People the world over tend to have highly inflated and self-delusory opinions of themselves and go to great length to defend and conserve that opinion. While this is true of the average person in the street, it is even truer of people who hold high office or have hereditary privileged positions, like royalty. Our contemplation today deals with such a person, King Belshazzar of Babylon, and his momentous fall from power when God weighed him in the balances and found him wanting.
As we proceed it might be useful for us to keep in mind certain things, like:
Although this incident occurred almost three thousand years ago, it still has important things to teach us.
King Belshazzar's esteemed position and privileges, undoubtedly envied by many, did him no good in the end.
God holds everyone to account, but he does not account for everyone the same way.
With these things in mind let us look at this topic under the following headings:
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Belshazzar's aimless kingship
Belshazzar ascended the throne in 550 BC whilst his father was away fighting foreign wars
During his troubled kingship he offered Daniel the number three rank in the kingdom "and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5: 16c) This was because Belshazzar was second in command as co-regent with his father.
He was given to much revelry and excessive boozing, "King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them." (Daniel 5: 2a)
Belshazzar was profane and brought to the banquet vessels stolen from the temple, (Daniel 5:2b)
Belshazzar's blasphemous lifestyle
Belshazzar was a pagan and lavished praise on gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, " They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone." (Daniel 5: 4)
He was disrespectful of God and consecrated things, "Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them." (Daniel 5: 3)
Belshazzar was totally committed to idolatry just like his pagan ancestors.
Babylonian gods were many including Bel, Marduk, Nebo and Apsu.
Belshazzar's callous indifference
He should have known of Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation, " O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: And he was driven from the sons of men" (Daniel 5: 18-21)
He should have known of Jehovah God for Babylonians were famous for their meticulous recording of history.
Just like today, many are indifferent to and disrespectful of the gospel message and will eventually have to face the consequences.
THE REVELATION OF POWER
We see supernatural writing on the wall
From nowhere an awesome human hand appeared, "In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand" (Daniel 5: 5a) This was extremely spooky even for this devil-worshipping king.
The hand wrote clearly on the plaster of the wall near a lamp stand so that it would be clearly seen, "and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace." (Daniel 5: 5b)
The king saw everything up close and personal "The king watched the hand as it wrote." (Daniel 5: 5c)
There was no escaping this hand for God meant to teach this idolatrous crowd a lesson.
We observe supreme terror overwhelm the king
The haughty Belshazzar, pompously deriding God and flaunting his pride and power, now whimpering with dread, " Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another." (Daniel 5: 6)
Let this be a reminder to all those who despise God and deny him his due that their time will come sooner or later for nothing goes unnoticed by Almighty God.
Just as Belshazzar's knees turned to water so too sinners will not stand in the day of judgment, " Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment" (Psalm 1:5a)
We note that submissive failures were consulted
Belshazzar's knee-jerk response is to summons his minions for assistance, but carnal minds cannot interpret spiritual things and his minions were baffled, " The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayersand said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied." (Daniel 5: 7-9)
Nebuchadnezzar made a similar mistake about sixty years earlier when he faced a vexing problem (Daniel 2: 1-12)
Many today when in crisis or perilous situations often seek advice from the wrong people rather than seek God's guidance so we know exactly how this plays out.
Remember Rehoboam, King Solomon's son, and whom he went to for advice and the disastrous, kingdom-ending outcome (1Kings 14: 8-20)
THE RAFT OF PUNISHMENT
Let us consider the details of the charges
The hand wrote four words on the wall and terrified the king but what was the message written? The words were MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
Mene God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end (Daniel 5: 26b)
Tekel You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting (Daniel 5: 27)
Peres (Upharsin) Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5: 2a) Notice that the kingdom was given to the Medes and Persians for God is always in control.
Then let us examine the death of the pagan king
Belshazzar went to bed as normal that night.
For him it was business as usual, defying a troubled conscience.
During the night, in his own bed, he was viciously slain (Daniel 5: 2a)
Belshazzar took no heed but the penalty for his wretchedness was exacted just the same.
The Bible warns us about this very thing, "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." (Proverbs 29:1)
Finally we saw the despoiling of Babylon
During a clever military strategy, Darius the Mede diverted the Euphrates river, which flowed under the palace walls, and walked through the dry river bed into the palace.
What a terrible legacy for any leader for not only was the palace taken but the entire Babylonian Empire was overthrown and replaced by the Medes and Persians, "And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old." (Daniel 5: 31)
Belshazzar's father, Nabodonius, (co-regent with Belshazzar) on hearing of the fate of his kingdom took refuge and asylum in Arabia.
This drama that played out in the palace in Babylon is a stark reminder that God is no respecter of persons and that he can call "time" on anyone according to his will. Many leaders, bloated with pride and puffed up with self-importance need to remember this. We see the surety of God's justice, whether executed now or in the hereafter, and can contrast this with man's justice where money and power ensure preferential treatment. May God help all those not committed to him to see themselves as God sees them and not delude themselves into thinking that they are all right.
We also need to note that:
Wrongdoing has consequences for everyone, rich and poor alike but God is merciful and anyone can find pardon and compassion in Jesus Christ.
God's warnings must be taken seriously, not only in dreams and visions but also in the preached word of God and godly counsel.
We should learn lessons from this pagan king who lived as he pleased, was highly popular with his friends and courtiers but in the end was weighed in God's balances and found wanting.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013