It’s easy to overlook sometimes how much time goes by in just a few chapters in the Bible. In chapter five, Daniel is said to have been appointed “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.” And yet, Belshazzar doesn’t seem to know him. To further complicate matters, Belshazzar has called in the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners to interpret the writing on the wall, but they cannot. If Daniel is their chief, why wasn’t he there, leading his crew?
Daniel was taken as a young man to Babylon in 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar had just become king of Babylon. Our story in chapter five takes place sixty-six years later. Daniel is an old man and likely no longer “chief” of anything – yet certainly known by reputation.
Belshazzar was not really the son of Nebuchadnezzar. He was the son of Nabonidus, the fourth king to follow Nebuchadnezzar. He was not even of Nebuchadnezzar’s family, but Nebuchadnezzar was such a renown king of Babylon that he took the title “Nebuchadnezzar” and thus appropriated his name and reputation for himself. Unfortunately for Babylon, he was but a pretender with no interest in ruling the empire and his son, Belshazzar co-ruled with him, taking care of the daily administrative tasks.
Daniel, of course, doesn’t tell you all this. It does not interest him. What does interest him are five things: First, that Belshazzar is disrespectful to the God of Israel by taking God’s things and treating them as his own. Second, that Belshazzar values wealth rather than the Lord. The plateware of the Jerusalem temple was not valued by the king as belonging to Israel, but valued because they were gold. Third, that the Lord judged Belshazzar’s values and found them lacking. Fourth, that the Lord, in one night, brought an end to the Babylonian empire, giving it to the Persians. Fifth, that Belshazzar failed to learn the one thing Nebuchadnezzar found most important: that the God of Israel rules in the kingdoms of men and gives them to whomever he pleases. Fail to learn that lesson, and your goose is cooked.