A major break — part 2, Matthew 15:10-14

One interesting thing about a Dallas Cowboys football game is that if you don’t have a ticket, you don’t get in. The ticket qualifies you to enter the stadium and sit in a particular seat. In a similar way, avoiding ritual defilement was necessary in the time of Jesus to enter the temple and worship God. Those who were defiled, according to the law, were not qualified to enter and worship.

Because the temple was central to the worship of God, a great deal of rabbinic teaching existed to define defilement and to spell out how to eliminate it. You would think that defilement would be the one thing that all Jewish religious leaders understood. But Jesus refuted that belief.

Matthew 15:10-14

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someones mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?
13 He replied, Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.

Commentary

When Jesus summons the crowd to listen and understand (verse 10), that sets the stage for an escalation of the conflict between him and the Jewish religious leaders. What Jesus says in verse 11 seems simple enough to us, but it directly contradicted the teaching of the Jewish religious leaders about defilement. They claimed that defilement came from external sources, but Jesus said that what emerges from the mouth, from the inside of a person, is what defiles that person.

When we get to verse 18, Jesus will identify the exact inner source of what defiles a person.
Presumably some time passed after Jesus spoke to the crowd (verse 11), and during that time the Pharisees were seething and deeply offended over what Jesus had said about defilement. The disciples quickly learned of this development and went to Jesus to warn him of it (verse 12). The disciples show the respect many must have felt toward a high-level delegation of religious leaders from Jerusalem.

Jesus answers the news with a surprising metaphor: Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots (verse 13). Since the traditions of the Pharisees contradict the commandment of God, they are the ones who can expect to be pulled up by the roots! This language may well look back to the Parable of the Weeds, where Jesus taught about the separation that will take place at the final judgment.[1] Jesus disciples are the plants established by God, not the Pharisees and their allies.

As to how they might relate to the offended Pharisees, Jesus tells his disciples, Leave them (verse 14a), with the idea of abandoning them and going on to something else. This Greek verb is also used for divorce. In offering his reasons for this action, Jesus returns to metaphors: They are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit (verse 14b). In the arid climate of Palestine, cisterns were dug underground and lined with stone. The surface entry was often a terrible hazard for those unable to see.

Ritual purity, and therefore defilement, held extreme importance to the Pharisees. Jesus has already crossed the boundary of propriety by touching women, lepers and even the dead in order to heal them. Now he moves from deed to word in teaching that defilement comes from within, not from externals. R. T. France explains the significance by saying, After this dialogue the breach between Jesus and the scribal establishment is irreparable.[2]

Copyright 2015 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Passages such as Isaiah 5:1-7 contain similar ideas.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 575.

Exposition of Daniel 6:1-9 The triumph of evil: Darius deceived

Daniel 6:1-9

[Dan. 5:31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.]*

1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.

6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed. 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.

* Ancient Jewish versions begin chapter 6 with what English versions label as verse 5:31.

My previous post adopted the view that Darius the Mede is also known as Cyrus the Great (600530 B.C.), a view advanced by Miller[1] and others. A great deal of ink has rightly been spilled on that subject by scholars, but the details have little bearing on Daniels message; Miller presents other views in some detail.

From a human viewpoint, it is true that Darius took over the [Babylonian] kingdom (verse 5:31, NIV and NLT), but Daniel has stressed repeatedly that God gives the kingdoms of men to whomever he wishes (Dan. 4:32). That being the repeated message of Daniel, it is better to say that Darius received the [Babylonian] kingdom (ESV, HCSB, CEB, NASB). This difference may seem trivial, but it is Daniels viewpoint.

The word satrap (verse 1) sounds odd to us, but it is an Old Persian word that means protector of the empire. Cyruss kingdom was the largest the world had yet seen, and it was vital to have men who could act with almost unlimited power without waiting months for messages to get to Cyrus and back. Over the satraps, Cyrus established three high officials who could hold the satraps accountable. Any satrap who hoped to enrich himself at the kings expense would regard these officials as a dangerous obstacle. Daniel was one of the three high officials (verse 2), and, because he repeatedly demonstrated that he had an extraordinary spirit (verse 3, NET), the king intended to make Daniel supreme.

The other two high officials and a few of the satraps did not want to see Daniel promoted. Because he was diligent, incorruptible and trustworthy, their only strategy to eliminate him was to create a conflict between Daniels loyalty to Yahweh and his duty to uphold the civil law (verses 4-5). They conspired to keep their plan secret from Daniel and — as a group — deceived Darius by saying that all the high officials and satraps supported their proposal.

The proposal of the conspirators had several elements: (1) strictly enforceable, (2) applicable to all, (3) irrevocable during its 30-day duration, and (4) requiring execution for violation. The key provision of their proposal is often misunderstood. Miller explains: Darius was to be the only priestly mediator during this period. In his role as mediator, prayers to the gods were to be offered through him rather than the priests.[2] Darius was not approving worship of himself, as is sometimes assumed, but rather taking a temporary role something like that of a high priest, who intercedes with the gods on behalf of his subjects. Collins says, There is no indication that [Persian] kings had even the slightest tendency toward self-deification.[3]

Darius was deceived by the conspirators and issued the binding decree in written form (verse 9). From that moment, Daniel had a date with the lions.

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, 177.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 180.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 181, footnote 50, quoting J.H. Walton.

Exposition of Daniel 5:1–9 God rules the unrepentant too!

Daniel 5:1–9

1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 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. 3 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. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

5 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. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

A historical interlude

Before we discuss Daniel 5 and the fall of Babylon, it will be helpful to look at the list of Neo-Babylonian kings. It contains both Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1–4) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5).[1]

 

The Neo-Babylonian kings
Nabopolassar (626–605 B.C.) conqueror of Nineveh, father of Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 B.C.) mentioned 91 times in the Old Testament
Evil-Merodach (562–560 B.C.); son of Nebuchadnezzar; 2 Kings 25:27; Jer. 52:31
Neriglissar (560–556 B.C.); AKA Nergal-sharezer murdered Evil-Merodach; Jer. 39:3, 13
Labashi-Marduk (556 B.C.) boy, son of Neriglissar; murdered by Nabonidas
Nabonidus (556–539 B.C.) resided in Arabia 10 years; coregent of Belshazzar
Belshazzar (553–539 B.C.), coregent son and coregent of Nabonidus

Both the conquest of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, and the long reign of Nebuchadnezzar are notable. The year 556 B.C. stands out for having three kings, of whom Labashi-Marduk was only a boy when he was murdered. Since assassination was all too popular, it is understandable that Nabonidus decided to take a ten-year sojourn at an oasis in northwest Arabia while leaving Belshazzar as his coregent in Babylon.

Yahweh kept Daniel at the pinnacle of Babylonian power through the reign of seven Babylonian kings and then into the reign of Cyrus the Persian (Dan. 1:21).

Drunk and disrespectful

As shown in the table above, Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon, serving as coregent with his father Nabonidus. Verse 2 refers to “Nebuchadnezzar his father,” but this likely means that Nebuchadnezzar was a blood relative — probably Belshazzar’s grandfather — not his biological father. [In a similar way, the Jewish leaders later told Jesus, “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39).] Nebuchadnezzar’s reign had been so splendid that everyone wanted to associate themselves with it.

Verse 1 of chapter 5 is what you might call a formula for trouble. Any monarch has to know that drinking too much in the presence of a ranking audience can lead to trouble, especially if one member of the audience is God! [The best biblical example might be Herod the tetrarch, who was forced to behead John the Baptist after a rash vow at his own birthday feast (Matt. 14:3–11).] But, as we will see, Belshazzar was a man under great pressure. His father Nabonidus had recently been defeated north of the city by the military forces of Cyrus. Wood explains, “The fact is clear that the city was in imminent danger of falling to the Persians at the time when Belshazzar held the grand feast set forth in this chapter.”[2]

Belshazzar’s banquet hall has been excavated. In shape and size the room closely matches the part of an American football field that extends from the twenty-yard line to the goal line.[3] A recessed region of the long wall opposite the great doors would have been made for the king’s table. The walls were covered with white gypsum plaster, just as verse 5 says, and the lampstand was doubtless located in the recessed area (verse 5).

Full of wine, Belshazzar manifests the family trait — soaring pride — by ordering that the gold and silver goblets taken from Yahweh’s temple be brought into the hall for drinking (verse 2).  Miller thinks it likely that “on the evening in question Belshazzar desecrated the holy objects of other nations as well as those of Israel in an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the gods of Babylon over the deities of the nations.”[4] So, the goblets are swiftly brought in and all drink from them (verse 3). In doing so, they drunkenly praise “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (verse 4). The other gods, being lifeless shams, do not care, but Belshazzar’s defiance toward Yahweh is a fatal error.

At once a hand appears, writing on the plaster wall near the lamp stand beside Belshazzar’s table (verse 5). Even though he does not know the meaning of the writing, the king’s face turns pale and his knees knock together; fear disables him (verse 6). Unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s private dreams, this supernatural message unfolds in the sight of all within the huge banquet hall.

Belshazzar's Feast - Rembrandt
Belshazzar’s Feast – Rembrandt

Belshazzar summons the Babylonian magi, the scholars who interpret dreams and mysteries, and offers great rewards, including appointment as “the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (verse 7) for anyone who can interpret the writing. Of course, at the moment the kingdom extends only to the city limits of Babylon! The appointment will place the winning interpreter behind only Nabonidas and his coregent Belshazzar in authority.

While the message is written in Aramaic, a well-known language in Babylon, none of the magi can interpret it (verse 8). Miller gives the best explanation of this failure by saying: “Most likely the words were understood, but they ‘simply did not convey any intelligible meaning.’”[5] It was too cryptic.

This failure of Babylonian wisdom leaves the king in a state of terror and his nobles both scared and bewildered (verse 9). In a banquet hall full of fine food and drink — and full of those who had mocked Yahweh — no one has any appetite for it!

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

[1] Table adapted from Finley and Cash, Daniel, chapter 1 (in press), and Wood, Daniel, 129–130.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 131.

[3] Robert Koldewey, The Excavations at Babylon (London: Macmillan, 1914) 103; 17 meters by 52 meters. Koldewey is responsible for the dimensions but not the metaphor.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 154.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 159, quoting G. Archer.