1. How to handle office politics (1-9)
In verse 1 we see yet another king, another empire – but Daniel remains the symbol of God’s kingdom. There is no Darius in historical records of the time: we just know nothing about him, maybe he was a short ruling regent, or he is Cyrus, see footnote on v28 in your Bible. Or Darius may be known in history as Gubaru, son of Ahasuerus, appointed governor of Babylon by Cyrus who is known to have installed under-governors in Babylon.
We see that in Daniel's day as in ours corruption is a problem among the ruling classes so much so that Darius appoints three chief ministers that verse 2 he “might not suffer loss”. (v3) Daniel stands out in contrast to the other characters in the ruling elite, he “distinguished himself”, “exceptional qualities”. The key here is that Daniel is serving Yahweh even as he serves Darius. So the king plans to make him chief of ministers. As so often in such circles that results in jealousy.
But the others failure to find anything against him just highlights Daniels excellence in service of the king because he is serving God as he does so. His godliness is well known – the only way to do him down was to engineer a conflict between his service of God and the king, between the law of the Medes and the Persians.
As you read through notice the lie the jealous officials tell the gullible king in verse 7 “…have all agreed…” No they haven’t Daniel was excluded, and Darius is foolish not to have asked about this. But the Decree once made is irrevocable – for 30 days there is to be no prayer.
The faithful and the fickle (10-18)
The temptation for Daniel in such a situation is the same as for us; compromise. It’s a 30 day ban on prayer, one month out of a life time, it does not say you have to pray to Darius, just that you cannot pray to anyone apart from Darius. Daniel is not asked to deny his faith outright or to worship idols. But Daniel's past faithfulness prepares him for this test – 1:8 had Daniel not resolved as he did would he have stood here?
But (v10) Daniel goes straight home and prays as is his custom, he shows no fear, doesn’t alter his pattern, or close window but does “just as he had done before”. Why does he pray with the window open towards Jerusalem? Daniel had in mind 1 Kings 8:46-53. It is a reminder of who he praying too and the situation he is in.
In his prayer Daniel gives thanks and asks for help – what does Daniel pray about? I think Daniel 9 which records his prayer prayed in 1st year of Darius, gives us an idea of his prayers. His prayers are centred on God and his purposes and plans.
Daniel’s prayer life is disciplined and regular, he has peace despite the threat – there is no sense of panic throughout the chapter. In contrast with Darius who is distressed but is also powerless to rescue Daniel despite making “every effort until sunset." Daniel's enemies have their teeth into Daniel will not let it go. The king's powerlessness is emphasised as he is forced to keep his own law and is left to rely on Daniel’s God. As the Seal is set on the stone there is no doubt in Darius' mind that he is sealing/signing of Daniel’s death warrant. Yet (v18) In contrast with Daniel’s calmness the kings distress and powerlessness is emphasised again as he paces all night. Better to be Daniel in the lions den than the king in his palace.
3. The King revealed (19-28)As dawn breaks and the king hurries to the pit it is not with the expectation of salvation (v19-20). But unlike the king God is powerful, he can do what Darius cannot, his word not Darius’ stands, his purposes not Darius’ will stand. As Daniel is pulled up from the pit and he explains to Darius that his standing before God mattered more than his standing before the king.
Just as with the three friends smokeless, untainted clothing in chapter 3 verse 23 emphasises the total natural of Daniel’s deliverance. A miraculous rescue that is further underlines as lions devour advisers and families (Herodotus – such punishment was according to Persian law) and their gods didn’t deliver them.
Verse 26-27 is the final confession of the first half of Daniel and as such is a fitting summary of the first 6 chapters. It is also a bridge into chapters 7-12 where this will be seen again and again. God is sovereign he rules and reigns and rescues.