THE LORD IS TO BE FEARED
Lord, I definitely know my place.
Read DANIEL 5
The Writing on the Wall
5 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father[a] had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers[b] and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”
8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
10 The queen,[c] hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”
13 So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. 15 The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. 16 Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”
17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.
18 “Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.
22 “But you, Belshazzar, his son,[d] have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. 24 Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.
25 “This is the inscription that was written:
mene, mene, tekel, parsin
26 “Here is what these words mean:
Mene[e]: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f]: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians,[h] was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.[i]
a Daniel 5:2 Or ancestor; or predecessor; also in verses 11, 13 and 18
b Daniel 5:7 Or Chaldeans; also in verse 11
c Daniel 5:10 Or queen mother
d Daniel 5:22 Or descendant; or successor
e Daniel 5:26 Mene can mean numbered or mina (a unit of money).
f Daniel 5:27 Tekel can mean weighed or shekel.
g Daniel 5:28 Peres (the singular of Parsin) can mean divided or Persia or a half mina h or a half shekel.
i Daniel 5:30 Or Chaldeans
j Daniel 5:31 In Aramaic texts this verse (5:31) is numbered 6:1.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
God is “our Father,” which implies intimate care; God is “the Lord of heaven” (23), which implies awesome holiness and power. Consciously approach this God in prayer.
This would make a gripping episode in a film or TV drama: the banquet scene of excess and decadence (1–4), the sight of some ghostly hand writing on the wall (5,6), the tense wait for an explanation (7–16), Daniel’s fearless interpretation (18–28), and then the fallout: immediate and violent fulfillment of his words (30,31).
We may admire the artistry of the tale but conceivably miss its message. Belshazzar’s response (29) suggests that he was guilty of a similar fatal error: he was impressed with Daniel’s ability to make sense of the inscription, but he did not take seriously anything Daniel said. I am reminded of a conversation with a friend who told me of a worship event a few days earlier which I had missed. “We had three prophecies,” he said excitedly, but when I asked what the content of these had been, he could not remember!
What themes can you see here that we have met earlier in the book? Clearly, Belshazzar has not learned from the experiences of his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. One motif in this chapter is that of “fear.” Belshazzar is afraid when the hand appears, but throughout the unfolding drama he shows no fear of the Lord. We can sense the increasing horror of the God-fearing writer as he describes the abuse of the temple goblets (2–4); Daniel cites this as evidence of guilt in the damning indictment at the heart of the story (22,23). Belshazzar has shown disdain for “the Most High God” (18,21) and has thus “issued a challenge that God must accept” (John E. Goldingay, Daniel, 114). The challenge for us is to ask ourselves, “Do I have an appropriate fear of the Lord in my heart and how is this manifested in my life?”
In whom or in what is your hope? What is your place?
Lord, keep us from forgetting what we have read regarding Your mighty works of yesteryear and taking Your words lightly.
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