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Daniel 5:7-16; Wisdom Scorned

10/17_Daniel 05:7-16; Wisdom Scorned; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20211017_dan05_7-16.mp3

The fifth chapter of Daniel jumps ahead from the death of Nebuchadnezzar 23 years and 4 kings. Nabonidus was king of Babylon, but had entrusted his son Belshazzar with the rule of the kingdom, while he followed his archaeological and building pursuits 500 miles south in the city of Tema in Arabia. He had returned to Babylon toward the end of his reign, and on hearing Cyrus was approaching, had led his troops 40 miles north to meet Cyrus in battle. He was defeated and fled. Daniel 5 picks up the story 2 days later.

Belshazzar’s Confidence

Daniel 5:1 King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. 2 Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

Belshazzar apparently felt secure behind the massive walls of Babylon, with supplies stored up to outlast any siege (or at least he wanted others to perceive him as confident), so he threw a massive party to display his opulent wealth, military might and strong defenses.

Spitting in the Face of God

But to call for the sacred temple vessels and to drink wine from them at his party his was arrogant and offensive. This was a symbolic act in direct defiance of the gods, saying in effect, I am greater, more powerful than the gods of other nations. My people have conquered the God of Israel, and now I can drink from his cup. We will also defeat the gods of the Persians encamped outside our walls.

Daniel 5:5 Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. 6 Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.

His confidence evaporated as God supernaturally crashed his party by writing something no one could understand in the plaster of his party room.

Incompetence of the Wise Men

Daniel 5:7 The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

Notice that the offer of Belshazzar is to make the interpreter the third, not the second ruler of Babylon. Although he is not mentioned in Daniel, this would account for Nabonidus as first, with Belshazzar as second or co-regent, the successful interpreter being offered the third position, ruling alongside father and son.

By now we chuckle at the mention of the enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because the incompetence of Babylon’s wise men has already been repeatedly demonstrated. Back in chapter 2 ‘the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans’ were summoned to tell the king his dreams, but they proved incapable and their very lives were spared only by the action of Daniel and his friends, with Daniel himself appointed as chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.

In chapter 3 when the Chaldeans ‘maliciously accused the Jews’, they became witnesses of God’s ability to preserve his people even through the fire. The result was an edict defending the Jews, with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego promoted in the province of Babylon.

In chapter 4, ‘all the wise men of Babylon …the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers’ were brought before the king to interpret his dream, ‘but they could not make known to me its interpretation.’ ‘At last Daniel came in …in whom is the spirit of the holy gods’ and he was able to make known the interpretation to the king.

Here again in chapter 5,

Daniel 5:8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.

It seems the thing that had the king scared at least as much as seeing a supernatural hand writing on his wall was not knowing what the writing meant. The king has lost all control, he is shouting for someone to come help him out. The enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers can’t even read the inscription let alone make known the interpretation. The king’s color had already changed back in verse 6; now it changes again in verse 9. The people who should be able to help him have failed him. Words are written on the wall, and no one understands.

The Wise Queen

Daniel 5:10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king— made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

We don’t know who this woman was, except that she is called the queen. She is not the wife of Belshazzar, because from verse 2 we know his wives and concubines are already drinking with him at his feast. She enters unbidden and with authority and dignity politely rebukes Belshazzar.

She refers repeatedly to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar’s father, which is a general word that is broader than our word ‘father’ and could apply to a grandfather or simply a predecessor. For that matter, we don’t really know what Belshazzar’s lineage was, other than that Nabonidus claims him as his only son. It is likely that this is the queen mother, possibly a daughter of the late Nebuchadnezzar or even his wife Nitocris, possibly married by Nabonidus to secure his position. It is possible that Belshazzar is the literal son or grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, who was adopted by Nabonidus. We aren’t told the details.

The Incontinent King

But this wise woman enters the banqueting hall and rebukes the incontinent Belshazzar and points him to Daniel who can untie his knots for him. Back in verse 6, we are told that the knots of the king’s loins were loosed; probably meaning that he lost control of his bodily functions. The queen, wittingly or unwittingly uses a double entendre, telling her son that the wise man Daniel is able to untie his knots for him. The king himself obliviously uses this phrase again in verse 16, where he says to Daniel ‘I hear you are able to untie knots.’ As one commentator notes: ‘from the point of view of an Aramaic speaking Israelite who had suffered much at the hands of the Babylonians …this ignominious spectacle is enough to elicit hoots of derisive laughter on the part of the audience …The unwitting double entendre [of the queen mother] evokes more derisive laughter. Finally, the king himself comes face to face with Daniel …and says, in effect, “I understand that you can untie my knots for me” Again we imagine the audience’s uproarious laughter as the hapless pagan king unwittingly makes a fool of himself before the prophet of the Lord. We see how the story uses burlesque humor to underscore the sovereignty of the Israelite God, before whom the great kings of the earth can at a moment’s notice be reduced to figures of fun, preparatory to being brought to justice.’ [Schwab, p.76 (citing Al Wolters, JBL 110, 1991: 117-122)]

Rebuke of the Queen

The queen mother reminds Belshazzar

Daniel 5:11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king— made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

There seems to be a motherly scolding in her tone; king Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king. The man you demoted and won’t even listen to, your father promoted him and put him in charge because of his surpassing wisdom. You should listen to him. This woman enters the chaos boldly and answers the fear with wisdom and confidence.

The queen mother may have observed first hand the abilities of Daniel and his interaction with Nebuchadnezzar. She may have even come to believe in the God of Daniel herself.

Belshazzar has no other options than to comply with the queen’s recommendation.

Lady Wisdom

We are reminded of the lady wisdom in Proverbs 1;

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,

…20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. 24 Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, 25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, 27 when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. 32 For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; 33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

She says again in Proverbs 8

Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. 14 I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. 15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; 16 by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.

And Proverbs 9

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Belshazzar obviously had no fear of the Lord, and terror is striking him like a storm and calamity like a whirlwind; he is about to eat the fruit of his own way and have his fill of his own devices.

Daniel Dishonored

Daniel 5:13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. 14 I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. 16 But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

The king puts on a face of being in control. Daniel is brought in, and the king addresses Daniel as ‘that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah.’ Belshazzar wants to lift himself up and put Daniel in his place, making sure that he knows that it was his father (or predecessor) who conquered Judah and took Daniel captive, and that Daniel is a mere exile from conquered Judah.

Keep in mind, Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel captive at the beginning of his reign, and he reigned for 43 years, so Daniel has now been in Babylon for 66 years. If he was about 15 when he was taken, he would be over 80 years old. And he is being talked down to by this arrogant young king. He seems to have no respect for age or wisdom.

All the positive things he says are prefaced by ‘I have heard of you’. He extends the same offer he made to the other failed wise men, but prefaces it by ‘if’, expressing skepticism about the capabilities Daniel.

The Fool and the Gospel

Belshazzar is the classic fool.

Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

We can look at Belshazzar and recognize a fool. We might even be tempted to laugh and scorn. But Psalm 14 tells us that we are looking in the mirror. There is none who does good. Not even one. None seek God. Not even me. Romans 3 quotes this Psalm and concludes:

Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Is my mouth stopped, or am I looking down my nose at Belshazzar, amazed at his folly, thinking I am so much wiser than he? Am I able to recognize by God’s grace that I am looking in a mirror, and this is what my pride looks like? Am I willing to acknowledge that

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned [I have sinned] and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

I fall short. I am inadequate. I am not enough. I need a gift I don’t deserve. I need grace. I need redemption. My only hope is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. I am the God-belittling fool, and without God’s supernatural intervention, I will eat the fruit of my way, and have my fill of my own devices.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 23, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment