King Belshazzar threw a wild and extravagant party for a thousand of his friends in the sixth century B.C. While inebriated, the king brought out the golden vessels that had been taken by his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, from the temple in Jerusalem. While the partygoers drank raucously from the holy temple vessels, they began to praise their idols.
The Handwriting on the Wall
"At that moment the fingers of a man's hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king's palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that his hip joints shook and his knees knocked together" (Daniel 5: 5-6, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Belshazzar was scared to death. He called in all of his wise men to read the handwriting on the wall. The king's perplexity and panic mounted as he realized that none of his wise men could read or interpret the inscription.
As a result of the outcry of the crowd, the queen entered the banquet hall and made this pronouncement:
"May the king live forever. Don't let your thoughts terrify you or your face be pale. There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the days of your predecessor he was found to have insight, intelligence, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the diviners, mediums, Chaldeans, and astrologers. Your own predecessor, the king, did this because Daniel, the one the king named Belteshazzar, was found to have an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and perception, and the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems. Therefore, summon Daniel, and he will give the interpretation" (Daniel 5:10-12, HCSB).
The king summoned Daniel who was able to read the handwriting on the wall. That same night, Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede became king in his stead.
The Qualities of Daniel
One of the most intriguing parts of this story is the queen's description of Daniel. Let's look at how she described him.
- "A man who has the spirit of the holy gods in him." Although this queen reigned in a heathen land, she recognized the power of God in Daniel's life.
- "He was found to have insight, intelligence, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods."
- Daniel "was found to have an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and perception, and the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems." Daniel's intelligence was useful - it helped others. He was able to apply the knowledge he had been given by God to the people around him, as well as to the problems and events that affected their world.
Later we find that as Daniel distinguished himself in King Darius's service, his co-workers became jealous and plotted to discredit him. This story provides us with yet another description of Daniel's character:
"Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him" (Daniel 6:4, NASB).
- From this account, we learn that Daniel's character was sterling: he was faithful - no corruption or negligence was to be found in him.
- We all know the story of Daniel's being thrown into the lion's den, and how God shut the mouth of the lions and delivered Daniel. Daniel was a man of great faith, who totally trusted in the power and goodness of God.
Noah Webster — A "Daniel" of the 1800s
Noah Webster (1758-1843) exhibited many of the outstanding qualities that distinguished Daniel - in a vastly different time and place. Webster was an outstanding scholar who, during the course of his life, provided America with "the fundamental texts for spelling, grammar, reading history, geography, civics, literature, and an American dictionary."1 In 1833, he even published his own "American" translation of the English Bible.
Not only was Noah Webster extremely intelligent, he, like Daniel, possessed an extraordinary spirit, the ability to solve problems, sterling character, and great faith. He identified the needs and problems of his time, and set out to solve them, employing a biblical worldview.
Noah's textbooks provided Americans with the tools they needed to educate themselves and their children. They were biblically-based and affirmed and taught the principles of the American form of republican government, which held great significance as the country began to shift from its strong religious and moral underpinnings. In Rudiments of America's Christian History and Government, the authors Rosalie Slater and Verna Hall offer this information, which I find wildly encouraging as a homeschooling mother:
"But unlike today, Noah Webster put the responsibility for education squarely upon the family first and upon the individual. Independence was a basic quality of American character and Noah Webster began to write textbooks which were self-teaching, that is, they did not require a teacher…It is good to remember that American education has never depended upon the existence of schools" (page 5).
Webster's dictionary, which took 27 years to complete, had enormous impact because it was the first American dictionary ever published. This significance is difficult for us to fathom in modern America. But in Webster's time, American grammar, spelling, and word usage were fragmented, non-standardized, and still very English. Webster's dictionary Americanized spellings and definitions (acknowledging, for instance, that the standard spelling of "color" is not "colour").
His wisdom still rings true in today's world, as evidenced by this comment on educational reform: "To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens, than any other improvements in our system of education."2
Who Will Read the Handwriting on the Wall Today?
In J.I. Packer's classic book Knowing God, he quotes Daniel 11:32: "the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action" (RSV). He explains the verse this way:
"This shows us that the action taken by those who know God is their reaction to the anti-God trends that they see operating around them. While their God is being defied or disregarded, they cannot rest; they feel they must do something; the dishonour3 done to God's name goads them to action."
Homeschooling parents - be encouraged. You are taking action by teaching your children at home, where you can provide them with a Christ-centered education. You are teaching them to read the handwriting on today's wall.
My hope is that this generation of homeschooled children will become the Daniels of their world. Young men and women who are zealously jealous for God's honor. Young adults known for their wisdom and intelligence, who can explain riddles and solve difficult problems by applying biblical principles to the perplexities at hand. People the world recognizes as having a spirit, a power, and an intelligence that must come from God - even though the world doesn't know God.
Our children are truly God's gift to us and our gift to a lost and dying world. Don't grow weary or lose heart in this tremendous opportunity you have of raising up a new generation of Daniels to bring God's power and grace to bear on the problems and needs of this world. May our children exclaim to the world by their words and their lives, "To God be the glory!"
Zan Tyler is the Homeschool Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishers and Homeschool Editor for lifeway.com (www.lifeway.com/homeschool). She and her husband Joe have three children and have been home schooling since 1984.
1 Noah Webster’s First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language. Reprinted in 1995 by the Foundation for American Christian Education. This information is actually garnered from an introductory article by Rosalie Slater entitled “Noah Webster, Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education,” page 25.
2 Ibid, page 10.
3 J.I. Packer is English, thus the spelling of the word "dishonour"