Pastor Mike Schumann
I was previously scheduled to preach this chapter of Daniel on Sunday, March 15th. The temperature that day was expected to have a low of 19 degrees, and a high of 40 degrees. That was 92 days ago. It is now June 14th, 70 degrees, and we are outside because we have to be. Much has changed, in our world, in our city, in our hearts. Three major things have not changed:
The setting for Daniel begins with God’s covenant people, the Jews, dwelling in their homeland of Judah. It stays that way, in Judah, for a half of a verse. For, as Daniel 1:1 reads, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem (in Judah) and besieged it.” Besieged it…reduced it to rubble. Even the Temple itself, God’s house of glory, had been demolished. And God’s people were sent eastward into exile in Babylon.
And note the details, which clarify for us just how such a devastating event was made possible. Daniel 1:2, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.”
The Lord gave. Neither the Babylonians, nor the Jews, were in the driver’s seat on the day Judah, and its capitol Jerusalem, was destroyed. The Lord gave — He was the one driving this whole event — from the king of Judah down to the vessels of the Temple, God was driving the destruction of Judah, and the exile of his people. And he was doing so, for a set allotment of time.
As Jeremiah 28:14 states, “I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” (and), Jeremiah 29:10 “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
God was fully in control of this event, from the king of Judah, to the vessels of the Temple, to the exact amount of time the Jews would dwell in Babylon before God would call them back. He was, we might say, just as in control and present on this day of destruction as he was on the day of victory when he parted the Red Sea and brought the Jews out of slavery from Egypt — and ever single day, hour, minute, and second in between. God is ever in-control.
And as a church, we had been able to see that, with crystal clear clarity, during our time in the book of Daniel. If you can think back to a few months ago, you’d remember we’d gone through chapters 1-4 of Daniel. Throughout these chapters, a man named Nebuchadnezzar is king of Babylon. And throughout these four chapters, Nebuchadnezzar essentially serves as a human case study for how God gets ahold of prideful men and lays them low. And, Nebuchadnezzar serves as a human case study for how God lifts of the humbled, repentant man, and bring him back up. That’s how the storyline progresses in these first four chapters of Daniel — a man humbled by God, and then restored by God.
But that storyline now shifts, in chapter 5, with a new king in Babylon — his name is Belshazzar.
The scene here opens up, Daniel chapter 5, like a door into a large banquet hall. Belshazzar is there, at the head of the banquet table, along with his wives, concubines, and his thousand lords who were, at this time, likely seated and feasting on the richest foods and the sweetest wines that Babylon had to offer. The power and the praise which Belshazzar felt at this banquet should have been palpable, and yet, it seems, it was not enough. It seems Belshazzar wanted more. More glory. More extravagance. More renown. And so, Daniel 5, verse 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…”
We know about these vessels of gold and silver, they’re the same ones mentioned in chapter 1:2, when “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.” It’s seems like a pointless detail when we see it in chapter 1, but it circles back here in chapter 5 with large significance. It’s a detail that causes us to ask, Why, at this time, would Belshazzar have cared to bring in these particular vessels? I mean, really, Babylon is thee worldwide power at this time, with wealth, land, possessions in abundance…it’s not like they had been drinking out of Styrofoam cups. They had almost certainly already been drinking out of the finest vessels of gold or silver that the world at that time had to offer. So, why switch them out with these?
We get a hint in verse 2, where Belshazzar specifies, “Bring out “the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar, his father, had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem.”
These were no ordinary vessels. They were part of Nebuchadnezzar’s plunder. Nebuchadnezzar’s trophies. Nebuchadnezzar’s proof of the day he was supposed to have overpowered the Jewish people and their God, Yahweh. It seems Belshazzar wants people to think back to these glories of Nebuchadnezzar and connect them to his own. Belshazzar wants people to see him and Nebuchadnezzar as on the same level, in the same category. Perhaps he wants others to see him, and suppose, “He too, could conquer the Jewish people and their God.”
It’s a whole lot of effort to make such a connection, right? Especially when Nebuchadnezzar was already the guy’s own father. Except that he wasn’t. Belshazzar’s real father was a guy by the name of Nabinidas, who, interestingly enough, many historians take to be the actual king of Babylon at that time. Now if that was the case, Belshazzar, as Nabinidas’ eldest son, surely would have had some degree of authority — he would have been the “next in line” to the throne, but he wouldn’t have been king. And that’d be why, later in verse 7, he says “Whoever can interpret (this writing) for me… shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” He can’t make them the second ruler because that’s his rank. Dad’s number one, I’m number two, the best I can offer you is third place.
Why then was “king” Belshazzar calling Nebuchadnezzar his father, when in actuality, Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for some time? Well, actually, it was fairly common practice at this time to call a former leader of your people, whom you look up to and aspire to be like, as your father. For example, in Mark 11, proclaim of Jesus, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” David’s not their father, but their ancestor, whom they greatly looked up to. Same thing in John 8, when the Jews assert, “We have Abraham as our father.” Again, Abraham, like David, had been dead for many centuries, but he was their ancestor, whom they greatly looked up to and wanted to be associated with. The vessels of Nebuchadnezzar’s victory…calling Nebuchadnezzar his own father…
So, It seems, what we have here with Belshazzar is a ruler who was very insecure. It seems he had a desperately need to be looked upon as great, as royalty, as king. And all this fanfare — the banquet, the food, the wine, the vessels — it seems it’s all a sad attempt at glory. And it’s a sin — trying to put yourself on a pedestal of glory that belongs only to God.
Belshazzar, and his wives, his concubines, and the thousand others before him,
They take these vessels of gold and silver, formed for the purpose of celebrating Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. and with them, deride Yahweh, the God of the Israelites and “Praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.”
And all this, in effort, to be compared to Nebuchadnezzar…
At this point in the story,
Does that affect you?
Does it cause your heart to ache? Does it call your anger to rise? Does it produce in you an unrelenting passionate, jealous, deep in your bones desire for God to be glorified in this scene, rather than derided? Does it make you want to cry out, “God, don’t allow such mockery of your name, do not allow such taunting of your name, do not allow your name to be so profaned in this world, God, rise up, and be glorified!” I think it should. If God has given us a love for him, a love for his worth, a desire for all people everywhere in the world to open their eyes to see and enjoy his magnificent splendor, this scene should deeply move us.
It should also cause us to scratch our heads. Belshazzar, have you not read the story of Nebuchadnezzar?
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t take the land of Judah, God gave him the land of Judah.
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t earn the vessels of gold, God gave him the vessels of gold.
Nebuchadnezzar was haunted by prophetic dreams, made to look a fool before all of his advisors, and eventually kicked out of his very own kingdom and thoroughly brought low to the point of growing hair like an eagles feathers, nails like birds claws, and crawling on his hands and knees, eating grass like an ox.
Nebuchadnezzar was royally wrecked by Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.
Sin, so deceives mankind that it turns us into absolute fools. And Belshazzar, though he knew all this, as verse 22 tells us, was a man deeply deceived by his sin. His sin made him a fool.
Verses 5-6, “Immediately 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. Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.”
Yahweh, in response to what’s taking place, writes on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel, parsin", and Belshazzar turns as white as a ghost.
He essentially passes out in fear, for he’s been exposed. Despite his attempt at glory with his evening banquet, it is God who steals the show. Both Belshazzar, and his gods, are undone. He calls in his enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers — those who represent these so-called gods — they can’t interpret what was written on the walls. According to verse 8, they can’t even read the writing — their so-called gods give them nothing... And to add insult to injury, his mom has to come in and help.
That’s right, his mom. Verse 10 says “The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet hall.” That’s not Belshazzar’s wife. Remember, all his wives, and concubines, were already at the banquet. See the queen, like all queens, is married to the king — and remember, Belshazzar isn’t it. Belshazzar’s dad is the king, making this queen, who rushes in to save the day, his mom. She consoles him, “Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change.” There is a man in your kingdom who can help you, his name is Daniel.”
Sin is deceptive. And Belshazzar was a man deeply deceived by his sin. His sin made him a fool, a now he’s a humiliated fool. And before Daniel steps into this picture, let’s make something really clear: Belshazzar was a sinner, as foolish as he was evil…and we are Belshazzar. We are, in our sinful nature, Belshazzar. Every single one of us here has a heart which longs to see ourselves at the head of the banquet table of glory. We long to see our name in lights, our picture on walls, our story as thee story which the world most needed to hear. We want to stand on the pedestal which only God, and God alone, is worthy to stand upon. We are, in our sinful nature, Belshazzar.
And what does Daniel, in his interpretation of the writing, say of King Belshazzar,
MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end
TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting
PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
And, sure enough, as verse 30 notes, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.”
Belshazzar was a sinner, and in his sin, he was deceived, to the point where he could not see just how guilty he stood before God. He couldn’t see it. He could not see that he was dancing on hell’s doorstep while Satan counted down the few heartbeats remaining until he would be his. He could not see that his time was up. And we house his same sin in our hearts.
But, here’s where we’re gloriously different than Belshazzar. Yes, we still possess the same sinful heart, but we are, by God’s grace, so gloriously made new. We do not, today, have a prophet saying we’ve been weighed in the balance and found wanting. We have a King, thee king, king Jesus, saying, my sacrificial death has cleansed you, my righteousness has made you holy, and if you die tonight, then tonight you will be with me in paradise.
You are so gloriously different than Belshazzar — if, if you’ve seen your sin, seen your desperate need for forgiveness, seen Jesus’ perfect offer of himself as our substitute upon the cross, and by the Spirit said “Yes, oh God, yes, cleanse me of my sin and I shall be whiter than snow.” If you’ve bowed the knee to king Jesus, trusted in his life, death, and resurrection for the full forgiveness of your sin, then death is not your destiny — but life eternal.
For those of us who have had this miracle of faith in Jesus take place in our hearts, God has rescued us from the domain of darkness and has welcomed us into the kingdom of light, but we, still, have an inner-Belshazzar. We are holy in our standing before God, but we are till sprone to sin in daily lives. We are, still, prone to wander…don’t we feel it?
So, for those of us who have been washed, cleaned, forgiven by king Jesus, I exhort us to not think lightly of our present sin. For, it is those tendencies, those thoughts, those inclinations toward sin that if given into, slowly trace our way back to the banquet at which our name is praised, and God’s name is derided, and the writing on the wall has our name next to it. Do not look back at that blasphemous banquet. Look forward, the Great Banquet which lies ahead, the great marriage supper of God, and his bride, the church.
For those who are still in their sin, I pray that if anyone within earshot is still in their sin, that you’d fall on your knees before King Jesus and ask for the gift of forgiveness he so willingly gives, how gloriously different you could be, from Belshazzar, for, you have a savior who stands ever ready to cleanse your scarlet sin and make you white as snow!