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Chapter 4 of Daniel taught us that the repentant—those who turn from their sinfulness and turn to the Lord—the repentant reap the rewards of grace, no matter what’s in their past.
Daniel chapter 5 teaches us that the rebellious and unrepentant reap the consequences of wrath, no matter how secure their present might be.
Two equally evil kings demonstrate two equally important messages:
God’s complete pardon for the humble
God’s certain judgment for the proud
Daniel 4 made clear that God can and will, in His sovereignty, show mercy to the worst of people, rescuing even Nebuchadnezzar.
On the flip side of the coin, Daniel 5 teaches that God reveals His judgment on the unrepentant, no matter who they are.
It’s not an easy message.
Who wants to hear about judgment?
Who wants to talk about judgment?
It’s not the best part of my job, but it’s a crucial part of my job.
And it’s absolutely required of us if we’re going to be faithful to the gospel.
Bryan Chapell asks: “If sin has no consequence, if evil has no check, if justice never comes, than what good is God?
Of what benefit is His grace?”
If grace is amazing (and it is), then it must rescue us from something.
If grace is amazing (and it is), then it must rescue us from something—and that something is highlighted in this passage by three words: Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.
“Mene” means numbered out.
“Tekel” stands for weighed and found wanting.
“Parsin” (or the singular “Peres”) warns of being divided and cast down.
Though secure in the world, those who are unrepentant before God will ultimately be identified, weighed, and judged.
Mene, Tekel, Parsin.
Daniel 5 tells the story of Belshazzar, king of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar has died; the kingdom has been passed around a little; about 30 years has passed from the time of Nebuchadnezzar until now.
Belshazzar was a powerful man, mostly because of the kingdom he inherited.
Babylon had dominated the ancient world for dozens of years.
At the time of Daniel 5, sitting outside the walls of Belshazzar’s capital, a foreign army challenged the king’s dominion.
But Belshazzar paid almost no attention; he didn’t have to.
He and his kingdom were secure.
The invading army (the Persians) had been kept at bay outside the city gates for two and a half years!
Not two and a half weeks, not two and a half months, two and a half years!
Talk about absolute security.
There’s a full-fledged army outside of your city, trying to break-in, trying to make it inside, trying, trying, trying for more than 900 days without any success.
It makes sense: the walls of Babylon were as much as 350 feet high, 87 feet wide, and impossibly strong; food was grown within the city walls; the river Euphrates flowed right through the middle of the city, supplying all the water they’d need for people, livestock, crops.
Babylon couldn’t be touched, couldn’t be starved into submission.
Belshazzar was secure.
So secure in fact, so confident he was of his safety, that just to add insult to injury to the army who had been trying to invade for over 2 years, Belshazzar throws a party!
“You don’t worry us even a little!
You go ahead and keep trying; we’re going to have a party.
Good luck on your attempted seige.”
“Have fun storming the castle!
You think it’ll work!?!
It would take a miracle.”
It’s one thing to thumb your nose at an enemy army; it’s one thing to mock the invaders at your gate, but it’s another thing altogether to mock God.
This is exactly what Belshazzar does—silly, silly, Belshazzar.
The wine at Belshazzar’s party is not the problem.
The supposed drunkenness is a problem, but it’s not the problem.
The problem with the banquet, the problem with the party is not the party itself, but where it led.
The problem is Belshazzar’s attitude toward God.
Belshazzar believed “that this God, whose gold and silver goblets he was abusing and whose name he was insulting, had now in Babylon, no reality or power.
Belshazzar had counted out the Most High.” - Dale Ralph Davis
This is the stuff of Romans 1. King Belshazzar and his nobles, his wives, concubines, and all his friends are committing an all-to-common and the all-serious sin: idolatry.
This is Belshazzar thumbing his nose at God in the worst way.
Belshazzar and his friends are worshipping, but notice what they’re worshipping: the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
This is absurd!
There’s a theological word for this: whackadoodle.
This is the dumbest sort behavior.
Instead of worshipping the Living God, the God Most High, the God who saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, Belshazzar is worshipping man-made statues of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone?!?! You’ve got to be kidding me!
Exchanging the glory of the Immortal God for images made to look like men and birds and animals and reptiles.
Those gods—the gods of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone—they’re no more worthy of praise than your knee replacement.
We think: how silly, how pointless it is, Belshazzar, his 1,000 nobles, and his harem worshipping the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
And yet, if we take a close look at our lives, we worship paper (though we call it money), we worship wood and stone (though we call it a house), we worship cloth (though we know it as the American flag), we worship metal and glass and plastic (smartphones, tablets, computers), we worship people and position and status.
How insulting to the One who deserves our undivided worship!
—>It’s no wonder what happens next.
Belshazzar has taken the temple objects of the One and Only God, the One who hates idolatry, and uses them as props in his pagan party.
If Belshazzar was drunk on his wine, the Most High God granted him almost instant sobriety:
Ha! Talk about freaky!
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall!
Only God could do something like that!
What an awesome display of power.
A disembodied hand, just a hand, floating there in midair writing something on the wall.
That would get your attention, I’m guessing.
The same hand, the same fingers that inscribed the covenant law on the two stone tablets at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 31:18) here writes something much more sinister.
The hand writing on the wall terrified Belshazzar, and rightly so.
His face turned pale and was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
Some people think this language means Belshazzar lost control of his bodily functions; that, at the sight of this, he wet his pants.
There’s a little bit of humor in this, to be sure.
But this much is clear: no matter how secure Belshazzar was in his little world, before the Most High God, everything is laid bare:
Belshazzar does just Nebuchadnezzar had done before him; at a moment of sheer terror, at a moment he couldn’t understand, Belshazzar calls his wise men to interpret this ominous sign:
Stuck without any among him to tell the king what the writing meant, there was someone who remembered Daniel and what he could do (or better yet, what Daniel’s God could do); there was one—the queen mother—who remembered that Daniel had (v.
12) a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems.
The queen mother commends Daniel to the king, so Daniel was brought before Belshazzar, and was asked to read the writing and reveal what it means.
In exchange for this service, the king told Daniel that he would be (v.
16) clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and would be made the third highest ruler in Babylon.
Daniel tells the king to keep his reward (v.
17), and to listen to the meaning of the writing.
But before Daniel gets to the point, he gives king Belshazzar a history lesson and a theology lesson:
Daniel gives Belshazzar a lesson in theology—the study of the One True God.
Daniel tells Belshazzar some things he needs to know about the Most High .
Notice the word Daniel uses in verses 18-19:
v. 18 - the Most High gave Nebuchadnezzar kingship and greatness and glory and majesty
v. 19 - because of the greatness He gave him
This is one of those very significant points: everything that Nebuchadnezzar had, and everything Belshazzar has by way of power and influence and position, were given by God.
It’s a reminder that God is sovereign over the affairs of men and even kings.
It’s God who holds Belshazzar’s life in His hand.
This is true for Nebuchadnezzar.
This is true for Belshazzar.
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