I spent the better part of December sequestered in a Seattle jury box while two feisty lawyers gave me and my fellow captives their best show. When they finally finished, we spent two more days locked in a deliberation room trying to figure out both what we had just witnessed and what had actually happened to cause it.
I doubt anyone has ever accused the American legal system of being simple or even easy to understand. The jury for “M. Conti vs. CSG” had a long list of suggestions for improvement in these matters, but, alas, the judge was only interested in our verdict.
“The law” is a major theme in Daniel 6, and although nearly half a dozen different words are used to refer to legal matters, thankfully the chapter isn’t nearly as baffling as American legalese. Depending what version you read, you might read “statute,” “injunction,” “edict,” “prohibition,” “document,” “decree,” and, of course, “law.” In what promises to be a less than life-changing blog post, let me sort out several of these terms for you.
The most general of the words appears in vv. 5, 8, 12, and 15, and it refers to two different “laws”: the law of Daniel’s God and the law of the Medes and Persians. Not that you really care, but the Aramaic word is “dat,” and its use in this chapter is similar to how the defendant’s lawyer used “law” when he assured us that CSG broke the law. You, as a non-juror, don’t have a clue what CSG did, but you clearly understand that Mr. Blankenship wasn’t accusing them of breaking every law in the American system. Rather, he means they broke just one (or, actually, a few) particular law, or rule. “The law” is comprised of many laws. In Daniel 6, “the law of Daniel’s God” stands in contrast to the “law of the Medes and the Persians,” each representing an entire system of laws. The bad guys of the chapter know Daniel will keep the former, so they concoct a scenario in which he will have to break the latter to do so. (Although, see “Reading between the Lines (or Lions)” for more on this.)
A second (and the most commonly occurring) word that relates to the law is found in vv. 7–9, 12 (2x), 13, and 15. This word (’esar or ’esarah) refers to the particular law prohibiting prayer to anyone other than Darius. The NASB calls it an “injunction,” the NRSV calls it an “interdict,” and the NIV calls it a “decree.” I prefer “prohibition” because that’s really what it was, and because it helps differentiate similar ideas in the chapter.
If you’re still reading and able to contain your yawns, the last word I’ll mention is found in vv. 8–10. The NASB calls it a “document,” and the NIV talks about a decree being “published” or “put in writing.” The main distinction here is that the word (ketabah) refers to the official written form of the prohibition. The ketabah (literally, “the writing”) is what seals the deal. Before that, it’s just an idea or conversation. After it’s in writing, the king won’t be able to erase it, amend it, or ignore it.
To summarize this mess: Because Daniel was committed to the law (dat) of his God, his conspirators anticipated he would break the law (dat) of the Medes and Persians by violating the written (ketabah) prohibition (’esarah) against prayer to anyone but Darius.
The law of the Medes and Persians is twice emphasized as being irrevocable, and while Darius stood by the prohibition he signed, it ultimately came to nothing – at least, for Daniel. Even with the power of the Medo-Persian law behind it, the prohibition was unable to accomplish the purpose for which its originators intended it. The power they banked on backfired, landing them in the lions’ mouths instead. By contrast, Daniel cast his lot with the power behind the law of his God, a much better choice, indeed.