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Belshazzar's feast and Samson and the Philistines. Party poopers from the Bible.
If you are a character in the Bible, be wary of throwing a party
Everybody enjoys a party but not every party goes by without a hitch. So many things can go wrong, from the Christmas Turkey that somebody forgot to defrost, to the soufflé which insists on collapsing on the very evening that one's in-laws are being entertained for the first time. I remember a party when the nervous host shook a bottle of brown sauce, with a loose lid, thus showering the trifle and the veil and wimple of a staid elderly Reverend Mother who was sitting opposite. The Bible provides us with many instances of celebrations which did not go according to the plans of the people having them. In this article I would like to tell you about two of them, which by any standard, went disastrously wrong.
When God gate-crashed Belshazzers feast
Belshazzar's feast. The last thing you need is God gate-crashing your party
According to the book of Daniel, Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon. History tells us that he was the son of Nabonidus and possibly the maternal grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon had been invaded by the Persians under Darius and the invaders were surrounding the great city. Belshazzar, instead of leading the defence of the city, decided to have a great party in honour of the ancient idols of Babylon. He thought it would be a fun idea to take the gold and silver cups, which the Babylonians had previously looted from the temple in Jerusalem, in order to drink toasts to the pagan deities. This insult to God was not the brightest idea he could have come up with. In the midst of all the carousing, a disembodied hand appeared writing the following words on the wall of the great Hall,
Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
Nobody knew what it meant but it certainly was a very scary moment. The King offered to make whoever could translate the words into the third person of his kingdom. All the Babylonian priests and soothsayers had a go, but to no avail. Eventually the Queen suggested that Daniel be called. Daniel of course, being a prophet of God, had only to take one glance at the mysterious graffiti in order to provide an accurate translation.
“God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it;
You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting;
Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians."
On that very same night the Persians, who had gained access to the city by diverting the River Euphrates into a swamp and then entering under the watergates, killed Belshazzar and captured his kingdom. This is definitely not the way I would like to have one of my parties finish.
Samson. His party piece brought the house down
How Saint-Saens pictured the Philistine party.
Samson and the Philistines. The disrespected guest who brought the house down
Samson is remembered as one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. He is said to have slain many Philistines, who were the enemies of Israel at the time. His superhuman strength is said to have come from a vow which had been taken on his behalf by his father when he was just a baby. He was enjoying quite a reputation as the biblical equivalent of the Incredible Hulk until he unfortunately met and fell in love with the rather sneaky Philistine beauty Delilah. Let this be a warning to you all. Do not reveal important secrets to anyone unless you are certain you can trust them. After a night of passion our bold hero revealed to Delilah that his strength derived from never cutting his hair. He had barely fallen asleep when she was reaching for the clippers. His superhuman vitality drained away when his lustrous locks fell to the floor. Of course he got captured by the Philistines then and they blinded him. He was put to work grinding corn at a mill in Gaza.
One day the Philistine leaders gathered in their temple for a great religious sacrifice/celebration, to honour their God Dagon for having delivered Samson into their hands. The temple was crowded with people, including hundreds on the roof and in the balconies. Samson was to be brought there as a show and the Philistines all turned up to laugh and jeer at their humiliated enemy. This was about a year or so after he had been captured and his hair had grown back. It might be more greasy than lustrous, but it certainly was long again. Let this be another short lesson for you. If you ever cut somebody's hair in order to destroy their vitality, make certain that you keep it short, because if you let it grow again you may find yourself in deep “doo doo”. That is exactly the mistake that the Philistines made.
When Samson was led to the temple, he asked the servant who was guiding him, to let him rest against the two large pillars that were supporting the roof. If that servant survived what was to come, I hope he got sacked. To allow a humiliated enemy, who had prodigious strength, anywhere near a supporting pillar was the height of foolishness, especially when the said pillar was keeping up a building which was crowded with the captives deadly enemies.
To cut a long story short, Samson prayed to God to grant him the power to be avenged on his enemies. Then he grasped the pillars and pushed them apart. The entire temple collapsed in a confusion of crashing balconies and screaming Philistines. Samson was killed as well, (not so much a suicide bomber, as a suicide demolitionist).
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How the party poopers from the Bible can teach us a lesson today
There are many who may doubt the historicity of these stories or wonder what the point is in telling them at all. While I cannot vouch for the absolute accuracy of my tales, or indeed the veracity of the originals in the Old Testament, I do feel still that there is a lesson to be learned from them for everybody. If you are a religious person, it is that God can only be pushed so far. Belshazzar believed that he could disrespect his creator with no consequences. He felt that, as the great King of Babylon, he was the immovable “King of the Hill”. He wasn't and God showed him that unpalatable fact when He put the writing on the wall.
The lesson we can learn from Samson is more universal. It has to do with being magnanimous in victory and treating even defeated enemies with dignity. A humiliated enemy is a dangerous one. The best example I can give of this in our age, is the rise of Nazi Germany. Hitler would not have come to power if the victorious Allies had not been so vindictively oppressive to Germany in 1918. The Philistines could have enjoyed their party in peace and safety if they had not decided to add insult to injury by jeering at their blinded captive. We need to learn to treat people with respect and love, rather than hatred and degradation if we want to live good and happy lives.
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