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Politics at Darius’s Court


Text:Daniel 6:1-9

Daniel chapter six contains one of the best known stories in the Bible. It is greatly different from the darkness of Chapter 5. But let’s just see the circumstances that led up to arrest and sentencing of Daniel, so that we understand the background of the story.

1. Darius’s Administration. 6:1-3.  

Darius the king has a greatly extended empire over which to govern. The Babylonian empire has fallen to the Persians, – whose new empire stretches from Iran in the east, to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s vast. And it’s been destroyed and laid waste by war, but the new rulers want it to prosper, after all, what point is there in extending your kingdom if it doesn’t lead to extending your personal wealth? So the civil service was reorganised. There were 120 satraps, administrative governors, appointed over each region of the empire, answerable to a triumvirate of ‘presidents’ – overlords who would act as managers, – after all, if the king had to personally deal with 120 civil servants it would be a never ending task. 

But there needed to be a chairman of the three presidents, someone to call meetings, and keep order, and that man was Daniel. Now in his late old age, Daniel had been a senior civil servant in the Babylonian empire, and under normal circumstances would have been executed along with Belshazzar. But Daniel had a serious reputation. There was ‘an excellent spirit in him.’ That’s interesting, for advancement in a political career is very often by devious, political manoeuvring. Not in Daniel’s case. In fact, so much was his character admired, that Darius contemplated making him the chief minister, and that was the catalyst for some serious political plotting.

2. The Political Plotters. V4-5 

Can a Christian be involved in politics? Especially party politics? It’s difficult for a Christian to maintain his or her testimony in a profession where dissembling and lying are the common currency yet, politics without a Christian influence would be much worse.  We certainly should be praying, a lot, for Christians in politics.  But note that unethical political manoeuvring is not confined to parliamentary politics, or political parties. You see it in work and you see it in denominations and churches as well. And church politics can sometimes be the dirtiest of all. Behind back deals, knives in backs, situations manipulated, – meetings outside meetings. Now, look at the political antics that are going on in the court of King Darius:-

  • It is full of skullduggery. Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom. It’s all about power and position and it leads to some seriously unethical plotting against someone they considered to be favoured by the king. It was ‘concerning the kingdom’ – they looked for some administrative error or some malfeasance, but they couldn’t find any such thing.  
  • It led to underhandedness. V5 Their reasoning was that there was only one weak area in Daniel’s character, – only one part of his character that could bring him into conflict with the king, and that was his religion, his unshakable faith in Jehovah.  His faith is an ethical faith, for our trust in God regulates our behaviour, our speech, our moral beliefs and practices, our work ethic, our worship. They want to create an ethical dilemma for Daniel that he can’t wriggle out of. He’ll die or he’ll be ruined.
  • It involved disinformation.  V6-7  These civil servants in the court of Darius were lying. They claim unanimity, – and look how they stressed this, ALL the presidents, governors, princes, captains, – everyone of influence was agreed on this, except that they weren’t. Daniel wasn’t included, but the king wasn’t being told that.

Politics is being done, right here on the page of scripture, and it is real life.

3. The Wicked Decree. V7-9 

Now notice how perfidious and devious this decree is. Not only is the king being lied to here, he is being manipulated by clever men.

  • The king as mediator. They don’t ask the king to make all religions illegal for 30 days. That would be too obvious. That would expose them – but all you have to do to comply with the new law, is to direct your prayers to God, through Darius the King!  No one will object except Daniel… And here’s why, 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, – remember that the OT is always pointing us Christ. Pray to the king, Daniel…
  • The king as lawmaker. There was an interesting feature of the legislation of the Persian Empire. Once the King had signed a Royal Decree, an ‘executive order’ in modern terms, – it could never be revoked until it naturally expired.  There was no way out of it. It was a death sentence for anyone who broke this new law, and there was no appeal or reprieve. It was a clever move. 
  • The king as the centre of his empire. Can’t you see the appeal of this to a politician? This was a great idea, after all Darius was the new king, this would bring him to the attention of all his people, and they would learn about his exalted position, and they would be united, instead of just praying and sacrificing to their little local wooden and stone deities, they’d be all united in worshipping the king – what a great, pragmatic plan! Just what is needed for a new empire.
  • The king as self absorbed egotist. How did these politically charged civil servants get away with this? Quite simply, they appealed to the king’s ego. They flattered him with the possibility that he was some kind of a mini-god. It wasn’t such an unusual notion in the ancient world. The Roman Emperors expected to be worshipped, – on the grounds that they embodied a divine spirit, to all intents and purposes, that they were some kind of god, – and they too didn’t care if you believed in some pantheon of gods, just as long as you offered a sacrifice to Caesar.  Darius too had a high opinion of himself, stoked by these men. 

So, our background work is done. The king signed the new decree into law. Anyone who prayed to any god MUST do so by praying to Darius first, and anyone who breaks the law will face a painful and gruesome death. The outward effects of Daniel’s faith in God, his honesty, fairness and integrity, had brought him great success up to this point.  But now the exercise of his faith could cause him to lose it all!  What would we have done in his place?  Next time, we will see what Daniel did…

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