Theme B Revisited: Sufferings, Yet Rewards, for Faithful Witnesses to God in the Meantime (Daniel 6)
For an explanation of the themes in and structure of the Book of Daniel, see the section "The Big Picture in the Book of Daniel".
In Daniel 6, the chiastic structure of Daniel revisits Theme B: that faithful witnesses to God experience both suffering and reward while the pagan kingdom persists. Chapter 6 narrates a conspiratorial threat to Daniel’s life, set in the reign of the Persian monarch Darius the Great (522-486 BC). Daniel’s competence merited his promotion to ruler over all the new empire, subservient only to the king himself (Daniel 6:3). Then, as now, when someone is chosen to become the boss of his or her former colleagues, those not chosen may feel resentment. We are not told how Daniel handled this awkward situation, but we do see how his former colleagues responded. They tried to catch Daniel at some impropriety so they could report him to the King. Yet even they “could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him.” (Dan. 6:4).
Not able to catch Daniel at anything real, and knowing his daily habit of prayer to his God, Daniel's rivals contrived a plan that exploited King Darius's ego. They convinced the king to decree that for next 30 days, no one could pray to any god or man other than the King. The penalty was death in the lion’s den. The conspirators believed they had found a path to Daniel's destruction. This offers another lesson for leaders--beware of flattery. Darius, addled by flattery, neglected to consult his legal counsel about the decree before enacting it, leading to a situation he deeply regretted later.
The decree ensnared Daniel, who continued to pray to God (Dan. 6:10). To his great distress, Darius could not rescind the order since, according to tradition, “the law of the Medes and the Persians…cannot be revoked” (Dan. 6:13). Darius, although the most powerful man of his day, tied his own hands, making it impossible to rescue his favored administrator. The king conceded to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” (Dan. 6:16). And the Lord’s angel performed what the king asked but could not perform. Daniel was thrown in the lions’ den overnight, but emerged in the morning unwounded (Dan. 6:17-23). This led the king to issue an edict of reverence for Daniel’s God and to remove the threat of annihilation for the Jews as they continued to worship God (Dan. 6:26-27). Not even the implacable laws of the Medes and Persians could insure the end of God’s people. God’s power overcame human deceit and royal dictate.
Nonetheless, Daniel did experience what most of us would call suffering along the way. Being the target of a government-sponsored character assassination attempt (Dan. 6:4-6) must have been a grueling experience, even if he was eventually cleared. Likewise, openly defying the king’s edict for conscience’ sake (6:10-12) was a dangerous, if courageous, act. Daniel suffered immediate arrest and was thrown into a den of lions (Dan. 6:16-17). We should not let Daniel’s eventual deliverance (Dan. 6:21-23) lead us to imagine that the experience wasn’t painful and disturbing, to say the least. There are three lessons we can learn from Daniel’s faithful witness to God:
Daniel did not limit himself to tasks he was certain he could accomplish on his own steam. There is no way to practice being thrown into a lion’s den! Rather, he did his work on a daily basis in dependence on God. Daniel prayed three times a day (Dan. 6:10). He acknowledged God in every tough issue he faced. We, too, have to recognize we cannot fulfill our callings on our own.
Daniel epitomized the call Jesus would later give to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in our workplaces. Even Daniel’s enemies had to admit, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (Dan. 6:5). This meant that he was able to confront difficult situations with truth, and actually bring about change. This happens several times when Daniel and his friends take a careful stand for the truth and it leads to a new decree by the king (Dan. 2:46-49; 3:28-30; 4:36-37; 5:29; 6:25-28).
Daniel’s success in bringing about change demonstrates that God cares about the everyday issues of governance in a broken society. Just because God intends to replace the current regime eventually, doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about making it more just, more fruitful, more livable now. Sometimes we don't engage with God in our work because we believe that our work doesn't seem important to God. But each decision is important to our God, and every worker needs to know this. The question that the theology of Daniel presents the worker is, “Whose kingdom are you building?” Daniel excelled in his occupation laboring on behalf of the world’s kingdoms, and he maintained his integrity as a citizen of God’s kingdom. His service to the pagan kings was his service for the purposes of God. Christian workers must labor well in the here and now, knowing that the significance of our labor both resides in and transcends the here and now.