Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 5v13-31 'Ultimate Accountability'

"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 round 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 splendour. 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, 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 honour 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: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres: 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 round his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two."

The stage is set in v1-12 and in verse 13  as Daniel comes before Belshazzar it is almost as if the king reminds him of his position; that he is an exile, taken from his land, subject to the power and might of the Bablyonian empire.  But, verse 17, Daniel’s motivation isn’t rewards but faithfulness to God and that is seen clearly in his response to the king that is phrased in the form of a rebuke.  Daniel begins by emphasising and exalting the sovereignty of the very one that Belshazzar began the evening mocking as he drank from the cups from the temple.  And the rebuke continues as Daniel teaches the king the lessons of history he should have learnt from the life of Nebuchadnezzar. But the emphasis in Daniel's words is on God not Nebuchadnezzar: “the most high gave…he gave him…he was deposed…he was driven…until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign…”
Then in verse 22-23 the charges begin.  Daniel uses “But…” to draw a clear contrast between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar...  “you…” emphasises the personal nature of the charge sheet God has against Belshazzar being read out by Daniel.  Hegel once said “the only thing we learn from history is that we have learnt nothing from history”.  That is certainly true of Belshazzar, despite knowing all that had happened to his ancestor, despite having access to that he has learnt none of the lessons.  And that failure leads him to foolishly stand against and mock Yahweh.

It's worth noticing that another theme of the book appears again in verse 23: the stupidity of worshipping idols “which cannot see or hear or understand.” in contrast with God who “holds in his hands your life and all your ways.”

The result of the charge sheet, of sins, is this judgement from God “…he sent the hand…”  The writing reads; Mene = from the verb to number, Tekel = from the verb to weigh or assess, Peres = to divide or to part.  God has weighed Belshazzar found him wanting, numbered his days and is judging and the kingdom will be divided and given to Medes and Persians.

Unlike with Nebuchadnezzar's dream  there is no stump, a warning that we cannot presume on God’s grace.  And verse 30 shows us the immediacy of the judgement – “That very night…” It seems likely that the city was under siege already, and that Belshazzar us holding the feats as a show of his confidence in his strength and defences.  The city was very well protected against siege and had years worth of stores of food.  But Xenophon records the city was taken during a night festival and the king slain.

Chapter 5 reminds us again that God is sovereign and he judges just as he said events change, empires and rulers rise and fall (c/f ch 2 – end of Babylonian empire), but God and his kingdom endure.  Opposition to God is futile, failure to learn the lessons leads to judgement.

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