You can learn a lot about people from what they say – which is one reason it’s often a very good idea to keep your mouth shut. Or, as the inimitable 16th president of the United States is said to have said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” (The folks at “Ask Yahoo” claim this statement can’t actually be traced to Lincoln – and I have better things to do than prove them wrong.)
The fifth chapter of Daniel is full of long-winded (for the Bible, anyway) and very revealing speeches by three different characters: the queen, Belshazzar, and then Daniel. One of the three speakers is clearly a fool. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not Daniel or the queen.
In Dan 5:12, Belshazzar takes the queen’s advice and summons Daniel to help him out of his literary predicament. And then he opens his mouth:
Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah?
This is a mighty fine “how do you do?” from the king. He didn’t need to confirm Daniel’s identity (unless his servants were so inept that he couldn’t trust them to produce the man who had been King Nebuchadnezzar’s chief of magicians [5:11]). And he had no good reason to identify Daniel as “one of the exiles…brought from Judah,” an event from decades earlier. (Notice that the queen never mentioned this in her description of Daniel. She simply sang his praises.) The only reason for Belshazzar’s opening question is that the fill-in, son-of-a-usurper king wanted to make a statement to the man “his father,” Nebuchadnezzar, esteemed so highly: “You’re really just a Jewish slave – and don’t think I don’t know it.”
His question-statement reveals more than his arrogance. It reveals his ignorance. Apparently, he didn’t really know who Daniel was. The rest of his speech seems to support this: twice he says of Daniel, “I have heard…” – as if he really had no previous knowledge of Daniel. This boggles the mind. Daniel had been chief of the magicians for the great Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, he had been ruler over the entire province of Babylon (2:48). If the reigning king had passed his Babylonian history classes, he would’ve known who Daniel was.
Belshazzar’s own words reveal his shortcomings. When Daniel takes the stage next, he will move Belshazzar’s shortcomings into the spotlight.