Daniel 5 Hand: Out!

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Questions: Is self-indulgence a sin? Do we ever rob God’s temple to satisfy our flesh? Does God’s patience ever run out? What about our obligation to warn our enemies? If we were weighed in the balance, would we be found wanting? Is our time at an end? Will we know?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Daniel.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence, and fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father, and manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Daniel 5:1-31

Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

While His Nebs took pride in conquests and construction, his descendant (grandson?) Bel seems focused on consumption. With a little irreverence thrown in to spice things up:

Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.

And as if that wasn’t enough, he tops it with just a touch of blasphemy:

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

Ouch. It is bad enough for Nebbie to have looted these from Jerusalem, but at least he treasured them as sacred relics. Bel seems to delight in the perverse pleasure of desecration. The walls themselves ought to cry out in protest! And so they do, sorta:

In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

Dang! If Daniel was as TV series, Chapter 5 would be the Halloween Special. I’m not the only one creeped out :

Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.

After the events above, the commentator doesn’t seem the least bit reluctant to paint such an unflattering portrait. Bravery is obviously not Bel’s strong suit; still, he at least has the humility to ask for expert advice:

The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. [And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon,

And — give him credit where credit is due — he is willing to reward those who help him:

Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Though, a more cynical man than me might say that this reflects his desperation more than his generosity. Note the use of “third ruler”, which supports the hypothesis that Prince Bel is only second-in-command.

Alas, his magnanimous gesture does not avail him much:

Then came in all the king’s wise [men]: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.

Which seems to downshift him from “scared” to “terrified”:

Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

Fortunately, Mommy (I presume it is the queen mother, not one of his dissolute wives) comes to the rescue:

[Now] the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers; Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.

Again like a TV show, we have Daniel — as usual — riding in after the second commercial break to explain the mystery nobody else can.

Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods [is] in thee, and [that] light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing: And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Daniel, as might be expected, is impressed neither by the king’s flattery nor his gifts — but agrees to help anyway:

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

Though, I can’t help but feel a bit of an edge to his (unfavorable?) comparison of Bel to Nebbie:

O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.

What’s funny — at least to me — is that the last sentence sounds like a ritual phrase praising the absolute power of the monarch. But Daniel instead uses it an indictment:

But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling [was] with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven;

Albeit a redemptive one:

till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.

Which in turn becomes an indictment upon Bel:

And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:

Um, Daniel, I understand that you’re a bit ticked off about the whole goblet thing, but have you forgotten about the FREAKIN’ INVISIBLE HAND?

Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.

Oh. Ahh! In order to understand the words, we needed to understand to whom the hand belonged, and what its (er, his) motivation was. Not just a judgmental rant (though I’m sure Danny-boy enjoyed that part, at least at some level :-), the back-history was an essential part of the interpretation, to let Bel know the context for what he was about to say.

And this [is] the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

Okay, good. At least Daniel can read the words. But what do they mean?

This [is] the interpretation of the thing:

* MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

* TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

* PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

Ouch. The cure of the confusion seems worse than the disease! If I was Bel, I think I’d ask for a second opinion; alas, he appears to be all out of wise men. 😦 And to his credit, he fulfills his promise to Daniel:

Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Though Daniel of all people knows exactly how pointless all those things are:

In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.

Doh! Still, I can’t help but wonder: what if Daniel had the same empathy for Bel than he did for Nebbie? Might he have called Bel to repentance, and adverted this catastrophe? Was Bel really such a bad kid, or just undisciplined? He was not entirely without honor — even though he lacked the sense God gave a goose. Could he have somehow been redeemed?

I don’t know, but somehow I suspect not. This wasn’t just a momentary drunken lapse, after all, but what appears to be the pinnacle of a life spent pursuing drunken pleasure, and the next big forbidden thrill. God had finally had enough; who know how many smaller warnings he had ignored, to his own demise?

Of course, this raises another question: if this is really the end, and no repentance was possible, why give this one last warning?

The obvious answer (too obvious?) is that it was for Daniel’s sake. God simply wanted Daniel (and perhaps any others who would listen, even if Bel’s fate was sealed) to know that He — the Most High God — was fully in control of the situation. And that even though the world as he knew it was about to end, the kingdom of God would still advance. Even if through an unexpected source:

And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.

Prayer

God, it is scary to realize that sometimes “later” is “too late.” Like Bel, I know I have too often robbed from you to satisfy the desires of my flesh. Father, forgive me. Bring me back to your temple, that I may enjoy the fruits of righteousness in holy submission to you. Help me to heed the warnings — and warners — that you’ve placed in my life. Save me from the fate my sins deserve, but rescue me through the blood of your Son. Make me an intercessor — and a servant — to those who are perishing. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.

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