Posted by Jill Carattini, on September 8, 2014
In the beneficial book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart note that “every individual Old Testament narrative is at least a part of the greater narrative of Israel’s history in the world, which in turn is a part of the ultimate narrative of God’s creation and his redemption of it.”(1)
The story told in Daniel 6 is one such narrative. Daniel sets a definite rhythm to the story, carefully dancing between the stories written on the hearts of his listeners and his own story, presenting a reality for all to see and hear.
In the beginning we find a peaceful kingdom and a king in control. Daniel, we are told, a Hebrew foreigner and a slave in exile, is found by King Darius to be distinguished above all other men, set apart from the others. With these words, Daniel meaningfully hints of another story—a story his listeners knew well. Choosing Israel, God set his people apart from all the nations, claiming them as his own. Daniel tells the story written on every heart of every person listening. And it is a story that speaks volumes to a people in exile, removed from all of it: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation… And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people”(2)
Yet quickly the story moves from the picturesque image of a king very much in control, to a telling picture of human frailty. Daniel is trapped by manipulative lawmakers and sentenced to be thrown into the lions’ den, while King Darius finds himself bound by his own law, ineffective in his own kingdom, and powerless to save his distinguished Daniel.
It is in the midst of this self-realization that the king speaks directly to Daniel for the first time in the story. Quite significantly, Darius’ words are not about himself or Daniel or his accusers, but Daniel’s God. “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” proclaims the king. The storyteller is careful to make a point of this indeed, for however dimly, Darius of the nations has exercised faith in the God of Israel. Guilt-ridden and unable to sleep, Darius is well aware that his sense of sovereignty as king was little more than the sovereignty one has over the hunger of a lion. Daniel is in hands beyond his dominion. With incredible transparency, King Darius sees for the first time his desperate need for a King greater than himself. Here, it is the events taking place in the heart of Darius that above all show the greatest hint and the greatest hope in the entire narrative. As the prophet Isaiah has written, “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, but also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite'” (Isaiah 57:15). One is left to wonder whether it is king Darius who is most in need of the Spirit’s reviving or Daniel who is left for the night in a den of lions.
At first light, Darius runs quickly to the lions’ den. Finding Daniel alive, the king proclaims a hymn of wonder at the God who rules in high and holy places, in dark dens and in restless hearts.
As the narrative comes to an end, we find the king of the nations, bowing in reverence before the God of Daniel. For those listening, it is simultaneously a proclamation of the history of Israel touched again by the hand of God. Far-reaching implications exist for all. For King Darius it is first and foremost the realization that God is, that God not only exists but is the King most high, and that Daniel is distinguished above others because his God is distinguished above all. For those in exile it is the real hope that God is never far off, but intimately ruling the kingdom, faithfully reigning in heaven and earth, though appearances might suggest otherwise. And for those of us listening hundreds of years later, it is the stirring sounds of God alive and actively at work in creation, stretching holy hands to reach the most unlikely of places and the lowest of hearts with the resounding promise which Christ makes our own, “I will be your God and you shall be my people.”
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 80.
(2) Exodus 19:6, Leviticus 26:12.