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13Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.”

14 When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. 15Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!”

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Now, when Daniel’s calumniators see that King Darius had no wish to defend his cause, they open up more freely what they had previously conceded; for, as we have said, if they had openly accused Daniel, their accusation could have been instantly and completely refuted; but after this sentiment had been expressed to the king, their statement is final, since by the laws of the Medes and Persians a king’s decree ought to be self-acting; hence, after this is accomplished, they then come to the person. Daniel, say they, one of the captives of Judah, has not obeyed thy will, O king, nor the decree which thou hast signed. By saying, “Daniel, one of the Jewish captives,” they doubtless intended to magnify his crime and to render him odious. For if any Chaldean had dared to despise the king’s edict, his rashness would not have been excused. But now when Daniel, who was lately a slave and a Chaldean captive, dares to despise the king’s command, who reigned over Chaldea by the right of conquest, this seemed less tolerable still. The effect is the same as if they had said, “He was lately a captive among thy slaves; thou art supreme lord, and his masters to whom he was subject are under thy yoke, because thou art their conqueror; he is but a captive and a stranger, a mere slave, and yet he rebels against thee!” We see then how they desired to poison the king’s mind against him by this allusion, He is one of the captives! The words are very harmless in themselves, but they endeavor to sting their monarch in every way, and to stir up his wrath against Daniel. He does not direct his mind to thee, O king; that is, he does not reflect upon who you are, and thus he despises thy majesty and the edict which thou hast signed This is another enlargement: Daniel, therefore, did not direct his mind either to thee or to thy edict; and wilt thou bear this? Next, they recite the deed itself — he prays three times a-day This would have been the simple narrative, Daniel has not obeyed thy command in praying to his own God; but, as I have said, they exaggerate his crime by accusing him of pride, contempt, and insolence. We see, therefore, by what artifices Daniel was oppressed by these malicious men. It now follows:

In the first place, Daniel recites that the king was disturbed, when he perceived the malice of his nobles which had formerly escaped him; for their intention and their object had never occurred to him; he perceives himself deceived and entrapped, and hence he is disturbed. Here again we are taught how cautiously kings ought to avoid depraved counsels, since they are besieged on every side by perfidious men, whose only object is to gain by their false representations, and to oppress their enemies, and those from whom they hope for booty or who may favor their evil courses. Because so many snares surround kings, they ought to be the more cautious in providing against cunning. They are too late in acknowledging themselves to have been overreached, when no remedy is left, partly through fear, and partly through wishing to consult their own credit; and they prefer offending God to suffering any outward disrespect from men. Since, therefore, kings consider their own honor so sacred, they persevere in their evil undertakings, even when their conscience accuses them; and even if justice itself were to appear visibly before them, yet this restraint would not be sufficient to withhold them, when ambition urges them in the opposite direction, and they are unwilling to lose the slightest portion of their reputation among men. The case of Darius supplies us with an example of this kind.

First of all, it is said, He was sorrowful when he heard these words, and was anxious till the setting of the sun about the way of snatching Daniel from death He wished this to be done, if his own honor were sound and safe, and his nobles were satisfied. But on the one side, he fears disunion if his nobles should conspire to produce disturbance; and on the other side, he is moved by a foolish fear, because he does not wish to incur the charge of levity which awaited him, and hence he is vanquished and obeys the lusts of the wicked. Although, therefore, he labored till the setting of the sun to free Daniel, yet that perverse shame prevailed of which I have spoken, and then the fear of dissension. For when we do not lean upon God’s help, we are always compelled to vacillate, although anxious to be honestly affected. Thus Pilate wished to liberate Christ, but was terrified by the threats of the people, when they denounced against him the displeasure of Caesar. (John 19:12.) And no wonder, since faith is alone a certain and fixed prop on which we may lean while fearlessly discharging our duty, and thus overcome all fears. But when we want confidence, we are, as I have said, sure to be changeable. Hence Darius, through fear of a conspiracy of his nobles against himself, permitted Daniel to be an innocent sufferer from their cruelty. Then that false shame is added which I have mentioned, because he was unwilling to appear without consideration, by suddenly revoking his own edict, as it was a law with the Medes and Persians that whatever proceeded from kings was inviolable! Daniel now states this. He says, those men assembled together; when they saw the king hesitate and doubt, they became fierce and contentious with him. When it is said they meet together, this relates to their inspiring him with fear. They say, Know, O king! He knew it well enough, and they need not instruct him in any unknown matter, but they treat him in a threatening manner. “What? dost thou not see how utterly the royal name will be hereafter deprived of its authority if he violates thine edict with impunity? Will you thus permit yourself to become a laughingstock? Finally, they intimate, that he would not be king unless he revenged the insult offered him by Daniel in neglecting his commandment. Know, therefore, O king, that the Persians and Medes — he was himself king of the Medes, but it is just as if they said, What kind of rumor will be spread through all thy subject provinces; for thou knowest how far this prevails among the Medes and Persians — the king must not change his edict. If, therefore, thou shouldst set such an example, will not all thy subjects instantly rise against thee? and wilt thou not be contemptible to them?” We see, then, how the satraps rage against their king, and frighten him from any change of counsel. And they also join the edict with the statute, which the king had resolved upon, with the view of impressing upon him the necessity of not changing a single decree which he had often and repeatedly sanctioned. It follows:

The king, as we have said, frightened by the denunciation of the nobles, condemns Daniel to death. And hence we gather the reward which kings deserve in reference to their pride, when they are compelled to submit with servility to their flatterers. How was Darius deceived by the cunning of his nobles! For he thought his authority would be strengthened, by putting the obedience of all men to this test of refusing all prayer to any god or man for a whole month. He thought he should become superior to both gods and men, if all his subjects really manifested obedience of this kind. We now see how obstinately the nobles rise against him, and denounce ultimate revolt, unless he obey them. We see that when kings take too much upon themselves, how they are exposed to infamy, and become the variest slaves of their own servants! This is common enough with earthly princes; those who possess their influence and favor applaud them in all things and even adore them; they offer every kind of flattery which can propitiate their favor; but, meanwhile, what freedom do their idols enjoy? They do not allow them any authority, nor any intercourse with the best and most faithful friends, while they are watched by their own guards. Lastly, if they are compared with the wretches who are confined in the closest dungeon, not one who is thrust down into the deepest pit, and watched by three or four guards, is not freer than kings themselves! But, as I have said, this is God’s most just vengeance; since, when they cannot contain themselves in the ordinary rank and station of men, but wish to penetrate the clouds and become on a level with God, they necessarily become a laughingstock. Hence they become slaves of all their attendants, and dare not utter anything with freedom, and are without friends, and are afraid to summon their subjects to their presence, and to intrust either one or another with their wishes. Thus slaves rule the kingdoms of the world, because kings assume superiority to mortals. King Darius is an instance of this when he sent for Daniel, and commanded him to be thrown into the den of lions; his nobles force this from him, and he unwillingly obeys them. But we should notice the reason. He had lately forgotten his own mortality, he had desired to deprive the Almighty of his sway, and as it were to drag him down from heaven! For if God remains in heaven, men must pray to him; but Darius forbade any one from even daring to utter a prayer; hence as far as he could he deprived the Almighty of his power. Now he is compelled to obey his own subjects, although they exercise an almost disgraceful tyranny over him.

Daniel now adds — the king said this to him, Thy God, whom thou servest, or worshipest, faithfully, he will deliver thee! This word may be read in the optative mood, as we have said. There is no doubt that Darius really wished this; but it may mean, Thy God whom thou worshipest will deliver thee — as if he had said, “Already I am not my own master, I am here tossed about by the blast of a tempest; my nobles compel me to this deed against my will; I, therefore, now resign thee and thy life to God, because it is not in my power to deliver thee;” as if this excuse lightened his own crime by transferring to God the power of preserving Daniel. This reason causes some to praise the piety of King Darius; but as I confess his clemency and humanity to be manifest in this speech, so it is clear that he had not a grain of piety when he thus wished to adorn himself in the spoils of deity! For although the superstitious do not seriously fear God, yet they are restrained by some dread of him; but he here wished to reduce the whole divinity to nothing. What sort of piety was this? The clemency of Darius may therefore be praised, but his sacrilegious pride can by no means be excused. Then why did he act so humanely towards Daniel? Because he had found him a faithful servant, and the regard which rendered him merciful arose from this peculiarity. He would not have manifested the same disposition towards others. If a hundred or a thousand Jews had been dragged before his tribunal, he would carelessly have condemned them all because they had disobeyed the edict! Hence he was obstinately impious and cruel. He spared Daniel for his own private advantage, and thus embraced him with his favor; but in praising his humanity, we do not perceive any sign of piety in him. But he says, the God whom thou worshipest, he will deliver thee, because, he had formerly known Daniel’s prophecy concerning the destruction of the Chaldean monarchy; hence he is convinced, how Israel’s God is conscious of all things, and rules everything by his will; yet, in the meantime, he neither worships him nor suffers others to do so; for as far as he could he had excluded God from his own rights. In thus attributing to God the power of delivering him, he does not act cordially; and hence his impiety is the more detestable, when he deprives God of his rights while he confesses him to be the true and only one endued with supreme power; and though he is but dust and ashes, yet he substitutes himself in his place! It now follows, —