Stand Firm in the Faith

Explore the Bible Series

August 14, 2005

 

Background Passage: Daniel 5:1-6:28

Lesson Passage: Daniel 6:1-10, 16, 21-22

 

Introduction: The lesson materials for this week contain two of the most familiar stories in the Bible: the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzarís feast and Daniel in the lionís den.I remember hearing these narratives from my earliest training at home and in Sunday School.Familiarity with these stories may foster an ďI already know thatĒ attitude that we must avoid.This section, for one thing, provides serious historical and intellectual challenges that Bible students should explore.Furthermore, this passage yields great spiritual benefits for the Lordís people.Godís word always calls us to ďbe diligent to present yourself approved of God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.Ē

 

Two kings appear in these chapters, and both of these monarchs present historical problems for the Bible student.Liberal scholars have used the references to these rulers to discredit the historicity of the Book of Daniel.By way of introduction, we will consider the lives of Belshazzar and Darius the Mede.

 

Belshazzar: Several nineteenth-century Old Testament scholars questioned the existence of this man because the ancient Greek historians (from Heroditus on) did not mention his rule.Archeological discoveries, however, had now demonstrated the historicity of this monarch.In all probability, Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar and the son of Nabonidus.Ancient cuneiform texts indicate that Nabonidus lived in Tema, North Arabia, for approximately ten years.During that decade, Belshazzar ruled Babylon as his fatherís regent.These writings depict Belshazzar as accountable to Nabonidus, but the two men clearly enjoyed a warm relationship.Belshazzar ruled, in his fatherís stead, without restriction; however, he governed under the ultimate authority of Nabonidus.Perhaps this explains why Belshazzar promised Daniel to elevate the prophet to the third in command in the kingdom (See Daniel 5:16).So, while Nabonidus was the king of Babylon at the time of the fall of Babylon, Belshazzar was the ruler in residence of the Babylonians.

 

Darius the Mede: Secular ancient texts indicate that Cyrus assumed power over this region as soon as Nabonidus and Belshazzar were defeated, and these texts have no record of the reign of Darius the Mede.Liberal scholars have concluded, again, that this reference to Darius is simply a late addition to the Maccabean composition of the Book of Daniel.This debate proves too complex to discuss in this forum, but serious students may want to read Gleason Archerís treatment of Darius in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (pp. 286-289). Archer concludes that Darius was an important Medo-Persian general who ruled the region for a short time during the reign of King Cyrus the Great.

 

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                    The Feast of Belshazzar (5:1-31)

A.     The extravagant feast of the king (vv. 1-4): Ancient Middle Eastern monarchs often sponsored elaborate celebrations with hundreds of guests.These feasts typically included heavy drinking and lascivious sexual practices.Sadly, this revelry degenerated into the characteristic drunken orgy.Many years before, King Nebuchadnezzar had taken the precious, sacred articles from the Temple in Jerusalem.Belshazzarís debauchery sunk to such levels that he commanded servants to bring the Temple articles to the feast to be used as cups for their wine. The drinking rituals related to the worship of the false gods of Babylon (See vv. 3-4).

B.     The handwriting on the wall (vv. 5-12): The fingers of a hand mysteriously appeared in the banquet hall and wrote on the plaster of a well-lit wall.The vision troubled Belshazzar, and, like Nebuchadnezzar before him, the king called the seers of Babylon to read the puzzling message.They, of course, could not decipher the words. The queen, probably the queen mother (Belshazzarís wives and concubines were already in attendance), recalled that Nebuchadnezzar faced a similar dilemma, and she advised the king to call for Daniel.

C.     Belshazzarís promise to reward Daniel for interpreting the writing (vv. 13-16)

D.     Danielís interpretation of the handwriting (vv. 17-30)

1.      Danielís disinterest in Belshazzarís rewards (v. 17): On another occasion Daniel accepted promotion and gifts (See 2:28); yet, he expressed some reluctance about this offer.Perhaps Daniel sensed that Belshazzarís gifts concealed the kingís desire to bribe the prophet.This part of the story is reminiscent of Christianís distaste for the wares of Vanity Faire, in The Pilgrimís Progress.

2.      Godís previous dealings with Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 18-22):Daniel reminded the king of Godís providential interaction with the greatest of the Babylonian monarchs.The Lord had elevated Nebuchadnezzar to power, and, when the king exalted himself, the Almighty humbled him.Belshazzar had poorly learned the lessons of Godís supremacy, and the thoughtless king had defiled the articles of the Temple.

3.      The Lordís judgment on Belshazzar (vv. 23-28):Daniel reminded the king that his very breath was a gift of Jehovah (what an important lesson for all to learn!), and Belshazzar had offended the Lord who, at that moment, sustained his life.The words that appeared on the wall revealed three messages.

(1). Belshazzarís days were numbered

(2). Belshazzar deeds were weighed in the balance and found wanting.

(3). Belshazzarís kingdom would be divided and given to the Medes

4.      The fulfillment of the prophecy (vv. 29-30):The Lord did not tarry long.The very night of the feast the Medes fell on Babylon, and Belshazzar met his death. Darius the Mede, a sixty-two year old ruler, took control of the kingdom.

 

II.Daniel and the Lionís Den (6:1-28)

  1. Danielís favor with Darius (vv.1-6): Daniel gained the confidence of the new ruler of the region.Darius the Mede organized the kingdom under the governance of 120 straps. Some scholars believe these men presided over regional jurisdictions: collecting taxes, enforcing the law, and subduing enemies.Over these 120 regional governors, Darius appointed three commissioners, and Daniel served in one of these positions. Petty jealousies drove the leaders to resent Danielís prominence, and, as the Jewish prophet grew in influence, the unscrupulous satraps and commissioners conspired to find fault with him.
  2. The evil design of the commissioners and satraps (vv. 7-9): Sadly, King Darius was trapped by his own conceit.The leaders of his administration flattered him, and they managed to convince the king to kill anyone who prayed to another god.For thirty days the evil edict would forbid any citizen to pray to anyone except Darius.The foolish king complied with the conspiracy and thoughtlessly signed his decree into law.
  3. Danielís response to the kingís edict (vv. 10-15):Daniel refused to comply with the law of Darius, and, as was his custom, the prophet prayed conspicuously, three times a day.Of course, the wicked leaders were watching Daniel, and they accused him before the king.
  4. Danielís sentence and attempted execution (vv. 16-28)
    1. The hapless king trapped by his own words (vv. 16-18): Only with the condemnation of his faithful servant did Darius see the consequences of his actions.Often, sinful men act without consideration for the effect of their deeds. The Darius retired to his chambers for a sleepless night of fasting, praying that God might overrule the foolish behavior of the king.
    2. Godís deliverance of Daniel (vv. 19-24):At daybreak the anxious king went to the lionís den to discover the results of his prayers.In an anguished tone, the beleaguered king cried out to Daniel, and the prophet answered him from the den.Danielís mouth was the only one in the den that would work!God had shut the mouths of the lions. Darius called for Danielís accusers and the incensed king threw the conspirators into the den.The lionís mouths, dry and tasteless throughout the night, were bloodied with the bodies of the satraps and commissioners.
    3. The kingís new decree (vv. 25-28): Darius the Mede reversed his initial decree and composed a psalm of praise to Danielís God.It is interesting that Darius referred to Jehovah as the ďGod of Daniel.ĒDid the king embrace Jehovah himself?The text seems to indicate a certain alienation and distance, if you will, between Jehovah and Darius.Nevertheless, the king thought differently about these things after this remarkable incident.

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Observations Concerning the Lesson Passage:

 

1. Above all, I am struck by the godly manner in which Daniel interacted with the godless society of the Babylonians.The narratives describe a patient, gracious man who did not run away from the prominent societal role the Lord prescribed for him.As I have studied the last two lessons, my mind has gone, again and again, to I Peter 2:13-17.Peter admonished the people of Asia Minor to ďbe subject for the Lordís sake to every human institution.ĒChristians abandon the social institutions of their culture at great price.Discuss the implications of Peterís admonition and the example of Daniel.What boundaries should Christians set for their compliance with secular authority?Why?

 

2.Why did the satraps and commissioners hate Daniel?Why did their hatred drive them to such godless action?Discuss Danielís response to their hateful conspiracy?Why didnít Daniel defend himself?

 

3.Also, consider the consequences of Dariusí foolish decree.Can you think of other Bible passages that teach us to consider the consequences of our actions?

 

4.Above all, what does the story of the lionís den teach us about the Lordís willingness and ability to protect his people?Why did Daniel have such security and courage?