“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar 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 the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes. Daniel 5:17-21 (NIV).
Daniel tells it like it is. To cite God’s bona fides, Daniel tells Belshazzar about what God did with Nebuchadnezzar. It isn’t to build himself up: it’s to say, “this is the truth because this is what God said and did.” As previously mentioned, it isn’t known exactly whether Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son or his grandson, or even if he was a full-fledged king. Thus, it’s possible that Belshazzar might not have known all the things Nebuchadnezzar the Great had said and done in his long and storied reign.
Let’s also tell it like it is: that doesn’t seem likely. Belshazzar is proud and scared, vain and worried. Like a wounded animal, he’s cornered and is taking his best shot to keep himself in charge. He has sent for Daniel the Jew, who is telling him the story of how Nebuchadnezzar also lifted himself up in pride…and then how the Lord God brought him back to earth. Why would Daniel do this? You know the answer.
Belshazzar needed the cold, hard truth. Hardest of all, he needed to hear it from a captured slave who had served several kings of Babylon, and whose word was reliable. Daniel starts to interpret the mystery of the writing on the wall by telling the current king about the futile pride of the previous one.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it when someone calls me out, even when it’s done respectfully, as Daniel is doing with Belshazzar. This isn’t the first (or last) story in the Bible where a lowly servant excoriates a ruler, yet this one is jarring for its temerity. How dare a slave ‘diss’ the king! Indeed, how dare he not, for when Daniel next tells it like it is, it will be even more prophetically shocking.
For further reading: Job 40:12, Isaiah 14:13-15, Jeremiah 28:14, Jeremiah 43:10, Ezekiel 31:10-11, Daniel 5:22
Lord, thank You for the frank honesty of Daniel and Your Word.
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