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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Daniel 5

Verses 1-31

Daniel 5 : i

Pomp, in our apprehension, was an idea of two categories; the pompous might be spurious, but it might also be genuine. It is well to love the simple we love it; nor is there any opposition at all between that and the very glory of pomp. But, as we once put the case to Lamb, if, as a musician, as the leader of a mighty orchestra, you had this theme offered to you 'Belshazzar the king gave a great feast to a thousand of his lords' ... surely no man would deny that, in such a case, simplicity, though in a passive sense not lawfully absent, must stand aside as totally insufficient for the positive part. Simplicity might guide, even here, but could not furnish the power; a rudder it might be, but not an oar or a sail.

De Quincey on Charles Lamb.

See Byron's Hebrew Melodies, 'The Vision of Belshazzar'.

Daniel 5:1-17

From the words of Daniel it appears that Belshazzar had made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. The golden and silver vessels are gorgeously enumerated, with the princes, the king's concubines, and his wives. Then follows '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. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosened, and his knees smote one against another.' This is the plain text. By no hint can it be otherwise inferred, but that the appearance was solely confined to the fancy of Belshazzar, that his single brain was troubled. Not a word is spoken of its being seen by any one else there present, not even by the queen herself, who merely undertakes for the interpretation of the phenomena as related to her, doubtless by her husband. The lords are simply said to be astonished, i.e. at the trouble and change of countenance in their sovereign. Even the Prophet does not appear to have seen the scroll which the king saw. He recalls it only. He speaks of the phantom as past.

From Charles Lamb's essay on The Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the Productions of Modern Art.

Daniel 5:2

If men love the pleasure of eating, if they allow themselves to love this pleasure, if they find it good, there is no limit to the augmentation of the pleasure, no limit beyond which it may not grow. The satisfaction of a need has limits, but pleasure has none.... And, strange to say, men who daily overeat themselves at such dinners in comparison with which the feast of Belshazzar, that evoked the prophetic warning, was as nothing are naïvely persuaded that they may yet be leading a moral life.

Tolstoy.

Belshazzar's Feast

Daniel 5:5-6

I. The Awakening of a Guilty Conscience.

a. When least expected.

b. When least desired.

II. The Manner of its Awakening. By the finger of God.

c. Without commotion.

d. Without warning.

III. The Effect of the Awakening. Physical and mental distress.

IV. The Doom which it Foreshadowed.

In that night was Belshazzar slain.

F. J. Austin, Seeds and Saplings, p. 36.

References. V. 6. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 270. V. 16. H. Bushnell, Sermons on Living Subjects, p. 166. V. 17. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, 1891. V. 17-31. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Daniel, p. 62.

Daniel 5:22

The late Mr. F. W. H. Myers, speaking of his early passion for the classics, confesses that they 'were but intensifications of my own being. They drew from me and fostered evil as well as good; they might aid imaginative impulse and detachment from sordid interests, but they had no check for pride.'

The Glory of God

Daniel 5:23

I. Man exists for the glory of God. This is a theological assertion which no professing Christian would challenge, though few have an adequate apprehension of its truth. In what sense, then, is the glory of God the end and object of man's existence? Whatever else man can do or cannot do, it is altogether beyond his power to diminish or add to the eternal glory of the Deity. The character of God is and must be beyond our reach. And yet nothing is more plain in God's Word than that, in some way or another, we are sent into the world that we may glorify Him. How can we do this, if He is so far beyond our reach? We cannot increase God's absolute glory; but it is possible for us to pass that glory on into regions where it has not yet been realized. Thus it is the duty and blessed privilege of man to glorify God

1. By witnessing to the power of His grace to sustain, defend, and exalt the soul that by faith commits itself to Him, Who is thus seen perfecting His strength in human weakness.

2. By the voluntary acceptance of the Divine Will as the law of human conduct. Revelation has made known to us that the authority of God has been challenged by the fallen intelligences of evil To such a challenge the child of God responds by accepting the Will of God as the law of his life, and is himself a standing testimony to the perfection of that Will.

3. By so submitting himself here to the Divine Will that he may hereafter triumphantly bear witness, for all eternity, to the perfection of that Divine Will.

4. By the voluntary acceptance of the Divine Will; thus bearing an indirect but eloquent testimony to the perfections of the Divine character, and giving a triumphant answer to Satan the slanderer of God to man.

II. We shall, perhaps, best understand the full force of the accusation against Belshazzar, and against many now, by considering, How it is possible for us to dishonour God, or to rob God of His glory.

1. We cannot dishonour God more than by ignoring Him altogether. The worst form of insult is, to cut a man dead, as you pass him. How many there are who are dishonouring God by ignoring Him! Ask yourselves how far would your life have been different if you had been brought up to believe that there was no God? Would you have been a very different person from what you are? You have lived many years in the world: how many of those years have you consciously spent for God's glory? how many days? how many hours in a single day? Have you ever definitely regarded God's glory as the thing for which you live? How far have your work and conduct been influenced by the fear and love of God and the desire to advance His glory?

2. We dishonour God when we repudiate the means of salvation which He, at an infinite cost, has provided for us. We are then acting as though we could dispense with His assistance It is quite possible for us to dishonour God, and to decline to glorify Him, even when we are recognizing Him. We may admit the truth and beauty of those words which describe the object and scope of our Saviour's mission: 'The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost'. But, before we can understand that infinite Love, we must apprehend that sin has placed us in that position described by the terrible word 'lost'. And here our respectability cries out and protests: 'My life has been a moral and religious one, and I really do not require this provision of Divine Love'; 'My life, though not perfect, has been such a good sort of life that God cannot have much against me; and I am content to take my chance'. Thus you are practically calling the Cross of Calvary a superfluous display of Divine love, and despising the mercy of God by turning your back on His 'unspeakable gift'.

3. We dishonour God when we appropriate to some other use that which He has designed for Himself.

III. Remember God will not be baffled. He holds your breath; all your ways belong to Him; your 'times are in His hand'; you are surrounded by God's claim, and you cannot get away from it. The everlasting God will have His meed of glory out of every man. He desires it in the voluntary offering of the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, to Him; to have it in the joyful, holy dedication of our whole nature to Him, to Whom it belongs. But, if He may not have it so, He will have it otherwise.

Daniel 5:25

In describing the squalor of Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth, Wilkie Collins observes that 'in this district, as in other districts remote from the wealthy quarters of the metropolis, the hideous London vagabond with the filth of the street outmatched in his talk, with the mud of the street out-dirtied in his clothes lounges, lowering and brutal, at the street corner and the gin-shop door; the public disgrace of his country, the unheeded warning of social troubles that are yet to come. Here the loud assertion of modern progress which has reformed so much in manners, and altered so little in man meets the flat contradiction that scatters its pretensions to the winds. Here, while the national prosperity feasts, like another Belshazzar, on the spectacle of its own magnificence, is the writing on the wall, which warns the monarch, Money, that his glory is weighed in the balance, and his power found wanting.'

From No Name, scene iii. i.

Describing the later days of Raleigh's career at Court, Kingsley sums up the tale of his fopperies with the words: 'But enough of these toys, while God's handwriting is on the wall above all heads. Raleigh knows the handwriting is there.... Tragic enough are the after-scenes of Raleigh's life; but most tragic of all are these scenes of vainglory, in which he sees the better part, and yet chooses the worse, and pours out his self-discontent in song which proves the fountain of delicacy and beauty which lies pure and bright beneath the gaudy, artificial crust What might not this man have been! And he knows that too.... Anything to forget the handwriting on the wall, which will not be forgotten.'

Daniel 5:27

In the Spectator (No. 493) Addison describes a dream of a pair of golden scales which showed the exact value of everything that is in esteem among men. Among the experiments which he made with this balance was the following: 'Having an opportunity of this nature in my Hands, I could not forbear throwing into one scale the principles of a Tory, and into the other those of a Whig; but as I have all along declared this to be a Neutral paper, I shall likewise desire to be silent under this Head, also, though upon examining one of the weights, I saw the word Tekel engraved on it in Capital Letters.'

In his Bible in Spain Borrow describes his feelings when he boldly opened a shop in Madrid for the sale of Testaments. '"How strangely times alter," said I, the second day subsequent to the opening of my establishment, as I stood on the opposite side of the street, surveying my shop, on the windows of which were painted in large yellow characters, Despacho de la Sociedad Biblica y Estrangera ; "how strangely times alter.... Pope of Rome! Pope of Rome! look to thyself. That shop may be closed; but oh! what a sign of the times, that it has been permitted to exist for one day. It appears to me, my Father, that the days of your sway are numbered in Spain; that you will not be permitted much longer to plunder her, to scoff at her, and to scourge her with scorpions, as in bygone periods. See I not the hand on the wall? See I not in yonder letters a Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin ? Look to thyself Batushca."'

References. V. 27. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Bible Object Lessons, p. 20. H. S. Lunn, Christian World Pulpit, 3 Sept 1890. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. ii. p. 63. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 257.

Daniel 5:30-31

Kings and Emperors have long ago arranged for themselves a system like that of a magazine-rifle: as soon as one bullet has been discharged, another takes its place. Le roi est mort, vive le roi! So what is the use of killing them?

Tolstoy.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Daniel 5". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/daniel-5.html. 1910.