Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Finished the Bible 25 Times: Part 2

In finishing the Bible a “marathon” number of times from the age of 7 to the age of 23, I gained much experience in the dynamics, mistakes, benefits, and practicalities of reading the Bible on a daily basis. Therefore, this post is written in a Q and A format in order to offer a practical look at some of the things I have learned in 25 times through the Scriptures.

Question: How can I start a Bible reading plan?
Answer: The easiest method to starting a Bible reading plan is to find one that suits your needs. You can use plans that work with mobile apps, you can download plans and print them out, you can access plans through websites, and you can install Bible reading programs on your computer. If your church offers a Bible reading plan, that is a great way to start. I started 16 years ago because our church offered a Bible-reading plan.

Question: How should I start reading the Bible?
Answer: I started reading the Bible through thematically. On Mondays, I’d read Old Testament History, on Tuesdays, I’d read Old Testament Law, on Wednesdays, I’d read Old Testament Wisdom Literature, on Thursdays, I’d read Old Testament Prophecy, on Fridays, I’d read New Testament History, on Saturdays, I’d read New Testament Teaching/Prophecy, and on Sundays I’d read the Psalms. For the last several years, however, I’ve read straight from Genesis to Revelation. Chronological plans help show the flow of Scripture better, whereas thematic plans help with motivation.

Question: Which translation(s) of the Bible should I read?
Answer: I personally recommend picking any number of fine English translations to use. If your church uses one primary translation, consider choosing that translation to read devotionally. Also, I would recommend reading a “formally equivalent” version rather than a “dynamic equivalent”, with the ESV, NASB, HCSB, and NKJV being my four favorites.

Question: How often should I read through the Bible completely?
Answer: For general learning and increasing your knowledge of the Scriptures, I recommend starting with reading the entire Bible in one year. Any slower and you will struggle to see how Scripture fits together. Faster is better, but “beginners” can comfortably start with a yearly plan. If you want to choose an advanced plan, read it through four times a year. You will quickly learn much Bible knowledge doing this.

Question: What should I do when I fall behind in my Bible reading?
Answer: It is best to go back to where you fell behind and resume reading from there. If you continue with your regularly scheduled reading, you can easily lose track of which days you missed. Many electronic plans through mobile apps will start you with the days you missed before you resume your regular plan. Typically, as long as you fall no further back than 7-10 days, you can make it up in time to finish your plan on schedule.

Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of reading print Bibles?
Answer: In my years of reading the Scriptures, I have read from many print Bibles and electronic Bibles. I have read pocket Bibles, large study Bibles, iPad Bibles, and from Bible programs on my computer. From my experience, reading from a print Bible has the distinct advantage of aiding in memorization: you can remember much more easily verses from a distinct location on a printed page than you can from generic lines of text on a screen. Also, the “nostalgia” of reading a print Bible admittedly is strong, as Christians have been reading from print Bibles for over 1,000 years. However, you miss the advantages of having tracking systems, erasable highlights, unlimited notes, and all the other features you would have with an electronic Bible.

Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of reading digital Bibles?
Answer: Digital Bibles offer far more advantages over print Bibles, with the exception that they do not offer the nostalgia that print Bibles will provide. Digital Bibles, available in computer software and mobile applications, offer the ability to enlarge fonts, highlight, take notes, choose multiple translations, instantly pull up cross-references, and many other features. Also, I find that I can read faster from a digital screen than a printed screen. However, the major disadvantage with a digital Bible is that visually it does not aid Scripture memorization at all. Having white text on pages that always look the same does not plant a visual memory in the brain.

Question: Should I read the Bible with study guides?

Answer: For those starting out with Bible reading plans, I do not recommend you read study guides while you read through the Bible. It is best to first read through the Bible a few times before slowing down the pace to study it in great detail. Having the big picture in mind first is better than studying minute details. However, reading through a study Bible with notes or with commentaries is also edifying. I currently am reading through two study Bibles from two very different eras of history, and the notes increase my knowledge of the text as well as enable me to see how people from different eras in history interpreted the text I am reading.

Question: What should I do after I finish my Bible reading plan?
Answer: The best thing to do after you finish your Bible reading plan is to start a new one! I never took scheduled breaks; it was a habit I didn’t start and never incorporated. However, some may find that a week off from regular reading may be helpful. Nevertheless, consider the fact that reading Scripture is synonymous with “spiritual food” (Matthew 4:4). We certainly wouldn’t take a week off from eating physical food, so it is helpful to have the same mindset with reading Scripture. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sing to the Lord a New Song: A Study of Music in Scripture

Introduction
“Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” (Psalm 96:1-6)

Music in the Old Testament

The Purpose of Music
-In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). After God had created the cosmos and created living creatures, He created mankind in His triune image (Genesis 26-27). After He created man, he gave them the “dominion mandate”, which was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it for God’s glory (Genesis 28-29).
-Mankind originally was created without any defects; man had a perfect capacity to learn and to retain knowledge. The “noetic effects of the Fall” (Genesis 3), however, changed that. Man no longer had a perfect memory or the ability for perfect comprehension.
-In the Genesis narrative, the line of the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent constantly clash with each other. Yet it was from the line of Cain whereby music first came into the world. His descendant Jubal, the son of Lamech, was the first musician recorded in the Bible. (Genesis 4:21). This puts the origin of music within a few hundred years after the creation of the world.
-However, we learn that music did not originally originate on earth, but rather originated in Heaven. The angels sang when God created the world (Job 38:5-7).
-We have no knowledge of music before the worldwide flood. However, archeology and biblical evidence has given us some knowledge of music after the time of Noah’s Flood. Ancient Babylon in particular had a tremendous outpouring of music. ­-The Bible does not contain much information on music from the time of Abraham to Moses, but the first post-Flood example of music is the “Song of Moses” in Exodus 15. Music here celebrated God’s deliverance and redemption for His people.
-Moses himself would have been trained in music, for he grew up as an Egyptian prince (Exodus 2:10). Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote three songs in the Scriptures: the Song of Moses (Exodus 15), the song of prayer (Psalm 90), and the song he sang before all Israel shortly before his death to remind them of God’s redemption and covenant purposes for His people (Deuteronomy 32).
-After God redeemed His people Israel from Egypt, He established His covenant with them through Moses. Music resounded throughout the land of Israel during the days of King David, who wrote more music in the Bible than any other author. David had previously been King Saul’s muscisian (1 Samuel 16:14-23), and then organized the Levitical choirs and orchestras for tabernacle and temple service (1 Chronicles 15:16).
-The Psalms of David have been some of the most treasured songs of the saints of God throughout all of history.
-As part of their heritage, Ezra recorded the genealogies of the Levite musicians who worked in temple worship (1 Chronicles 9:33).
-We see music used for royal coronations (1 Kings 1:39-40; 2 Chronicles 13:14), feast days celebrating God’s covenant with Israel (Isaiah 24:8-9), ceremonies such as weddings (Psalm 45), worship of God in His temple (2 Chronicles 5:13; Isaiah 38:20), and in some cases, as part of God’s supernatural redemption of His people (Joshua 6).
-Music in the Old Testament began at the creation of the world in heaven and was given to man as part of the dominion mandate. It then became intrinsically tied to temple worship of God to celebrate His covenant of redemption with His people. Music primarily exists to lead people in corporate worship of God.


The Forms of Music

-The ancient Mesopotamians utilized 7 scales (rather than our modern-day system of 12 scales). “Thus far, cuneiformists have identified ten Mesopotamian tablets (Fig. 5) that contain technical information about ancient musical scales. We now know that by the Old Babylonian period in ancient Iraq (i.e., by at least ca. 1800 BC, or about 850 years after the period of the Royal Cemetery of Ur), there existed standardized tun­ing procedures that operated within a heptatonic, dia­tonic system consisting of seven different and interrelated scales (see box with Glossary of Musical Terms). The fact that these seven scales could be equat­ed with seven ancient Greek scales (dating some 1400 years later) quite startled the scholarly community; and the fact that one of the scales in common use was equiv­alent to our own modern major scale (do-re-mi. . . ) seemed difficult for many to believe (Fig. 6). But research on the part of several cuneiformists and musi­cologists working together has been strengthened over the years by the steady accumulation of cuneiform tablets that use the same standard corpus of Akkadian terms to designate the names of the musical strings; the names of the instruments and their parts; fingering tech­niques; the names of musical intervals (fifths, fourths, thirds, and sixths); and the names of the seven scales that derive their nomenclature from the particular interval of a fourth or a fifth on which the tuning procedure starts.”
(Kilmer, 1998)
-The Israelites, who lived over 400 years in Egypt, would have been greatly influenced by Egyptian music. The Kelsey Museum of Archeology at the University of Michigan wrote, “All the major categories of musical instruments (percussion, wind, stringed) were represented in pharaonic Egypt. Percussion instruments included hand-held drums, rattles, castanets, bells, and the sistrum--a highly important rattle used in religious worship. Hand clapping too was used as a rhythmic accompaniment. Wind instruments included flutes (double and single, with reeds and without) and trumpets. Stringed instruments included harps, lyres, and lutes--plucked rather than bowed. Instruments were frequently inscribed with the name of the owner and decorated with representations of the goddess (Hathor) or god (Bes) of music. Both male and female voices were also frequently used in Egyptian music.” Israelites, being slaves, would have been trained in the use of Egyptian song and Egyptian instruments.
-When the Israelites left Egypt, they took instruments and knowledge of music with them (Exodus 32:18).
-The Israelites were renowned throughout ancient Mesopotamia for their musical skill. “Eric Werner discusses the evidence that the Jewish people had an outstanding reputation for music.6 Jewish sources have described this, and other non-Jewish sources have also expressed this information. King Sennacherib demanded a tribute of musicians from King Hezekiah, according to an Assyrian document. Also, Babylonians asked Jewish captives to sing songs of their homeland, and it was unusual for a captor to request that a conquered enemy’s folk music be sung.” (Delcamp, 2013)

-The Psalms give us the diverse forms of Israelite music. Dr. Steve Lawson in his book Preaching the Psalms gives this delineation of song-types in the Psalter: 1) songs of lament (the largest section with 66 psalms), 2) songs of thanksgiving for what God has done, 3) songs of praise for who God is, 4) songs of teaching God’s people how to live, 5) songs of Davidic kingship, 6) songs of imprecation calling for God’s judgment on God’s enemies, 7) songs of trust in God, 8) acrostic songs, 9) songs of salvation, 10) songs of Zion, and 11) songs of being a pilgrim.
-Today, we rarely (if ever) sing songs of lament, songs of imprecation, acrostic songs, and pilgrim songs. The doctrine of individual and corporate lament over sin and the doctrine of righteous imprecation of God’s enemies are two doctrines lost upon the church today.

The Significance of Music
-Music is significant for mankind because men and women are made in the image of God, and our God is a musical God (Zephaniah 3:17).
-Music is significant for Christians in particular because it is an integral part of worship of our God (Psalm 95:1).
-Music is significant for Christians because it unites us corporately in order to thank our God for what He has done (Psalm 48:5).
-Music is significant for Christians because it unites us corporately in order to praise our God for who He is (Psalm 9:2; Psalm 100:1-2).

Music in the New Testament

The Purpose of Music
-Music was a part of the life of Jesus and His disciples. At the last supper, they sang psalms together (Matthew 26:30). These songs would have been from the “Hallel” psalms in Psalms 113-118.
-In the days of Jesus, the Jews worshipped from the Psalter, but also had music for celebrations (Luke 15:25) and funerals (Matthew 9:23).
-The apostle Paul gain instruction for how music was to be used in church services in the local churches (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16).
-Paul himself included two hymns in his letters. One was an early church hymn that Paul either created or borrowed (Philippians 2:5-11), and the other he either borrowed or created as well (Colossians 1:15-20).
-James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his epistle that we should sing songs out of a heart of joy in the Lord (James 5:13).
-Some scholars, utilizing form criticism, believe that 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:1-3, and 1 Peter 2:21-25 may have been hymns in the early church.
-In the book of Revelation, the heavenly angels and saints join in multiple songs of praise towards God and Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:9-14).

The Forms of Music
-In the New Covenant, Jesus broke down the divide between the Jews and the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 3:11). Therefore, this brought in diverse musical influences in the early church. There were the Jewish Christians who brought the Psalms into worship, and there were Greeks who likely wrote new songs.
-“Although the ancient Greeks were familiar with many kinds of instruments, three in particular were favored for composition and performance: the kithara, a plucked string instrument; the lyre, also a string instrument; and the aulos, a double-reed instrument. Most Greek men trained to play an instrument competently, and to sing and perform choral dances. Instrumental music or the singing of a hymn regularly accompanied everyday activities and formal acts of worship. Shepherds piped to their flocks, oarsmen and infantry kept time to music, and women made music at home. The art of singing to one’s own stringed accompaniment was highly developed. Greek philosophers saw a relationship between music and mathematics, envisioning music as a paradigm of harmonious order reflecting the cosmos and the human soul.” (Hemingway & Hemingway, 2001)
-Ancient Greece developed the modal system. The basis of the Greek system was the tetrachord (four consecutive notes in the intervals of fourths). The Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes were all scales used by the Greeks, and this undoubtedly influenced music in the early church.
-Early Christian music relied less on musical accompaniment and more on chants using Hebrew, Greek, and Syrian modes. Corporate chants set to music were simpler for congregational singing.
-In the New Testament, all of the recorded songs (with the exception of the Gospels) focus on Christology. Jesus’ acts of redemption through His crucifixion and resurrection are the most important redemptive event in biblical history, and hence why they are the foundation for all the songs in the New Testament.

The Significance of Music
-Music is significant in the New Testament because it draws heaven and earth in praise of what Christ has accomplished (Philippians 2:5-11)
-Music in the New Testament, particularly the book of Revelation, looks to God’s triumph over his enemies (Revelation 11:15-18; Revelation 19:1-3) and the second coming of Christ (Revelation 19:6-8).
-Music in the New Testament also is royal, in that it focuses on Christ’s kingship over the nations (Revelation 15:3-4).

Questions and Answers

Question: Should Christians advocate for exclusive Psalmody?
Answer

-The Bible does not advocate for exclusive Psalmody, as we see new songs being created after the time the Psalter was compiled. Indeed, the timeline of the Psalter spanned almost 1,000 years from Moses to the exile. The New Testament includes many examples of new songs created that were not taken from the Old Testament psalter.
-Further, the Bible commands the creation of new songs (Psalm 33:3; Psalm 40:3; Psalm 96:1).
-The Psalms themselves command that instruments should be used in worship of the Lord, and hence the Bible does not support acapella psalm-singing (Psalm 98:4-6; Psalm 150:3-5).
-Furthermore, as believers in the New Covenant, we should follow the apostolic and early church example and create songs that are explicitly Christological.

Question: Does the Bible advocate or disallow certain musical styles?
Answer

-The ancient Mesopotamian styles of music would be very different than our styles today, and very different than Reformation-era European music. Call-and-response, percussion, and intervals smaller than half-steps. However, as history progressed, different styles of music became incorporated into Christian worship due to the massive influx of Gentile believers. Jewish music, Greek music, and Syrian music were the three most common backgrounds of musical styles during the early church.
-For those who would advocate that European Caucasian music is the only “biblical” kind of music and that percussion instruments are ungodly instruments, the Bible not only permits percussion instruments in worship (2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 15:16), it in fact commands percussion instruments in worship (Psalm 150:4-5).
-Throughout history, different styles of music were suited for solo performance and for community use. The larger the group singing music, the more simplistic the music would be—just as it is today with hymns.

Question: Are “worship wars” an appropriate reason to leave a church?
Answer

-The Bible does not disqualify or qualify a church based on the style of its music. Indeed, throughout the Scriptures, the Bible does not focus on styles of music. Rather, it heavily focuses on the content of the music—what message is being articulated in the words of the songs. To leave a church because we personally dislike the music is only legitimate in the event that the songs are promoting false or weak doctrine.
-Worship wars should not exist in the church, as Christians are called to put one another’s interests (including musical interests) above their own and be of one mind and full accord (Philippians 2:1-4).

Question: Does the Bible give any considerations for how music should be led in a worship service?
Answer:

-Paul taught that music should be led in a way that edifies that particular body of believers (1 Corinthians 14:26). Therefore, the style of music should match the ability and background of the congregation. Having the congregation sing Handel’s Messiah does not edify most congregations, and having hymns in the style of Caucasian music from Victorian England may not be the best choice in a church of millennials.
-Based on Old Testament precedent, the offices of worship leader (Psalm 19, Psalm 21, Psalm 66, Psalm 139) and worship orchestra/band (2 Chronicles 29:25-30) would be good ways to lead music in church. Arguments against worship bands do not have any biblical support, in spite of some Puritan arguments to the contrary.

Question: Which considerations should go into selecting music for a worship service?
Answer

-Music for a worship service should be distinctly Christian based on New Testament teaching, and should include a variety of songs (Ephesians 5:19). The music should reinforce the message of the expository preaching of the service.

Conclusion
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:9-14 ESV)

Handout

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzLnbvsX8ZvgdXlQaENMbTBBdEk/view?usp=sharing

Recording
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fallen is Babylon the Great

Introduction
“Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there; no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. But wild animals will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there wild goats will dance. Hyenas will cry in its towers, and jackals in the pleasant palaces; its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged.” (Isaiah 13:17-22)

Daniel 5:29-31

Context

-In Daniel 5, the year is 539 B.C. and the day is October 11th. For the past 25 years after the death of King Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon has been in gradual (in many cases, imperceptible) decline. Many kings had struggled for power since Nebuchadnezzar’s death, but now the entire kingdom of Babylon is threatened. The Persians, accompanied by the Medes, encamp around the city of Babylon, led by King Cyrus. Whereas King Nebuchadnezzar conquered foreign armies and rival empires, King Belshazzar of Babylon is about to be overrun by King Cyrus of Persia.
-Rather than drawing his military commanders to figure out countermeasures to the Persian siege, King Belshazzar hosts a massive party for 1,000 of his lords, along with his wives and concubines. During the course of the banquet, it turns into a drunken orgy, such that Belshazzar leads Babylon to use the holy vessels of the Lord from the temple in Jerusalem to worship and praise Babylonian gods. Immediately after this, handwriting on the wall from the hand of God terrifies the entire company. Because of the failure of the Chaldeans, Daniel is summoned at the request of the queen-mother.
-Daniel walks into this large banquet hall that contains a few thousand people. The royalty and nobility is distraught. The empire hangs in the balance. The kingdom is threatened. Daniel, now an old man in his 80s, continues to demonstrate the same courage and the same integrity he has for decades—he is God’s chosen prophet in the city of Babylon and in the courts of the kings. When he interprets the writing, he declares it to mean that God has numbered the days of the Babylonian Empire, and because of the sins and wickedness of the kingdom, God will give it into the hands of the Medo-Persian Empire.

Verse 29
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

-In verse 17-28, Daniel issues a public rebuke to the king and the nobility of Babylon. As Daniel had done earlier before Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:27), Daniel courageously and clearly confronts the sin in his culture.
-In Jesus’ day, He very pointedly addressed the sins of his culture, particularly those whom appeared to serve the Lord but did not (Matthew 23:13-15).
-The apostle Paul identified the sins in the Greco-Roman culture (Ephesians 4:17-19), but not only in that culture, but in Jewish culture as well (Philippians 3:18-19).
-National sin is not measured by cultural standards, but rather against the standards of God’s perfect holiness (Romans 3:23).
-What then was the sin of the Babylonian Empire? It did not acknowledge God, nor see fit to give honor to Him (Daniel 5:22).
-All nations, empires, kingdoms, and governments that do not acknowledge God or honor Him will be judged by the Lord (Jeremiah 10:25; Psalm 79:6).
-To clearly identify sin as sin in our culture today may very well generate the same hostile responses as faithful servants of the Lord have faced throughout history (Matthew 23:34).
-Here now, Daniel faces death no matter where he turns. Because he has spoken the Word of the Lord to Babylon at this banquet, he could be instantly killed on the spot. Furthermore, his prophecy that Babylon will fall means that he very well may be killed by the Medo-Persian Empire. He is a very important member of Babylonian government, and he may be targeted as a political threat by the enemy empire.
-The necessity for Christian faithfulness does not change regardless of age. As a very old man, the apostle John was still courageously faithful despite being as old as Daniel was in Daniel 5, if not older (Revelation 1:9).
-Surprisingly, but true to his word, “Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom”.
-When “Daniel was clothed with purple” (
וְהַלְבִּישׁוּ לְדָנִיֵּאל אַרְגְּוָנָא), he is here recognized as royalty. He indeed is royalty, as he is a member of King David’s descendants (Daniel 1:3). Daniel is from Judah and from King David’s royal line. However, he here is not recognized for those reasons, as Belshazzar thinks of him as nothing but an exile from Judah (Daniel 5:13).
-Daniel is honored here just as he was 63 years earlier under King Nebuchadnezzar when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:46-48).
-Daniel is honored, while the Chaldeans are dishonored. God honors His humble servants and brings disgrace on His proud enemies (Luke 14:11).
-Also,
“a chain of gold was put around his neck” (וְהַמּוֹנְכָא דִי־דַהֲבָא עַל־צַוְּארֵהּ).
-A gold chain with a medallion is the highest honor that a Babylonian monarch could bestow upon someone; it functioned in the same way that the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States of America and the Victoria Cross in Canada.
-Finally, “a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom” (
וְהַכְרִזוּ עֲלוֹהִי דִּי־לֶהֱוֵא שַׁלִּיט תַּלְתָּא בְּמַלְכוּתָא׃).
-Daniel now becomes elevated to the third-highest ruler in the kingdom, underneath King Belshazzar and King Nabonidus. However, the folly of this is that the Medes and Persians surround the city gates, ready to overthrow it.
-Human folly fails to admit the danger that sinners are in apart from God’s grace opening their eyes (1 Corinthians 2:14), so it continues unabated in its pride (Isaiah 2:12).
-This promotion indicates further that Daniel is a new Joseph living in the empire of Babylon (Genesis 41:37-43).

Verse 30
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.
-“That very night” (
בֵּהּ בְּלֵילְיָא), God’s judgment falls upon the empire of Babylon. With the same immediacy that befell Nebuchadnezzar when he uttered his proud words (Daniel 4:30-31), God’s judgment now falls upon Babylon once more. This time, it falls for the final time.
-“Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed” (
קְטִיל בֵּלְאשַׁצַּר מַלְכָּא כַשְׂדָּיָא׃).
-“Belshazzar” (
בֵּלְשַׁאצַּר) means “Bel, protect the king.” However, idols can never protect anyone (Isaiah 45:20).
-Scripture warns us from turning to that which offers us no protection (1 Samuel 12:21).
-We can be encouraged that when we turn to the Lord, the Lord will protect us and shelter us according to His good will (Psalm 91:2; Psalm 94:22).
-“Daniel” (
דָּנִיֵּאל) means “God is my judge”, and God is the Judge who vindicates Daniel and brings justice against Babylon.
-Many of the kings following Nebuchadnezzar were assassinated, but here Belshazzar the Babylonian (Chaldean) king is killed by a foreign enemy—something that has not happened for a generation. In history, the death of prominent men in history have changed the course of human events. In recent history, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the arch-duke of Austria-Hungary, brought upon the world the first world war. Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C., which marked the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. Here, the death of Belshazzar marks the end of the mighty and glorious Babylonian Empire.

-
Daniel furnished little information about the actual fall of Babylon, but a number of historical sources supplement the biblical account. The Greek historians, Herodotus (fifth century b.c.) and Xenophon (ca. 434–355 b.c.), supply exceptionally helpful details in this regard. The walls surrounding the city of Babylon were formidable. In the previous chapter was the explanation that there were two sets of double walls extending for miles (the outermost system being seventeen miles in length). The outer walls were approximately twenty-five feet in width and rose to a height of at least forty feet. These fortifications were too difficult to challenge, and so according to Herodotus and Xenophon, the Medo-Persian army diverted water from the Euphrates River (which ran under the walls of Babylon) into a marsh. With the level of the water lowered, the soldiers were able to wade the river under the walls and enter the city.100
Xenophon added that the city was invaded while the Babylonians were feasting in a time of drunken revelry, and Herodotus also related that a festival was in progress.102 As a matter of fact, Xenophon cited the festival as the reason the Persians chose to attack Babylon on that particular night. He further mentioned that Gobryas, commander under Cyrus, led his soldiers into the palace, where they found the king holding a dagger, evidently with which to take his own life. According to Xenophon, the king and his attendants were overpowered, and the invaders “avenged themselves upon the wicked king,”105 which obviously means that they executed him.[1]
-All this happened because the sovereign hand of God was directing the course of history and the rise and fall of empires, which will ultimately culminate in the return of the King and the new kingdom of Christ for all eternity (Daniel 2:44-45).
-Throughout the Old Testament, God foretold the fall of Babylon. Isaiah foretold the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 21:9), and Jeremiah foretold of the fall of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:24; Jeremiah 51:57)
-God brought judgment against Babylon because Babylon destroyed His temple and exiled His chosen people (Jeremiah 51:11).
-The fall of Babylon here means that God is judging the enemies of God’s chosen people Israel (Jeremiah 50:28; Isaiah 48:20).
-In Genesis 11, Babylon attempted to build a tower reaching to heaven to establish a worldwide religion of paganism. In the last days, “Babylon” will rise again (Revelation 19:5). A new city promoting world-wide secularism will promote the false religion of the Antichrist, but she will fall because God will judge her (Revelation 18:1-3).
-Just as with Babylon in Daniel’s day, the Babylon in the last days will have the same pride and arrogance that deceives her into thinking she is indestructible (Revelation 18:7).
-The reason that Babylon in Daniel’s day fell was because God judged the empire because it had shed the blood of His people Israel. The reason that the new Babylon will fall in the last days is for the same reason: because she has shed the blood of the saints of Jesus Christ (Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:24).
-The final Babylon will fall because King Jesus will overcome their military and political power (Revelation 17:12-14).
-The final Babylon, the capital city of the empire of the Antichrist, will fall because the Lord Jesus Christ will return and overthrow the False Prophet, the Devil, and the Antichrist (Revelation 19:11-16).
-Like Daniel, we live in exile in the world today (1 Peter 2:11), and we live in a world very much like Babylon. Yet we can take courage that God’s sovereign and providential hand directs all the course of all human history to every level of detail according to His plan to establish His Son as King of kings and Lord of lords over all the earth. In the meantime, we are called out to live distinctly from the pagans who live around us (Revelation 18:4).
-In God’s judgment upon God’s enemies, we see the salvation for God’s people (Revelation 18:20).

Verse 31
And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

-That very night, Babylon vanished, and the Medo-Persian Empire arose in its place. “And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old”
(
וְדָרְיָוֶשׁ מָדָיָא קַבֵּל מַלְכוּתָא כְּבַר שְׁנִין שִׁתִּין וְתַרְתֵּין׃)
-The Medo-Persian Empire is the empire of silver in fulfillment of Daniel 2:32 and Daniel 2:39. The Medo-Persian Empire would not be as spectacular as Babylon, but it would be stronger, lasting from the time of 539 B.C. to 333 B.C.
-The identity of “Darius the Mede” has remained an historical enigma, as no record of a king by this name exists outside the Bible. Higher critics decry Daniel as being merely a human document that does not contain actual history; however, Scripture’s veracity and authority withstands the criticism.
-First, “Darius” (
דָּֽרְיָ֫וֶשׁ) is a title and not a personal name, as it is a Persian word meaning “ruler”. Some have thought that Darius is another title for King Cyrus, as Cyrus was attacking Babylon.
-Second, Darius is specifically identified as Darius the “Mede” (
מָדַי), making it unlikely that this is the same man as Cyrus, because Cyrus was Persian (with the exception of one historical legend making him a descendant of a Median king).
-Other theories have postulated that Darius was the last Median king Astyages, that he was a Babylonian military general who defected to Cyrus and received the kingdom for enabling the Medes and Persians to conquer the city at night by stealth, and others have thought that he was Cyrus’ viceroy who had been a governor before. Daniel’s use of the verb “received” (
קבל) is more likely to be used of someone who received the kingdom of Babylon as a reward from Cyrus, rather than referring to Cyrus himself.
-Finally, Daniel does always distinguish between this Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great in his book, making the first theory almost impossible to bear (Daniel 6:28).
-There are two other men known as “Darius” in the Bible: the Darius who succeeded King Cyrus (Ezra 5:1), and Darius the Persian (also known as Darius II), who appears in Nehemiah 12:22.
-Daniel testifies that the Lord gives the kingdoms of men to whosoever He will (Daniel 4:17), for He sets up kings and removes kings (Daniel 2:20-21). Ultimately, His Son will return to reign as King of kings, and all who are redeemed by His blood have the hope through His resurrection that we will reign in that kingdom (Colossians 1:13).


Conclusion
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (Revelation 19:1-5)

Handout
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Recording

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[1] Miller, S. R. (1994). Daniel (Vol. 18, pp. 167–168). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Handwriting on the Wall

Introduction
“Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together. Assemble, all of you, and listen! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.” (Isaiah 48:12-14)

Daniel 5:5-28

Context

-In Daniel 5, Daniel is now a very old man—he is in his 80s. King Nebuchadnezzar has been dead for approximately 25 years from when Daniel’s narrative last places us in the biblical timeline. Many kings have risen to power only to fall, until King Nabonidus came to the throne. He reigned for over a decade, but was physically absent from the city of Babylon. Therefore, he installed his son King Belshazzar as monarch in the city of Babylon, although functionally Belshazzar was the viceroy rather than the supreme monarch of Babylon.
-While Babylon enjoyed a golden age under Nebuchadnezzar for almost 50 years, the power and glory of Babylon weakened with the weakened leadership of Babylon in the last 25 years. At this moment, the Medes and Persians led by King Cyrus had defeated King Nabonidus in battle and now lay siege to the city of Babylon. If the capital city of the empire falls, then so falls the empire.
-Daniel 5 takes place in one evening, and in this evening, King Belshazzar and Babylonian nobility partakes in a drunken orgy while the enemies of Babylon camp outside the gates ready to capture the city and lay the Babylonian Empire low.


The Alarm

V. 5-9
5Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. 6Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. 7The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” 8Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. 9Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.

Verse 5

-In verse 4, King Belshazzar and his lords and wives and concubines use the goblets from the Lord’s temple to toast their own pagan gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. “Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared”
(
בַּהּ־שַׁעֲתָה נְפַקוּ אֶצְבְּעָן דִּי יַד־אֱנָשׁ).
-This is not the first time that a mysterious hand has appeared in relation to prophecy in Babylon. This same hand appeared in Ezekiel 8:3 to carry away Ezekiel to Jerusalem in a vision.
-This hand “wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand” (
וְכָתְבָן לָקֳבֵל נֶבְרַשְׁתָּא עַל־גִּירָא דִּי־כְתַל הֵיכְלָא דִּי מַלְכָּא).
-“The wall of the banquet-hall was not panelled nor draped, but rather a simple, light-colored “wall of lime or plaster” (כְּתַל = the כּוֹתָל of the Targums), such as the ruins of the palaces at Nineveh still exhibit in great number, according to Layard (Nin. and Babylon, p. 651).[1]
-This mysterious hand that appears larger-than-life that starts to write on the white plaster of a wall of the banquet hall does not go unnoticed. Not only is the wall well-lit by the lampstand, but
the king saw the hand as it wrote” (וּמַלְכָּא חָזֵה פַּס יְדָה דִּי כָתְבָה׃).
Verse 6
-The response is remarkable. “The king’s color changed” (
אֱדַיִן מַלְכָּא זִיוֹהִי שְׁנוֹהִי). The normal olive-colored skin of the Mesopotamian king now turned as white as a ghost. He turned instantly pale (as stated by the NASB, NIV, and NRSV) as soon as he saw the hand writing on the wall.
-Normally when someone is drunk, their face is flushed. For Belshazzar’s face to go from flushed to white as a ghost indicates that “his thoughts alarmed him” (
וְרַעְיֹנֹהִי יְבַהֲלוּנֵּהּ).
-This type of “alarm” (
בהל) is the same kind of raw, gripping terror that gripped the heart of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:5) and later Daniel (Daniel 4:19)
-This type of fear not only causes Belshazzar’s face to turn white, but also “his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together” (
חַרְצֵהּ מִשְׁתָּרַיִן וְאַרְכֻבָּתֵהּ דָּא לְדָא נָקְשָׁן׃).
-This refers to the fact that Belshazzar, the once-proud king who drinks wine in front of a thousand lords and accompanying ladies, now is so terrified that he turns completely pale and collapses—he is even incapable of standing upright, and it is not from drunkenness, but from raw terror.
-The Lord is the One who immediately ends this scene of Babylonian pride by striking the hearts of the unrepentant with fear.
Ve
rse 7
-In his fear, “the king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers” (
קָרֵא מַלְכָּא בְּחַיִל לְהֶעָלָה לְאָשְׁפַיָּא כַּשְׂדָּיֵ וְגָזְרַיָּא).
-He shouts to have classes of men that have already repeatedly appeared in the book of Daniel. The “enchanters” (
אָשַׁף) were involved in sorcery and incantations, the “Chaldeans” (כַּשְׂדָּי) are the wise men who decades earlier tried to have Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah killed by fire in Daniel 3, and the “astrologers” (גזר) are those who study the planets and stars in order to discern the will of the gods and the course of the future.
-These classes of pagan wisdom have twice famously failed to interpret signs from the God of Heaven (Daniel 2:10; Daniel 4:7).
-Just as Nebuchadnezzar did in Daniel 2, so Belshazzar does here in Daniel 5: he offers rich incentives to anyone who can successfully interpret what the mysterious hand has written. “
The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.’”
-While the text will later reveal the writing to be in Aramaic, no one understands what it means. Therefore, Belshazzar says that they “shall be clothed in purple” (אַרְגְּוָנָא יִלְבַּשׁ).
-Purple is the color of royalty in this time period, being difficult to make (Judges 8:26).
-A gold chain in this time period and culture is a sign of high favor—similar to medals of honor worn by highly-decorated individuals today, such as the Victoria Cross in Canada or the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States.
“The golden neck-chain (στρεπτὸς χρύσεος) was an ornament worn by the Persians of rank, and was given by kings as a mark of favour even to kings, e.g., Cambyses and the younger Cyrus; cf. Herod. iii. 20; Xen. Anab. i. 1. 27, 5. 8, 8. 29.[2]
-The promise of “third ruler in the kingdom” (וְתַלְתִּי בְמַלְכוּתָא יִשְׁלַט׃) has generated scholarly discussion as to what precisely Belshazzar here means. Some think Belshazzar means “one of three rulers in the kingdom”, referring to a triumvirate where he, Nabonidus, and the interpreter would all rule relatively equally as kings over Babylon. However, Belshazzar did not have the authority to elevate anyone (including himself) to the level of Nabonidus, so most scholars agree that he means exactly how the ESV renders it here: the interpreter would be the third-highest ruler in the kingdom underneath Belshazzar, who was underneath Nabonidus.
Verse 8

-“Then all the king’s wise men came in” (
יְחַוִּנַּנִי אַרְגְּוָנָא יִלְבַּשׁ וְהַמּוֹנְכָא), so now there are most likely a few thousand people gathered in this large banquet hall. The party has abruptly stopped, and now all eyes are on the king’s wise men to see if they can interpret the writing on the wall.
-“But they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation.”
(
דִי־דַהֲבָא עַל־צַוְּארֵהּ וְתַלְתִּי בְמַלְכוּתָא יִשְׁלַט׃) Just as they had famously failed earlier under Nebuchadnezzar, so they now fail here.
-Worldly wisdom will always fail and it can never provide answers. (Colossians 2:3-4)
Verse 9
-This causes King Belshazzar no amount of comfort. In fact, he now panics, for “King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed” (
אֱדַיִן מַלְכָּא בֵלְשַׁאצַּר שַׂגִּיא מִתְבָּהַל). He is even more afraid than before.
-He again grows pale, for “his color changed” (
וְזִיוֹהִי שָׁנַיִן)
-Not only does this greatly affect the king, but “his lords were perplexed”
(
וְרַבְרְבָנוֹהִי מִשְׁתַּבְּשִׁין׃)
-To be “perplexed” (
שׁבשׁ) means to be bewildered, confused, and terrified. Neither the king nor his lords can understand the omen that has appeared on the wall. No one can read the writing or interpret its meaning, but surrounding the city are the enemy armies ready to overthrow it.

The Entrance
V. 10-16

10The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. 11There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.” 13Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. 14I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. 16But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

Verse 10

-Now another powerful figure enters the banquet hall. “The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall”
(מַלְכְּתָא לָקֳבֵל מִלֵּי מַלְכָּא וְרַבְרְבָנוֹהִי לְבֵית מִשְׁתְּיָא).
-The “queen” (מַלְכָּה) here is not Belshazzar’s wife, but rather the “queen mother”. In the Old Testament, there were many queen mothers who occupied lofty positions of power along with the king (1 Kings 15:13; Jeremiah 13:18).
-This queen is not his wife, and his wives are already at the banquet (Daniel 4:3). This is rather someone old enough to remember the days of King Nebuchadnezzar, as will shortly be revealed.
-Because of the noise coming from the commotion inside the banquet hall, the queen mother sets about to bring some equilibrium to the panic. “The queen declared, ‘O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change.”
-The salute “O king, live forever!” (
מַלְכָּא לְעָלְמִין חֱיִי) is the customary address given to the reigning monarch in this time period (Daniel 2:4, 3:9).
-She mildly rebukes the king for his panic, for his behavior and fear does not befit the ruling figure of the Babylonian Empire.

Verse 11

-Because the wise men had failed to interpret the handwriting, she tells him, “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods”
(
אִיתַי גְּבַר בְּמַלְכוּתָךְ דִּי רוּחַ אֱלָהִין קַדִּישִׁין בֵּהּ)
-Daniel was recognized by both the Jews and the pagans as a man tremendously gifted by God with wisdom, so that he is compared in Scripture in his own lifetime by Ezekiel and by the Lord Himself to be on the same level as Job and Noah of old (Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 28:3).
-The phrase “holy gods” (
אֱלָהִין קַדִּישִׁין) is better rendered “holy God”. Even the pagans recognize Daniel’s God-given ability for prophetic interpretations.
-She says, “In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him”.
-“Light” (
נַהִיר֧וּ) means the ability to illumine that which previously was darkened to the understanding (Psalm 119:130).
-“Understanding” (
שָׂכְלְתָנוּ) refers to intelligence, and God gifted Daniel even as a young man with an unusually high level of intelligence (Daniel 1:17).
-“Wisdom” (
חָכְמָה) refers to the ability to apply knowledge in a situation so as to counsel someone, and the queen affirms that his wisdom is superior even to normal human wisdom.
-The queen mother reminds Belshazzar that
King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers.”
-Daniel was made president of these classes of men as a very young man around 21 years old approximately 65 years earlier, because he successfully interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream (Daniel 2:48).
Verse 12

-The queen mother continues to describe Daniel’s exceptional abilities, “because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel”.
-An “excellent spirit” (
כָּל־קֳבֵל דִּי רוּחַ יַתִּירָה) refers to his God-given ability to understand visions, dreams, and signs from God.
-Daniel’s knowledge and understanding enabled him in the past “to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems” (
מְפַשַּׁר חֶלְמִין וַאַחֲוָיַת אֲחִידָן וּמְשָׁרֵא קִטְרִין) “Solve problems” literally means “to untie knots”.
-She proclaims to the king that these things were found “in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar” (
בֵּהּ בְּדָנִיֵּאל דִּי־מַלְכָּא שָׂם־שְׁמֵהּ בֵּלְטְשַׁאצַּר).
-She tells Belshazzar, “Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation”
(
כְּעַן דָּנִיֵּאל יִתְקְרֵי וּפִשְׁרָה יְהַחֲוֵה׃). She has no doubt that Daniel can understand the handwriting.
-Daniel’s Jewish identity is now recognized by Babylon, as previously to Daniel 4 he was always called “Belteshazzar”. Indeed, Belteshazzar and Belshazzar share the same name, which means “Bel, protect him”.
-But why does Belshazzar not know Daniel, the remarkable Jew known throughout the Empire and the ancient world for his wisdom? “Belshazzar did not seem to be personally acquainted with Daniel. One reason is that it had been twenty-three years since Nebuchadnezzar’s death, and Daniel did not have the exalted position in the new regime that he had enjoyed earlier. Leupold remarks that “especially when usurpers arose, wholesale dismissal of the men in office was the rule.” Daniel probably had semiretired from public life after Nebuchadnezzar’s death (he was almost sixty years of age), and now he was about eighty.[3]
Verse 13
-King Belshazzar follows the advice of the queen mother. “Then Daniel was brought in before the king” (
בֵּאדַיִן דָּנִיֵּאל הֻעַל קֳדָם מַלְכָּא)
-Daniel often appeared before kings throughout his lifetime (Daniel 1:3-7), because God used him as His spokesman before the most powerful kings of the world in that era in history. While it was Babylon’s purpose to make Daniel serve their kings, it was God’s purpose that Daniel would serve Him as King in the courts of the Babylonian monarchs.
-Belshazzar’s first words to Daniel express his contempt for Daniel—far different than the respect that King Nebuchadnezzar held for Daniel and that the queen mother has just expressed in her words about Daniel. “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah”
(
אַנְתָּה־הוּא דָנִיֵּאל דִּי־מִן־בְּנֵי גָלוּתָא דִּי יְהוּד).
-Daniel has served as a high-ranking government official for decades, and Belshazzar in his arrogance demeans him by identifying him as “one of the exiles of Judah”. To be an exile is to be almost worthless, and to be from Judah means to be from the hated nation of Israel. There is no worse insult in his thinking than what Belshazzar just hurled at Daniel.
-He says that Daniel is one of “whom the king my father brought from Judah”
(
דִּי הַיְתִי מַלְכָּא אַבִי מִן־יְהוּד׃). “Father” here better means “forefather”.
-Belshazzar believes Daniel was captured by Nebuchadnezzar’s power, but in reality God gave Daniel into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (Daniel 1:1-2).
Verse 14
-Belshazzar now repeats what the queen mother told him, but he does so unconvinced of what he has just heard. He also entirely avoids Daniel’s political career in Babylon. “I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.”
-Belshazzar omits the word “holy” before the word “gods”, which may indicate that he does not believe it possible for gods to be holy. It does demonstrate that he does not believe God to be holy, which the Scriptures repeatedly affirm (Isaiah 6:3).
Verse 15

-Belshazzar now tells Daniel that which is be no surprise to Daniel. “Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter.”
-Daniel has twice already been in this situation before, where the ruling king of Babylon has told him that the Babylonian wise men have failed. Once 63 years earlier (Daniel 2:26) and the other approximately 35 years earlier (Daniel 4:18).
Verse 16
-The king repeats again what the queen mother has told him. “But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems”
(
וַאֲנָה שִׁמְעֵת עֲלַיִךְ ק̇ דִּי־תוּכַל פִּשְׁרִין לְמִפְשַׁר וְקִטְרִין לְמִשְׁרֵא).
-In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel if he can interpret dreams. In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar has full confidence that Daniel can interpret the dream. Belshazzar, not having yet had Daniel serve him in this capacity, has no knowledge of the ability God has given Daniel.
-Just as King Nebuchadnezzar did 63 years earlier in 605 B.C. in Daniel 2, so King Belshazzar now does 63 years later in 539 B.C. in Daniel 5. Belshazzar says, “Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
-The lust for power, fame, and fortune has caused many a servant of God to fall away (1 John 2:16).
-All those who faithfully proclaim the Word of God must do it not ultimately for any other reason than the fact that they want to make the Word of God fully known (Colossians 1:25) so that all men everywhere may come to believe (1 Corinthians 9:16) and grow in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:19).

The Interpretation
V. 17-28

17Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. 18O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. 20But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. 22And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored. 24“Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. 25And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. 26This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Verse 17

-Daniel has now walked into a massive banquet hall where the king, nobility, ladies, and servants are all congregated. This is a large gathering; most likely, there are a few thousand people gathered here. All eyes and all minds are fixed on him expectantly to see what he will now say.
-Daniel first says, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another.”
(
מַתְּנָתָךְ לָךְ לֶהֶוְיָן וּנְבָזְבְּיָתָךְ לְאָחֳרָן הַב).
-Daniel does not pursue his prophetic ministry for the purposes of being rewarded with fame and fortune. “This refusal of the royal presents was designed merely to decisively reject, at the outset, and in a manner becoming the prophet of Jehovah, any influence that might be brought to bear on him.[4]
-Daniel is clear: he will interpret the dream in order to faithfully declare what God has revealed, not for what the king offers him. The heart of every preacher should reflect this perspective (2 Corinthians 4:2).
-However, lest the king think that Daniel is refusing to interpret the handwriting, he says, “Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation.” (
בְּרַם כְּתָבָא אֶקְרֵא לְמַלְכָּא וּפִשְׁרָא אֲהוֹדְעִנֵּהּ׃)
-Daniel did not ask for time to understand the omen as he did in Daniel 2:16, nor did he hesitate at first to interpret the sign as in Daniel 4:19. Rather, he will immediately interpret the dream—but not without reminding Belshazzar of how God had worked in the life of his forefathers.
Verse 18
-Before Daniel interprets the handwriting, he says to Belshazzar, “O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.”
-63 years earlier, Daniel said these same words as a young man to King Nebuchadnezzar himself. (Daniel 2:37-38)
-What Babylon consistently refused to do was to acknowledge God. God commands all nations in all eras to acknowledge Him (Psalm 2:10-11)
-All rulers must acknowledge that they rule because God installed them in their positions of authority and leadership (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21).
-All authority that governments and nations have is in reality held by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18; Proverbs 8:16).
-Daniel also here declares the Babylonian gods to be false gods and the Most High God to be God alone (Nehemiah 9:6).
Verse 19
-Daniel goes on to describe to Belshazzar the glory and power that Nebuchadnezzar possessed—and indirectly show how much of a shell Belshazzar was of the great Nebuchadnezzar. “And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him.”
-In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar summoned those from all peoples, nations, and languages and they all came (Daniel 3:2-7).
-However, Daniel says Nebuchadnezzar did not possess this power of his own accord, but “because of the greatness that [God] gave him” (
וּמִן־רְבוּתָא דִּי יְהַב־לֵהּ)
-“We have stated elsewhere, and Daniel repeats it often, that empires are bestowed on men by divine power and not by chance, as Paul announces, There is no power but of God. (Rom. 13:1.)[5]
-Indeed, Daniel now more specifically describes Nebuchadnezzar’s supreme power. “Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled.” King Nebuchadnezzar possessed absolute power in the empire—power Belshazzar did not possess.
Verse 20
-In the next two verses, Daniel will summarize the contents of the previous chapter. He here uses Nebuchadnezzar as an example to Belshazzar. “But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.”
-In Daniel 4:28-32, the Lord Himself spoke directly to Nebuchadnezzar from Heaven to declare that the most powerful man in the world would instantly lose his power and his glory.
-Daniel offered Nebuchadnezzar the chance to repent and escape judgment, but Nebuchadnezzar did not do so (Daniel 4:27).
Verse 21
-Here, Daniel summarizes the fate that befell Nebuchadnezzar over 25 years earlier in Babylonian history—history that Babylon was not eager to remember. “He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass lix an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven.”
-Daniel reminds Belshazzar and all of Babylon gathered here in this banquet hall of God’s sovereignty over Nebuchadnezzar’s life and reign. Nebuchadnezzar was not restored to sanity or his throne “until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.”
-This phrase has already appeared numerous times in the book of Daniel (Daniel 4:16-17, 25, 30-35).
Verse 22
-Daniel now publicly rebukes Belshazzar. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, for whom Daniel had a genuine respect and appreciation, Daniel finds Belshazzar to be a poor example of a man and of a king. Belshazzar truly was nothing like his forefather Nebuchadnezzar. He says, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart”
(
וְאַנְתָּה בְּרֵהּ בֵּלְשַׁאצַּר לָא הַשְׁפֵּלְתְּ לִבְבָךְ).
-Scripture warns us that everyone—particularly rulers of men—who walk in pride will indeed be brought low by the Most High (Proverbs 16:5).
-“Son” (
בַּר) is better translated as “descendant” or “successor”, for Belshazzar was not Nebuchadnezzar’s biological son.
-Astoundingly, Daniel reveals that Belshazzar knows all this, for he tells him, “you knew all this” (
כָל־דְּנָה יְדַעְתָּ׃).
-Those who walk in knowing pride will receive judgment from the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar himself had acknowledged (Daniel 4:37).
-“How would Belshazzar have been aware of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation? Certainly the story would have been known, but evidence exists that indicates that Belshazzar may have seen these events firsthand. Belshazzar served as chief officer during the administration of King Neriglissar in 560 b.c. according to Babylonian historical texts. This means that the king was old enough to fill a high position in government only two years after Nebuchadnezzar’s death (562 b.c.). Since Nabonidus was an official in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration, Belshazzar would have lived in Babylon and would have observed personally the last years of the great king’s reign. Thus Daniel’s rebuke is even more understandable. Belshazzar had seen with his own eyes what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and yet he had refused to humble himself before the Most High God.[6]
Verse 23
-Daniel continues his public rebuke of the king by saying, “But you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.” (
וְעַל מָרֵא־שְׁמַיָּא הִתְרוֹמַמְתָּ).
-Daniel now rebukes the king and his guests for their wanton drunkenness and their idolatry and their sacrilege. “And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know.”
-Throughout the Old Testament prophets, the Lord calls men to consider and repent of their idols which are no gods whatsoever (Psalm 115:4-8; Habakkuk 2:18-19).
-“But God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” (
וְלֵאלָהָא דִּי־נִשְׁמְתָךְ בִּידֵהּ וְכָל־אֹרְחָתָךְ לֵהּ לָא הַדַּרְתָּ׃)
-Scripture tells us that God created us with His breath of life (Genesis 2:7).
-Scripture tells us that God holds the breath of every man, woman, boy, and girl in His sovereign, omnipotent hands (Job 12:10)
-“Ways” (
אֳרַח) refers not so much to actions as it does to paths and courses of life. Scripture also teaches that God holds all our developments and changes in life in His hands (Psalm 139:3).
-To fail to “honor” (
הדר) God means to fail to glorify Him, and all human rulers are called to honor God in how they govern (1 Samuel 2:30).
Verse 24
-The same divine hand that holds the breath of every living thing in its grasp was the same hand that moments earlier appeared to write on the wall of the banquet hall. “Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed”
(
בֵּאדַיִן מִן־קֳדָמוֹהִי שְׁלִיחַ פַּסָּא דִי־יְדָא וּכְתָבָא דְנָה רְשִׁים׃). Daniel affirms that no sorcery or witchcraft or trickery caused this; God Himself wrote on the wall.
-The “finger of God” cast plagues upon the land of Egypt during the time of the Exodus (Exodus 8:19).
-The “finger of God” or “hand of God” had appeared to write on stone the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 9:10)
-Jesus states that He uses the “finger of God” to exercise His divine power over the demonic powers of darkness (Luke 11:20).
Verse 25
-Daniel now reveals what is written. “And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin” (
וּדְנָה כְתָבָא דִּי רְשִׁים מְנֵא מְנֵא תְּקֵל וּפַרְסִין׃).
-We now learn that it was only four words written on the white wall and illuminated by the lampstands. These four words terrified the kingdom. These four words eluded the Chaldeans. At first glance, they appear as merely random words used for measuring money and precious metals.
-“Mene” (
מְנֵא) means numbered, and was a measurement for precious metals. Babylon was typified by the precious metal gold in Daniel 2. The word mina comes from this noun.
-Repetition in the Scriptures is used for emphasis (Revelation 4:8), and this Aramaic passive participle is written twice by the Lord on the wall for emphasis.
-“Tekel” (
תְּקֵל) is a unit of measurement for weight, and is also known by the familiar word shekel.
-“Parsin” (
פְּרֵס) is one-half of a mina and a shekel, but the Lord purposefully uses it as a play-on-words.
Verse 26
-In the next three verses, Daniel will interpret the meaning of each word. “This is the interpretation of the matter” (
דְּנָה פְּשַׁר־מִלְּתָא).
-God reveals mysteries through His prophets, as Scripture declares (Daniel 2:22; Amos 3:7).
-“Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom” (
מְנֵא מְנָה־אֱלָהָא מַלְכוּתָךְ).
-Elsewhere, Scripture teaches us that God “numbers” (determines the length) of everything. He numbers the days of each human life (Psalm 139:16), for example. Here, we learn that God numbers the days of each nation as well.
-Now comes the message of divine judgment: “God…has brought it to an end” (
וְהַשְׁלְמַהּ׃).
-Daniel had foretold 63 years earlier that God would determine when Babylon would fall (Daniel 2:39).
-All the nations of the world will fall, for Christ will come to reign as King in His millennial kingdom (Daniel 2:44-45).

Verse 27
-“Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting”
(
תְּקֵל תְּקִילְתָּה בְמֹאזַנְיָא וְהִשְׁתְּכַחַתְּ חַסִּיר׃).
-The idea of being weighed in the “balances” (scales) means that God judges both individual men (Hebrews 9:27) and entire nations (Psalm 110:6) by their works.
-To be “found wanting” (
וְהִשְׁתְּכַחַתְּ חַסִּיר׃) means to be lacking, and in this case refers to Belshazzar’s lack of moral worth. “You” is masculine singular in this sentence.
-All men are found wanting in God’s sight when God weighs them on the scales unless they repent and receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ the King of kings (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9).
Verse 28
-“Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians”
(
פְּרֵס פְּרִיסַת מַלְכוּתָךְ וִיהִיבַת לְמָדַי וּפָרָס׃)
-In Daniel 2, the statue had a head of gold. This corresponded to the Babylonian Empire. Following that was a chest and arms of silver. The Medo-Persian alliance would form the next empire that would replace Babylon.
-The “Medes” (
מָדַי) were from Media, and they were an ancient people who lived in northern modern-day Iran. In 549 B.C. the Median Empire was conquered by King Cyrus, but rather than annihilating the Median kingdom, Cyrus combined it with the powerful Persian Empire to form the alliance of the Medes and Persians. Over time, the Persians would assimilate the Medes. Now in 539 B.C., Daniel says that God has given the mighty Babylonian Empire into the hands of the Medes and Persians.

Conclusion
“The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’” (Daniel 4:17)

Handout
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzLnbvsX8ZvgcnduNnRzOG85ckk/view?usp=sharing

Recording
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[1] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Zöckler, O., & Strong, J. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Daniel (p. 126). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
[2] Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 9, p. 611). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
[3] Miller, S. R. (1994). Daniel (Vol. 18, pp. 160–161). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[4] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Zöckler, O., & Strong, J. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Daniel (p. 130). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
[5] Calvin, J., & Myers, T. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel (Vol. 1, p. 333). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
[6] Miller, S. R. (1994). Daniel (Vol. 18, p. 163). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.