God of All Nations
The Night Babylon Fell
Good Morning Bangor Community Church! Please turn with me in your Bibles to Daniel chapter 5. As you are turning there, as you have all hopefully heard, this is my last week of online only sermons. We are opening back up, next Sunday, June 7 at our regular time of 10 Am. Finally, we get to come back together and worship the LORD together as a church family.
But in the meantime, Daniel chapter 5. The era of Nebuchadnezzar, Ol Nebby, is over. We start off here seeing his grandson, Belshazzar is in charge. And we are going to see the continuation of the main theme that we see in this book, That God is sovereign.
He controls kingdoms. He raises up rulers and he tears them down. Romans 13 tells us that all rulers in government were put there specifically and purposefully by God. Nebuchadnezzar was not unique. God has his hand in the reign of all rulers and kingdoms.
And we don’t know the eternal destination of Nebuchadnezzar. I myself am doubtful that he trusted in the God of Daniel, the one True God and his God. But he was teachable. And he did acknowledge Gods power and sovereignty. We look today at someone who was not teachable.
This chapter takes place, we know, in 539 BC. Historically we know this because 539 is the year that the Babylonian empire fell to the Meads and Persians. The city was, in all likelihood, already under siege at the point this chapter takes place, making the decisions made by Belshazzar all the more curious.
So, before we go any further, we will go ahead and read the first section of the Daniel chapter 5, verses 1-9. Ill be reading out of the English Standard Version and I do encourage you to grab your own Bible, in your preferred translation and follow along as we read Gods Holy Word.
Daniel chapter 5:1-9, Daniel records:
King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
2 Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father[a] had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5 Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. 6 Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. 7 The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared[b] to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.
May God Bless the Reading of his Word.
The first thing we see, in the midst of the Persian siege against the last stronghold of the Babylonian empire, is that Belshazzar throws a massive feast, a great party. WE see in him shades of the rich young ruler in Luke chapter 12. Nothing else matters to him expect his riches, his persona, what others think of him. Belshazzar is going to be the perfect epitome of when Jesus warns us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
And he does sell his soul, while blinding himself to the reality around him. His city was falling. His empire was crumbling, and he was eating, drinking and being merry. And that was not enough for him either.
In verse 2, Belshazzar decided to take his rebellion against the Most High God up another notch. He called for the golden vessels that were taken, by Nebby from the temple in Jerusalem and he called for them to be brought to him as drinking vessels.
They were symbols of the Jewish religion and they were symbols of God himself. And anyone that thinks that Belshazzar didn’t know what he was doing, Paul tells us in Romans 1, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
This act by Belshazzar, using these vessels as regular china, getting drunk out of them, and toasting and praising a variety of false gods, this was the ultimate act of sacrilege, of disrespect and of blasphemy. This is the kind of thing that you would expect God to act against. This is the kind of thing that you want to step a few steps away from him because you just know God is going to smite him with a lightning bolt any second know.
And God does act. In a way we might not have expected. In a way that is so uniquely Him. A human hand appears and writes on the wall in front of everyone. Belshazzar has failed the test. He has, as we will see coming up, weighed in the balance and found wanting. As Iain DuGuid points out, the Babylonian gods failed here too.
Belshazzar praised his gods of wood and stone and gold and silver, ascribing to them glory and honor, yet his gods couldn’t keep the LORD’s messenger from disturbing the peace of his feast. Nor could they keep him safe from the Medes and the Persians. It may have seemed to the Babylonians that when they defeated Judah and destroyed the temple, they were thereby triumphing over Israel’s god as well. However, as the book of Daniel unfolded, it became clear that the reality was that Israel’s God could effectively defend the honor of his sacred vessels and the lives of his faithful servants, while Babylon’s gods were impotent.
Belshazzar did not know what the words said that were written on the wall, but he knew that his gods did not do it. He knew that they were judgment against him. We see how scared he became. His color and his face changed. Some of the original language seems to imply that he lost control of his bodily functions. He was shaking. Because he knew that it was a judgment against him, he needed to know the exact meaning of what was written.
And this was as close as he came to channeling Nebuchadnezzar. We something happens and scares you, who you gonna call? Chaldeans! Wisemen! Enchanters! Astrologers! Ghostbusters! Oh, wait…
Anyway, they came quickly, and they were, once again, offered high status and riches, possibly even becoming the third in line for the throne, to the one who could interpret these words for the Belshazzar.
Now, this part is completely just my imagination, but this is how I picture this playing out. Between the fact that the city was under siege and the fact that Belshazzar was not being as brutal and was not as respected as Belshazzar, the wisemen may not have taken him too seriously. I picture responding something like, “Sorry, don’t know, can’t help.” Maybe sounding bored with the whole situation. That’s probably not how it happened, but that’s how it played out in my imagination.
However, they responded, it reinforced his fear, as we see again, his color changing, he was shaking and showing all signs of being afraid. What is he going to do now?
We will continue with verses 10-16:
The queen,[c] because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.[d] In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. 14 I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods[e] is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. 16 But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
So, right when Belshazzar is at his wits end and doesn’t know what to do, the Queen comes in. Now, we know that this is not Belshazzar’s wife. WE saw in verses 2 & 3 that the wives and concubines were there at the feast as well. This would have been the Queen Mother, a woman of High power, high standing and with authority in the kingdom. I speculate that this was likely either Belshazzar’s mom, or his grandmother, who would have been Nebuchadnezzar’s wife.
She is quick to compare and contrast Belshazzar with Nebuchadnezzar and not in a positive light on Belshazzar either. She quickly reminds him of what he would have already known. See, there’s this guy, named Daniel… or Belteshazzar if you prefer, and he is the spirits of the holy gods. He kind of has a history with interpreting messages from the Most High God. Why Don’t you give him a call…?
We see that Daniels reputation preceded him. He would have been in his 70s or 80s at this point. He epitomized what Paul would later put down as one of the requirements for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:7, where” he must be thought well of by outsiders.” We are going to see that Daniel not only has a good reputation going into this, but he is going to live up to it as well. That should be a challenge to each of us. Do outsiders and those that are around us think well of us? And do they have good reason to? Do we live up to that view they have to us?
Belshazzar brought Daniel in and kind of gave a combination of flattery and skepticism when he welcomed him. Or maybe it was skepticism trying to masquerade as flattery. I’ve heard this about you…If you prove it, I will give you riches, power and status. He offered Daniel the same rewards he offered to the wisemen before him.
Daniel responds and interprets the writing on the wall in our last section, verses 17-31:
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. 22 And you his son,[f] Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
24 “Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. 25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered[g] the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 Tekel, you have been weighed[h] in the balances and found wanting; 28 Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”[i]
29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 [j] And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
Maybe I’m reading onto this, but it seems that Daniel has no use for Belshazzar. He says, keep your gifts and keep your rewards. I don’t want them. But I will interpret what’s going on here.
Now, Daniel has accepted the rewards that Nebby, for example, has offered to him. And yet, he dismissed what Belshazzar is offering. We have lots of theories, but no for sure answers.
Was the difference the person offering.
Was the difference the scenario? That Daniel knew Babylon was falling?
Was it to show that the gifts of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit cannot be bought? We see this with Simon the magician in Acts chapter 8 as well.
I suspect that the first is the biggest factor here. There doesn’t seem to be much honor within Belshazzar and there doesn’t seem to be much respect for him from the people around him. This is a big difference between how people treated and respected Nebuchadnezzar and how they did with Belshazzar.
As we have seen in the last number of chapters, Nebuchadnezzar was not a perfect man. Not even close. He had to learn lessons the hard way. He had to learn the hard way who God was. He had to learn the hard way about Gods sovereignty, his power. He had to learn the hard way that God was the Most High God. He was humbled severely as we saw last chapter, and this was a man a King who had, from man’s perspective, a lot to be proud of.
Daniel says, You, Belshazzar, on the other hand, you already should have known. You already should have remembered the lessons that Ol Nebby had to learn the hard way. You have not humbled yourself and there is nothing for you to be proud of. And tonight, tonight was the last straw.
The words written on the wall are Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. Literally, numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.
Mene; God has decided to bring your kingdom to an end. God has numbered the days of every kingdom that raises up in this world both in the past and in the future. God has numbered the days of the Babylonian kingdom and those numbered days are over.
Tekel; You have been weighed in the balance and you have been found wanting. You don’t measure up. All those things that you thought would balance the cosmic scales, they don’t add up to a hill of beans in Gods eyes.
Belshazzar and so many of us, we trust in ourselves. We have an elevated sense of self worth and pride. We think that we are good enough to rebel against and thumb our nose at the Most High and holy God and to get away with it. We think that Gods holiness demands nothing of us. That we can live it up today, that we can do whatever we want, that we can do our own thing, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, that we can do it all ourselves.
We think if we do enough good, be nice to enough people, live moral enough lives, protest against bad things, follow the rules of society, give to enough charities, that we can outweigh the sin in our lives on those cosmic scales. And there is no truth to any of that. It is a lie that sends people to hell.
Parsin; Your kingdom is divided. It is now out of your hands. It is being given to the Meads and Persians. God decides who is in control and he decides who takes over and who gains power and who loses power. God decided that it is time for the Medo Persian empire to rise and tonight is that night.
Well, none of that, obviously was what Belshazzar wanted to hear. But he knew, he could tell Daniel was telling him the truth. He gave the rewards that he promised to Daniel, whether he wanted them or not.
That very night Belshazzar died at the hands of the Meads and Persians. Babylon fell. Gods words were proven true. Darius the Mead, whom we will look at next chapter takes over.
Now, If Belshazzar had praised and trusted in the True God instead of his Babylonian gods, he likely would not have died that night. Now, don’t get me wrong, God does not play the Quid Pro Quo game. He does not give because he got. We don’t earn anything. We do not work enough to earn anything. But God does take care of and have mercy on those who believe in him, who trust him and him alone and who offer their full praise up to him and him alone.
God showed mercy to Nebuchadnezzar. He gave no mercy to Belshazzar. And his reason is simply because he said so. OF course, there’s more to it than that, but there doesn’t need to be more than that. God knows what he is doing and why and he is in control of all of it.
God shows the ultimate mercy on those who trust in him and his Son Jesus Christ. Many stories in the Old Testament point towards Jesus with the people we see. Daniel is of course one of them. Moses, Joseph, David, so many more have attributes that are partials of the ones that Jesus has in perfection. But we also see Jesus clearly in the opposites of some of the people we see, including Belshazzar.
Iain Duguid lays out Belshazzar as an anti-type of Jesus. Writing:
In contrast to the Kingdom of Belshazzar, which is weighed in the balance and found insubstantial and wanting to be divided among the enemies, there is the kingdom which God has established in Jesus Christ. Ironically, Jesus had none of the outward glitz and glitter for which the world clamors so loudly. He had virtually no possessions and relatively few followers. He had no outward beauty or majesty to commend him, appearing on earth as a humble carpenter, not as a mighty emperor. Jesus never had the resources to throw a star-studded party for a thousand of his closest friends, though he did brighten up a banquet that he attended by turning water into rich wine. His kingdom is not of this world.
Yet when Jesus life was weighed in gods balance, it was found to be perfect and complete, able to satisfy fully the demands of Gods holiness, not just for himself but for all those who come to God through him. His great banquet awaits us in the future, at the end of time; on that day, in place of Belshazzar’s nobles, there will be thousands of Christs saints in attendance upon him- all those who have washed their robes and made them clean in the blood of the Lamb. At that banquet there will be no place for our pride or for toasting our achievements: rather, every single person who is there will confess freely that they have been saved by God’s grace and purified by God’s mercy. On that day, there will be no unseemly interruptions of the banquet: God’s rule will be established forever and ever. His kingdom will not be divided and given to his enemies: on the contrary, it is formed of a people who are made one in Christ.
Powerful and encouraging words of the reality to come. IF you don’t know Jesus Christ, if you have not repented of your sins and believed the Gospel, if you are trusting in your goodness instead of Christs perfect righteousness, now is the time to turn to him and to move from eternal death to eternal life. Salvation belongs to the LORD and today is the day of salvation.
If you do know Christ, if you are washed by His blood, if you have submitted your life to His Word, His commands and His will, if you have been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, then rejoice, that banquet that Duguid mentioned is waiting for us, as one in Christ, as one family in Christ, co heirs of the eternal kingdom of heaven where God will be praised and worship for all of perfect eternity.