MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 12, 2006 FROM DANIEL CHAPTER FIVE
Daniel 5:1-31 (ESV)
King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front
of the thousand. 2Belshazzar,
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
26This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
29Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 30That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
This week, we continue in this first half of Daniel which is dominated
by stories of the God of Israel’s sovereign reign in spite of the fact that his people were in Babylonian captivity. Today’s story follows a pattern not unlike what we have seen repeatedly
up to this point in Daniel. The pagan king is confronted with a problem
he cannot solve. He exhausts his own pagan resources that are powerless
to help him solve the problem. A representative of the God of Israel,
Daniel is called in to solve the problem and by God’s grace, he does. He
is then elevated or promoted and the God of Israel is recognized as reigning over both the affairs of men and also
the pagan gods of
One of the distinctives of chapter five, which records event about 40 years after the humbling of King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter four, is the fact that this story references an epic historical event. That is-- the fall of the great Babylonian Empire built by the now deceased King Nebuchadnezzar. That means this Biblical account provides us with God’s inspired perspective of very well attested historical events. Whenever that happens, it is always interesting because the Biblical account always includes details the secular historians do not. In many of those instances the historicity or historical accuracy of the Bible has been called into account and this story in Daniel chapter five is one of those instances. Before we get into the discussion of this story and what God intends us to learn from it, let’s first highlight the important historical element of this text.
first place the historical accuracy of chapter five has been questioned is in the very first verse.
When Ancient Near Eastern historians read the name, “King Belshazzar” they were mystified.
They knew of no such man. They knew without question and from several accounts that the last king of
That argument ended abruptly in 1854 when Ancient Near Eastern
archaeology, still in its infancy, provided the resolution to this problem.
Near an old pagan temple in the Ancient city of
A second point where the Biblical history impacts secular history
is in the actual fall of the Babylonian empire which this story records.
The Biblical account admittedly records a strange way for a massively powerful empire like
That incredible arrogance explains why a pompous king could be
throwing a huge blowout while in fact his city was under siege by the Persians.
What Belshazzar and the rest of
Although Belshazzar did not know anything about his impending doom,
God did and in his providence had orchestrated these unusual events so as to reveal a mammoth truth about which
the secular historians care nothing. That is, the downfall of
A final historical question has to do with the identity of the
man called “Darius the Mede” who, according to the final verse of this chapter “received the kingdom.” The
text says that Darius the Mede was 62 years old. From other historical
sources we know that would have been very close to the age of the Persian king Cyrus at this time who we know from
several sources conquered
I delve into that historical background not simply to provide what
was hopefully a modestly interesting footnote to this chapter. I
want us to see two things from that. First, we
should never cease to be amazed at God’s sovereign working within the framework of history.
Only a tiny percentage of those present in
Second, we should be strengthened in our confidence in the historicity of the Bible. James Montgomery Boice used to say, “If you want to look very wise in the world’s eyes and are willing to risk looking foolish years from now, you can make a reputation for yourself by pointing out “errors” in the Bible.” Or, as someone else has said, “The Bible is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.” If the past is any indication, those who are today hammering away at the Scriptures will one day find their efforts used by a sovereign God to strengthen, not destroy the case for the historicity of the Bible. Our faith in the Bible’s truthfulness should never be based on the latest archaeological find. It is however, encouraging to know that over time, so many of the alleged historical contradictions of Scripture have been proven to be non-contradictions. Now, let’s briefly overview what is now a familiar pattern as we see it in this chapter which occurs when Daniel is in his eighties.
The king throws a huge party that in many ways was not unlike any
other party thrown by a Babylonian ruler. There was however, one
fatally significant difference. At some point in the evening—probably
when most of the guests were intoxicated, verse three tells us, “Then they brought in the golden vessels that
had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his
concubines drank from them. 4They
drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” God
has repeatedly demonstrated in these first four chapters that he is the Almighty Sovereign in spite of the fact
this king chooses—despite decades of evidence to the contrary—to once again assert the supremacy of the pagan gods
is certain that this wise man from
He begins by recounting the greatness of his “father” Nebuchadnezzar. He said that his God had given him the power of life and death over people [v.18]. He then chronicled God’s humbling of Nebuchadnezzar that we saw last week in chapter four—how he functionally turned him into an animal for seven years “until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.” The climatic statement in this chapter comes in verse 22 where Daniel says, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,” Daniel says, “You knew how the God of Israel had shown himself to be the Most High God who rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he wills. You knew what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man on earth when he lifted up himself against God and his spirit became hardened. You knew who God was and what he was both willing and able to do to any king who would not acknowledge him and remain humble before him.”
Verse 23 continues, “but 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. 24"Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed.” Daniel interprets the inscription beginning in verse 26. “This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." These calamities occurred almost immediately. There is no mercy—no reprieve—no second chances. God is not instructing or chastising as he did with Nebuchadnezzar. Those days are gone—now, he is bringing his condemnation and his judgment is swift. The king lives up to his promise and proclaims Daniel to be the third ranking ruler in the kingdom, perhaps only moments before that kingdom fell to the Medes and Persians and the king himself is killed. That makes this story different from the earlier ones. There is no happy ending—only the merciless judgment of a holy God who will not be mocked in this fashion without penalty.
What application can we make to our own lives from this story? Here are three. First, God expects us to humble ourselves in light of his humbling work in the lives of others. One reason God so quickly judges the king is because, as we saw from verse 22, “And you Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this.” This man knew that while the most powerful man in the world was transformed into a beast and he knew who did it and why it happened. He knew this was a powerful, humbling work from God and yet in the face of that powerful expression of God’s character, he arrogantly and blasphemously mocks the very God who did this. It’s clear from the text that part of God’s reason for this nearly instant judgment was that the king did not learn the least bit of humility before the God of Israel in spite of this great humbling work with Nebuchadnezzar. That is not simply a special rule he applied to Belshazzar, it’s a spiritual principle the church desperately needs to learn today.
God wants to use his recent humbling work in Ted Haggard’s life and ministry redemptively in the church. It’s not by chance that God would allow one man’s humiliating fall from grace to be so widely and clearly seen and heard. There are doubtless countless lessons to be learned from this tragic fall, but one is--God wants us to humble ourselves in light of this humbling work in the life of one of his children. This is a powerful lesson, first and foremost for church leaders, but also to all of us of the deceitfulness of sin and how we must daily and vigorously war against it. His and all such other public humiliations scream at us that unless we walk very closely with God and have a supply of people around us who will speak prophetically into our lives, pointing out the chinks in our armor, we have no business leading God’s people or being in public ministry. Rather than turn up our noses in judgment on other people’s failures, God wants us to learn humility from other’s failed marriages and ministries and families. He wants to redeem their failure by using it in the lives of others. This is part of being in community in the body of Christ. One of many down sides of rugged American individualism is isolation from others and one of the costs of that is—we do not learn from the failures of others.
It’s not just Americans, however—all God’s people have been chronically guilty of having to learn for themselves
the lessons they could have learned from others. This is pride, pure
and simple. We should have learned the dangers of concentrating too
much power in one person or office from the popes of the Middle Ages whose power corrupted them in unspeakable
ways. We should have learned the lessons of much of post-Reformation
Second, God is under no obligation to be merciful. God shows no mercy here to Belshazzar and given the fact that much of the Bible is a record of his super abundantly merciful dealings with sinners, it bears repeating from this story that God and is never under any obligation to show mercy. Mercy is by definition something that is given freely by God, not because he is in any way externally compelled to show it. Romans 9:18 says, “So he has mercy on whomever he wills and he hardens whomever he wills.” At the very least that text means that it is God’s decision alone whether he would be merciful as he was to Nebuchadnezzar, or bring immediate death to the likes of Belshazzar. Don’t misunderstand. God is never capricious in his judgments, but we have no right to take his mercy for granted. The holiness of God seen in his genuine, burning hatred of sin is part of what should motivate us to walk before him in reverent fear.
Finally, God’s wrath
Paul says in Romans 1:18 begins, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Paul here speaks to the natural revelation of God’s character that people knowingly suppress. God’s wrath is poured out because they suppress the truth that God has plainly shown them and so their failure to honor God leaves them without excuse.
Do you hear in that an echo from Daniel 5:22? “…you…have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” God poured out his wrath against Belshazzar, God pours his wrath out today and God will one final time pour out his wrath against arrogant and rebellious humanity because—though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. That should compel us to ask the question—in light of all I know of God through nature and the special revelation of God in Scripture—what am I doing to honor Him? May God reveal that eternally important truth to us and by his grace enable us to honor him appropriately.
Page last modified on 11/19/2006
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