Daniel and the Law

The exceptional moral character of the prophet Daniel is witnessed by the fact that his near contemporary Ezekiel presents him, along with Noah and Job, as one of three outstanding pillars of righteousness amongst God’s people (see Ezek. 14: 14, 20). Noah “was a just man, perfect among his generations” (Gen. 6: 9), of Job it was said that “there is none like him on the earth” (Job 1: 8), and heaven’s assessment of Daniel was that “thou art one greatly beloved” (Dan. 9: 23; see Dan. 10: 19).

   When we come to the actual record of Daniel’s life, we find that his opposers “could not find any pretext or fault; inasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him” (Dan. 6: 4). Indeed, they were forced to conclude that “we shall not find any pretext against this Daniel, unless we find [it] against him touching the law of his God” (v5). The pretext that they sought against him was “with respect to the kingdom” (v4)—that is, they wanted a means of proving his unfitness for the position he filled as chief president. Not finding any moral defect, they realised that they would somehow have to engineer a conflict between the kingdom and Daniel’s faith, and between the law of the Medes and the Persians and the Law of Jehovah.

   At this point, we need to stop and ask, what was the Law of Jehovah that so interested Daniel’s enemies? It is found in the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple: “If they have sinned  against thee (for there is no man that sinneth not), and thou be angry with them, and give them up to the enemy, and they have carried them away captives unto a land far off or near; and if they shall take it to heart in the land whither they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of their captivity, saying, We have sinned, we have done iniquity and have dealt perversely; and if they return unto thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, whither they have carried them captives, and pray toward their land which thou gavest unto their fathers, and the city that thou hast chosen, and the house that I have built unto thy name; then hear thou from the heavens, from the settled place of thy dwelling, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their right, and forgive thy people their sin against thee” (2 Chron. 6: 36-39). Now “in the first year of Darius” (Dan. 9: 1), Daniel set his face unto God, with “prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (v3), and made his confession for the sins of his people. In accord with this, “he went into his house; and his windows being open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled on his knees three times a day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God” (Dan. 6: 10). The Law of Jehovah was perfectly clear to Daniel, and that was why he was on his knees three times a day with his window open towards Jerusalem.

   Daniel’s opposers had brought about a situation where it was illegal to “ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days” (Dan. 6: 7) except of Darius. A conflict was thus brought about between the Law of God and the law of man. The former we have seen to be clearly stated, and the latter is also plainly stated and not open to doubt. It was a “royal statute”, a “firm decree” (v7), a signed writing “which may not be revoked” (v8) and could not be changed (see v15). Furthermore, an awful penalty was attached to failing to obey, such that the transgressor of this law of the Medes and the Persians would not only be put to death but was to be torn apart under the power of the king of beasts (a thought suggestive in itself). What then was Daniel to do when he knew that the writing was signed? He prayed in the ordained manner “as he did aforetime” (v10). This was not bravado or pig-headedness, but simple recognition of the fact that the Law of Jehovah took precedence over the law of the king. If he had to break the law of the Medes and the Persians to remain faithful, then so it must be. Daniel makes no defence of his actions, and calmly surrenders to the justice of this world. If this be thought incredible to those who profess the name of the Lord in our day, then let them consider the alternative. If Daniel had acceded to the law of Darius, he may well have maintained his blameless moral character, because the issue at stake was not one of morality. However, in giving the laws of this world precedence over the Law of God, he would have forfeited any claim to be truly a servant of God. In modern language, he could no longer honestly refer to Jesus as Lord.