Exposition of Daniel 5:10–16 Voices from the past

Daniel 5:10–16

10 The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”

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.”

We left coregent Belshazzar, and his nobles, terrified, baffled and without appetite (verses 8–9). Happily, there is a sober woman nearby!

“The queen” (verse 10) cannot be Belshazzar’s wife because she is already in the banquet hall with the other wives and concubines (verse 2). Most scholars, ancient and modern, consider this queen to be the wife of Nabonidas and the mother of Belshazzar, the formidable Nitocris.[1] We would call her the “queen-mother,” and Babylonian custom accorded her a position of honor. She enters a confused, tense and possibly hostile scene with a confident presence, firm advice (verse 10), and a wide knowledge of the past. She knows Daniel!

The queen mother succinctly explains Daniel’s qualifications (verses 11–12): (1) he is in contact with the gods, (2) he won Nebuchadnezzar’s confidence and was appointed chief among the magi, and (3) he has “the ability to explain riddles and to solve difficult problems.” She confidently predicts that Daniel will explain what the writing means (verse 12b).

Miller explains, “Daniel probably had semiretired from public life after Nebuchadnezzar’s death ([when Daniel] was almost sixty years of age), and now he was about eighty.”[2] It is not surprising that Belshazzar does not recognize Daniel; the king is much younger than Daniel and runs with a hard-drinking crowd. In his only interview with Daniel, Belshazzar’s repeated phrases “I have heard” (verses 14 and 16) suggest that he is skeptical of the validity of the queen-mother’s claims about Daniel. After summarizing the message of the queen-mother, Belshazzar repeats his conditional offer (verse 16): interpret the writing and become rich and powerful.

Aside from the base story, this passage has several interesting subtleties. The contrast between the clear-headed, historically savvy queen-mother and the wine-addled, terrified king is notable. Further, she uses Daniel’s Babylonian name (Belteshazzar = “Protect his life!”), whereas the king (Belshazzar = “Bel, protect the king”) uses the Hebrew name Daniel (= “God is my judge”). In this war of gods and names, who will prevail? We will see that Yahweh will protect Daniel’s life, while Bel, a major Babylonian god, will not protect Belshazzar. God is the judge, and his written judgment will soon be announced.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 160, and footnote 73.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 161.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!