Introduction: The Bible records with sober and powerful simplicity the downfall of all kingdoms built upon evil and sin. At the right time, the counsels of the wicked are always frustrated, and their words prove to be hollow. Though they flourish like a green tree, they are cut down. We see such a swift, though long-awaited, judgment fall upon the kingdom of Babylon in Daniel 5. Though we are not to study such portions of Scripture with a vengeful spirit or personal bitterness, we ought to take comfort that God’s justice is real, and that He will not forever endure the blasphemies and profaneness of mankind.
Mon/Tues: read Daniel 5:1-12. Rev. William Harrell, in his 1994 Bible notes on Daniel, tells us that the Babylonian Empire lasted for 87 years (626-539 BC). Belshazzar, introduced in our chapter, was its last king. Here is how Pastor Harrell suggest this Belshazzar became king after the great rule of his ancestor, Nebuchadnezzar, from 605-562 BC:
Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Evil-Marduk, ruled only from 562-560 BC, when he was murdered by his brother-in-law, Neriglissar (called Nergal-sar-ezer in Jeremiah 39:3,13), who succeeded him, ruling from 560-556 BC. Neriglissar was succeeded by Labashi-Marduk, presumably his son, but possibly his brother, who ruled for less than a year, being succeeded by his brother, Nabonidus – a character that has a direct bearing on the chapter before us.
Nabonidus did not desire to rule in the king’s palace in Babylon. He had more inclination to lead warfare campaigns in central Asia than to rule in Babylon. So he made his son, Belshazzar, co-regent from 556-539 BC. (This simply means he appointed his son in Daniel 5 to rule in his stead in Babylon.) This would make Belshazzar atleast the grandson, if not great-grandson, of Nebuchadnezzar. But nothing could be starker than the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar versus the weakness of his grandson in Daniel 5! How impotent a king Belshazzar was, is indicated by the fact that, even though Daniel received two visions during this king’s reign (Daniel 7,8), the only thing recorded in Scripture about Belshazzar is his sudden end under God’s condemnation.
Meditate and Pray: How quickly the words, plans and schemes of the godless evaporate into thin air! They flourish like the green grass in the morning, which is burned up and gone by the afternoon. Ask the Lord to make you increasingly thankful for the enduring nature of God’s Word, and less and less influenced by the boasting world of rebellious man – which is here today, and gone tomorrow. Sing about the brevity of human life with the words of hymn # 30, paraphrasing Psalm 90:
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
Weds/Thurs: read Daniel 5:1-6. Though Belshazzar’s guilt, like all godless potentates of his day, would have included many sins of the flesh, and many acts of cruelty against his fellow man, it is his idolatrous reveling which brings down God’s wrath. When in his drunken state, he brazenly takes the holy articles of Israel’s Temple, (brought back by Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem when he conquered it in 587 BC), he profanes what God has called holy, and thus provokes the Most High God of Israel. It is then that the “handwriting is on the wall” appears, ensuring this king’s doom.
But you may ask, ‘How could Belshazzar’s merely using vessels from the now defunct temple of Israel, (a temple forsaken by God since Israel was banished from Jerusalem under God’s wrath, and in exile), how could these vessels’ use be a crime meriting such a harsh punishment? As Ron Wallace wrote in his book on Daniel, The Message of Daniel,
“It is striking that in Daniel’s account, the one particular sin for which Belshazzar is condemned… is his act of sacrilege. Yet we may be puzzled as to why such an apparently trivial action brought such severity of judgment… Why should God make a fuss about the use of a set of golden cups from a temple He deserted? Moreover, it could be argued that no human being was directly harmed by what was done. No cruelty was involved – no inhumanity to man. What special significance, then, had these sacred vessels, so that their abuse was regarded as so serious a sin?”
(And Wallace goes on to answer from Scripture): “Israel had learned throughout her history that God chose certain people and certain things for his own special use. Simply because of his choice, and not because of any inherent quality they possessed in themselves, these people or things were to be regarded as ‘holy’ and were called ‘holy’. For example … the temple is called the ‘holy place’, because God chose it as his dwelling place where he should meet with his people (Exodus 29:43-46; 1 Kings 8:10; 9:3). Moreover, God had … people and things – the priesthood, the vestments, the altar, the vessels used on it, the candlesticks too, which he had called to be set apart for use in his worship service … God had put his ‘name’ upon these holy things, so that when they were used in worship, and his ‘name’ was called upon in prayer and worship, he would honor and bless the holy use to which they were put.”
Meditate and Pray: It was his profaning of what God called holy which brought Belshazzar’s condemnation. In his drunken orgy, he defied the one, true God and praised his gods of gold and silver instead, (Daniel 5:4)! In his communion with the demons represented by his idols, and in using the Lord’s holy things in such a vile fellowship with devils, (see 1 Corinthians 10:20-21), this king’s doom was sealed – and the hand of judgment began writing on the wall!
Friday: read Daniel 5:5-12. God is very careful in his judgments, always citing the requisite two or three witnesses before condemning the guilty. Not only does he himself attest to Belshazzar’s guilt, (declaring on the wall in writing that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom have been numbered (‘MENE’) and the king has been weighed (‘TEKEL’) and found guilty, (Daniel 5:25-26), he also calls forth Daniel, (whose witness against Belshazzar we read of in verses 17-31), and even the Queen Mother of Babylon, (Daniel 5:10-12)!
Who was this lady? Well, significantly, she had not partaken in Belshazzar’s orgy, with his concubines, besotted courtiers and wives. She enters the scene only after all ability to boast wickedly and stand against God rebelliously, have been taken from the now panicked king. She may have been the widow of Nebuchadnezzar, (Belshazzar’s grandmother). She may have been Belshazzar’s wife. At any rate, she faithfully bears witness before Belshazzar’s court that there was a prophet and wise man in the kingdom, whose advice had been sought in years past. His name was Daniel, and in him dwelt the “spirit of God” (Daniel 5:11)!
Meditate and Pray: Let us give thanks that God has his witnesses to the truth in every corner, and in every moment of time. Just as he sent dreams to trouble Nebuchadnezzar in the night seasons, so, in the twilight of Babylon’s existence, he sends Daniel to trouble this drunken ruler Belshazzar. Oh, may the Lord send his Word in a timely way to convict the rulers of men of their sin – and he may likewise send his Spirit to convict this world of sin, righteousness and judgment! May he cause godless men to lie low before his power and rule, and may He also work in our families, to stop us in the pursuit of sin before we do eternal harm to ourselves and to our relationship with God!
Saturday: read Daniel 5:13-30. It is sobering that, in earlier days when a proud and blasphemous king Nebuchadnezzar was stopped in his tracks by Daniel’s words, that God used the prophet to give Nebuchadnezzar another season of grace and opportunity to repent. But in Belshazzar’s case, the day of grace has gone. As Professor Ron Wallace wrote, contrasting the gracious offers of God’s wisdom, which Nebuchadnezzar in the end heeded, with the sober condemnation of Belshazzar, who refused to bow before the humbling grace that had so humbled his grandfather:
“To Belshazzar Daniel preaches as one standing on the other side of a great chasm. From Nebuchadnezzar Daniel accepts rewards and honors. But before Belshazzar his first reaction is a brusque, ‘Let your gifts be for yourself, and your rewards for another’ (Dan. 5:17). To Nebuchadnezzar he appeals evangelistically for a change of heart and life (Dan 4:27). To Belshazzar he preaches a sermon without the trace of any appeal. All Daniel does is relate the facts that justify God’s condemnation that has been pronounced in the writing on the wall. Belshazzar has known the truth that might have saved him, and did not obey it (Dan. 5:22-23)!”
Meditate and Pray: How sobering. Belshazzar understood the import of Nebuchadnezzar’s years of beastly humbling, and yet refused to humble himself under the Divinely appointed lesson of those years – when the greatest king of Babylon was chastised by God (Dan 5:20-23)! Against such a hardening of his heart, God takes “that very night” the life of this reprobate monarch, as Daniel 5:30 describes. Let us pray in the light of these sober realities:
Lord, spare us and our families from the hardening of heart which refuses to learn from your grace shown in the past. With such great privileges poured out upon us after our forefathers’ mistakes, the saying is true: “To whom much is given, much will be required”. Oh, Lord, have mercy upon us, and even in the midst of your words of righteous judgment against us, please remember mercy in the midst of wrath. Though we are like the people of Nineveh in our sin, and though you send us time and again prophets like Jonah, please out of your sheer sovereign good pleasure, spare us from the end of the unprepared and the unrepentant! Amen.