Daniel 5:8
Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
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(8) Theni.e., after the king had addressed the wise men whom he had summoned. But why could not they read an inscription which Daniel deciphered at first sight? It has been conjectured (1) that the character was old Semitic, or one which the wise men did not know; (2) that the language of the inscription was unknown to them; (3) that the words were written in vertical columns, and the wise men endeavoured to read them horizontally. The only true explanation is to be found in the supernatural character of the inscription, and in the inspiration of Daniel. In this way God asserts Himself against the false wisdom of the heathens.

Daniel 5:8-9. Then came in all the king’s wise men — Ambitious of the honour, and desirous to gratify the king. But they could not read the writing — Because, says Houbigant, it was written in the ancient Samaritan characters, which were very unlike the Chaldean letters. Or perhaps only the initial letters, M.T.P. were written. But God, for his own glory, reserved the honour of reading and interpreting it for his servant Daniel. Mr. Wintle renders the clause, “They were unable to read the writing, so as to make known the interpretation to the king.” Then was King Belshazzar greatly troubled — His consternation and distress were renewed and increased, his last hope having failed him; and his lords were astonished — His associates in sin shared in the consternation; and notwithstanding their number, mirth, and wine, were dismayed and terrified exceedingly.

5:1-9 Belshazzar bade defiance to the judgments of God. Most historians consider that Cyrus then besieged Babylon. Security and sensuality are sad proofs of approaching ruin. That mirth is sinful indeed, which profanes sacred things; and what are many of the songs used at modern feasts better than the praises sung by the heathens to their gods! See how God struck terror upon Belshazzar and his lords. God's written word is enough to put the proudest, boldest sinner in a fright. What we see of God, the part of the hand that writes in the book of the creatures, and in the book of the Scriptures, should fill us with awful thoughts concerning that part which we do not see. If this be the finger of God, what is his arm when made bare? And what is He? The king's guilty conscience told him that he had no reason to expect any good news from heaven. God can, in a moment, make the heart of the stoutest sinner to tremble; and there needs no more than to let loose his own thoughts upon him; they will give him trouble enough. No bodily pain can equal the inward agony which sometimes seizes the sinner in the midst of mirth, carnal pleasures, and worldly pomp. Sometimes terrors cause a man to flee to Christ for pardon and peace; but many cry out for fear of wrath, who are not humbled for their sins, and who seek relief by lying vanities. The ignorance and uncertainty concerning the Holy Scriptures, shown by many who call themselves wise, only tend to drive sinners to despair, as the ignorance of these wise men did.Then came in all the king's wise men - The classes above referred to, Daniel 5:7.

But they could not read the writing - The character was an unknown character to them. It may have been a character which was not found in any language, and which made the power of Daniel to read it the more remarkable, or it may have been, as suggested in the notes at Daniel 5:7, a foreign character with which they had no acquaintance, though familiar to Daniel.

8. The words were in such a character as to be illegible to the Chaldees, God reserving this honor to Daniel. The rabbies say it was not in the Chaldee character, though the words were Chaldee, but the old Hebrew, Canaanitish, Phoenician, and Samaritan letters; or else because only the initial letters, M. T. P., were written. But God reserved this honour for Daniel, and to him that He might have all the glory. Besides, this interpretation was figurative, about weighing in a balance.

Then came in all the king's wise men,.... The whole college of them, the persons before described; over whom, in Nebuchadnezzar's time, Daniel was the chief of the governors, Daniel 2:48, these came in readily, in hope of getting both riches and honour:

but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof; for if they could not do the former, it must be impossible to do the latter; of the reason of which, various are the conjectures (p): as that, though these words were written in Chaldee, yet in characters, as the Samaritan or Phoenician, they did not understand; or were written without points, and so they knew not which were the proper ones to put to them; or they were written according to the position of the letters of the alphabet, called "athbash", of which See Gill on Jeremiah 25:26, or the words were placed so as to be read backward, or else downward, and not straightforward; or they were all in one word; or only the initial letters of words; but the true reason was, that it was so ordained by the Lord, that they should not be able to read and interpret them; this being reserved for another man, Daniel, that he might have the honour, and God the glory.

(p) Vid. Jac. de Clerice Dissertat. de Epulo Belshazzar, in Thesaur. Theolog. Philol. vol. 1. p. 885.

Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
8. The wise men, however, failed either to read or to explain the writing.

Verse 8. - Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. As we have already said, the Septuagint here repeats the list of wise men. and omits "the Chaldeans." If the word "Chaldean" had been in the text originally, the fact that astrologers were frequently called Chaldeans would render it unlikely that the word should be omitted. Whereas from this very ground it was a word specially apt to be added on the margin, and once on the margin it would easily drop into the text. Even in the case of the Massoretic text, there seems to be a repetition here. It is certainly more obvious in the Septuagint text. The verse according to the Septuagint is, "And there entered in the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the astrologers, and were not able to announce the interpretation of the writing." Theodotion agrees here with the received text; the Peshitta omits "all." The only way in which we can escape the idea of this being a repetition is by holding that the word "all" is emphatic. The omission of the word "all" from the Peshitta is against this. It is to be observed that in the Septuagint there is no reference to "reading the writing;" it is only to announce the interpretation. Daniel 5:8Since there are in this verse only three classes of wise men named as ordered to come to the king, to whom he promised the reward for the reading and the interpretation of the writing, and in Daniel 5:8 it is first stated that all the king's wise men came, the probability, is, that at first the king commanded only the three classes named in Daniel 5:7 to be brought to him. On this probability Kranichfeld founds the supposition that the king purposely, or with intention, summoned only the three classes named to avoid Daniel, whom he did not wish to consult, from his heathen religious fear of the God of the Jews. But this supposition is altogether untenable. For, first, it does not follow from Daniel 8:27 that under Belshazzar Daniel was president over all the wise men, but only that he was in the king's service. Then, in the event of Daniel's yet retaining the place assigned to him by Nebuchadnezzar, his non-appearance could not be explained on the supposition that Belshazzar called only three classes of the wise men, because the supposition that מלכּא חכּימי כּל (all the king's wise men) in Daniel 5:8 forms a contrast to the three classes named in Daniel 5:7 is not sustained by the language here used. But if by "all the wise men of the king," Daniel 5:8, we are to understand the whole body of the wise men of all the classes, and that they appeared before the king, then they must all have been called at the first, since no supplementary calling of the two classes not named in Daniel 5:7 is mentioned. Besides this, the words, "the king spake to the wise men of Babylon," make it probable that all the classes, without the exception of the two, were called. Moreover it is most improbable that in the case before us, where the matter concerned the reading of a writing, the חרטמּים, the magicians Schriftkenner, should not have been called merely to avoid Daniel, who was their רב (president) (Daniel 4:6 [Daniel 4:9]). Finally, it is psychologically altogether very improbable, that in the great agitation of fear which had filled him at the sight of the hand writing, Belshazzar should have reflected at all on this, that Daniel would announce to him misfortune or the vengeance of the God of the Jews. Such a reflection might perhaps arise on quiet deliberation, but not in the midst of agitating heart-anguish.

The strange circumstance that, according to Daniel 5:7, the king already promised a reward to the wise men, which presupposes that they were already present, and then that for the first time their presence is mentioned in Daniel 5:8, is occasioned by this, that in Daniel 5:7 the appearing of the wise men is not expressly mentioned, but is naturally presupposed, and that the first two clauses of the eighth verse are simply placed together, and are not united to each other by a causal nexus. The meaning of the statement in Daniel 5:7 and Daniel 5:8 is this: The king calls aloud, commanding the astrologers, etc., to be brought to him; and when the wise men of Babylon came to him, he said to each of them, Whoever reads the writing, etc. But all the king's wise men, when they had come, were unable to read the writing. As to the names of the wise men in Daniel 5:7, see under Daniel 2:2. יקרה for יקרא, from קרא, to read. As a reward, the king promises a purple robe, a gold chain for the neck, and the highest office in the kingdom. A robe of purple was the sign of rank worn by the high officers of state among the Persians, - cf. Esther 8:15 with Xenophon, Anab. i. 5. 8, - and among the Selucidae, 1 Macc. 10:20; and was also among the Medes the princely garb, Xen. Anab. i. 3. 2, ii. 4. 6. ארגּון, Hebr. ארגּמן, purple, is a word of Aryan origin, from the Sanscrit râga, red colour, with the formative syllables man and vat; cf. Gesen. Thes. Addid. p. 111f. וגו' דּי והמנוּכא does not depend on ילבּשׁ, but forms a clause by itself: and a chain of gold shall be about his neck. For the Kethiv המנוּכא the Keri substitutes the Targum. and Syr. form המניכא (Daniel 5:7, Daniel 5:16, and Daniel 5:29), i.e., The Greek μανιάκης, from the Sansc. mani, jewel, pearl, with the frequent formative syllable ka in the Zend, whence the Chaldee word is derived; it signifies neck- or arm-band, here the former. The golden neck-chain (στρεπτὸς χρύσεος) was an ornament worn by the Persians of rank, and was given by kings as a mark of favour even to kings, e.g., Cambyses and the younger Cyrus; cf. Herod. iii. 20; Xen. Anab. i. 1. 27, 5. 8, 8. 29.

It is not quite certain what the princely situation is which was promised to the interpreter of the writing, since the meaning of תּלתּי is not quite clear. That it is not the ordinale of the number third, is, since Hvernick, now generally acknowledged, because for tertius in Aram. תּליתי is used, which occurs also in Daniel 2:39. Hvernick therefore regards תּלתּי, for which תּלתּא is found in Daniel 5:16 and Daniel 5:29, as an adjective formation which indicates a descent or occupation, and is here used as a nomen officii corresponding to the Hebr. שׁלישׁי. Gesenius and Dietrich regard תּלתּי as only the singular form for תּליתי, and תּלתּא as the stat. abs. of תּלת, third rank. Hitzig would change תּלתּי into תּלתּי, and regard תּלתּא as a singular formed from תּלתּאין, as triumvir from triumvirorum, and would interpret it by τρίτος αὐτός, the third (selbst-dritt): as one of three he shall rule in the kingdom, according to Daniel 6:3. Finally, Kranichfeld takes תּלתּי to be a fem. verbal formation according to the analogy of ארמית, אחרי, in the sense of three-ruler-wise, and תּלתּא for a noun formed from תּלתא, triumvir. Almost all these explanations amount to this, that the statements here regard the government of a triumvirate as it was regulated by the Median king Darius, Daniel 6:3 (2); and this appears also to be the meaning of the words as one may literally explain תּלתּי and תּלתּא. Regarding the Keri עלּין see under Daniel 4:4, and regarding פּשׁרא, under Daniel 4:15.

As all the wise men were unable to read the writing, it has been thought that it was in a foreign language different from the usual language of Babylon, the knowledge of which could not legitimately be expected to be possessed by the native wise men; and since, according to Daniel 5:17, Daniel 5:24., Daniel at once showed his acquaintance with the writing in question, it has from this been concluded that already the old Babylonians had handwriting corresponding to the later Syro-Palmyrenian inscriptions, while among the Hebrews to the time of the Exile the essentially Old-Phoenician writing, which is found on the so-called Samaritan coins and in the Samaritan Scriptures, was the peculiar national style of writing (Kran.). But this interpretation of the miracle on natural principles is quite erroneous. First, it is very unlikely that the Chaldean wise men should not have known these old Semitic characters, even although at that time they had ceased to be in current use among the Babylonians in their common writing. Then, from the circumstance that Daniel could at once read the writing, it does not follow that it was the well-known Old-Hebrew writing of his fatherland. "The characters employed in the writing," as Hengstenberg has rightly observed (Beitr. i. p. 122), "must have been altogether unusual so as not to be deciphered but by divine illumination." Yet we must not, with M. Geier and others, assume that the writing was visible only to the king and Daniel. This contradicts the text, according to which the Chaldean wise men, and without doubt all that were present, also saw the traces of the writing, but were not able to read it.

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