Exposition of Daniel 7:9–14 The final end of beast-like human kingdoms

Daniel 7:9-14

9 “As I looked,

“thrones were set in place,

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.

His clothing was as white as snow;

the hair of his head was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

and its wheels were all ablaze.

10 A river of fire was flowing,

coming out from before him.

Thousands upon thousands attended him;

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The court was seated,

and the books were opened.

11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Today’s section of Daniel 7 must surely rank near the top of all revelations contained in God’s holy and infallible Word. In it we learn that final authority does not rest in the brutal competition for power among turbulent humanity; final authority comes from heaven and has been given to the son of man. The one whose dominion is everlasting is none other than Jesus the Messiah, the one who died for us and rose again to rule forever. This revelation further explains the meaning of the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) that strikes the image and shatters all the kingdoms into dust that blows away. Each vision in the book adds to those which have gone before.

While the little horn shouts blasphemies, Daniel continues watching. What unfolds before him is nothing less than the final judgment of the beasts and the enthronement of the final ruler, the man from heaven. Having seen symbolic events about the earth, Daniel now sees symbolic events about heaven, the place where final decisions are made.

The vision Daniel describes in verses 9–14 does not overflow with elaborate details as it seeks to express a reality no man has ever seen. The Ancient of Days assumes the role of judge, seated on his throne (verse 9). That his judgment must be feared is symbolized by the fire that flows from his throne (verse 10a), not to mention the fact that his throne itself is flaming fire (verse 9). Wood explains the phrase “the court was seated” (verse 10b) by saying, “This reads, literally, ‘the judgment sat.” This is simply to say that the situation was ready for the business at hand.”[1]

But, the judgment rendered by the Ancient of Days is not whimsical; it is based on the deeds and words of each person, that is, on actual fact. (Rev. 20:12). That is the meaning of the phrase “the books were opened” (verse 10b). Miller adds: “Of course, one’s eternal destiny will be determined by whether one’s name is written in ‘the book of life’ (cf. Dan. 12:1; Rev. 20:12, 15). After this is established, the reward of the believer or the degree of punishment for the lost will be fixed by what is inscribed in the record books.”[2]

In context, both Daniel and the vast throng before the throne wait to see the judgment executed upon the fourth beast, and particularly upon the little horn, who was still speaking “boastful words” (verse 11a). This beast of such terrifying power is “slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire” (verse 11b). The ease with which the earth’s greatest and most evil empire is killed and eternally punished should send a chill down the spine of all who would oppose Yahweh and his anointed king (Psalms 2:2). For a time the Antichrist will raise his voice against God, but, at the appropriate time, that voice will be stilled in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).

The fate of the fourth beast has been revealed first because of its extreme significance. The revived Roman Empire, under the defiant rule of the Antichrist, brings opposition to God to the highest intensity in all human history. Daniel also speaks briefly about the other beasts in verse 12. Like the rising and falling waves in the sea-metaphor of verse 2, these three beasts (kingdoms) rose and fell in sequence, with the power and resources of one falling into the hands of the next. Wood explains, “The empires prior to the [revived] Roman continued to exist in their respective successors, in that their people and culture were absorbed into them.”[3]

The human kingdom Yahweh intended

As momentous as these events will be, it is ironic that Daniel has yet to recount his most important vision, the enthronement of the son of man and the establishment of his everlasting kingdom. Verses 13 and 14 are among the most important verses in the Bible. Here we find the phrase “son of man,” a title Jesus frequently applied to himself. One of the most telling instances occurs when Jesus was interrogated by the high priest before his crucifixion:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61–62)

The high priest understood these claims and their connection to Daniel 7; he immediately called this statement blasphemy and led the group in condemning Jesus to death (Mark 14:63–64).

Both Jewish and Christian interpreters have historically understood the phrase “son of man” (verse 13) to be a reference to the Messiah, but some have recently said that it is a reference to the archangel Michael or to the Jewish people. However, verse 14 makes it clear that the “son of man” is to be worshipped by all peoples, and the Bible consistently teaches that only God is to be worshipped (Rev. 19:10).[4] Old Testament scholar Joyce Baldwin rightly says, “The son of man is not only king but God, though, as is characteristic of apocalyptic style, this is conveyed in veiled terms.”[5] Further, when Jesus applied the term to himself, his claim was understood by the high priest to be an assertion that he was both Messiah and God.

We are told in verse 14: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Against those who might claim this kingdom is merely spiritual, Miller says: “All of the other kingdoms described in this chapter are real, earthly empires; and it is best to see this kingdom as real and earthly as well. … Though his rule on earth will last one thousand years (Rev. 20:4–6), Christ’s sovereignty will not end after the millennium but will continue throughout eternity.”[6] The continuation will occur in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21–22).

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

[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 189.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994) 205.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 191.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 208.

[5] Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978) 154.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 210.

Exposition of Daniel 6:19–28, Ranking Guests for Breakfast

Daniel 6:19–28

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
“May you prosper greatly!

26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

After spending a sleepless night, at the breaking of dawn Darius goes quickly to the lion-pit holding Daniel (verse 19). Darius at the cistern’s entrance is a picture of both anxiety and hope. Without court protocol he loudly shouts Daniel’s name, calling him “servant of the living God” (verse 20) and reminding us that God’s ability to rescue Daniel is still a question. That issue is quickly resolved when Daniel implicitly prays, “May the king live forever!” (verse 21). This dramatic and moving greeting mirrors the king’s implicit prayer  “May your God … rescue you!” (verse 16) when Daniel was condemned to face the lions.

Daniel is always looking for ways to speak about God, which should serve to remind us not only of our own mission for Christ but also that this book is not primarily about Daniel. He swiftly explains that “My God” — to distinguish Yahweh from the pantheon of Babylonian deities — “sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (verse 22). It is ironic that Darius, Daniel and the lions were all without food during the long night. The statement that the angel “shut the mouths of the lions” is figurative of total protection since lions can kill a man in other ways as well.

Verse 22 looks on Daniel as being on trial in two venues, before God and before the king. The angel’s protection proves Daniel’s innocence before God, and he further claims to have done no wrong before the king. Darius had never believed any such thing in the first place and orders that Daniel be lifted out of the cistern (verses 22–23). Daniel is closely inspected and found to be without injury; this state is attributed to his faith in Yahweh, and it shows how completely God has overpowered both wild lions and Medo-Persian capital punishment.

However, the vindication of Daniel is the condemnation of his accusers. When verse 24 mentions “the men who had falsely accused Daniel,” we learn from Miller that “‘falsely accused’ is literally ‘who had eaten his pieces.’”[1] The NET Bible Notes for verse 24 point out that “The Aramaic expression is ironic, in that the accusers who had figuratively ‘eaten the pieces of Daniel’ are themselves literally devoured by the lions.” This is a concrete, if ironic, example of a common biblical principle related to judgment: measure for measure.  Jesus said, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

That whole families were executed for the guilt of one person was the Persian custom during those times[2], and the practice serves to remind us that our sin affects all we know and love. Proving that they are both vicious and hungry, the lions “crush their bones” before they even reach the floor of the cistern. Dinner had been quite a disappointment, but breakfast proved memorable for all involved.

An empire-spanning decree

Once again one of the greatest rulers in ancient times feels moved to tell his people about the mighty acts of Yahweh (verses 25–27). Aside from being personally awed by the events, the king finds it necessary to explain how unbreakable Medo-Persian law could be overruled in the case of Daniel, which explains why the decree ends with “He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27b).

The wildly fluctuating status of Daniel may provide the occasion for the decree, but the heart of the king’s message is designed to make sure that the people of the empire do nothing to offend “the God of Daniel” (verse 26a). HCSB gets the right sense by saying “people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel” (verse 6:26a). Trembling before God and being afraid before God are Aramaic participles that imply continuous action. Darius offers five reasons that make this ongoing attitude an absolute necessity:

“he is the living God and he endures forever” (verse 26)

“his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (verse 26)

“he rescues and he saves” (verse 27)

“he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (verse 27)

“he has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27).

If there is one thing our contemporary world has forgotten, it is the absolute need to fear and tremble before the living God, the enduring ruler who holds the power of life and death. We who have been rescued by trusting in Jesus must remember that, even in his own family, our God disciplines those he loves.

We have said before that we consider Darius the Mede to be the same person as Cyrus the Persian, also known as Cyrus the Great. This issue arises again in verse 28, where Miller explains: “If one holds that Cyrus and Darius were the same person … the phrase may be translated ‘during the reign of Darius, even (namely) the reign of Cyrus the Persian.’ If [this] view is correct, Daniel was thereby specifying for the reader the identification of Darius the Mede — he was the same person as Cyrus the Persian.”[3]

While the identification of Darius is interesting, it is not vital. What we must never forget is that God rules in heaven and on earth. He is the only one who can rescue and save, and he has done so through Jesus Christ!

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, 187.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 174.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 189.

Exposition of Daniel 6:10-18 An unbreakable web of lies

Daniel 6:10-18

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions den? The king answered, The decree stands in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.

13 Then they said to the king, Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day. 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.

16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions den. The king said to Daniel, May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniels situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

The publication of the decree affecting his prayers to Yahweh was not the first restrictive edict Daniel had faced. During his first days in Babylon he had been confronted with eating food and drink from the kings allotment (Dan. 1:8). Daniel had quietly resisted that seductive diet, and God had enabled him to prevail during his earliest days in Babylonian captivity. Now, under the reign of Darius the Mede, a much more powerful Daniel faces a situation where his normal prayer life will lead to his death. Daniels enemies were counting on his integrity and faithfulness to Yahweh.

As was his open custom, Daniel continues his daily prayers and praise without using Darius as a mediator (verse 10). Predictably, the same conspirators who had approached Darius with their deceptive proposal burst in on Daniel while he is praying for Gods help (verse 11). Armed with this direct evidence, the conspirators promptly approach the king and first get his confirmation of the irrevocable decree. The king naturally declares that the decree stands and cannot be repealed (verse 12).

The conspirators have very carefully teed up their accusation, but they cannot resist the temptation to enhance it with another provocative lie. While NIV says that Daniel pays no attention to you (verse 13), the verb means has no regard for you,[1] as if the king and his decree are the object of Daniels personal contempt. This is an attempt to inflame the kings emotions against Daniel.

When the king grasps the situation, he is exceptionally distressed (verse 14). Wood observes, This was not the kind of reaction by the king for which the accusers had hoped.[2] The conspirators had previously lied by saying that Daniel had no regard for the king, and that very same Aramaic verb is used in verse 14 to say that the king has regard for Daniel to the point that he wants to rescue him from death! The kings high opinion of Daniel has not changed. He makes every effort to save Daniel until the setting sun marks the time for execution. Wood observes, This is a remarkable example of an absolute monarch being bound by a law still more absolute.[3]

The conspirators had passed the point of no return long ago, and together they approach the king again to demand enforcement of the royal decree (verse 15). Having no choice, the king orders Daniel to be taken to the cistern — a rock enclosure below ground — where the lions were kept. Daniel is cast into the cistern. With sharp irony, the king, who had appointed himself the sole mediator to the gods for others, now utters what amounts to a prayer on Daniels behalf: May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! The king is calling on Yahweh to do what he could not do — rescue Daniel!

A stone is placed over the mouth of the cistern and sealed with the rings of both the king and his nobles (verse 17). Daniels fate is apparently sealed. The cistern is silent and nothing more is said about it. But the king, in the confines of his palace, shows every evidence of great anxiety: no appetite, no interest in diversions, and no sleep (verse 18). The question we must ask ourselves is: Why is the king so anxious?

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

[1] HALOT, sam, have regard for, q.v.

[2] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998)165.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 166.

Exposition of Daniel 5:17-31 Belshazzars last command

Daniel 5:17-31

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. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.

22 But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 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. 24 Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

25 This is the inscription that was written:

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN

26 Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 27 Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 28 Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

29 Then at Belshazzars 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.

30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

In answering the king, Daniel shows none of the deference he demonstrated when speaking to Nebuchadnezzar. He is polite but firm in refusing the rewards for his information. But, before he reads and interprets the writing, Daniel gives the king a pointed history lesson that founds the splendor of Nebuchadnezzars reign on the gift of his authority from the Most High God (verses 18-19). Those words must hit Belshazzar hard since he had been leading his nobles in dishonoring items sacred to Yahweh, an act of defiance.

Daniel does not neglect to recall the humbling of the great king Nebuchadnezzar until he came to understand that the most high God rules over human kingdoms, and he appoints over them whomever he wishes (verse 21, NET). Not only is that heavenly rule the theme of the entire book, but it makes the ideal prelude to the crushing words to follow.

The arrangement of words in verse 22 is emphatic, with greatest stress on but you at the start. Daniel confronts Belshazzar with his failure to humble himself and repent even though he knew all that happened to Nebuchadnezzar. Worse, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven (verse 23a). Daniel details how this was done by the profaning of the goblets belonging to Yahweh, using them to praise idols (verse 23b). In a brutally honest description of idols, Daniel says they cannot see or hear or understand (verse 23c).

The closing sentence of verse 23 is expressed so simply that it is easy to overlook, but its implications directly affect not only Belshazzar but all of us. You did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. It is a rare person who understands that every step they take is accomplished by Gods grace and affects Gods response to them. In Belshazzars case, his rebellion and failure to honor God led immediately to the writing of the inscription (verse 24).

The inscription on the wall

Belshazzar had ruled without regard for God, and now he finds out where that leads. First the inscription:

MENE, MENE , TEKEL, and PARSIN [ESV for verse 25, showing the original and]

It is no wonder that Belshazzar and his nobles could not interpret these words. They may be understood either as a series of nouns or as a series of passive participles. After making that decision, the interpreter is still left with the problem of determining whether the resulting words are to be taken literally or metaphorically. As it stands in the plaster on the palace wall, the sequence is like an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Wood aptly says, Each of the words seems to carry a double sense.[1] But the Most High God did not intend matters to stay at the level of mystery, which is why Daniel stands before the king.

Daniel clearly makes two choices in his interpretation: the words are each to be taken as passive participles and each is used metaphorically. The first word, MENE, is possibly the most difficult. The verb means to count or number, and in the passive sense to be numbered; the passive sense may also mean that the matter is completed or determined because the reckoning has reached a conclusion. Note carefully that MENE is repeated. Daniel speaks for God in explaining that the first instance of MENE means God has numbered … your reign and the second instance means and brought it to an end. (verse 26).

The careful reader will notice that we have said nothing about the days of Belshazzars kingdom, and that is because the Aramaic text says nothing about days. It is a popular, if unfounded, idea that each of us — or Belshazzars kingdom — has been allotted an exact number of days. This verse has the much richer idea that God constantly monitors our exact thoughts and actions, evaluates them and, if he wishes, brings our time to an end. Speaking generally, we are saying that God is not watching a calendar, he is evaluating our hearts!

The next word of the inscription is TEKEL. NIVs translation You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting (verse 27) gives the proper sense in modern terms. However, you should imagine the type of scale that is designed as a balance with a standard weight on one side and the item being weighed on the other. The phrase found wanting may not be well understood. The Geneva Bible (1599) has the literal sense found too light, and NETs found to be lacking gives the metaphorical sense. The balance is the scale of divine justice, and Belshazzars lack of humility, failure to repent, and his omission of honor to Yahweh as the rightful ruler of humanity all combine to tip the scales heavily against him.

The final word in the inscription is PARSIN. Chisholm gives the clearest explanation by saying, The term uparsin (combining the conjunction and and the plural of peres, half-shekel) sounded like the verb peras, to break into two.[2] Daniel uses this wordplay to say that Belshazzars kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians (verse 28).

It is ironic that the previously contemptuous Belshazzar kept his word to Daniel. The humble prophet-statesman is rewarded (verse 29) and made third highest ruler of a kingdom that would not last the night! Belshazzar is slain that very night (verse 30) by the military forces of the Medes and Persians. There is evidence in ancient documents that a certain Babylonian governor named Gobryas defected to Cyrus because the wicked Belshazzar had murdered his son during a royal hunt. It was Gobryas who led the assault troops into the palace and killed Belshazzar to avenge his son.[3]

The story of how such a mighty city could fall so easily is known from the accounts of ancient historians, but the Bible says nothing about it! As we have said before, Daniel wrote chiefly to show that Yahweh rules in the affairs of humanity; the military details are not relevant to that theme.

The identity of Darius the Mede (verse 31) is disputed. We accept the simple conclusion that this name apples to Cyrus the Great (600 B.C. 530 B.C.). Miller explains: Cyruss father was a Persian, but his mother was the daughter of Astyages, the king of Media; thus Cyrus was half Median. … Both Isaiah (13:17) and Jeremiah (51:11, 28) had predicted the downfall of Babylon to the Medes, and Daniel employed the title to emphasize the fulfillment of these prophecies.[4] Isaiahs prophetic ministry ended about 680 B.C., roughly 140 years prior to the fall of Babylon. Jeremiahs prophecies ceased when Jerusalem was taken in 586 B.C., about 47 years before Darius the Mede seized Babylon. God had declared Babylons fall in advance!

Only God can declare future events and then bring them to pass. In saying Darius the Mede took Babylon, Daniel continues his great theme that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes (Dan. 4:32, NET).

19 Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
the pride and glory of the Babylonians,
will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah.
20 She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations;
there no nomads will pitch their tents, there no shepherds will rest their flocks.

(Isaiah 13:19-20)

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

[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998)149.

[2]Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook of the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002)302.

[3] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)169.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 175.

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.

Exposition of Daniel 4:28–37 Holding back God’s hand

Daniel 4:28–37

28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”

36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Before we plunge into the details of the story, it is important to take a longer view. Daniel’s interpretation was so unusual as to defy belief. The most powerful man in the world will be banished, eat grass for a long time and then resume his reign — how were such things even remotely possible? Yet, in one of the book’s most astonishing passages, the king himself reports, “All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar” (verse 28a). Predictive prophecy is not only possible, some of its unlikely details have already been verified by someone who lived through the experience. When God speaks of events to come, the assured outcome is that “all this happened.” Men and women of faith will take God at his word.

Our story resumes twelve months after the terrifying dream and the advice from Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar repent. In telling his own story, the king makes no comment about whether he had heeded that advice, even if briefly. Instead, he chooses to focus on a day when the pride simply gushed out of him, with dreadful consequences (verses 28–29).

You might say that Nebuchadnezzar picks a poor place to prance about while boasting of what he had built (verses 29–30). A long time earlier, another group of people had gathered at Babel, the Hebrew name for Babylon, to build a city and a tall tower “so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). Their intended rebellion against heaven was short-lived because Yahweh confused their language so that they scattered. This time he confuses the mind of one man, the greatest king on earth.

The king’s palace was one of the highest structures in the city, and the view from the roof was something few got the chance to enjoy. From that vantage point, the king could see many structures he had built (verse 30). The king’s boast is clearly heard by the watchers, and the answer from heaven takes the form of a voice telling him that the kingdom has been taken from him (verse 31). Wood points out the irony: “Nebuchadnezzar was accustomed to giving words of doom to others, but this one was coming to him.”[1]

We must wonder whether the king left the roof of his palace with a clear mind. It is not hard to imagine that by the time he was taken away, the sights from his roof meant nothing to him. He himself reports that the predicted consequences were “immediately” fulfilled (verse 33). So begin the “seven times” required to bring change to the heart of a great king.

Again we are faced with the problem concerning this time of eating grass, living in the fields and feeling the dew. It is our view that Daniel would have been instrumental in protecting the king and explaining that his eventual return to clear thought and sovereignty had been declared by the Most High God. If anyone should disagree, it is not unlikely that Daniel could have explained that something worse than eating grass was an option for the Most High to bring upon those who opposed him. In our view, seven weeks or seven months seem more likely as the duration of the humiliation than seven years.

When the time without reason ends, the eyes accustomed to looking at the splendor of Babylon look instead to heaven (verse 34). What is restored to Nebuchadnezzar after his humiliation ends? Some English versions (NIV, NET, HCSB) say it was his “sanity,” while other versions (ESV, NLT, CEB, NASB) say it was his “reason.” The Aramaic noun generally means “understanding.”[2] We favor the restoration of “reason” since we believe the king was not insane but had been reduced from humanity to the existence of a beast of the field. In that state, he lacked “understanding” in the same way that your dog does not understand which of your bills needs to be paid next, but that does not make him insane.

When the king’s humanity was restored to him, the evidence was his understanding. What he understands focuses on the Most High, who both lives and rules forever (verse 34). The jarring idea that “all the peoples of the earth are regarded an nothing” (verse 35a) does not mean that God — who sent Christ to die for the world — is uncaring about their welfare. It means that God has the authority and power to make decisions and take actions “as he pleases.” The Most High does not need to take a poll or consult any king before acting. No one can stop him, and no one can demand an accounting of his actions.

God had removed Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his power, and restores him to all he had before and more (verse 36). It is from this most exalted position on earth that Nebuchadnezzar makes an ongoing practice of exalting the “King of heaven” (verse 37), and his words and actions are such as to convince us that his transformation involved his eternal salvation as well. Such unlikely faith is also indicated by Yahweh calling him “my servant” (Jer. 25:9, 27:6, 43:10), a title used only for men such as the Messiah, Abraham, Moses, David, Job, and Isaiah. No other foreign person is ever called “my servant” by Yahweh.

God is certainly able to humble those who walk in pride (verse 37), and he is also willing to accept their allegiance. In that there is hope for all.

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

[1] Wood, Daniel, 120.

[2] HALOT, manda‘, understanding, q.v.

Exposition of Daniel 4:19–27 Fair warning

Daniel 4:19–27

19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds — 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

23 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’

24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

After Nebuchadnezzar finishes recounting his dream, Daniel is appalled[1] and is momentarily terrified by the thoughts running through his head, but the king swiftly reassures him (verse 19a).

Daniel answers with a verbless sentence that amounts to a fervent wish: “My lord, the dream to your enemies and the interpretation to your adversaries!” (verse 19b). English versions have added various verbs to make a viable sentence. Daniel describes the world-spanning tree in all its abundance, and then says, “It is you, O king!” verse 22a, NET). Since Nebuchadnezzar had been terrified by the dream, there is little doubt that he anticipated this interpretation.

Next, Daniel recalls the appearance of the watcher from heaven (verse 23) and explains the vision (verses 24–26). Daniel leaves no doubt in verse 24 that the decree against Nebuchadnezzar was issued by the Most High God. The danger he faces does not come from among men but from heaven itself. As such, there is no resisting it; instead, he must hope for some basis for relief in the decree.

The divine decree about Nebuchadnezzar’s future contains several elements: (1) isolated from people and living among the animals of the field, (2) eating grass “like the ox” and experiencing the rigors of the weather, and (3) enduring an appropriate period of these behaviors until he understands that the Most High is the Lord of all kingdoms and all kings (verse 25). Whether the metal fetter is literal or figurative of the limits set for the king by God is not clear; both are possible. While this period of less-than-human existence might feel pointless to the one in its grip, God plainly has a transformative purpose in it. Destroying Nebuchadnezzar would have been a trivial matter, but saving him from himself takes grace, discipline and time.

Two matters have made interpretation of these revelations difficult. First, conservative scholars have gone to some effort to identify Nebuchadnezzar’s divinely-caused affliction using standard psychological categories (e.g. lycanthropy or boanthropy). Perhaps they felt that such an identification would make the explanation more acceptable to those who reject supernatural causes. Such efforts seem misguided since the testimony from heaven is that God caused this mental state and later lifted it for a purely theological reasons. It makes no difference whatever if scientists or psychologists find the malady a realistic possibility; God is not waiting for their diagnosis or their approval!

Another difficulty is the phrase “seven times will pass by for you” (verse 25); the word “seven” is clear enough, but what is the unit of measure that belongs to “times” — days, weeks, months, years? Conservative scholars, such as Wood and Miller, generally believe this Aramaic noun (`iddanin) means “years” in this context. The standard lexicon offers both “time” and “year” as possible meanings for the word,[2] which happens to be plural (“times” or “years”) in our verses. English versions generally follow the same path as NIV by saying “seven times” and not attempting to guess on a definite measure. We agree.

Wood says that the interpretation “years” fits the likely duration of Nebuchadnezzar’s illness and explains: “To speak of seven days, or weeks, or even months appears to be too short in view of the overall story.”[3] Miller accepts and repeats this view.[4] I do not find the argument to be convincing, much less compelling. One week on your knees eating grass would be quite instructive, especially for a proud man accustomed to luxury. It is difficult to see why a period of years is required, but the possibility remains.

NIV once again mentions the nonexistent “stump” in verses 23 and 26, but the latter verse is best translated by NET: “They said to leave the taproot of the tree, for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules.” See our explanation of verse 15 for more details about the taproot.

Verse 26 concludes the interpretation on a more hopeful note. Once Nebuchadnezzar understands — with the implication that he also assents — that Heaven rules, his kingdom will be restored. In apparent concern for the well-being of a king he both likes and admires, Daniel risks adding respectful but challenging advice (verse 27). He calls on the king to wipe away his sins by behaving in accordance with righteousness, which in this context probably means humility (= righteousness) must replace pride (= sins). Further, the king’s prosperity was not being shared by all his subjects, so Daniel urges him to show kindness to the oppressed. Daniel suggests that such a change might lead to a continuation of the king’s prosperity.

Daniel’s closing suggestion, and the tantalizing possibility that crushing judgment might be avoided, provides a crucial theological lesson. God has declared through the dream and through Daniel what he will do, but humble repentance can still alter the picture. Under similar circumstances, God had spared a repentant Nineveh from impending judgment not so many years before this (Jonah 1–4). What does this prove? Heaven rules. Any judgment that God declares, he is free to rescind. It is for us to remember that he is God and we are not, and to live a humble life of mercy under his compassionate rule.

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

 

[1] HALOT, shamam, be appalled, q.v.

[2] HALOT, `iddanin, time, q.v.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 111.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 134–35.