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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Dan. 5 and 14]

AFTER the death of Nabuchodonozor, Baltassar, his grandson, ascended the throne. One day Baltassar gave a great banquet to the nobles of his kingdom, and ordered the golden cups, which his grandfather had taken from the Temple of Jerusalem, to be brought forth and used at the banquet.

The sacred vessels were brought, and the king and his wives and his officers drank from them, and they praised their gods of gold and of silver and of stone. At that moment a hand appeared, and fingers were seen writing three words upon the wall over against the king. Baltassar grew pale and trembled, for the joints of that hand were moving and wrote: Mane, Thecel, Phares. He called for his wise men, that they might interpret the writing. But none of them could do so. Then Daniel, who had received from God the gift of prophecy, together with that of explaining hidden things, came forth and spoke to the king:

“Thou hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven. Thou hast praised thy gods of gold and silver; but the Lord of heaven, who hath thy breath in His hands, thou hast not glorified. Thou knowest that thy grandfather was punished for his pride; that he was driven away from the sons of men, and that he ate grass in the field with the ox and the ass, and yet thou hast not humbled thy heart.

“Wherefore God hath sent the fingers of the hand to write, and this is the writing, and this is the interpretation thereof: Mane: God hath numbered thy kingdom, and hath finished it. Thecel: Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting. Phares: Thy kingdom is divided, and is given to the Medes and Persians.” That very night Baltassar was slain and the prophecy of Daniel was thus fulfilled. Some time after, the army of the Medes and Persians, under Darius, their great leader, took the city of Babylon, and divided the kingdom.

But Cyrus (Fig. 57), king of Persia, and successor of Darius, soon took possession of all the Assyrian empire, of which Babylon was the capital. He treated Daniel with marked respect, and made him sit down at his own table. At this time the god Bel was worshipped in Babylon as the supreme deity. There were spent upon him every day twelve large measures of flour, forty sheep and sixty vessels of wine.

 

Fig. 57. Monument of Cyrus at Murghab.

The king went every day to adore this god Bel. But Daniel adored the true God. Then the king asked him why he did not adore Bel. Daniel replied that he adored the true and living God, who created earth and heaven, and whose power extends over all things. The king, much surprised, asked Daniel if he did not believe that Bel was a living god, seeing how much he consumed every day.

Daniel smiled and said: “O king, be not deceived, for this Bel is clay within and brass without, neither hath he eaten at any time.” The king, being angry, called for the priests of the god, and said to them: “If ye tell me not who it is that eats up these provisions, ye shall die. But if ye can show that Bel eateth these things, Daniel shall die, because he hath blasphemed against Bel.” Daniel agreed to the king’s proposal.

Then the king, accompanied by Daniel, went to the temple of Bel. And the priests of Bel said to the king. “Behold, we go out, and do thou, O king, set on the meats, and make ready the wine, and shut the door fast, and seal it with thy own ring; and when thou comest in the morning, if thou find not that Bel hath eaten up all, we will suffer death, or else Daniel who hath lied against us.”

They were not afraid, because they had a secret door under the altar, whereby they entered and consumed the meats. The priests having gone out, the king caused the meats and the wine to be placed before Bel. This being done, the servants of Daniel brought ashes, and he sifted them all over the temple, in the presence of the king. Then they all left the temple, the door of which was sealed with the royal seal.

But the priests went in by night with their wives and children, as they were accustomed to do, and they ate and drank all that had been placed before the idol. The king arose early in the morning, and went to the temple with Daniel. They found the seal unbroken, and, opening the door, went in. The king looked at the table, and, seeing that all the provisions had disappeared, cried out: “Great art thou, O Bel, and there is not any deceit with thee.”

Daniel laughed, and pointing to the floor, said: “Mark, whose footsteps these are!” The king, much amazed, said: “I see the footsteps of men, women and children.” Then, examining more closely, he found the secret door, by which the priests were wont to go in and out. Thereupon the king, being enraged against the priests of Bel, ordered them all to be put to death. And he gave Bel up to Daniel, who destroyed him and his temple.

The Justice and Faithfulness of God. Baltassar’s sudden death was in punishment of the wanton sacrilege which filled up the measure of his sins. His day of grace was past, and God summoned him before His judgment-seat. His overthrow fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy to Nabuchodonozor (chapter LXXVII), namely that the Babylonian kingdom would come to an end, and that another kingdom would rise up in its place.

Sacrilege. The sacred vessels of the Temple were consecrated to God, and might be used by the priests alone for the divine worship. Therefore Baltassar’s was a threefold sacrilege. Firstly, those who were not priests and even women, used them. Secondly, they were used for the purpose of intoxication. Thirdly, in drinking from them, the false gods were honoured and glorified.

Intemperance in drink. It was drunkenness which led the king to commit sacrilege. Drunkenness deprives men, either partially or entirely, of the use of their reason. They no longer consider what they say or do, and bad passions are awakened in their hearts. Such are the consequences of gluttony or intemperance, which is one of the seven capital sins, or sins which are the source of other sins. Drunkenness debases man and makes him like the lower animals. Our Lord Himself thus warns us: “Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life: and that day (of judgment) come upon you suddenly” (Luke 21:34).

Our days are numbered; and as a rule the end comes sooner than we expect. Then comes the judgment, at which all our thoughts, words and actions will be weighed and proved according to their merit before God. All our possessions will be divided, and will pass into other hands after our death.

Zeal for God’s Glory. We should admire Daniel’s zeal for God’s honour and glory. It grieved him to think that so many millions of men should be victims to the folly of idolatry, and be ignorant of the true God. Therefore he laboured to convince them of the nothingness of idols, and to convert them to a belief in God. He knew very well that the obstinate worshippers of false gods, and especially the priests, would hate and persecute him; but in spite of this, and with great skill, he showed up the deception of the priests of Bel, destroyed his image, and also killed a dragon which was worshipped as a god. Daniel was a valiant servant of God, and quite ready to suffer death on account of his faith.

APPLICATION. If God punished the desecration of the sacred vessels of the Old Law so severely, how much more heavily will he punish any want of reverence towards the sacraments and holy things of the New Law! Have you ever made a sacrilegious confession? Resolve to pay more reverence to God’s holy Sacraments than you have hitherto done, and make a better preparation before receiving them.








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