Daily Old Testament: Daniel 5 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 5)

Daniel 5 – Years later, King Belshazzar [possibly the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, possibly just another name for the high king of the Chaldaeans], gets everyone together for a big feast, using the gold vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple in Jerusalem. “While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (5:4).


He has a vision of a human hand, writing on the wall and seeks magicians or seers who can interpret this for him. Like his predecessor, the king calls for all the wise men of the kingdom to come and help him figure out what is happening. The king’s wife reminds him of the famous Hebrew seer, so Daniel is brought to the king as well. The king offers him great gifts, which Daniel refuses. Daniel tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar – his achievements and his end – “driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself” (5:21-22).


He interprets the writing on the wall as follows: it says “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” (5:25). My Jerusalem Bible note says these are Aramaic words that “may conceal the names of three oriental measures of weight, or coins: a mina, a shekel, and a half-mina (paras).”  They suggest meanings that Daniel interprets as prophecy that God has measured the king’s sovereignty and decided that the kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians (5:24-28).


Belshazzar keeps his promise and gives Daniel gifts and position, but that night the king is murdered and his kingdom divided. Darius, the Mede, takes over.



From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism


Part 5

The Bible was not the only religion book I read. As I got into high school, I was interested in religion generally and read a number of books having to do with the topic. I had a terrible weakness for sensuous looking (and feeling) books, a weakness I think God used to expose me to books I might otherwise never have touched. It was this that attracted me to a small edition of John Woolman’s Journal.  It was my first contact with Quaker writing and thinking. My father bought it for me on a visit I had with him in the city. I had never heard of Woolman or Quakerism, but the tiny red volume with the silk ribbon bookmark drew my eye and called me to possess it. My father had heard of Woolman’s work against slavery and the boycott of slave-made goods he led in the eighteenth century; these were things even a thoughtful atheist could respect.


I was very influenced by the book. Woolman’s integrity, the simplicity of his Christian faith, the seriousness with which he approached the moral evil of slavery impressed me. It impressed me so much that I got my other grandfather, my father’s step-father (married to the Christian Scientist), to take me to a Quaker Meeting in Scarsdale, New York, to see what Quakerism looked like “in the flesh”. The Meeting had no decorative features at all—something I am not sure I appreciated just then. People filed in quietly and sat down on pew-like benches that were arranged to face an empty table in the center. There was no stained glass, no minister, no music, no Bible reading, no prayer—only silence, utter silence for a full hour. I cannot now remember if anyone said anything in the hour we were there. We took a few brochures when we left. It interested me, but we didn’t go back.  The seed, however, was planted. The Quakers would never be wholly out of the picture again.


I sometimes try to imagine what my Marxist father must have thought—watching his daughter become so interested in and drawn to religion, sometimes even as a result of things he had said or introduced me to. He clearly wanted me to go a different way. From the earliest times, I remember talks we has in which he expressed skepticism and curiosity about how I could be drawn to something that seemed so unconvincing and unappealing to him. But he was a very tactful person and very accepting of what I thought, even when I was very young.

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