Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 5v1-12 'Reading the King's writing'

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 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. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
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. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers 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 round his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’
Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
10 The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. ‘May the king live for ever!’ 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.’"

Chapter 5 is only chapter dealing with Belshazzar and his reign, it's a helpful reminder that Daniel is concerned with recording the big picture of God at work not a chronological history of Babylon.  The events recorded are significant events crucial to God’s kingdom.  So we are not given an explanation of the end of Nebuchadnezzar or of Belshazzar's coming to the throne.

The account of Belshazzar is in contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, whereas Nebuchadnezzar is given various changes and opportunities to turn and to repent in Daniel 5 we see that God judges and Belshazzar is cut off.  However, we must remember that this is just the highlights not all the detail, and Belshazzar as we shall see knew all about God and his dealings with Nebuchadnezzar.  This chapter is hugely significant to Daniel and his friends because it is the fulfilment of Isaiah 47 and God's promise that Babylon will be judged, it reminds them again that God’s word can be trusted.

In verse 1-12 we see Belshazzar's failure tolerant the lessons of history.  Who is Belshazzar?  He is (v1) the king, a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, the word “Father” (2, 11, 13, 18, 22) means both father and ancestor.  Interestingly in verse 7 he offers Daniel the third place in the kingdom not second.  Scholars say he reigns in place of his Father Nabonidus - who was hated by people.  Anyway Belshazzar is the centre of the court, holding a massive feast as sign of his power and majesty.

But v2-3 Belshazzar is a blasphemer – he sends for the goblets from the temple in Jerusalem, drinking from the holy things in mockery of God.  v4 Belshazzar is idolater. With Yahweh’s temple furnishings in his hands he praises idols.  It's worth noticing again the way idols are described “gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.”  Belshazzar and his courtiers are praising dumb man made idols even as the real living God acts – what a contrast!

And what a shock for Belshazzar when the God he has just been mocking acts in judgement and unsurprisingly Belshazzar is terrified.  As the story is told there are lots of similarities to the events and reactions of previous chapters;  v6 is an echo of chapters 4 and 2 and the dreams given to Nebuchadnezzar, v7 is an echo of actions of Neb in chapters 2 and 4. He is making the same mistakes as Neb.  And in v7 Belshazzar offers a great reward because he is terrified – is the God he has just mocked acting?

Verse 8-9 serve to build the tension in the account as wise men are offered great rewards but not a single one of them can read the writing on the wall. The whole court is baffled, the focus now is not Belshazzar’s greatness but on the conundrum of the writing.  Yet it remains hidden, another echo of chapter 2:28 “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…”. This puzzle remains and whilst we are thinking 'why doesn't he send for Daniel?' no one else is until the Queen arrives on the scene.

The (10-12) Queen is probably not his wife but a royal figure in court. She remembers Daniel and her remembering Daniel and lessons of chapters 1-4 puts into greater contrast Belshazzar's failure to do so.  But Daniel seems to be in obscurity, to have been forgotten, he certainly no longer has position he had under Nebuchadnezzar (11).  But his character and actions are remembered by the Queen.  The stage is set as verse 12 fades to black with Belshazzar calling for Daniel.

It's a helpful corrective to potentially wrong thinking.  It's easy to think after reading Chapters 1-4 that standing boldly for God leads to reward.  Daniel and his friends have admittedly faced dangers and even death for their faith and yet each chapter seems to end with them in a better position than before.  But Chapter 5 reminds us that faithful service often goes unnoticed and unrewarded.  Daniel has been in obscurity but has still been faithfully serving God, Go has not forgotten him even if others have.

The other helpful thing we are reminded of here is that God does not forget.  God does not forget either his people or his promises.  Our God is faithful, we can rely on him and his goodness.

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