Read Daniel 5-6 at Bible Gateway.
We read yesterday how Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian grew up together, and how Cyrus came to be the general of a combined army of Medians and Persians, and how they began to wage war against the Babylonians. By 540 bc, Cyrus had finally subdued all the provinces of Asia Minor, and marching again to Babylon, met the Babylonian army in battle, this time divested of her allies, which he defeated once more. The Babylonians, retreating back into their city, determined to endure the coming siege.
All the Babylonians took this siege lightly, however. Not only did they have more than twenty years’ provisions stored, but the walls of Babylon were very secure, for Nebuchadnezzar had made triple walls which encircled the inner city, and a second set of triple walls which encircled the outer city. These walls were pierced only by very strong bronze gates, which were exceedingly tall and thick, and very closely guarded (model of the most famous bronze gate, which clearly show the triple walls).
A later king, moreover, had divided the channel of the Euphrates River, and caused it to surround the city like a moat, and thus the only other entrance into the city besides the bronze gates, were by means of water gates, which allowed the river to flow in, but through which, the Babylonians thought, no army could enter, for the rushing of the river prevented access.
On the night of a great annual feast to the Babylonians gods, Belshazzar held a feast for one thousand of his nobles, and this is the feast recorded in Dan 5. Belshazzar vowed to make Daniel the third ruler of the country, for as co-regent with his father, Nabonidus, he was the second ruler, and his father was the first. Unknown to Belshazzar, on the very night of this feast, a force from Cyrus’ main army had finished a new channel for the Euphrates, which lowered the level of the river through the water gates to the height of a man’s thigh, according to Herodotus, and the Persian force thus entered the city and began its conquest.
Herodotus records that the Persians had taken the outer city while the revelers in the palace were completely unaware that the city had been breached. At some point during the night, when the palace was taken, Belshazzar was slain, and Cyrus’ uncle, Darius the Mede, took possession of the capital.
Meanwhile, Cyrus with his main army, had pursued Nabonidus, who had fled to Borsippa when his troops were defeated in battle. Upon overtaking him, Nabonidus surrendered, and as he had asked for mercy, he received it, as was usual with the Persians under Cyrus. Because he submitted to Cyrus rather than continue to fight him, Nabonidus was sent away to be governor of one of the provinces newly under Persian control, where he lived out his life in peace. Thus the Babylonian empire ended, and the Persian began, in 538 bc.
Cyrus was now overlord of an empire greater in size than either the Assyrian or Babylonian empires. He set his uncle Darius as king of Babylonia, and as Cyrus had married Darius’ daughter, his only child, who brought the kingdom of Media as a wedding present, Cyrus himself was king of Media. Now Cyrus and Darius had taken counsel together, for they had observed that when a native king is left to rule over his country as vassal, as had been the practice of the Babylonians, revolts from the authority of their overlord are sure to follow. Therefore Darius sent one hundred and twenty Persian governors into all the provinces and nations of the empire, to rule the provinces on Cyrus’ behalf. Three princes were set over these governors, of whom the first was Daniel.
That Daniel — a Babylonian official and a Jew — should be in authority over the Persian governors, and the two other nobles of Darius, excited offense and jealousy within those nobles, and this was why they sought an occasion to accuse Daniel. As to why Darius signed such a law, that no man in all his dominion should pray to any god but to Darius the king for thirty days, perhaps his nobles convinced him that such a decree would settle the loyalty of the defeated Babylonians with their new king more securely; be that as it may, Darius signed the law.
Now the Medians and Persians regarded their kings and their laws differently than had the Babylonians. The Babylonian kings were the absolute authority, and any decree of his was considered sacred. Upon a whim the king could overturn any law, or do as he pleased. But the Median and Persian kings held their law to the absolute authority, and even a king was bound to obey it. This is why Darius was unable to overturn the law when he discovered that he had been tricked to enact it merely to trap Daniel and get rid of him.
After Daniel had been put into the den, Darius had a stone placed over its opening, upon which he set his seal, so that the stone could not be moved without his express authority. Darius believed that Daniel’s God would protect him from the lions; and he did not fear the hungry lions as much as he did his own wicked nobles, for he thought that they might had tried to enter the den themselves to murder Daniel, if they saw that he had been saved from the lions.
God delivered Daniel, and Darius, the new king of Babylon, glorified God; and by this decree, coupled with similar decrees glorifying God which Nebuchadnezzar had sent years before, served to cause all men everywhere to regard the God of the Jews with reverence, and the Jews themselves with awe, so that no man troubled them, and they prospered in the land of their captivity.