Daniel 6 is the last of the narrative (i.e., story) chapters in the book before we move into the apocalyptic/prophetic half of the book (chs. 7–12). It’s also part of the block of Aramaic text we’ve talked about before, and in this Aramaic chiasm, the story of Daniel in the lions’ den in chapter 6 stands opposite the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace in chapter 3.
The similarities between the stories are pretty obvious. In both chapters, faithful Jews in exile face death because they won’t compromise their faith in the God of Israel as the only one worthy to receive worship. In both chapters, the Jews face less-than-ideal colleagues who want to see them dead, and in both stories, the kings (Nebuchadnezzar & Darius) give in to their courtiers’ demands and order the execution of the faithful Jews. The victims of both chapters escape because God sends a messenger (the fourth man and the angel) to protect them.
But the stories of chapters 3 and 6 have a handful of differences, too. The most interesting one (to me, anyway) is the enemies themselves and the nature of their accusation. In the story of the fiery furnace, we don’t know Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have enemies until the music starts playing and a bunch of Babylonians notice that “certain Jews” didn’t bow down. It’s entirely possible these bad guys were keeping their eyes on the three Jews, having a pretty good idea that they wouldn’t bow down to the king’s gaudy gold statue. But the narrator doesn’t tell us that. Instead, these sniveling characters see the chance to do away with their colleagues, and they snatch it. Opportunists, those enemies of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
In the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, the narrator tells us up front that Daniel’s colleagues are out to get him. But when they sift through his laundry, everything is clean. They realize if they’re going to catch him doing anything “worthy” of death, they’re going to have to manufacture the situation themselves and then get Daniel stuck in it. Specifically, they’re going to have to create a scenario in which Daniel’s faith does him in. Conspirators, those enemies of Daniel.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether the enemies were opportunists or conspirators – the results for the faithful Jews were still the same. But the contrast in the stories does give us a glimpse into how evil works – whether we are on the giving or receiving end. Sometimes it presents an opportunity that’s just too good to pass up. And when it doesn’t, a bit of creative manipulation will probably do the trick.
Happily, good works the same way. Paul admonished the Galatians to “do good to all people” as they had opportunity – and “especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). Take the opportunities – and make a few, too.