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30 August. Daniel chapters 5-6
We see in these two chapters several patterns repeated elsewhere in the Bible, from both before and after the time of Daniel.
Firstly, in the relations between Daniel and the various kings he serves during his time in Babylon, we see a pattern like that of the judges and kings of earlier centuries, and the way that various prophets engaged with them. ‘Good’ kings or judges (those who honour God and his laws) tended to alternate with ‘bad’ ones who went their own way and committed idolatry. So it is with these kings. Yesterday we read of Nebuchadnezzar, a despot who paid God no attention until he was rewarded with madness for seven years until he came to his senses and worshipped the true God. But his son Belshazzar takes no heed of this, and desecrates the holy vessels from the Jerusalem temple by using them in a debauched banquet to toast false gods. So the writing appears on the wall, God’s own hand apparently writing his own judgement and condemnation. Although Daniel interprets it for him, it is too late, and he is killed that night, Daniel having been give once again a high office in the land.
Belshazzar’s successor Darius (probably not of the same family) starts off as a good king who includes Daniel the Jew in his government, until Daniel’s rivals plot against him in exactly the same way as they did in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel is literally thrown to the lions. Once again, he miraculously survives, giving credit to God, the king repents, converts (apparently), pardons Daniel (conveniently setting aside the doctrine of his own infallibility) and it is the plotters and their innocent wives and children who become lion fodder.
These stories – of the writing on the wall, and the lions’ den – are among the best known in the Bible, and not only by regular worshippers. Add the many similar stories in the Bible and it should be abundantly clear that taunting God by desecrating places where he is worshipped, banning worship of him, or persecuting his followers, will always lead to trouble. But it seems that rulers of nations never learn this lesson. The quiet-living, law-abiding, God-fearing citizen (be they Jew, Muslim, Christian or any other religion) is always an easy target when political expediency demands a scapegoat.
Another pattern, perhaps not so obvious, is seen in the story of the lions’ den. Note this: Daniel is charged falsely by his enemies; the ruler tries to get out of what the law demands , knowing that he is actually innocent of any crime; the crowd prevails and he is reluctantly condemned to death; he is cast into a pit and a sealed stone put over it; at dawn the king comes fearing the worst, but hears Daniel alive, and is persuaded of the truth of the Jewish faith. This story was written probably at least a couple of hundred years before Jesus, yet we see much the same pattern at the end of his earthly life. His enemies persuade a reluctant Pilate to condemn Jesus on what he knows are trumped-up charges, Jesus (after his death in this case) is laid in a tomb with a sealed stone, at dawn his disciples come and some see him alive, and all (eventually) come to believe in the resurrection.
Again this is a basic principle of the way God works with people – the more those who believe are falsely persecuted, the more will their persecutors be confounded. For the law of God, as Nebuchadnezzar and Darius eventually came to acknowledge, is greater than the laws of man.