R/Dean Daniel Lesson 20
God's Sovereignty over History – Daniel 5:1
In our last study as we looked at Daniel 4 we were seeing how God was making a point with Nebuchadnezzar. In that chapter God gave Nebuchadnezzar a vision of a tree, a large tree, a bountiful tree that had many birds and animals that nested in the branches and took shelter under the branches and leaves and that was the picture of a kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar was the kingdom, that was his kingdom, the Babylonian kingdom, and God was demonstrating to Nebuchadnezzar that He was the one, that is God was the one, who had raised up Nebuchadnezzar. No power on earth, no political figure in the history of the earth has ever achieved his political position apart from the grace of God. God is the One who is working in human history and that is the point that God was trying to teach Nebuchadnezzar, that even though Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold, Nebuchadnezzar was not justified and concluding from that that made him special, that that made him the one who determined history.
And that was exactly what had happened, he had caved in to arrogance which is typical of those who have achieved great power and great prestige and to whom much has been given. And much had been given Nebuchadnezzar, he was one of the most brilliant men in all of history, he was a genius in many different categories, he was a military genius, architectural genius, administrative genius, and yet he was full of arrogance and so God taught him a lesson and for seven years was in the basic position of being a wild animal, like a beast of the field, living out in the fields, eating grass, living as an animal would with his mind gone and then at the end of those seven years God restored his mind.
Now the whole point of that was that there was a change, a shift taking place in human history, and that shift is what Jesus referred to in Luke as "the beginning of the times of the Gentiles." We saw last time that whenever God makes a shift in history, He usually does something remarkable at that time in order to make sure that people get the point that there are new requirements and new issues at stake. Just as He made an issue out of those who picked up sticks on the Sabbath, just following the institution of the Mosaic Law, and they died as a result of that, that wasn't normative for the Mosaic period, otherwise there would be no Jews left today. Same way with the Church, when Ananias and Sapphira lied against the Holy Spirit they lost their life instantaneously and if that were still true, if God still operated that way, then the Church would probably be pretty empty. But God was making a point with Ananias and Sapphira that the principle was grace and integrity in the spiritual life in the Church Age.
So too with Nebuchadnezzar, God was making a point with Nebuchadnezzar, that things were going to be different, God was now working through the Gentiles and even though there would again be a Jewish remnant return to the land, a much smaller Jewish smaller Jewish remnant during the post exilic period until 70 AD, God was primarily shifting gears and there would be Gentile dominance during this period, from roughly 605 BC through the present up until the end of the Tribulation, Israel will come under the dominance of the Gentiles and as powerful as Israel might even become, at times during that history Israel is never a real player on world politics. Israel's decisions, while they might have some impact, Israel's decisions are all under the protective umbrella of some greater Gentile power. And if that Gentile power, today that's the United States, if that Gentile power were to withdraw its protection… and frankly the announcement that has come out today that the President was considering encouraging the creation of a Palestinian state in Israel is just horrific, how in the world, it just strikes me as being completely inconsistent, that you can declare a war on terrorism on the one hand and on the other hand you want to create a state that will become a sponsor for international terrorism. That is completely inconsistent.
But everything that happens with Israel is under the dominance and control of what is happening in Gentile powers so God is teaching through the Gentiles a crucial point that He began with Nebuchadnezzar, and that is that God is sovereign. And that's the key lesson for those of you who are teaching, when you teach attributes of God and you teach on sovereign, Daniel 4 is a key passage to use to explain that God rules in the affairs of man, that even though man has free will and man makes decisions, ultimately God is the one who is moving the pieces on the chess board and God determines who has power and who doesn't. And that theme continues into Daniel 5, that God is the one who rules among the nations and God is the one who raises up kings and God is the one that tears down empires and that no empire and no king is so great and so crucial to the plan of God that God cannot do away it and shift to another nation, another people, another kingdom.
So we come to Daniel 5 which is one of the most remarkable episodes I think in all of Scripture and I remember hearing this taught several times when I was a child and I was always impressed by this particular episode. But before we get into all the things that were going on in the palace that night, and we could call this panic in the palace, we have to understand some historical background. This is the famous episode of the handwriting on the wall. Some of you who don't have much of a Biblical background you've probably heard somebody make a statement about a warning sign and they call it the handwriting on the wall and you had no idea that that was a Biblical statement. That just shows how biblically illiterate most people are today but that's where that saying comes from, is this particular chapter.
But before we can get into it we have to have a history lesson, because to understand what is going on in Daniel 5 and the movement among the nations, and to watch how God is working, the international scene, much as a chess master moves the pieces on a chess board, we have to take a look at the broader perspective of history in this particular time as background to Daniel 5. It's interesting how this plays into or at least takes place in the same part of the world that we watch every night on the news; this concerns the same countries that modern Iran, modern Iraq, the southern part of Russia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are all part of the empires that we are talking about. So we've become a little more familiar with those maps.
Now as we look at Daniel 5:1, the first thing we're going to do is discuss… I think this is about the fourth major problem that the liberals bring up about Daniel. I said that as we went through Daniel that Daniel was one of the most assaulted books in the entire Bible because of its prophetic contents, because it claims to foretell the future, so liberals are continuously attacking Daniel to try to find some problems in Daniel to discredit it, because if Daniel is what it claims to be, and that is predictive prophecy, then it shows that it is the Word of God. If it was actually written in the 6th century BC, between 586 BC and 535 BC by Daniel, these statements in here are predictive of what would take place in future centuries, future to them and some still future to us, then that demonstrates that it is a supernatural book and has a supernatural origin and is from God. So critics are always after the book to demonstrate that there is some glaring historical prophetic errors here and this fourth error that we've seen in this book is in the first phrase of the Daniel 5:1, "Belshazzar the king," here we're told that "Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand." So before we get into understanding this fantastic orgy that Belshazzar threw while the armies of Cyrus were camped outside the walls of Babylon, we have to understand what's going on in the background.
And the first thing is to understand what it means in the text here when we read that Belshazzar was the king. Now the Babylonian Empire is an empire that we know a lot about. We know all of the kings and we're pretty sure of who the kings were. The first king was Nabopolassar who was the founder of this dynasty. Nabopolassar was a Chaldean by birth but he was a mercenary in the Assyrian army until he led a revolt against the Assyrian kings and began to establish his own dynasty. He reigns from 625-605 BC and it is his son, Nebuchadnezzar, who is the focal point of the first four chapters of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar reigns from 605-562 BC. Now when Nabopolassar was first beginning his rise to power and had begun to conquer the Assyrians he did it by creating an alliance with Cyaxares of the Medes. Now we have to keep all these names together because everything is going to come together, all these people are interrelated and it's a lot like reading English history and Scottish history and how they all eventually come together and they are interrelated.
Nabopolassar is in an alliance with Cyaxares against the Assyrians. And in order to seal the alliance with Astyages, Astyages marries off one of his daughters who is a Median princess; Astyages is the king of the Median Empire, he marries off his daughter to the son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar. Now this Median princess to whom Nebuchadnezzar is married is from the mountains in the north, northwestern part of Iran, Iraq, up to the southwest of the Caspian Sea, and she likes her mountains, and there's no mountains down in Baghdad, so in order to please her Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. If you're married to somebody who has all the wealth in the world then they can just do whatever they want to make you happy. So Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make her happy so he built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which was one of the eight wonders of the ancient world.
Now Nebuchadnezzar reigns in Babylon from 605-562 BC. And he is succeeded by his weak son who is called according to a historical text, Amel-Marduk and he is referred to in the Scripture as Evel Marduk, and the change from Amel to Evel is just what happens when you make a transliteration from one language to another and words come over, they change their vowels and they change some consonants. So Amel-Marduk or Evel Marduk goes to the throne from 562-560 BC and he's only there two years before he's assassinated by Neriglissar. And Neriglissar marries one of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters and the other daughter marries Nabonidus. So Neriglissar is on the throne for about four years, from 560-556 BC and then he dies of natural causes and he's succeeded by his son, Labashi Marduk.
I want you to notice this name, Marduk and we'll also see Bel, B-e-l like in Belshazzar, Bal, indicate the various gods in the Babylonian pantheon. Now Labashi Marduk is only on the throne for a couple of years because he apparently manifested a family trait and that family trait, we saw Nebuchadnezzar in the previous chapter, is a trend towards being psychotic, so after he was on the throne for about six weeks his advisors really decided that they didn't want him to be ruling a country for long because he was crazy, so there were a number of the leaders who got together and they assassinated him. In fact what they did was they caught him in the corridors one night and they just beat him to death and one of the leaders in the beating was a man by the name of Nabonidus who becomes king in succession to Labashi Marduk. Now Nabonidus becomes a king from 556-539 BC and it is in 539 BC that the events of Daniel 5:1 take place.
Now you see the problem, Nabonidus is king from 556-539 BC, well what about the text that says that Belshazzar was the king? And what we have discovered, if you went to college a number of years ago you were taught that the Bible was wrong at this point; now unless somebody just isn't well read and there are still many college professors that aren't well-read, but liberalism is tenacious, whether it's in politics or in Bible study and they don't want to give up their assaults on the Bible because no unbeliever really wants to believer that God has spoken in history. So the claim was that there was no record of Belshazzar and Nabonidus was the king so this was just a fictional account in Daniel 5. But archeologists discovered something called cylinder of Nabonidus plus numerous other inscriptions in the earlier part of the 20th century and these discoveries not only mentioned Belshazzar as the son of Nabonidus but they also explained why Nabonidus was not in Babylon at the night of Cyrus's army defeating the Babylonian army.
Nabonidus, at this time in his career he had gone into semi-retirement in a place down in Arabia called Tema, he was an archeologist, he loved to study the antiquities, in fact he made a number of discoveries of ancient temples that he was restoring but he had come out of retirement six months earlier in order to lead the Babylonian army against the assault of Cyrus the Persian coming down from the north and he had been fighting where Cyrus and the Persians were advancing from city to city and town to town and Nabonidus finally had to take his army and flee off to the west in order to avoid being surrounded and decimated. That's where Nabonidus was at this particular time and what had happened during the last ten years of his reign, because he really didn't care too much about the day to day operation of the empire, he had established his son as a co-regent, and so Belshazzar became a co-regent approximately 553 BC, and during that time, from 553-539 BC Belshazzar is a co-regent so he is the operational king, even though Nabonidus is the titular king. Belshazzar is the actual king and he's the one reigning in Babylon and he is referred to in a number of these inscriptions as the king of Babylon. So there is no discrepancy here between history and the Bible. Once again, even though the liberal critics were glad to find a mistake in the Bible, it was the Christians who had the last laugh demonstrating that the Bible was accurate and correct.
Now when we get into the events of Daniel 5 there are two major empires, two major kingdoms that are involved and they clash and come together, their histories come together at this particular point because as I stated earlier, when we were looking at the kings of the Chaldean Empire I mentioned at the beginning that Nabopolassar married off his son, Nebuchadnezzar, to one of the daughters of Astyages. Well, Astyages apparently had a number of daughters and is typical of statesmen and politicians and monarchs throughout ancient history, they used their daughters as pawns on the stage of international politics. So not only did Astyages marry off one daughter to Nebuchadnezzar, he had another daughter named Mandane and he married her off to Cambyses II, of Anshan, which is also called Pars or Fars, which came to be known as Persia where they speak the Farsi language; all of those terms, Pars, Fars, Farsi, are all interrelated. This was Cambyses II of Anshan and the son of Mandane and Cambyses II was Cyrus the Great, Cyrus II, and that would mean that his mother's sister is Nebuchadnezzar's wife. So Nebuchadnezzar is Cyrus the Great's uncle. If you can keep all that straight you're doing pretty good, but it was a family affair, and Astyages was the king of the Median Empire and he was afraid, because of some prophecies that were announced at the birth of Cyrus, he was afraid of his son and rightly so because Cyrus eventually came and conquered his grandfather, and conquered the Median Empire, merged the two together so that it became the Medo-Persian Empire.
And it's the Medo-Persian Empire that was the second empire in Daniel's vision, the great statue that we saw earlier. The head of gold is Babylon and the upper chest and arms of silver represent the Medo-Persian Empire. So these are the two empires that we have to study and the events in Daniel 5 have to do with the transition from the head of gold, from the Babylonian Empire to the silver torso which is the Medo-Persian Empire.
Now I want to remind you of what we said when we looked at this. When we look at the gold, the progression of the metals in the statue move from gold down to iron and potter's clay, which was hard brittle pottery. We made a couple of observations; one was that the value of the metal went from that which is most valuable to that which is least valuable. Now economically several have suggested that one of the things that transpired during the course of the kingdom of man is gradual inflation, so that that which cost just a few pennies relatively speaking now costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. You could buy a house full of the best furniture for what would be equivalent today of $10.00 during the Babylonian Empire. It did not cost much to live but with each successive empire inflation sets in and so that was just as much a problem for the ancient world as it is today, fighting the problem of inflation. And that was the problem that Nabonidus was fighting at the time that he came to the throne.
Let's look at this map to see the area we're talking about. Here's the Black Sea, this is the Caspian Sea, this area to the southeast of the Caspian Sea is now Afghanistan. This area is modern Afghanistan, to the south would be Pakistan, this is modern Iran and this area is modern Iraq. As you can see from the topographical features that you have a huge mountain range coming out of modern Turkey, which was Asia Minor at that time, coming back over through this area and down into northern Iraq and Iran, and those are the Zagros Mountains and this is the location where the Medes and the Persians came from.
Let's go back and look at the decline of the Babylonian Empire and what was taking place at that time. Babylon had two major problems that Nabonidus had to solve and both of these caused an internal weakness in a nation. One was an economic problem; the other was what you might call a religious or cultural problem. The economic problem had to do with inflation, there was a decline in the value of the currency in the Empire and that led to economic problems and on the other hand there was a religious problem due to a lack of unity in the empire because as the empire grew it absorbed more and more people from different religious backgrounds. You had the Jews who refused to worship Marduk, then there were the ethnic Chaldeans who were worshipping Marduk and Bel and in the south were Arabs worshiping a god called Sin, it was the moon god. Some things don't change a whole lot because as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago the modern Islamic god Allah was taken by Mohammed from 260 various deities in the Arabian pantheon and the term came from Elah, meaning idol and Al which was a name later in the Arabic language for the moon God, and so that term was combined and that particular God in the Arabian pantheon was elevated to the status of the only god. So you had a strict monotheism and Mohammed just did away with the other 259 gods but Allah was taken from the moon god and this is indicated by the fact that many of the flags of Arabic and Islamic nations have a crescent moon on their flag and that crescent moon goes back to the fact that Allah is the moon god. In the ancient world it wasn't much different except the moon God was named Sin, that's how it's usually translated but it was more of a "ts," Tsin, and this was the moon god that was worshipped in the area around Iran as well as in Ur of the Chaldeas where Abram was from, and Abram grew up among those who worshiped the moon god as well as many other gods and goddesses.
So Nabonidus had a problem because as you had multiculturalism coming into the Babylonian Empire it caused fragmentation in the empire based upon religion. See, religion is the core of any culture, and the core of any culture, no matter what that culture is, whether you're talking about western European culture, Asian culture, Chinese culture, Japanese culture, Indian culture, at the core of any culture there are decisions that are made, there are things that are accepted and things that are rejected based on a value system. And any value system presupposes a certain view of gods and goddesses, a certain view of ultimate reality. So at the core of any culture there are religious beliefs, and if you have a culture that can't agree on some sort of core metaphysical ethical value system, then you're going to end up with fragmentation. And that's exactly what we've seen in our present culture in the United States; as we fragment more and more people are on negative volition, they're going after Asian religions, they're after atheistic religions, secularism, whatever it might be, it just creates a fragmentation because once you reject ultimate reality so everybody has a different view of ultimate reality then everybody has a different view of ethics and standards and absolutes and you get into relativism. So that problem that we face today as a result of multiculturalism and diversity and breakdown of values and relativism is not new; it's something that's very old.
When I went through our study of Nebuchadnezzar's statue I pointed out that one of the things that happens as you go from the top to the bottom is each of these empires become more and more culturally diverse. That is indicated by the use of the Hebrew or the Aramaic language at that point and it's not a problem really of… it's not that the Bible is saying it's wrong for there to be multiple ethnic groups together, the point is that their values, their religious systems are different and so ultimately the problem is a problem of a breakdown into multiple religions and not just the breakdown into different ethnic groups.
So Nabonidus has a major problem that he's trying to solve and the nation is falling apart on the inside. Now after Nebuchadnezzar had died, he was succeeded by his son, Emel Marduk. Now when Nebuchadnezzar died he was a believer but apparently he was unable to transfer any of his values to his descendents. Except Emel Marduk decided that his dad was doing something right and that was he was doing something positive for the Jews. So we read in another passage of Scripture where Emel Marduk, or as he's recorded in this passage, Evil-merodach is referred to. In 2 Kings 25:27-28 we read: "Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, that Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, in the year that he became king, released Jehoiachin, king of Judah from prison; [ and he spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon."
Now that's an important statement. What happened is Jehoiachin has been in prison ever since he was captured and brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, and so Evil-merodach is going to go down and he's going to take him out of prison, he's going to say well, you know my dad was so good to all these Jews and God blessed him, I'm going to be good to the Jews too. So he's going to raise Jehoiachin to a high lever, over all the other officials. Now whenever you take somebody out of prison and you put them over all the other officials, guess what happens? Somebody gets jealous, somebody gets bent out of shape over the whole thing and that's exactly what happened in this case, for Neriglissar led a revolt against Emel Marduk after a couple of hears because Neriglissar was one of those rulers in Babylon that Jehoiachin was set over.
We know this from Jeremiah 39:3, "Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came in and sat down at the Middle Gate," and then it lists who those officials are, "Nergal-sarezer," that's Neriglissar as it's brought over into Hebrew, "Nergal-sarezer, Samgar-nebu, Sar-sekim, the Rab-saris, Negal-sarezer the Rab-mag," now that's an interesting term, Rab-mag because "rab" means the chief and "mag" comes from an ethnic group that made up the… it was a subdivision of the Medes and the Persians. And these were the magi, m-a-g refers to a tribal group called the magi, and the magi were even known at this early stage because of their involvement in astrology and fortune telling and these other things. Now this term, "Rag-mag" is roughly comparable to a term that was given to Daniel, that he was the chief of the Chaldeans or the astrologers.
And so among all of the counselors to the king were an ethnic group called the magi, and it is a belief of many, myself included, that it was during this time in history that Daniel communicated many of the Old Testament prophecies from the Jews, that the Jews had about the Messiah, to those he worked with, the Chaldeans, the magi who were part of the governmental structure in the Babylonian kingdom. And many of those magi became believers, I believe Daniel had a tremendous to many of those around him and many were saved and they held those traditions dear, and there was always a group of magi down through the generations, to the time of the incarnation when Jesus came as an infant in Bethlehem, there was always a group of magi who held closely to the hope of the coming of the Jewish Messiah. And they studied the Jewish Scriptures and they knew the promises that had been foretold, because it was always, even to the time of Jesus there was a strong Jewish remnant in Babylon, and the Babylonian Talmud was written there and that these magi in Babylon, having read the Old Testament Scripture, being familiar with the prophecies, when they saw the star in the heavens they put that together with what they had read in the Scripture and they headed out to look for Jesus. So if you always wondered who the magi were, this is who they were.
So Negal-sarezer was the Rab-mag, he becomes Neriglissar and he takes the throne and he apparently was anti-Semitic because he did not like the fact that Jehoiachin was elevated above him and he was only on the throne for four years before he was taken out and then he was succeeded by his son who went out because he was crazy.
Now one of the other daughters of Nebuchadnezzar was married to Nabopolassar and her name was Nitocris. And she is going to play a crucial role in Daniel 5 because she is the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and so she was around when all of those things took place in Daniel 2, Daniel 3 and Daniel 4, and she apparently had enough of… she was positive to doctrine and had been taught by Daniel so that we're going to see in the middle of this chapter that she correctly interprets and understands what's going on this particular night and what she says is a result of the application of the doctrine that Daniel has taught her.
Now Nabonidus was an archeologist and he loved dealing with antiquities and he didn't like the administration of the empire, he was more concerned with reestablishing an ancient religion and digging around and finding old temples and restoring them. So he spends his time down in Tema, he built a summer home down there and finally stayed there all the time until the threat from Cyrus the Persian too great and then he finally headed north and organized the army but by then it was too late and Cyrus is soundly defeating the Babylonian army as the Persian army pushes south toward Babylon.
Now at this point we see how God has raised up somebody else to replace the Babylonian Empire. When God is ready He always moves the pieces on the table and as He tears down one nation he's going to replace it with another nation, and the nation He replaces this with is the Medo-Persian Empire. Now the rise of the Medo-Persian is another fascinating story in history because all of this illustrates how God is sovereign and works in the affairs of mankind, so that when we look out on international politics and we watch the rise and fall of nations and we see wars and different things coming about as we do today, we must recognize that God is moving things around and that God is in control of history as much now as he was then.
Now when we study the rise of the Medo-Persian Empire I want to look at this map. The area that we are concerned with Media is in this area right here, to the southeast of the Caspian Sea. They were an Indo-European group; if you go back and take a look at Genesis 10 you discover that the Medes are descendants from Japheth. Noah had three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth; the Jews and the Arabs are descendants from Shem. The European and Indo-European and Arian people, incidentally, the term "Iran" is a cognate of the term Arian, just as Hitler was promoting the Arian races and ended up being anti-Semitic you can draw the same conclusion in relationship to Iran, and that goes hand in hand with all of their Islamic beliefs. The Islamic religion is virulently against Christianity and Judaism and we have to be aware of that, we can't put our heads in the sand like everybody else wants to; we need to realize and we do realize that there are spiritual issues at stake here. Anyway, somewhere around 800 or 900 BC the Pars tribes and the Media tribes began to head south out of the steps of Russia; they are ultimately migrating from an earlier migration that involved central Europe and somewhere in the Austro-Hungarian plain and now they're headed, these Arian people are headed southeast, and they come down through this area, this land mass between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and they both settle in this area, in the Zagros Mountains.
Now the Zagros mountains range in height from about 5,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level, and the range, it's like a series of knife ranges that run parallel to one another and in between these mountain ranges are a number of valleys and the weather during the year is rather mild during the summer but they don't get any rain, it's like high desert. They get maybe 3, 4, 5 inches of rain a year which isn't a whole lot, but they get a tremendous amount of snowfall during the winter. So in order to survive agriculturally they had to develop a rather innovative way to trap that water and to use it for irrigation, so they dug canals, underground canals down at the water table level that went from one valley to another, in order to trap and move the water that melted off after the snows each year. Archeologists have discovered some of them and it was a remarkable engineering feat but it shows how strong-willed and how rugged these people were. So after 200-300 years of living in these rugged conditions up in the mountains they finally got their act together and the Medes began to unite around their greatest ruler called Cyaxares I who ruled from 625-585 BC. And he is the father of Astyages. And Cyaxares is the man that organizes the Median army and comes down and invades to the south and joins up with Nabopolassar to defeat the Assyrians.
Now the Median Empire begins to kind of lock itself in this area for the next decade or two and at the same time its distant cousin, the Persians are beginning to become organized themselves. And they're under the leadership of a man named Cambyses, and Cyaxares son, who is Astyages, comes to power and he realizes he has to do something about this power developing on his flank, these Persians, so he marries off one of his daughters to Cambyses and the product of that union is one of the greatest rulers of the ancient world, Cyrus II called Cyrus the Great. And this was an interesting time in history because just as at the time our Lord was born there was international unrest, cross the board there were superstitious beliefs about the coming of a Messiah, there were beliefs that something fantastic was about to happen on an international scene, there was just international unrest everywhere and in many ways Cyrus functioned as almost a Gentile Messiah because when Cyrus came to power he united the Medes and the Persians and then he moved south and he conquers the Babylonian Empire and he establishes an empire that extends and incorporates all of Asia Minor, they're stopped by the Greeks but it includes all of Asia Minor to the west and extends all the way to the Indus River on the east, and it is in that empire, this peace that is brought by the Pax Persia, we might say, the peace of Persia, that you have…[tape turns]
…for the gospel to go everywhere from Asia Minor to India. And just one example of the impact the gospel had is the book of Esther. You had Jews who were taken all over the empire, the Persian Empire, and they were placed in administrative positions and positions of leadership from India to Turkey and we know that they had an impact. It's interesting that it's at this time in history, within a hundred years of this time, that there are major reforms that take place among the Hindus in India and the development of Confucianism and even among Buddhism; there are interesting developments that take place all at this time. And it's interesting to speculate that this could be exactly because of the spread of Old Testament prophecies because the prophecies of Isaiah, the prophecies of Jeremiah were well-known and were spread throughout this time.
Now Cyrus was raised to his position of authority by God; he was God's man for the time and this is indicated by a number of passages and prophecies. For example, Isaiah 44:28, "It is I" the Lord is speaking, "who says of Cyrus, he is My Shepherd!" now this is 200 years before Cyrus was born, "and he will perform all My desire. And he declares of Jerusalem, She will be built, and of the temple, Your foundation will be laid." So this is a prophecy of the restoration of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity due to the influence of Cyrus. Then again in Isaiah 45:1, "Thus says the LORD to Cyrus, His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut." God raised up Cyrus.
One of the interesting stories about Cyrus is that when he comes to power in about 550 BC, just about ten years before the events of Daniel 5, he is probing west into Asia Minor, and he comes to the Halys River, to the kingdom of Lydia which was ruled by the well-known and almost fabled Croesus. Now a generation earlier, about 608-609 BC there had been another major battle between the Lydians and the Medes and at that particular time the battle was halted because of a prophecy made by Thales, who was one of the earliest Greek astronomers, that there would be a full solar eclipse, and that was the first time in history anybody had successfully predicted a full solar eclipse or lunar eclipse. And that was the advent of modern science. And Thales predicted that, and when that occurred all the armies stopped fighting and everybody stepped back and everybody was concerned about what was going to happen and this young upstart diplomat by the name of Nabonidus comes forward and offers his services as a go-between between the two nations and he establishes a peace treaty that lasts from that time down to 550 BC. So Nabonidus has been around for a while and he is apparently quite adept as a diplomat.
By 550 that's breaking down because the Medes are on the scene, and Cyrus heads west. Now Cyrus comes face to face with the Lydians under King Croesus at the Halys River. Now Croesus is scared to death, this is just an illustration about the problems of demonism and fortune tellers. Croesus was scared to death with the presence of the Medes so he went to Greece to the Oracle of Delphi and the Oracle at Delphi was at the temple to Apollo in Delphi just north of Corinth and the priestess there was indwelt by a demon who would speak in tongues among other things, speak in glossalaic utterance and give prophecies and often give often give prophecies in a some what cryptic manner. And so Croesus went to the Oracle of Delphi and asked the question: should I cross the Halys River and defeat Cyrus. And the Oracle responded in a somewhat cryptic manner by saying: Croesus when you cross the Halys River you will destroy a great empire. Well, Croesus thought that by crossing the river he would destroy the Median Empire but the prophecy meant that when he crossed the river he would destroy his own empire because he was soundly defeated and killed in that particular battle. So the Median Empire continued to expand across Asia Minor.
Now by 539 the armies of Cyrus began to advance city by city and town by town down through modern Iran and Iraq, until they come to the outskirts of Babylon. And then they surround Babylon and at that point, out of either bravado or just to try to strengthen the morale of the people, Belshazzar decides to throw this enormous orgy. Now they feel fairly secure behind their walls. Remember they have these enormously thick walls built around the city of Babylon and they think that they're secure back there. And that's the problem with most of us is we put our security in the wrong thing; we put it in military might, we put it in political right, we put it in economic power, we put it in our 401K plans, we put it in whatever we put it but we don't put it in the Lord and their security was based on their military ability and their defensive strategy behind the walls of Babylon. And they had enough water and they had enough food to withstand a two to three year siege. So in order to show how confident he was and to boost the morale of everybody in Babylon, Belshazzar threw this tremendous feast.
We're told he "held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles." Now from what we know historically, archeological records of the Persian time, this is just a small dinner party; he's not throwing a big party at all, we have records of Persian banquets thrown by some of the Persian kings where they hosted ten, twelve, fourteen thousand people at one banquet and everybody would get out the tremendous barrels of wine and the liquor would flow free and then they would bring out all the women in the harem and they would have an enormous orgy and that is exactly the scene that we have in Daniel 5:1-4, just showing the internal decline of the Babylonian Empire. So if this is any sign of the morals of the nation and it is, then that was one reason that nation was in decline. One of the things that we've seen in our study of Judges is that in paganism there's very little respect for women. And this was true among the Babylonians especially, any woman in the Babylonian Empire was expected at one time or another in her adult life to go to the temple and there she would be for the day serve as a temple prostitute, and any man who would come along and toss her a coin of any size would then take her back into the temple precincts and they would have relations. And that was standard; every woman had to do that. And of course the more beautiful and more attractive women only were down there for a day or two and those who were less attractive would be down there for three or four years before some man would come along and take them into the back room. So there was not a whole lot of respect for woman among the Babylonians.
So Belshazzar is going to demonstrate this because as they start their party he's going to bring out all of his concubines in order to liven the party up a little bit. And we read this, starting in Daniel 5:2, "When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar, his father, had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem," now why did he do that? One of the reasons he did that, we've learned from history, is Nabonidus was retreating with the army before the oncoming Persian army, he was rescuing all of the idols from all of the temples in each town as he backed up, and so he then took all these idols into Babylon. He figured if he got all the gods and goddesses in Babylon then they could possibly protect Babylon from the oncoming Persian army. Of course that failed, so there's no idol for the God of the Jews so all Belshazzar had is the furniture and the vessels, the gold and silver bowls and pitchers and various other vessels from the temple in Jerusalem. So he had those brought out. It was also a way that he could, in his false bravado, show how superior he was to the God of the Jews. So he brings that out in order to serve the wine and in order to serve the meal and in order to put down God and he brought out all of his harem. That was not normally done but it's done at this stage and it shows what little respect he has for the women in his harem.
Daniel 5:3, "Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them." Now I want you to notice that the writer repeats the fact for us twice that they brought in all the vessels from the house of God because the writer wants us to pay attention to what's happening here theologically. He is at this particular moment choosing a grand act of blasphemy against God; he's trying to demonstrate that he is superior to God and in a few short verses God is going to demonstrate to Belshazzar, just as He did to his grandfather, that it is God who reigns in human history and it is not man. And that is where we will stop. And next time we'll begin with the handwriting on the wall beginning in verse 5.