Decoding Daniel - an in depth Bible study of the book of Daniel

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Daniel 5

Outline and Background of Daniel 5

Sacrilege of Belshazzar - Daniel 5:1-4

Shock of Belshazzar - Daniel 5:5-6

Summons of the Wise Men and Solution of the Queen - Daniel 5:7-17

Sermon from Daniel - Daniel 5:18-25

Significance of the Handwriting - Daniel 5:26-28

Sequel of Events - Daniel 5:29-31

Applications and Typical Prophecies - Daniel 5

Sacrilege of Belshazzar - Daniel 5:1-4

As the events of this chapter unfold, we see the irony of Belshazzar’s name, which means “Bel protect the king.” Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus (“the god Nabu is to be revered”), who was last of the Babylonian kings. The designation “Belshazzar, the king” has been criticized as historically inaccurate since he did not reign as sole king and was never directly called “king” in the inscriptions from Babylon. However, the Aramaic word for “king,” (melek), does not necessitate the coronation of a sole monarch. Furthermore, a cuneiform source expressly states that Nabonidus entrusted the kingship to his son, Belshazzar. Hence, he was king of Babylon.

The Prayer of Nabonidus, found with the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicates the king had been “smitten with a serious inflammation, by the command of the Most High God, in the city Tema,” and was quarantined until “seven times” had passed. This disease may be the reason Nabonidus was absent from Babylon when the kingdom fell. On the other hand, this prayer might be apocryphal genre drawn from Nebuchadnezzar’s malady.

Great feasts were characteristic of antiquity. Persian kings frequently dined with as many as 15,000 guests. The Assyrian king Ashurnaspiral II entertained 69,574 guests at the dedication of his new capital city of Calah in 879 B.C. Alexander the Great had 10,000 guests at his wedding feast and the story line in the book of Esther encompasses ten banquets.

It was the custom at Ancient Near Eastern feasts for the king to sit on a raised platform, apart from the guests. Excessive drinking after the dinner was common in this period. Many feasts became drunken orgies, since people who are overly excited by alcohol are apt to lose control of their thoughts and actions. History is replete with costly mistakes made by people while under the influence of alcohol.

While Belshazzar was drinking his wine and becoming inebriated, he did a most foolish and blasphemous thing. He gave orders to bring into the licentious, idolatrous festivities the sacred articles from the Temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had brought back from Jerusalem in 605 B.C.

Nebuchadnezzar had been drunk with pride; his grandson was drunk with wine and corruption. However, their eternal destinies are opposites. The patience of God has run out; there is no time to repent! The justice of God is righteous and it is beyond question, as seen in His declaration to Moses, which is quoted by Paul.

I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15).

Nebuchadnezzar received God’s mercy and compassion, but Belshazzar had blasphemed God, thereby crossing over the line of God’s grace to judgment. Jesus taught that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). Belshazzar may have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit by rejecting His revelation of God’s sovereignty. Daniel points out in this chapter that Belshazzar had rejected the truth about the Most High God, which he had received from his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar.

The drunken feast was symbolic of the moral condition of the empire and its king. The feast was an outrageous, sacrilegious affair and its participants were reprobate. Such debauchery called for swift and irrevocable judgment. Babylon’s moral degradation had filled the cup of iniquity, just as the Amorites had centuries before (Genesis 15:16). As the king and his nobles, wives and concubines drank from the sacred goblets, they were symbolically drinking of Yahweh’s cup of wrath.

Therefore hear this, you afflicted one, made drunk, but not with wine. This is what your Sovereign LORD says, your God, who defends his people: “See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again. I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who said to you, “Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.” And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked over” (Isaiah 51:21-23).

In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs (Psalm 75:8).

Intemperance, impropriety, impiety, idolatry, immorality and finally indifference to the things of God marked this feast—the whole affair pictured Babylon ripe for God’s judgment.

Man is intuitively religious; if the true God is not worshiped, man will be dominated by Satan and turn to idolatrous worship. The moment the guests “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” with the golden and silver goblets in hand, they crossed over the
line of God’s patience with their blasphemy. These goblets had been dedicated and sanctified to Yahweh, and they had desecrated them.

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