Summary: In the judgment of Belshazzar we once again see that God is clearly in control. This sermon talks about his four fatal sins.
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All scripture quotations from the New Living Translation
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You’ve heard the expression "Deja vu all over again."
Well, that’s what our text in Daniel 5 reminds me of.
Doesn’t this episode seem to be a lot like the stories we’ve already read in Daniel? I don’t mean the details – obviously this isn’t the same king as before chapters – but the pattern is the same through out the first five chapters.
Chapter 3 is a little bit of an exception but in some ways it fits in, too.
The king has some kind of supernatural encounter – a revelation. He can’t understand it so he calls on his pagan advisors. They, too, are clueless. But then Daniel comes on the scene.
God gives him the interpretation. The puzzle is solved and the king praises the God of the Jews, declaring that he is the sovereign God.
Except in chapter 5 it doesn’t turn out that way. More about that in a minute.
The King in chapter 5 is named Belshazzar.
From other sources we know that Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C., succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk, a.k.a. "Evil-merodach" in 2 Kings 25. Except he wasn’t evil. That was just his name.
He is noted in 2 Kings 25 for his kindness to the Jewish King in exile.
Amel-Marduk ruled for only about 2 years. He was executed by his successor Neriglissar, who ruled for about six years.
Neriglissar was succeeded by his son, Labashi-Marduk, who reigned only a few months before he was killed in a coup d’etat.
The king who came into power at that point was Nabonidus, known as the last king of the Babylonians.
However, near the end of his reign, Nabonidus lived away from the capital at his country estate. His son served as a co-regent – holding down the fort in Babylon. And that son was named Belshazzar.
Now, I mention all of this, and tie my tongue up over all their names, to highlight the fact that this was
not a very stable period. Kings were coming and going -- not always peacefully.
Also, Daniel was no longer a young man at this point. The scholars who have plotted out all of the regimes suggest that Daniel was around the age of 80 at the time of the story in chapter 5.
In this story Belshazzar is throwing a party.
He had to have been aware of the fact that the Medes were closing in on the city. But he throws a party for his buddies and his wives and concubines.
He calls for the holy goblets that his forefather Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem years and years earlier.
And they begin to party, drinking wine from the sacred goblets, as they were getting loaded.
Suddenly, verse 5 says, “they saw the fingers of a human writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lamp stand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fear. Such terror gripped him that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way beneath him.”
This appears to be a euphemistic expression meaning that he wet his pants and more. He was freaken out!
The mysterious finger wrote four words on the wall.
vs. 7 – "The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him. He said to these wise men of Babylon, ’Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed in purple robes of royal honor and will wear a gold chain around his neck. He will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!’ But when all the king’s wise men came in," (SURPRISE SURPRISE SURPRISE) "none of them could read the writing or tell him what it meant. So the king grew even more alarmed, and his face turned ashen white. His nobles, too, were shaken."
The Queen Mother hears of the situation. You need to have a woman to bring some clarity to the situation. And she rushes to the scene and suggests that Belshazzar call Daniel out of retirement.
So he brings Daniel in and offers him all of the booty if only he will interpret the enigmatic writing on the wall.
Daniel says, I’m not really interested in all your stuff, King, but here’s what the writing means.
Vs. 18 – "Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were hardened with pride, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of an animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them."