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 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Two kinds of partnership

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In the previous lesson we spoke of covenant loyalty between Christ and his people. Garland points out how utterly unique that was in Roman Corinth: Pauls insistence on exclusive loyalty to a religion was something uncommon in paganism. People were accustomed to joining in the sacrificial meals of several deities, none of which required an exclusive relationship.[1]

The technical term for mixing parts of a number of religions is syncretism, and it also characterizes many postmodern faith choices. Many contemporary people — even some atheists — blithely chose elements from a smorgasbord of faiths.

To all these pluralistic tendencies, whether ancient or modern, Paul says, Flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14). He has been working toward this conclusion throughout chapters 8-10. In verse 15, Paul appeals, probably without irony, to these sensible people to judge his words carefully.

Paul will demonstrate that the Corinthians have failed to understand the nature of the spiritual community that exists in the sacred meal established by Jesus (i.e. communion) and the religious meals celebrated in idol temples. Obviously, the two questions in verse 16 expect the answer yes. Twice in verse 16 the NIV uses the English word participation to translate the Greek noun koinonia. Thiselton expands that slightly to say communal participation and explains that here it denotes having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord who determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share.[2] That rich meaning is quite different from the mere idea of social fellowship that many evangelical Christians associate with koinonia.

Verse 17 is very difficult because it carries a lot of symbolism. The one loaf is Jesus Christ; recall that Jesus held the bread at the Last Supper and said, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). By sharing in the one loaf, we, who are many, are one body (1 Cor. 10:17b). This fact also shows how ridiculous it is for divisions to exist in the Corinthian church.

Even though the final paragraph (verses 18-22) begins with Israel, that is merely a jumping off point to talk about feasts dedicated to idols. Paul begins by establishing that those in Israel who ate the sacrifices were participants (Greek koinonia again) in the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Some believe verse 18 refers to the God-ordained sacrifices (e.g. Lev. 10:12-15), while others believe this is a description of certain Israelites participating in sacrifices to idols, a practice totally forbidden by God. Either way, the answer to Pauls question is yes; those who eat the sacrifices are participants in the altar.

Verse 19 tells us that idolaters are not actually worshipping a god that exists, so the sacrifices honor no actual god. But at this point, in verse 20, Paul drops the bomb on Corinthian practices! By participating in banquets dedicated to idols, the Corinthians are actually joining themselves to demons; the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons (1 Cor. 10:20). Idols are nothing, but demons are real indeed!

Paul tells the Corinthians they cannot have it both ways. They cannot be partners with demons and united to Christ at the same time! (1 Cor. 10:21). If they continue down that path, the jealousy of the Lord will utterly sweep them away (1 Cor. 10:22).

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 472.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 761.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:7-13, Pauls cautionary examples of craving

1 Corinthians 10:7-13

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Having set up his concern about craving meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:6) — or craving the business and social contacts at banquets held in idol temples — Paul finally gives a direct command: Do not be idolaters (1 Cor. 10:7a). Indeed, in light of the specific Greek forms used, Paul may be saying, Stop being idolaters, as some of them [i.e. the Exodus generation] were.[1] That statement would seriously escalate the warning to the Corinthians in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about the fatal consequences inflicted on the Israelites.

First Example — In the second half of verse 7, Paul quotes from Exod. 32:6, the occasion when the people joined in wild revelry to celebrate the golden calf they had made. Thiselton says the seriousness of this revelry can be appreciated only when we fully grasp the intimate connection for [the Jews and ] Paul between worshiping [idols] and sexual immorality and abandonment of the censor [our self-control] to sheer unbridled indulgence.[2]

So, the issue has two sharp edges: (1) the combination of sexual immorality with idol worship and (2) the complete abandonment of self-control. In Roman Corinth, Thiselton tells us: [Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city. Hence business interests and trade were bound up with the welfare of the cult. . . . Coins excavated at Corinth bear the images of Aphrodite and Poseidon more than those of any other pagan gods.[3] Religious prostitution abounded.

As a result of the idolatry associated with the golden calf (Exod. 32:6), the Levites immediately killed 3,000 at Yahwehs command (Exod. 32:27-28). In this context, Exodus 32:35 says, And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made. Note that we are not told how many died in this plague. The position taken here is that Pauls statement in one day twenty-three thousand of them died (1 Cor. 10:8) is the answer. Most authorities believe Paul is speaking of Numbers 25:1-9, another time when judgment fell on idolatrous Israel, but the death toll given there is 24,000 (Num. 25:9), and no one has been able to convincingly reconcile that number with 1 Cor. 10:8, which says 23,000. Our view is that the numbers do not match because they are different occasions. Alternatively, Paul spoke from memory; the exact number does not affect his point in the least. Certainly, rounding was a common practice in the Bible.

Example 1 is about the combination of idolatry and sexual immorality.

Example 2 — In 1 Cor. 10:9, Paul once again produces a surprising connection between Corinth and the Exodus generation. This time he uses the events recorded in Numbers 21:4-9. The Israelites were strongly rebelling against Moses and were scorning the food God had graciously provided for them (Num. 21:4-5). They were testing God! But the Apostle Paul interprets this text by naming Christ as the one they were testing ( 1 Cor. 10:9). Many died from serpents God sent among them until the rest pleaded for deliverance, and God provided it by his grace.

Note that the people were testing God by complaining about food. It is no accident that Paul is telling stories about complaints over food that led to judgment, and he implicitly warns the Corinthians to be content without the food offered to idols that they crave. Example 2 is about presuming to test Christ, with the implication that the Corinthians are doing the same thing.

Example 3 — In 1 Cor. 10:10, Paul recalls the incessant grumbling and complaining against Moses and God that so frequently punctuates the wilderness accounts (e.g. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; Num. 14:2, 27, 29). The constant complaining, largely about food and drink, transformed a joyous group of redeemed people into a self-pitying group perceiving themselves victims of Gods neglect.[4] The destroying angel left many of them dead in the wilderness.

Garland says that Paul may single out grumbling because the Corinthians were complaining against his opposition to their participation in idol feasts.[5] We might call example 3 the sin of self-importance; for anyone to think they can speak to God or his appointed messengers as they would to a subordinate or even an equal is a level of foolishness that can lead to sudden death. We do not call Jesus Lord for nothing!

Clearly, Paul understands these examples as cautionary tales that every Christian should take to heart (1 Cor. 10:11). Fee explains the last half of verse 11: Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ marks the turning of the ages; the old is on its way out, the new has begun (2 Cor. 5:17).[6] This is no time to ignore warnings! In that light, verse 12 is plainly a serious caution directly to the Corinthians, and especially to the puffed-up strong.

Gods grace in temptation (craving)

Many Christians have taken solace from 1 Cor. 10:13, but we should take care to read and apply the whole verse. The desires that push us toward sin and away from God are nothing new; they are the common experience of all humanity.

In Roman Corinth the strong paradoxically caved in to the temptation to continue their socially and financially lucrative connections with idol worship, and they tried to justify it theologically with their contrived slogans (I have the right to do anything, 1 Cor. 6:12; Every sin a person commits is outside of the body, 1 Cor. 6:18, NET). Those having more fragile faith felt the temptation to follow the strong in violation of their own consciences. So, many Corinthian believers had their own reasons for yielding to temptation.

Thiselton forcefully states, Against the claim that the strong are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice.[7] Pauls answer to their behavior is that (1) these temptations are neither unusual nor compelling, and (2) God is faithful (1 Cor. 10:13)! Garland explains: As surely as God tests, God provides a way out (see Gen. 22:1-19). That exit is not an escape hatch that allows them to evade all difficulties.[8]

Just as the Jews had a covenant with God — the law of Moses — Christians are under the new covenant (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28), in which Jesus died for our sins. Like the old covenant with Israel, the New Covenant with Christ obligates both Christ and believers to be loyal to the covenant. Thiselton says, Christian believers can never claim that they could not help themselves in the face of pressure to abandon covenant faithfulness, for God will ensure, as part of his own covenant faithfulness, that he will not simply leave them to face impossible odds.[9] But Garland cautions, God is just as faithful to destroy the wicked as God is faithful to save the righteous.[10]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996) 724; Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 454, footnote 17.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 735.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 738.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 742.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 464.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 459.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748.

[8] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 468.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 74849.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 469.