Lesson 41
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The Political Situation in Daniel’s 68th Year

It was extremely unusual in ancient times for a conquering king to give a prisoner of war a position of authority in his government. The possibility of rebellion was just too great. Incredible as it seems, this happened to Daniel three times that we know of. Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to one of his highest governing positions after Daniel interpreted his dream. Belteshazzar promoted Daniel to one of his highest governing positions after Daniel read the handwriting on the wall. Daniel was also promoted to one of the highest positions in the kingdom when Darius became king. Do you think Daniel’s promotions had anything to do with his loyalty to God?  I do.

It is my understanding that Daniel believed God had placed him in a very powerful political position within the government of Darius so that he, Daniel, might facilitate Israel’s release from captivity. However, Daniel was nearing 90 years of age and knew that if he acted on his own wisdom, he would interfere with God’s plans, just as Moses did when he wrongfully killed the Egyptian. (Exodus 2:11-14) Daniel also knew that if his actions backfired, it could result in a lot of suffering for his people, just as it did when Moses and Aaron ordered the Hebrew slaves to rest from their labors. (Exodus 5:5) Daniel was acutely aware that he could dishonor God if his actions to free his people aroused suspicion, jealousy or any hint of rebellion against the Medes and Persians. Many of the Caldeans intensely hated the Jews, and any move on Daniel’s part to free his people would probably he construed as treason. If this occurred and he was convicted in a court of public opinion, the punishment was sudden death.

Note: About 70 years after Daniel died, the Chaldeans’ hatred for the Jews escalated on a national scale. The noble, Haman, obtained a universal death decree from king Artaxerxes for all Jews in the Persian kingdom, but God used Queen Esther to save her people. Daniel’s dilemma had other ramifications. During the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the Jews multiplied and integrated into the fabric of the province of Babylon. Some Jews prospered and others remained servants or slaves to the Chaldeans.  When Darius began his reign over Babylon, most of the original captives from Jerusalem had died. Therefore, their offspring who lived in Babylon had little attachment to a place where they had never lived or even seen. In fact, when Cyrus set the Jews free in 536 B.C., Ezra 2 indicates that only a minority of captives, 29,818 Jewish males, returned to Jerusalem.

The Greatest Problems

Politically, Daniel knew that the emancipation of his people after 70 years in Babylon could cause a number of problems for King Darius. If many Chaldeans lost their servants, they would incur financial losses, which would produce terrible social unrest. Daniel was also aware that during the 70 years of desolation, tribal nations had moved into the territory abandoned by Israel, and a returning Israel could be embroiled in wars and land disputes. Even more, the greatest cause of concern for Daniel was that Darius did not rule over the land of Canaan where Jerusalem was located. Any decree that freed the Jews from the province of Babylon would also require a decree by King Cyrus, who ruled over Canaan. The ultimate goal, of course, was that the Jews recover the land they had lost, and all the circumstances surrounding this situation greatly perplexed Daniel. What could he do to facilitate the freedom of his people? Even if they were set free, how could Daniel motivate a majority of the Jews to return to Jerusalem? Daniel’s mind churned over these issues for months because he could see how a significant exodus from Babylon could be a political nightmare for King Darius, as well as King Cyrus.

Jealousy Knows No Bounds

From Daniel’s point of view, the upcoming 70th year, 536/5 B.C., would not be a very good year to attempt the release of the Jews. Even though Daniel held one of the highest positions in the empire, a new king was on the throne. This meant a new administration was in place adhering to a new set of laws and corporate culture, which included a large group of powerful nobles who hated the Jews. As Daniel pondered his helpless position, it became apparent to him that Israel’s deliverance from slavery would have to be an “Act of God,” a miracle as great as the exodus from Egypt. To his credit, Daniel faithfully carried out his responsibilities within Darius administration.  The Bible says of this time-period, “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” (Daniel 6:3)

Sometime during Darius’ first calendar year (538/7 B.C.), Daniel decided the best thing he could do was seeking God through fasting, praying and wearing sackcloth and ashes. Time was running out! The 70th year was approaching fast. So, Daniel sought in utter humility to see what God wanted of him. To be in sackcloth and ashes was a sign of mourning or extreme humiliation. To the Medes and Persians, Daniel’s appearance must have been very odd since Daniel usually wore clothing appropriate for his exalted office. Regardless, Daniel embarrassed (humbled) himself before God as a man in sackcloth and ashes demonstrating that God could use him in whatever meaningful or menial way God desired.

Unknown to Daniel, King Darius had planned to promote Daniel above the other two governors of his empire. Darius decided to do this because he had contracted a degenerating health problem. Darius favored Daniel because Daniel was “pure in heart,” a very unusual quality among people in politics, then and now. Darius also wanted to make Daniel, “the Jew,” his number two man in the kingdom because this would strategically protect his throne when he became too weak to meet the day-to-day needs of his office. Unlike the other two administrators, Darius knew Daniel to be loyal to him instead of having an inner ambition to acquire the throne. Besides, Darius knew that a Jew would not aspire to be king over an empire of Medes and Persians. By putting Daniel in the number two seat, his throne would be safer from the schemes of ambitious politicians and administrators.

Somehow, this information about Darius’ plan was leaked to the administrators and they were filled with jealousy and rage. No self respecting Mede or Persian would be subject to a Jew! Jealousy and hatred for Daniel, “the Jew”, led them to search for anything they could mar Daniel’s reputation and disqualify him from such a position of honor. They studied Daniel’s personal history and tried to find a flaw in his character, but were unable to find anything.  The Bible says, “At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’”(Daniel 6:4,5) Given the hatred and determination of his enemies and the notorious behavior of politicians down through the ages, these are amazing words!

Putting the Squeeze on Daniel

Finally, the administrators and satraps concluded that the only way to stop Darius from promoting Daniel was to prove to Darius that Daniel’s loyalty to his “Jewish” God was higher than Daniel’s loyalty to the king. They figured the question of loyalty would prove their point to Darius. When it came to politics, kings have to be gods.  Their ego and government rests upon nothing less than total submission and devotion to their will. If no one wants to obey the king, how can he be king? Therefore, “loyalty tests” were used by ancient kings to ferret out people with bad attitudes toward the authority of the king. This may explain why Darius did not quibble or hesitate to issue a loyalty decree. Loyalty tests were simple. During the specified month, suspects were arraigned and questioned before a court of political leaders. If the suspect freely confessed allegiance to the king as the highest authority on Earth, the suspect would then affirm his loyalty to t he king with an oath. However, if the suspect was hostile toward the king or plotting rebellion, a “loyalty test” became a life and death issue, even though the suspect may not have been caught doing anything wrong. This is why loyalty tests were so effective. If the suspect refused to take an oath affirming his allegiance and submission to the king, he was declared a rebel and killed immediately. On the other hand, if he lied about his allegiance to the king and gave an oath of loyalty, his sympathizers would see that he was a common coward and a liar. Who would respect such a disgusting person? This technique for testing loyalty was simple and effective. Incidentally, the Caesars also used loyalty tests. Thousands of Christians perished because they would not bow down before the “man-god,” Caesar. (John 19:15; Romans 10:9) During the Great Tribulation, God will also use a simple loyalty test. A test of worship will put the “squeeze” on every person and our deepest loyalties will be “squeezed out” for every person to see. (See Revelation 13:8-18.)

The Perfect Plot

The crafty administrators asked Darius for permission to conduct a “loyalty check” for three reasons. First, a loyalty test was a well-known tactic. Since the province of Babylon was a new territory for Darius, a loyalty test appeared to be a “good idea” to help secure his throne. Second, if Daniel should slip through the 30-day decree trap, Darius would never know the real motives behind the administrators’ request for the loyalty test. Third, if Daniel were caught in their trap, he would be “legally” killed because the law demanded the sudden death of anyone caught in rebellion against the king. If Daniel were destroyed, the administrators would not be implicated in Daniel’s death, or so they thought.

When the administrators asked the king for a loyalty decree, they must have known that Darius did not know about Daniel’s current state of humiliation. If Darius had been aware of Daniel’s behavior, praying to his God three times a day in sackcloth and ashes, this knowledge would have foiled their plot. “So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next 30 days, except to you, O King, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O King, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing.” (Daniel 9:6-9)

Daniel Springs the Trap

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about the royal decree: ‘Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?’ The king answered, ‘The decree stands-in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ Then they said to the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.’ When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.” (Daniel 6:10-14)

Did you notice how fast Daniel willfully disobeyed the king’s decree? Why did one of the kingdom’s highest officials publicly defy the law of the king? The answer lies in the fact that Daniel understood the reasons behind the loyalty test. Daniel remembered his three friends and their fiery furnace test, and he knew he was being tested just like his three friends. Evidently, Daniel was notified of the decree suddenly and without warning. I find it interesting that Daniel did not go to his immediate superior, King Darius and plead his case! When Daniel learned of the loyalty test, he ran to (not from) his prayer room. This action says volumes about Daniel’s loyalty to the God of Heaven!

When Daniel humbled himself before God and the man wearing sackcloth and ashes, Daniel’s heart was ready and willing to submit, even to death, if that was God’s will. Daniel was willing to do anything God required of him to facilitate the release of his people. Daniel’s loyalty to God is extraordinary and God’s approval of Daniel is amazing. In fact, Daniel’s loyalty became the very tool that God used to glorify His name before the Medes and Persians so that He could deliver the Jews from captivity! If the plot to kill Daniel was clever, God’s use of the situation was even more so. God used the administrator’s hatred of Daniel, Darius’ affection for Daniel, and Daniel’s loyalty (and ultimately the lion’s den) to set Israel free from slavery. Watch how these elements combined to accomplish God’s plan.

King Darius Humiliated

The next morning, “…the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.” (Daniel 6:16-18)

Daniel was arraigned before King Darius. When the king saw the old prophet in sackcloth and ashes, he became furious with his administrators. He saw through their plot. Daniel, “the Jew,” was no rebel and Darius knew that. In fact, Daniel was the only administrator the king could trust! According to the law, however, Daniel was subjected to the usual “loyalty’ interrogation and without hesitation, confessed to praying to his God three times a day. Daniel did not offer excuses, plead his case or beg for his life. Even more importantly, he did not swear an oath of loyalty to King Darius as the highest authority. King Darius churned with grief. He condemned himself all night for failing to consider the intense hatred of his administrators for Daniel, “the Jew.” How ironic the twist of events. Darius was planning to promote Daniel, but now he would have to kill him instead. Darius knew Daniel was unjustly condemned, but not even the king himself could change the law of the Medes and Persians. With these words, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” Darius bids farewell to Daniel. The king gives the order and with his own signet ring and the rings of those who hated the old Jew, seals Daniel’s fate to be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel was a peace, Darius was in torment, and the administrators were on their way to a secret celebration party.

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