“Daniel in the Lion’s Den” has become one of the iconic Biblical stories of faith for Daniel’s bravery and devout persistence in the face of lethal opposition. For good reason, Daniel has often occupied the lion-share of the story (I could not resist); but, Darius deserves some analytic attention as well.
After all, here is a man who sentenced someone he loved dearly (v. 1-4) to death by mauling. Reading through the tragic-turned-hopeful story, the reader sees a king who “was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him” and believes this king gave great energy to saving our protagonist.
One could read the story and even believe Darius occupies a tragic, pitiable role. He is backed into a corner and, because of his regard for his own decree; he sentences a respected leader and friend to death. But Darius is no bastion of morality for upholding his own law; he is merely arrogant.
His efforts to save Daniel, although they show his capacity to love, prove that he is unwilling to go back on his proud word. Darius reminds us of Israelites in the Old Testament who possessed little to no knowledge of their own laws and sought to make human sacrifices upon their vows (see Jephthah in Judges 11) when Levitical Law commands that any human pledged to death by sacrifice can be redeemed through monetary compensation.
Darius, as creator of the decree, can alter such a decree through royal authorship; yet the reader only knows he “made every effort until sundown to save [Daniel]” and failed. The reader must at this moment ponder: “What in the world were you doing that entire day Darius?” “How could you fail?” “All you had to do was change your decree!” As king, Darius assumes responsibility for Daniel’s murder even if he tried to stop it.
The New Testament example of Pontius Pilate washing his hands before the murder of Jesus mirrors Darius’ disagreeing with but appeasing the Babylonians in murdering Daniel. The caution in this tale is directed towards the leaders of the world: You are responsible for the decisions you make and their ensuing consequences. A leader cannot simply “wash his hands” and turn his heads when he rules on a difficult issue; he must bear the decision fully.
Washington, D.C. provides a modern picture of Babylon in the 21st century in at least as much as leadership models. Most of the nation’s leaders reside within this polarized capitol, yet citizens see these leaders as childish and disagreeable (see congressional approval ratings and the highest unfavorability ratings ever for our Presidential candidates).
Americans possess no faith in their leaders because their leaders fail to take responsibility for their actions. No one sees a Republican stand on the floor and admit “We are responsible for Iraq” or a Democrat shout “We are responsible for shattering America’s healthcare;” yet, claims of blame are made by opposing sides for each issue.
We Americans are certainly heirs of Darius. How does one fight this sentiment? This wish to abstain from the difficult decisions? So many Americans have withdrawn from political interest because they find it too slow and painstaking a process—this decision does not look much different than them “washing their hands” of America’s actions.
Christians in this country cannot withdraw from the political arena—the decision-making arena that it is—because of apathy or doubt. The end of the story of Daniel in the lion’s den proves that God rescues His children—Daniel is saved, but so is Darius. God shatters the arrogance of the king and saves his beloved friend to show him the nature of the Most High.
Our God loves to come through in the most trying moments (see all of Jesus’ works, culminating in Resurrection) and in doing so, He proves that He will never leave His children. Americans must embody this hopeful spirit in politics today in order to carry on the redemption of this world in one of the most agonizingly secular parts of society. Christians do well to remember that God saves both the faithful Daniel and the secular Darius; Darius’ final words in the chapter show us God’s power to convert the powerful and mighty to the righteous cause through the most unusual circumstances:
“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.
He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
Yes, the story is about Daniel’s faith in the midst of trial; but it is also about much more—an arrogant king turned humble follower, a God showing mercy to those who deserve none, a kingdom flipped on its pagan head. God works in ways that are much higher than the minds of men, and man’s job is simply that of Daniel and Darius: wherever you are, turn to God. Be patient, and let Him work through you. He has plans to save the cynic and the scoffer both.
Will Thompson works in consulting in the Washington, DC area and is a member of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.