Dr. Tremper Longman III
Writing on the Wall
Tremper Longman III [00:00:00] Okay. So turning to the fifth of six stories about Daniel and the three friends and a foreign court, we turn to Daniel chapter five, and we're introduced to a new character, a man named Belshazzar. And Belshazzar appearance here has generated a long history of discussion, primarily because we know all the kings of this period of time, all the Babylonian kings, including the last king. And there's not a belt, said czar among them. So this has raised an issue that has been used by some critical scholars to question the historical truthfulness of the Book of Daniel, and suggesting that Daniel wasn't written on records contemporary with the events, but rather at a later time when historical memory was fuzzy. And, you know, there are issues that persist in this regard that we'll see in chapter six, but this is one that kind of clarified itself over the past 75 years. And it's it's kind of an interesting story. So I'd like to spend some time talking about it. So again, the period of time that we're dealing with now is called the neo Babylonian period. You might not remember because I only said it briefly in an early lecture that the history of Mesopotamia after 2000 B.C., is really a history of alternating resurgences of Assyria to the north and Babylon to the south, beginning with an old Assyrian period and an old Babylonian period that has as its most famous king Hammurabi, who many people have heard of because Hammurabi left behind a law collection or law code. And then there was and middle Assyrian period, then a middle Babylonian period, followed by a neo-assyrian period. And that's the Neo-assyrian period where the Assyrian Empire expanded so much that they conquered the Northern Kingdom. In 722 B.C., perhaps the most famous king of the Neo-assyrian period. Well, maybe a couple of big laugh plays are the third who's mentioned in the Old Testament under the name Paul. But maybe he's only important or memorable because I named our golden retriever years ago after Take Last Place or the third, we call them Tiggy and and and another name of a Neo-assyrian King who is found in the Bible as Sargon and Sennacherib. These are Neo-assyrian kings who feature in the Bible. But now, as you might remember from an earlier lecture, the neo Babylonian period begins with Navarre Palace's resurgence against the against the Assyrians. And so Navarre placers the first neo Babylonian king who reigned from 626 BCE as he was throwing off the Assyrian yoke all the way down to 605 B.C.. Now, what police are again is not found in the Bible, but we have ancient near Eastern sources that talk about him and Greek historians, etc.. 605 B.C. never confessor. His son becomes king. 605 B.C. is the date when Nebuchadnezzar also besiege is the city of Jerusalem and the first part of Daniel and he rains all the way down until 562 B.C. He has a long reign, a very prosperous reign. He consolidates the neo Babylonian empire. When he dies, his son, Armel Marduk, becomes king for a brief period of time, 562 to 560 B.C. So his name, his Akkadian name is Ahmad Duke. He is mentioned once in the Old Testament in Second Kings. 25, verse 27 as the king who is reigning when King Yahya, ten, is released from Babylonian prison. Sometimes it appears in your English translation as Evil Mirror Dark, which sounds very ominous, but I'm Al Marduk actually means man of Marduk, the chief guard of the Babylonians. So he's assassinated. He's not a very good king and not very good kings. Three kings tend to get assassinated and replaced by a man named Nero Gleason. Who rules from 560 B.C. to, let's see, 556 B.C. So also not a very long reign. But when he dies, his son, Labus, he Marduk becomes king. And he only rains just a few months because he's also kind of a dissolute, immoral and weak figure. He's executed and replaced by Nabonidus and Avenatti's rules. Babylon from 556 B.C. to 539 B.C., which will be the year that Cyrus the Persian defeats Babylon and brings to an end the neo Babylonian kingdom. So who is this Nabonidus guy? I mean, who is this Belshazzar guy? He's not on the list. Well, as I say, that was something of a mystery and something that some scholars thought was a historical mistake. Until about 75 years ago, when some cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian came out and mentioned the son of Nabonidus Bell Shah Utsav, which would be rendered in Hebrew as something like bell shots are there's there's a there's more of a back here. Nabonidus was kind of a peculiar figure in ancient near Eastern history in that he did not worship Marduk Marduk as the chief God, but he comes from a region near Harran, by the way, interestingly enough, which is where Abraham's family lived that worshiped the moon God, a God named sin. And. Sue Ann has nothing to do with the English word for sin, by the way. So the moon goddess worshiped in the region around Heron as kind of a side note. It's not coincidental that Abraham's father is named Tara, which in Hebrew means moon. So he comes from this region where the moon God is worshiped. He emigrates for a period of time to order. But you'll remember that as they travel to the promised land, they stop back in their ancestral homeland for a period of time. And Tara, according to Joshua 24, was a pagan, so we assumed that he to worship the moon. But case, that's kind of a side note. But you might imagine that by this time in Babylonian history, the Marduk priesthood is extremely powerful, influential, etc. and they made life difficult for Nabonidus. And so Nabonidus chose. He didn't relinquish the kingship, but he chose to move his. His headquarters is Palace two and beautiful oasis in what today is Saudi Arabia named Taimur. And set up his son as his co regent in Babylon. So as it turns out, what was thought to be a historical mistake when we got more information turns out to make a lot of sense. So. So we should keep that in mind as we read this story. Yeah. So. And I'll come back to navigators briefly a little bit later because he'll feature in again with the historical background of the fall of the city of the Babylonians, the city of Babylon, to the Persians. But let me begin by reading the first four versus of Chapter five, where we read how Belshazzar profaned God's holy vessels that had been taken from the temple. In chapter one, it says, King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking this wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar, his father, had taken from the temple in Jerusalem so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the Temple of God in Jerusalem. And the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them as they drank the wine. They praise the gods of gold and silver, a bronze, iron and wood and stone. Okay. Let me begin by commenting on this banquet before commenting on just how atrocious Belshazzar his actions are here. He's throwing a banquet. We know that often this isn't the only reason, but there's reason to think that the banquet that Belshazzar is throwing here is of this type that Kings would throw banquets before battle. Kings would have a big banquet kind of rallying the troops. In this case. It might be also because of fear of the oncoming battle with the Persians. I'll come back to this later too. But at this point, Belshazzar surely knows the Persians are marching on the city of Babylon. And because the Persians, after incorporating the median kingdom, another western Iranian kingdom, into their growing empire, then goes up to Asia minor, where they defeat Lydia with its famous almost mythical reputation. King Crow ASIS, the guy you know, touches something and it turns to gold. And now Cyrus is marching. I mean, Cyrus, the Persian is marching toward Babylon. We know that. Just let's see. It's a few days, I think, before Babylon is taken that our friend Nabonidus is leading the army. Against the Persians near the city of Spa, which is about 50, 60 miles from Babylon, where Nabonidus is defeated. So it might be I mean, the demise of Babylon comes quickly after this episode at this banquet that it's very likely that Belshazzar knows that the Babylonian army has been defeated on the open battlefield or the army that was with Nabonidus. And now Cyrus is on his way to Babylon. And so just like at the beginning of Esther, you had you see the Persian King's Verses, the later Persian king Xerxes throwing a big, big banquet, the banquet at which Queen Vashti refuses to show herself. That leads to her being deposed. Scholars believe, based on something that the Greek historian who's a near contemporary of those events, mentions about circuses, throwing a big, big banquet before his campaign against Greece, that this was the kind of rally where Xerxes was showing his authority, his wealth, his ability to lead the army. And as Karen Jobs, in her excellent commentary on Esther points out that this refusal to obey his authority in that particular context was seen by circuses as a threat to him. So think of this banquet. With the shadow of war over the city, and probably the idea that they are not in a good position to defend the city against the Persians. Uh, so, so then in the midst of this, in the midst of this banquet. Belshazzar orders that the silver and gold goblets be brought out now and then used in this kind of profane manner. Right. I mean, these are vessels that are considered sacred. They are set apart for worship of the true God back in the temple. I think we can imply that Nebuchadnezzar was taking them as a token of Judas submission, didn't use them in this profane way. I mean, one of the contrasts that we should observe as we're looking at Daniel Chapter five is how Belshazzar is characterized over against Nebuchadnezzar. Never. Ezer comes out much more positively than Belshazzar does. And. And so there's. Profane king of the sacred goblets and blasphemy in the use of them to praise not the true God, but the false gods of Babylon. So now we turn to five, five through 12. Where? We have the appearance of. Writing on a wall. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall near the lamb stand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale. He was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. So you can't think of a more extreme kind of the expression of fear in the light of this appearance of a hand. Writing on the wall. And by the way, the Palace of the Babylonian Kings was excavated in 1899 by an archeologist named called Way in which he showed that or he discovered that the walls were plastered with white gypsum. So you might picture that white gypsum. Of course, they didn't find the writing on the wall, but but it is kind of gives a little bit of reality to the picture here. Vividness to the picture. Our Walters wrote an article about this description of his physical reaction to the writing on the wall and suggests that the phrase has legs became weak, actually is implying, if not explicitly saying that he's basically wetting himself. All right. So it's so again, it's not a very complimentary picture of Belshazzar in that way either, this kind of extreme fright and cowering. So now we read that the King summoned the Chanters astrologers and diviners for entering into another story of court contest. We by this time almost expect that they will fail. We certainly expect that they will fail and they follow through on that expectation. Then they said to these wise men, to Babylon, whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be closed and purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck. And he will made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Now, before. Understanding exactly Belshazzar, his relationship with Nabonidus this idea why? Third, why or why not second? Well, because Nabonidus is one Nelson Cyrus too. And Daniel would be. Whoever reads the writing on the wall will be three. Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the King what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified, and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. The Queen. Now, this raises an interesting question Who's the queen? But let's read the paragraph first. Hearing the voices of the king and his nobles came into the banquet hall. May the king live forever. She said, Don't be alarmed. Don't look so pale. There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father, he was found to have insight, intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Navot Netzer, appointed him Chief of the Magicians and Chanters Astrologers and Diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the King called belter sitar, has was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel and he will tell you what the writing means. First of all, those bell sets are in a bad light that he doesn't even know about Daniel. After all he had done for the Kingdom. So the queen, who most likely is the queen mother. Okay. Nabonidus this mother actually who is a well-known figure from this period of time, a woman named ordered to be. Whom I feel I know well, because that's yet another text I translated from my dissertation on fictional Acadian autobiographies because one of the fictional Acadian autobiographies was the autobiography of our Dad Goopy, which we know is written after death. She lived to be 104, and she actually lived through the entire neo Babylonian period of time. And she was the mother of Nabonidus, also a worshiper of the God sin. And her autobiography promotes the worship of the God sin. But how that goopy we made, picture her. And by the way, our second golden retriever, a girl named Adad Goopy Addy. But. Added goopy. You might imagine a very old woman coming in and speaking to her. To her grandson. And ah, yeah, so now I'd be. Yeah. Her grandson be nabonidus, his mother. And one little other historical note. It's referring to Belshazzar as or never Nasser as also Czar's father. I think, though, there's no biological genetic connection between Belshazzar or Nabonidus with Nebuchadnezzar, but the Hebrew word father of can also mean something like predecessor. So. So I think that's the way it would should be translated. But she knows about Daniel. She's been around a long time. She witnessed what he did and never can. Ezra's caught and he's saying there's the answer to your problem. So in verses 1328, Daniel's brought in to the court to provide an interpretation. So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, Are you Daniel, one of the exiles, my father, the king, brought from Judah? Okay, so through the speech and their interaction, we can see how dismissive initially Belshazzar is of Daniel. And I think we'll also be able to detect just how much animus Daniel has toward Belshazzar for being demeaned in this way. Aren't you one of the exiles? In other words, let me put you in your place as you come in here. I've heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence, and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and chanters are brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard. I notice he's heard of it. It's a it's a report. It's not like, you know. I've heard about it. I don't know whether it's true, but I've heard about it. That you're able to give interpretation, solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be colored and purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Then Daniel answered, The King, You may keep your gifts for yourself. Okay. We'll have to explain later why why he accepts it. At the end of the chapter, you may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the King and tell him what it means. Your Majesty, the most high God gave your Father Nebuchadnezzar our sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor because of the high position he gave him all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the King wanted to put to death. He put to death those he wanted to spare. He spared those he wanted to promote, he promoted and those he wanted to humble. He humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal. He lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like an ox, and his body was drenched with the do for having until he acknowledged the most high God, a sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes but you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead you have sent yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praise the gods of silver and gold, a bronze, iron, wood and stone which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life in all your ways. Therefore, he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. Okay, so notice again the contrast that Daniel is drawing between Belshazzar, who refuses to humble himself and won't humble himself. In the light of the message that he receives from God as opposed to Nebuchadnezzar. This is the inscription that was written many, many tackle person to. But this year so many. Many. Tekle. Person. Hmm. Here is what these words mean. Many God has number of your the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekle you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Paris. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. So. So Daniel, of course, is interpreting this inscription as signifying the end of the Babylonian kingdom. Interestingly, these are nouns many, many technical person, and the most natural way of understanding it too, is monetarily. You know, a mean, a mean, a shekel and a half. Hmm. So and maybe, maybe it's like, you know, Mina is a larger sum of money than a shekel and then a half maybe it's like, you know, you're diminishing. But he interprets them as. As as passive participants. God has numbered my name in Hebrew or Aramaic? Both, actually. But I think Aramaic most relevant here since the text is still being is being written in Aramaic. And Aramaic was the lingua franca. The Babylonian kingdom means to number Tekle or shekel, and Hebrew means two way. And papyrus is a verb that means to divide. So? So it means basically numbered, weighed and divided. But. But Daniel understands the further significance of it. Again, saying God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Your days are numbered. Shekel, you've been weighed on the scales and found wanting. And then Paris, your kingdom is divided and given to the Meads and Persians. Again, the Persians are the dominant force here, but the Medes are also a western Iranian kingdom, which has been incorporated by the Persians under the rulership. Cyrus. Now, I'm going to get this gets a little technical, so I'm going to read from my commentary this next section, because my friend Al Walters, whom I mentioned before in another study on this chapter, gives kind of a multi dimensional interpretation of the text that I'd like to share with you. So on page 142 of my commentary on Daniel, I point out how Walters argues that the Babylonian wise men stumbled because the inscription was written in script that continue it. That means without any spaces between words and without vowels, without vocalization. He goes on to say that, quote, The interpretation given by Daniel divides this series into three words of three letters, each with three levels of meaning, depending on the vocalization that is the vowels that are chosen. The first two levels of meaning are as above the letters divided and vocalized as nouns. Mina, mina, tekle, parson and passive participles numbered. Wade divided. Though he interprets, though Walter interprets the third verb as assessed rather than defined divided. You've been assessed evaluated the third level interpretation based on yet a third vocalization. Mina Tekle Par ros indicates the consequences of God's judgment on Babylonia and would come to mean something like this. He has paid out. You are to light Persia. So Parson can you can see that the continents are the same as Persia. Walters continues by arguing that the image of the scales that way permeate all three levels and, quote, gains further significance. When we realize that the annual rising of Libra took place on the eve of Babylon's fall to the Persians. Well, you know, I just thought I'd share that with you, though it might be a little bit over clever or over overinterpreted. Bottom line is, as our common expression. Which comes from this particular chapter, but that Babylon's days are numbered. The writing is on the wall. They are going to have to fall. Let me pick it up in verse 29 to 31 where we're going to see the aftermath of reward and punishment. Then at Belshazzar command, Daniel was clothed and purple. A gold chain was placed around his neck and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. You know, there is a question of what are we to make of this? Daniel had refused the reward, but now seems to accept it. There are various ways to consider this. One is simply that he refused it in order to make it clear that he wasn't going to interpret it for the reward. But after it was offered, he accepted it as kind of a well, I mean, basically that Belshazzar gave him the reward indicates that Belshazzar thinks that, yeah, he interpreted it correctly. It's kind of an affirmation of his interpretation. It will, of course, in one sense do no good because the kingdom is going to fall. And but he will be, as we'll see in the very next chapter, he'll become an important figure within the Persian government that replaces the Babylonian one. That very night, Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede, took over the kingdom at the age of 62. Okay, so that very night, surely. As I said at the beginning, Belshazzar is aware at the night of the banquet that the Babylonian. That the Persian army is bearing down on him and. And perhaps he's invoking his gods to ask them for help too. But he does so in a way that pains Israel's God. And and so the Babylonian empire ends, and we're introduced to the character who will be the one of the main figures of Daniel Chapter six, namely Darius the Mede. And when we turn to Daniel Sex, we'll see that there is something of a historical issue surrounding the question who is Darius The mean? But I'll pass here, see if there are any questions about Daniel. Chapter five.
Speaker 2 [00:36:38] For the people that don't know what vocal.
Tremper Longman III [00:36:40] Oh, right. Yeah, Yeah, sure. I'd be happy to explain. Okay, great. Sure. Well, thanks, Bill. So. So, as I said, many people think that the writing on the wall was not vocalized, which means that it didn't have vowels. And to understand that, you should realize that during this time period, neither Hebrew nor Aramaic were written with dals, just consonants. And so that means that these consonants could conceivably be vocalized in different ways, could have different vowels, which lead somebody like Al Wolters to suggest that you might have three levels of meaning, depending on how you vocalize these these consonants. Now, those of you who may have gone to seminary and studied Hebrew, you know that the Hebrew in the Bible that we read do have vowels, but they were added by a group of Hebrew scribes called the mass arete, sometimes spelled with two and sometimes with one. S in the middle, Massachusetts, where a guild of Hebrew scholars who were commissioned with maintaining and transmitting the Hebrew Bible from about 400 A.D. 2000 A.D., and one of the things they did since Hebrew had been has been a dead language for centuries before coming before their work began. They thought it would be good to add vowels, and and the vowels are added by not disturbing the consonants. So. So if you open a Hebrew Bible, you'll see. Here's. Here's the name Moses. So mo that marks an O and this marks e bo Mo's. Oh, sorry. Mo share. Yeah. Okay. So. So. So that's vocalization. Does that help?
Speaker 3 [00:39:06] It's interesting how God communicates in all different kinds of ways.
Tremper Longman III [00:39:11] Oh, yeah.
Speaker 3 [00:39:12] That who would expect all of a sudden the hand to be writing on a wall?
Tremper Longman III [00:39:17] Right. Right.
Speaker 3 [00:39:18] And yet God chose that in that situation to get his point across.
Tremper Longman III [00:39:26] Yeah, that's. That's right. I mean, sometimes we don't know how God communicates with his prophets, whether it's monetary or, you know. Through their thoughts or in various different ways. This is not unprecedented, though. I think it's an Exodus Chapter 34 when, after breaking apart the first two tablets of the law, Moses goes up and gets another one. And I think it's at that point where it talks about how God writes the commandments with his finger. And and there are other references to the finger of God in Scripture. But that's not denying what you're saying. It's it's saying that God chooses to give his revelation in different types of ways. And getting back to something I said earlier about wisdom literature, which, you know, often God. In those contacts as he's speaking to the sages of Israel, are speaking to them through their experiences as they observe it and reflect on it and they learn from their from their mistakes. But even in that way, it's no less the revelation of God. There's a proverb I wish I remember the exact citation which says, You know, Ere and I both are gifts of the Lord, you know, sort of like even our ability to observe and reflect ultimately when it leads to the kind of wisdom which we find in the book of Proverbs is a revelation to.
Speaker 2 [00:41:19] One last clarification. You said that when he when Daniel says to Belshazzar that God gave your father the word translated, Father can be an ancestor. I'm assuming like Donner 22, when he says, You Belshazzar, his son. That son also can mean descendant.
Tremper Longman III [00:41:40] Yeah, I'm actually making a different type of I mean, a related but different type of poem, because in this case, Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar would not be genetically related, even as an ancestor and descendant. So in this case, I would suggest understanding and translating those two words as predecessor and successor. Yeah.