Sunday, October 16, 2016

Daniel 5 -- Similar story, but First-hand delivered

Reading Daniel, Chapter 5, was so much like reading earlier chapters of this book. (I'm hearing a soap opera announcer's voice: "The part of Nebuchadnezzar will now be played by Belshazzar.") This story has so many familiar plot points--extremely anxious king; call for the "wise men"; a message which could not be interpreted; a call to Daniel. There are some marked differences, however.

Yes, we are still in Babylon. Belshazzar is the name of the new king, and we are not really sure what his relationship was to Nebuchadnezzar. Some translations say "your father." But, the Aramaic word used in the text (remember, this part of Daniel was originally written in Aramaic, so the Gentiles would get it) can be translated "ancestor." The same goes for the "queen" who may or may not be "mother" in the text starting with verse 10. We do know these events occurred about 20 years after Nebuchadnezzar's rule.

Babylon is still Babylon, but a chink in its armor has been revealed. The Medo-Persian empire has moved into Babylon.

"We must know that about two years before this Cyrus king of Persia, a growing monarch, came against Babylon with a great army; Belshazzar met him, fought him, and was routed by him in a pitched battle. He and his scattered forces retired into the city, where Cyrus besieged them. They were very secure, because the river Euphrates was their bulwark, and they had twenty years; provision in the city; but in the second year of the siege he took it, as is here related."
--Matthew Henry

It's a very odd party scene, then, with Belshazzar drinking in front of a thousand people from the sacred items of the temple of Judah stolen by Nebuchadnezzar. It is possible that he suspected something was up, which is another reason his anxiety almost killed him. But there was more to happen before this inevitable conclusion.

"Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing opposite the lampstand on [a well-lit area of] the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the part of the hand that did the writing." (5:5)
[Which, for me, recalls these verses--“You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5: 14-16) The True Light had entered the palace!!]

We don't think of God as being creepy a whole lot, but, YIKES! Depending on how much everyone had had to drink, who knows if they would have even seen this. But Belshazzar definitely saw it, as intended, and his "face was changed." (5:10) In a King Neb move, he calls for his wise men, but, unlike Neb, Belshazzar offers a handsome reward upfront, not a death warrant. But, as we know, no one can figure out the hand, the message or the interpretation. As someone in our group said, the Word from God needed to be given through a person of God!

Daniel. He was a significantly older man (80 or 90 years old) and not an active part of the Babylonian leadership. But, his people were still in exile, and he remained in the city. The "queen" presents Daniel to Belshazzar as if he is an unknown, which is debatable. She has nothing but words of praise for the prophet, although, from her language, she doesn't sound as if she had any personal contact with Daniel, much less with Daniel's God. But, this shows us, again, how God can work through anyone to accomplish His purposes--and, how God can call the seemingly historical to a new state of prominence and leadership.
"Note, There are a great many valuable men, and such as might be made very useful, that lie long buried in obscurity, and some that have done eminent services that live to be overlooked and taken no notice of; but, whatever men are, God is not unrighteous to forget the services done to his kingdom."
--Matthew Henry 

Daniel's demeanor with Belshazzar is brusk, compared with how we last saw his relationship with Nebuchadnezzar. Bribes he will not take. Instead, Daniel launches into a full-blown testimony about the king he served. He recounts Nebuchadnezzar's greatness (since Belshazzar doesn't seem to recall this at all!) and is faithful to reveal that the king had his issue with pride. He describes Neb's consequences--should Belshazzar be paying attention--which are as fresh in Daniel's mind as when his king suffered them. And, as assuredly as Daniel told his king that God was responsible for both his rise and fall, Daniel told Belshazzar that this same God ruled now.

"And you, his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart (mind), even though you knew all this." (5:22)

OH! If that isn't the biggest blow right there, I don't know what is.

"It makes the sin of children the more heinous if they tread in the steps of their parents’ wickedness, though they have seen how dearly it has cost them, and how pernicious the consequences of it have been. Do we know this, do we know all this, and yet are we not humbled?"
--Matthew Henry

Daniel goes on to interpret God's handwriting on the wall, which, despite the foreign text, is clearly understood (vss. 25-28) At that instant, Belshazzar awards Daniel his promised gifts, as if he had won "Let's Make a Deal." Although with Belshazzar, Daniel makes no deal nor does he offer any words of encouragement or reconciliation. God made it clear through His Word that what was to happen was going to happen. There was no time. That should have caused Belshazzar the most anxiety of all.

"During that same night Belshazzar the [last] Chaldean king was slain [by troops of the invading army]. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom; he was about the age of sixty-two." (5:30-31)

Darius the Mede is likely not a name but a title. It could have been Cyrus the Great of Persia or it could have Gubaru, who was the general who led the attack that very night on Belshazzar and his kingdom. So, the "head of gold" became "the breast and arms of silver," if we remember Nebuchadnezzar's dream statue. And how timely for Daniel to be called to interpret a message? To accept a "third ruler" position within the kingdom of Babylon, even from an exiting king? Things that make you go "Hmmmmm...."