3-Day Commentary Challenge - Daniel 6

Day 1 of 3 • This day’s reading


  Darius’s Decree

The Prominence of Daniel, 6:1–3

6:1. It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they would be in charge of the whole kingdom. Once again, critics insist that they have found a historical blunder in the book of Daniel. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (III, 89) states that Darius I divided the empire into only twenty satrapies. So, we are told, the author of the book of Daniel must have been thinking of the 127 provinces in the days of King Xerxes, son of Darius I (Est. 1:1).

But one look at the biblical text reveals that it is the critics who have committed the blunder at this point. The book of Daniel says nothing of “satrapies” or “provinces.” It states that 120 “satraps” were set over the kingdom, namely, “the kingdom of the Chaldeans” (9:1). A “satrap” was a Persian official who could rule over a large province or over a small group of people. This would harmonize well with the “Nabonidus Chronicle,” which states that Gubaru installed sub-governors in Babylon immediately after the fall of the city to the armies of Cyrus. Thus, the statement of Daniel 6:1 has nothing whatsoever to do with the division of the Medo-Persian empire into satrapies or provinces that took place during the later administrations of Darius I and Xerxes.

6:3. Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit. Babylon had collapsed, and its king was dead. But Daniel continued into the new kingdom. In fact, the new administration of Medo-Persia highly honored him, having heard no doubt of his interpretation of the handwriting on the wall, which pronounced doom upon Belshazzar. Thus, even though the last kings of Babylon and most of the Babylonians (and probably many complacent Israelites in the exile as well) had ignored Daniel for many years, God, in His marvelous providence, saw to it that His faithful prophet received the honor that was due him.

Daniel actually became the third ruler in the former territories of Neo-Babylonia (under Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great), even as he was belatedly elevated to that same position under Belshazzar and Nabonidus. In similar fashion, Jeremiah was honored by the Babylonians after the fall of Jerusalem, for they had doubtless heard of his many prophetic messages that had announced the imminent fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and for which he had suffered greatly at the hands of the Jews. As a reward, they gave him the choice of luxurious living in Babylon or an honorable position in Judah under Gedaliah the governor, plus a portion of food and a gift (Jer. 39:11–14; 40:1–6).    

6:7. All the commissioners of the kingdom . . . have consulted together. In view of the fact that these two commissioners lied to Darius the Mede in claiming that Daniel had consulted with them, it is highly probable that many if not most of the 120 satraps were likewise ignorant of this cunning plot. (See note on verse 24.)

Anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days. It has been objected that such a decree would have been utterly impossible to enforce and is therefore fictitious. But it must be recognized that the phrase “makes a petition to any god or man” has reference not to the ordinary requests of daily life but rather to prayers only.  The sixth chapter of Daniel clearly indicates that the decree was not the product of calm and calculating reflection on the part of Darius the Mede. On the contrary, it was foisted upon the unsuspecting monarch by a group of men who would never have conceived of such a fantastic proclamation had they not been overwhelmed by their jealousy of Daniel.

‘‘Of course there is difficulty in the account,’’ wrote Edward J. Young, “but who is to say that an oriental despot, yielding to the subtle flattery of such a proposal, might not, in a weak moment, have agreed to it?” Darius himself no doubt realized too late that he had been led into a trap. But the very fact that such a decree had been prepared and signed shows how deeply ingrained were the polytheisms of the ancient world and how attractive were the pharaoh-worshiping customs of Egypt that soon came into shocking fruition in the Hellenistic age after the conquests of Alexander the Great.                      

Shall be cast into the lions’ den. The official form of execution under Darius the Mede is said to be “the lions’ den,” whereas in the days of Nebuchadnezzar it had been the ‘‘furnace of blazing fire” (Dan. 3; cf. Jer. 29:22). The historical significance of this change is that the state religion of Medo-Persia, namely, Zoroastrianism, involved the worship of Atar the fire-god. Thus, for the Medo-Persians to have used a furnace of fire as a means for destroying criminals would have appeared sacrilegious. Such details, introduced quite incidentally into the narrative, provide further confirmation of the historicity of the sixth chapter of Daniel.