Daniel 6 – Envy
Again we read about the envy of the other governors, satraps and administrators in the Persian Empire against Daniel. They hated these Jews, primarily because of their faith. The Jewish faith was different from what the heathen people in the Persian Empire believed. God's people accepted him as the Only God with no other god beside him, while other peoples could easily accept many other gods. Time and again, it is clear that their faith sets Daniel and his friends apart from the other officers of the king.
From time to time the envy of the officers came to a climax. In that we can see the work of Satan who is trying to destroy the people of God by distracting them from the service of God. Satan knew that if he could cause Daniel and his people to give up their service to God, then he would be able to obtain the victory and prevent the coming of the Messiah. This is what this chapter is all about. It is not just about Daniel persevering in his prayer to God. It is not just that exciting story about Daniel in the lions’ den. But it is first and foremost about Satan, attacking God’s people and so the coming Messiah. It is about the future of the world.
Daniel again in the king’s service
Under Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans, Daniel was forgotten until, at the end of his life, Belshazzar was forced to listen to Daniel. But then Daniel had to announce God’s wrath over Belshazzar and the Chaldean Empire. Belshazzar was killed and the Medes and Persians took over the empire.
Exactly how Belshazzar was killed, Babylon conquered, and how Darius became king, is not known. At the end of chapter 5 we read that Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old. In chapter 9:1 we read again about this Darius, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans. At the same time, we read about Cyrus, in chapter 10:1. From sources outside of the Bible we don’t know a lot about Darius. But we do know about Cyrus. Cyrus is known as the king who defeated Babylon in 539 before Christ. We can assume that Cyrus, the great king of the Medo-Persian Empire, made Darius king over the Chaldean part of the empire. That means that Cyrus was the great king, and Darius was a ruler under Cyrus.
The part of the empire over which Darius was king, was divided into 120 territories for the purpose of collecting taxes. Darius set 120 satraps over these territories. These satraps reported to three presidents, of whom Daniel was one. Daniel must have been a very old man at this time, maybe about 80 years or even older.
Here again we see that God blessed Daniel. He became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And then, when the king planned to make him the chief of the presidents, to set him over the entire kingdom, the others became envious.
An evil plan
Daniel, of the much-hated Jewish people, is chosen by the king to the highest position in his empire. It was impossible for the other officers of the king to accept that. They do what they can to find something so that they can accuse him of going against the laws and decrees of the king.
The envy between those who strive for high positions, as we can see among our own politicians, is not new. We see it throughout all times and all over the world. Those who are supposed to be the leaders of our country are too busy trying to find something to blame the other for and break him and his work down. But when it comes to Daniel, the other officers must acknowledge that there is nothing of which they can accuse him. They can’t find anything.
They know that it is because of his faithfulness to God. God protects him. So they conclude that they should try to get him exactly on that point: his relationship with God. They believed if they could get the king to forbid him to pray to his God, that would mean the end of God's protection. Then they would certainly be able to find something to accuse him of. But, if he does not give up his prayer, then they can also bring him before the king and accuse him of disobedience.
So they go to the king with their proposal, and try to please the king by appealing to his pride. He is the highest in his empire, they say, and he is the one to whom all his subjects should pray. He is equal to the gods of the empire, or even higher. They say that everyone in his empire must acknowledge this by only praying to him for a period of thirty days.
Of course, this pleases the king. Once the king puts a decree in writing then it is a law, and it cannot be repealed or altered anymore. That was how it went in the empire of the Medes and Persians. The king is quick to write his decree, and only realizes he has been too quick when the real plan of those administrators and governors becomes clear. His pride allowed him to make a terrible mistake. Those administrators and governors get what they wanted. Now they can go and see if Daniel will still pray to his God.
Daniel understands the reason for this decree very well. He understands that the governors are using it to find a reason to get rid of him. Now Daniel has to choose: will he continue to pray to God in the way that he did before, in his room with the windows opened toward Jerusalem? Or will he try to do it secretly, at a place where nobody can see him, and at a time that nobody will miss him? Or will he skip praying for thirty days, and thereafter pray again expecting the LORD will certainly forgive?
It wouldn’t be difficult to find quite a few reasons which sound reasonable and with which he would be able to convince himself. We all know about this; we do it all the time, don’t we? But for Daniel, it is clear what he has to do. He never even thought of changing his custom, or stopping his prayers for a while. This was out of the question. For him, praying was just as important as breathing. He could not do without praying. Praying was his relationship with God. He could not be without God, not even one day. Daniel realizes that life without God is no life. He does not want to stop going to God to express his thankfulness. Prayer was also for him the most important part of the thankfulness that God requires of us.
To serve God, that was the highest goal in Daniel’s life and nothing could change that, not even the threat of death. He was used to praying three times a day and he continues doing that. He does it in his room upstairs, before the windows, opened toward Jerusalem.
He knows that if he changes even the smallest part of his custom, then he will show these men that he fears them and their power more than he fears God. But Daniel does not give in. He only fears God, and worships him. It is not easy for him especially with the knowledge that he would have to face the lions in the den if he is caught. It is something that bothers him. Yet Daniel believes that it is much better to be thrown to the lions than to give up God for even one day.
Prayer is important
Why is prayer so important for Daniel? Why is it so important that he does not even want to skip it once? Why is Daniel even willing to die for this? It is because he knows that God is the only One Who can give him life. A life with God is the only life that is real LIFE. A life without God is the same as eternal death.
Without prayer Daniel would again be in the power of sin. He knows all about the power of sin. He belonged to a people, the people of Israel, which was scattered among the nations because of their sins. The power of sin is so great that it can destroy a complete nation. Sin destroyed a people that was chosen by God and with whom God made his covenant. Daniel knows that the only way to resist sin is to pray, to depend on God and on him alone. Even one day without prayer would put Daniel in great danger… of falling prey to the Devil.
Israel went astray and went into exile, because they didn’t want to know God and didn’t want to live with him. Often their disobedience was the end of a long process, which started with the attitude that it is not so bad if I don't pray every day. It is not so bad if I don't listen to God’s Word every day. I can skip it for a day, or for a few days. I believe in God; more knowledge is not that important. God loves me, and that is what counts.
God told his people, in Deuteronomy 6, to speak about him and his great deeds every day, at every opportunity. This is of utmost importance, or else his people will forget him and leave the right path. Today it is the same: the less we read the Bible, the less we know God and the less we will also love him. As a result, we will love ourselves more, create God in our own image, and go our own ways. This is how it goes throughout history. The only protection against sin is to live with God, to walk humbly with him, in our life, by listening and praying to him. Then God will protect us. We can’t do it ourselves and we must know that.
Therefore, Daniel does not even consider it an option to stop praying. The governors and administrators are glad that they finally have something for which they can have him thrown into the lion’s den. Now they can get rid of him. They are so glad that they do not even stop to ask themselves why prayer is so important for Daniel.
For Daniel, prayer is the most important part of his life. He knows it is indispensable to keep his relationship with God alive. Without it he would suffocate in all the busyness of life and all the temptations from the world. This is the reason he prays every day, three times a day. Three times a day he gets on his knees to help him to realize what is the most important; not all the businesses he was so busy with, nor all the concerns which the government of the country brings him. But first and above all it is to praise and honour God, the God of heaven and earth, the Almighty Creator. He was and is the One who governs all things, and nothing happens against his will. He is the God who decides even life and death.
Daniel always prayed in his house. He did not do this so that no one would see him. Recall that he prayed in front of an open window facing Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place where God chose to be worshipped by his people in the Old Testament. Although the temple was destroyed at that moment, Daniel kept praying with his windows opened toward Jerusalem, as if the temple did still exist. With this Daniel expresses that his prayer is part of the worship service of God's people, the people who were chosen by God and with whom God made his covenant. With this, Daniel reminds God of his promises to hear and forgive his covenant people when they repent.
Daniel is not the only one who calls on God to remember his covenant promises. King Solomon asked God to do this already in 1 Kings 8:46-51. There we read:
46’If they sin against you — for there is no one who does not sin — and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” 48 if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 49then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause 50and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them 51(for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace).
There Solomon prayed that God would listen to his people when they turn back to him from the land of captivity. Solomon asks that when the people pray facing the land God gave their fathers, toward Jerusalem God’s chosen city, the Lord will hear their plea and uphold their cause.
That plea is what Daniel remembered. So he prays, facing Jerusalem, where God chose to have his temple. There he chose to be worshiped, and that is the place he promised to give his people as an everlasting possession. There God gave his promises of deliverance, and of salvation.
Daniel knows that God is merciful and that he will listen to his people, in his endless love. God is waiting for them to turn back to him, and Daniel calls on God's promise. Although the temple is destroyed, he knows that God will hear him because this worship service does not depend on the temple building, but on the One to whom the whole worship service in the temple pointed. The worship service was meant to teach the Israelites about the coming Messiah, who would offer the perfect sacrifice for all their sins, Jesus Christ. Daniel knows about God's promises regarding the coming Saviour. Daniel knows the promises of eternal life through him, the promises of restoration and forgiveness of sins.
God's people should pray continually to God. The worship service in Jerusalem had to stop after the destruction of the temple, but the prayer of God's people should never stop, not for thirty days, and not for even one day. It should always continue, because every day again, the people had to be reminded of the need of salvation, and the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Prayer is powerful
Prayer is the answer of faith to God's promises. It is living with God and depending on him completely. Daniel prays because he knows that he has to fight, not just against the lions in the lions’ den, but against an enemy who is far more powerful than those lions. Daniel also knows that he can only fight that fight of the faith through prayer.
The apostle Paul also warns us, in Ephesians 6, that we must put on the full armour of God, so that we can take our stand against the devil's schemes. It was the devil who was working in the time of Daniel. It was the devil who used those administrators and governors, and even the king, to get what he wanted. Daniel realized that it was the devil and that what happened was part of the greater battle between God and Satan. Because of this Daniel prayed. He knew that God was more powerful than Satan, and that he could resist Satan only in the power of God. The prayer of a righteous man is very powerful. That is also what James says in chapter 5 of his letter.
In Ephesians 6, where Paul writes about the armour of God, he says that we must pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. Do not only pray for yourself but also for each other, because we all need it to be strengthened by God in our fight against the powers of darkness, against the devil and sin. It is a battle which we do not fight as individuals, but as God’s united people.
- What can we learn about prayer from Daniel?
- Daniel kept on praying in front of the window. Are there times where it would be better to close the window to pray?
- Why did Daniel pray facing Jerusalem? Should we also face east (toward Jerusalem) when we pray? Explain your answer.
- Often in the busyness of life we lose focus on what is important. What can we do to help both ourselves and each other keep our life centred on God?
- Why were the magistrates jealous of the Jews’ faith? Do you think that today people are jealous of the Christian faith?
- In this “chess match”, Satan seems to have God in “check”. Yet we see that God is in control of all things, and works also this situation to his greater glory. How did God’s Name receive more praise because of Satan’s stratagem?
- There are indications that Darius believed that Daniel's God would indeed save him (e.g. Darius rushed to see if Daniel was still alive the next morning). What does this teach us about how the way that we live our lives can and does influence those around us?
- Daniel's enemies were thrown into the lion's den after they failed in their plot to have Daniel killed. Can we also expect punishment for those who sin against God's people in a similar way? Should we desire this? (See also Psalm 3, 10, 11, 58)