Passage: Daniel 5
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Key Goals: (Know) Understand our need to learn. (Feel) Desire to grow. (Do) Study the Word and God’s people.
Introduction: Arrogance, blasphemy and idolatry—those were the three dominant sins of Nebuchadnezzar. In his idolatry, he worshipped a stone image called Marduk. He blasphemed the God of the Bible by plundering the temple and taking all its treasures and putting them in Marduk’s temple. We saw his arrogance last week in Daniel 4 when he walked through his kingdom saying, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” But despite his sinfulness, he listened when God broke into his life, and he repented, humbling himself, worshiping and extoling the God of heaven. God blessed him with a long life and a great kingdom.
The first four chapters of the book of Daniel are a beautiful picture of God’s grace! YHWH God graciously revealed himself to an arrogant, idolatrous, unbelieving Nebuchadnezzar. The king listened and God’s grace broke through Nebuchadnezzar’s hard heart and he humbled himself, turned his heart toward the true king of the universe, and worshipped him. What a beautiful picture of transformation. But not everyone listens like Nebuchadnezzar. This morning, we are going to walk through Daniel 5, and if there is one word to describe this chapter it would be: beware. God will not shield people who willfully choose to sin from the consequences of their actions.
Background: Let me bring you up to speed with where we are. Just like chapter four, chapter five jumps several decades. Nebuchadnezzar was no longer the king of Babylon. Belshazzar was ruling as the son and coregent of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. A number of archeological artifacts have been found that mention him by name—enough, in fact, that we know the events of this chapter took place in October 539 BC. Darius the Mede, king of the Medes and Persians, had laid siege to Babylon. The city was surrounded and had been for two years. But the city was impenetrable. Chapter five begins with the king of Babylon mocking his enemy’s two-year siege by holding a party.
1 King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. 2 Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them… 4 They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Why would they do this? This was a battle strategy. We need to remember how ancient people thought. If two people with two different gods fought, the winner was always the one with the greater god. So, to rally his gods to victory over Persia, Belshazzar worshipped them with the spoils from past victories. The Nabonitus Cylinder tells us that by this time, all the idols from all the cities surrounding Babylon had been brought to the capital to protect them. The king was mocking YHWH to gain favor with not just Marduk, but all the idols from the surrounding area. While this was going on, 5Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. 6 Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.
God has a limit to how far he will allow people to go in their sin. The scary aspect of that truth is that we never know where that limit is. God is longsuffering and merciful, and may allow people to continue in sin for a long time. But God’s word is strikingly clear: a person will reap the harvest of whatever they sow. Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
There is time for grace and mercy if our God is loving, but there must also be times for judgment if our God is good, righteous, holy, and just. The king and his Babylonian dinner guests crossed a line that night in the banquet hall of Babylon. Judgment day had come, and the writing on the wall announced its arrival. Just like the dreams of chapters 2 & 4, none of the wise men or astrologers could understand the meaning of the words until the queen came in.
10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
This is important to catch here. Daniel and the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion to the God of the Bible was well-known information in the court of Belshazzar. The queen’s gracious words reveal that the events of Daniel 1-4 had not been forgotten. But when Daniel is brought before the king, he is belittled. Belshazzar is probably still drunk and he is most certainly showing off for his crowd of idol worshippers.13 …The king… said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah.” “That Daniel?” Daniel had loyally and with great renown served the kings of Babylon for 70 years. “That Daniel?” Belshazzar is mocking him.
14 “I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. 16 But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Daniel responds by telling the king he can keep his gifts. Then he does something really interesting. He proceeds to tell Belshazzar the story of his father’s conversion—how God had revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar and how he brought him low and softened his hard heart, and especially how he was restored and blessed when he worshipped the Most High God. Verse 22 is where it gets serious. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this… Belshazzar knew the whole story. Three times God had intervened in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, leaving him convinced that the God of the Bible was the Most High God. Belshazzar knew all of it! But he refused to follow Nebuchadnezzar’s example and humble himself.
23… you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
I like the way the NLT translates that last sentence. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny!
So, what did God write on the wall? 25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. Daniel interprets the meaning of the words in the following verse. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28 Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
There is a lot of word play that happens in this sentence. I won’t bore you with all of it, but the words literally mean: numbered, numbered, weighed, divided. I will point out one significant piece. The word for divided, parsin, had the same spelling as the word “Persian,” as in the Persian empire that would defeat the Babylonians. So, the kingdom was being divided or split away from the king and given to the Persians. Our story ends abruptly in verse 30…That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
Great story, but what are the lessons? Remember when I said the theme of this chapter was “beware”? We should walk away with two incredibly important lessons from Daniel 5.
1. Pay attention to how God is working in the people around you. Belshazzar’s kingdom and life ended tragically because he did not learn the lessons that God taught Nebuchadnezzar. He knew them. He heard all about the “holy God” and how he had revealed himself and humbled Nebuchadnezzar. Though he “knew all of it,” he did not change.
Let me speak for a moment to everyone 40 and under. God has given you family, friends, and a church with many people who have walked the path of wisdom ahead of you. Watch and learn from them. Learn from their mistakes and make better choices. Learn from their successes and follow their example. If I am honest, much of how I structure my life is either a reaction against or a copying of things I have seen. I work hard every week preparing a message, typing it out, even giving you my notes, and it is a reaction to having sat through many sermons where I knew the pastor had not prepared. But, I also pray over my message. I get up very early every Sunday and pray for you, the church, and I do it because of men of God who have shown me the power of prayer. Hebrews 13:7 Remember… those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
God has given us a gift in the church. We are a body of believers meant to grow together. Discipleship is encouraging and shaping each other, and teaching one another the lessons we have learned. Being discipled is far less complicated than you might think—it is paying attention to how God is working in the people around you.
2. Draw wisdom from the lives of people recorded in Scripture. Belshazzar is not the only person meant to learn from the stories in Daniel. The reason this book exists is so that you and I can learn the same lessons. Jesus told an interesting story in Luke 16. Two men died—a rich man who went to hell and a poor man, Lazarus, who went to heaven. In the story, Jesus says as the rich man was suffering in hell, he pleaded with heaven to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers to repent lest they end up in hell as well. The rich man is told “No.” Listen to why. Luke 16:29–31 “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” The rich man begs, “If someone would go to them from the dead, then they would repent.” The answer is still “No,” and we are told why. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Don’t go looking for some special sign or knowledge from God; he is not sending it. He has given us everything we need to know for life and godliness in his word. Study it. Join an Equipping U class, do a deep dive and let the Word of God do what it does best: transform your life. Belshazzar let his pride blind him from seeing the critical areas of his life he needed to change. Learn from Belshazzar.
© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.
 Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Da 5:1.
 Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible unless otherwise noted.