Summary: Belshazzar is "weighed in the balance and found wanting," while Daniel is strong in his faith in God. Our substance is found in the kingdom of God, as described in the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount.
BEING A PERSON OF SUBSTANCE—Daniel 5
***A few years ago, a best-selling book was titled, “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.” It gave advice from experts in a variety of fields, all telling “How to”: How to…fend off a shark, deliver a baby in a taxicab, jump from a moving car, survive if a parachute fails…etc. It even told how to perform an emergency tracheotomy with a sharp knife and a ballpoint pen.
One of the scenarios was what to do if confronted by an angry mountain lion. What do you think you should do? (Raise your hand and vote): 1) Run, 2) Play dead, 3) Hold your coat open like a cape, 4) Sing a happy, gentle song.
The correct answer, according to the expert, is to hold your coat open, thereby appearing larger and more imposing to the lion.**
That is how some people cope with life.
They project an image that is larger than life.
They aim to be “The Big Dog” (“too big to mess with”—“too cool to challenge”—“too big to fail”)
They try to impress people as the smartest, most confident or most powerful person in a room
They become masters of manipulation and control.
That might work—if the lion is small enough. But eventually, situations arise where appearances aren’t enough: an overwhelming tragedy, a strong and perceptive person, or plans that don’t work out. Crises pile up, defenses crumble, and the truth comes out. What then?
We sometimes talk about seeing “the writing on the wall”—seeing that things are going to turn out badly. The phrase comes from our text today, and it does mean that—but at the center of the writing on the wall is another phrase, in Daniel 5:27, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.”
You got to the checkout counter, and realized that you didn’t have your money or debit card.
You built an impressive castle on the beach, but when the tide came in, it washed away.
You look back over your life, and it seems like a mist, with no substance.
The writing on the wall says, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.”
But we’re getting ahead of the story: It is 539 B.C. Daniel, once a young Jewish intern in the Babylonian court, has advanced to a high position by interpreting the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar. Now he is an old man in his 70’s, semi-retired.
The king of Babylon is Nebuchadnezzar’s son Nabonidus, who prefers to spend his time at an oasis in Arabia. His son Belshazzar is in charge, and Belshazzar is way beyond his depth.
An invading Persian army has surrounded the city, which is protected by earthen and stone walls, 30 feet high and wide enough to drive a chariot on top. The walls are far enough out to have half a mile of farmland inside them, and the Euphrates River supplies water to the inhabitants.
The Medo-Persian army is advancing on the city walls, and it is time for the ACTING king to ACT like a king. Belshazzar wants to give the appearance of royal grandeur, and build up the morale of the leadership…so he throws a huge party—a banquet for a thousand nobles!
Read Daniel 5:1-4.
The theme of the party is mentioned 5 times in these 4 verses: It is drinking and more drinking. As someone has pointed out, “No one is as brave as the one who has had a few too many.”
To emphasize the splendor of the royal court and his power as acting king, Belshazzar brings in the goblets taken from Solomon’s magnificent temple by his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. The king and his nobles, his wives and concubines drink from them. (It is repeated twice, so we don’t miss it!) If that were not bad enough, they profane the holy temple goblets by toasting the idolatrous gods of Babylon.
This is profanity. Profanity is not just having a potty-mouth; it is taking something holy and misusing it. Temple items were holy—set apart for special use—and Belshazzar and his guests were treating them like nothing special at all.
The ultimate profanity is for a Christian to take what is holy and abuse it by unholy actions.
Hebrews 10:26-29 lays it on the line: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth…How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Belshazzar’s profanity is more understandable, because he does not know the true God. He is a desperate, drunken man, covering up weakness in extravagance, and projecting an image of boldness and strength.