Wednesday

25 November 2020

Daniel 5:1-28

'I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you.' (v. 14)

Psalm 31:9-24

Background

Today’s reading moves on to one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s successors. Whilst called King Belshazzar, we would more likely understand him as a regent. The final king of Babylon was Nabondius. About ten years prior to the end of the kingdom, Nabondius had decided to leave the capital, and left Belshazzar to oversee things. Despite being called father, it is possible that Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s grandfather.

We noted on Monday that the Book of Daniel begins with the earliest exile. By this point in the story the worst has happened and the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed with many treasures, as well as people, taken back to Babylon. The Hebrew word for the main room of the Temple, is the same word as for a royal palace. The first time it is mentioned, it is left ambiguous whether the vessels summoned for have come from the Temple or from the king’s palace in Jerusalem. Verse 3 makes it clear when this word is coupled with ‘house of God'. Thus, the blasphemy begins and we see the divine response.

A hand writes on the wall of the royal palace. The writing is in Aramaic which is possibly why all the learned men of Babylon failed to understand it – particularly as Aramaic and Hebrew writing only includes consonants. We noted earlier the slightly elastic definition of ‘father/son’. Equally, the queen mentioned may have been Nebuchadnezzar’s widow, rather than Belshazzar’s wife. It would explain why she remembered Daniel. We do not know what happened to Daniel after interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream in Daniel 4. Maybe the new ruler brought in their own officials.

The words written are all Hebrew measures of weight in decreasing size – and are a sign of the declining state of the Babylonian empire. The first, mene, a mina, is also from the same root as the word ‘numbered'. The second, tekel, which is a shekel, comes from the root ‘weigh'. Finally, parsin, the plural of peres, is a half-shekel. It is from the root for ‘divide', but also from the words for Persia and Persian, which adds an extra word play.

If you read the final three verses of the chapter, you see that Belshazzar ignored Daniel’s request not to dress him in finery and promote him to the royal court, not that it lasted long. Maybe, if Belshazzar had responded to Daniel’s warning in the same way as Nebuchadnezzar had, his rule might not have been so dramatically cut short.

To Ponder:

  •  How reverentially should we treat the things of our church buildings? What makes you think this?
  • Can you remember a time when someone warned you against doing something you enjoyed? How did you respond?

Bible notes author

The Revd Will Fletcher

Will is a presbyter in the Central Sussex United Area where he has pastoral oversight of Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and Hurstpierpoint Methodist churches. Will enjoys life in Sussex with his wife, Helen, and in his spare time is a member of Patcham Silver Band.

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