Thursday of Week 34 of Ordinary time – First Reading

Commentary on Daniel 6:12-28

We now find Daniel living under a third king, Darius. He is ‘Darius the Mede’ presented as the successor to Belshazzar, whom we saw murdered at the end of yesterday’s reading. He is actually unknown to history nor is there any room for him between the last Chaldaean (Babylonian) king and Cyrus the Persian, who had already conquered the Medes before capturing Babylon. The character of this Darius has probably been modelled on that of the Persian King Darius the Great (522-486 BC), the second successor of Cyrus.
Again, Daniel is the central figure. He represents not a historical person but the Jew who is absolutely loyal to his God and his faith under all circumstances. An uplifting message to the readers of the book now living under the harsh rule of Antiochus.
Daniel had risen to the very top of the kingdom’s hierarchy. He was the first among three “presidents” to whom over 120 princes or satraps, who ruled the kingdom, were responsible. He was so superior in every way to the other presidents and satraps that the king seriously thought of making him ruler of the whole kingdom. Not surprisingly, this occasioned jealousy among his fellow presidents and the satraps. They wanted to find some affair of state by which they could discredit Daniel but they could find absolutely nothing with which to fault him.
They then realised that the only way to get him was to focus on Daniel’s Jewish faith. “We shall never find a way of discrediting Daniel, unless we try to do something with the law of his God.” They went in a body to the king and, after the usual sycophantic expressions of flattery, asked him to issue an edict. The edict was to say: “Whoever within the next 30 days prays to anyone, divine or human, other than to yourself, Your Majesty, is to be thrown into the lions’ den.” They then asked the king to sign the document at once so that it could not be changed and would come into effect immediately. The king, no doubt flattered by the language of the edict, signed it.
When Daniel heard about the edict, he retired to his house, where the windows of his upstairs room faced Jerusalem. Three times each day, according to his usual custom, he went down on his knees to pray and give praise to God. The custom of praying with the face towards Jerusalem seems to date at least from the Exile. Later, Christians had their churches facing east, towards the rising sun, a symbol for the Risen Jesus, while Muslims pray facing Mecca.
All of this is by way of introduction to today’s reading which picks up the story at this point.
The men who had got the king to sign the edict went to Daniel’s house and – probably as they expected – found Daniel praying to his God. They then went to the king and reminded him of the edict he had signed and the penalties for its non-observance. “The decision stands,” replied the king, “because the laws of the Medes and Persians are irrevocable.” The men then reported that they had found Daniel praying to his own God three times a day – a clear violation of the edict.
The king, who was clearly fond of Daniel and valued his services to the kingdom, was distressed at this information and wanted to do something to save Daniel. But the enemies of Daniel kept reminding the king that laws he passed could not be changed for anyone.
The king then reluctantly ordered that Daniel be thrown into the pit of lions. His parting words were: “Your own God, whom you have served so faithfully, will have to save you.” The pit was then closed with a large stone and sealed with the king’s own signet ring and those of his nobles. Daniel’s fate, it seemed, was literally sealed. (Is this the origin of the term?)
The king, however, remained deeply disturbed at his decision. He spent the night in fasting and refused to receive any of his concubines. He spent a sleepless night worrying over Daniel and, at the first light of dawn, rushed to the pit. As he reached it he called out: “Has your God, whom you serve so faithfully, been able to save you from the lions?”
To his amazement, the king hears Daniel speak back to him from the pit: “May your majesty live for ever! My God sent his angel who sealed the lions’ jaws and they did me no harm, since in his sight I am blameless. Neither have I done you any wrong, your majesty.”
The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be immediately released from the pit. He was unhurt because he had trusted in his God. The king then ordered that Daniel’s accusers be thrown into the pit together with their wives and children, in accordance with Persian custom. We remember in Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant, the king ordered the first servant “to be sold along with his wife and children, and all his property to pay the debt” (Matt 18:25). The new prisoners had hardly reached the floor of the pit than they were immediately devoured by the hungry lions.
The king then sent a proclamation not just to his own kingdom but to “all nations, peoples and languages dwelling throughout the world”. In effect, he ordered a national conversion. The God of Daniel was to be reverenced and feared. It was an order in the form of a triumphal hymn for all to “tremble with fear” before the God of Daniel:
He is the living God, he endures for ever,
his kingdom will never be destroyed
and his empire will never come to an end.
(Unlike that of Darius and every other temporal ruler.)
He saves, sets free, and works signs and wonders
in the heavens and on earth;
he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.
Once again, the story is to be read in the context of the Jews suffering under the persecution of the tyrant Antiochus. If God will deliver Daniel from those who hate his religion and from the ferocity of the lions, he will do the same for his faithful people now.
God’s kingdom will not be destroyed; God’s dominion is without end – unlike that of secular rulers.
As the story of Daniel clearly illustrates, God is a deliverer and a saviour for all those who put their trust in him. His Kingdom is one that will never end.

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