Daniel 5 – The Writing on the Wall

We read in chapter 5 yet another of the famous Daniel stories, this one about Nebuchadnezzar’s son (or descendant), Belshazzar. He’s having a party, and in the midst of the festivities for some reason he thinks it’s a good idea to have the gold and silver goblets that his father took from the temple in Jerusalem brought in so everyone can drink from them. Actually for him, it’s a very bad idea. As “the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines” drink from the goblets, “they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Bad ideas all around. Not only do they take sacred items to use for their pagan bacchanalia, but use them to praise false gods which are no gods at all.

The next paragraph is where the phrase “the handwriting is on the wall” comes from (although many of our youngest generation will have no idea because of their biblical ignorance):

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.

A total buzz kill. As his father had done, he calls on all the wise men to interpret these words on the wall, which they cannot do. It’s not that they don’t know what the words mean, because they’re in Aramaic, but what they are meant to mean as a message to the king.

This incident happened right before the fall of Babylon to the Medes and the Persians, after which the exiles returned to Jerusalem, and which we know was after 70 years in captivity. So Daniel having been taken to Babylon as a teenager, would have been an old man. Over those years he had developed a reputation for “the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems,” and the king’s mother tells him to call on Daniel to explain what the words mean.

The king starts by telling Daniel he’ll lavish wonderful gifts on him if he can explain the words, but Daniel tells him that he can keep his gifts. Then he proceeds to rebuke him to his face. He recounts the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and how God humbled him when he lived in the wild as an animal. Daniel says Belshazzar knew all this, but that he refused to humble himself before God. In fact he says to the king these chilling words: “you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven . . . . But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”

Daniel tells him that the three words on the wall mean that it’s curtains for the king. Word one, his days are numbered. Word two, and I love this phrase, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Like I said, chilling. And word three, his kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes (northern Iran) and the Persians. That very night the king is killed. It must have been some kind of battle because “Darius the Mede took over the kingdom,” and with the added seemingly unimportant detail that Darius did this “at the age of sixty-two.” (Such seemingly unimportant details are all over the Bible because it’s a document that records true history.)

I read that “critical scholars” (i.e. those that come to the Bible assuming it is merely a human book) don’t believe Daniel existed, that he is an historical fiction. Of course he was as real as you and me. The problem with such scholars is that if something cannot be explained or corroborated from some other historical record, it must be fiction. And if the Bible records a supernatural event, like Daniel does over and over, it is obviously fiction. Their a priori commitment to naturalism destroys their credibility for me. And also how often they’ve been proved wrong. These same claims that have been made for probably 150 years, that such and such never happened, or that so and so never existed, have proved bogus over and over again. The growth in archaeological knowledge has made sure of it.

The Lord, as Daniel says, is sovereign over history, and he is so for one reason. Paul says this in Galatians 4:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.



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