Today we continue in the Daniel saga. It seems like these first five chapters have been a crescendo of sorts. In chapters 2, 3, and 4 all end up with Nebuchadnezzar worshipping God, or admitting to God’s supremacy, although it does seem to take more and more to bring Nebuchadnezzar to this place of submission. Last week, he was absolutely brought down to rock-bottom; he lost everything, including even his mind, if you remember.
But for all four of these chapters, it has been the Babylonian empire who has been in power. And today’s chapter is different, except that it ENDS with the demise of the Babylonian empire. In fact, instead of titling this sermon “Babylon,” I wanted to title it “BABYGONE.” But, written out that just looks like “baby-gone,” and that just sounds weird. But, today we see the end of the Babylonian empire.
So, as Stephen Buller, our student director, comes up to read Daniel 5 for us, do whatever you can to best engage with what’s happening. If that means reading along with us, great. If that’s closing your eyes and imagining it, that’s fine too. And also, have in mind: Belshazzar is the new king of Babylon. Verse 1 is abruptly introducing a new king of Babylon. So Nebuchadnezzar is gone, and don’t mix up Belshazzar, the king, with Belteshazzar, which is the Babylonian name for Daniel. Ok. Stephen, take it away.
Stephen Buller: Daniel chapter 5
Thank you, Stephen. Obviously there has been a very quick turn of events here, with Nebuchadnezzar suddenly being out of the picture! So to catch us up, we know from historical records that Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C., and after another death, an assassination, and a coup, Belshazzar is now king! And, as we just read, he will be the last king of the Babylonian empire.
So, just to organize our time and organize chapter 5, we have 4 acts (Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, and Act 4), and in those acts we will see 5 lessons. We’ll focus most of our time on the last two, since those are the most unique lessons from Chapter 5. The first three overlap in some ways with what we’ve already seen in Daniel. So Act #1:
Act 1 (v. 1-4): King Belshazzar parties without a care in the world.
Right off the bat we see the king holding this grand feast for 1,000 people, just drinking and being merry. We don’t know exactly what the feast was for, but as far as I can tell, it seems like it was just a feast for the sake of a feast!
And during this feast, he had the gold and silver goblets, is what they were, the ones that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. These gold and silver drinking glasses had been dedicated to Yahweh, used in His temple, and King Belshazzar is bringing them out and treating them as if they have no significance at all! The problem here is not that God is sensitive about people using his stuff, like some of your old college roommates, perhaps. That’s not it. The problem was that God Himself was being disrespected.
Belshazzar knew from where these vessels of gold and silver had been taken; he specifically asked for them, so that he and his drunk friends might use them for their party. As we’ll saw later in verse 23, this was Belshazzar “lifting himself up against the Lord of heaven. You have dishonored the very God that provides your breath!” The king is just partying without a care in the world. To say the very least, the first lesson we see here:
Lesson 1: Sin is irrational.
Belshazzar is mocking God, implicitly stating that this supposed “God” has no power in Babylon. I’m the only power in Babylon. Irrational, to say the least. Not only is the king being irrational here, by standing up in defiance of the God, but some implication here that this party was going on while the Persian army was camped outside the city! Most scholars think that’s a very reasonable assumption because of how quickly Belshezzar and the kingdom fell! Verses 30-31: “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom.”
It’s incredibly unlikely that King Belshazzar was unaware of this massive army that was camped right outside their walls. He knew about it, and yet, he was so sure of their invincible city and his invincible power, that he just partied on as if he had no care in the world! This is irrational!
To be frank, if you or I are living as if we don’t have a care in the world, we have likely been blinded by sin! We may not have the power and the wealth of the King of Babylon, but we very well can be so caught up in our personal comfort as Westerners, so caught up in our accomplishments and our images, that we have no idea what is truly at stake! Listen: Jesus did not die for the American dream. He died for our sin, as our Substitute, taking the very wrath of God on our behalf! He died and rose again, defeating death and sin!
We are now new creations with the most urgent message from God Himself, and we’ve been sent to tell all of this urgent message. Repent and believe in Jesus alone for salvation! This is urgent! Not only that, but we still live in fleshly bodies that struggle with sin! As new creations, we’re to battle this sin with the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. To say the VERY least, living as if we have no care in the world, living lives apathetic to our great calling in this life, is irrational, and does not fit our new identities in Christ.
For King Belshazzar, even NOT being an adopted child of God Almighty, God was not going to allow this blatant disregard and disrespect. Act #2:
Act 2 (v. 5-16): God sends a human hand to get the king’s attention.
This is obviously the most bizarre part of chapter 5. A human hand appears, just the hand, ok? And this hand writes a message on the plaster of a wall on the king’s palace, in a lighted area, by a lampstand. The king sees this and verse 6 says his “color changed, his thoughts alarmed him, his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.” Does everyone get the picture here? The king is terrified! He’s kind-of freaking out! Anybody else maybe empathize with the king? Would you be terrified if a human hand and only a hand showed up to write a message on a wall?
I’ve never been much of a fan of haunted houses or scary movies and the like, and this seems like something straight out of a horror film, right?! God does this to get the king’s attention, to immediately sober him up, and I think it does the trick. The king, without hesitation, calls all the astrologers and enchanters, supposed “wise men,” and immediately offers them incredible power if they could interpret the message that this hand had left on the wall.
The problem? None of them are able to interpret the message. Sound familiar? Of course it does! This is the third time that these Chaldeans were asked to interpret something, but were not able to do so. And so all over again, perhaps even moreso now, Belshazzar is terrified! Verse 9: “Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.” To say the very LEAST, God got the king’s attention, which brings us to our 2nd lesson from chapter 5:
Lesson 2: God may bring you to the end of yourself to bring you to Himself.
Belshazzar is paralyzed with fear. Literally petrified. So, ironically, what do people often turn to in the midst of this kind of fear and uncertainty? Oftentimes they do turn to religion! And that’s actually what the king did here. He turned to his Babylonian “faith” and called in the astrologers and the Chaldeans. And what did God do? He showed Belshazzar the uselessness of this so-called “faith.” He brought the king even further toward the end of himself. He was losing reliable sources of truth and meaning, so that when the queen mother (who is most likely the person referred to here when it says the “queen”), when the queen mother came to him reminding him of Daniel, an Israelite man in his kingdom, who was a master interpreter, he had no other choice but to bring Daniel in.
God uses this hopelessness for King Belshazzar as an opportunity to reveal Himself. Listen: feeling hopeless or helpless in and of yourself is not always a bad thing. In fact, God himself may bring you to the end of yourself to bring you to Himself. I love this quote from Dale Davis: “Whenever God brings a man to the end of himself, smashing all his props and wasting his idols, it is a favorable moment indeed. If he will but see it.” He goes on to say, “This is sometimes God’s pattern—to aggravate our helplessness by exposing the uselessness of our favorite props, even our favorite religious props.”
Listen, when you feel completely overwhelmed by whatever it is—finances, family, children, grown children, whatever stresses may come—the Bible has a very clear message for us, and it is NOT “From those most lowly of places God can and will make you thrive!” No! God gives us a very different picture: “From those most lowly and helpless places God will bring you to Himself.” It’s bigger than you having a life that is thriving. It’s you being drawn to the author of life itself. God used these circumstances with the King to reveal Himself. Daniel is brought in. Act #3:
Act 3 (v. 17-28): Daniel gives God’s message to the king.
Belshazzar brings Daniel in and offers the same power and gifts to Daniel if he can interpret the dream. And Daniel responds first with, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. But, sure, I will read the writing to the king and interpret it for him.” And if you can’t tell from that response, Daniel does not have the respect for these kings as others do. It’s not that he doesn’t respect them at all, perhaps, but he absolutely refuses to treat them like gods, as we’ve seen pretty clearly throughout Daniel so far.
But then Daniel goes through some history, reminding the king of how God treated his father Nebuchadnezzar. By the way, it’s not actually his direct father (“father” in Hebrew is the same word for “ancestor”), but nonetheless he gives him a history of how God dealt with Nebuchadnezzar. He gave that king great power and clout among all peoples, until he refused to humble himself, and that’s when God brought him down off his throne and he lost all his glory. And then Daniel turns to address Belshazzar directly, vs. 22: “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.” The 3rd lesson from Daniel 5:
Lesson 3: Putting yourself up against God is always futile.
We don’t have to spend much time on this, because we’ve seen it over and over in Daniel. There is not point to going to battle with God! And this is exactly what King Belshazzar did by taking out these vessels and goblets that they had taken from Jerusalem and openly defying the God of the Jews. He put himself up against God, and as we already know from reading the end of this chapter, this would bring his end. But, there’s one other lesson I want us to see here from verse 22. And the lesson is this:
Lesson 4: Knowledge is not enough. God desires your heart.
Again, from verse 22: “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all of this.” Belshazzar knew of how the Almighty had humbled King Nebuchadnezzar before him. He knew God had brought this king to the end of himself, and had taken everything from him to get his attention, and yet Belshazzar did not humble his heart.
You know, as a church, we often encourage you to grow in your knowledge of who God is. In fact, that’s kind-of a distinctive at Raintree. It seems like most churches will talk negatively about knowledge and even theology, when that makes no sense whatsoever, because we worship God by knowing him better. Just as you love your husband or wife more the more you get to know them, it’s like that with God but with even great proportions, because God has no faults! We always want to encourage you to dig deep into God’s self-revelation, the Bible. We always want to encourage you to grow in your discernment, because there are so many movements and people in the Christian world masquerading as God’s people who are spreading lies and adjusted forms of the Gospel. Hear me, please: we need to be able to discern truth from error according to God’s Word. We need to be growing in our knowledge of God’s Word.
But, we must never forget that God wants our heart also. Our desires, our delight. He wants it. I’ve been studying for two pretty involved papers for school over the last month or two, studying specifically the book of Revelation. I think this point that God desires our heart, as well as our minds, is well-reflected in Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2.
Jesus himself is having John write these seven brief letters to the seven particular churches in Asia Minor. And this is what he writes to this church at Ephesus:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
He starts off with quite the praise here for the church at Ephesus! “You persevere! You’re a disciplined church! You don’t just let brothers and sisters continue in sin! You test those who claim to be of God! In other words, you show discernment! You’ve persevered and have endured for my name.” This is great! There’s no sarcasm here. Jesus is truly happy with this church for these reasons. But he does go on to address his concerns. Verse 4:
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
We are a church that I believe is doing things that many churches are not doing, and are missing things. We’re trying to show discernment and to unashamedly teach and preach the Bible and the whole Bible. We’re trying to keep people from wandering off into myths and false teaching. But listen, if we ever lose our first love, we’ve missed the point! We must ask ourselves if we’ve forsaken our first love.
Do you remember the joy when the gospel first clicked in your mind and in your heart? Do you remember how delighted you were in Jesus, your Substitute and King!? He literally took my place on the cross, bearing the very wrath of God on my behalf. There is no longer a debt that I cannot pay! We all know how burdensome debt can be, just this weight on us that we cannot seem to shake. The debt for our sin that we could not pay God paid for us! Do you still DELIGHT in that? Do you still have a child-like LOVE for Jesus, and yes, even one marked by emotion?!
Knowledge is not enough. God desires our heart, and listen, that’s where peace that transcends all understanding, joy that is truly indescribable is found. When you delight in God, when you treasure Jesus above everything else. When you truly LOVE him.
Daniel, as we read earlier, goes on to interpret the writing. He interprets it to mean that God has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and that those days are coming to an end. His kingdom is divided, and is about to be given to the Medes and the Persians. And sure enough, Acts #4:
Act 4 (v. 29-30): The Kingdom of Babylon ends forever.
Surprisingly, even with the very negative interpretation that Daniel gave, the king still gave Daniel the gifts he promised, and made a proclamation that Daniel was now the third ruler in the kingdom, though I assume that probably didn’t matter all that much, because the last two verses reveal this: “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.” God did not delay this time, did he? No. Our last lesson from Daniel 5, a rather sobering one:
Lesson 5: God will level human arrogance.
This is another one of those that probably won’t go on a bumper sticker or a Christian t-shirt. And I mention bumper stickers occasionally because sometimes I think we try and live according to a bumper sticker type of Christianity, where whatever sounds nice to us and encourages us is what we believe and focus on. And other truths, that maybe we wouldn’t put on a bumper sticker, we kind of minimize or ignore altogether. Just another side note: we need all truth, and it is all truth that is actually freeing. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32. It’s also the truth that sanctifies us and makes us more like Jesus: John 17:17- “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Well, here’s a truth we may not like to hear, but we need to hear: God will level human arrogance.
God made an animal out of Nebuchadnezzar, as we saw last week. And apparently, between these two chapters God brought Nebuchadnezzar down from glorious place as the most mighty king of Babylon. For King Belshazzar, it wasn’t as long and drawn out; He simply brought Belshazzar to his end. One chapter: boom, done.
It may not be as fun of a truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless. Whether in this life or in the next, God will level human arrogance. God will humble every person before Jesus at some point or another. In this life, finding freedom and joy and God’s mercy, or in the next, finding God’s wrath—every knee will bow. Philippians 2:9-11- “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Church, we must humble our hearts. Delight in God. He loved you in such a way that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. Turn from being your own King today, and trust in Jesus as Substitute and King. If you’ve done this, and you know Jesus, check yourself. Return to your first love. Don’t forget that in the midst of good things that God desires, like obedience and discernment and truth, there is one driving factor behind all of those things: that you love God because he first loved you.