In his famed “I have a Dream speech,” Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” At these words, King painted for a troubled nation a powerful image of hope, and forever rooted the civil rights movement in images of justice and the image of God.
The images presented in the book of Daniel are similarly rooted in images of justice and God. In fact, it is for this reason that the sixth chapter of Daniel was a favorite Scripture passage among civil rights preachers in the early 1960s. The story told in Daniel 6 presents a king who loses sight of his purpose as king and the purpose of the law, creating a system void of justice and a law that only hinders and traps its makers. But against the images of lawlessness and corruption, the story portrays a silent but active Daniel clinging to a higher law, bowing before the King of Kings in the midst of persecution, in the hands of his oppressors, and the shadows of the lions’ den. Living within the hopelessness of exile, sweltering under the heat of injustice, Daniel unflinchingly declares the sovereignty of God, and with faithfulness and perseverance refuses to believe otherwise.
In a kingdom in which he was a mere foreigner, Daniel was appointed a position of great authority because the king found him to be useful. The story quickly hints that in the peaceful dominion of King Darius all is not peaceful. The leaders serving under Daniel want to get rid of him. The story does not provide a thorough explanation for their hatred of Daniel and yet, perhaps in this silence much is said. The nature of any prejudice is absent of explanation. Without reason, without logic, we discriminate and are discriminated against. There is no explanation because to explain our reasons behind prejudice is to become our own judge. In fact, Daniel’s enemies announce their illogic when they conclude, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God” (6:5).
Whatever their motivation, the men proceed with their plan. Approaching the king with flattery that he does not refuse, they convince him to establish an ordinance that holds the kingdom accountable to praying only to him. The king, who is pleased with his high and lofty position and his authority to rule, agrees to test the loyalty of his citizens, and to make the law irrevocable.
It is significant to note that Daniel does not speak until the end of the story, yet throughout it, he is anything but complacent. Knowing the document had been signed, Daniel goes to his house, opens his windows, faces Jerusalem, and prays as he had done before. Just as planned, he is immediately caught by the men who are quick to point out his guilt before the king. While the king stands guilt-ridden, Daniel stands accused, and nothing can be done to save him. Bound by his own law, the king must release his faithful servant into the hands of injustice. Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den, which is then sealed at the remorseful hand of the king.
As we await the outcome, the injustice of the situation palpable, the voices we most want to hear from remain discouragingly silent. We hear nothing from the lips of Daniel. And we hear nothing from the mouth of Daniel’s God.
In the face of injustice, silence is indeed oppressive; filled at once with despairing questions. Where is God? What of the silent victims? Who will speak over the deafening sounds of injustice, over the word games and manipulative arguments, when hands are tied, options are exhausted, and fates seem irreversible?
Daniel eventually speaks, but only after his irreversible sentence was overruled by the hand of God. Daniel’s story, not unlike the stories of the civil rights movement worldwide, is a declaration that in silence God is still acting, in the weariness of injustice, in the shadows of those who seek to devour, God is sovereign. Justly, thankfully, God comes near to the oppressed. “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise.”
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.