From Treachery to Triumph by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
אֲשֶׁר שָׁנְנוּ כַחֶרֶב לְשׁוֹנָם דָּרְכוּ חִצָּם דָּבָר מָר׃
who whet their tongues like swords; they aim their arrows—cruel words—
King David wrote his Psalms through divine inspiration. This is certainly true of Psalm 64 which, according to the biblical commentator known as Rashi, was written about Daniel in the lion’s den. According to Rashi, David was able to foresee this event through divine inspiration and pray for him because Daniel was his descendant.
This familial connection between David and Daniel was hinted at by the Prophet Isaiah:
A time is coming when everything in your palace, which your ancestors have stored up to this day, will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left behind, said Hashem. And some of your sons, your own issue, whom you will have fathered, will be taken to serve as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Isaiah 39:6-7
According to Rashi, this is referring to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who were exiled to Babylon and trained to be chamberlains in the king’s palace.
So what does David say about his descendant Daniel in this Psalm?
Daniel, known for his piety and wisdom, rose to a high office in the king’s court. King Darius’ officers became jealous of Daniel’s success and sought to eliminate him. Knowing that Daniel prayed to God three times a day, they convinced the king to outlaw prayer to any god other than the king himself.
When Daniel continued to pray to God despite the decree, he was thrown into a den of lions as punishment. Like David his ancestors, Daniel showed unwavering faith in God throughout the whole ordeal. God protected Daniel and he miraculously emerged unscathed the next morning.
In Psalm 64, David, an accomplished warrior, describes the effect of words as being equal to, if not greater than, the damage inflicted by weapons.
Hide me from a band of evil men, from a crowd of evildoers,who whet their tongues like swords; they aim their arrows—cruel words—to shoot from hiding at the blameless man; they shoot him suddenly and without fear.They arm themselves with an evil word; when they speak, it is to conceal traps; they think, “Who will see them?” Psalm 64:3-6
King David experienced his fair share of treachery and betrayal, but according to Rashi this is also a reference to the officers who would conceive of the ban on prayer specifically to entrap Daniel.
David describes how their own words would lead to their ultimate downfall:
Their tongue shall be their downfall; all who see them shall recoil in horror; Psalm 64:9
Indeed, this is how Daniel’s dilemma played out. The officers who had plotted against Daniel were themselves thrown into the lion’s den by Darius as punishment for their treachery. Unlike Daniel, they did not survive the night.
Not only did Daniel’s faith in God save him from certain death, it led Darius to recognize the God of Israel and praise him. Or, as David described it in Psalms, “All men shall stand in awe; they shall proclaim the work of Hashem and His deed which they perceived” (Psalms 64:10).
While David and Daniel may seem like exceptional figures with extraordinary levels of faith and connection to God, their stories can serve as an inspiration and guide for all those seeking to deepen their spiritual connection to the Almighty.
Psalms offer a way for individuals to express their own feelings and experiences in the context of a larger spiritual tradition, and draw strength from the experiences of other biblical figures. Specifically, the idea that everyone has experienced the pain of hurtful words and the duplicity of those close to them, as described in Psalm 64, is a relatable one. These experiences can be deeply painful, but by connecting with the stories of David and Daniel we can find hope and resilience in the face of these challenges.
Connecting with David and Daniel can help us transcend our spiritual limitations and find inspiration and guidance for our own journeys. And David and Daniel both serve as examples of how patience, coupled with faith, can often lead to a conclusion that glorifies God.