Summary: God requires more of us if we are "in the know." He expects our reverence of the sacred.
Singing the Songs of The Lord In A Strange Land November 21, 2004
“The handwriting is on the wall”
“Your days are numbered”
You have been weighed and measured and been found wanting”
This story has shaped English idiom, but not too many people actually know the story!
Jesus tells this story in Luke 12:
42The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But suppose the servant says to himself, ’My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47"That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
You would almost think that Jesus had Belshazzar in mind when he told the story.
In Daniel 5 we jump at least 25 years ahead from the end of Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar has died, there was some wrangling for the throne, until Nabonidus concolidated his power. Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ son. Nabonidus was out of the country for either political or personal reasons for about 10 years and he left Belshazzar on the throne as co-regent during that time.
While the cat’s away, the mice do play. Belshazzar, it would appear didn’t rule the empire for the people’s sake, but used it for his own purposes, so much so that when the Persians are knocking at the door, instead of rallying the troops and arming the city, he throws a party for 1000 of his closest friends. Darius the Mede and the armies of Persia are marching on Babylon and Belshazzar is getting drunk with his friends.
In the middle of the party, Belshazzar takes the opportunity to mock the God of the Israelites. He calls for the gold goblets that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar out of the temple in Jerusalem 60 or so years prior and they use them to continue their drunken party, and they toast their own gods that are made of gold, silver bronze Iron, wood and stone.
In the midst of the party, a disembodied hand appears and writes on the wall. Belshazzar, like you or I would be, is scared out of his wits – the blood drains from his face, his legs go soft, his knees knock. When he regains his composure he yells for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to come, read and interpret the divine graffiti on the wall. Déjà vu all over again, the “wise men” of the kingdom can’t figure it out.
The queen mother (likely Nebuchadnezzar’s queen) walks in and tells them to get Daniel.
The interaction between Belshazzar and Daniel is very different than how Daniel would relate with Nebuchadnezzar. Even with all his faults, Daniel loves Nebuchadnezzar, there is no love lost between Daniel & Belshazzar. Daniel treated Nebuchadnezzar with the respect he deserved as leader of most of the then known world. He treats Belshazzar like a disobedient child. Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar were not blood relatives, but they use the terms father and son as intimate synonyms of predecessor and successor.
13 So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, "Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. 15 The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. 16 Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom."
17 Then Daniel answered the king, "You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.