“The Peoples Plot in Vain” (Daniel 6)
Listen to the Sermon:
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.
10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 12 Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
16 Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” 17 And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
19 Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
25 Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,
for he is the living God,
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
27 He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Daniel 6:1-28, ESV
This is the Word of the Lord.
If you have ever had a chance to study church history or even if you know a bare minimum amount of information about church history, you will not be surprised to hear that in the early church they dealt with persecution for the first few centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection. Persecution was the norm for the first few centuries of the church’s existence.
We only need to open up to the book of Acts to see how quickly persecution unfolded among the church after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Persecution like that continued for the first several centuries and in a very real sense has continued through today in various places throughout the world.
While we might assume that persecution that the church suffered from the very beginning was essentially monolithic in the early church, meaning that it was of the same kind of form and intensity from the word go. Actually, it started out as localized and reactive, but it was only when the first century drew to a close did that persecution increase in its scale and intensity.
I remember one of my church history professors noting that persecution in the first century was characterized by hot-blooded persecution. That is, by in large, it involved for the most part localized spats of violence that would well up against Christians and would quickly abate. It wasn’t, in the first century, planned nor was it really coordinated in any sense. It was reactive in nature.
While that certainly is not good, when the first century drew to a close and we started entering the second century of church history, a new kind of persecution arose that my professor called cold blooded persecution. You see, once Christianity began growing and expanding there were some emperors in Rome who decided that something needed to be done about it.
So, they enacted official empire wide policies that target Christians. While persecution is persecution and none of it is good, there was something about this later form of persecution that was much more calculated and sinister. Some of the most well-known persecutions in church history fall under this category of the cold-blooded, sinister kind of persecution.
Why do I tell you this? As we have been walking through Daniel, we have seen a lot of persecution arise against Daniel and his friends. Up until now, much of the persecution we have encountered has been of this hot-blooded kind of persecution.
For instance, in Daniel three’s famous fiery furnace passage, Daniel’s friends weren’t initially the targets of Nebuchadnezzar’s demand that everyone fall down and worship this colossal image of gold. They rightly refused to do so and when they refused, they were subject to Nebuchadnezzar’s impulsive vices. It wasn’t a good persecution in any sense, but Daniel’s friends were more or less caught up into the net of Nebuchadnezzar’s spontaneity and God miraculously delivered them.
When we open up to the passage that we are studying today, the kind of persecution that’s involved changes. We will see in a moment that it becomes much more sinister and calculating. Daniel isn’t just caught up in the net like he is some kind of collateral damage.
He is actually the target of persecution from start to finish. God delivered Daniel’s friends from the first kind of persecution. Now the question arises, will God be able to deliver Daniel, even in a situation like this? What happens when injustice and suffering mounts and suffering builds on suffering? What happens in our own lives, when it seems as if our three sworn enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, are uniting together as one force to undo us?
These are some of the questions that this passage of Daniel sets out to answer. By the time the narrative ends, what we will see is that despite the very intentional and coordinated plots that come from these enemies, despite the cold and calculated political maneuvering that’s involved, even the best laid plans from God’s enemies cannot unsettle the decrees of God and cannot ultimately claim victory over God’s people. It doesn’t matter the scheming, it doesn’t matter how dire things might seem from the perspective of God’s people, the Lord is on his throne.
Our big idea today is this, Though the peoples plot against the Lord and his anointed, the peoples plot in vain.
You may hear in that big idea an echo from Psalm two. If you hear that, then you are hearing correctly. In Psalm two we hear that when the kings of the earth take counsel against the Lord and against his anointed, the Lord who sits in the heavens responds by laughing. Which communicates the ultimate frivolousness of trying to undercut or supplant the Kingdom of God and the subjects of that kingdom.
As we work through this passage in Daniel six, we will see this similarly played out. God will not and cannot be outmaneuvered.
As we work through this passage, we are going to study it in three parts.
1. An Illusion of Power
2. An Appeal to True Power
3. A Demonstration of the Power of God
An Illusion of Power
So, first look with me at verses one through nine where we see an illusion of power. At the end of Daniel five, we learn that Belshazzar, who is the final ruler of the kingdom of Babylon was killed. A new king came to the throne, installing a new king over Babylon and the people of God.
We learn that the name of this new king is Darius the Mede. As a quick aside, there is some questions who this Darius the Mede really was. We know from the rest of the Bible that Babylon was supplanted by the Mede-Persian empire and that Cyrus was the king who was responsible for supplanting Babylon and then releasing God’s people from their seventy years of captivity and letting them go back to their land.
Now in light of that, well-known piece from the Bible, some have argued that this Darius the Mede in Daniel six is just another name for King Cyrus. That’s possible. Cyrus had a Persian father and a Median mother, so it made sense for him to be called Darius the Mede.
Others have argued that Darius the Mede is actually one of Cyrus’ generals who he set up to rule while Cyrus went to fight battles temporarily. That’s possible too.
Nonetheless, whatever we make of the precise identity of Darius the Mede, when Daniel six opens we know that one kingdom has gone and another kingdom has come. Daniel, this prophetic representative of the Kingdom of God has been preserved through one kingdom, he’s installed as one of the three high officials in the new kingdom and on the verge of reaching an even higher position.
We read in verse three that the king had planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Perhaps that is no surprise because Daniel one told us that Daniel would remain until the first year of King Cyrus.
This fits the pattern we have seen throughout Daniel. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but the Kingdom of God endures forever. God has been faithful to preserve his people in exile. He has been faithful to preserve Daniel and his friends through all that they have encountered thus far.
Then this opposition arises against Daniel. As I noted in the introduction, this is opposition of a different kind and a different sort than we have seen in Daniel thus far. There is something much more sinister about this form of opposition.
We aren’t given the explicit reason why these other high officials seem bent on doing away with Daniel. It could be as simple as jealousy. For whatever reason a plot begins to develop against Daniel.
They begin meeting together and consulting how they could remove Daniel from his high position. They hold up a proverbial microscope to Daniel’s life. In the end no error or fault is found in Daniel. So, they reason, in verse five, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
In a way, this introduces one of the primary conflicts that we encounter in this passage. That is a conflict between the law of God and the law of the Medes and the Persians. These phrases, law of God and law of the Medes and the Persians occurs a few times in this passage.
More specifically than just a conflict between two competing bodies of law, what we encounter in this passage is a conflict between the powers that lie behind these laws. It’s a conflict between Darius and the high officials on one hand, and the Lord on the other hand.
The first power of sorts that we meet in this passage is introduced to us in these first nine verses. It’s the high officials and Darius the Mede. One would think that Darius should be the real force behind any law that gets enacted in his kingdom, yet we see that Darius is actually a king who doesn’t have a solid grasp at all on anything that is happening among his high officials. Instead we meet a king who is gullible and can’t seem to see through flattery.
Notice that he is even willing in this edict, to sign a temporary law at the bidding of his high officials, but never bothers to probe their claim in verse seven that all the high officials are in support of this injunction. When in reality Daniel, the one that Darius is prepared to set over the kingdom, isn’t even there.
At every turn as we look through these first nine verses, Darius is manipulated by his high officials and always seems to be working off his back heel. Later when the law is then put into effect, he can’t do anything to overcome his mistake. It’s somewhat ironic that was meant to turn him into a suedo-god in the first place actually binds him from doing the very things that he wanted to do later. Namely to save Daniel.
We see in this passage then that Darius, who has something of a soft spot in his heart for Daniel which is all well and good, but in the end, Darius’ power is really just an illusion. He lacks real power, wisdom, and muscle to do anything that he wants to do. In the end he is absolutely unable to intervene and save Daniel.
There’s no indication in our text that Daniel actually found his security in being the beneficiary of Darius’ favor. He wasn’t allured by this facade of power that Darius had. In fact, if the next part of our passage is any indication of how things went, Daniel didn’t waver in his knowledge of where true power and security comes from. Even when he knew that he had favor with the king.
I wonder if we were placed in such a similar position, would be true of us? If we are honest with ourselves, all of us could identify things or people in our own lives in whom we have invested a substantial amount of security. Things or people that we functionally presume are just a step below being all powerful.
I remember as a child thinking that my dad could protect me from virtually anything. There was nothing that could break down the hedge of protection that my father set up around me and my sister. He provided for me, he gave me good gifts, and he loved me well.
Taking nothing away from my dad because I had a great dad, when I became a father myself, I became acutely aware of my own weaknesses and my own fears. I realized very quickly that a father is nowhere near as strong as his kids assume he is.
In the same way there are a number of things that all of us could identify in our own lives where we have invested far too much security or attributed far too much power towards. Whether it’s our bank accounts or our jobs or our health or our own acumen or the government.
If we are honest with ourselves there are a number of things in our lives that give us an illusion of ultimate security too. What happens when the cracks begin to form in those foundations? What happens when we begin to see that those things are in fact impotent security blankets? What happens when our three sworn enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, begin circling like sharks around those things?
Friends, in the end the king of the most powerful kingdom in the fifth century B.C. can’t save Daniel from the king’s own folly. So too nothing that we look to for ultimate protection of security can really give us what we are after either. If you place the weight of the world on anything other than the Lord, it will eventually collapse under its own weight.
While other threats in this world often expose those forms of security for what they are, ultimately impotent to save us. What we will find in our text is that even those threats that seem dire and will suck the life out of everything of existence, also lack real muscle to destroy God’s people.
In our text, this council that plots against Daniel and manipulates Darius to their own advantage may seem like a foreboding enemy on the surface of things. But by the end of our passage, we will see that they are no match for Daniel’s God either. Their power too is really just an illusion.
An Appeal to True Power
Before we see that, we see how Daniel responds to this injunction issued by Darius. If you would, look with me at verse ten through seventeen, where we see an appeal to true power. What is remarkable is that when Daniel learns that this document has been signed, he is neither alarmed to the point where he feels he needs to immediately go to the king. Nor does he reason, in my opinion this the remarkable nonresponse, that thirty days without prayer isn’t the worst thing in the world and so he will comply.
Instead he doesn’t change anything about the way he conducts himself before the Lord. He continues praying on his knees towards Jerusalem from his upper chamber three times a day. Just like David in Psalm 55, Daniel calls upon God evening, morning and at noon.
He also prays towards Jerusalem. Not because there is something superstitious in doing that or something magical about prayer when you face a certain direction, but he is actually intentionally framing his prayer life based on what Solomon prayed centuries prior.
If we were to look back at 1 Kings chapter eight, we would see that when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he looked forward to a day where God’s people would be set into exile. He prayed that if and when that would happen, and if and when they would turn back from their sins, and if and when they would pray towards Jerusalem and towards Israel and towards the temple from their place in exile. When that occurred, Solomon prayed that the Lord would hear their prayers, forgive them for their sins, and show that favor in exile.
This is what Daniel does. He prays towards Jerusalem, modeling his prayer life after what Solomon had prayed centuries prior.
In the law there’s no explicit Biblical command, at least that I can find, for any of these actions that accompany Daniel’s prayer life. If Daniel were to cease from prayer all together, that would be one thing since God’s people are commanded to pray.
Prayer and worship are some of the duties that are required in the first commandment. There is precedent in what Daniel does in kneeling and facing toward Jerusalem and praying three times a day, but there is not explicit Biblical command that God’s people had to do all of those things in exactly that way.
So, by the letter of the law, Daniel wasn’t required to respond the way he did. I suppose he could have begun to pray at night. He didn’t have to pray so visibly from his upper chamber if he didn’t want to. He could have prayed with his eyes open sitting in a chair so nobody could tell if he was praying or just meditating real intensely.
If Daniel capitulated, if he began to divest himself from these Biblically intentional habits that he developed over the years as a response to this injunction that had been signed, what would that say about who Daniel believed was the real power in the world?
If Daniel were to move in that direction, I think Calvin rightly notes that it would appear that he regarded the king of more importance than the reverence and fear of God. By doing as he had done previously, Daniel is not being stubborn here, as some of us might accuse him of being.
Instead he knows what is really at stake here. So, he confidently submits himself to the one the he knows is the real power in this world. He even offers prayers of thanksgiving in the process.
Although surely he appeals to God for this specific situation that he’s in, it also appears that the shape of his prayer life hasn’t been steered by the powers that be in the world either. He entrusts himself to the Lord with prayers of thanksgiving and supplication, just as he has done throughout his entire time in exile. He refuses to capitulate for just a mere thirty days.
This raises a question for us to consider in our own lives. Although as Americans we like the sight of seeing someone standing up for their rights, when someone defies the unjust powers that be, does prayer make such a difference in your life that it would be unfathomable to go thirty days without it?
Say someone were to come you, a government official we might say, and command that you not pray for thirty days. Would you be more upset that someone is depriving you of your liberty or more upset of the thought of not being able to commune with the Lord?
Don’t mistake what Daniel was doing here. Daniel wasn’t praying just because someone told him he couldn’t pray. He’s praying exactly as he had done previously because he couldn’t imagine even one day apart from communion with the Lord. So, what would be a greater price for you to pay? Would it be the loss of liberty or the loss of communion and fellowship with the Lord through Christ?
So, Daniel prays and as we would expect, Daniel is caught. The king in this sense is also caught with him. The plotters turn Daniel over to the king who in turn, following much angst, turns Daniel over to this den of lions.
What is interesting about everything that we have read so far is that Daniel hasn’t even spoken a word yet. In this entire narrative Daniel only has one line. It will come when we look at the final part of this passage. Up until now the only window into Daniel doing much of anything is this window into Daniel’s prayer life.
Daniel’s silence reveals quite a bit for us. It shows us the life of someone who knows where true power lies. When Daniel is eventually thrown into the lion’s den, we don’t know how his night went. Was Daniel frightened? Perhaps, it would be understandable if he was frightened.
Was he upset that such a grave injustice had befallen him? If he was, he doesn’t lash out at his accusers in any way. Instead powerless Daniel spends the night in a den of lions. The most powerful king in the known world can’t even sleep. We read in verse eighteen,
18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him. Daniel 6:18, ESV
If you remember last week’s sermon, Pastor Jacob talked a lot about the paradox of power. That’s what we have here. The one who is objectively the most powerful person in the ancient world at this point has absolutely no power. No power over his officials, no power over his laws, no power over his own sleep.
Daniel in turn conducts himself as someone with great authority and power. Not because of anything in himself, but because he makes his appeal to an all-powerful, omniscient and omnipotent God.
Now as we turn to the next part of our passage, we see God’s power, the power that Daniel trusts and rests in, in full display.
A Demonstration of the Power of God
Look with me now at verses nineteen through twenty-eight. So, when the next morning dawns, King Darius runs to this den of lions. To his relief, the Lord has stepped in and delivered Daniel. Daniel responds,
22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Daniel 6:22, ESV
Shortly before this point we can imagine the conspirators who plotted against Daniel had imaged everything was working like clockwork. The king’s gullibility didn’t let them down. Daniel’s persistence hasn’t abated. Now they are free and clear to pursue any ambition that they might wish to set their hearts upon.
What they failed to account for is that Daniel’s God is able to raise the dead. We see in this final part of this passage the power of God on display. The Lord is able to deliver someone who is as good as dead. Daniel is cast into this den of lions. The den is sealed from the outside. The next day he emerges unscathed and explains how his Lord sent his angel in the night to protect him.
This is a miracle. We are supposed to read it as such. It is a miracle. As great of a miracle as this is and as much as it would have been received by the exiles in Daniel’s day who were looking for a glimmer of hope in the midst of their exile; this miracle is still only a shadow of the greater miracle that would happen centuries later when God raised Jesus from the grave.
Like Daniel Jesus was also subject to an unjust council who was bent from the very beginning on his destruction. Like Daniel he was also unfairly and maliciously treated. But also, like Daniel, when Jesus was reviled, he didn’t revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten but continued entrusting himself to the one who judges justly, that’s 1 Peter 2:23.
Like Daniel, Jesus has entrusted himself to the Lord. The author of Hebrews tells us that in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who is able to save him from death. He was heard because of his reverence.
Whereas Daniel went to the den alive and emerged alive. Our Lord Jesus went to the tomb already dead and three days later emerged alive. We clearly see a demonstration of the power of God in this passage. We know that by the end of it, the peoples have plotted in vain and that the Lord protects his people. Praise the Lord.
Sometime after this event we also know that Daniel would eventually die. He lived a full and prolific life, but he would never live forever. He would not even return to Jerusalem, his homeland. He would die in a foreign land while still waiting, by faith, for the Lord to establish his kingdom through his son.
While Daniel eventually died as an exile, having garnered some favor with the king, our Lord Jesus lives forever and ever as the ascended all power and all glorious king who leads a host of captives out of our exile.
Friends, when we think about the demonstration of the power of God in our passage, especially in light of how this foreshadows Jesus, the promise for us here isn’t that God will deliver us like he did for Daniel ,from every malicious attack on this side of glory. Nor is the promise that if we are blameless and righteous people like Daniel that God will deliver us from every form of suffering on this earth, whatever that might entail.
Instead, the promise is that through faith in the truly blameless one, Jesus Christ, we too will be spared from a worse judgement than lions. We will be spared from the judgement of God and protected from the one who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
In the book of Hebrews, the author refers to this passage in Hebrews eleven and what he highlights for us is Daniel’s faith. The author of Hebrews says that through faith he stopped the mouth of lions.
Again, the promise of this passage and the hope that is held out for us isn’t that we will be spared from every kind of trouble that ails us on this side of glory. Instead, the promise is that we will be beneficiaries of resurrection life through faith in the one who Daniel both typifies in his person and the one that he looks forward to himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we close out this passage, we hear Darius declare, much like we have heard doxologies from kings elsewhere in Daniel, that God is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and recues. He works signs and wonders on heaven and on earth. How much friends, should that be our doxology in light of what we have in Christ Jesus our Lord?
As we prepare to close, let us consider a couple of applications from our text.
1. How important is prayer in your own life? Ask yourself that question. Really think upon that question. How would we respond if an edict was ever issued that we demanded that we cease and desist from prayer for just thirty days?
Is prayer such an important part of your life that to cease from it for just thirty days would be unfathomable? Or does prayer function in your life more as an insurance policy? Something to invest in here or there and fall back upon when things are really getting rough, but other than that it plays no essential part of who you are and what you do.
We all have our security blankets in our lives. Things that make us feel in control and give us an illusion of power and thereby occupy our thoughts and minds. Have you given an inordinate amount of weight to such things that may seem all powerful and omnipotent so that prayer plays little to no role in your life? Or do you know like Daniel where true power lies?
How important is prayer in your own life?
2. Know that the Lord reigns as king. There are times in our lives where we may experience things that are analogous to what Daniel experienced in the sense that any security blanket or hedge of protection that we thought we had comes crumbling down and we are exposed to pressures in our lives that could bring seemingly unbearable forms of suffering.
When that happens in Daniel’s life, he falls back on his habits of prayer that he has already established as a critical and reoccurring habit in his life. There is a lesson in that for us too. But in those seasons, we also need to remember that we have a king who reigns.
As David says in Psalm two, “the peoples may plot but the peoples plot in vain because the Lord has set his anointed king on Zion.” In other words, whatever the pressures we face in this life under the sun as the people of Kingdom of God and the body of Christ, we are called to remember something that is very simple but profoundly important.
Namely that we have a king, King Jesus, who our confession tells us preserves and supports us under all of our temptations and sufferings. He restrains and overcomes all of our enemies and powerfully orders all things for his glory and for our good.
Note that because we have such a king, the power of our three sworn enemies who seem to yield incredible power at times are temporary and fleeting and ultimately just an illusion. We may lose much in this life and we might even lose life itself, but we have a king who has conquered through his blood. Through giving himself for you and me and who has made us into a kingdom of priests and subjects of this king and his kingdom.
Let me pray.
Lord I pray that you would remind us as we walk in this world with alluring temptations of things that promise security and things that promise power. Lord I pray that we would see those claims for what they are and to recognize that the true power in this world is you Lord. The one who reigns as the anointed and all-powerful king. Not only are you the king who reigns above in the heavens, but you are also the king who invites us his subjects to come to you, to plead with you, to bring our prayers before, and even to feast with you. Lord I pray that through the promises that we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ would come to bear more and more on our own hearts and our own lives throughout our sanctification. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.