Daniel's Defiance of Darius in Prayer

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom a hundred and twenty satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the president and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom; but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Then these presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live for ever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning his interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that any man who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they answered before the king, “That Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no heed to you, O king, or the interdict you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

God Is My Judge

The name Daniel has three syllables and each one in Hebrew has a meaning. “Dan” means “judge”. The little “ee” sound (i) means “my”. And “el” means “God”. So Daniel’s name means “God, my judge”—“God is my judge”.

It is a wonderful thing to have a name to live up to. Daniel lived up to his in a most remarkable way. He lived a life that shouted the truth: “God is my judge, not man!” “God is my judge, and no king of Babylon or Persia!” “To God I will have to give an account for how I live my life, not to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Belshazzar, not to Darius.” “God is my judge!”

In other words, his life was centered on God. It was built on God. And his way of looking at the world was drenched with God. This comes out in the way he ate, the way he interpreted dreams, the way he wrote his book, and the way he prayed.

The Way Daniel Wrote

Take, for example, the way he wrote his book. Look at the very beginning of the book, chapter one, verse two. He describes the capture of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon like this: “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand.” Just like that! God has one king in his hand, and when he pleases he gives him into the hand of another king—the way you might exchange a defective Christmas present at Rosedale; you just hand it over the counter. God gave Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand! Again and again Daniel tells the story of great political events like that (see 2:21, 37 and 5:18).

The Way He Ate

Or take another example: the way he ate. Remember, Daniel was one of the captives that was taken to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. He was chosen with others to be trained for service in the royal palace and fed with the king’s best food and wine. But Daniel saw his food as a God-issue. For him everything was a God-issue. So Daniel 1:8 says, “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank.” Daniel looked to God to judge his cause, not to the king. And the upshot in 1:17 was this: “God gave [him] learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”

The Way He Interpreted Dreams

The same God-drenched way of life comes out in the way Daniel interprets the dreams of king Nebuchadnezzar and the vision of Belshazzar his son. He gives all the credit to God, for example, in 2:28, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to king Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” And he accuses the most powerful rulers on earth of irreverence and treason against God. For example, to Belshazzar in 5:23, “The God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” Every interpretation Daniel gives has God right at the center of it, and great kings like Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar (or Gorbachev) fade from history like a cloud (2:39; 5:28).

The Way He Prayed

But one of the most amazing examples of Daniel’s living out his name is his prayer life. “God is my judge” means “What God thinks and what God does matters more than what anybody else in the world thinks or does.” That’s the way I want us to be at Bethlehem as we move from 1991 to 1992. What God thinks of Bethlehem and what God does at Bethlehem is more important—vastly more important—than what anybody else thinks or anybody else does.

For Daniel that meant a life of daring, defiant, disciplined prayer. If what God thinks matters most, then you consult him most. If what God does matters most, then you ask him to act first. In other words, you live your life by prayer.

Now don’t forget that Daniel was a very powerful political person. Back in Daniel 2:48 Nebuchadnezzar had made Daniel “ruler over the whole province of Babylon.” Here in our text (6:2) Darius makes Daniel one of the three presidents over the 120 satraps (or governors) of the entire empire. Sometimes we slip into thinking that prayer is the way monks spend their time. It’s something for pastors or professional religious people; but it’s not for activists, or men of affairs, or people with power and influence.

That is a very wrong way to think about prayer and about your life as a busy person. Daniel was more immersed in secular life than most of us and he lived by prayer—daring, defiant, disciplined prayer—because God was his judge. What God thought and what God did mattered most. So Daniel lived by consulting God and by asking God to act.

Today’s text is an amazing testimony to the daring, defiant, disciplined prayer life of Daniel. I read this, and it fills me with longing to be courageous in prayer. It makes me want to be daring in prayer, and if necessary defiant against earthly powers in prayer, and disciplined in prayer. I don’t want to be a spiritual jellyfish, drifting on the sea of emotionalism, praying a little here and a little there as the waves of emotion rise and fall. My hope is that God will use Daniel’s example here to fill you with the same longing and the same commitment for 1992.

Famously and Firmly Dependent on God

Look at Daniel’s amazing response to Darius’ decree against prayer. Let’s get the situation in view. Verse 2: Daniel was one of three presidents over the kingdom of the Medes and Persians. Verse 3: “An excellent spirit was in him” and he excelled above the others, and the king planned to put him above the others and over the whole kingdom.

Daniel had an unbelievably successful future in front of him—all the influence and all the prestige and wealth and freedom he could have asked for. But this made him a target for jealousy and envy. So verses 4-9 describe how the other presidents and satraps persuaded Darius to make a law that said (according to verse 7), “Whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.”

In other words, Daniel’s life of prayer was so well known and so established as part of his character that his enemies knew that this was one place they could count on him not weaseling. And they were exactly right.

Verse 10 just takes your breath away. Here is where I get the insight that Daniel’s prayer was daring and defiant and disciplined.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Six Expressions of Daring Dependence

Notice six daring things:

1) He did not act in ignorance, he acted in full knowledge of the law and the consequences.

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went…” to pray. Don’t forget, Daniel is right on the brink of being promoted to the main ruler over Persia. Think of the rationalizations that must have rushed to his head—“my influence would be so great if I held that position … I can do more for God alive than dead … it’s only thirty days, and then I can pray again … legalism is surely a worse sin than expediency1 … etc.” But he rejected all the rationalizations. He knew the law. He knew the penalty. And he went to pray.

2) He did not go to the woods to pray, he went to his house.

He could have kept on praying to his God without putting himself at risk if he had just gone underground for thirty days. There is no law that says you have to pray in your house where your enemies will be looking for you.

3) He did not go to the secret inner chamber of his house.

He went to the room with windows (open windows)—the one in the second story of the house, the one most visible, the one that faced Jerusalem and not the palace in Babylon.

Do you begin to catch on to why I call this act of prayer defiant? Daniel is not just praying contrary to the king’s decree. He is making a public statement. We would say today, he is demonstrating. He is doing an act of public civil disobedience. And he is doing so in a public way that no biblical law requires.

4) He did not pray once, early in the morning when no one might be looking, but three times a day and every day.

He would make sure that he is not missed in his refusal to obey this law.

5) When Daniel prayed, he did not use words that were vague and ambiguous that some clever defense attorney could argue were really made to Darius because they didn’t specify which god was addressed.

It says, “He gave thanks before his God.” Not Darius. And not the gods of the Medes and Persians, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

6) He did not change the way he prayed or do anything different to yield to the pressures of the law Darius had made.

It says at the end of the verse that he prayed “as he had done previously.” There were many ways to pray that might not have been detected and that would have fulfilled the law of his God. But Daniel prayed daringly, defiantly and in his usual disciplined way of three times a day.

Imitating Daniel in Our Day

Now what are we to make of all this? I would suggest four concluding applications for our life of prayer today.

1. Prayer is a legitimate public testimony, and we should seek to use it as God leads us.

Jesus said,

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

Does this indict Daniel’s public demonstration of prayer? I don’t think so. Jesus was warning against our love of praise for prayer, not our willingness to suffer for prayer. He was not saying that it is wrong to be seen in prayer. He was saying it is wrong to want to be seen so as to be praised for your piety. Blessed are you when men persecute you for righteousness sake (Matt. 5:10); but woe to you when you use your righteousness to seek their praise (6:2-4).

In Daniel’s context—and here we need great wisdom to know our own context—the call of God on his life was “let your light so shine that men may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” For Daniel, prayer had become a public statement about the glory of God over the glory of Darius. And it was a legitimate testimony. And so it is for us, if our hearts are right.

2. Daniel’s prayer was a testimony, not only to the glory of God over the glory of Darius, but also, to the fact that his life was built on prayer.

Daniel was making a statement, not just about God but about his relation to God. God would not have changed if Daniel had prayed in secret. God would still be God. Daniel would still be a ruler in Persia. What would have been different is the way the presidents and satraps thought about Daniel’s relationship to God. And when Daniel thought about that, he could not bring himself to go underground.

He was known as a man who lived by prayer—whose life was built on prayer—who consulted his God in all things and who sought the action of his God before he took action himself. Daniel would not surrender that testimony. I pray that we won’t surrender that testimony either. May prayer week—our fasting, our morning prayer watches, our night of prayer—be a resounding testimony to God’s glory and to our life and our church being built on prayer!

3. Daniel’s prayer was disciplined and regular.

When the time came for a demonstration. Daniel did not have to change anything. He already was praying three times a day in a stated place. There was pattern and routine and discipline. Does it strike you as strange that in America today almost no Christians pray this way? I’m sure that there are some who would celebrate this absence of order and design and habit and pattern as a sign of freedom from legalism. I might believe it if I saw anything like the freedom and power of Daniel where discipline like his is absent. But I don’t see it, I don’t believe it.

I asked in the STAR last week: could it be that Daniel’s discipline in prayer was the secret of his unexpected, unplanned, spontaneous encounters with God? Could it be that discipline is not the boring substitute for spontaneity and power but the garden where it grows. You till the garden with patient discipline and suddenly God makes a plant grow with supernatural power. I think this is so. I urge you to take time this week to step back and plan some discipline into your prayer life for 1992. Be like Daniel.

4. Finally, prayer is more precious than life.

Just think of it. Daniel knew that the penalty for praying would be the lion’s den. I don’t think Daniel knew that he would be delivered any more than Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew it as they stood before the fiery furnace and said, “If God does not deliver us, be it known to you, we will not serve your gods” (Daniel 3:18).

This must mean that prayer is more important than life. Daniel would rather pray than save his life. Not praying was a worse prospect to Daniel than being eaten by lions. That is a radical commitment to prayer. Just think of it. Can you say with Daniel: “You will have to take my life before you take my prayer”?

Prayer week is a time for spiritual soul-searching. I call you to fasting and to prayer. I call you to search your heart and see if God has something new for you in 1992. Please, for your own sense of spiritual life and reality and power, don’t let this week of prayer be like all the others. Step back. Give yourself to fasting. Seek the Lord.

  1. Legalism is not attacking the American church today in the form of spiritual discipline. Not by a long shot! That is not our besetting danger. I think the most distinctive form of legalism (not the only one) in our day is almost exactly the opposite, with two sides to the coin. 

    One side is a fear of anything remotely resembling the biblical concept of discipline implied in phrases like “train yourself in godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7) or “strive to enter by the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24) or “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23) or “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13) or “I pommel my body and subdue it” (1 Corinthians 9:27) or “If your right eye offends you pluck it out” (Matthew 5:29) or “strive together with me in your prayers” (Romans 15:30). That whole reality of Christian discipline, that has marked the greatest saints for 1900 years, is feared today in the new legalism.

    The other side of the coin is the emergence today of what you might call psychologically correct speech. If you don’t use a certain language to describe morality and ethics and duty and God’s commandments that is “psychologically correct”, then you are defective as a Christian people helper. In place of the old list of taboos there is now a new list of taboos: words like “ought” and “should” and “must” dare not (read: should not) be used. And warnings like “those who do such things shall not enter the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21), and “if you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13) are banned. They are simply not “psychologically correct” ways of dealing with reality.

    If there is a creeping legalism in American evangelicalism I think it's this, and not the discipline of Daniel’s praying three times a day. And I urge you to consider whether some of our weakness in the cushy, self-indulgent, meet-my-need American Christianity is owing not mainly to our bondage to lifeless lists of dos and don’ts, but to our loss of biblical discipline. Consider Daniel as you ponder the way you want to pray in 1992.