Daniel 4-6
(Handwriting on the Wall and Lions in the Den)
September 11th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

- “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
   and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
   his dominion will never end.

- Daniel 6:26 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

This set of chapters contains additional incidents of Daniel’s interpretive abilities and a famous story of a challenge to his faith.

Chapter 4 begins with Nebuchadnezzar telling the story of another dream that ordinary members of his counsel could not interpret. Once again Daniel is able to convey the meaning. He explains that the dream is foretelling disaster for the king, but he can avoid it if he mends his ways. King Nebuchadnezzar ignored the advice and the dream was fulfilled. A voice from heaven told him that he was to be dethroned and would be living with the wild animals. He became mentally insane during a seven year period in the wilderness until he acknowledged the sovereignty of the LORD:

    "At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

       His dominion is an eternal dominion;
       his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
    All the peoples of the earth
       are regarded as nothing.
    He does as he pleases
       with the powers of heaven
       and the peoples of the earth.
    No one can hold back his hand
       or say to him: “What have you done?”

    - Daniel 4:34-35 (NIV)

Chapter 5 takes place much later, during the reign of the next king, Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar. During a large feast, Belshazzar called for the sacred goblets stolen from Jerusalem, and ordered wine to be served in them.

    When the gold and silver chalices were brought in, the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines, drank wine from them. They drank the wine and drunkenly praised their gods made of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.

    At that very moment, the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the lamp-illumined, whitewashed wall of the palace. When the king saw the disembodied hand writing away, he went white as a ghost, scared out of his wits. His legs went limp and his knees knocked.

    - Daniel 5:3-6 (MSG)

The king became extremely frightened. None of his usual advisors could interpret the meaning of the script on the wall, which had been written in Aramaic script: "מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין ." This phrase can be phonetically represented as MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. It was as unintelligible as urban graffiti. But then the Queen mother brought in Daniel, who explained that it meant that this king’s days are numbered and his kingdom will be given to the Medes and Persians. The prophecy came true that night.

Chapter 6 captures one of the Old Testament’s most famous stories – Daniel and the Lion’s Den. The story takes place after Persia and Medes have conquered Babylon and Darius heads the empire. Daniel was retained as an official following the acquisition and was assigned a very senior position. He supervised a number of local governors (satraps) and reported directly to Darius. Daniel was so effective that Darius considered promoting him to an even higher position, causing his peers to become jealous and seek a way to thwart him. They cleverly concocted a plan to convince the king to issue a 30-day decree that called for a death sentence for anyone who prayed to “any god or man except the king (Dan 6:7 - NIV).”

Daniel continued his ritual of three daily prayer times in his room, "just as he had done previously. (Dan 6:10b - NRSV)," regardless of the new law. He was caught in the act of prayer and sentenced to die in the Lion’s Den that very night. Daniel survived the night and his opponents were given the same punishment that had been intended for Daniel.

The king then issued a new decree that the people of his kingdom must “fear and revere” the God of Daniel.

Reflection and Application

The problem with Nebuchadnezzar was that he saw himself as the “King of the World” because he ruled over a large empire and could command people to do whatever he wanted them to do. In his dream there was a large tree, similar to the analogies used by Ezekiel in the previous books. In both cases the trees represented a man or a nation that considered itself to be above all others, and would be brought down to size by the master lumberjack.

When he acknowledged God’s sovereignty, Nebuchadnezzar was restored. Do we see any part of ourselves in this king? When we look over our “empires” do we attribute our success to our own work or do we recognize the gifts from God? Each of us will learn that our individual empires are temporary – although some will last longer than others. If we are overly impressed with our accomplishments then we can correct ourselves by repenting of our mistakes and recognizing the true King. We are then in a humble position from which we can seek his mercy and reconciliation.

Our culture has created two long-standing tributes to the story in chapter 5. One tribute is the origination of the expression “handwriting on the wall.” How many times have we heard that phrase to denote a feeling or a belief that someone is about to meet his or her misfortune.

For example, someone might say, “I left my job because I could see ‘the handwriting on the wall’ that they were about to ________.” Fill in the blank with “fire me,” “demote me,” “replace me,” “eliminate my position,” etc. The next time we hear that collection of words we can remember this story from Daniel and the king who thought so highly of himself that he used sacred objects for ordinary uses. The LORD knows all and sees all and can intervene to teach us a lesson in any form and at any time.

The Renaissance artist Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606 – 1669) created a tribute to this story by taking the time to paint an interpretation of this story titled “Belshazzar’s Feast,” This painting can help us to have a better understanding of the emotions of the participants because it depicts the horror in the face of the king as he watches the disembodied hand write the words, מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין. The king simultaneously knocks over the sacred goblets that had been used for ordinary wine. This painting is currently exhibited at the National Gallery in London. You can find an image of this painting and further explanation, including a note about an apparent mistake, by clicking on the link below from the National Gallery website: "Belshazzar’s Feast"

Rembrandt did his part. What can we do to help people understand this story?

Did you see any familiar modern themes in the story in chapter 6 in which Daniel's colleagues became envious of his success, conspired to scheme against him, and tricked the head man into implementing their plans? Very similar to scenes that we see in corporate offices, politics, and dramatized television series. Unfortunately, jealousy and deceit are chronic symptoms of the human race. Consider Daniel's response to the conspiracy: He had a secure position in the empire and if he played his cards right could have been the most powerful man reporting to the king. All he had to do was to give up praying. Why would he risk losing the potential for a powerful position and risk his life just so that he could pray to God? In certain parts of the world, not far from where Daniel served, modern Christians face similar dilemmas. One such case is Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was jailed in 2009 for refusing to denounce his faith. He had originally been sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced to three years in response to international pressure and a Twitter campaign titled "Tweet for Youcef(1)".

Both Daniel and Pastor Nadarkhani knew that they answered to a higher authority in a kingdom where there are no hierarchies, just the Holy Trinity and the rest of us. Daniel's trust was rewarded, as noted in verses 21 and 23, which explain that angels shut the mouth of the lions in the den where he was supposed to meet his fate. Pastor Nadarkhani's was vindicated with his release on September 8th, 2012.

If we are steadfast in prayer and faith we can strengthen ourselves to face the challenges of life and also inspire, just as Daniel inspired the king by his faith. The king had previously been reminded that he could not change his own decree that would punish any man for worshipping someone other than him. Daniel did not ask him to change the decree, but accepted the unwarranted punishment. When he survived, the king issued a new decree honoring “Daniel’s God.”

A number of famous artists also honored this story also with a painting. One that we like is from the English artist Briton Riviere (1840 - 1920). His "Daniel in the Lion's Den" depicts an older Daniel confidently praying towards the window as the lions maintain a respectable distance away from him. This painting is currently featured in the Manchester Art Gallery, in Manchester, England, but representations can be found online, such as this one: "Daniel in the Lion's Den"

The world experienced a vicious attack on this day in 2001 that was as unwarranted as the sentences for Daniel and Pastor Nadarkhani's The people of New York City, Washington, D.C. and the entire country subsequently turned to prayers for healing. It became widely accepted in those days to publically proclaim an offer to pray for the victims and survivors. Bruce Springsteen's "City of Ruins" captures the broken-hearted feeling and the faith that the New York City and the human race would rise up - with the help from hands in prayer:

"City of Ruins," performed by Bruce Springsteen

    Now with these hands
    I pray Lord
    with these hands
    for the strength Lord
    with these hands
    for the faith Lord

    -Bruce Springsteen

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Have you ever written on a wall?
    2. What have you been offered as a trade for your loyalty to God?
    3. Why did God save Daniel but allow other martyrs to die?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven we know your sacred objects are worthy of proper handling, but our worship should be directed at you, not the objects and certainly not an earthly king. Give us the courage of Daniel.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Families of the September 11th victims


    (1) Chiaramonte, Perry, "Christian pastor jailed in Iran for 3 years is freed, watchdog group says," FoxNews.com, published September 08, 2012

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Daniel 7-9 (Daniel’s Visions)

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