God is Judge

Chapter 10

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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The Lion’s Den


It is generally recognised that Daniel’s trial in the lion’s den has many parallels with the fiery trial of chapter 3. However, the differences between the stories is instructive – the first trial contains situational midrash reflecting the burning of the temple which occurred shortly after the Babylonian exile commenced, the second trial contains situational midrash that reflects the tensions during the later Persian period, when members of the Gola had risen to positions of administrative influence. The fiery trial concerned Daniel’s friends without specifying the whereabouts of Daniel himself. Although the three friends acknowledged God’s ability to save them from the furnace they recognised that it was within the divine prerogative not to rescue them, nevertheless, this did not compromise their faith (Dan. 3:17-18).  Only Daniel (minus friends) is at the forefront of the second trial and he never doubts the successful outcome of the trial; in contrast with Nebuchadnezzar (during the fiery trial), who expressed rage, Darius is sympathetic but doubtful of a favourable outcome.[1]  Whereas the first trial reflects religious coercion (forced to worship the image), the second trial reflects religious proscription (banned from petitioning).  The first trial highlights the deification of human power and the second trial the deification of human wisdom (expressed as immutable laws).  Both trials reflect the different stages and the different challenges facing pious Jews who were unwilling to compromise their faith during the Babylonian and Persian periods.


The author of Hebrews refers to the fiery trial and the Lion’s den in Heb.11:33-34 where he associates it with the military exploits of the Maccabees and their followers. Heaton believes that this anticipates the critical    Continued  ˃


[1] Goldingay (Word,132) comments; “Darius, in turn uses a form of the verb that leaves open  whether God must, will, may, or can rescue Daniel. Like other ambiguities in Daniel, the unclarity over whether Darius  offers a challenge to God, or a statement of faith, or a wistful hope, functions to invite the hearer to decide what he or she would mean in a situation of this kind.”

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view – but even Rowely admits that the sympathetic portrayal of Darius bears no resemblance to Antiochus Epiphanes.[2] Daniel 6 is most certainly set in the Persian period and like Esther refers to the division of the empire into satrapies (Esther 1:1) and to the immutability of Persian laws (Esther 1:19; 8:8). Moreover, central to Esther is the motif of peripety, a dramatic series of reversals. It reflects the experience of Diaspora Jews; many of whom rose to prominence in the Persian court and for reasons of professional envy faced discrimination (not necessarily religious persecution). The narrative typifies the kind of resistance to restoration that the Jews encountered during the Persian period until the reign of the sympathetic Darius (Ezra 4:5) and the reversal of national fortunes inspired by the Nehemiah-Ezra mission.


The trial of Daniel 6 does find some correspondence with the Antiochene crisis of Daniel 8 and although Darius does not function as a cipher for Antiochus the unity of Daniel across the Hebrew/Aramaic sections is enhanced by intertextual links. Here we think in particular of the removal of the “daily” or continual sacrifice (תימד ,tāmīd) in Daniel 8:12-13. Johan Lust notes parallels between the daily sacrifice and the cultic behaviour of Daniel described as continual service.[3]


[2] Rowely maintained that “a point can be found for every story in the first half of the book in the setting of the Maccabean age.” However, Daniel 1-6 does not allude to national persecution but individual trials motivated by envy or refusal to assimilate. In 1-6 pagan monarchs praise and recognise the supremacy of the God of Israel, contrasting with the blasphemy of the little horn (Antiochus). See E.W. Heaton, The Book of Daniel,(Torch Bible Commentary; London: SCM Press,1956),17-18 and H. H. Rowley, The Unity of the Book of Daniel, in idem The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament , (2nd ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1965), 249-260


[3] Lust notes; “In the Aramaic sections one finds a related adverb in the descriptions of Daniel’s cultic behaviour. The word in question בתדירא, occurs in the story about Daniel in the lion’s den, in 6:17 and 21. It is used with the prefix b and refers to Daniel’s “continuous” or “daily” service of his God. The Greek versions render this term by the adverb ἐνδελεχῶς. The same adverb, as well as the substantive ἐνδελεχισμός, are used elsewhere in the Bible to translate the Hebrew word תמיד.” Johan Lust, Cult and Sacrifice in Daniel the Tamid and the Abomination of Desolation, in idem The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, Vol.,2, (ed., J.J. Collins, P.W. Flint, Brill, Boston:Leiden,2002, 671-688),672,fn.,4

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Besides the parallels between continual service (6: 16, 20) and continual sacrifice (8:12), reference is made to the “law/vision” being “true” (6:12; 8:26) and casting into the lion’s den (6:24) finds symbolic resonance with the death of the nation when the sanctuary is cast down (8:11).




Despite the injunction against petitioning, Daniel continued his usual practice of praying thrice daily (continual service), “with his windows open toward Jerusalem” (Dan. 6.10). Although the temple was destroyed, Daniel still prayed in the direction of Jerusalem[4] reflecting knowledge of Solomon’s plea at the dedication of the temple to hear them in heaven if they “pray toward this place and confess thy name” (1 Kings 8:35) and specifically vv.46-50 which speaks of praying to God when they are in captivity –“in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land” (v.48). Thus the importance of the temple is highlighted even though it no longer exists! 




Daniel 6 is unique in that it stands as a metaphor for the resurrection and as such anticipates the resurrection of Dan 12:1-3. It is significant that Darius acknowledges Daniel as the servant of the living God (Dan 6:20) a title that confounds most exegetes. The reference is to    Continued  ˃


[4] At least since Mishnaic times (AD200), Jews faced the Temple Mount in Jerusalem while praying. The Mishnah speaks about this in Berakhot chapter 4, Mishnahs 5 and 6. Originally, the Muslim direction for prayer (the Qiblah) was also toward Jerusalem.

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temple imagery; Yahweh’s glory rests on the mercy seat between the Cherubim – (cf. the living creatures Ezek 1:5-10).  

The Cherubim (living creatures) formed part of the mercy-seat covering on the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark functioned as a “resurrection-box” as it contained the tokens of new life. The title “living God” is therefore associated with resurrection. Jesus states that, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:32). 


The Law of the Medes and Persians


The text mentions two laws; the law of Daniel’s God (Dan.6:5) and the “law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter” (Dan.6:8). Unlike Darius, who was held hostage and made to look foolish by his “immutable law”, God is able to transcend his own laws – even the “immutable law of sin and death.” God is able to fulfil his purpose and regenerate his creation without either compromising his law or being held hostage by it. The lion functions in many of the Psalms as a metaphor for death – specifically significant is Psalm 22:21; “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. (KJV)[5] Psalm 22 was recited by Christ when he hung on the cross[6] and exegetes, such as Goldingay, have noted connecting motif’s with the synoptic accounts; “He [Jesus], too, is the victim of conspiracy and betrayal from people whose position is threatened by him and who seek occasion to manipulate higher authorities into executing him, professing that they have no king but Caesar. They, too, will eventually pay for their hostility, along with their children.[7] He, too, is arrested at    Continued  ˃


[5] The term translated “unicorns” is uncertain – sometimes rendered “ox” or “wild-ox” – it suggests the horns of an altar (to which the sacrificial victim was bound)

[6] See “It is finished” H.A. Whittaker, Studies in the Gospels, (Biblia, 1989), 234-5: available online (cited August 2010) @ Access here

[7] The MSS has a total of 122 men with their wives and children put to death but the LXX only the two co-presidents. Scholars are forced to choose if the tradition process was influenced by the law of elaboration or that of rectification.

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his customary place of prayer. These higher authorities, too, find no fault in him and labour to free him, but are reminded that the law forbids it. He, too, has to rely on God to deliver him as the tomb is sealed. Indeed he actually dies, and injury can be found on him after he comes back from the dead: more extraordinary is it, then, that very early, at sunrise, he, too, is discovered to be alive after all”.[8] The resurrection account in Revelation 11 echoes Daniel 6:


Daniel 6 Revelation 11
Continual service (v.16,20) 1260 days witnessing (v.3)
An excellent spirit was in him (v.3) I will give power (v.3)
They have not hurt me (v.22) If any man hurt them (v.51)
Daniel cast into the lion’s den (v.16) Witnesses murdered (v.7)
Command to lift Daniel out the pit (v.23) Command to “Come up here” (v.12)
For He is the living God, And steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end.(v.26)  “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (v.15)
He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth….. (v.27)


Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun...(12:1)



Temple worship informs the background of ch.6; prayer is directed towards Jerusalem and Yahweh is the “living God” who dwells between the cherubim. Daniel is entrapped by his faithfulness to continual service (mirroring the “daily” in the temple). The removal of Daniel equates with the removal of the “daily” and Daniel’s restoration by God parallels the rebuilding of the temple and “resurrection” of the    Continued  ˃


[8] John Goldingay, Word, 136, See Towner who also draws out the parallels between the passion of Christ and that of Daniel. W. Sibley Towner, Daniel, (John Knox Press, Louisville 1984 [1933]), 82-85.

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nation under Darius Hystaspis. Daniel’s rescue is more than the account of individual liberation from death. It is situational Midrash on restoration and reversal of national fortunes - - but it is also a story about the vindication of Daniel’s “living God”, whose glory is manifest in “living creatures”, finding ultimate expression in the resurrection of Christ and his saints. Daniel envisages a last-days ministry “turning many to righteousness” (Dan. 12:3), when the “prince of this world” (like Darius) will be forced to acknowledge the supremacy and sovereignty of the “living God” who is even able to reverse the consequences of sin - - the immutable law of death.