Q: #374. How old was Daniel when he was thrown into the lion's den?
A: Contrary to what much of modern art depicts, most scholars believe that Daniel was a fairly old man, likely in his early 80’s when he was thrown into the lion’s den.
This is based on several things. King Nebuchadnezzar reigned from 605-562 B.C. In the first year of his reign (Dan 2:1), we can see in Daniel chapter 1 that he has captured the city of Judah. After it was overthrown, Nebuchadnezzar instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to carry away some of the best looking and wise youth (children – KJV) of the land, so that they could be trained to later serve him. Daniel was amongst this group (Dan 1:6). Most scholars believe that he was likely a young teenager at this time (app. 15 years old).
(Dan 1:21) says that Daniel served the foreign kings “until the first year of King Cyrus.” King Cyrus was the king of the Medo-Persians, and reigned from app. 559-530 B.C.. Historically, we know that in app. 539 B.C., Cyrus overthrew King Belshazzar and the Babylonians, and therefore had control of Judah. This event is mentioned in (Dan 5:30-31). It says that “Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom…” Since we know that Cyrus (the Mede) overthrew the Babylonians, and there is no record of a “King Darius” doing so, many scholars believe that Darius and Cyrus are the same person. Historically, it can be shown that “Darius” was a title that was given to Persian rulers much like “Pharaoh” or “Caesar.” (In Dan 11:1, the Septuagint, uses the name Cyrus instead of Darius.)
But, nevertheless, whether Darius/Cyrus were the same person, or Darius was a person Cyrus appointed, we know this event happened in app. 539 B.C.. Daniel would have been app. 81 at this time (captured at age 15 in 605 B.C. / 66 years to 539 B.C.). This event was prophesied many years earlier (Jer 25:9-12)(Jer 29:10,14)(Isa 44:28). It was to be the end of a 70 year period of captivity for the Jews, after which they would be released and allowed to return to Judah. (Obviously, the dates I have given don’t line up exactly to 70 years, but scholars much smarter than I can reconcile this. We will not go into this here.) We find in (Ezra 1:1-4)(2 Chr 36:22-23) that this prophecy was indeed fulfilled “in the first year of Cyrus.” They were released, and allowed to go back to Judah and rebuild the Temple (the book of Ezra details this).
So, putting this together with Daniel ch.6, here is how I see it. “In the first year” of Cyrus’/Darius’ reign, the first thing Cyrus/Darius did is found in Ch 6. He set up “governors and satraps,” with Daniel becoming the head. After Daniel disobeyed Cyrus’/Darius’ decree, he was thrown into the lion’s den. When God saved Daniel from being killed by the lions, Cyrus/Darius gave honor and thanks to God, and issued his decree in (Dan 6:25-27) that the God of Daniel was to be given honor. Having done this, and having seen the power of God, he released the Jews (still “in the first year”) to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple. Daniel also had two of his visions “in the first year of Cyrus/Darius” (Dan 9:1)(Dan 11:1). Only the first year of Cyrus’/Darius’ reign appears to in focus in Daniel (Daniel received one vision in the third year: Dan ch.10.), and if the things I have mentioned above are accurate, Daniel would have been 81 when he was thrown into the lion’s den.