God, Angels, and Belshazzar

I don’t know why encounters with angels,1 and God, aren’t all alike.

Sometimes, like Abraham’s meeting with the Almighty and two angels, described in Genesis 18:2, or Habakkuk’s getting airlifted in Daniel 14:3337, it’s apparently much like meeting another human.

Other times, like Daniel’s interview with Gabriel, it takes days to recover. I suspect that it depends on the personalities involved, and on just how much unshielded power we’re exposed to.

“The writing on the wall” is still an idiom in my language, meaning “the likelihood that something bad will happen.” (TheFreeDictionary by Farlex)

It comes from a reality check Belshazzar experienced.

The chap in the center is Belshazzar, as imagined by Rembrandt. The picture isn’t Babylonian, Neo- or otherwise.

Rembrandt painted it in the 1630s, roughly two millennia after Belshazzar’s time. The ladies seem to dressed along the lines of Henrietta Maria and Susanna Huygens. Folks didn’t always expect strict historical accuracy in paintings, and that’s another topic.2

Belshazzar, after getting at least slightly sloshed, ordered gold and sliver vessels stored with the rest of Nebuchadnezzar II’s loot brought out. (Daniel 5:130)

That, I think, wasn’t a big deal. Local and regional leaders had been raiding each other for at least a dozen centuries by then, and this was a big party.

I don’t think alcohol was an issue, either. Being drunk, maybe: indirectly. But let’s get a grip. Our Lord’s first miracle was when Mary told him “they have no wine.” (John 2:310)

No, I think the problem was that “they praised their gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone” while drinking from vessels that had been taken from God’s temple in Jerusalem. (Daniel 5:26)

That, in 20-20 hindsight, was a very bad idea.

Belshazzar should have known better, as Daniel said in Daniel 5:1823.

About that, each of us is a rational creature with free will. We can decide what we do or do not do, and are responsible for the consequences of our decisions. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 17301742)

The Catholic view of responsibility isn’t as stupidly inflexible as it may sound.

If I didn’t know that an action is wrong, like walking off a cliff — I know, unrealistically extreme example, but I’m writing this in a hurry — there would still be consequences: more or less serious, depending on how high the cliff is and what’s at the bottom.

But that daft version of me probably wouldn’t be held accountable by the Almighty. (Catechism, 1735)

If I deliberately maintain ignorance, that’s a problem by itself. (Catechism, 17901794)

Lying to God about not knowing any better — would be incredibly stupid, and an exquisitely bad idea. (Catechism, 1859)

George Washington’s Cherry Tree

I think George Washington — bear with me, this makes sense, at least to me — really lived, despite the cherry tree tale.

I’m a trifle less certain about Daniel.

More accurately, I’m not convinced that every anecdote in Daniel is literally true down to the last detail.

I take the book of Daniel quite seriously, along with the rest of the Bible.3 As a Catholic, that’s a requirement. So is “frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” (Catechism, 101133)

But I emphatically don’t have to believe that someone with an American viewpoint wrote the Bible.

We don’t know the name of Daniel’s author.

It’s not, strictly speaking, prophetic writing. It’s an early example of “apocalyptic” literature, and that’s another yet another topic.

I do not sift through Daniel, looking for verses that’ll support a nifty new End Times Bible Prophecy. That kind of trouble I don’t need.

“…The moral [of Daniel] is that men of faith can resist temptation and conquer adversity. The characters are not purely legendary but rest on older historical tradition. What is more important than the question of historicity, and closer to the intention of the author, is the fact that a persecuted Jew of the second century B.C. would quickly see the application of these stories to his own plight….”
(Daniel, Introduction, New American Bible)

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Getting a Grip

Daniel and others getting their names changed probably made keeping track of them in Chaldean records harder.

On top of that, Cyrus the Great rolled over that part of the world around 539 BC.

I suspect that cataloging and archiving all Chaldean records wasn’t high on the new regime’s to-do list. I’ve mentioned Cyrus before. (October 2, 2016)

While Chaldeans were still running Babylon, Daniel was among top-drawer young Israelites picked to be in the king’s court.

2 The chief chamberlain changed their names: Daniel to Belteshazzar, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach, and Azariah to Abednego.”
(Daniel 1:7)

Like the footnote says, they’re “given Babylonian names as a sign of their adoption by the king.” I suspect the Babylonian names were also easier for the locals to pronounce.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are chiefly famous for not dying when thrown into a furnace. (Daniel 3:1324)

The lesson here isn’t that worshiping God makes a person fireproof, or that bad things don’t happen to good people.

2 Maccabees 7:141 describes eight folks being tortured to death because they wouldn’t “eat pork in violation of God’s law.” Pork isn’t the issue here. It’s keeping God’s law, or not.

I think they made the right choice. Taking the long view isn’t always easy, but I think it makes sense.

“Slay me though he might, I will wait for him; I will defend my conduct before him.
“And this shall be my salvation, that no impious man can come into his presence.”
(Job 13:1516)

A Temple, Some Lions, and the Living God

That picture is Gustav Doré’s 1866 Bible illustration, “Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts.”

It’s over-the-top imagery appeals to me, and I’ll get back to that.

I like mystery stories, so Daniel 14:122 also appeals to me. You know how it goes: Daniel sprinkles ash on the floor in Bel’s temple, and has the door sealed.

Next morning, he and the king examine the seal and take a look around.

“But Daniel laughed and kept the king from entering. ‘Look at the floor,’ he said; ‘whose footprints are these?’
” ‘I see the footprints of men, women, and children!’ said the king.”
(Daniel 14:1920)

What happens next isn’t so appealing, but I was born in the 20th century and am living in the 21st. We’ve made some headway since Daniel’s time.

By the 46th century, I hope that at least some of what we consider normal legal sanctions will seem unnecessarily harsh. (October 30, 2016; November 21, 2016)

The point of the ‘Bel’s temple’ narrative, and Daniel’s seven days in a lion’s den — that’s in Daniel 14:2442 — is that God’s God, everything and everyone else isn’t. (Daniel 14:5)

Daniel’s experience with lions reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi and the Wolf of Gubbio, and that’s yet again another topic.


Daniel’s ‘four kingdoms’ vision, in Daniel 7:128, is chock-full of descriptions and discussion of “four immense beasts, each different from the others.” (Daniel 7:3)

I think it’s true, in the sense that we can learn something by reading and studying it.

Some of what’s there is a prediction of what would happen: and has happened, by now. Let’s remember that roughly two dozen centuries have gone by since Daniel’s day.

Some of Daniel’s visions tie in with what’s in Revelation: which is why the lion with eagle’s wings, the bear, the critter with iron teeth, and all the rest, sounded so familiar.

Radio preachers and folks selling the latest thing in End Times Bible Prophecies were full of that stuff in my youth.

They weren’t the first with false alarms and fizzled prophecies, or the last. And that’s still another topic. (December 11, 2016; August 7, 2016 )

Daniel had another vision, couldn’t make head or tail of it, which gets me to Gabriel. I’ll skip over the flying goat, assorted horns, and why I don’t try to second-guess God the Father. I take all that seriously: it’s wannabe prophets that I’m not keen on.

“While I, Daniel, sought the meaning of the vision I had seen, a manlike figure stood before me,
6 and on the Ulai I heard a human voice that cried out, ‘Gabriel, explain the vision to this man.’
7 When he came near where I was standing, I fell prostrate in terror. But he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the end time.’ ”
(Daniel 8:1517)

Daniel was weak and ill for some days after that interview. (Daniel 8:27)

Like I said, I suspect that outcomes of angel-human meetings depend on who meets the angel, who the angel is, and how headquarters defines the mission.

Belshazzar and Ben Franklin

Apparently at least some scholars think Belshazzar really existed, and so did the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Empire: but that Daniel didn’t.

They’ve got a point, sort of. Daniel lived during the 6th century BC, after 538, more or less.

Someone, obviously not Daniel, wrote the book of Daniel while Antiochus IV Epiphanes was throwing his weight around, in 167 BC. give or take a few years.

Two millennia later, some folks still write stories whose narrators are either long-dead or entirely fictional. Oddly enough, I haven’t heard that Ben Franklin wasn’t real because Robert Lawson wrote “Ben and Me” in the 20th century.4

Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t possibly be Belshazzar’s father. (Daniel 5:2)

As a footnote says, the author may have meant “father” in the sense of “ancestor;” or the author wrote substituted “Nabonidus” with “Nebuchadnezzar.”

When the book of Daniel was written, Nebuchadnezzar II may have had better name-recognition value than Nabonidus.

Nebuchadnezzar II is the Chaldean king who hauled treasure and people from Jerusalem to Babylon. I’ve mentioned him and his urban renewal project before. (October 2, 2016)

My guess is that none of them were Americans, and didn’t have our obsession with “just the facts, ma’am” writing.

More, mostly my take on faith and using my brain:

1 Quick review — Angels are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings” with “intelligence and will,” persons who are as real as we are; but with no bodies. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 328336)

2 More than you may need or want to know about art and realism:

3 Background:

“…Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation….”
(“Understanding the Bible,” Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB)

From “10 points for fruitful Scripture reading:”

  1. Bible reading is for Catholics
  2. Prayer is the beginning and the end
  3. Get the whole story!
  4. The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library
  5. Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t
  6. The sum is greater than the parts
  7. The Old relates to the New
  8. You do not read alone
  9. What is God saying to me?
  10. Reading isn’t enough
    (From “Understanding the Bible,” Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB)

4 These days, the Walt Disney Productions two-reel “Ben and Me” may be better-known.

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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