Summary: Belshazzar’s drunken feasting turned into sacrilege resulting in God’s judgement and Daniel courageously delivered God’s verdict to the doomed king.
DANIEL 5 - BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST
This chapter deals with Belshazzar’s feast and makes a striking contrast with the previous chapter which described Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion. Both kings heard the Word of God - and for them it was a final word - but what a difference in their response. The author deliberately placed the two accounts together to make a vital point, with Daniel consistently representing the Word of the Lord in good times and in bad. First, we should consider:
THE REJECTION OF THE PROPHET
The story of Belshazzar, his vision, his judgement and his bad end, has been placed next to the corresponding story of Nebuchadnezzar, his dream, his judgement and his good end. The purpose of this arrangement is to bring home to us that some are accepted by God, while others, in very much the same circumstances, are rejected. It tells us in a vivid way that the Word of God which gives life to one can also bring death to another. The New Testament tells us the same: the apostle Paul quoted from Isaiah, "I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame" (Rom 9:33). That "stumbling stone" to one is the saviour of the other, the Lord Jesus, God’s final Word to mankind.
Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were two rulers of a great empire. Nebuchadnezzar ended as a humble follower of Jehovah, but his successor was quite the opposite. We are told that Nebuchadnezzar ended his reign practicing righteousness and showing mercy to the oppressed and he encouraged the leaders of his empire to do the same. Sadly, after his death the vision was lost. It is said that a fish starts rotting in the head, and that the same happens to countries and communities. If the leadership changes for the worse it has a trickle down effect, and the rot spreads.
Daniel had played a very prominent part in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, but it seems he had been sidelined. When the new regime took power the values that Daniel cherished were found to be old-fashioned, out of place, and as the court let things slide Daniel was put on the shelf. He must have been deeply hurt and puzzled. After the promising reformation in the last years of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel must have expected that the work God had begun in the previous generation would continue, but it was not to be. It is certainly a lesson not to take anything for granted. The revivals of history show that their power is often spent in the next generation.
I wonder what Daniel made of this disappointing situation? We must remember that it is only God who can bring about lasting change. It depends if the vision received from God remains fresh and vibrant, and if the people involved continue to be faithful to their calling. Our trust must be in the leading of the Holy Spirit, not resting on past achievement or on the other hand seeking change for its own sake.
When we think of the great men and women of the Bible and those who have served God in more recent times it’s quite clear that they had times when their message was rejected; when it seemed they were "out of season" with the people around them and it seemed that they were wasting their time. But whatever was the visible result they continued to work with the same urgency and zeal, remaining true to God’s Word to them. Daniel learned such waiting and the time came when he was really wanted and listened to once more - what a good thing he did not lose heart and give up! God was still in charge of the situation, whatever the ungodly might do. And so we turn to:
THE SACRILEGE OF THE TEMPLE VESSELS
Belshazzar had arranged a great feast for a thousand of his courtiers. They were going to have a terrific party! How sad it is that a celebration can quickly turn into a degeneration; when a night out turns into a blackout! It all happens because God and his values are rejected. Every Monday my local newspaper carries stories of people who have been out for what they call "a good time" but it often ends in tears.
The story tells us that this assembly of the great and the good of Babylon turned an evening of pleasure into a scene of reckless abandon, of folly and blasphemy. We read, "They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone" (4). All these are good fruits of the earth. How sad that the material gifts that God makes available to mankind become perverted and turned over to evil. What a commentary on the evil intrinsic in mankind. Great advances have been made in learning and technology but the heart of man hasn’t changed an iota. Basically, without the regeneration of the Spirit of God, we are but educated pagan savages!