Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 17, The Writing On The Wall

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 17
The Writing On The Wall

Daniel now skips over the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar's forty-three year reign and takes us to a scene in the palace of the final king of Babylon. This scene occurs on the same night that Cyrus of Persia captures the city. 

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk (sometimes translated as Evil-Merodach in the Bible). Amel-Marduk reigned only two years because he was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglassar (also known as Nergal-Sharezer in the book of Jeremiah), but before Amel-Marduk lost his life he did a very important and vital thing to the continuance of the royal line of Judah: he set King Jehoiachin of Judah free after a thirty-seven year captivity. After his release Jehoiachin (also known as Jeconiah) "was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabelt the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, Elihud the father of Eleazer, Eleazer the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah". (Matthew 1:12-16)

Neriglassar assumed the throne after assassinating Amel-Marduk and died of natural causes after four years. He was succeeded by his young son Labashi-Marduk (Laborosoarchod in some translations) but he was said to have been mentally handicapped, so a gang of conspirators considered him unfit to wear the crown and assassinated him, appointing one of their co-conspirators, Nabodinidus, as king. It is not known whether he was related to the royal line, but it is believed he was the son of a priestess of the moon god Sin. He did not devote himself to the chief Babylonian god Marduk as others did before him, probably causing the citizens of the capital city to view him with disfavor. He rejected the palace in the capital city and instead dwelt at Tayma for many years, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge at Babylon, thus establishing a co-regency. This is why Daniel refers to Belshazzar as the king in today's passage.

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them." (Daniel 5:1-2) There is no need for us to take literally the reference to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar's father. Several of the godly kings of Judah are called "son of David" in the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus Christ is also called the "son of David". Daniel calls Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar likely because they ruled over the same kingdom, Belshazzar was a successor to the throne, and Belshazzar probably viewed himself as a great king like Nebuchadnezzar. When it comes to kingship, the use of the word "son" has more to do with a title than an actual relationship. Archaeology has given us a cylinder carved by Nabodinidus in which he refers to Belshazzar as his eldest son and crown prince. For many centuries there were critics who claimed no evidence existed outside the Bible for a man named Belshazzar as king, but as always, archaeology tends to back up the Scriptures, not refute them. 

Belshazzar decides to throw a great banquet even while the city is under siege by the army of Cyrus. It is said by the historian Herodotus that there were fifty-six miles of wall surrounding the city and that they were eighty feet thick, so wide that chariot races were sometimes held on top of them. Prior to Nebuchadnezzar's reign the city had a double wall around it and he added a third layer. The height of the wall has been debated throughout history but we can safely conclude that Belshazzar trusted that the walls were deep enough and tall enough to keep the Persians out. His feast may have been intended to show his people he was not afraid of the Persians, that it was safe for them to eat, drink, and be merry. 

Belshazzar gets so carried away with his celebrating and becomes so sloppily drunk that he calls for the vessels taken from the temple at Jerusalem so he can mock Israel's God by drinking toasts to his own gods. "So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone." (Daniel 5:3-4) It's bad enough they desecrate the vessels by drinking wine from them, but they are drinking wine to other gods, to idols that do not exist. Some commentators believe Belshazzar was making this type of statement to the people, "Our gods have conquered other lands and other gods! See, here are the vessels from the temple of the God of Judah. Why should we fear the Persians? Our gods will give us victory again."

God has had enough. "Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking." (Daniel 5:5-6) When this disembodied hand appears, Belshazzar loses all his cool. As we will learn in tomorrow's passage, he can't even read the language in which the message is written, but he knows the writing is coming from the hand of a god. He does not yet know the writing is coming from Almighty God, the one and only God, but he knows enough to recognize he is receiving a supernatural communication. Only one man in all the kingdom will be able to tell him what this means. When Daniel arrives he will translate the message and will rebuke Belshazzar for not learning from Nebuchadnezzar's experiences with the living God. Daniel will make it clear that Belshazzar is well aware of how God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, but instead of taking it to heart Belshazzar in his idolatrous reveling has dishonored this same God who is now about to humble him. 

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