Before we look at the events in chapter six of Daniel, we will examine the issue of who is Darius the Mede that is spoken of in the last verse of Daniel, chapter 5. Darius (pronounced da-rye-us) is further identified in Daniel 9:1 as “Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans.” There are no extra-biblical records of anyone by that name being king of Babylon during the specific time frame.
There were several kings named Darius who ruled the Persian Empire after Cyrus, but the first of these, Darius the Great, only became king seven years after Cyrus’s death. Daniel states at the beginning of Daniel 10 that the revelation he would write about in the next three chapters was given in the third year of Cyrus’s reign; and then at the beginning of Daniel 11, the angel who brings the message states that the first year of Darius the Mede’s reign was previous to this revelation. So the famous Darius the Great could not be the Darius of this passage.
As mentioned in our last chapter, a person by the name of Ugbaru led the Persian troops into Babylon. Secular records also talk about a Gubaru as being governor of Babylon four years after the conquest. For some time it was thought Ugbaru and Gubaru were the same person, but now it is known they were not, as more recently unearthed records show that Ugbaru died three weeks after the capture of Babylon.
It is possible that Gubaru the governor was the biblical Darius the Mede. It wasn’t uncommon for rulers of part of an empire to also be referred to as kings, and the overall ruler of the empire to be called king of kings. So this Darius, even though he might not have been king over the whole empire, could have still been referred to as king of Babylon.
Some scholars have suggested that “Darius,” rather than being a name, was quite possibly a title or a throne name assumed when he became king. Translated from Aramaic, it means “he who holds the scepter.”
Gubaru, according to Babylonian and Persian records, made laws for the area of Babylon and did other things that were normally only the prerogative of kings.
Another theory is that Darius the Mede was actually Cyrus. This gains weight from another possible translation of the Aramaic in the last verse in Daniel 6. And that is, “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (Daniel 6:28).
Although on his paternal side Cyrus was Persian, on his mother’s side he was a direct descendant of the Median kings. If Darius was a title rather than a name, it could have been used to signify Cyrus. Daniel appears to have been on good terms with both Cyrus and the Darius featured in this chapter, a fact that could be explained quite nicely if they were the same person.
Daniel could also have written of Cyrus being a Mede to show that the prophecies in Isaiah and Jeremiah (written circa 721 BC and 595 BC) about the Medes conquering Babylon were fulfilled. “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. ... And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:17,19). “The Lord has raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes. For His plan is against Babylon to destroy it, because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for His temple” (Jeremiah 51:11).
The last verse of chapter 5 says Darius the Mede was about 62 when he became ruler of Babylon. Secular records show that Cyrus was around 70 when he was killed in battle, and that he had reigned for nine years after the capture of Babylon. So that would put Darius in the right age range to be Cyrus.
It is also an interesting point in this chapter that the law is referred to as being the law of the Medes and the Persians and not the Persians and the Medes, as it is referred to in the Bible’s book of Esther, which covers events 100 years later in the Persian Empire. The Persians had previously been vassals of the Medes, and perhaps at this stage the Medes were still culturally more dominant. This could be another reason that Daniel refers to the king as a Mede.
However, it seems that unless further evidence turns up, we are not going to be able to pin down exactly whom Darius the Mede was or why Daniel referred to him by this name or title. Yet one thing has been proven time and time again, and that is that the Bible is accurate with regard to history. Skeptics over the centuries have charged it with fabrications, but objection after objection has with time been proven unfounded.
Now let us look at the events of this chapter. Darius sets up a number of officials to run Babylon, with Daniel being chosen as one of the most senior. This is again testament to Daniel’s wisdom. Then Darius leans to the advice of his counselors (presumably, Daniel was absent at this point) and makes a law that whoever petitions any god or man, except the king, for 30 days, shall be cast into the den of lions. His counselors had arranged this because they wanted Daniel out of the job. They knew he had made it a lifetime habit to pray three times a day facing towards his homeland, and would be caught and thus condemned.
And sure enough, they caught him, and to the deep regret of the king, Daniel was condemned. In Median/Persian law, once a decree was signed by the king, not even the king could revoke it.
Now if this was Cyrus, one must wonder how one of the wisest and most religiously tolerant kings of antiquity could make such a seemingly stupid law. One answer could be that after conquering Babylon, the king was left with the legacy resulting from Nabonidus bringing all the idols from the surrounding towns and villages into Babylon. The new king was stuck with getting them back where they belonged.
The king would have been concerned that he kept the populace of this newly conquered land happy, since they had welcomed the conquerors as liberators and the restorers of religious tradition. As king of Babylon, he had also inherited a central role in Babylon’s polytheistic religion, that of being an intercessor between the people and the gods.
So perhaps the whole idea of his decree that had been sold to him by his advisers was to keep a lid on the religious situation, while the idols were taken back with all due gravity to their respective towns. If certain ceremonies and festivals were missed, the people would not incur the wrath of the gods because they were obeying a religious decree that superseded the traditional. It is an interesting possibility.
Remember also that it was done at the behest of his counselors, whom Darius would have relied on to give him good advice. But even when he saw through their scheming when they accused Daniel to him, he was still saddled with having to order Daniel to be cast into the lions’ den.
So Daniel, now in his eighties — not the young man portrayed in many paintings of this scene — spent the night with the lions. But he was apparently not alone, because an angel kept the lions’ mouths shut. One can just imagine a bunch of hungry but frustrated lions that couldn’t open their mouths to eat the dinner that was so close to them.
Trial by ordeal is an ancient custom, being found in such places as the Code of Hammurabi, which were the laws of the land in Babylonia over 1,000 years before Daniel’s time. So to come through an execution unscathed most likely had enough legal precedent for the king to then claim that he had fulfilled the law, that the accused had been found innocent by divine intervention, and thus he could let Daniel go free.
But such leniency was not to be shown to Daniel’s accusers, who — along with their families — were thrown into the den. They all met their fate in the way they had planned Daniel would meet his. It is often the case that the enemies of God’s people face poetic justice as they meet the fate they plan for others.
And this chapter ends with another heathen king from another empire writing to all those in his dominions to attest to the greatness of Daniel’s living God.