Continuing in the book of Daniel we come next to Daniel 5 and then Daniel 6. Daniel 5 is the judgment of Belshazzar and Daniel 6 is the lions’ den story. Both of these are wisdom stories and even court narratives. Both of these have had parallel chapters that we have already examined — Daniel 3 with the fiery furnace and Daniel 4 with the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar. You would benefit from reading the earlier posts on Daniel and the pdf document provided in a link in the first such post before reading this, although it is not necessary for you to follow the points made here. There is less said about Daniel 6 simply because of how much we discussed it together with Daniel 3 in an earlier post.
Daniel 4, the first half of the climax of the Aramaic portion of Daniel, concerned the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar. God’s judgment of Nebuchadnezzar meant that his kingdom was taken away for seven periods of time while he acted totally insane. But then Nebuchadnezzar ‘repented’ (”I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me and I blessed the Most High…” (Dan 4:34)) and got his kingdom back. Daniel 5 is the second half of the climax: King Belshazzar’s judgment was final, he was killed, and the kingdom went to another. Thus the text advances from Daniel 4 to Daniel 5, these are not just purely parallel chapters. One way that the text ties Daniel 4 to Daniel 5 is by calling Nebuchadnezzar ”his father” though there was no blood relationship between Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar according to historians (Dan 5:2, 5, 13, 18, and ”you his son” in Dan 5:22). The chapter does begin rather abruptly since we are told, ”King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand” (Dan 5:1) and we have never heard of him before this. Belshazzar imitated and exaggerated the faults of his ”father” Nebuchadnezzar – especially his pride. And while Daniel wanted blessing for Nebuchadnezzar, he had no patience whatsoever for Belshazzar. This is the chapter about seeing the handwriting on the wall – today this continues to be idiomatic for expecting immediate disaster. The pride of Belshazzar is in the context of idolatry in a way far beyond anything in Daniel 4. Moreover, Nebuchadnezzar simply removed the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem and had them put in the temple of his god in Babylon. Belshazzar actually drank from those vessels. In other words, if the pride of Nebuchadnezzar was great then Belshazzar imitated and exaggerated it. Moreover, his pride was a much more direct attack on the living God than anything Nebuchadnezzar had ever done. Note the bashing of his idolatry in Dan 5:23.
Belshazzar historically was the son of Nabonidus, who is recorded as the last Babylonian king. The reason that Belshazzar is called a king in this passage is that he was coregent with his father and his father sent away. Longman tells us that the timeline is like this: Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C., his son Amel-Marduk (called Evil-Merodach in 2 Kings 25:27) reigned from 562-560 B.C. His brief reign came to an end and he was executed. His successor was Neriglissar who reigned from 560-556 B.C. Neriglissar’s son reigned for a few months before being executed. Nabonidus then came to the throne and technically held the throne until Cyrus entered Babylon in 539 B.C. I have mentioned before that people thought that the book of Daniel had made up Belshazzar since his name was not on the list of kings. Now we know that his father was gone for the last ten years from the capital while Belshazzar ruled in his stead. Some now think that Belshazzar even had a role in getting his father forced to relocate to an oasis that today is in Saudi Arabia. Nabonidus was a native of Haran and a big advocate of the chief god there named Sin. This angered the Marduk priests. The point in sharing all of that historical background is that the text of Daniel does not indicate how much time has passed. This makes the first verse that much more abrupt. It also is helpful because people have had their doubts about the historicity of Darius the Mede mentioned in Dan 5:31. Simply put there are still a number of holes in the historical record surviving today and we should not jump to the conclusion that Scripture got it wrong.
(We are also unsure of the identity of the queen who speaks in this chapter, although she is almost certainly not a wife of Belshazzar. The best candidates are the wife of Nabonidus (likely Belshazzar’s mother) who is unknown to us and Nitocris the wife of Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar’s grandmother had already died a few years before. Nitocris is the most likely candidate in my mind for a number of reasons including the content of her speech. She is not pleased that Belshazzar has made Nebuchadnezzar look bad nor does she think he is acting royally.)
Also, as to the opening of the chapter – the feast that reminds us of the one opening Esther is actually probably for a similar reason. You will remember that King Ahasuerus (aka Xerxes) held that feast to unite the Persian kingdom behind his war plans against Greece. Here Belshazzar, Longman tells us, probably had a similar ”political-military purpose.” Belshazzar knew that the Persians would be attacking soon and he needed a united Babylon to fight back. And so this is the setting as Belshazzar is eating and drinking from the holy vessels and sees the handwriting on the wall. And so while the major judgment did not come upon Nebuchadnezzar who had taken those vessels, it did come upon his ”son” Belshazzar who drank from them. This is the same pattern that we saw in the Prophets (especially think of Kings). This pattern may explain why Daniel does not recount the historical background between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. Belshazzar is styled as the son of Nebuchadnezzar while the original audience would have known what happened historically.
Recall that in Daniel 4 the wise men of Babylon were unable to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream but Daniel could. Now in Daniel 5 the wise men of Babylon prove unable to interpret the writing on the wall, but Daniel could. It was written by the same finger(s) that etched the ten commandments on stone tablets (Exo 31:18), although Belshazzar did not know it was the doing of the God of Israel until Daniel told him so. It is a much more direct form of revelation than dreams and visions, suggesting it is a much more serious statement of judgment.
Daniel, as Longman notes, is the only character in Daniel 5 who comes onto the scene with an introduction. Everyone else came into the picture abruptly, even the hand of God. And Belshazzar does not respect Daniel. Unlike with Nebuchadnezzar, this is the reason that Daniel has not been called in to interpret it yet and when he is called in Belshazzar treats him poorly. He reminds Daniel that he is an exile from Judah (Belshazzar’s prisoner), says ”I have heard” (2xs) negating any compliment that follows, and Belshazzar shows no confidence Daniel can interpret the handwriting on the wall.
Now remember that the climax of Daniel 4 was Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Nebuchadnezzar had confidence that Daniel could interpret that dream (Dan 4:9) but Belshazzar fails to show any such confidence (Dan 5:16). Belshazzar has missed the whole point of that story – a story that he knows. This failure on the part of Belshazzar then is the climax of Daniel 5.
Concerning the writing on the wall, Longman explains, ”As nouns, they are units of money and may be translated: ‘Mina, mina, shekel, and a half…Daniel’s interpretation takes these nouns and interprets them as verbal forms, passive participles to be exact. The three verbal roots in order may be translated, ‘numbered,’ ‘weighed,’ and ‘divided.”’ Daniel’s interpretation understands the words as puns and it is not likely an accident that the last word is similar to Persia – the nation that will conquer Babylon that very night. Thus a confusion of language ends Babylon (Babel).
We will take much less time with Daniel 6 since we have already discussed the lions’ den at some length. But what ties Daniel 5 and 6 is the last verse of Daniel 5: ”And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old” (Dan 5:31). Remember that the Persian empire was an empire where the Persians and Medes were the dominate tribes (for lack of a better word). The problem for scholars is the lack of any mention of this Darius in the extra-biblical historical record found to date although there are later Persian kings with the name. The most likely and simple explanation is that the Persian King Cyrus put this Darius the Mede on the throne of Babylon until Cyrus took over the nation politically outright. It is possible that he was the military general who conquered Babylon for Cyrus. Perhaps someday in the future these details will be clarified, but for now these are the best guesses. Nevertheless, the historical questions do not cause any problem for interpreting the story of Daniel 6. The Persians were now in charge of Babylon and Darius the Mede had elevated Daniel in such a way that other Persians were jealous.
Darius the Mede divided the Babylonian kingdom into 120 satrapies. (A later Persian king Darius will divide the Persian empire into 20 satrapies, which is one reason some think the account of Darius the Mede is confused). The large number of satrapies in the Babylonian kingdom means that the government will be fairly decentralized, which Longman suggests may be why Darius the Mede was willing to go along with the prayer suggestion – it would strengthen Darius as the central figure in this kingdom.
Among the parallels between chapters 3 and 6 are the fourth man like the son of the gods in Daniel 3 and the angel that shut the mouths of the lions in Daniel 6. This angel is not identified, but given what we said about Daniel 3 it is possible that Daniel himself saw the pre-incarnate Christ. The description of no harm on the three friends is likewise mirrored by the description of no harm found on Daniel’s body. I discussed at some length in my sermon on Daniel 6 that it was a trial by ordeal. Daniel 3 was very similar to a trial by ordeal, but not identical with that idea. I also discussed in the sermon how the lions’ den episode points forward to Jesus Christ. For example, neither had bones broken and both were put in tombs with a stone blocking the entrance with a seal on it to prevent tampering.
I am even more convinced that Daniel 3 is a chiasm with an alternating pattern at the climax now that I look again at my outline of Daniel 6 as a chiasm with an alternating pattern at the climax. Daniel 6 begins and ends with a historical setting (A. Dan 6:1-2 and A’ Dan 6:28), secondly Daniel was distinguished above all the other high officials and to be set over the whole kingdom and then second to last his God was distinguished above all others with a kingdom that will never end (B. Daniel 6:3 and B’ Daniel 6:25-27). To be clear: Daniel 3 and 6 do not follow the same outlines. The stories are told enough differently that the parallel portions are not the same. For example, in Daniel 3 the false testimony (malicious accusers) was parallel to the true testimony. However, in Daniel 6 it appears that the planning to trap Daniel and setting the trap for Daniel is parallel to Daniel being vindicated as innocent and the malicious accusers were caught in their own trap. This means that the false testimony in Daniel 6 will come in the climax.
I could add to what I have said previously about false testimony that Scripture considers even telling the truth if done with malice to be false testimony. In any case, you can read the alternating pattern at the core of Daniel 6. It shows Darius the Mede as unable to save Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had put Daniel’s friends into a fiery furnace and did not want to see them saved but Darius the Mede put Daniel into the lions’ den and did not want to do so. Either way, the living God saved them.