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Daniel 5:16, 1617, 23c28 comment (0)

August 7, 2014

By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.

Related Scripture: Daniel 5:16, 1617, 23c28

Explore the Bible 
Dean, School of Christian Ministries, University of Mobile


Daniel 5:1–6, 16–17, 23c–28
In 1969, composers Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser published a folk musical with the title “Tell It Like It Is.” “Pass It On” became a folk classic, sung around campfires and youth candlelight services. Another of the songs in this musical of God was titled “Conform,” in which a student is berated verbally by other choir members when he (intentionally) sings a phrase too long. In some ways, Daniel is like this young man. His voice is heard while surrounded by a crowd of other royal advisers. Daniel is willing to tell it like it is.

Today Christians are tempted to conform to the status quo. We are so caught in the whirlpool of politically correct groupspeak that we are either focused on trivial matters or fearing what other liberties we might lose if we speak. The silence of believers in the public forum is, in large part, why religious liberty stands on the precipice, not only in Iraq, but also here. If we are unwilling to speak out and speak up, we should not be surprised if the events in Mosul will soon become the events in Mobile, Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Auburn or Opp.

Be Certain (1–4)

Belshazzar knows how to throw a party. One thousand of his closest friends are invited to this gala event, in which the king has trophy utensils brought out for display. The gold and silver vessels are not his bounty from war but actually vestiges of Nebuchadnezzar’s raid on the temple in Jerusalem. In his drunken stupor, the king raises his glass to toast the gods of gold and silver.

Ever the entertainer, he also pays homage to the gods of bronze, iron, wood and stone. He worships power and prestige; he worships fame and fortune. Without doubt, the king is an idolater.

Be Warned (5–6)

What happens next terrifies this worshipper of false gods. He has a vision but much more than that. A hand appears, which writes strange words on the king’s wall. So terrified is Belshazzar that his hips quiver and his knees knock together. This arrogant, inebriated ruler sees something neither he nor anyone else has never seen before.

This section of Daniel is written in Aramaic; the Greek version, however, introduces readers to a familiar term: magi. The wise men, like Daniel and his compatriots, are trained in Babylonian wisdom literature. These are the men who are called to interpret the handwriting on the wall. The king is desperate to have the writing interpreted, so he promises fame and fortune to the man who can interpret this message.

Be Humble (16–17)

Daniel has no ambitions for another royal appointment, not even a position as co-regent over the vast empire of Medo-Persia. Belshazzar’s queen first suggests this Judean exile can do what the king’s trusted advisers cannot. In her words, he “has the spirit of the holy gods in him” (5:11).

When brought before Belshazzar, the king offers Daniel a royal robe and a gold chain as well as a promotion. Daniel is not interested and tells the king as much. The Most High God (see Gen. 14:18–22) rules over the kingdom of men, and Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way (5:18–21). After this brief history lesson, Daniel confronts the king for his lack of humility. This wise Hebrew man demonstrates humility while chastising the king for his arrogance.

Be Honest (23c–28)

“Your life is in God’s hands.” Daniel’s explanation to Belshazzar is honest and direct. “You have been weighed, you have been measured and you have been found wanting.” These are more than a punch line in a movie (“A Knight’s Tale”), the place where our younger readers may have first heard these words. They are God’s judgment decree against an arrogant government and a prideful ruler.

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