Friday, October 21, 2016

Daniel 6 -- Preyed upon the Innocent, but the Innocent Pray

If this chapter has familiar tones from an earlier chapter in Daniel, it's no surprise, really. The Medes and the Persians have taken over Babylon, so it makes sense that some new people were in power at all levels. It also should not surprise us that Daniel stands out from everyone in leadership. He was "distinguishing himself" from the other Darius-appointed leaders "because he possessed an extraordinary spirit." (6:3)

How many times do we need to read this story? As was raised up in my group this week, how many times do we need to respond humbly and consistently? How often do we need to look like Daniel? Or look like Jesus? Sometimes, the repetition is God's way of telling us how important something is.

Daniel is on his way to being the king's right-hand man when the green face of envy makes its appearance in the other appointed leaders. Why is Darius picking Daniel and not me? Why is "one of the exiles from Judah" (6:13) getting such a prime role in the kingdom? The Message paraphrase says Daniel "so completely outclassed" (6:3) his competition. In being that kind of guy, it made it very difficult for the would-be's to accuse him of any wrongdoing, thus demoting or "un-expatriating" him.

The only way they can trap him is to use his religion against him.

"Note, It is an excellent thing, and much for the glory of God, when those who profess religion conduct themselves so inoffensively in their whole conversation that their most watchful spiteful enemies may find no occasion of blaming them, save only in the matters of their God, in which they walk according to their consciences."
--Matthew Henry

[If only we could say that about a few folks in the public eye at present....]

The administrators draft a decree for Darius' approval that would certainly bring Daniel into trouble: Praying to any god (God) other than the king would now send one to the lion's den, according to the law of the Medes and Persians.

We had the question in our group about why the law of the Medes and Persians could not be revoked. Interesting that if you look up "law of the Medes and Persians" on, it says "unalterable law." [So, on your next chance to use that phrase in conversation, go for it!] I found one resource--a paper from the Bible Study Resource Center--that suggested the following:

"This immutability of the king's commands was peculiar to the Medes and Persians: it was due to their regarding him infallible as the representative of Ormuzd [from elsewhere in the paper, "The Persian king was regarded as representative of the chief god, Ormuzd."]; it was not so among the Babylonians."

Thus, a decree coming from the king would also be something not to be changed. We could take off on another tangent here pretty easily: Are the decrees from God immutable? Have we ever changed them? Do we follow them as we're instructed?

Daniel does follow God's decrees to the letter! He prays toward Jerusalem every day, three times a day. My study Bible says that this is how Solomon regularly prayed, and his father, King David, was also in the habit of praying three times a day. Was there a law against praying to God in the Medo-Persian kingdom? No. Was Daniel asked to give this up when Darius put him in office? No. Yet this is the rug upon which the administrators would pull to trip up Daniel--and Daniel knew that!

"When Daniel knew that the writing was signed he might have gone to the king, and expostulated with him about it; nay, he might have remonstrated against it, as grounded upon a misinformation that all the presidents had consented to it, whereas he that was chief of them had never been consulted about it; but he went to his house, and applied himself to his duty, cheerfully trusting God with the event."
--Matthew Henry
As if this isn't enough of a character-building decision, consider the following. The changing of the guard in Babylon was the beginning of the Jews' return to Judah. I know it seems like the Jews have only been in exile in Babylon for a few weeks, but, it has been decades! Remember, Daniel is in his 80s at this point. But he has made the decision not to return home. His understanding of God's plan for his life is so crystal clear. Like Esther, he is here for such a time as this--lion's den and all!

O, Lord! For such understanding, for such trust in You, we humbly pray. There is nothing to keep us from following the example of Daniel, except that we are not in fully with You. Help us to see! Help us to pray!

Darius is left with no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions, a situation that completely wrecks him. He knows he has made a dreadful mistake, and all he wants to do is work out a rescue plan. But the powerful king is powerless to do anything about it. He shows compassion, beyond anything we saw from Nebuchadnezzar--he fasts, accepts no distractions and acknowledges, in hope, that God will rescue Daniel. Short of praying all night--as Daniel and his 3 friends did before Daniel received that first dream interpretation--Darius does what he is able to do.

Darius does show that he has hope in Daniel's God in that he wakes from his restless night very early and races for the den. His voice of lament shows his doubt, but Darius is relieved and empowered, once again, as he hears the voice of Daniel:

"O king, live forever! My God has sent His angel and has shut the mouths of the lions so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also before you, O king, I have committed no crime." (6:21-22)

With humility and a gracious matter-of-factness, Daniel proclaims his innocence. It is God who has shut the mouths of everyone else by preserving Daniel's life through a miracle. No injury is on his body, just as no odor of smoke was left on his three friends after their time in the furnace--"because he believed in and relied on and trusted in his God." (6:23b) Darius issues a new decree--after he punishes the perpetrators with the same punishment they created for Daniel. (Hm....which sounds a lot like what happened to Haman in Esther's day.)

"May peace abound to you! I issue a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to [reverently] fear and tremble before the God of Daniel...." (6:25-26)

Given that this was the law of the Medes and Persians, it was unalterable. But, the kingdom of Darius and Cyrus the Persian was only so large. The Jews were returning to Judah. New kingdoms were still to rise. Nebuchadnezzar's dream statue was not yet completely built. The unalterable law would eventually fall off the law books--but a new peace was coming!

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And, for us, a very different bunch of readings, as the Book of Daniel changes from stories of service and miracles to the prophet's own visions and interpretations. Probably back to two posts a week as we wade through some challenging texts. Study Bibles and commentaries ARE NOT CHEATING! Let's explore and learn together. See you Monday!....

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