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Best Summer Ever: June 4

by Neal Windham, Spiritual Formation Pastor

“There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods…. An excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in ... Daniel.” Daniel 5:11-12 (NRSV)

A little context, please! Babylonian king Belshazzar had a big party, invited a thousand lords, used sacred cups from the Jerusalem temple to get drunk (really bad move), and quite literally, but very mysteriously, saw “the handwriting on the wall.” (In fact, this is the passage from which that famed phrase comes.) Perplexed by the writing, Belshazzar had his people try to interpret it, but they couldn’t. So, at the queen’s suggestion, he called in Daniel, a Jewish exile noted for spirit (better, Spirit) and wisdom, to interpret the puzzling words, and rashly promised that if he (Daniel) successfully interpreted the peculiar handwriting, he would be named third in power in Belshazzar’s kingdom.

With God’s help, Daniel explained that the words formed an indictment against the drunken king, who during this party “praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (another really bad move). And that very night, Belshazzar, who true to his word clothed Daniel in purple, placed a gold chain around his neck, and proclaimed him third in the kingdom, dropped dead. He was succeeded by Darius, the Mede, and Babylon, the great tormenter of Judah, fell to the Persians.

So why tell this story? To demonstrate that God’s Spirit inspires wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. So often, people associate the Holy Spirit solely with acts of great power, but Daniel makes it very clear that the Spirit of God also informs, clarifies, and makes people wise. In fact, where today some misread the work of God’s Spirit as quite bizarre, this text says the exact opposite. Wisdom, understanding, enlightenment, ability - these are all attributes of the Holy Spirit, right alongside his acts of miraculous power.

Questions for Further Reflection
Have you ever associated the Holy Spirit with really practical things like problem-solving? The Book of Daniel does. It’s great to know that we’re not discovering the answers to all of life’s most vexing challenges on our own, isn’t it? This is what it means to be “Spirit-led,” in fact. Are you?

Lord, we desperately need the Spirit of Daniel today. Please help us, as you did Daniel, to be the kind of people whose understanding, ability, and wisdom cannot possibly be explained apart from the work of your Spirit. We’ve just got to quit measuring ourselves by ourselves, God. In Jesus’ name, and by your Spirit. Amen.