Click here to join the effort!
In regard to this chapter the peculiar state of the Septuagint text has to be noted. At the beginning of the chapter there are three verses which seem to be either variant versions of the Septuagint text, or versions of a text which was different from that from which the Septuagint has been drawn. Throughout the chapter, further, there are traces of doublets. Most of these variations occur in the Syriac of Paulus Tellensis.
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. As we have just indicated, there are two versions in the Septuagint of several verses in this chapter, and the verse before us is one of these. The first of these is "Baltasar the king made a great feast on the day of the dedication of his palace, and invited from his lords two thousand men." The other reading, which appears to have formed the text, is, "Baltasar the king made a great feast for his companions." The first version seems to have read the dual instead of the singular—a proof of the state of the language, for the dual has practically disappeared in the Targums. The second version has evidently read הברין instead of רברבין. Theodotion reads, "Baltasar the king made a great feast to thousands of his lords, and drank wine before the thousands." The Peshitta agrees with the Massoretic text. The numeral is thus omitted in the text of the Septuagint,inserted in the dual in the margin, and appears in Theodotion in the plural. As the shortest text is also the oldest, and omits the numeral, we feel inclined to do so also, the more so as the numeral may have resulted from אַלֻּף (aluph) being put as the interpretation of רברב (rabrab). The clause in the marginal version, "on the day of the dedication of his palace," or, as it is rendered by Paulus Telleusis, "in the day of the dedication of the house of his kingdom," is worthy of notice. From the fact that early in his reign every Ninevite king seems to have begun a palace, this statement has a great deal of verisimilitude. The clause in the Massoretic text, "and drank wine before the thousand," is meaningless, unless as a rhetorical amplification. From the fact that only the first clause appears in the text of the Septuagint, the authenticity of the rest of the verse is rendered doubtful; the more so that קובלא (see Eastern Aramaic word) means "a feast" in Eastern Aramaic, though not in Western. It is a possible solution of the presence of the clause that קבל, excluded from the text and its place supplied by לחם, was placed in the margin. לקבל, however, means "before." If there was also in the margin אלפא, "thousands," in the emphatic state; as the translation into Hebrew of רברב (Genesis 36:17, Genesis 36:15 Onkelos). If, further, חברין, "companion," appeared as a various reading for רברבין, that would easily be read חמר, "wine;" the verb "to drink" would be added to complete the sense. We have thus all the elements to produce the different versions of the story of the feast. The fact that in what we regard as the marginal reading the clause appears quite differently rendered, confirms us in our suspicion that the Massoretic text presents a case of a "doublet." The reading which begins the chapter in the LXX. may be due to regarding קבל as the verb "to receive." The name Belshazzar has been the occasion of much controversy. It was regarded as one of the proofs of the non-historicity of Daniel that this name occurred at all (as Bertholdt). We were told that the last King of Babylon was Nabunahid, not Belshazzar. The name, however, has turned up in the Mugheir inscription as the son of Nabunahid, and not only so, but in a connection that implies he was associated in the government. From the annals of Nabunahid we find that from his seventh to his eleventh year, if not from an earlier to a later date, Nabunahid was in retirement in Tema, and "came not to Babil," and the king's son was with the nobles (rabuti) snd the army. Even when the king's mother died, the mourning was carried on by the king's sou, Belshazzar. Dr. Hugo Winckler says Nabunahid remained intentionally far from the capital, and abode continually in Tema, a city otherwise unknown. Not once at the new year's feast, where his personal presence was indispensable, did he come to Babylon. What occasioned it, we know not; but it appears as if he had devoted himself to some kind of solitary life, and would not disturb himself with the business of government. Not once while Cyrus was marching against Babylon did he rouse himself, but allowed things to take their course. The government appears to have been carried on by his son, Bel-shar-utzur, for while Nabunahid lived in Tema in retirement, it is mentioned that his son, with the dignitaries, managed affairs in Babylon, and commanded the army. Also in several inscriptions in the concluding prayer, he is named along with his father, while it is usually the name of the king that is there mentioned. Belshazzar is, then, no mere luxurious despot, like the Nabeandel of Josephus, no incapable youth flushed with the unexpected dignity of government in the city of Babylon, while his father was shut up in Borsippa; he is a bold capable warrior. Tyrannical and imperious he may be, yet faithful to his father, as had Nebuchadnezzar been to Nabopolassar his father. We need not even look at the identifications of Belshazzar with Evil-Merodach, with Labasi-marduk, or with Nabunahid. The name Bel-shar-utzur means "Bel protects the king," and is rendered in the Greek versions "Baltasar," and in the Vulgate "Baltassar," and identical with the name given to Daniel, as we have remarked elsewhere. In the Peshitta the name here is rendered "Belit-shazar," while Daniel's Babylonian name is "Beletshazzar." We do not know when this feast took place. If we take the Septuagint text here as our guide, it did not take place at the capture of the city by Cyrus. If for five, six, or seven years he was practically king, Belshazzar may have built a palace, and the feast may have been held at its dedication. We knew that the Babylonians were notorious for their banquets—banquets that not infrcquently ended in drunkenness. Although the number of the guests is doubtful from diplomatic reasons, the number itself is not excessive. We read of Alexander the Great having ten thousand guests.
Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded 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. The Septuagint has included the last clause of the Massoretic recension of the first verse, "And he drank wine, and his heart was lifted up, and he commanded to bring the vessels of gold and of silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar his father had brought from Jerusalem, and to pour out wine in them for those companions of his (ἐν αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἑταίροις)." The translator seems to have regarded the first syllable of the name Belshazzar as a separate word, and has translated it according to the meaning the word has in Eastern Aramaic, "heart" (Exodus 12:23, Peshitta). After this initial mistake—if mistake it was—the remaining change was easy. The syntax here, according to the Massoretic text, is different from what we should expect. אמר (‛amar), "to say," is translated "command" in eight cases in this book, and in every other case it is followed immediately by the infinitive' of the action commanded. Hence we are inclined, with the LXX; to omit "whiles he tasted the wine." While the LXX. Aramaic seems to have בהין, "in them," it has not had "king," "wives," or "concubines." As the Septuagint is the shorter, on the whole, we prefer it, though we maintain the Massoretic reading of "in them," referring to the vessels. Theodotion and the Peshitta follow the Massoretic reading. Whether or not the libation offered to the gods was in the mind of the writer, the mere fact that the sacred vessels were used for the purposes of a common feast was desecration. The addition of the "wives" and "concubines" adds at once to the degradation in the eyes of an Eastern, and to the stately rhetorical cadence of the verse. This renders all the stronger the suspicion engendered by the omission of these features in the Septuagint. It is to be observed that the Septuagint translator must have had an Eastern Aramaic manuscript before him, or he could never have translated bal "heart." At the same time, the presence of women at Babylonian feasts was not so uncommon as it was in the rest of the East, as we learn from the Ninevite remains. Certainly Quintus Curtius mentions this in connection with Alexander's visit to Babylon (Daniel 5:1). But was an obscure Jew likely to know this in Palestine? It is very difficult for a person writing in a different age to keep strictly to verisimilitude in these matters. Even a contemporary may make a blunder in writing, not a novel, but a biography, as Froude, in his 'Life of Carlyle,' declares he was "quietly married in the parish church of Temple." To be quietly married in a parish church in any part of Scotland, in the early years of this century, would be a contradiction in terms. Yet Froude had often been in Scotland, and knew Carlyle well. Could a Jew living in Palestine have all his wits about him so as to note every varying feature which distinguished the habits of Babylon from those of the rest of the East? The question may be asked why were the vessels of the Lord in Jerusalem singled out to be desecrated by a common use? It might, of course, be that the sacred vessels of the temples of the gods of all conquered nationalities were brought in, and thus that the singling out of the Jewish sacred vessels was due, not to the preference of the Babylonian monarch, but to the Jew, who saw only those. We think this can scarcely be. It was certainly the policy of Nabunahid to draw all worship to Babylon (Annals of Nabunahid, Colossians 3:0. line 20, "The gods of Akkad, which Nabunabid had brought to Babylon, were carried back to their city"). But this would lead him to avoid anything that would savour of disrespect to these gods whom he had brought to dwell in Babylon. We do not think it would have been merely the beauty of those vessels that led to their desecration, for the temple at Jerusalem had suffered several plunderings before the capture of the city, and the period between the age of Hezekiah and Zedekiah was not one in which wealth and artistic talent were likely to increase. Some suspicion must have reached the court of Babylon that the Jews were in league with Cyrus; perhaps the contents of the second Isaiah had reached the knowledge of the Babylonian police. If so, the act of Belshazzar was an act of defiance against Jehovah of Israel.
Daniel 5:3, Daniel 5:4
Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. The corresponding verses in the Septuagint differ in several points from those above; the Septuagint third verse contains, condensed, the Massoretic third and fourth verses, but adds new matter in its fourth verse: "(3) And they were brought, and they drank in them, and blessed their idols made with hands; (4) and the God the eternal, who hath dominion over their spirit ('breath,' πνεῦμα), they did not bless." In the introductory portion, which contains, as we think, marginal readings, we have the second and fourth verses brought into connection, "In that day Baltasar, being uplifted with wine, and boasting himself, praised in his drink all the gods of the nations, the molten and the carved, but to God the Highest he gave not praise." The reading of the latter portion of this seems better than the text, as it is briefer; the description of God as he that has power "over their breath," is a preparation for what we find in Daniel 5:23, "and thy breath is in his hand." Theodotion is, as usual, much nearer the Massoretic text, but while the Massoretic only mentions the "golden" vessels being brought, Theodotion mentions the silver also, and the verb hanpiqoo is translated singular, as if it were hanpayq, and "Nebuchadnezzar" understood. A various reading adds, "and the God of eternity, who hath power of their breath, did they not bless," according to the Alexandrine and Vatican codices. In both these cases Jerome follows Theodotion. The Peshitta agrees only in the latter, putting the verb in the singular. Modern translators, as Luther and Ewald, the Authorized and Revised English Versions, retain the plural, but make the verb passive, as if it were written honpaqoo. Calvin alone preserves both number and voice. The French Version, which makes it impersonal, is probably as good as any. It is, however, not impossible that the true reading is huphal; that seems better than Calvin's suggestion, that what Nebuchadnezzar had done is now transferred to all the Babylonians. The praises of the gods being sung was especially natural, if this were a dedication of a palace. In such a case the various elemental deities would be invoked to bless the residence of the king.
The fact that the vessels belonging to the temple of the God of the Jews were brought forward from the treasury of Bel would afford an occasion for praising Bel, the god who had given them the victory. While they praised these god, of the nations, they did not even mention Jehovah—an addition in the text of Theodotion and the LXX; both text and margin, and therefore one that, we think, ought, in some form, to lie in the text. It is singular that in the Cyrus Cylinder, 17, the overthrow of Nabunahid is attributed to Marduk, "whom Nabunahid did not fear." The reason of Belshazzar thus ostentatiously praising the gods might be to get over the reputation of unfaithfulness to the gods, which was weakening them, father and son, in their struggle with Cyrus. Belshazzar most likely was, at this very time, carrying on war against Cyrus. The object of this festive gathering of his nobles might be to hearten them in their struggle against the King of Persia.
In the same hour oame 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. The two versions given in the Septuagint here do not seriously differ from each other or from the Massoretic text, only that they both omit "the part of," and represent the king as seeing the hand. Theodotion has ἀστραγάλους, which maybe rendered "finger-joints;" otherwise this version is very like both the Massoretic and the LXX. The Peshitta presents no point of remark. The word translated "lamp" (nebhrashta) became in Talmudic times the equivalent of menoorah, "the golden candlestick." From this it has been supposed that "the candlestick" was the golden candlestick which later proved the crowining glory of Titus's triumph, and is still to be seen carved on his arch. When the other vessels of the house of the Lord were brought to deck the table of the monarch, it would not be unnatural that the golden candlestick should also be brought. In the great hall in which a thousand guests were accommodated, more lamps than one would be required. The Septuagint (text) adds, "over against the king:" this would individualize the lamp referred to; but there does not seem to be any support for this reading, which may be due to the desire to explain the satatus emphaticus. Gesenius derives the word נֶבְרַשְׁתָּא from נור, "light," and אש, "flame." As וas a consonant was unused in Assyrian, this derivation is by no means impossible We know that the Ninevite monarchs surrounded the great halls of their palaces with bas-reliefs of their victories. The remains of Babylon have not given us anything like the gypsum slabs of Kouyounjik. Yet the Babylonian monarchs not unlikely followed the same praetices as those of Nineveh. The walls were built and plastered, and then the slabs were moved up to them. In the ease of Belshazzar, the palace walls might well be fresh; no gypsum slabs had yet recorded his prowess. As he looks to the white plaster, the fingers of a hand come out of the darkness, and write opposite him. "The king," thus it is in the Massoretic text, saw the "part" of the hand that wrote. Pas is the word. Furst renders it "wrist;" Gesenius, "the extremity;" Winer, vola manus," the hollow of the baud;" with this Buxtorf agrees. The balance of meanings seems to be in favour of "hollow of the hand," only it is difficult to understand the position of the hand relatively to the king when he saw the hollow of the hand. The smoke from the numerous lamps would obscure the roof of the hall of the palace; however numerous the lamps, their light would be unable to pierce the darkness, so out of the darkness came the hand.
Then 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. The Septuagint differs in a somewhat important degree from the Massoretic text, "And his countenance was changed, and fears and thoughts troubled him." In this clause not improbably φόβοι and ὑπόνοιαι are double renderings of רעין. "And the king hasted and rose up, and looked at that writing, and his companions round about him (κύκλῳ αὐτοῦ) boasted." It is clear that the text from which the Septuagint had repeated the verb בֶהַל (bebal), which means originally "to hasten," and had the word "king "after it, if the Septuagint Aramaic were the original, we can easily understand how the word repeated might be omitted by homoioteleuton. While קם could easily be read קט after the square character had got place, קם could not in the script of the Egyptian Aramaic papyri be easily read קם. consequently we are inclined to look on the reading of the Septuagint here as being the primitive one. The king, according to this verse, saw the handwriting, but not till he rose did he see what was written. This representation of the succession of events is natural, whereas the statements about his loins being loosed is mere amplification. The last clause storms to be a misreading of the clause which appears in the Massoretic at the end (which see). The first word seems to have been misread heberren, and thus a meaning is violently given to the other parts of the clause. The probability is in favour of the Massoretic reading here, Theodotion and the Peshitta agree with the Massoretic text. The omen of a hand appearing to write on the wall of the palace was one that might easily cause the thoughts of the king to trouble him. Much more was the omen of importance when the king saw that the hand which had appeared to write had actually left certain words written. It was but natural that the brightness of the king's countenance should depart from him when he saw the hand. thus awfully coming out of the darkness, and writing, and that his knees should smite one upon another when what was written gleamed upon him from the wall before him. He might well be sure that the message so communicated would be laden with fate. Fear is naturally the first emotion occasioned by any mysterious occurrence; and then Babylon was, in all likelihood, being pressed by the advance of Cyrus. If he had any suspicion of the treachery that had sapped the power of his father, his apprehensions would be all the greater.
The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. The Septuagint here also differs from the Massoretic text, "And the king cried out with a great cry to call in the enchanters (ἐπαοιδοὐς) and sorcerers (φαρμακοὺς), and Chaldeans, and soothsayers, to announce to him the interpretation of the writing, and they came in for inspection (ἐπὶ θεωρίαν), to see the writing,£ And they were not able to make known to the king the interpretation of the writing. Then the king made commandment, saying, Any man who shall show the interpretation of the writing, he shall put on him a purple robe, and shall put round his neck a golden chain, and authority shall be given him over a third part of the kingdom." Theodotion is an exact rendering of the Massoretic text in the sense represented by the English versions, save that it wholly omits the conjunctions between the various classes of wise men, so that Χαλδαίους might be an adjective qualifying either μάγους or γαξαρηνούς, and the article is also omitted, which is represented in the Massoretic text by the status emphaticus. The Peshitta has four classes of wise men called in; as the Septuagint has, otherwise it agrees with the Massoretic text. It is a matter of some interest to observe that the position of the Chaldeans is somewhat precarious here, as in the second chapter. They disappear wholly from the list in the next verse, which really seems to be another version of this. It is a marginal gloss that has crept into the text. If we accept the reading of the Septuagint here, so far at least as .to assume the entrance of the wise men before the king's declaration of the reward, the succession of events becomes more natural. The king calls for the presence of these interpreters of omens, and then, when they fail to interpret the writing to him, he proclaims his offer of a reward to whoever can do so. It is to be noted that there is in the Septuagint no question of ability to read the writing, but simply to interpret it. It has been pointed out to me by a friend that if these words were written in cuneiform, the signs that would represent them might have a great variety of possible sounds, and with these differing sounds, differing meanings. Sometimes a sign was phonetic and a syllable, sometimes it was idiographic and might represent a whole word. There is this to be said for this view—the Assyrian was the writing expected in inscriptions. Still, from the fact that the Septuagint omits the demand that the inscription should be read, we may regard the matter as doubtful. Assuming that the wise men were required to read the inscription, some of the Jewish interpreters, as Jephet-ibn-Ali, think that the letters of the word were inverted; others have it that the letters were arranged in columns. Even, however, if the words were written correctly enough as Aramaic words, it would be a difficult matter to put any meaning in them as they stood, as we shall see when we consider Daniel's interpretation. The reward promised is of special interest. The word argvana, translated "scarlet," appears in Assyrian as argmamm; hamneeka, the word rendered "necklace," is of doubtful origin. We find in the Ninevite sculptures and on the cylinders from Babylon many instances of splendid robes; the rich necklace is also to be seen. The great difficulty has arisen over the rank given to Daniel, "the third ruler in the kingdom." The difficulty is that the ordinal here is not in its usual form, although Petermann gives taltu as one of the forms of the ordinal. There is, further, the unusual position of the numeral in relation to the verb, though the abnormality is less than Professor Bevan represents it, as the Peshitta follows word for word the arrangement of the Massoretic text.£ The truth seems to be that the word really was toolta, as in the Syriac, and the difficulty has risen in not recognizing the transference from one dialect of Aramaic to another. It is used in the Peshitta (2 Corinthians 10:2) of the third heaven. Professor Bevan's interpretation, that it means "every third day,') may be dismissed as absurd. Ewald (in loc.) regards the title as one of a board of three—not an in,possible meaning, in the light of what we find in the following chapter. Yet his reasoning, that it cannot be third in rank, because the queen-mother could not be counted in, is inept now, when we learn that Belshazzar was colleague with his father, and so the third place was all he had to give. On this question Behrmann takes the view discarded as impossible by Ewald, and holds that Daniel was placed third because of the queen-mother. It is one of the commonplaces of the criticism of this book that the history ascribed to Daniel is borrowed from the history of Joseph: why was the position offered not made "second," as was that of Joseph? We have the reason in what we know of the history of Babylon at the time. The Septuagint and Josephus were unaware of the facts, and translated as they did.
Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. As we have already said, the Septuagint here repeats the list of wise men. and omits "the Chaldeans." If the word "Chaldean" had been in the text originally, the fact that astrologers were frequently called Chaldeans would render it unlikely that the word should be omitted. Whereas from this very ground it was a word specially apt to be added on the margin, and once on the margin it would easily drop into the text. Even in the case of the Massoretic text, there seems to be a repetition here. It is certainly more obvious in the Septuagint text. The verse according to the Septuagint is, "And there entered in the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the astrologers, and were not able to announce the interpretation of the writing." Theodotion agrees here with the received text; the Peshitta omits "all." The only way in which we can escape the idea of this being a repetition is by holding that the word "all" is emphatic. The omission of the word "all" from the Peshitta is against this. It is to be observed that in the Septuagint there is no reference to "reading the writing;" it is only to announce the interpretation.
Then was King Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied. This verse presents signs also of being a repetition. The last clause appears to be the original form of the mysterious clause at the end of the sixth verse according to the Septuagint; the word mishtabsheen, which occurs here, seems to have been read mishtabhareen, from שַׁבְהַר (shab'har), "to be glorious," in the ittaphel; this becomes "to boast one's self," as in the Targum of Proverbs 25:14, also the Peshitta of the same passage; also 2 Corinthians 12:1. And this is the word used by Paulus Tellensis to translate καυχῶνται. The Septuagint has a verse here that has no equivalent in the Massoretic text, "Then the king called the queen about the sign, and showed her how great it was, and that no one had been able to declare to the king the interpretation of the writing." This verse avoids the repetition we find in the Massoretic text, and explains the presence of the queen in a much more plausible way than the received text does. In the Massoretic text it is the noise and tumult that pierces the women's apartments, and brings out the queen-mother; though not impossible, this is unlikely. The action of the king, as given in the Septuagint, is very probable. The wise men are baffled by this mysteriously appearing inscription. What is to be done? Belshazzar calls his mother, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, as she at least possibly was, to see if she knows anything in the past that might be a guide in such a matter. He not only shows her the sign, the inscription, but shows how great it was, by telling of the hand that had come out of the darkness, and had written it. Theodotion and the Peshitta agree with the Massoretic text. While the repetition is obvious, it is also true that the failure of all the wise men in Babylon to read the writing, as the Massoretic text has it, would increase the trouble of the king, and this trouble would naturally spread to the courtiers.
Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet-house: and the queen spake and said, O king, 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 in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the King Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation. No one can fail to feel the presence of rhetoric here, especially in the last verse, which, we may remark, has no equivalent in the Septuagint. We see the rhetorical character of these verses more clearly when we consider the ineptitude of the special powers ascribed to Daniel to meet the present difficulty. Interpretation of dreams was a common attribute ascribed to wisdom in the East of old, as it is yet. But this was not a dream, and therefore the qualification was not to the purpose; still less to the purpose are the attributes that follow. Showing of hard sentences. Giving riddles that nobody could read was an evidence of wisdom all over the East (see Josephus, 8.5. 3; besides Talmudic stories of Solomon). This, however, is not a case of competition in riddles; above all, there is no opportunity of one giving riddles in return. "Dissolving of doubts" is the solving of these riddles. These qualities, which the queen-mother, according to the Massoretic text, ascribes to Daniel, might make him delightful as a boon companion, but were not at all to the purpose in the matter troubling the king. The version of the Septuagint is much briefer, and, it seems to us, much more satisfactory, "Then the queen reminded him concerning Daniel, who was of the captivity of Judaea, and said to the king, The man was understanding, wise, and excelling all the wise men of Babylon, and there is a holy spirit in him, and in the days of the king thy father, he showed difficult (ὑπέρογκα) interpretations to Nebuchadnezzar thy father." This has every sign of having been translated; thus the phrase, Ἐμνήσθη πρὸς αὐτὸν περὶ τοῦ Δανιήλ, which we have rendered, "reminded him concerning Daniel." This use of πρὸς after μιμνήσκω is unknown in classic Greek. In Homer's 'Odyssey' it is accusative of person; in Plato, 'Laches,' 200 D, it is dative of person; in 'Legg.,' 3:688, it is accusative of person. It is, however, exactly parallel with Genesis 40:14, Μνησθήσῃ περὶ ἐμοῦ πρὸς Φαραὼ. Πρὸς represents אֶל in the Hebrew; in the Targum of Onkelos and in the Peshitta this is translated by קְדָם; in Paulus Tellensis it is rendered by .ל Moreover, according to the Massoretic text, Belshazzar asks Daniel if he is" that Daniel which art of the captivity of the children of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?" The queen-mother had said nothing, according to the verses before us as given in the Massoretic recension, of Daniel being a Jew. According to the Septuagint, the queen-mother tells him whence Daniel is. Theodotion agrees with the Massoretic text, save that it inserts "watchfulness" instead of "light," and omits the repetition of "thy father." The Peshitta is also substantially at one with our received text. One of the great difficulties which commentators have found in this part of the incident is how Belshazzar could be ignorant of Daniel. Various means have been adopted to get over the difficulty. One is that Daniel was away from Babylon up to this time (Jephet-ibn-Ali). Archdeacon Rose is certain he must have known about him. The explanation of this is as recumbent on the opponents of the authenticity of Daniel as on its defenders, for they—the latter—declare it the work of one author, and it has had powerful effect on people: it must be artistically written if it is not a record of facts. No artist in fictitious narrative would present to his readers so obvious a difficulty. We learn now what was the probable reason of Belshazzar's ignorance of Daniel. Nabu-nahid, a usurper, was at variance with the whole clergy, as we may call them, of Babylon, and most likely Daniel acted with the others, and possibly, as far back as the revolution in which Evil-Merodach perished, had been away from the court. It is the height of unfairness of any one to press the name here given to Nebuchadnezzar, "my father." That title was very loosely used among the Babylonians and Assyrians. Jehu is called "the son of Omri," although he had swept the race of Omri off the face of the earth. So Dr. hugo Winckler, in his ' Untersuchungen zur Attorientalischen Geschichte,' p. 53, note, says, "This word 'son' after the name of a Chaldean prince, is only to be taken in the sense of belonging to the same dynasty." Had the phrase used been that "Nebuchadnezzar slept with his fathers, and Belshazzar his son reigned in his stead," something might have been said for the view maintained by all critics, that the author thought Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar. How can the critics assert this, and yet, as does Professor Bevan, maintain this author intimate even with the minutest portions of Jeremiah, Kings, and Chronicles? If so, how is it that he did not know that both Kings and Jeremiah asserted Nebuchadnezzar to have been succeeded by Evil-Merodach? This information occupies too prominent a place in both books for him to have been ignorant of it. We can only understand his action in thus putting down Belshazzar as the son of Nebuchadnezzar by assuming his acceptance of usage. The critics cannot explain it. Those who maintain the traditional view may do so by saying that Daniel, writing at the time, knowing the real state of matters, the claim of Belshazzar to be descended from Nebuchadnezzar, the fact that Evil-Merodach had been killed, simply relates facts. Had he been inventing history, and acquainted with the holy books, and all the information they conveyed to everybody, he would of necessity have spent some pains in explaining how his history came to differ so much from what one could draw from the Books of Kings and Jeremiah. The two accounts of Saul's meeting with David are not comparable with this, as we find the reason of the contradiction in the coalescence of two different accounts.
Then was Daniel 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? I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing; and I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts; 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. There is a great deal of rhetoric in this, and the attempt to restore the stately etiquette of the Babylonian court. The king is represented as repeating very much what his mother had told him. It is to be observed that, although the queen-mother—as the Massoretic text records her words—has not spoken a word of Daniel's origin, and implies that Belshazzar knew noticing of him, yet when he comes, Belshazzar addresses him as knowing who and whence he is. The suspicion that is engendered by the mere reading of the text as we have it is confirmed by a study of the Septuagint text, where these four verses shrink into very modest dimensions, "Then Daniel was brought to the king, and the king answered and said, O Daniel, art thou able to show me the interpretation of the writing? and I will clothe thee with purple, and put a gold chain about thy neck, and thou shalt have authority over a third part of my kingdom." The brevity of this, the utter want of rhetoric, not to speak of its dramatic verisimilitude to the speech of a man beside himself with terror, make it the more probable text. Condensation was rarely the work of a falsarius; he might omit statements that were antagonistic to some preconceived notion, or, if only a leaf or so remained of a parchment otherwise filled up, he might endeavour to utilize the space left him by putting down as much as he could of some work he valued. Then, in such a case, a copyist might really condense. But neither of these causes can explain the omission of the rhetorical passages here. We are compelled, then, to regard the text behind the Septuagint in this place as the true Daniel. Theodotion, while on the whole agreeing with the text of the Massoretes, is briefer in some respects. There is one addition, the insertion of "magicians" between "wise men and "astrologers. This shows the process of the evolution of the Massoretic text. The Peshitta, though but little, if at all, later than Theodotion, is in yet closer agreement with the text of the Massoretes. Yet the Massoretic text shows certain peculiarities. The presence of ,נ in the second personal pronoun, which was disappearing from Targumic, but is regularly found in Daniel, is to be observed. Further, there is אב with the suffix of the first person, which is not Targumic, but is found in the Sindschirli inscription. In the Targums it is אבא, not אבי, as in Genesis 9:1-29:34, Onkelos. Eastern Aramaic retained it, as may be seen in the Peshitta Version of the passage before us, and of that to which we have referred. This is another of the many slight indications which all point to the Eastern origin of the Book or' Daniel. It may be observed that we have not here תַּלְתִּי (tal'ti), but תַּלְתָּא (tal'ta). This is regarded by Behrmann as status empbaticus. The king in his terror makes appeal to one who, perhaps, had been dismissed the court on suspicion of being opposed to the new dynasty. That dynasty had displaced and murdered Evil-Merodach, the son of Daniel's old master, and one who had shown himself specially favourable to the Jews. As the text of the Septuagint gives the narrative, we have the king eager to have his terrors laid, and, to lead this opponent, whom his father, if not also Neriglissatr, had displaced, and put in opposition to his rule, to look favourably on him, he mentions the reward he offers.
Then Daniel 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. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But 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: and he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humblet 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. We have gathered these verses together, as they all relate to one matter and come under one condemnation. Long ago yon Lengerke, and more recently Hitzig, have shown that such an insulting speech as Daniel addressed to Belshazzar would certainly be visited with punishment. The king had no guarantee that the promised interpretation of the writing on the wall would be true, especially when the interpreter had such an animus against him. Then the fact in the twenty-ninth verse, that Daniel received the gifts he had rejected, makes his conduct here all the more extraordinary. A writer of fiction, of even moderate skill, would not make the blunder here made. It could easily be made by a falsarius interpolating a speech he thought suitable to a Jewish prophet in the presence of a heathen king, who had dishonoured the sacred vessels by drinking wine in them himself, and his wives, and his concubines. It is to be noted that the princes are omitted from the enumeration here. In proof that our contention is correct, we find the mass of this entirely omitted from the Septuagint. There are signs of confusion, and coalescence of different readings in the text of the Septuagint, yet we have no hesitation in claiming that it represents a much earlier state of the text than we find in our Hebrew Bibles, "Then Daniel stood before the writing, and read, and thus answered the king: This is the writing: It hath been numbered; it was reckoned; it has been removed." The marginal reading which we find in the beginning of this chapter has, Mane, Phares, Thekel. The interpretation here follows a different succession, "And the hand which wrote stood"—a phrase that seems to be a mistaken rendering of the latter clause of the twenty-fourth verse as we find it in the Massoretic text. It seems difficult to imagine what Aramaic word has been translated ἔστη. Paulus Tel-lensis has (see Aramaic word) (קמת, qemath), which may have been mistaken for sheliach, though it is not easy to see how. The clause is, at all events, misplaced. The following clause also is misplaced, and is a doublet of the first clause of the twenty-sixth verse. The twenty-third verse seems to be the nucleus of the speech ascribed to Daniel, "O king, thou madest a feast to thy friends, and thou drankest wine, and the vessels of the house of the living God were brought, and ye drank in them, thou and thy nobles, and praised all the idols made with the bands of men, and the living God ye did not bless, and thy breath is in his hand, and he gave thee thy kingdom, and thou didst not bless him, neither praise him." The wives and concubines are not mentioned here. There is no word of the madness of Nebuchadnezzar. Although from the disturbed state of the text in the immediate neighbourhood one is inclined to suspect the authenticity of this twenty-third verse, given in the LXX; yet there is nothing that contradicts the position created by the two early decrees of Nebuchadnezzar, which placed Jehovah the God of the Jews on a par with the great gods of Babylon to whom, though no worship was decreed, at all events no dishonour was to be done. Belshazzar is not so much blamed for praising the gods of wood and stone as for omitting to praise Jehovah. Belshazzar had dishonoured Jehovah, and therefore this ominous message had come forth. The first clause here seems the primitive text. What was more natural than that Daniel, coming into the presence of the king, should go and stand before the mysterious writing, and then, having read it himself, turn to the king and address him? The words of the Massoretic and of the text behind the Septuagint differ very considerably, but not so much but that the former may have grown out of the latter by expansion, and the insertion of paraphrastic additions. A peculiarity to be observed in the Massoretic text (verse 17) is לְהֵוְיָן (lehayvyan), the third plural imperfect of היא, "to be." It is difficult to understand this form of the third person, save on the supposition that Daniel was written in a region where לwas the preformative. This preformative along with נwas used in Babylon so late as the period of the Babylonian Talmud. Theodotion and the Peshitta practically agree with the Massoretic text. Even when we omit all the insulting elements, we have Daniel's speech to Belshazzar as we find it in the Massoretic text; no reader can fail to notice the difference of Daniel's demeanour towards Belshazzar as narrated here, from that towards Nebuchadnezzar as narrated in the preceding chapter. When he learns the disaster that impends on the destroyer of his city and the conqueror of his nation, Daniel is astonied and silent, and bursts out from his silence, "The dream be upon thine enemies, and the interpretation thereof upon them that hate thee." He shows no sign of sorrow when he learns the fate impending on Belshazzar. We can understand this, if we regard Daniel's love for the splendid conqueror making him feel the blood of his murdered descendants, Evil-Merodach and Labasi-Marduk called for vengeance. So far as we can make out from external history, Belshazzar was a gallant young prince, who seemed to be able to maintain himself against Cyrus, while his father lived in retirement in Tema; but the judgment of God often falls on those who are not worse than their predecessors, only guilt has accumulated and ripened. Louis XVI. was not worse than, but really greatly superior to, his two immediate predecessors, yet on him, not on them, broke the vengeance of the French Revolution. There probably was, as said above under verse 2, a special defiance of Jehovah, which therefore merited special punishment.
Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. As we have seen, the real equivalent of this verse in the Septuagint is a clause in Daniel 5:17, "And the hand which had written (γράφασα) stood." If we take this to mean that the band now "ceased to write," then the original text might be פְסִאָק יָדִא כְתָבָא, the verb being written fleaum, in Mandaean manner. Then it would easily happen that ק(in the older script, see words) was resolved into ד(in the older script, see words). In support of this, it may be observed that while in the fifth verse the older construction of construct state and status emphalicus is used to exhibit the genitival connection, in the present case the relative די is used as a sign of the genitive. Starting with this, it is easy to see how the Massoretic text arose; but, on the other hand, it is difficult to see the sense of the reading of the Septuagint, unless this fiery hand is to be imagined as tracing and retracing the characters on the wall of the palace, and that the hand only ceased when Daniel stood before the inscription to read. Thec-dotion differs very little from the Massoretic text, and the Peshitta coincides with it. The word for "writing," רְשִׁים (resheem), is really "engraving," and therefore peculiarly descriptive of the Assyrian mode of impressing on clay tablets or incising in stone the thing to be preserved.
And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. The Septuagint has two versions of this passage, one m the text, the other in the portion at the beginning, which we think is really composed of marginal readings. In the text the Aramaic is not given at all. As we have already seen, the verse which corresponds to Daniel 5:25 here is really the latter part of Daniel 5:17 of the Septuagint, "This is the writing: It hath been numbered; it is reckoned; it has been carried away." In the verses which are appended to the beginning of the chapter, we have the Aramaic words, but given in a different order, and without the repetition of the first word: "MANE, PHARES, THEKEL. MANE, It has been numbered; PHARES, It is carried away; THEKEL, It has been set up." Here not only is the order different, but the meaning assigned to phares is singular. פְרַס means in Syriac, "spread out." It would seem that ἐξαίρω meant "stretched out" as well as "carried away." It is still more difficult to understand how thekel can mean "set up," unless the words, ἐν ζυγῷ, "on the balance," are understood. The Septuagint of the best version is briefer than the Massoretic, though less so than it is in some of the other passages, "Numbered is the time of thy kingdom; ceases thy kingdom; cut short and ended has been thy kingdom; to the Modes and the Persians has it been given." The word interpreted is not repeated as in the Massoretic text, and תְקִל is derived from קְלַל, which in some of the conjugations means "destroyed," whereas in Daniel 5:17 it is rendered κατελογίσθη, "it is reckoned," a rendering of תקל which makes it mean "weigh." The Septuagint rendering of the first clause is an evident attempt at explaining the numbering implied. The Massoretic reading involves a pun in both the last words; there is a play between תְקִל (teqel), "to weigh," and קְלַל (qelal), "to be light," although the introduction of שכח rather conceals this. In the last the play is between פרס, "to divide," and פדס, "a Persian." Theodotion avoids the repetition of the first word, otherwise he is in somewhat close agreement with the Massoretic text, "MANE, God hath measured thy kingdom; THEKEL, It is set on the balance, and found wanting; PHARES, Thy kingdom is cut asunder, and given to the Medes and the Persians." The Peshitta is in close agreement with the Massoretic text. The actual meaning of the words, taking them as they appear in the Massoretictext, as Aramaic words, is, to give English equivalents, "a pound, a pound, an ounce, and quarters;" hence the impossibility of interpreting the words. We find all these words, mena, teqel (shekel), pares, in the Ninevite inscriptions. As the words are interpreted, we cannot fail to be impressed with the peremptory style of the inscription, as Hitzig has it. Zöckler refers to the sculpturesque style (lapidarstil). This brevity rendered it difficult for the soothsayers to put any meaning into the words at all. In all the versions the fact that the kingdom is to be given to the Medes and Persians is emphasized, but, moreover, the play on words in the last clause implies the Persians as the prominent assailants of the Babylonian power, but really that the two powers were united. It seems extraordinary that any one, in the face of this, should maintain that the author of Daniel separated the two powers, and thought the Median power succeeded the Babylonian, and then that the Persian succeeded the Median. We know now that Herodotus's representation of the history of Media and Persia is utterly false and misleading.
Then commanded Belshazzar, 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. The Septuagint runs thus: "Then Baltasar the king clothed Daniel in purple, and put on him a golden necklace, and gave authority to him over a third part of his kingdom." The only difference here is that there is no word of a proclamation. Theodotion and the Peshitta agree with the Massoretic text. We have תַּלְתָא here instead of תַּלְתִּי. The presence of the haphel form instead of the aphel, is to be noted. No reader whose attention is directed to it can fail to be struck with the magnanimity of Belshazzar; he had promised that whoever would interpret the inscription should be clothed in purple and gold, and be made third ruler of the kingdom. Had he been a mean man, he might have higgled about the matter; he might have declared an uncertainty as to whether Daniel did not, out of his spite against the murderers of the son of Nebuchadnezzar, invent the evil interpretation. The treatment Ahab meted out to Micaiah the son of Imlah sows the way a tyrannical monarch may a-t towards one who has uttered unpalatable prophecies against him. He might, according to the Persian story, have proclaimed Daniel exalted to all the promised honors, and then instantly had him executed. But, no; in noble simplicity he fulfils his promise to the last letter, without any apparent after-thought of vengeance. If Belshazzar is intended to represent Antiochus Epiphanes, certainly the portrait is singularly unlike anything we know of that monarch. Cruel and. treacherous, he was very unlikely to keep such a promise to one who had made such a prophecy concerning him. Even if lie could have done so, no Jew, with blood boiling from the indignities and cruelties heaped upon the Jewish race, could have pictured him doing this. Even the natural instinct that makes us think that specially terrible misfortune must be the result of specially unbroken wickedness, would certainly have led the writer of Daniel, if drawing on his imagination, to make Belshazzar meanly refuse his rewards, or, having given them, to threaten the receiver with death. It is no answer to say, with Ewald and Jephet-ibn-Ali. that the reward once promised was irrevocable, for the accuracy of the reading of the writing might have been contested, and the correctness of the interpretation denied. Further, as has been pointed out by Keil, there is no evidence that Epiphanes ever desecrated the sacred vessels at a banquet; he was regardless enough to have done so, but his financial necessities were too pressing for delaying the coining of these golden treasures. Moreover, in Antiochus such desecration would be without purpose, whereas, as we have seen, there might be a purpose in the action of Belshazzar. The idea maintained by commentators of the critical school, that there in any reference in the description given here of the feast of Belshazzar and its results to the feast which Antiochus gave to the peel,In of Antioch, as described by Polybius, 26; is mere nonsense. The ponts of contrast are vastly more prominent than the points of resemblance. Belshazzar's feast is over in one night; Antiochus's feast lasted several days. Belshazzar's feast was given in his palace, to "a thousand of his lords;" Antiochus invited the whole populace of Antioch to revel in the grove of Daphne. While, as we have seen, there is blasphemy against Jehovah and defiance of him in Belshazzar's feast, there in no kind of debauchery. In regard to the feast of Antiochus, on the other hand, while there is maddest excess of every kind, a very orgy of lust and drunkenness, there is no word, either in Polybius or in the Books of the Maccabees, of any special act of defiance to Jehovah, or blasphemy of his Name. The only point of identity is that both the banquet of Belshazzar and the orgy of Antiochus have been called "feasts." Altogether, the idea that Belshazzar represents Antiochus Epiphanes is nearly as absurd as that Nebuchadnezzar does. Did the orthodox interpretation involve such an identification, what boundless scorn would be poured on the unfortunate maintainers of such a view?
In that night was Belshazzar the King of the Chaldeans slain. The version of the LXX. is here very different, "And the interpretation came upon Belshazzar the king, and the kingdom was taken from the Chaldeans, and given to the Medes and the Persians. There seems no possibility of connecting these two readings so that either should be shown to have come from the other. The Massoretic text, which is here supported by Theodotion and the Peshitta, is the shorter; but in this instance, as neither can have sprung from the other, Brevity has less probative force. If we look at the probability of the situation, we are compelled to accept the Septuagint reading. If the Massoretic reading had been the original, the dramatic completeness of the disaster, following with such rapidity on the back of the prophecy, would certainly have been preserved in every translation. Whereas the desire for this dramatic completeness might lead to the Massoretic verse being fabricated. Further, when we look at the events of the night, it seems impossible to place all of them in the short interval of one night. The feast had begun after sundown, for the lamps were lighted. It had already gone on some time ere Belshazzar thought of the vessels of the house of God. Then, in contempt of Jehovah, the guests sang praises to the gods of Babylon. it is after all this that the writing appears. There is next the calling of the wise men, who were in the vicinity of the palace. On their failure to explain the writing, the other wise men are summoned by proclamation; they assemble, essay the reading, and fail. The queen-mother comps—either is called, or, hearing the tumult, comes in herself—and tells Belshazzar of Daniel. Daniel is summoned, and reads the writing. Even if we maintain—although it does not seem the natural reading of the passage—that the proclamation of a reward to him who could read the writing followed immediately on the order to call in the astrologers and other wise men, still, it is difficult to imagine all the events, especially the summoning of all the wise men in Babylon by proclamation, and the finding out of Daniel and bringing him to the court, taking place in one night, and that in that very night was Belshazzar slain. On the other hand, the Septuagint makes no such demand on our belief. According to it, the prophecy was not so closely connected with its fulfilment. The feast recorded here may have taken place six, eight, or ten )ears before the actual fall of Babylon. We know that from his seventh year till some time between his eleventh and seventeenth year Nahunahid was in Tema. This feast might be the inauguration of Belshazzar's viceroyalty; in that case it would be nearly ten years before the capture of Babylon by Cyrus. If that is so, the supposed contradiction between this verse and Daniel 8:1 vanishes. We need only look at the various theories of who Belshazzar was. Niebuhr assumes it as a second name for Evil-Merodach—a view for which Keil has some sympathy. Niebuhr ingeniously combines the statement from Berosus, that his reign was ἀνόμως καὶ ἀσελγῶς. This, however, might mean a favour for the Jews, shown by the special honour given to Jehoiachin—a thing which would be readily regarded by the Babylonians as "lawless and outrageous." lie maintains that the change of dynasty implied in Babylon was the assumption of the supremacy by Astyages the Mede, who, according to Niebuhr, is Darius the Mede. After one year's personal reign, he placed Neriglissar on the throne. This view is definitely contradicted by the contract tables, which have no reference to a reign between Evil-Merodach and Neriglissar. The other theory is that he is Labasi-Marduk. This view is maintained by Delitzsch and Ebrard. All of them assume the murder of the king the very night of the feast—a thing which is in the teeth of probability, and not supported by the Septuagint reading.
And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about three score and two years old. It is probable that the Massoretic division of the chapters here is to be preferred. According to it, this verse is assigned to the begining of the next chapter, but most of the more ancient versions, Theodotion, the Peshitta, and the Vulgate, agree with our English arrangement. The Septuagint, like the Massoretic text, assigns this verse to the sixth chapter. Its rendering manifests several striking peculiarities, "And Artaxerxes of the Medes received (παρέλαβε) the kingdom, and Darius was full of days, and reverend (ἔνδοξος) in old age." This is the product of doublets ארְטַחְשַׁשְׁתְ, Artaxerxes, being suggested by some scribe as in his opinion a more probable name than Darius. So the one name begins the first clause, and the other the second. The last clause is evidently due to כְּבַר (kebar), "about" ("as the son of"), being read כַבֵר (kaber), "great," "multiplied"—a meaning this word has in Syriac, but not in Chahlee (Genesis 35:11). Theodotion and the Peshitta agree with the Massoretic text. The uncertainty as to the name has to be noted. We shall reserve for fuller discussion the question of Darius the Mede, only we would say that the name not improbably was modified from a less-known name to one somewhat like it but well known. We know that "Go-baru," or "Oybaru"—"Gobryas," in Greek—was appointed governor by Cyrus when he conquered Babylon, and that, in the script of the Sindschirli monuments, Gobryas, see Sindschirli words. is not unlike Darius, see Sindschirli word. One point to be noted is the fact that the verb used is wrongly translated "took." קבל really means "received." When this is said, we naturally expect some one, either God or man, from whom he has received this honour. If this purported to be a history of Babylonia, then it might be reasoned that the implied source from whom the kingdom was received was God; in such a case קבל would be used of one who succeeded to the kingdom by inheritance; this cannot be the meaning here. In this passage it is merely incidentally mentioned in order to explain the events that immediately follow. The more natural interpretation is that he was put on the throne by another person, his superior. The instance quoted by Professor Bevan, in which this verb is used of the accession of Julian the Apostate, tells really against his contention. Julian expected to have to conquer the empire: but, by the death of his cousin, he received it as an inheritance. Nothing could be more unlike what occurred in Babylon, according to his theory of what the author of Daniel meant. He maintains that the author of Daniel thought Darius conquered Babylon, and so ascended the throne. The example he brings does not show that קבל could be used in that sense.
The writing on the wall.
We have here a declaration of judgment, the circumstances, form, and effects of which are full of significance.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE DECLARATION OF JUDGMENT.
1. It was in the king's palace. The guards who may keep off the human intruder cannot shut out the Divine messenger. Judgment may find a man in his own home (Isaiah 37:38; Daniel 4:29; Luke 12:16).
2. It was at a time of pleasure. The intoxication of pleasure may blind us to approaching judgment, but cannot stay it. It is foolish to rest our security on our experience of present enjoyment. The moment of greatest pleasure may bring us to the brink of the deepest ruin.
3. It was in the midst of sinful revelry. Drunkenness, profligacy, and profanity were rioting at the feast when the judgment came. So the sinner is sometimes summoned to judgment in the midst of his sins. It is a delusion to suppose that all of us will have good warning and time for repentance, before we are called to meet the Judge.
4. It was under circumstances of gross negligence. The enemy was at the gates; yet the king was revelling in effeminate orgies. Negligence as to the danger into which our sins have brought us is itself a sin, and one which wilt meet with certain, merited punishment (Jeremiah 6:14; Matthew 24:38).
II. THE FORM OF THE DECLARATION OF JUDGMENT,
1. It was public. The message was not given to the king privately. It was written up on the wall of his banquet-chamber, in the presence of his courtiers. Sin may be secret; but judgment will be public (Luke 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
2. It was silent. There was no awakening trumpet-blast, but a silent hand writing on the wall. God often speaks quietly (l Kings 19:11, 12). This method is often the more impressive to the observing; and until we are observing, no method is of much use. It is most fitting in the solemn declaration of judgment. In speaking of future punishment, it is most seemly not to indulge in noisy declamation, but to use quiet, weighty words, bordering on awestruck silence.
3. It was decisive. Written words are more decisive than spoken words. They are generally more weighed. They are more enduring. They admit of more study. Illustrate this by Pilate's reference to the superscription on the cross (John 19:22). Apply it
(1) to the written Bible;
(2) to the written book of judgment;
(3) to the written names in heaven.
4. It was mysterious. The king and his courtiers and his wise men could not read the writing. All doom is mysterious till it falls. Scriptural intimations of doom are generally vague, though terrible. Note in particular
(1) sinful indulgence blunts the spiritual sense for discerning Divine truth;
(2) the language of heaven is an unknown tongue to the godless man;
(3) God's revelations to the heathen need interpretation by his clearer revelations to his prophets and apostles.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE DECLARATION OF JUDGMENT.
1. It produced terror. The mystery and supernatural character of the event alarmed the king and his courtiers (Daniel 5:6-9).
(1) Here is an instance of the common human weakness in presence of what appears to be supernatural—a weakness which is as great in the proudest monarch as in the lowest slave. Before the unseen we are level in our common humanity.
(2) The terror was augmented by guilt. Sin fears to meet the spiritual world.
(3) It was deepened by the surprise of unfamiliarity with the unseen. Daniel was in frequent converse with the other world, and could meet its messages with calmness. Belshazzar was buried in sensuality, and felt the first touch of the spiritual with the shrinking of startled horror. What alarm and confusion the engrossed sensualist will experience, when after death he wakes to his first vision of the spiritual!
2. It led to the introduction of the best counsellor. Daniel had been neglected by the dissolute king in favour of more congenial companies. Now he is sent for. Trouble is good if it leads to wisdom. Though the wisdom which conies too late may only deepen the consciousness of ore' punishment, it must be better to meet this intelligently, than with the blindness of a brute.
Daniel 5:23 (last clause)
I. WE HAVE NATURAL RELATIONS WITH GOD. Men often act as though we had no relations with God but those we voluntarily assume in religious worship, so that if we chose we could have nothing to do with God. This is a gross delusion. We have relations with God
(1) apart from our will; and
(2) apart from our consciousness, dependent upon our very nature and existence in the world.
1. Our life is dependent on God. In his hand our"breath is." He is the First Cause—the Origin of life (Genesis 1:24-27). He is also the constant Sustainer of life, and without him we could not continue to exist for one moment, any more than we could live without the air we breathe (Job 12:10; Acts 17:1-34. '25). Therefore the existence and the continuance of our life depend on Iris will (Numbers 16:22). These facts are not affected by our ideas about God. If they are facts, they apply as much to the atheist as to the theist, and to the most godless as to the most devout.
2. Our destiny is shaped by God. "Whose are all our ways." We think to carve out our own career, and no doubt it is largely dependent on our conduct; but it is subject to numberless apparent accidents, which are really governed by the providence of God (James 4:14, James 4:15).
II. OUR NATURAL RELATIONS WITH GOD MAKE IT OUR DUTY TO GLORIFY HIM. As our primary relations with God are nut dependent on our own will, so our obligations toward God cannot be regulated by our free choice. Religious obligations are not simply determined by our "profession," nor can they be discarded by our renunciation of any connection with religious worship, Church relationship, etc. We are all subjects of God's spiritual kingdom, whether we will or no. The man who refuses to submit to its laws is not to be regarded as an alien, but as a deserter and a rebel. Therefore, though Belshazzar had never professed obedience to God, he was not exonerated from blame when he failed to render it.
1. The universal human duty of glorifying God is determined by the fact that we are all enjoying life and its advantages simply as the fruits of the goodness of God.
2. It may be enforced by the reflection that since we are entirely in the hands of God, no attempt to rebel against him can ultimately succeed (Isaiah 40:15).
III. THE NEGLECT OF OUR DUTY TO GLORIFY GOD IS THE ROOT OF ALL SIN, This is the one sin to which Daniel calls attention, although Belshazzar was guilty of all kinds of wickedness. So long as we live in the effort to honour and serve God, our conscience will be kept pure; but when God is dethroned from the shrine of our hearts, all forms of evil take his place. Idolatry, the worship of false gods, is only possible when the worship of the true God is neglected. Profanity is the direct opposite of the reverence which glorifies God. Indulgence in sinful pleasures is only possible when the pure pleasures of Divine things are lost. Thus the special sins seen in Belshazzar in the incident of his feast are all connected with the neglect of the honour and service of God.
1. The very blessings which are proofs of the goodness of God are often used as temptations to allure us from our duty to glorify him.
2. Godlessness may bring present delights, but it must ensure future ruin.
The mysterious writing on the wall of Belshazzar's palace is a revelation of the judgment which must certainly follow all misuse of the talents and opportunities of life. It brings vividly before us the summons, the trial, and the sentence which awaits every one who neglects and abuses his mission in the world.
I. THE SUMMONS. "Numbered" is the first word. The days of the Babylonian supremacy are numbered, and the days of the life of King Belshazzar are numbered; their end has come, and now he and his nation are called to give account of their stewardship.
1. Every life has its limit. God gives us all sufficient time and opportunity for the work which he requires of us, and, conversely, he requires no more of us than our faculties are equal to. Therefore we have no reason to murmur at the brevity of life, and no excuse for neglecting our proper duties on account of it. But there is a limit to our opportunities. We have not the leisure of eternity before us. We cannot postpone the work of to-day till to-morrow, without interfering with the work of the morrow (John 9:4). The dine draws on apace when the end will come to all these opportunities of doing our work in the world. How foolish not to consider what our position will be at "the end of the days"! How vain to be satisfied with present ease, since these days of sinful idleness are few and shortening! Who of us will be able to say at the end of life, "It is finished"?
2. Abuse of opportunities will lead to the loss of them. The kingdom appears to be "numbered and finished," swiftly, abruptly, and in judgment. Both king and people might have been spared longer, if they had lived better. Time is a talent which is justly taken from those who do not make a good use of it (Psalms 37:9; Matthew 25:28, Matthew 25:29). This applies with special force to kingdoms—the judgment of which belongs to this world (Isaiah 14:22).
II. THE TRIAL. The second word, "weighed," is explained by Daniel to mean that Belshazzar and his kingdom have been "weighed in the balances, and found wanting."
1. There is a judgment awaiting us all. Our future will not be determined by chance, or fate, or easy indifference. It will depend on our past. This will be revealed, examined, proved, tested, weighed in every thought and word and deed, for every moment of life. None can expect to escape this trial. The greatest king is here subjected to its searching scrutiny.
2. This judgment will be effected by weighing our conduct, and testing it by a Divine standard. We shall be weighed in the balances. On Egyptian mummy-cases there may be seen representations of the soul weighed in scales with truth as a counterpoise. The truth or ideal conduct by which we shall be tested may be variously viewed as
(1) absolute right;
(2) God's will;
(3) God's idea of our life;
(4) duty and vocation;—these being shaped and modified according to our powers, our opportunities, and our light (Romans 2:6-12).
3. The ground of condemnation will be to be "found wanting." As darkness is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good. We can only keep out sin by being filled with holiness (Romans 12:21). To be "wanting" in truth, or purity, or love, is the essence of sin. More particularly we shall be judged by our defection of duty, not merely by our commission of offences. Mere negative harmlessness will be of no avail if we have failed in our positive service (Matthew 25:42-45).
III. THE SENTENCE. The third word, "divided," is interpreted to mean that the Babylonian "kingdom is divided, and given to Media and Persia."
1. After a verdict of "guilty," there must be a sentence of punishment. Whatever be the nature of future punishment, justice, present analogies, and revelation concur in pointing to the certainty of its execution. For individuals this is mostly reserved to the future world; but for kingdoms, which remain in this world for successive generations, allowing time for moral laws to work out their ends here, it is executed on earth and is witnessed by history.
2. The most natural punishment is the loss of the honours and powers which have been abused. The kingdom is taken away. The unused talent is taken away (Matthew 25:28, Matthew 25:29).
3. The worst form of punishment is death. The kingdom is to be divided—to die as a kingdom. Corruption, disintegration, dissolution, spiritual death in outer darkness, are the awful mysterious doom of sin unrepented and persisted, in to the end (James 1:15),
HOMILIES BY H.T. ROBJOHNS
The downward road.
"Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand "(Daniel 5:1). The history of the fall of Babylon must form the background of any homiletical treatment of this chapter (see the histories; and the Exposition above). The clearing up of the difficulty of this portion of Scripture, of the seeming discrepancy between Daniel's statements and the records of secular history, by the discovery of clay cylinders, simultaneously by M. Oppert and Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1854, is one of the most interesting episodes in the history of Christian apologetics; and is eminently suggestive in that line of things, showing particularly how easily Biblical mists would be cleared away if only we could have at hand all the facts. But we turn hero to the bearing of the passage on the ordinary life of man.
I. THE POSITION OF PRIVILEGE. Guilt must ever stand related to knowledge. What were the king's opportunities of knowing the will of God? They were more than some may think, such as ought to have saved him from the degradations of that night, The parallel with our own position is clear. Though our advantages are in degree greater. For Belshazzar there was:
1. The witness of creation.
2. The open page of providence. (See verse 22.)
3. The voice of that moral nature which is common to every man.
4. The interpretation of them by the high Chaldean culture; e.g. the revelation of the glory of God in the stars of heaven was one that shone with special clearness on the Chaldean plain (see Sir G. C. Lewis' 'Astronomy of the Ancients,' Daniel 5:1-31.).
5. Special Divine revelations; e.g. in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (he had not been dead twenty-three years); in the deliverance of the heroic three, by the presence of the Saviour in the fire; by the insanity and recovery of the king. Nor must we forget that Belshazzar was not further away from the Divine than a modern worldling; for in his own realm lived the Church, with whom lay the oracles of God. Compare Louis XIV. and the Huguenots. And enough had been done to draw attention to these.
II. THE STARTING-POINT. The sin of the king was nothing else than that practical atheism (verses 22, 23) which so often shows itself callously indifferent to all those serious considerations which even people of ordinary prudence entertain (note: the city at the moment in a stare of siege); and which usually is associated with epicurean life.
III. THE ROAD DOWN. A distinct gradation in evil is marked in this, as in every other career. The steps may be different with different sinners; but there is a gradual descent with all, though it must be admitted that on "that night" some were taken by the king at lightning speed. The king:
1. Ignored all the circumstances of his position. This was indeed terrible. For long the Persian lines had been drawn round the city; engineers had been turning the river from its bed. At this hour things were becoming critical. Facts are stubborn things, which even a heathen might note.
2. Defied Providence.. Such extravagance at such a time. Imagine the authorities of Paris banqueting it the Isle siege. A false security the presage of ruin.
3. Sacrificed his own dignity. As king—as man. Not usual for Babylonian kings to make themselves the boon companions of their subjects—even the highest. We owe respect to men, as made in the image of God—rational, moral, immortal, etc.; but not the less to ourselves.
4. Plunged into drunkenness. The lightning leaps which immediately follow are to be distinctly assigned to the drunken condition of the king. Much may and should be here said on the intimate relation existing between moral and spiritual degradation generally and alcohol; and also on the close connection between alcohol and many forms of vice. It is the root of many vices. (The writer of these notes feels that educated men are still the children of many illusions anent this powerful chemical agent; these are well dealt with in 'Dialogues on Drink,' by Dr. Richardson.)
5. Jested with things sacred. Sure mark of a "fool" in the Bible sense. "Holy vessels will we have for such delicious wine," may the king be supposed to say. (Matthew Henry is full and good on this.)
6. Violated the decencies of domestic life. The bringing the harem into the banquet-chamber was a gross offence against even the Oriental idea. (On this see Dr. Raleigh, 'Esther,' lect. 2.)
7. Insulted God. Drank they out of vessels sacred to him, unto other gods. So the indifference of a passive practical atheism culminates in open defiant antagonism against God.
IV. THE DREADFUL END. The loss of everything—kingdom, life, etc. Many things will need to be looked at ere the final ruin of the night comes up for consideration; but this is the place specially to observe that it was the king's own sin and folly of that very hour that led straight to ruin. Had the king and "the lords" been on the alert, not even the turning of the river from its bed had laid them at the mercy of the besiegers. But the revelry incapacitated them. Sin is its own avenger!—R.
The crisis of awaking.
"Then was Daniel brought in before the king" (verse 13). In introducing the present subject the following features and incidents of the history need vivid and powerful setting: suddenness of the apparition—only fingers writing—in ancient Hebrew characters (same as those of the two Sinaitic tables)—on the plain plaster over against the candlestick—seen by its light—the effect upon the king, pale, trembling, sobered (he will not die drunk)—a great cry for help—why "third ruler"? (Belshazzar co-repent with his father Nabcnadius)—inability of the magi—consternation and confusion of the assembly—Daniel still in the king's employ, but probably in some obscure position (Daniel 8:1, Daniel 8:27)—appearance of the queen-mother on the scene—Daniel called—the advent of the seer, now more than eighty—had been sixty-eight years in Babylon. Picture the tremendous scene, with a background of night, through which seen obscurely the action of the besieging army.
I. To the sinner sooner or later comes A MOMENT OF AWAKING. It is somewhat hazardous to make a universal affirmative; but all we know of God and his dealings with men justifies us in asserting that, sooner or later, God effectually awakens every sinner to his own condition and the Divine claim.
1. The means.
(1) Words from God. Give breadth to the contents of this phrase, whilst insisting on the fact that God oft appeals to sinners by giving a new setting and power to Scripture words. The truth is to be impressed that he speaks variously to men—by aspects of nature, providence, etc.
(2) Accompanied by some evidence of the Divine. Along with the mystic characters the king saw "the fingers," but only the fingers.
(3) But not all that would be possible. The hand, the arm, the whole form of the agent writing might have been discovered. The effect overwhelming. But, no! This ever like God in all his dealings. No evidence of the Divine so overpowering as to shut the mind up to one irresistible conclusion. Nothing like mathematical demonstration. If so, where were the moral elements? This is nevertheless what sinners ask, and what God will not, cannot (respecting man's moral nature) grant.
(4) Coming with impressive undemonstrativeness. No vain show, or noise, or thunder, or lightning; no flaming sword! Only writing! "A still, small voice!"
2. The immediate effect. Note:
(1) What it was. Terror.
(2) Why it was. Nothing in the writing to alarm, so long as uninterpreted. The reason lay there in the king's own conscience. God set his own thoughts against the king.
3. The final end. Not necessarily judgment; the rather mercy. Nor do we know the warning wasted. Many who began the night in revelry may have been awed to penitence and prayer ere they slept the sleep that knows no waking.
II. At such a moment HE MAY FLY FOR SALVATION TO THE INCOMPETENT. TO look at matters in the light of modern experience, we may observe that the king fled for help to the scientists real or pretended. The following propositions may well be insisted on in our time:
1. Scientists fall into three classes. (Scientists, here, they who know.)
(1) Those acquainted with things material.
(2) Mental—things of the ψυχή. Moral, spiritual—things of the πνεῦμα. This classification may not be philosophically perfect, but can be" understanded of the people;" and is sufficient.
2. A false science is useless. Such was much of the magian learning.
3. A true science avails only in its own sphere. A competent leader in natural philosophy or in psychology may be of no use in dealing with a conscience awakened and alarmed. Disregard of this in our modern life. Scientists of the first class (see above) dogmatizing in both metaphysics and theology (Colossians 2:18).
4. Man needs one who knows the moral nature, and its relation to God, and both lighted by special revelations. Such was Daniel—the Christ in Daniel (John 1:9; 1 Peter 1:11)—the Christ of all the ages, and they who have his Spirit.
III. BUT ONLY TO BE DRIVEN BACK ON GOD. In this case the king was constrained to seek unto God in the presence of hit representative Daniel.—R.
Daniel 5:11, Daniel 5:12
The representative of God.
"There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods" (Daniel 5:11).
I. SOME OF HIS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Intelligence. "Light, understanding, wisdom" (Daniel 5:11).
2. Excellence of spirit. (Daniel 5:12.)
3. Faculty. (Daniel 5:12.)
4. Experience. Some achievement (Daniel 5:12).
5. The indwelling of the Divine Spirit. (Daniel 5:11.)
II. A POSSIBLE POSITION.
1. Comparative obscurity.
2. Even after years of distinguished service.
III. THE CERTAIN CALL. When God wants a man, he is sure to call (by providence, by his Spirit); and when he calls, man must answer.—R.
The dissolving of doubt.
"I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts," etc. A most important subject (not growing exegetically out of the passage, nevertheless) is suggested by the text, which is admirably treated by Horace Bushnell, in 'Sermons on Living Subjects.' For the sake of any who may not have access to the book, we give a brief outline, for the most part in Bushnell's words.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF DOUBT. The prevalence of doubt is exhibited and illustrated at considerable length. "Science puts everything in question, and literature distils the questions, making an atmosphere of them."
II. CAUSES OF DOUBT. "They never come of truth or high discovery, but always of the want of it."
1. All the truths of religion are inherently dub/table. They are the subjects of moral evidence, not of absolute demonstration.
2. We begin life as unknowing creatures that have everything to learn.
3. Our faculty is itself disorder; e.g. a bent telescope; a filthy window.
III. THE DISSOLUTION OF DOUBT.
1. Counsel negative. Not "by inquiry, search, investigation, or any kind of speculative endeavour. Men must never go after the truth to merely find it, but to practise it and live by it."
2. Counsel positive. Bushnell asserts and illustrates at length that man has universally the absolute idea of right and its correlative wrong; and then enforces, with power and manifoldness of illumination, this: "Say nothing of investigation till you have made sure of being grounded everlastingly, and' with a completely whole intent, in the principle of right doing as a principle." (No condensation can give any idea of the grasp and fatness with which this is exhibited and applied.)
IV. THE RESULT. "A soul thus won to its integrity of thought and meaning will rapidly clear all tormenting questions and difficulties. They are not all gone, but they are going." "The ship is launched; he is gone to sea, and has the needle on board."
V. SUPPLEMENTARY DIRECTION.
1. Be never afraid of doubt.
2. Be afraid of all sophistries and tricks and strifes of disingenuous argument.
3. Getting into any scornful way is fatal.
4. Never settle upon any thing as true, because it is safer to hold it than not.
5. Have it as a law never to put force on the mind or try to make it believe. It spoils the mind's integrity.
6. Never be in a hurry to believe; never try to conquer doubts against time. "One of the greatest talents in religious discovery is the finding how to hang up questions and let them hang without being at all anxious about them What seemed perfectly insoluble will clear itself in a wondrous revelation." And here is a thought: "It will not hurt you, nor hurt the truth, if you should have some few questions left to be carried on with you when you go hence, for in that more luminous state, most likely they will soon be cleared, only a thousand others will be springing up even there, and you will go on dissolving still your new sets of questions, and growing mightier and more deep-seeing for eternal ages."—R.
At the bar of God.
"The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" (Daniel 5:23). In this tremendous scene Daniel may be regarded as counsel for the crown—for the everlasting crown, for the throne of eternal righteousness, against the unhappy prisoner placed by these awful events at the bar. As such he is the representative of all earnest preachers of righteousness. He was marked by zeal for the right of the crown; fidelity to the position; sympathy for the arraigned; fearlessness; and absolute disinterestedness (verse 17, Any honours given and received might have been recognized by any new king). All these should make every one that pleads with man or against man (ultimately to win the man to the right side) for God.
I. THE INDICTMENT. In order to make forcible modern applications, it will be better to formulate the indictment in the most general way. Belshazzar's particular sins may not be just ours; but he and we both commit sins that fall under like categories.
1. Infidelity to accorded revelations. (Verse 22.)
2. Substituting shadows for God. (Verse 23.) In the king's ease there had been inflation of himself against God; sacrilege; indecency; drunkenness; prostration before idols, which are "nothing in the world." The inflations, profanities, improprieties, sensualisms, and idolatries of the nineteenth century differ in form, but are quite as real as those of Belshazzar.
3. Failure in man's prime duty; viz. to glorify God.
(1) The duty. To honour God. We put the highest honour on him when we repeat his likeness. To glorify God is to reflect God, as the lake does the heaven above with all its light. This the final end of our creation.
(2) its ground. Our complete dependence. That dependent life should be devoted life is a truth of natural religion (see verse 23).
(3) The default is so general and notorious as to require no proof (Romans 3:23).
II. THE AGGRAVATIONS OF GUILT. The king's guilt had been aggravated by what he had been permitted to see of the way of the Divine mercy and of the Divine judgment.
1. The vision of the Divine goodness, in his grandfather's prosperity. (Verses 18, 19.)
2. The vision of sin, in his grandfather's misuse of position. (Verse 20.)
3. The vision of judgment, in his grandfather's punishment. (Verse 21.)
4. The vision of mercy, in his grandfather's restoration. (Verse 21.) Note:
(1) For every sinner a vision of the great realities of the moral world.
(2) Coming oft in very affecting forms, as here, through the experience of the near and dear.
III. THE ABSENCE OF DEFENCE. The sinner dumb at the eternal bar. No defence possible. Judgment goes by default. There is no counsel for defence; for there is no defence. Sentence must pass. The only thing that can be done, can be done them, viz. show ground for free pardon. This the atoning Saviour undertakes. But—
IV. THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT. Of the supreme court—the court of heaven—the judgment of God against the sinner; in this case written with the very finger of God—the same finger which traced ages before "the Law of the ten words." In the "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," read these permanent truths:
1. The day of probation is limited. "Numbered!" and numbered to the end!
2. The character of the probationer is exactly estimated. "Weighed!" Yes, and found light. "God does as perfectly know a man's true character as the goldsmith knows the weight of that which he has weighed in the nicest scales." Note the moral import of phrases like this: "a man of weight and character; …. a light and frivolous man."
3. Deprivation of endowment is the punishment of infidelity to trust. "Divided!" Given away (see parable of the talents).
V. EXECUTION. It was:
1. Swift upon the climax of a life of sin. "In that night."
2. Sure. By an agent long prepared (Isaiah 45:1-6).
3. Sudden. Utterly unexpected.
VI. A GLEAM OF HOPE. The king died sober: did he die penitent.? The way in which he received the awful words of Daniel look very like it (verse 29). A star of hope shines above the dark cloud in the horizon.—R.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
All merriment is not forbidden. Banqueting is not in itself a sin. Jesus Christ himself honoured with his presence a marriage festival, and contributed, by miracle, the wine for the occasion. On the restoration of the prodigal son, a banquet was prepared, while music and dancing were the fitting exponents of the father's joy. God is not a foe to rational pleasure. He gives both the capacity and the occasion for joyful hilarity. But when excess of wine inflames the carnal passions, when it degenerates into sensuality, extravagance, and profanity, it is a sin.
I. ROYAL REVELRY. We are not told what was the occasion of this banquet. Possibly it was to celebrate the anniversary of the king's accession; or else an annual festival in honour of Chaldea's gods. But:
1. It was an unseasonable banquet. The foe was already besieging the city. Belshazzar was presuming that Babylon could resist any siege, and that their supplies could last for an indefinite period. There is a time to be merry, but there's also a time for fasting and penitence. The man is a fool who cannot be serious at fitting limes. Gravity is more seemly than gaiety when disaster occurs. He is a doomed man who will not listen when God speaks with voice of thunder. But he shall hear.
2. The revelry proceeded to the extreme of self-abandonment. Wisdom, dignity, good sense, decorum, reason, were all drowned in the depths of the wine-cup. The king led the way to extravagance, revelry, folly, debauchery. He who should have been a guide to virtue, and a pattern of propriety, uses his high influence to pervert and to pollute men. Belshazzar alone is mentioned as the leader of these bacchanalian orgies. All manliness and nobleness were sacrificed at that foul shrine of pleasure.
3. Excess led to wanton profanity and sacrilege. We do not attempt to measure the sin of these Oriental lords by the standard of modern refinement or modern religious belief; but judged only by the standard of public conscience prevailing in that age, they stand censured and condemned. The ancient nations, however strong their attachment to their peculiar deities, allowed other peoples to worship their chosen gods, and held it to be the grossest sin to lay violent hands on. temple furniture, Throughout the long reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the gold and silver vessels of Jehovah's temple had been scrupulously preserved; and the captive Hebrews had always cherished the hope that these precious vessels would again adorn the temple in Jerusalem. Though Belshazzar had now reigned probably eighteen years, he, too, had not ventured to secularize these sacred things. Nor do we think he would have done so now unless he had been madly inflamed with wine. Sensuality is twin-sister to impiety.
II. AN ALARMING OMEN. It came in the form of writing. God might have chosen other signs to betoken his displeasure. An earthquake might have shaken the palace to the ground, and buried these revellers in the dust. Fire from the seven-branched candlestick might have streamed forth, and consumed both king and guests. A voice of thunder might have announced, in unmistakable tones, Jehovah's anger. But this unveiling of his presence and his indignation implies the calm and undisturbed patience with which God proceeds. The kings of Babylon had been famous for writing grave decrees. God will show them that a mightier King than they is upon the scene, and that he too can write decrees in the sight of all. And there was an element of kindness mingled with this judgment. It did not proceed with summary and overwhelming suddenness. Though destruction was near at hand, there was yet time for repentance. But why should king and courtiers be so terrified? Why should they conclude that the portent was unfavourable? Perhaps it was an indication of approaching conquest: tidings that the siege should be raised? Why tremble? What cowardice is here? Why is conscience lashing them with thongs, and afflicting them with such strange alarms? They have just been praising their gods of silver and stone. Will not these protect them now, and recompense their homage with good things? Alas! a sense of sin has fastened itself on them. Self-accusation has sent its fangs into their inmost souls. In a moment they are like dead men. After all, justice slumbereth not. "Verily, there is a God in the earth!"
III. IMPOTENT PRIESTCRAFT. The astrologers and soothsayers are summoned to the scene. These were the royal counsellors in matters of religion, and professed to know the secrets of the gods. They had been maintained at the king's expense, and surely should render some proper service in return. But in the hour of urgent need these false supports fail. Ah! better not to lean upon a staff than to lean upon a rotten staff! Better not to trust to a cable in a storm than to have a cable with a faulty link! Every scheme which the king can devise to stimulate these men to attempt the solution is done; but in vain. He does not upbraid them with their empty pretentiousness. He tempts them with fascinating bribes. They shall be raised to affluence and to honour if only they will relieve the king from this scare of terror. Yet the "oracles are dumb." Stricken with feebleness and silence are all the votaries of idolatry. False religion may serve some temporary advantage as an instrument of worldly government; but when a storm of Divine anger beads upon a man, no refuge nor retreat can false faith furnish. When sharp disease invades the vital parts of the body, it is of unspeakable importance that the medicine should have genuine virtue. But no comparison can fitly set forth the moment,ms urgency of having sterling piety. To be deceived in matters of the soul is to imperil everything—is to lose body and soul everlastingly.—D.
Good counsel in perplexity.
One had abstained from that scene of insane revelry, and she alone in the royal household was competent to take the helm amid the consternation and panic. Possibly the king had declined to invite her to the carousal; he did not, however, decline to receive her judicious coon*el. This queen (or queen-mother) was by far the worthier sovereign, and now used the regal power with regal skill.
I. TRUE WISDOM TREASURES UP THE EXPERIENCE OF THE PAST, If we condemn the spendthrift, who has never learnt the value of money, and only wastes it upon trifles, much more must we condemn the man who throws thoughtlessly away the lessons taught by history and experience. Whether we know it or not, we are responsible for the right use of the past. "A burnt child dreads the fire." A sensible navigator will avoid the hidden reefs on which former mariners have suffered shipwreck. If our father has found a wise and worthy friend, we shall be fools if we do not trust him too.
II. TRUE WISDOM m SUPERIOR TO ALL PREJUDICE. Daniel had been elevated, for his virtues, to the chief place among the magicians; and if, after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was consigned to obscurity, we can attribute it to nothing else than sheer prejudice. He was a foreigner—of the number of the Jewish captives—therefore whatever his goodness or skill, he must be degraded. So prejudice robbed the king of an able and worthy statesman. But the wisdom of the queen advocated that the services of this injured man should again be sought. The occasion was precisely such a one in which his skill was priceless. No matter what his origin, or nationality, or outward condition, if he have superior wisdom or prudence, he is the man for the put, lie exigency. There is a littleness and a meanness about prejudice that genuine wisdom cannot endure.
III. TRUE WISDOM GAINS HER ENDS AT LAST. She has often to hide her head for a time, while Folly is jingling her bells and is making a blustering noise; but her occasion is sure to come. Her voice will prevail at last, and men will chide themselves bitterly that they had not followed her counsels at an earlier day. Wisdom is always patient, because she knows that, sooner or later, her presence will be sought and her guidance followed. Belshazzar had "sown the wind;" now he was "reaping the whirlwind;" and, dismayed with the menacing storm, he became a docile pupil of Wisdom. Without hesitation or delay, he sent for the counsellor whom he had long neglected, and confessed his need of the prophet's service. Even the king is dependent on his subjects for a thousand things. Supercilious pride is the sure forerunner of disaster.—D.
The value of a good man.
The value to a community of a wise and good man is not to be measured by rubies. The safety, welfare, and happiness of society hang upon him.
I. THE GOOD MAN'S GENEROSITY OF MIND. Daniel does not refuse to come when sent for in haste by the king He might have taken occasion, teem the fright of the king, to remind him of past neglect. He might have accused the king of selfish inconsistency, in that he had dishonoured Daniel in the days of kingly prosperity, but was prompt to use him in the hour of dire adversity. But Daniel was too noble a man on such an occasion to think of himself. He speaks not of his good services to the king's grandsire, nor mentions the ill requital he had received. Nor will he permit the king to imagine that he is now moved to render fresh service by any prospect of reward. This very offer of royal reward had stung the mind of the prophet with pain. Pride and mercenary selfishness were ingrained in the nature of the king, or he would not, on an occasion like this, have spoken of rewards. His vile, base nature could not appreciate the generous nature of his Jewish subject. So Daniel declined the king's proposal with high disdain. They who are employed in the service of God are content with the rewards which their own Master gives. It would savour of treason if an ambassador from the British court should take the pay of a foreign empire.
II. THE GOOD MAN'S RECOGNITION OF GOD. An ambassador to a foreign court will be forward to present his credentials, and will take every public opportunity of maintaining the rights of his sovereign. So, in the very preface of his address, Daniel requires recognition of the supreme authority of God. He reminds Belshazzar of the majesty and glory and dominion which Nebuchadnezzar enjoyed before him—a degree of power far superior to that wielded by Belshazzar—but even Nebuchadnezzar had been compelled to admit that this extensive sovereignty was but a grant from God—a trust delegated by the Most High. Even Nebuchadnezzar was but a vassal prince, and was required to bring his tribute to the supreme Monarch of the skies. To reject the jurisdiction of God is contemptible folly and weakness.
III. THE GOOD MAN'S FAITHFUL REPROOF FOR THE PAST. The effect of God's judgments on Nebuchadnezzar ought to have been the exhibition of pious humility in Belshazzar. God's chastisement of a father is intended to benefit a son, and God's intentions cannot be frustrated with impunity. To despise the lessons of the past is wanton sin and irreparable loss. If Belshazzar's pride had only been equal to that of his grandsire, the guilt would have been greater, because he had inherited all the warnings of the past. In proportion to men's advantages are their responsibilities. Daniel, though a subject and a captive, does not spare his monarch's sins. No prospect of preferment, no fear of disfavour, weakens the severity of his reproofs. He charges the monarch with his haughty pride, with his blatant atheism, his sacrilegious profanation of sacred things, his insane trust in graven images. He arraigns his monarch, as if he were a prisoner at the bar brought up to receive sentence for his crimes. He accuses him of ingratitude to the God who had daily sustained him; accuses him of a wanton misuse of power; accuses him of a flagrant abuse of the gift of life. Now the edifice of his guilt has been crowned! Now the last element of aggravation has been added! God's sacred vessels have been desecrated for human debauchery. The die is cast; the hour has struck. "Because judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil."
IV. THE GOOD MAN'S FORECAST OF THE DEBAUCHEE'S FUTURE. God is not so highly exalted that he cannot see what occurs upon the earth; nor is he so indifferent to human actions that he will pass by any sin with impunity. The hand that wrote the ten commandments on stony tablets—the hand that wrote Belshazzar's doom upon the palace-wall—records all our misdemeanours also. Never still is that Divine hand. The Chaldean monarch's days were all exactly numbered; the sands had nearly run out; there was but an hour or two for repentance. The Orientals had a belief in future rewards and punishments, and were accustomed to represent the supreme Judge as weighing, in the separate scales of a balance, men's good actions, and the bad. Here God accommodated himself to this prevalent belief, and represented himself as weighing in his balances the character of the king. Daniel plainly announced the result, "Thou art weighed, and"—oh! dread conclusion—"thou art found wanting." The final stroke was near and overwhelming. The thunder-cloud was, even then, gathering under the dark covert of night, and was about to discharge its fatal contents over the doomed city. Not another sun should rise upon Belshazzar's earthly life. His course was run; and in his ruin ten thousand others would be involved. We cannot sin alone; we entice others into the fatal way. We cannot suffer alone; we drag others into the whirlpool of destruction. "In that night was Belshazzar, King of the Chaldeans, slain"—D.
Daniel 5:30, Daniel 5:31
The Word of God verified.
It is not often that the word of Divine warning is so swiftly and so visibly accomplished as it was here. Frequently God allows time (according to human calculation) to intervene. Yet, in every case, the agency is set in motion, so soon as the propose is formed, and that agency, whether it moves slowly or swiftly, moves surely to its end. But the idea of time is human. The structure of the human mind compels us to introduce the element of duration. But God is superior to this limitation. "With him a thousand years are as one day," and vice versa.
I. THE SWIFTNESS OF THE RETRIBUTION. Although this one act of sacrilege and self-debauchery is the only event in Belshazzar's life which is recorded in the page of sacred history, we are warranted in the conclusion that his public life, and probably his earlier private life, were series of guilty and impious acts. No man reaches great excesses of sin at a single step. In all likelihood God bad condescended to warn and counsel Belshazzar again and yet again, and this last daring act of defiance was the climax of his degenerate course. This was Belshazzar's reply to God's patient expostulations, and sudden destruction was the most fitting penalty. We are surprised, not at the rapid execution of God's warnings, but at his unparalleled forbearance.
II. THE SUDDENNESS OF THE CALAMITY. We are not informed by Daniel the minute steps of the royal overthrow; but possibly Belslhazzar had retired to rest, little supposing that retribution was at his very door. It may be that his senses had been overcome by wine and fear; that deep stupor succeeded, as the natural reaction of his sensual excess; and. that the noise of the city's capture did not reach his ear. Very likely he heard no rumour of alarm until some bold and reckless besiegers gained the palace, and slew the king in his bed. In this case he scarcely woke to die. It is not an uncommon thing for punishment to come on the ungodly at last, suddenly, as "a thief in the night." At the moment when Daniel declared the heavenly Monarch's will, amendment was too late. The king was not in possession of his faculties. He had drowned them in the wine-cup; and, before the fumes of his intoxication had worn off, he was a corpse. Our sin ofttimes disables us for true repentance. "No place for it is found, though we seek it carefully, and with tears."
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF HIS DOOM. It was not a partial disaster, such as the infliction of disease or the loss of his crown; not such a disaster as might yet be repaired by reformation or obedience. It was complete, final, irreparable. In a moment every possession he held ceased. His sovereign power, his worldly possessions, hi. health, his life, his hope,—all were destroyed at a single blow. The stroke was overwhelming. Nothing was left behind but an obnoxious reputation—a beacon to future voyagers. No human mind can estimate the extent of that calamity. What blacker hell can there be than for a man to awake to consciousness in the next life with a sense that he has lost all? He had a splendid opportunity, but he wasted it! He might have gained heaven, but he has irretrievably failed. Existence has become intolerable misery. Now he is compelled to hear this knell of doom, "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still."—D.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Daniel 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30