Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

11 July 2019

The Head of Gold Shattered

Belshazzar's party
The events recorded in the fifth chapter of Daniel occurred on the eve of Babylon’s fall to a force of “Medes and Persians” (539 BC). The king hosted a feast “for a thousand of his lords” during which gold and silver vessels from the Jewish Temple were used “to taste wine.” Whether intentional, this showed disdain for the God of the Jewish exiles (Daniel 1:1-2).
     The king witnessed a hand inscribe unrecognized words on a plaster wall. Terrified, he summoned the astrologers and soothsayers of Babylon to interpret the inscription, promising a great reward to the man who did so. As before, not one of Babylon’s “wise men” was able to comply. Subsequently, Daniel was summoned to interpret the sign.

     Through this event, God pronounced the imminent end of Babylon’s reign; her imperial power was at an end. The kingdom would be reassigned to the Medes and Persians. That same night Belshazzar was slain, the city captured, and the “Medes and Persians” became the new world power.

The Feast
     The story opens with no reference to any preceding ruler of Babylon. The city’s last king was Nabonidus, the father of Belshazzar and the last official king of the Babylonian Empire (reigned 556-539 BC). Belshazzar ruled as regent over the city and its immediate environs.
     Belshazzar gave a feast for thousands. He, his princes, wives, and concubines all drank from vessels forcefully removed from the Jewish Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1-2). As they drank, they “praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone,” a sacrilege severe even by pagan standards.
     When Babylon conquered a foreign city its idols and sacred artifacts were treated with respect and often transported to Babylon for safekeeping.  Foreign gods were added to Babylon’s growing pantheon; defeat did not prove another nation’s gods were nonexistent but that Babylon’s deities were more powerful.
     In the same hour, a hand began to “write over against the lamp-stand upon the plaster of the wall.” Belshazzar’s sin was not debauchery but sacrilege. The vessels from which they drank had been dedicated to priestly service before Yahweh. Now the elite of Babylondrank from them while venerating false gods.
     Six materials are listed and linked to false gods: gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone (5:4), a list repeated in verse 23. The number six is not coincidental, it being the base number of Babylonian sexagesimal mathematics. In addition, it was a sacred number used in numerological-based divination rites (Daniel 3:1). More importantly, the same four metals formed the bulk of the figure in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image composed of gold, silver, brass, and iron (2:31-45). That earlier image was shattered by a “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” and its metal components turned into dust (2:35).
     Belshazzar instinctively summoned the enchanters, astrologers, soothsayers and “wise men of Babylon” to interpret the writing, but none could do so. Then Daniel was called on the queen-mother’s advice; she knew of Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams. He declared he would interpret the writing regardless of any gifts or honors promised by the Babylonian ruler.

Daniel’s Interpretation
     Daniel reminded the king that Nebuchadnezzar had received “the kingdom, greatness, glory and majesty” from God, including authority over “all peoples, nations, and tongues.” When that king’s heart became arrogant, he was removed from the throne and driven from the sons of men until he learned that “the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men and sets up over it whomever he will.” 
In contrast, Belshazzar failed to humble his heart, “though he knew all this.” He exalted himself and profaned the Lord’s sacred vessels. Rather than honor the Most-High, he praised false gods and idols “that neither see nor hear nor know.”
     Daniel then read the supernatural writing:  Mene, Mene Tekel U-pharsin. The words are related to monetary weights. Mene is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew “talent” or mina, worth approximately sixty shekelsMene is repeated; each Aramaic word has a double application. Tekel is the equivalent of shekel but also denotes “light” in contrast to “heavy.” Pharsinor persin means “divided” or “half-pieces,” a reference to the “half-mina.” It also points to the two “halves” of the Persian Empire, the “Medes and Persians.” Parsin is read as peres from the three consonants that form its stem (p-r-s), which means to “divide” but also is a wordplay on “Persia” or pharas (“your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians”).
     Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians. Cyrus the Great annexed Media to his empire in 550 bc. Though initially equal, at a later point Persia became the dominant power in this imperial partnership.
     Noteworthy is that the book of Daniel consistently identifies this next power as the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians,” not simply as Persia.

End of an Empire
      Despite the predicted demise of Babylon, Belshazzar ordered Daniel arrayed with purple and gold, and proclaimed him “third ruler in the kingdom.” That same night the Medes and Persians captured the city and slew Belshazzar.
Yahweh’s sovereignty was exercised through Daniel’s word. Just as the prophet declared. The world-power was transferred from Babylon to the next kingdom. Belshazzar’s death and the city’s fall validated Daniel’s words.
     Through Daniel’s prophetic ministry the “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” shattered the golden head of Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Daniel 2:45). Babylon ceased to be the world-power, just as Yahweh had decreed. The kingdom was transferred to the Medes and Persians. The change of rulership was pronounced by and executed according to the words of Yahweh’s prophet.

In the Book of Revelation
     Language from Daniel 5:23 is found in Revelation 9:13-20where it describes how impenitent men reacted to plagues inflicted by the Sixth Trumpet.
     Daniel chided the Babylonian ruler for refusing to humble his heart and instead exalting it against Yahweh by praising the “gods of silver, gold, brass, iron, wood, and stone, which can neither see nor hear nor know.” Likewise, the men not killed by the plagues of the Sixth Trumpet “repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk” (Revelation 9:13-20).
     The Sixth Trumpet caused four angels to be loosed from the Euphrates River to unleash a vast army of horsemen “prepared for the hour, day, month and year to kill the third part of men.” The description parallels the results when of the Sixth Bowl of Wrath poured out onto the Euphrates River (Revelation 16:12-16). In the latter passage, the river was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the east so all the “kings of the whole habitable earth might be gathered for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” This “battle” was followed by the destruction of Babylon when the Seventh Bowl was emptied (Revelation 16:17-21); “Babylon the great was remembered before God and given the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
    The Sixth Trumpet and Bowl borrow imagery from Daniel and the history of the downfall of ancient Babylon. The attacking Medes and Persians reportedly dammed the Euphrates River to create a dry stream bed on which their army entered the city and took it in one night (Isaiah 44:27-2845:1-4Jeremiah 50:38-42).
SHARE

No comments:

Post a Comment