God is Judge Chapter 7

God is Judge

Chapter 7

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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Babylon Falls

 

The story of Daniel began at the point where the nationhood of Judea ended - with the removal of the temple vessels to Babylon (Dan. 1:2). The story of Babylon ends some seventy years later, when sacrilege is committed with those same temple vessels (Dan. 5:2). That the story is intended to be understood this way is reinforced by the relationship between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, who is styled as his ‘son’.[1]  The ‘father’ removes the vessels and the ‘son’ desecrates them and both events herald the end of a nation – poetic justice. The intervening Babylonian kings are of no interest to the author of Daniel as they are mere set pieces on the stage of history – Daniel’s story seeks to map the limitations of human power in relation to divine power, for God will not be mocked by either Jew or Gentile.

 

Surprisingly, after this incident the ‘vessels’ are no longer mentioned in the book of Daniel. As the fortunes of restoration is so closely associated with the return of the temple vessels one would expect that the reversal of exilic fortunes and the restoration of the temple under Cyrus would be celebrated (or at least mentioned) in the book of Daniel as it is in Ezra:

 

King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods (Ezra 1:7).

 

However, the restoration under Cyrus was a disappointment and the momentum to restore the temple was lost.

 

Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:24).

 

[1] For the historicity of this claim see the Appendix at the end of this chapter.

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According to Josephus it was Darius Hystaspis who returned the temple vessels and did “all that Cyrus intended to do before him, relating to the restoration of the temple” (Antiq.11.3.8 cf. 1 Esdras 4: 4.42-57 probably Josephus’ source).

 

It is for this reason that the intervening ‘liberation’ by Cyrus is completely ignored by the author of Daniel. The fall of Babylon under Cyrus was a red herring and of no import to those who awaited the restoration of the temple. From the perspective of faithful exiles like Daniel it was a mere distraction with every indication that it was manipulated by the same group who from the very beginning of the exile had agitated for an early return.[2]  For this group the Isaiah prophecy was their proof text (Isa. 45:1) for demonstrating that it was the divine intention for Cyrus to lead the restoration and rebuilding of the temple. However, this runs counter the Scriptures own record, because Darius is recorded as the restorer – one might have expected to find the name of ‘Darius’ in Isaiah 45:1 instead of Cyrus if this prophecy was actually concerned with identifying the foreign king who actually rebuilt the temple and restored the exiles. There is definitely something suspect about the final form of the Isaiah prophecy which so clearly mentions Cyrus by name and this is reinforced by Ezra’s complete neglect to mention the Isaiah prophecy with reference to the return;

 

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying (Ezra 1:1).

 

The failure by Ezra to mention Isaiah’s prophecy in this context is conspicuous by its absence - perhaps Ezra could not stomach a foreign    Continued  ˃

 

[2] Jeremiah 28:3 Within two full years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.

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king (however well intentioned) being referred to as the Lord’s ‘anointed’ when he was at best a Zoroastrian and at worst an idolater.

 

Daniel’s history is therefore not inaccurate, it is deliberately selective. Daniel skips over the liberation by Cyrus and proceeds directly to the liberation of Babylon under Darius which occurred sixty-two years after the last deportation with the completion of the temple occurring seventy years after it had been destroyed. The significance of the number sixty-two is highlighted by the fact that it is codified into the riddle of the hand writing on the wall and the ‘age’ of Darius.[3]

 

Drunken feast

The prophet Jeremiah portrayed Babylon as “a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunk” (Jer.51:7) and now she would fall through her own inebriation;

 

“In their excitement I will prepare their feasts; I will make them drunk, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake”, says the LORD……. “And I will make drunk her princes and wise men, her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men. And they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake”, says the King, Whose name is the LORD of hosts. (Jer.51:39, 57)

 

The drunken revelry of Babylon is reminiscent of the ‘drunkards of Ephraim’ during the Assyrian crisis (Isa. 28:1)[4] – on that occasion a faithful remnant was preserved. In this instance the faithful (like Daniel) prospered even though the regime changed.

 

The sacrilege, idolatry and desecration that Belshazzar practiced is inexcusable in the light of the experience of his ‘father’    Continued  ˃

 

[3] See Chapter 9: The Darius Problem for an explanation of the riddle.

[4] Isaiah is once again employed in a midrashic fashion - see Chapter 24: Intertextuality in Daniel and Isaiah for a comparison of Daniel 5 with Isaiah

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Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 5:19-22), similarly, the sacrilege, idolatry and desecration that Israel and Judah practiced[5] was inexcusable in the light of the experience of their ‘father’ Abraham – the Jews were deported back to the land of their father, [6] where they were taught never to practice idolatry again.

 

Conclusion

 

Progress toward redemption is not without interruptions or delays – men often attempt to force God’s hand; “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:12). However, God has his own time table (as Daniel will soon learn) and there were many more years of desolations (besides the seventy) to come before redemption was at hand. There would also be many more delays and distractions (like the Maccabean revolt) where men attempt to force their own interpretation on how events should progress. Finally, the promised anointed appeared on the scene, but even then disobedience and unfaithfulness caused the prophetic programme to be interrupted.

 

Appendix Chapter Seven

 

From the Babylonian records it is known that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. The book of Daniel presents Belshazzar as the Babylonian king at the time of the empire’s conquest and as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. According to the sceptics the    Continued  ˃

 

[5] Ezekiel 8:16 So He brought me into the inner court of the LORD’s house; and there, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, and they were worshiping the sun toward the east….. Ezekiel 14:6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations’”.

[6] Joshua 24:2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods’”.

 

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problem is compounded because Nabonidus himself was not a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar but a usurper. Hamner writes: “Belshazzar is represented as the son of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 5:11), although he was the son of Nabodinus. He was heir to the throne and may have acted as regent in his father’s absence, but he was never actually a King despite Dan 5:1-30; 8:1”.[7] Driver adds; “Belshazzar is represented as king of Babylon; and Nebuchadnezzar is spoken of throughout (chap. 5:2, 11, 13, 18 and 22) as his father. In point of fact Nabodinus was the last King of Babylon; he was a usurper, not related to Nebuchadnezzar, and one Belsharuzer is mentioned as his son. Belsharuzur’s standing title is the ‘king’s son,’ something like the ‘crown prince.’ ” [8]

 

To answer these objections the reader is referred to the apologetic provided by David Conklin[9] Archer replies to the objections: “This argument, however, overlooks the fact that by ancient usage the term son often referred to a successor in the same office whether or not there was a blood relationship. Thus in the Egyptian story, ‘King Cheops and the Magicians (preserved in the papyrus Westcar from the Hyksos Period), Prince Khephren came to pass in the time of thy father, King Neb-ka.” Actually Neb-ka belonged to the Third Dynasty, a full century before the time of Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty. In Assyria a similar practice was reflected in the Black Obelisk of     Continued  ˃

 

[7] Raymond Hamner, The Book of Daniel,(Cambridge Bible Commentary, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976),4

[8] S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Old Testament,(New York: Charles Scribers Sons, 1956),498

[9] David Conklin, Evidences Relating to the Date of the Book of Daniel,(2004): online [cited June 2010] @ Access here

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Shalmaneser III, which refers to King Jehu (the exterminator of the whole dynasty of Omri) as ‘the son of Omri.’ ”[10]

[10] Archer, Gleason, A Survey of the Old Testament: Introduction,(Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 391-2