Survival that leads to revival – Thursday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 6: 11-27
The book of Daniel is a fascinating book which speaks profoundly to our day as it did to the day it was first written. It was written at a time when Hellenization ( Greek Culture and language) was spreading rapidly in the Ancient Near East. Alexander’s dream was to conquer the world and before he died he had founded 70 colonies and organised them as Greek cities. After his death his officers fought to control parts of the empire, but they kept the dream of Hellenization alive. For the hundred odd years that the Ptolemies of Egypt (305-198 BCE) ruled Palestine, Hellenization was kept alive through persuasion and without force. This changed under Seleucid (Syrian) rule. The crisis began with Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Now Hellenization was no longer peacefully promoted but imposed upon the Jews under pain of death.
The Book of Daniel presents an account of the adventures and vision of Daniel, a Jew in Babylon who was exiled in the 6th century. Most scholars, however, are agreed that as it now stands, this book is the product of the second century B.C and was written probably around the year 165 towards the end of the troublesome reign of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.).
It was written as an encouragement to fellow Jews to resist the Greek King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s policies of religious persecution and as a source of encouragement to those were experiencing anxiety and despair. The book brings hope and assurance that Yahweh would intervene, deliver them from the present plight and establish a kingdom. But till then they are to remain FAITHFUL to Yahweh and LAW.
While the previous narratives were held during the reign of King Nebuchadnez’zar, today’s text takes place during the reign of King Darius, the Mede. The essential elements of the story are the same. Once again, this is not a historical narrative but didactic ; which means that we are looking at the message not the details of the story. Hence, Darius is just a figure in the story and not ahistorical figure. His edict, which sounds foolish, could never have been made, as it is improbable that a pagan king would break out in praise of the God of Israel. The lion’s den is a just a setting for the story and not to be taken literally.
Daniel 6:1-3 tells us of Daniel’s rise to power. Having taken over the kingdom, King Darius reorganized the structure. He divided the kingdom into 120 satraps and appointed a satrap over each. Daniel was appointed as one of the 3 presiding officers. He distinguished himself over the other presidents and satraps because of the “excellent spirit”. It is for this reason that his opponents plotted against Daniel who was the envy of the other officials. They conspired against him. But while their first strategy failed, the second did not.
Their first strategy was to look for faults in his duties to accuse him before the king. However, Daniel was faithful ( 4-5). Since no faults could be found in his official life, they turned to his private life and faulted him in his ‘religious obligations’ to the kings command. They persuaded the king to issue a binding decree that for a month the King should be treated as God which would mean that Daniel would have to worship a man rather than God.
Daniel is accused by his opponents (10-15) as they caught him making his daily petition to God rather than to the King. Even though the King saw through the treachery of Daniel’s accusers he had no choice but to reluctantly ordered Daniel to be caged with the lions. Interestingly, the King himself secures the den and then spends the night in fasting. Early next day King Darius visits the den and sees Daniel unharmed. God had protected Daniel because he was blameless and because he had committed no crime against the King. Darius now throws Daniel’s accusers and families to the lions and the whole kingdom is asked to honour Daniel’s God.
Remember, that this narrative is not historic but didactic; the focus is on the message not the details of the story? It is important to recognize that the book of Daniel was not written for some far-off age when God’s kingdom would come, as the device of pseudonymity would have us believe, but for the age of crisis in which the author was then living. It is essentially a religious tract for the times, written for the encouragement of people who were being faced increasingly with the pressures of a Hellenistic culture enforced with threats of persecution and even death by reason of their loyalty to God. Its message declared unequivocally that the sovereign Lord God was in control not only of history but also of the end of history. That mighty monarchs and great empires were allowed to hold sway only by God’s permissive will and that his people Israel, would in the end, be completely vindicated and that that end was about to break in upon them.
The whole book demonstrates a deep piety and a trust and devotion, which must surely reflect a childlike confidence in God on the part of many in Israel at that time. Indeed it is as true representatives of Israel that we are to see Daniel and his friends suffering for their faith but assured of vindication at the hands of God. It is a vindication which breaks even the boundaries laid down by death and grasps the glorious hope of resurrection in God’s eternal kingdom (cf.12:1-4).