Daniel Chapter 5: The Discernment Of This Daniel!

Daniel Chapter 5: The Discernment Of This Daniel!

Kenneth Humphries

The Word of God reminds us in Ezekiel Ch.18v20, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” surely Daniel Ch.5 is an amazing commentary on that very truth. Many may ignore the voice of God crying out through His Word down through the centuries, but we need to grasp hold of this powerful truth, eternal judgement will be the final result. The Babylonian kingdom had by degrees degenerated into a low estate of debauchery and idolatry over a thirty-year period after the death of Nebuchadnezzar. Successive kings had gone from bad to worse culminating eventually, under the sovereignty of Belshazzar at about 538 B.C. Now, this mighty Babylon empire was going to meet its doom, effecting its transition of the head of gold to the breast and arms of silver, recorded in Daniel Ch.2. Prophetically the downfall of the mighty empire of Babylon depicted for us the coming judgement upon this world as a result of man’s absolute and continued rejection of the Saviour whom God provided for our Salvation. Civilization, like the mighty empire of Babylon, will drift farther and farther away from God’s precious truth until God’s cup of wrath is filled, and then judgement will be the result. Paul writing to young Timothy reminds him, “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy Ch.3v13). Although we can praise God, this will not continue forever, for the Lord will return to rule and reign in righteousness. It is of great importance to remind ourselves again and again, in reading the chapters that form the first part of this book, that while they are strictly historic they are also prophetic; that while they describe characteristics of the thrones of the Gentiles, to which God entrusted the sovereignty of the earth after the destruction of Jerusalem, these characteristics will reappear in the last days. There are three things, indeed, which especially have this prophetic character: the acts of these various monarchs; the judgments that followed as in the last, and in the present chapter; and the deliverance of God's people as seen "in Daniel Ch.3, and again in the person of Daniel, in Daniel Ch.6. To these may be added the acknowledgement of the true God by the Gentiles after their having been judged, as portrayed in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, and also in that of Darius (Daniel Ch.6), albeit his confession is elicited rather by the display of God's power in succouring His people, as represented by Daniel, when in the very jaws of destruction.

Coming now, to our chapter, a still worse moral feature of Gentile sovereignty is exhibited. Idolatry and pride of power, had definitely been the mark of Nebuchadnezzar; but Belshazzar is distinguished by the public insolence of daring impiety, venting itself in open wickedness and profanity. Look at the behaviour and blasphemy of Belshazzar. The occasion for this outburst of iniquity is described in the first verse: "Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand" (Daniel Ch.5v1). It was a night of feasting; revelry, and unbridled licence, when all the evil passions of man's corrupt heart were inflamed and enticed to their gratification. For, mark, it was while Belshazzar "tasted the wine," that he gave the commandment "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" (Daniel Ch.5v2). The chronology of Nebuchadnezzar's successors cannot be accurately determined, but it seems beyond question that Belshazzar could not have been his son. It is possible that he might have been his grandson, though this is not certain. The term "father," therefore, as is often the case in Scripture, is used in the sense of progenitor, or forefather. Whatever the exact relationship he bore to Nebuchadnezzar, he could not have been very far removed from that monarch, seeing that he was well acquainted with the judgment that had fallen upon him (Daniel Ch.5v22). Was he intoxicated? With the pride of wicked presumption certainly; and this was inflamed by the wine which he drank. Indulgence in wine, in the joy which earth affords, necessarily panders to the heart's worst desires; and the company that surrounded the king reveals that this instance was no exception to the general rule. Had this been, however, but an ordinary revel or debauch, whatever its accompanying licentiousness, no inspired pen would have recorded it; but the crowning sin of it was the direct insult which Belshazzar offered to the God of Israel, the God of heaven. The holy vessels were holy still in God's eyes, however polluted they had been by the sins of His kings and priests, for they had been used in the house where He had put His name for ever, and where His eyes and His heart should be perpetually 1 Kings Ch.9v3. True He had in judgment suffered them to share in the captivity of His people; but He could not allow them, consistently with all that He was, and with all that He purposed, to be defiled by the Gentile monarch and his profligate associates. Nor was it only that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them; but "they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone" (Daniel Ch.5vv3-4). Gods of all degrees were extolled and their superiority over the God of Israel insultingly vaunted; and in so doing they challenged God publicly and insolently. With such insensate folly and impiety did this foolhardy king dare the interposition of the living and true God.

The answer for it could not be delayed, and indeed was at hand; almost before the sounds of their idolatrous chants had died away we see the writing and witness on the wall, "in the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote (Daniel Ch.5v5). Silently came these mysterious fingers in answer to the king's challenge, silently they wrote their words of doom amid the noise of revelry and of song, and yet, for an unseen power directed his eyes, the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. And what was the effect of the apparition? Surely fortified by wine, and strong in confidence in the omnipotence of his gods, the king will not be afraid? But even he, wicked as he was, had a conscience, and he knew of the power that had driven even Nebuchadnezzar from his throne, and made him, for a season, like the beasts of the earth; and conscience now, in spite of the king's surroundings, asserted its office, and "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” (Daniel Ch.5v6). What a change! In the midst of his banquet he had dared to insult the God of heaven, and now, at the sight of this mysterious hand, fear and dread possessed his soul, and he trembled from head to foot. He had girded himself to challenge the omnipotent God; and the moment the challenge was accepted, before the blow had been struck, his heart failed him under the awful apprehension of coming judgment. Who can help him at such a moment? Instead of humbling himself before the one against whom he had so grievously sinned, he called to his succour the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, and by the proffer of munificent rewards hoped they might be able to solve the written words, and thus, as he vainly thought, give him relief. But the wisdom of this world could not unravel God's secrets nor interpret His writing; and these men of pretended knowledge were as impotent as they had been proved to be in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. "The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians Ch.2v11b).

Belshazzar was still more troubled, panic-stricken as he had been, and even his courtiers were astonished. But God meant that the king should have the writing explained, His own chosen vessel must do only it. The instrument was at hand to bring Daniel to Belshazzar's notice. "The queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house" (Daniel Ch5v10). She had not taken part in the wild orgies of this eventful night; but the rumour of the apparition that had startled the king and his guests had gone out through the palace and reached her ears. She was fully acquainted with what had taken place in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, as also with the service Daniel had rendered, and with the place to which he had been consequently appointed, and she hastened therefore to the king's help. “O king,” she said, “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 then, after describing what he had proved himself to be in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, she added, "Let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation" (Daniel Ch.5vv10-12). This could scarcely have been Belshazzar's wife Daniel Ch5v3; most probably therefore it was the queen mother, or, as expressed in modern language, the queen-dowager. Daniel was at once "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?" (Daniel Ch.5v13b). He had known, as before remarked, of the services of Daniel, but he had not cared to know him personally. The impious king had no desire for acquaintance with the servant of God; and had only now sent for him in his extremity for help in the hour of his need. He then told Daniel, what he had heard of him, and continued: "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 Ch5vv14-16).

Daniel was standing before the sovereign of all the kingdoms of the earth, before an absolute monarch, and before one who held the power of life and death over all his subjects Daniel Ch.5v19; but Daniel was the servant of the God, who was the source of Belshazzar's brief power; and he, therefore, conscious of his mission, neither feared the king nor was tempted by his offered rewards. In the calm confidence which, through grace, he possessed in Him whose servant he was, notice the discernment and daring of Daniel; he "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" (Daniel Ch.5v17). It was a noble preface, befitting the messenger of God to the wicked king; and the reader will not fail to remark the different spirit in which Daniel addressed Belshazzar from that in which he spoke to Nebuchadnezzar. The latter was idolatrous, imperious, and had sought to compel his subjects to worship the idol, which he had made; but he had not gone the length of Belshazzar in his profanity. Daniel therefore made a distinction, taught as he undoubtedly was by the Spirit of God, and knowing that the cup of Belshazzar's iniquity was now filled up to the brim. But he will deliver his message, though, first of all, Belshazzar must be made to hear how God had dealt with Nebuchadnezzar in the past, and how that, absolute monarch as he was, and universal as was his dominion, "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" (Daniel Ch5v20). Daniel recounted, moreover, the nature of the judgment that was inflicted upon him, and reminded Belshazzar that all this was "till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that He appointeth over it whomsoever He will” (Daniel Ch.5v21c). Thereon he proceeded to deal with the trembling monarch before him in severe, but faithful words: "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" (Daniel Ch.5vv22-23).

If God was about to smite, He will have the grounds of His action explained. This is the ending and end of the kingdom. It is indeed a striking feature in His ways, especially as recorded in the Old Testament, that before He acts in judgment, He is careful to state the reasons of it, that He may be clear when He speaks, and justified when He judges for example, 2 Chronicles Ch.36vv11-21. So here Daniel presented the indictment against the king, showed him that he had slighted all the warnings of the past, had sinned against light and knowledge, and that he had finally lifted up himself against the Lord of heaven, and had polluted the holy vessels of His house. This shows plainly the meaning of the king's action in commanding these vessels to be brought; that it was no mere wild freak, while under the heat of wine, but a deliberate and studied insult against God. Hence it was that Daniel would have the king to understand, that "the part of the hand" was sent from God to write on the wall in connection with this very act Daniel Ch.5v24. In such a solemn moment there must be no mistake, and thus he arraigned the king before the tribunal of God before he expounded the writing. As the writing was in the Chaldaic language, it was not that the king's wise men did not understand the words. It was the connection, application, and interpretation that they could not unfold. So many separate words would appear to them, being without the clue, as disjointed and meaningless. The words were four: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN, and we have next Daniel's authoritative interpretation.

Before entering upon it, attention may be drawn to the fact that Daniel does not merely translate the words, which had been written, but he reveals the mind of God, which must be conveyed. This could not have been done unless he himself had received a direct communication from God. The words themselves, if rendered according to their meaning, are "numbered," "weighed," and "divided"; but no human ingenuity could have discovered their divine significance, and it is this which Daniel explains. The first word was repeated. The reason for this may be doubtless found in Joseph's words to Pharaoh: "And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass" (Genesis Ch.41v32). "This," says Daniel, "is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it" (Daniel Ch.5v26). In expounding Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the great image, Daniel had said to him, "Thou art this head of gold," and, inasmuch as Babylon was to be succeeded by the Medo-Persian kingdom, it is evident, as previously remarked, that Nebuchadnezzar's dynasty was included in this term, Belshazzar being its last member. God Himself had committed the sovereignty of the earth to Nebuchadnezzar in responsibility, and He alone determined the duration of his kingdom. When therefore Daniel said to Belshazzar. "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it," he meant that, according to the divine appointment, the termination of Babylon's sovereignty had arrived; that its days were numbered, and were now ended. The ground of this annunciation is found in the next verse: "TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting" (Daniel Ch5v27). If God had committed the government of the earth to Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, for the accomplishment of His purposes in His ways with His people, He held them responsible for the way in which they fulfilled their trust. The verdict is now pronounced upon Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar had also failed, if not to the same extent; but, under chastisement from God, he had humbled himself, owned Him as the source of his authority, as the omnipotent Ruler in heaven and on earth, and had extolled and honoured Him as the King of heaven. Belshazzar, blind to all the teachings of the past, had more grievously sinned by magnifying his idols above the God in whose hand his breath was, and had thus lifted up himself against the Lord of heaven. His probation was now ended, and Daniel declared to him the result that, as shown by the mysterious word "Tekel," weighed in God's unerring balances, he was found wanting.

Judgment is contained in the next word, PERES, the public judgment consequent upon Belshazzar's failure in the use of the power entrusted to him in the government of the earth: "Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." The long suffering of God towards the "head of gold" was ended; and hence there is no exhortation to repentance, nothing but the announcement of the result of God's verdict, together with the accompanying judgment. Altogether "this narrative," gives us the last character of the iniquity of the sovereign power of the Gentiles, in opposition to the God of Israel, and the judgment, which falls in consequence upon the monarchy of which Babylon was the head, and to which Babylon had given its own character. Peres, is simply another form of the word Upharsin. The former is the participle passive, and the latter the participle active of the verb P'ras, to divide. Nothing is said as to the effect of this awful interpretation. With the judgment pronounced God had, save the execution of the sentence, done with the man who had arrogantly defied His power. One thing, however, is added, and that is Belshazzar's last act of royalty. He could not, whatever the attitude of Daniel; allow his public promise of reward to the interpreter to fall to the ground. Men who are false to God are often true to one another in their very selfishness. Belshazzar therefore commanded, "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" (Daniel Ch.5v29). If he believed the interpretation, it is evident that he had no conception of the rapidly approaching execution of the sentence he had heard; but "in that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about three score and two years old" (Daniel Ch.5vv30-31).

God thus judged the first of the kingdoms of the Gentiles, and this was the monarchy of Babylon. The event was of the highest importance historically, and of no less moment prophetically, for the moral features, which marked Belshazzar's sovereignty, will appear in the future Babylon spoken of in Revelation.

There it is seen under two aspects, that of a woman, and that of a city. The moral character of the former is given in these words: “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (Revelation Ch17v5). And we read of the ruler whose throne was derived from Satan, "he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven" (Revelation Ch.13v6). Moreover, as to the judgment of Babylon it is said, "Her plagues shall come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine"; and so it will happen, for those who bewail her destruction are represented as saying, "Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come" (Revelation Ch.18v10). This will suffice to show the exactness of the correspondence, and the prophetic nature of these historical narratives. (Please also compare Jeremiah Ch.50vv35-46 + Jeremiah Ch.51vv24-64.) For an explanation of these two aspects see The Visions of John in Patmos. A few words should perhaps be said upon the question of the historical event alluded to when Belshazzar was thus surprised and slain in his capital. Isaiah is thought to refer to the capture of Babylon by Cyrus in Isaiah Ch.45vv1-2 and in Isaiah Ch.47vv11-15; he speaks expressly of her sudden destruction also Isaiah Ch.21vv1-9. Jeremiah also prophesies with more detail of the surprise and taking of Babylon, and that in connection with the Medes Jeremiah Ch.51vv28-32; and this of the two prophecies would rather point to the event recorded in our chapter. There are those who, in the hopeless confusion of the pretended histories of the past, seek to establish the identity of Darius with Cyrus; but the Scripture narrative is clear that Darius took the kingdom, and that Cyrus is subsequently found in its possession. And let it not be forgotten that the importance of the narrative lies in its moral and prophetic instruction; and happy are they who, with unquestioning confidence in the word of God, have their hearts prepared and opened to receive its teaching.

The May 1984 National Geographic showed through colour photos and drawings the swift and terrible destruction that wiped out the Roman Cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79. The explosion of Mount Vesuvius was so sudden, the residents were killed while in their routine: men and women were at the market, the rich in their luxurious baths, and slaves at toil. They died amid volcanic ash and superheated gasses. Even family pets suffered the same quick and final fate. It takes little imagination to picture the panic of that terrible day. The saddest part is that these people did not have to die. Scientists confirm what ancient Roman writers record--weeks of rumblings and shakings preceded the actual explosion. Even an ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible from the mountain days before the eruption. If only they had been able to read and respond to Vesuvius's warning! There are similar "rumblings" in our world: warfare, earthquakes, the nuclear threat, economic woes, breakdown of the family and moral standards. While not exactly new, these things do point to a coming day of Judgment (Matthew Ch. 24). People need not be caught unprepared. God warns and provides an escape to those who will heed the rumblings. Michael Bogart, Lemoore, California.

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