Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for September 17

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By Jeffery M. Leonard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Samford University

Speak Truth Boldly

Daniel 5:13–17, 22–28

The second chapter of Daniel tells us the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar once ordered the execution of his entire roster of magicians simply because they were unable to reveal the contents of one of his dreams.

For Judean exiles like Daniel and his companions Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), matters of faith made serving in court even more difficult.

Along with avoiding the regular dangers posed by a willful monarch, these young men also faced the challenge of remaining faithful to God in the midst of a culture that did not share (and sometimes actively opposed) their beliefs. One challenge was quickly followed by another.

Pursue a life of integrity and godly wisdom. (13–16)

Mighty Nebuchadnezzar had towered over Babylon like a colossus; his heirs were simply “also-rans.” This was especially true for Belshazzar, the “king” who appears in Daniel 5.

Belshazzar was, in actuality, only a regent for the real king, Nabonidus, who had himself stepped away from his royal duties to spend a decade at a desert oasis.

Though Belshazzar may not have been the real king, he was certainly possessed of royal appetites.

On one occasion, Scripture tells us he held a feast for a thousand nobles, and in the midst of the revelries, he called for his servants to bring out the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had looted from Solomon’s temple.

As Belshazzar and his guests used these sacred items for their toasts to Babylon’s “gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone,” the moment of reckoning for this pretend monarch arrived.

A hand appeared from nowhere and began to write the divine decree against Belshazzar and his kingdom. Terrified, Belshazzar called for his magicians and diviners, but despite his promises of lavish reward, none could interpret the message.

It was at this point that he finally turned to Daniel for help.

Speak the truth that sin involves exalting ourselves over God. (17, 22–23)

Daniel had little use for the lavish gifts Belshazzar promised to give the one who could interpret the literal “handwriting on the wall.” Indeed, Daniel seems to have had little use for Belshazzar himself. He not only told Belshazzar, “Keep your gifts for yourself, and give your rewards to someone else,” but he compared him most unfavorably with the former king, Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel recalled that Nebuchadnezzar had been far more powerful than Belshazzar, and yet he had finally humbled himself (see Daniel 4). Belshazzar was a comparative lightweight, and yet he had refused to humble himself at all. This would spell doom for Belshazzar’s royal aspirations.

Speak the truth that sin brings judgment. (24–28)

The words inscribed on Belshazzar’s palace wall were easy enough to read; “mene, mene, tekel and pharsin” are just Aramaic words for weight measures (this chapter is one of nine in the Old Testament written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew).

A mina is a measure made up of tekels (Aramaic for “shekels”), and parsin is the plural of peras, a “half-shekel.” But what could this collection of words possibly mean for Belshazzar?

Here, God directed Daniel to read the terms in a different way. Rather than take them as nouns, Daniel read the words as verbs. In this way, mina was read as “numbered,” tekel as “weighed” and parsin as “divided.” This was the summary of God’s judgment on Belshazzar. The days of his kingdom had been numbered; he had been weighed in the balances and found wanting; and his kingdom would soon be divided.

That very night, Persia, a nation whose ancient name is embedded in the word parsin, would bring Belshazzar’s rule to an end.