Never were two more sweeping measures passed by any government than those enforced by Darius the Mede, in the days when he had for prime minister Daniel the Jewish captive. The first prohibited, for the space of thirty days, all practice of religion whatsoever. The second not only annulled this, but proclaimed the worship of the true God throughout all the one hundred and twenty provinces of this monarch’s mighty dominion. Both were published within the course of a week or so.
But as to these measures, What caused their enactment? What led Darius to preclude every petition saving those addressed direct to himself for that period? Again, Why did he so quickly strike his pen through his newly-framed bill? The cause in each case was Daniel.
Now this man had, like Joseph before him, been raised to great eminence in a land wherein he was a stranger. God raised both for the accomplishment of His purposes and the help of His people.
Daniel was chief president, and placed in authority over all the councillors of Darius. But this fact made him the victim of jealousy. A Jewish premier was, of course, intolerable to the pride of the Medo-Persian nobles. The result was that they plotted his downfall. But where could they find a fault? His administration was blameless, his life irreproachable. They could only find it in the fact that he did not acknowledge their gods. His religion and theirs differed. Theirs was one of form, and allowed infinite latitude; his was one of conscience, and bound his very being to a principle, the maintenance of which was dearer to him than life. Theirs might be held in abeyance or temporary neglect; his was a matter of as much importance as daily food. Theirs connected them with idols; his sustained him in communion with the living God.
Of all this his artful enemies were fully aware, and hence their clever device.
They succeeded in obtaining from the unsuspecting king a decree which forbade the presentation of any petition to God or man, except the king, for thirty days. To this decree Darius appended his sign-manual. This was his first famous measure. Daniel was hopelessly entangled. Escape, even if desired, was impossible, apart from the betrayal of conscience and of God.
He saw the dilemma, He must either deny God, and thus escape the lions’ den, or else continue true to God and lose his life. The happy result—one which brought such a revenue of glory to God, and such honour to Daniel—was, that in faith be chose the latter. “Them that honour Me I will honour” was fully proved by this dear faithful man.
Meanwhile he was to make no petition to God for thirty days. Such was the clear command of Darius. Obedience was impossible. He must obey God rather. And so at all risk, without reserve, and most boldly, he prays “as aforetime.” He flings open his window, in order that he may be seen by his enemies, and with his face toward Jerusalem—that earthly centre of divine interest, though now in ruins—he cries to God. Jerusalem was more to him than Babylon, and God more than Darius. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith,” and a praying Daniel was a victor.
Yet to his foes such conduct must have appeared folly. Think of petitioning an unseen God; think of turning toward Jerusalem whilst so doing—a ruin which bore witness to the wrath of that God on His people; and think of disobeying the king’s decree. However, folly or wisdom, they had gained their end, and had entrapped Daniel. They could now prove a charge of disobedience, and claim for him the punishment of the law.
Accordingly we find them at once preferring their charge, and telling the king of “that Daniel,” a Jewish captive, who did not regard the king nor his decree, but who made thrice daily his petition. How skilfully had they framed their indictment! Here was a man who neither regarded the king nor his decree. Was this a fair presentment of the facts? Further, thrice daily he made his petition. True; but to whom? They did not say. How could they utter the name of the unseen God, in whose awful presence Daniel found his strength and comfort? Yet the indictment was complete, and Daniel’s ways had a semblance of disregard for the king. A way of escape was impossible.
And now Darius discovers, when too late, the faultiness of his measure; and in order to deliver his favourite minister he labours till sundown, but in vain. His was the labour of mercy against the iron claims of justice, of love against law. Evidently both could not stand. If he delivered Daniel, he broke the law, and dissolved the bonds of his empire; if, on the other hand, he fulfilled the law, he must shock all his feelings of mercy and compassion. There was no alternative. Hence his long and futile labour. Justice barred benevolence and demanded satisfaction. She refused the smallest violation, and urged by the law of the Medes and Persians, by the very pillars that support the universe, the priority of her cause. And she prevailed. She must prevail.
Oh, that problem to the brain of man so insoluble How can mercy find scope for acting without infringing the rules of justice? What infidel can answer such a question? or what system of philosophy explain its riddle? But God has explained the whole in one single sentence—“That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). And the cross of Christ stands before the world as the divine answer; for there justice, finding perfect satisfaction in the death of the Son of God, permits mercy to extend all the riches of her bosom towards the guilty; and thus the two, working hand in hand, carry the blessing in love, and secure it in righteousness, on behalf of all who believe in Jesus.
Oh, grand solution of our problem, to be admired through the eternal day as the triumph, not only of God’s grace, but of His wisdom too!
Well, the law of the Mede must have its way, and Daniel suffers its full penalty. He is out into the den of lions. The law demands no more. The curtain drops, and night falls over the scene. But the king cannot sleep, nor do the sweet strains of music charm him. His soul is troubled on Daniel’s account And so early morning finds him at the mouth of the den crying lamentably to Daniel, whom he calls the servant of the living God, in order to learn whether God were able to deliver him from the lions,
“O king, live for ever,” sounded loyally and joyfully from the lips of the man of God. “My God,” said he, using the possessive pronoun by a renewed right and title, “sent His angel, and shut the lions’ mouths.” Yes, God was able to deliver, and had done so.
“Then was the king exceeding glad for him … So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, became he believed in his God.” Happy testimony! Daniel honoured God, and God honoured Daniel. No hurt befell his three friends in the burning fiery furnace. They had refused to worship the image. No hurt befell Daniel. He had refused to cease worshipping God. Their conduct was negative; his was positive. They said “no;” he said “yea.” Both responded by grace. And faith, like a golden coin, has two sides, the negative that refuses evil, and the positive that chooses good. Thus Moses refused Egypt, and chose to suffer affliction with the people of God. It is the nature of faith to cease doing evil and to learn to do well.
“Then King Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for He is the living God, and steadfast for ever.” This was his second measure. It wiped the first out of existence. It established, so far as a human decree could do it, a religion that acknowledged the living God, before whom men were to tremble and fear, and it was published in every realm of his wide domain.
Just think, dear reader, that this was the effect of the faith and devotedness of one man. Think of the glory that redounded to God through him. Daniel loved God, loved His interests, loved His people, loved His poor desolate city; and therefore, at all risk, and at all cost, he clung to Him. The ordeal was terrible, but the grace-given victory was glorious! “The God of Daniel” is a title that now shines on the page of inspiration as does that of “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” Happy Daniel! Oh for grace to cleave with purpose of heart to the Lord, and to continue in prayer to God, as our hearts turn in true sympathy to the moral wastes of Zion, and await the coming of the great Deliverer—the Son of the living God.