February 6, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XVI: Biblical Graffiti

King Belshazzar's Arrogance and Affront Against The Most High God (Daniel 5)

"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. 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. 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 5:1-6

The Chaldean king Belshazzar made a feast to his chief officers, at which, in drunken arrogance, carried out a desecration of the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from the temple at Jerusalem, and by so doing he derided the God of Israel (vv. 1–4).

Then he suddenly saw the fingers of a hand (literally, back or palm of a hand) writing on the wall of the guest-chamber, which caused him to be agitated by violent terror, and commanded that the wise men should be sent for, that they might read and interpret to him the writing and when they were not able to do this, he became pale with alarm (vv. 5–9).

Then the queen informed him of Daniel, who would be able to interpret the writing (vv. 10–12)

Daniel, being immediately brought in, declared himself ready to read and interpret the writing; but first he reminded the king of his sin in that he did not take warning from the divine chastisement which had visited king Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4), but offended the Most High God by desecrating the holy vessels of His temple (vv. 13, 14).

He then interpreted to him the writing, showing the king that God, by means of the writing was ending his reign, and the transference of the kingdom to the Medes and Persians (vv. 25–28).

“But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. “This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN “Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians] was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two. Daniel 5:22-31

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN normal noun meanings are weights and measures and on the surface were insignificant: "two minas - a shekel - two parts." In the verb form, they were: MENE, to number; TEKEL, to weigh; UPHARSIN, to divide—if read as verbs it means: "numbered, weighed, divided." The king had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It is further ironic that God would use units of measure of wealth to be the words to undo and spell the demise of the most powerful man in the world up to the point. As we will see that will change immediately. Daniel was consequently honored by Belshazzar, who was, however, in that same night put to death (v. 29, 30) and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom that very night.

In the past, this narrative had presented some historical difficulties, for a Chaldean king by the name of Belshazzar was mentioned nowhere else, except in in Baruch 1:11, which itself cannot stand alone and is dependent on Daniel. Numerous suggestions have been offered to explain the specific father-son relationship between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar noted in this chapter.

It is possible that in Hebraic thought the terms “father” and “son” in this passage mean that Nebuchadnezzar was the predecessor or ancestor or “father” of Belshazzar and that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, “son.” This parallel is also used in reference to Jesus being a Son of David and everyone knows David was not Christ’s biological Father…at least I sure hope they do if their theology is sound and intact.

“..But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Matthew 21:15

“And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” Mark 12:35

He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Luke 18:38

“Son” is unquestionably used in Biblical text, as elsewhere, in the sense of “successor.” Likewise “son” does not have to mean an immediate offspring, grandson, descendant, or successor. The probable reason the intervening generations are negated or not mentioned is probably purposeful for contrast and for clarity to the Hebrew mind and therefore a studied astute Christian mind. This is also done to draw a direct correlation between two men of the same lineage but separated by a specific amount of time to draw emphasis to the relationship because only Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar are crucial to the story. Neb’s is the obedient pagan king and Belshazzar is the disobedient pagan king (a la Deuteronomy 28). Belshazzar should’ve learned the lesson from Nebuchadnezzar being the descendant but he was a hard-headed dope and ends up paying the price with his life.

As an apologist the two most important things to me is are (1) From a Spiritual Standpoint: The miraculous handwriting and Daniel’s interpretation of it are matters of faith (2) From a Evidential/Naturalistic Standpoint: The historical circumstances surrounding these events are established by objective data and are documented by archeology and historical records. We have a real God that enters real history and effects real people and it can be validated through real empirical archeological evidences and real historical documentation and/or artifacts.

The other thing that should be clearly noted here is the comment in verse 5, "Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace." To me this is a visual contrast thing. For those that doubt whether this actually happen we have the written testimony of Daniel actually reading the wall so it cannot be "chalked" up to Bellshazzar's imagination. What is interesting is that it is written on a plaster wall which more than likely was pale or white as it most probably was גִּירָ֕א or lime. If we compound this with the fact the writing of the hand took place near the lampstand tells me two things. One, there was plenty light to see the words and two the words would've probably been in relief because at the time, the Medo-Persian empire would've been used to seeing cuneiform and it is often God's insight an approach to use the things the current culture is used to, to convey meaning and intent. So the combination of the writing with the lampstand's light and would've probably appeared in contrast and rather ominous as below. Regardless, it had is desired effect...Belshazzar was terrified.

מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין

Hence Bellshazzar's knees were "knocking".

One more thing that should be absolutely noted here is directed towards the Arminian / Calvinist debate tht has raged for centuries. The response to Belshazzar's actions are written on a wall by a disembodied hand. Daniel says the hand is an emissary from God. It can be interpreted as the 'hand of God'. Ironically, the very hand that holds Belshazzar's נִשְׁמְתָ֥ךְ breath or life in verse 23.

There are several references direct or indirect to God's sovereignty in Daniel. This one is profound and is a punch in the face (or should be for all who read it). There is reference to events in history being the result of the action of 'no human hand' in Daniel 2:45 & 8:25. Nebuchadnezzar is eventually brought to confess that the Most High rules and that 'none can stay his hand'. This must viewed as deterministic in history under the tight control of God.

Daniel's interpretation of the wall...“weighed in the balance and found wanting” especially the word “mina / numbered” should be understood to support this concept of God’s sovereignty. It conveys the idea that the length of Belshazzar's reign has been precisely and tightly determined by God. Belshazzar...the most power man in the world that night. Soon to be the deadest.

Conversely, while the Book of Daniel, clearly presents the sovereignty of the Most High God over human kingdoms and their rulers. There are clearly allusions like the one concerning Belshazzar that show he is not a puppet or robot of God. It is at the point where Daniel addresses Bells that he sounds most like a Hebrew prophet. His speech is pure hellfire and brimstone condemnation. There is no call to repent. There is no explanation of how the judgment coming for Bells can be averted. It is a death sentence.

Belshazzar is a “Deadman Walking”…his actions and attitudes have doomed him.

Belshazzar having been precisely weighed by a perfect God and found wanting shows that he (as are all of us) is (are) morally responsible for what happens to him (our) and his kingdom (our lives). This should be a startling wake-up call for us, not just Belshazzar. The irony is that the stark contrast in behavior to Bells resides in Daniel when it comes to proper behavior in the hand of a sovereign God. All in the same narrative.

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