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Lesson 5: Surprise Party *

Introduction: Chapter 5 of the book of Daniel has a very interesting background. King Nebuchadnezzar died in 563 B.C. Chapter 5 takes place about 25 years after his death. King Nabonidus is now on the throne, but he shares his authority with his evil son, Belshazzar. The Persians, lead by King Cyrus, attack the Babylon empire and defeat the troops led by King Nabonidus. King Nabonidus moves the main Babylonian army to Borsippa, and King Cyrus heads for the city of Babylon and surrounds it. My guess is that before Cyrus got to Babylon, a great number of officials fled to the city for protection. Babylon was protected by a massive double wall and had a sufficient food supply to last for 20 years. The setting for our study today is that Vice-King Belshazzar is within the safety of the walls of Babylon, King Cyrus and the Persians surround the city, and the main army of Babylon is off licking its wounds. Let's dive into Daniel 5!

  1. The Party

    1. Read Daniel 5:1. What was King Belshazzar thinking? The city is surrounded with enemy troops and he throws a party? (It could be several things. He might have felt safe behind the walls of the city. He might have been a weak, "party-boy" who thought, when in doubt, throw a party. It might have been a strategy to encourage the citizens of the city - no reason to worry, life will go on as usual, we are safe inside.)

    2. Read Daniel 5:2-4. Nebuchadnezzar was, at best, the grandfather of Belshazzar. The Bible calls him "father" because it was the custom to call an ancestor "father." Consider that Jesus was called "the Son of David" and David "the son of Abram." Matthew 1:1. When we last saw Nebuchadnezzar, he had been converted to the worship of the true God of Heaven. What does Belshazzar show is his attitude toward the true God of Heaven?

      1. Why would he have this attitude? If the true God of Heaven were unknown or "not an issue," why try to insult Him? (Nebuchadnezzar had created this huge kingdom and the beautiful city fortress of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the true God of Heaven controls kings and kingdoms. ( Daniel 4:34-35) The logical conclusion from this (based on the fact the Persians are here) is that the true God does not care for Belshazzar and is working against him. Belshazzar, being the evil and arrogant man that he is, decides that he will show God who is who by having all guests drink out of the goblets of God's temple while praising other gods. Very defiant. Very stupid.)

      2. Look at the list(v.4)of their gods for a moment. What do you find curious about this list? (What a group of simple gods! You would think they would at least worship something like the sun, which looks and feels powerful. But dead trees and rocks?)

  2. The Hand

    1. Read Daniel 5:5-6. Imagine seeing this yourself. Imagine seeing this if you had never seen a movie before in your life!

      1. How is Mr. "defiant arrogance" doing now?

      2. Did God send "the fingers" because of the act of drinking from the temple goblets?

      3. Don't you wish God would do this kind of thing more often? (Of course, not in your house.)

    2. Read Daniel 5:7-9. Why would the King make the person who decrypted the message "third highest?" (Remember that King Belshazzar and his father were jointly ruling the empire. King Belshazzar was offering the position of authority next to himself!)

      1. How many wanted to take a shot at winning this reward? (Verse 8 says "all" the wise men showed up.)

      2. God obviously wrote the message in a way that was difficult for the people to understand. Why would God do that? (Some may think this is an argument for studying from the KJV. I think God did this to increase the mystery of the moment and underscore the inadequacy of the king and his "wise men.")

      3. Some very important fact is being communicated by what is not said. Notice that (v.8) "all the king's wise men came in." Has Daniel been demoted? (Yes. Daniel no longer holds a position of responsibility.)

        1. How do you explain that God has been blessing Daniel all these years, but now he has been dropped from a place of honor and authority?

        2. Remember that Daniel was a very young man when he was captured. According to my rough calculations, Daniel was in his middle to late 50's when Nebuchadnezzar died. How would you like to lose your high, respected position and slip into obscurity at that age?

    3. Read Daniel 5:10-12. What queen do you imagine this is based on what she is saying? (I would guess this is the grandmother - wife of Nebuchadnezzar.)

    4. Read Daniel 5:13. What is the first thing that Belshazzar asks Daniel? (Were you a slave?)

      1. Was this intended to be a compliment?

      2. Does this reflect what the queen grandmother said about Daniel? (She said nothing about Daniel being a captive.)

      1. What could the king have asked instead? (Were you for many years the number one wise man in the kingdom?)

      2. What does this show us about Belshazzar? (He is just arrogant and obnoxious.)

    1. Read Daniel 5:14-16. Here is Daniel's ticket back to fame and fortune! He can be ranked next in authority to Belshazzar! Good times are here again.

    2. Read Daniel 5:17. What is going on? Why does Daniel turn down this wonderful promotion? (I wish I could have been there. My bet is that it had been a long time since Belshazzar had anyone tell him, "You have nothing to give me that I value." This, from a former slave.)

  1. The Interpretation

    1. Read Daniel 5:18-21. I was a bit concerned when Daniel said in verse 17 "I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means." To whom does Daniel attribute the ultimate power?

      1. Why was King Nebuchadnezzar so successful? (God blessed him. This is precisely what Belshazzar does not want to hear at this moment.)

    2. Read Daniel 5:22-23. Could this kind of talk get Daniel killed? (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, recites that historian Xenophon recorded that Belshazzar killed one of his nobles "merely because, in hunting, the noble struck down the game before him." He also records that Belshazzar emasculated one of the court personnel simply because one of his concubines said the man was handsome. Needless to say, people had been killed by evil Belshazzar for a lot less than the insults Daniel was throwing around right now.)

    3. Read Daniel 5:24-28. Do you recall how Daniel brought bad news to Nebuchadnezzar? (Compare Daniel 4:19. Daniel always tried to soften the bad news. He would give the good news first.)

      1. Why doesn't Daniel soften this news? (I think Daniel has no respect for Belshazzar. This king is arrogant, obnoxious and impious - and for no good reason. Nebuchadnezzar really was a world conqueror. But, Belshazzar has done nothing, gets drunk when danger approaches and insults God.)

      2. Remember that we learned from Daniel 4:27-31 that Nebuchadnezzar was given a chance to repent? He was given a second chance. Why is Belshazzar not given a similar opportunity? (Let's re-read Daniel 5:22. Belshazzar knew what was right. He knowingly defied the great God of Heaven. My belief is that Daniel's attitude towards Belshazzar reflected God's attitude towards this king. He was just evil ("found wanting") and arrogant and the time for judgment had come.)

    4. Read Daniel 5:29. Belshazzar keeps his word. Why?

      1. What is missing from verse 29? (Every time Daniel revealed God's will to Nebuchadnezzar by interpreting a dream, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the true God of Heaven. Belshazzar does nothing of the kind.)

    5. Read Daniel 5:30. Judgment is executed against Belshazzar. Would you want to be promoted to number three the very same evening that number two is killed by invaders?

    6. Friend, if you have a hard, rebellious heart, the time to turn to God is right now. God is not only a God who pursues the wicked (as He did Nebuchadnezzar) to encourage them to follow Him, but God is also a God of judgment for those who continue to rebel. Why not repent today?

  2. Next week: An Ancient Death Decree.
* Copr. 2004, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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