INTRODUCTION: We are focusing in these Bible notes on the sober judgment of God against Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon. Daniel makes clear in his condemnation of this blasphemous king that it was his willful refusal to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s God, Jehovah, that sealed the doom of his reign. But not only did he refuse to convert to the God of Israel, as his grandfather had done, he even actively blasphemed the Lord in his desperate appeal to his own gods. Let’s look at what was involved in this act of false worship – as it is symbolic of so much unbelief and false worship in this world.
Mon/Tues: read Daniel 5:1-4 and 5:30-31. James Jordan identifies one plausible reason why Belshazzar engages in the rowdy worship of his gods in Daniel 5:3-4, using the plundered vessels from the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem as unholy ‘props’ to give his false worship gravitas. It was a last ditch appeal for help from his ‘gods’ – as his enemy Darius was clamoring at the gate of Babylon, (and would take the king’s life that very night – Daniel 5:30-31)! Jordan writes in his commentary on Daniel, entitled, The Handwriting On The Wall, (pg. 290), that: “Belshazzar brought out all his gods and engaged in a religiously ceremonial meal in their presence, hoping that at least one of them would hear.” His father Nabonidus’ recent loss on the battlefield to Darius meant that the capture of Babylon was only a matter of time. So, driven by that fear, he desperately appeals to his idols for help!
Reflect: With how much greater confidence and assurance does the prayer of the believer ascend to Heaven than the vain prayers of this idolater! We are reassured that the Lord will hear us. We don’t resort to a riotous explosion of fervent prayer, thinking that “we will be heard because of our many words”! We have the quiet assurance of John 16:25-27:
“The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Pray: “Father in Heaven, you know the longings of our hearts and hear the sighing of our burdened groans of prayer. Even before a word is on our lips, you know it altogether. Thank you that you know all things, and you know that the reason why we are driven to prayer just now is that we love you, and we long to see your will and holy purpose triumph in the lives of your people. We promise that we will not be like Belshazzar, who only resorted to prayer at the last moment. Oh, Lord, hear our broken hearts and cries as we early seek your face! We ask you with confidence to effectually call your people out of darkness and into the light. Thank you for the confidence you give us that you will indeed hear and answer us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
Weds/Thurs: read Daniel 5:1-4; Daniel 3:3-6 and Isaiah 44:9-20. Daniel is very specific in repeating word for word what Belshazzar did in profaning the holy vessels of the Lord by using them to call upon his gods. Daniel says in verse 23 that the king, “praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see or know…” – exactly the wording of Daniel 5:3-4: “The king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from the vessels of the Lord. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” What is the meaning of such carefully repeated words? Why couldn’t Daniel simply level the accusation that the king worshipped his “idols”, instead of going into exactly who and how many of the king’s court joined him in his idolatry, (“the kings and his lords, his wives, and his concubines”), as well as defining those idols so specifically as, “gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone”?
The first answer must be that, in repeating this litany against false gods, Daniel is underlining the folly of seeking help from such impotent idols. As Daniel says to the king in Daniel 5:23, “You have praised the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, “which do not see or hear or know…”! ,
Such holy mockery is found in other prophets too. Isaiah 40:18-26 describes the lifeless impotence of the idols which men build with their own hands. Isaiah 44:9-20 declares that the idol-worshipper, “Takes part of the piece of wood, the fool warms himself as he burns it; taking the other piece, he fashions an idol to fall down before and worship! In Psalm 2 as well, God in Heaven laughs at the rebellious who seek to stand rebelliously against Him! Thus Daniel mocks Belshazzar, even as he wrote mockingly of the cowards who bowed before Nebuchadnezzar’s image in Daniel 3… when that whole tiresome orchestra of instruments played, signaling all to bow down!
Reflect: Let us resolve as God’s people not to live in fear of the idolatry of the world – even when it is propped up by the fear of violence against us! May God give us courage like Daniel, to stand against the ridiculous pursuit of idols in this world. The words of hymn # 579 are appropriate in this connection:
Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God’s command,
Honor them, the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel’s band!
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known
Friday: A second reason why Daniel so specifically lists the materials of Belshazzar’s idols is so that, (as James Jordan points out in his commentary, pg. 291), when we hear the list from Daniel, we are meant to remember the gold, silver, bronze and iron image of Daniel 2:31-35, which symbolized the Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar. Just as the earlier image toppled over, judged by God and doomed to destruction, so that not even the “dust” of Babylon would not be left intact, (Daniel 2:25), so Belshazzar’s efforts to evoke the power of those glory days, in his call to his idols to help him, would fail as well. No trace of Belshazzar’s kingship would be left.
In fact, history attests to the obliteration of this last king of Babylon under God’s judgment, by leaving precious little clues of his existence at all! Because of this, many liberal theologians call into question the authenticity of the book of Daniel, in part because they believe that the account of Belshazzar’s feast is fictional. In fact, for many years there was minimal archeological evidence for Belshazzar’s existence at all. But because of discoveries from 100 years ago, even such skeptical scholars must now begrudgingly admit that Belshazzar was indeed put in charge of Babylon by his father. See further evidence @ creation.com on Belshazzar’s historicity.
Reflect: Man’s efforts to marshal blessings from heaven on their lives of unbelief are always doomed to failure. Let us give thanks that God continually dashes to the ground all the idols which man seeks to set up in place of the one true God. Let us ask God at the same time to give us compassion for those lost in darkness, who hug their contemporary idols, in fear of coming judgment. Sing about such compassion for the lost in hymn # 452:
The vision of a dying world
Is vast before our eyes;
We feel the heartbeat of its need,
We hear its feeble cries:
Lord Jesus Christ, revive Thy Church
In this, her crucial hour!
Lord Jesus Christ, awake Thy Church
With Spirit-given power.
The savage hugs his god of stone
And fears descent of night;
The city dweller cringes lone
Amid the garish light:
Lord Jesus Christ, arouse Thy Church
To see their mute distress!
Lord Jesus Christ, equip Thy Church
With love and tenderness.
Today, as understanding’s bounds
Are stretched on every hand,
Oh, clothe Thy Word in bright, new sounds,
And speed it o’er the land;
Lord Jesus Christ, empower us
To preach by every means!
Lord Jesus Christ, embolden us
In near and distant scenes.
The warning bell of judgment tolls,
Above us looms the cross;
Around are ever-dying souls—
How great, how great the loss!
O Lord, constrain and move Thy Church
The glad news to impart!
And Lord, as Thou dost stir Thy Church,
Begin within my heart.
Sat/Sun: read Daniel 5:1-4; 5:22-31. The message on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace was in the form of a riddle, which Daniel rightly interprets in Daniel 5:24-28 as basically meaning that Belshazzar had been, “weighed in the balance” and found wanting. That very night, his kingdom was taken from him.
What a shockingly different ending for this godless king than for his equally godless forebearer, Nebuchadnezzar! Though Nebuchadnezzar was known for atleast an equal level of wickedness, and perhaps was even more violent and wicked than his grandson…, (After all, an argument could be made that what Belshazzar does in his toasts to his gods is actually a sober religious act… of a very religious monarch who scholars tell us actually sought to restore religion in Babylon, as he sought to rehabilitate the worship of the national god, ‘Marduk’, which his father had dismissed!), God in His sovereign mercy sought Nebuchadnezzar again and again… humbling him on his face numerous times, and finally claiming that wicked founder of Babylon’s greatness for Himself – as the hymn of praise from that monarch’s lips in Daniel 4:35-37 proves!
How did God eventually triumph in Nebuchadnezzar’s life by His effectually drawing that king away from his wicked life and into a place of praise of God’s glory and grace? Well, God did it as He always does… by planting a seed of faith, or new spiritual life, in the heart of that benighted king… a seed which finally grows into conviction of sin, and into a hunger for communion with the living God! John Owen writes about how the faith which God plants, (even unnoticed in the heart of His child), cannot help but draw the rebellious sinner eventually to embrace God as He is offered in the Gospel (vol 9, pg. 243-45):
“Evangelical faith, being purchased by Christ, and worked in us by His Spirit, and being the product and travail of the soul of Christ, has a natural tendency (to return) to Christ. (See) 1 Peter 1:21: ‘Who by Christ do believe in God.’ … When many a poor soul is about to slit the throat of all his consolations, he hears a voice behind him, that makes him look and see Christ provided for him, as a sacrifice in his place (Genesis 22:12-14).”