Daniel: Belshazzar’s Last Chance

Handwriting-on-the-Wall-Large

Daniel 5

 

Belshazzar the king invited a thousand of his officers to a great feast where the wine flowed freely.  (Daniel 5:1  TLB)

It was the party to end all parties!  And these big parties weren’t all that unusual.  In Babylon, Assyria, and Persia, these massive banquets served a very important political purpose in that they showed the glory of the king.  Belshazzar, a controversial figure in history, was a would-be successor (actually the second line after Nabonidus, the husband of one of Nebuchadnezzar’s daughters) to Nebchadnezzar, so we know that the events described in this chapter took place long after the events of the previous chapters.  The book of Daniel was never written to be a book of history, so frequently decades may come between chapters as Daniel simply lifts, from Babylonian history, a page here and a page there to show how God dealt with the leaders of this Empire.

While Belshazzar was drinking, he was reminded of the gold and silver cups taken long before from the Temple in Jerusalem during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and brought to Babylon. Belshazzar ordered that these sacred cups be brought in to the feast, and when they arrived, he and his princes, wives, and concubines drank toasts from them to their idols made of gold and silver, brass and iron, wood and stone.  (Daniel 5:2—4  TLB)

Obviously, Belshazzar had absolutely no respect for God.  In contrast, at least Nebuchadnezzar had enough respect for the God of Israel to place the Temple articles in a safe place.  But young Belshazzar had no respect; he was full of pride and arrogance, and he apparently knew better:

So Daniel was rushed in to see the king. The king asked him, “Are you the Daniel brought from Israel as a captive by King Nebuchadnezzar?  I have heard that you have the spirit of the gods within you and that you are filled with enlightenment and wisdom.   (Daniel 5:13, 14  TLB)

So Belshazzar was in a bad spot.  He knew the truth, at least in part, yet he barged ahead anyway, doing what he knew was wrong.  Using those sacred vessels was just plain wrong and it was that expression of pride and arrogance and blasphemy that caused his downfall.  In the exact same hour of this ultimate expression of hubris, judgment came and sheer terror pierced his heart.  Belshazzar will forever stand as a solemn warning to those who willingly sin against the light.

1.  His opportunity

And you, his successor, O Belshazzar—you knew all this, yet you have not been humble.  (Daniel 5:22  TLB)

What did Belshazzar already know?  He knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and what brought it on, yet he did not profit from that knowledge.  He was a proud and profane man, determined to live as he pleased without paying heed to the past.  He knew all about his great-grandfather’s humbling experience, yet went right on making the exact same sinful mistakes Nebuchadnezzar did, only worse.  This was Belshazzar’s “golden opportunity” to get it right; to avoid the pitfalls of ruination.  But he didn’t take it.

How many believers today are just as bad as Belshazzar?  Many of us sin out of ignorance—we are literally “overcome” by sin before we know it.  Such is the sinful condition.  But how many are guilty of sinning against the truth?  Those that do so live in the darkness of sinful pleasure knowingly instead of in the light of God’s glorious salvation.  They know the truth, but choose the lie.  For believers that live like Belshazzar, it’s only a matter of time before those unintended consequences catch up with them.  Sin always carries consequences in this world and judgment in the next.  It’s not too late, though, to make it right.

2.  His guilt

For you have defied the Lord of Heaven and brought here these cups from his Temple; and you and your officers and wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, brass, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not praised the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny!  (Daniel 5:23  TLB)

This is a curious verse.  After all he had done, and remembering Belshazzar was a pagan, we wonder how Daniel could expect him to “praise the God who gives…the breath of life and controls…destiny.”  In spite of Belshazzar’s sinful state and depraved nature, he was still created in the image of God and that image, as marred as it may have been, was indelibly stamped on his soul.  Even though he was a complete pagan, this fact alone demanded that Belshazzar acknowledge God in his life.  However, as is plain, he willfully turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the spiritual lessons of Nebuchadnezzar’s seven year bout of insanity.

In fact, as if to show how defiant he could be, Belshazzar went way, way beyond his great-grandfather’s pride and arrogance.  He committed sacrilege of the highest order and therefore, his doom was sealed.

Young Belshazzar had a chance but failed to take it.

3.  His failure

you have been weighed in God’s balances and have failed the test.  (Daniel 5:27  TLB)

It was God who did the weighing, and this weighing process may have taken years.

Jehovah is kind and merciful, slow to get angry, full of love.  He is good to everyone, and his compassion is intertwined with everything he does.  (Psalm 145:8, 9  TLB)

This idea of being weighed and found wanting would have been familiar to Belshazzar.  The Egyptian Book of Dead said that human beings were weighed in balances after death to determine whether their sins outweighed their good deeds.  But the Bible doesn’t teach anything like that.

But now God has shown us a different way to heaven—not by “being good enough” and trying to keep his laws, but by a new way (though not new, really, for the Scriptures told about it long ago). Now God says he will accept and acquit us—declare us “not guilty”—if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, by coming to Christ, no matter who we are or what we have been like.   Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal…  (Romans 3:21—23  TLB)

Salvation is NEVER determined by our actions, good or bad.  However, men will be weighed by God to determine degrees of reward or punishment.

Quit acting so proud and arrogant!  The Lord knows what you have done, And he will judge your deeds.  (1 Samuel 2:3  TLB)

Character is formed through a lifetime of decisions and actions.  We know that Belshazzar’s fate was fair and just; God’s balances are always just because He alone knows the thoughts and intents of the human heart.  For his whole life, Belshazzar had been weighed by God, and he was found wanting.  He came up short in every department.  Belshazzar remained unmoved and uninfluenced by all of God’s providential dealings with him.

4.  His doom

That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed, and Darius the Mede entered the city and began reigning at the age of sixty-two.  (Daniel 5:30, 31  TLB)

In a stroke of poetic justice, at the height of this raucous party, the Medes had penetrated the outer walls of Babylon and breached the city.  Gobryas, leader of  the Median army, lead his troops into the inner city where the grand palace was located.  The Greek historian, Xenophon, records for us that Gobryas and his men had penetrated deep into the city before anybody even knew they were there.

In the night of his greatest glory, Belshazzar was slain.  He had been weighed and found wanting and his judgment came swiftly.  Lust, unbelief, and indifference can’t shield anybody from the overwhelming power of rejected truth.

Belshazzar’s fate will be shared with all those who, like him, have been weighed and found wanting.  God judges according to HIS scales, not ours, and He has a warning for us:

Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal…  (Romans 3:23  TLB)

Not one of us is able to measure up to God’s standard.  Unbelievers are not on trial today; they are already lost.  But God is making them a generous offer:  the offer of salvation.  God gave Belshazzar a chance at life, but Belshazzar rejected God’s offer and he was slain.

Darius the Mede assumed the throne; he became ruler of the kingdom of silver.  This was a big surprise for the Babylonians; their’s was to be an eternal kingdom.  But God has a plan and His plan is not dependent on what we think.  Babylon came to a sudden end.  Before the people knew was going on, they had a new king and were part of a new kingdom.  Years before all this happened, Isaiah had prophesied the fall of Babylon:

This is God’s message concerning Babylon: Disaster is roaring down upon you from the terrible desert, like a whirlwind sweeping from the Negeb.  I see an awesome vision: oh, the horror of it all! God is telling me what he is going to do. I see you plundered and destroyed. Elamites and Medes will take part in the siege. Babylon will fall, and the groaning of all the nations she enslaved will end. (Isaiah 21:1, 2  TLB)

God has a plan for this world and for you.  There are thunderclouds of God’s judgments gathering around all those who have been weighed and found wanting.  But they gather slowly.  When the storm breaks, though, it will be sudden and terrible and there will be no escape.

…what makes us think that we can escape if we are indifferent to this great salvation announced by the Lord Jesus himself and passed on to us by those who heard him speak?  (Hebrews 2:3  TLB)

 

 

 

 

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