Daniel 5:17
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
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(17) Let thy gifts be to thyself.—Daniel refused the king’s offer of reward at first, but afterwards accepted it. In this way he showed his determination to speak the truth without any respect to fee, gift, or reward. (Comp. the conduct of Elisha, 2Kings 5:16; 2Kings 8:9.)



Daniel 5:17 - Daniel 5:31

Belshazzar is now conceded to have been a historical personage, the son of the last monarch of Babylon, and the other name in the narrative which has been treated as erroneous-namely, Darius-has not been found to be mentioned elsewhere, but is not thereby proved to be a blunder. For why should it not be possible for Scripture to preserve a name that secular history has not yet been ascertained to record, and why must it always be assumed that, if Scripture and cuneiform or other documents differ, it is Scripture that must go to the wall?

We do not deal with the grim picture of the drunken orgy, turned into abject terror as ‘the fingers of a man’s hand’ came forth out of empty air, and in the full blaze of ‘the candlestick’ wrote the illegible signs. There is something blood-curdling in the visibility of but a part of the hand and its busy writing. Whose was the body, and where was it? No wonder if the riotous mirth was frozen into awe, and the wine lost flavour. Nor need we do more than note the craven-hearted flattery addressed to Daniel by the king, who apparently had never heard of him till the queen spoke of him just before. We have to deal with the indictment, the sentence, and the execution.

I. The indictment.

Daniel’s tone is noticeably stern. He has no reverential preface, no softening of his message. His words are as if cut with steel on the rock. He brushes aside the promises of vulgar decorations and honours with undisguised contempt, and goes straight to his work of rousing a torpid conscience.

Babylon was the embodiment and type of the godless world-power, and Belshazzar was the incarnation of the spirit which made Babylon. So Daniel’s indictment gathers together the main forms of sin, which cleave to every godless national or individual life. And he begins with that feather-brained frivolity which will learn nothing by example. Nebuchadnezzar’s fate might have taught his successors what came of God-forgetting arrogance, and attributing success to oneself; and his restoration might have been an object-lesson to teach that devout recognition of the Most High as sovereign was the beginning of a king’s prosperity and sanity. But Belshazzar knew all this, and ignored it all. Was he singular in that? Is not the world full of instances of the ruin that attends godlessness, which yet do not check one godless man in his career? The wrecks lie thick on the shore, but their broken sides and gaunt skeletons are not warnings sufficient to keep a thousand other ships from steering right on to the shoals. Of these godless lives it is true, ‘This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings,’ and their doings, and say and do them over again. Incapacity to learn by example is a mark of godless lives.

Further, Belshazzar ‘lifted up’ himself ‘against the Lord of heaven,’ and ‘glorified not Him in whose hand was his breath and whose were all his ways.’ The very essence of all sin is that assertion of self as Lord, as sufficient, as the director of one’s path. To make myself my centre, to depend on myself, to enthrone my own will as sovereign, is to fly in the face of nature and fact, and is the mother of all sin. To live to self is to die while we live; to live to God is to live even while we die. Nations and individuals are ever tempted thus to ignore God, and rebelliously to say, ‘Who is Lord over us?’ or presumptuously to think themselves architects of their own fortunes, and sufficient for their own defence. Whoever yields to that temptation has let the ‘prince of the devils’ in, and the inferior evil spirits will follow. Positive acts are not needed; the negative omission to ‘glorify’ the God of our life binds sin on us.

Further, Belshazzar, the type of godlessness, had desecrated the sacrificial vessels by using them for his drunken carouse, and therein had done just what we do when we take the powers of heart and mind and will, which are meant to be filled with affections, thoughts, and purposes, that are ‘an odour of a sweet smell, well-pleasing to God,’ and desecrate them by pouring from them libations before creatures. Is not love profaned when it is lavished on men or women without one reference to God? Is not the intellect desecrated when its force is spent on finite objects of thought, and never a glance towards God? Is not the will prostituted from its high vocation when it is used to drive the wheels of a God-ignoring life?

The coin bears the image and superscription of the true king. It is treason to God to render it to any paltry ‘C泡r’ of our own coronation. Belshazzar was an avowed idolater, but many of us are worshipping gods ‘which see not, nor hear, nor know’ as really as he did. We cannot but do so, if we are not worshipping God; for men must have some person or thing which they regard as their supreme good, to which the current of their being sets, which, possessed, makes them blessed; and that is our god, whether we call it so or not.

Further, Belshazzar was carousing while the Medes and Persians were ringing Babylon round, and his hand should have been grasping a sword, not a wine-cup. Drunkenness and lust, which sap manhood, are notoriously stimulated by peril, as many a shipwreck tells when desperate men break open the spirit casks, and go down to their death intoxicated, and as many an epidemic shows when morality is flung aside, and mad vice rules and reels in the streets before it sinks down to die. A nation or a man that has shaken off God will not long keep sobriety or purity.

II. After the stern catalogue of sins comes the tremendous sentence.

Daniel speaks like an embodied conscience, or like an avenging angel, with no word of pity, and no effort to soften or dilute the awful truth. The day for wrapping up grim facts in muffled words was past. Now the only thing to be done was to bare the sword, and let its sharp edge cut. The inscription, as given in Daniel 5:25, is simply ‘Numbered, numbered, weighed and breakings.’ The variation in Daniel 5:28 {Peres} is the singular of the noun used in the plural in Daniel 5:25, with the omission of ‘U,’ which is merely the copulative ‘and.’ The disjointed brevity adds to the force of the words. Apparently, they were not written in a character which ‘the king’s wise men’ could read, and probably were in Aramaic letters as well as language, which would be familiar to Daniel. Of course, a play on the word ‘Peres’ suggests the Persian as the agent of the breaking. Daniel simply supplied the personal application of the oracular writing. He fits the cap on the king’s head. ‘God hath numbered thy kingdom . . . thou art weighed . . . thy kingdom is divided’ {broken}.

These three fatal words carry in them the summing up of all divine judgment, and will be rung in the ears of all who bring it on themselves. Belshazzar is a type of the end of every godless world-power and of every such individual life. ‘Numbered’-for God allows to each his definite time, and when its sum is complete, down falls the knife that cuts the threads. ‘Weighed’-for ‘after death the judgment,’ and a godless life, when laid in the balance which His hand holds, is ‘altogether lighter than vanity.’ ‘Breakings’-for not only will the godless life be torn away from its possessions with much laceration of heart and spirit, but the man himself will be broken like some earthen vessel coming into sharp collision with an express engine. Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the same night in which it was carried out in act; we see it long before, and we can read it. But some of us are mad enough to sit unconcerned at the table, and go on with the orgy, though the legible letters are gleaming plain on the wall.

III. The execution of the sentence need not occupy us long.

Belshazzar so little realised the facts, that he issued his order to deck out Daniel in the tawdry pomp he had promised him, as if a man with such a message would be delighted with purple robes and gold chains, and made him third ruler of the kingdom which he had just declared was numbered and ended by God. The force of folly could no further go. No wonder that the hardy invaders swept such an Imbecile from his throne without a struggle! His blood was red among the lees of the wine-cups, and the ominous writing could scarcely have faded from the wall when the shouts of the assailants were heard, the palace gates forced, and the half-drunken king, alarmed too late, put to the sword. ‘He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.’5:10-17 Daniel was forgotten at court; he lived privately, and was then ninety years of age. Many consult servants of God on curious questions, or to explain difficult subjects, but without asking the way of salvation, or the path of duty. Daniel slighted the offer of reward. He spoke to Belshazzar as to a condemned criminal. We should despise all the gifts and rewards this world can give, did we see, as we may by faith, its end hastening on; but let us do our duty in the world, and do it all the real service we can.Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself - That is, "I do not desire them; I do not act from a hope of reward." Daniel means undoubtedly to intimate that what he would do would be done from a higher motive than a desire of office or honor. The answer is one that is eminently dignified. Yet he says he would read the writing, implying that he was ready to do anything that would be gratifying to the monarch. It may seem somewhat strange that Daniel, who here disclaimed all desire of office or reward, should so soon Daniel 5:29 have submitted to be clothed in this manner, and to receive the insignia of office. But, it may be remarked, that when the offer was proposed to him he stated his wishes, and declared that he did not desire to be honored in that way; when he had performed the duty, however, of making known the writing, he could scarcely feel at liberty to resist a command of the king to be clothed in that manner, and to be regarded as an officer in the kingdom. His intention, in the verse before us, was modestly to decline the honors proposed, and to intimate that he was not influenced by a desire of such honors in what he would do; yet to the king's command afterward that he should be clothed in robes of office, he could not with propriety make resistance. There is no evidence that he took these honors voluntarily, or that he would not have continued to decline them if he could have done it with propriety.

And give thy rewards to another - Margin, "or fee, as in Daniel 2:6." Gesenius supposes that the word used here (נבזבה nebizbâh) is of Persian origin. It means a gift, and, if of Persian origin, is derived from a verb, meaning to lead with gifts and praises, as a prince does an ambassador. The sense here seems to be, that Daniel was not disposed to interfere with the will of the monarch if he chose to confer gifts and rewards on others, or to question the propriety of his doing so; but that, so far as he was concerned, he had no desire of them for himself, and could not be influenced by them in what he was about to do.

Yet I will read the writing ... - Expressing no doubt that he could do it without difficulty. Probably the language of the writing was familiar to him, and he at once saw that there was no difficulty, in the circumstances, in determining its meaning.

17. Not inconsistent with Da 5:29. For here he declares his interpretation of the words is not from the desire of reward. The honors in Da 5:29 were doubtless urged on him, without his wish, in such a way that he could not with propriety refuse them. Had he refused them after announcing the doom of the kingdom, he might have been suspected of cowardice or treason. Did not Daniel receive gifts and honour, from Nebuchadnezzar, on the like occasion?

Answ. He was then young, and the captivity was to be long, and he by his place could be helpful to his poor brethren; but now the time of the captivity was near expired, and Babylon in distress by invasion and siege, and that night king, city, and kingdom lost; and there the time was different, and the case also. Moreover Daniel would not receive a reward for so sad a message. Then Daniel answered and said before the king,.... With great freedom, boldness, and intrepidity:

let thy gifts be to thyself; remain with thee; I neither want them, nor desire them; nor will I receive them on condition of reading and interpreting the writing:

and give thy rewards to another; which he had promised to those that could read and interpret the handwriting on the wall; even to be clothed with scarlet, have a golden chain, and be the third ruler in the kingdom. It may be rendered, "or give thy rewards to another" (s); either keep them thyself, or give them to whomsoever thou pleasest: should it be asked, why Daniel refused gifts now, when he received them from Nebuchadnezzar? it may be answered, he was then young, and wanted them, and could make use of them for the benefit of his countrymen, but now was old, and needed them not; besides, he knew then that the captivity would continue long, but that it was now just at an end, and the monarchy coming into other hands, when these gifts and rewards would be of little use; as also this king was a very wicked one, worse than his grandfather, and he did not choose to receive from him; and especially since the interpretation of the writing would be bad news to him; as well as to let him know that he did not do these things for fee and reward, but for the glory of God; and that as he had freely received such knowledge, he freely communicated it: and therefore adds,

yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation; in reverence of him as a king, and in subjection to him, and to satisfy him in this matter; for he refused his gifts, not from pride and vanity, and a supercilious contempt of the king and his affairs; nor as being doubtful of success in reading and interpreting the writing; which he well knew he was able to do, and therefore promises it.

(s) "tua tibi dona et munera habeto: aut in alios conferto": Castalio.

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
17. Daniel rejects the proffered honours: he will read the writing; but he will do so quite irrespectively of any promises made to him by the heathen king.

before the king] cf. on Daniel 2:8.

rewards] See the note on Daniel 2:6.

yet] nevertheless (R.V.) brings out the force of the adverb used more distinctly (cf. Daniel 4:15; Daniel 4:23 [R.V.]).Verses 17-23. - Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: and he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humblet thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, hays drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified. We have gathered these verses together, as they all relate to one matter and come under one con-detonation. Long ago yon Lengerke, and more recently Hitzig, have shown that such an insulting speech as Daniel addressed to Belshazzar would certainly be visited with punishment. The king had no guarantee that the promised interpretation of the writing on the wall would be true, especially when the interpreter had such an animus against him. Then the fact in the twenty-ninth verse, that Daniel received the gifts he had rejected, makes his conduct here all the more extraordinary. A writer of fiction, of even moderate skill, would not make the blunder here made. It could easily be made by a falsarius interpolating a speech he thought suitable to a Jewish prophet in the presence of a heathen king, who had dishonoured the sacred vessels by drinking wine in them himself, and his wives, and his concubines. It is to be noted that the princes are omitted from the enumeration here. In proof that our contention is correct, we find the mass of this entirely omitted from the Septuagint. There are signs of confusion, and coalescence of different readings in the text of the Septuagint, yet we have no hesitation in claiming that it represents a much earlier state of the text than we find in our Hebrew Bibles, "Then Daniel stood before the writing, and read, and thus answered the king: This is the writing: It hath been numbered; it was reckoned; it has been removed." The marginal reading which we find in the beginning of this chapter has, Mane, Phares, Thekel. The interpretation here follows a different succession, "And the hand which wrote stood" - a phrase that seems to be a mistaken rendering of the latter clause of the twenty-fourth verse as we find it in the Massoretic text. It seems difficult to imagine what Aramaic word has been translated ἔστη. Paulus Tel-lensis has (קמת, q'math), which may have been mistaken for sheliach, though it is not easy to see how. The clause is, at all events, misplaced. The following clause also is misplaced, and is a doublet of the first clause of the twenty-sixth verse. The twenty-third verse seems to be the nucleus of the speech ascribed to Daniel, "O king, thou madest a feast to thy friends, and thou drankest wine, and the vessels of the house of the living God were brought, and ye drank in them, thou and thy nobles, and praised all the idols made with the bands of men, and the living God ye did not bless, and thy breath is in his hand, and he gave thee thy kingdom, and thou didst not bless him, neither praise him." The wives and concubines are not mentioned here. There is no word of the madness of Nebuchadnezzar. Although from the disturbed state of the text in the immediate neighbourhood one is inclined to suspect the authenticity of this twenty-third verse, given in the LXX., yet there is nothing that contradicts the position created by the two early decrees of Nebuchadnezzar, which placed Jehovah the God of the Jews on a par with the great gods of Babylon to whom, though no worship was decreed, at all events no dishonour was to be done. Belshazzar is not so much blamed for praising the gods of wood and stone as for omitting to praise Jehovah. Belshazzar had dishonoured Jehovah, and therefore this ominous message had come forth. The first clause here seems the primitive text. What was more natural than that Daniel, coming into the presence of the king, should go and stand before the mysterious writing, and then, having read it himself, turn to the king and address him? The words of the Massoretic and of the text behind the Septuagint differ very considerably, but not so much but that the former may have grown out of the latter by expansion, and the insertion of paraphrastic additions. A peculiarity to be observed in the Massoretic text (ver. 17) is לְהֵוְיָן (lehayvyan), the third plural imperfect of היא, "to be." It is difficult to understand this form of the third person, save on the supposition that Daniel was written in a region where ל was the preformative. This preformative along with נ was used in Babylon so late as the period of the Babylonian Talmud. Theodotion and the Peshitta practically agree with the Massoretic text. Even when we omit all the insulting elements, we have Daniel's speech to Belshazzar as we find it in the Massoretic text; no reader can fail to notice the difference of Daniel's demeanour towards Belshazzar as narrated here, from that towards Nebuchadnezzar as narrated in the preceding chapter. When he learns the disaster that impends on the destroyer of his city and the conqueror of his nation, Daniel is astonied and silent, and bursts out from his silence, "The dream be upon thine enemies, and the interpretation thereof upon them that hate thee." He shows no sign of sorrow when he learns the fate impending on Belshazzar. We can understand this, if we regard Daniel's love for the splendid conqueror making him feel the blood of his murdered descendants, Evil-Merodach and Labasi-Marduk called for vengeance. So far as we can make out from external history, Belshazzar was a gallant young prince, who seemed to be able to maintain himself against Cyrus, while his father lived in retirement in Tema; but the judgment of God often falls on those who are not worse than their predecessors, only guilt has accumulated and ripened. Louis XVI. was not worse than, but really greatly superior to, his two immediate predecessors, yet on him, not on them, broke the vengeance of the French Revolution. There probably was, as said above under ver. 2, a special defiance of Jehovah, which therefore merited special punishment. Daniel and his three friends were among the young men who were carried to Babylon. They were of the sons of Judah, i.e., of the tribe of Judah. From this it follows that the other youths of noble descent who had been carried away along with them belonged to other tribes. The name of none of these is recorded. The names only of Daniel and his three companions belonging to the same tribe are mentioned, because the history recorded in this book specially brings them under our notice. As the future servants of the Chaldean king, they received as a sign of their relation to him other names, as the kings Eliakim and Mattaniah had their names changed (2 Kings 23:34; 2 Kings 24:17) by Necho and Nebuchadnezzar when they made them their vassals. But while these kings had only their paternal names changed for other Israelitish names which were given to them by their conquerors, Daniel and his friends received genuine heathen names in exchange for their own significant names, which were associated with that of the true God. The names given to them were formed partly from the names of Babylonish idols, in order that thereby they might become wholly naturalized, and become estranged at once from the religion and the country of their fathers.

(Note: "The design of the king was to lead these youths to adopt the customs of the Chaldeans, that they might have nothing in common with the chosen people." - Calvin.)

Daniel, i.e., God will judge, received the name Belteshazzar, formed from Bel, the name of the chief god of the Babylonians. Its meaning has not yet been determined. Hananiah, i.e., the Lord is gracious, received the name Shadrach, the origin of which is wholly unknown; Mishael, i.e., who is what the Lord is, was called Meshach, a name yet undeciphered; and Azariah, i.e., the Lord helps, had his name changed into Abednego, i.e., slave, servant of Nego or Nebo, the name of the second god of the Babylonians (Isaiah 46:1), the בbeing changed by the influence of בin עבד into ג (i.e., Nego instead of Nebo).

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