The record of Daniel presents King Darius as being supremely vexed by the whole situation. Concordantly, it is said that “the king,” after sealing Daniel to his doom, “departed to his palace. But he spent the night without eating, and no diversions were brought to him. He was unable to sleep” (6:18). One is left only to wonder if the same could be said of Pilate after presiding over Jesus’ trial and sending him off to His death. It is a remarkable feature of the book of Daniel, and of this story of Daniel and the lion’s den, that Darius is never criticized or condemned for the role that he played. Such is a remarkable feature of the Gospels and their accounts of Pilate, in that the authors do not treat him harshly in their assorted tellings of the story.
Though Pilate disappears from the New Testament scene following the Christ-event, this is not to be said of Darius. After his fitful and troubling night, the reader learns that “In the morning, at the earliest sign of daylight, the king got up and rushed to the lion’s den” (6:19). There is an interesting measure of hopeful trust on display in this action by Darius. By this, he appears to have taken quite seriously whatever it is (likely the twenty-second Psalm, as previously discussed) that Daniel had said leading up to his being deposited into the den of lions.
Honestly, why else would the king be rushing to the lion’s den? What was he expecting? It is unlikely that any had ever survived that particular ordeal---it is akin to the disciples rushing to the tomb upon hearing the reports of its being empty and that Jesus was alive. The stark and obvious contrast however, is that the disciples did not rush to Jesus’ tomb of their own accord, and those that had previously visited the tomb did not do so with any expectation of a Resurrection. They knew that Jesus was dead. They had seen it happen. This speaks well of the Persian king.
Strangely, at least as it would sound in the ears of the king’s attendants, “As he approached the den, he called out to Daniel in a worried voice” (6:20a). So not only has the king rushed to the lion’s den, but now, for some reason, he is calling out to the man that has been tossed into that place only to experience the certain death that has overcome every other person ever relegated to that place. Is this not odd? Is this not what is being done by those that call out to Jesus? Indeed, it does seem to be the case that those that call out to Jesus are in fact calling out to one that was presumed to be dead, with that calling out based upon a hopeful trust in the God that is called upon and referenced as a God that delivers. Darius is indeed cast as an instructive and sympathetic figure in this drama.
Darius called out to Daniel and said, “Daniel, servant of the living God, was your God whom you continually serve able to rescue you from the lions?” (6:20b) Here, reinforcing a guiding premise of this study, Darius essentially quotes Psalm 22:21, in which the Psalmist has implored the Creator God of Israel to “Rescue me from the mouth of the lion” (22:21a). Those that hear this story go on to learn that “Daniel spoke to the king” (6:21a).
Can one not imagine what was felt by Darius upon hearing the voice of Daniel? Darius knows that he, through agreeing to a careless and somewhat conceited course of action had, by any reasonable consideration, brought death to the man who was his most highly trusted adviser. Now, he is hearing Daniel speak. The one whom Darius had sent to death has been, almost before his very eyes, raised up to life. This is nothing short of a virtual resurrection, though it becomes known from the report of Daniel’s own words that “God sent His angel and closed the lion’s mouths so that they have not harmed me” (6:22a), so there has been no actual death and resurrection here.