an even more powerful kingdom. Through it all, Daniel set his face to Jerusalem, awaiting the salvation of the LORD. Now with the lions’ den waiting for him, the prophet did the same thing, setting his face to Jerusalem and awaiting the salvation of the LORD.

We in the West do not yet face edicts like the one that Daniel faced. However, we are not promised that such days will not come. Even this week, one pastor from Melbourne, Australia wrote the following about his home state of Victoria:

A recent decision in my home state of Victoria—in Australia—seeks to overturn this work of God’s grace. The Victorian Parliament has adopted the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.

Amongst other things, the Conversion and Suppression Practices Bill criminalizes any prayers or conversations in which one person aims to persuade another that pursuing certain sexual activity is not the best course of action. It’s not only illegal to pray or speak with an individual about changing their sexual orientation or gender identity—unless, of course, this change means embracing an LGBTIQ lifestyle—the law states that suppression is also illegal. “Suppression” includes prayers for celibacy, and any advice that communicates sexual faithfulness to one’s spouse is a matter of holiness.

These new laws target ministry to individuals (i.e. pastoral counseling); they do not target groups (i.e. a sermon in church). However, the Victorian Government has already indicated that they are prepared to expand the list of prohibitions to include sermons in the future.

Under these new laws, an anonymous complaint can lead to a person or organization being investigated and brought before a civil tribunal (VCAT). The tribunal has powers; for example, it can have a person committed to a reeducation program. When someone alleges injury as a result from prayer or conversation, criminal charges can be brought about. This may result in a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of $200,000.

On the surface, this Act is aimed at protecting Victorians from practices that are considered harmful to those who do not identify as heterosexual or who believe they are living in the wrong body. It’s sadly the case that some religious organizations have acted foolishly and wrongly toward such people; no one is pretending otherwise. And yet, the Victorian government would have the public believe that such mistreatment is widespread and endemic to Christianity. And yet, the Government’s investigation into the matter revealed only a handful of “conversion practice” stories. To be sure, these few accounts are awful. Where wrong has been perpetrated, repentance must follow. But this Parliamentary Act is no fair-handed solution. It’s blowing up a building in order to catch a rat.[3]

Notice that the events of Daniel are not so far removed as we would like.[4] Reeducation programs and governmental restrictions on prayer may be brewing upon the horizon once more. Indeed, as we discussed several times last year, if Christendom is falling into a repaganized world, why would Christianity not become illegal as it once was during the days of Rome? Soon we may certainly find ourselves in the place of Frodo wishing that such things had not happened in our time, but as Gandalf counseled, that is not for us to decided. We must only be faithful with the time that has been given.

Whatever may come, for the future is in God’s hand alone, we must devote ourselves to faithfulness in these times of peace so that we will be strengthened to be faithful during the times of affliction as well. This means that we must be a people of prayer whose eyes are set upon our heavenly city. While Daniel prayed toward the ruined temple, we pray as living temples of God through the intercession of the Spirit by the mediation of Christ and before the throne of the Father. Therefore, every place where we gather as Jesus’ church must be filled with prayer, and we should go into the world as a people of prayer, as walking temples who long for the salvation of the LORD that will be completed at Christ’s return.


Daniel’s opponents were overjoyed to find that Daniel had walked right into their trap, so they immediately ran to Darius with the news that his favorite servant had defied his latest decree. The king worked until sunset to discover a plan for rescuing Daniel, yet the accusers reminded the king that the edict was fixed. Of course, Darius could have ordered a counter-edict, but that would have left him looking very fickle over his newly acquired land. Therefore, he had the aged prophet lowered in the den of lions, declaring his desire for Daniel’s God to rescue him from the lions’ mouths.

After anxiously fretting throughout the night, Darius rushed to the lions’ den in the morning, crying out, O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions (v. 21)? Daniel responded from within the pit of death: 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 (v. 22). After this miraculous salvation from the LORD, we find an aspect of this story that does not often make it into Sunday School classes: 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 (v. 24). Their own plan was brought back upon their heads. Here is a sobering reminder that all who persecute God’s saints will receive justice in due time. Throughout the early days of Christianity, many of our brothers and sisters were thrown to the wild beasts to the amusement of stadiums full of people, and even though the LORD did not miraculously deliver them as He did Daniel, their persecutors will not fail to receive one single drop of God’s righteous wrath. Furthermore, the fact that their wives and children were thrown into the lions’ den with them is a warning that sin always has consequences for others as well.

We then find Darius’ new message to his kingdom, which is very reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar’s repentant letter in chapter 4, especially since both begin with peace be multiplied to you and proceed to ascribe to God an everlasting kingdom and dominion. Here is another powerful testament to the godly character of Daniel, for even as the king rejoiced that Daniel was alive, he gave glory to God just as Daniel himself did. The prophet’s constant exaltation of the LORD was contagious to both Nebuchadnezzar and now to Darius.

Finally, this chapter (and the narrative half of Daniel) conclude by noting that Daniel continued to prosper during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus. Given that Daniel was easily in his upper eighties or early nineties during the events of this chapter, the prophet may or may not have lived throughout the rule of Cyrus, who died in 530 BC (nine years after the capture of Babylon). While we have no reason to suspect that Daniel ever returned to Jerusalem, we are nevertheless left with a hopeful reminder of God’s provision and mercy, even in the midst of captivity.

We cannot, however, conclude our study just yet. As Alison Mitchell notes in her awesome children’s book Jesus and the Lions’ Den,[5] there are many moments in Daniel 6 where Daniel’s story is similar to Jesus. She writes:

Daniel’s enemies wanted to get rid of him, so they tried to get him into trouble. That’s what Jesus’ enemies did to him, too.

But in his job, Daniel had done nothing wrong—nothing! His enemies had to invent a new law to get Daniel into trouble. In his whole life, Jesus had done nothing wrong—nothing! So his enemies had to tell lies about Jesus to get him into trouble.

When Daniel heard about his enemies’ plan, he knew he was going to be arrested and thrown to the lions. What did he do? That’s right—Daniel prayed. When Jesus knew he was going to be arrested and killed on the cross, what did he do? He prayed too.

Did Daniel die in the den of the lions? No! The lions were very hungry, and Daniel was as good as dead—but God, the REAL KING of everyone and everywhere, brought Daniel out of the den. Did Jesus die on the cross? Yes! (Yes??? Yes!) Jesus really was dead. But then God brought His Son out of death. And do you know something amazing? God promises to bring all of his Son’s friends out of death and into life with him, too. Can God really do that? Yes, he can! He’s done it before!

So one day, all of Jesus’ friends will live with him for ever and ever. And for now, we can enjoy the same habit Daniel did. We can talk to the REAL KING of everyone and everywhere—every day!

Indeed, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the greater Daniel who “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into the dead” in order to rescue us from the eternal death that our sins rightly earned for us. He is the true temple of God that was torn down and rebuilt again in three days upon His resurrection. He is the author and finisher of our faith, the One who upholds us during days of peace and days of affliction. In Him we have been granted the prosperity of obtaining every spiritual blessing even as we long for New Jerusalem from our sojourning in this worldly Babylon. By Him, we pray to the Father, and upon Him, we set our hope and gaze. Even if dark days lie ahead, Jesus Himself is our peace. Therefore, being rooted and grounded in Him, let us, like Daniel, honor our earthly authorities as much as we are able, but let us fear the LORD alone.

[1] Commentators note that verse 28 could be translated as saying, “during the reign of Darius that is the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”

[2] Iain Duguid, Daniel, 96.

[3] How to Pastor When Sanctification Becomes Illegal : 9Marks by Murray Campbell

[4] This is not even mentioning two other events from this week as well: the arrest of a Canadian pastor for violating the COVID-19 meeting restrictions enforced by Alberta and the Equality Act that is set to go before the House of Representatives next week.

[5] The whole Tales that Tell the Truth Series from The Good Book Publishers is wonderful, but The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is our family’s favorite.  


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