The story of Daniel and the lions’ den is similar to Daniel 3 in which a fiery furnace was used as a threat. Darius’s officials plotted against Daniel (6:4-5). The king, no doubt out of vanity, fell in line with the plot and became entrapped in his own system of supposedly permanent laws (6:6-9, 12-14). Daniel is faithful to his God, and the king recognizes the capacity of Daniel’s God to rescue and save. Those who sought to kill Daniel are themselves killed.
The new king needed to organize his government around himself. He came in as an outsider; he was, according to the text, a Mede, not a Chaldean. Old loyalties may have had to be broken up in order for the king to have confidence that his will would be carried out. What specifically motivated the officials plot against Daniel is not stated, but the general context of administrative turmoil suggests that jealousy for Daniel’s distinction (6:3) was among the motivations.
The officials sought to find fault with Daniel’s performance record, but apparently it was so good that it could not be twisted into anything incriminating (6:4). Thus, the officials turned to his religious faithfulness to attack him at his strength. They urged the king to allow prayer to no one but himself for thirty days (6:7), knowing Daniel would not be able to live with this.
Daniel was not one to use God simply to bail himself out of trouble. No matter what his condition, he knew that, as a creature of God, he owed God honor and praise. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had acknowledged earlier (3:17-18), Daniel knew that allegiance to God was necessary, whether he lived or died. It was because of this that his prayer for help did not presume God’s help in any way. The prayer was uttered by one who knew his creaturely place.
The king stated, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” (6:16). The exclamation could be both a genuine wish and an expression of his helplessness. He undoubtedly had been proud of the strong principles of the legal system he represented. Now, however, he was trapped in it. The author and enforcer of the law had become its victim as well.
When Darius rushes out in the morning, Daniel greets the king with a standard phrase of respect: “O king, live forever!” (6:21). This was a rather remarkable statement, considering the terror to which Daniel had just been subjected. The simplicity of this honest expression of loyalty mocks the manipulative character of the officials who had entrapped both Daniel and Darius.
The officials who plotted against Daniel had used the power of the throne for their own ends. They could no longer be trusted to serve the monarch. As a result, they were killed. Recall the power that Daniel said God had granted Nebuchadnezzar (5:19). Violent power has characterized each of the kings. In giving Nebuchadnezzar and his followers their authority, God’s intentions become enmeshed with the intentions of human kings.
The fear and trembling that Darius commands people to have for the “God of Daniel” (6:26) contains no statement of exclusivity. As with Nebuchadnezzar’s previous decrees (2:47; 3:29; 4:34-35), Darius acknowledges the dominion of the true God, but does not prohibit the worship of other gods. It is important to remember that the first readers of these stories were Jewish. Their God was being reaffirmed and their faith encouraged. The theoretical question of existence of other gods was not a matter of central concern; rather, the question was whether or not their God was both in control and faithful.
The tight, ironic references to dominion at the end of the chapter should not be missed. Darius issues a decree for all of his royal “dominion” (6:26) in which he acknowledges the everlasting “dominion” of God. This is followed by the note that Daniel served into the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Darius’s dominion did not even extend beyond the lifetime of Daniel. His decree in 6:26-27 that God’s dominion had no end proved to be true in a manner he probably did not expect.