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DANIEL 5:1-31
Series:  Courage - Part Five

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 21, 2006

Please turn with me to Daniel chapter 5.  We are going on with courage!

Ray Stedman shares about a meeting of homosexuals in Palo Alto that he decided to attend.  He went in and everyone sat on the floor.  Nobody knew who anybody else was.  As a group they were railing on the church and railing on Christians and their attitude toward them - with an attitude of militancy and hatred - on and on they went.

Then the speaker said,
“Does anyone have anything else they want to say?”  So Ray stood up and said, “My name is Ray and I’m a citizen of this city.  I’m one of the Christians you’ve been talking about.  I’m sorry for the treatment you’ve received from many of my brothers and sisters.  We meet down here at Peninsula Bible Church and all of you are invited, whoever would want to come.  I want all of you to know that there is one ray of hope, and it is the hope that will bring for you the relief and the life you need.”  (1)

As I’ve read that I’ve wondered at the courage it took to do that.  Would I have that kind of courage?  Would you?  

That is what we’re looking at here in Daniel.  Courage to live for Jesus - at school - at work - in our families.  What does this courage look like?  Where does it come from?  How can we have that kind of courage in our lives?

Daniel 5:1: 
Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.  When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.  Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them.  They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

Let’s pause there.

First, we need to catch up on some history
.  There’s been some major changes between chapters four and five.  Last week Nebuchadnezzar was king.  This week its Belshazzar.

By chapter five, Nebuchadnezzar has been dead 23 years.  He was succeeded by his son .  Then the son was assassinated by his brother-in-law - who died four years later.  Then his son succeeded him to the throne and was promptly murdered nine months later.  This is a really loving tight knit family.

All this intrigue leads to a revolt that took place 7 years after Nebuchadnezzar died - a revolt that put a guy by the name of Nabonidus on the throne.  Point being that Nabonidus - who is now the king - Nabonidus wasn’t related to Nebuchadnezzar.  He’s seized the throne by leading a revolt.  So in order to legitimize his right to rule - Nabonidus married Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter.  Nabonidus and Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter have a child.  That child they named Belshazzar.  Same guy here in verse 1.

According to the historical records - and all of what I’m sharing here is proven by stuff that archeologists have dug up - these are real people living in real time - apparently Nabonidus would go off and fight battles and be out conquering people - and while he did that he left Belshazzar in charge of Babylon.  So - coming back to verse one - while Nabaonidus was the king of the empire - Belshazzar was the king - at least in Babylon.  And, Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar - who in a patriarchal sense was Belshazzar’s father.  Are we kind of together on all that?  Those relationships get more important as we got through this chapter.  Hang on.

Second - we need to get a feel for what this feast was like

Gathered together in one large palatial banquet hall are a thousand nobles of Babylon - the movers and shakers - the rich and famous.  With them are all of Belshazzar’s wives and concubines.  Five times in four verses we’re told that they were drinking wine.  When Scripture repeats things it repeats them why?  So we don’t miss the point.  Point:  This was a par-tay and these people were really toasted.

In the center of all this is Belshazzar - the not really the king - king - who likes to call himself the king and tout that he’s Nebuchadnezzar’s child.  Do remember Commodus in Gladiator?  Same deal.  Belshazzar - who was raised in opulence - is probably a pompous - proud - spoiled - rich brat - who’s really messed up - and this feast is an ego-feast.  Belshazzar getting strokes by showing off for the paparazzi.

- notice that Belshazzar has the vessels of gold and silver which taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar - Belshazzar has these vessels taken out to be used as common cups for drinking wine.  Even Neb respected God enough to not do that.  But, Belshazzar - the thousand nobles - his wives and concubines - in a display of arrogance and ego - thumbs his nose at the Almighty God of creation - profaning God’s sacred vessels.

Verse 5: 
Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing.  Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together.

The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners.  The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me shall be clothed with purple and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.” 
Does this sound familiar?  We’ve seen this before.

Then all the king’s wise men came in but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king.  Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.  

Belshazzar has the distinction of being first person to see the handwriting on the wall.  This hand without a body - appears out of nowhere.  Not transporter effect.  Just - poof - suddenly its there.  The hand writes on the plaster - probably by scratching the words into the wall.  Think finger nails on a chalkboard.  With one hand God brings the ego-fest to a screeching halt.

Belshazzar’s face goes white.  It’s a circulation stopping - pacemaker resetting - moment.  His thoughts alarmed him.  He’s terrified.  His hip joints go slack.  Translated from the Aramaic - that’s a nice way of saying his bladder let go.  He peed.  Finally, his knees start knocking.  He’s getting ready to collapse.

Hold onto that image.  It’s a God moment.  Belshazzar - the king - the son of Nebuchadnezzar - who in arrogance - before everyone whose opinion he cares about - thumbs his nose at the Almighty God - is now a staggering - white faced - knees knocking - clothing soiled - drooling - drunk - watching a disembodied hand carve words in the wall of his imperial palace.  By God’s hand we see the truth of who Belshazzar really is.

Verse 10:  The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever!  Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale.  There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him.  And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners.  This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar.  Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.” 

Notice two things.

First:  The Queen
.  She comes from outside the feast.  She’s not one of Belshazzar’s wives.  Probably she’s Nabonidus’ wife - the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar - the queen mother.  Which makes sense.  How many sons throw wild parties and invite their mother.  The point is that she’s probably seen all this with her father and so comes with the advice Belshazzar needs..

Second:  Notice what she advises
.  Go get Daniel.  Daniel - who at this time is probably in his early 80’s and retired from public service.  Point being:  once again God’s man is brought in where human wisdom has failed miserably.

Verse 13: 
Then Daniel was brought before the king.  The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?  Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you.  Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message.  But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems.  Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler of the kingdom.”

Notice when Belshazzer has Daniel brought in he reminds Daniel that Daniel is one of the exiles from Judah - a captive slave - a foreigner - a not so subtle way of saying,
“I am so far above you.”  Then this phrase:  “Whom my father the king brought from Judah” -  bypassing Nabonidus - reminding everyone that he is the one legitimate rightful ruler of the empire.  Verse 14:  “I personally have heard about you…”  He cannot allow himself to be gracious and acknowledge that it was mommy who mentioned Daniel.  Soiled clothing and all he’s got this image to maintain. 

In verse 16 Belshazzar offers Daniel door prizes and the position of ruler number three.  Not number two.  He can’t offer that.  Nabonidus is number one - off fighting to defend the capital.  Belshazzar is number two.  Left at home pretending to be what he is not.  Sitting on a throne does not make one a king.  Belshazzar is a drunken hollow empty shell of a man.

Verse 17: 
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else; however I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him.”

Daniel has survived 6 kings.  He’s been there and done that.  He’s God’s man and he knows it.  Belshazzar can keep the trinkets and the kingdom.

Verse 18: 
“O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father.  Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated and whomever he wished he humbled.”

Daniel goes past the façade to the core of who Belshazaar is.  “I knew Nebuchadnezzar.  And you’re not him.  He didn’t have to pretend to have absolute sovereignty.  He had absolute sovereignty.  It was God who granted him that sovereignty.”  

Verse 20: 
But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly - are you getting this Bel? - when he behaved arrogantly - he was disposed from his royal throne and his glory was taken away from him.  He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys.  He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.  Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even thought you knew all this.”

Underline verse 22.  We’ll come back to it.

Verse 23: 
But you - knowing all this - you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven - thumbed your nose at Almighty God - and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand.  But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.  Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out.”

Verse 22 - grab on to this phrase: 
“You knew all this.”  “Belshazzar you knew better.”  There’s a choice here.

What we looked at last week - chapter four - the tree growing in Babylon - Nebuchadnezzar out standing in his field - what it took for God to finally get a hold of Nebuchadnezzar’s heart - so that Nebuchadnezzar from the core of who he was would glorify and honor the one true God.  Belshazzar knew all that and he chose to glorify himself rather than glorify God.  Unlike his grandfather, Belshazzar purposefully rejected God.  Chose to worship gods of his own creation and wealth.  Chose to value more highly what he had created by his own ability and wisdom and industry.

And so God has made a choice.  After appealing to you through the life of your grandfather - God who holds your life in His hand has sent this hand  -notice the irony of that - God sent this hand to write these words on the wall.

Verse 25: 
“Now this is the inscription that was written out:  ’MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’  This is the interpretation of the message:  ‘MENE’ - God has numbered your kingdom, and put an end to it.  ‘TEKEL’ - you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.  ‘PERES’ - your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

“MENE” is a unit of weight in gold or silver - or what would have been equivalent to 6 Babylonian shekels.  A “TEKEL” was a smaller unit of measure - or one shekel.  “UPHARSIN” was something like a half-shekel.

Its like God saying,
“Belshazzar, you want to worship your wealth.  Okay, let’s go with that.  Let’s use an illustration you can understand - like money.”

The interpretation comes from these monetary units and the double meanings they have in Hebrew and Aramaic.  MENA means “to number.”  TEKEL means “to weight.”  PERES - which is the singular form of UPHARSIN means “to divide.”  Literally:  To number.  To weigh.  To divide.

Bottom line:  God sees through the façade of your life - what you number as important - and seen to the emptiness within.  You’ve been weighed on God’s scale and found wanting.  Because you have not valued God above all else everything you count as valuable God is taking away.  Your kingdom is at an end - divided amongst your enemies.

Verse 29: 
Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.

Daniel didn’t want these things.  But, Belshazzar goes ahead and drapes him in door prizes.  Whatever has God has said hasn’t had one smidgen of an impact on Belshazzar.

Verse 30: 
That same night - probably about 3 hours later - that same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain.

While all this partying is going on inside Babylon - outside Babylon Nabonidus was being beaten by the Persian Army.  Nabonidus - defeated by Cyrus The Great - fled south leaving Babylon exposed.

Which - in the past - had actually been an effective strategy for the Babylonians.  Babylon was a fortified city with walls 65 feet thick - solid rock.  The Euphrates River flowed through the city - supplying water - and flowed around the city forming a wide moat.   It was an impregnable city.

The Babylonians - as the Persians were marching towards Babylon had stored up several years worth of provisions.  So the strategy was to seal the city - stay behind the walls - and ride out the siege.  For over 1,000 years no one had conquered Babylon.

Belshazzar’s feast - on one hand is arrogance against God.  On the other hand its sheer arrogance against the Persians - thumbing their noses against the Persians whom they knew could never enter the city.

But, in chapter two - God - through Daniel - told Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon was going to fall.  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah - about 150 years earlier - Isaiah had predicted by name that Cyrus would conquer Babylon.  (Isaiah 44:28-45:7) 

Cyrus - the Persian - after defeating Nabonidus - went upriver from Babylon and built a dam which diverted the Euphrates River into an old unused channel.  When the river level dropped - under cover of darkness - on what was probably October 12, 539 BC - Cyrus marched his troops down the riverbed - under the walls - and into Babylon - conquering the city almost without a fight.  Belshazzar is killed.

Then Cyrus - who then went off to fight other battles - turns the city over to his general Darius the Mede.  Verse 31: 
“So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.”

Two Thoughts of application
… what it means for us to see the hand writing on the wall.

First thought of application: 
The truth of what God writes.  Say that with me, “The truth of what God writes.”

Years ago in the National Observer there was cartoon showing a busy intersection - bumper to bumper traffic in all directions - horns honking - engines steaming - tempers on edge - impatience on the faces of the drivers - words were being exchanged.  There was a pedestrian standing on the corner looking across the street in disbelief at the sign.  Instead of its reading the normal “Walk” or “Don’t Walk,” it read, “Good Luck.” (1)

With God we don’t read the writing and then take our chances following His warnings.  Luck isn’t found in Scripture. 

Belshazzar had history with God.  He knew what God had done to His grandfather.  But, he chose to ignore the warning.  Chose to reject the implications for his own life.  Daniel gives this sobering interpretation of the handwriting and Belshazzar still isn’t listening.  Judgment is right outside the walls and Bel is still handing out door prizes.  Still holding on to this façade of who he’d like to be.

Belshazzar is a sorry hallow shell of a man - living a self-deceptive lie of what his life is really like.  He’s a drunk - drowning his emptiness in alcohol.  He’s got wives and concubines and peers that he’s going to - trying to find self-esteem and validation.  He’s given his soul to gods of gold and silver - wealth and possessions. 

We also fall into that trap.  Don’t we?  We cover our emptiness with alcohol and drugs and sex.  We laugh and joke about stuff - jovial outside while inside we’re dying.  Inside we harbor wounds and anger and bitterness - outside we’re wonderful Christian people.  We’re so concerned about what people think - we use one set of vocabulary for church and another set for work.  We cling onto possessions and things - packrats of prosperity - buying bigger and better junk we don’t need - covering emptiness inside.  We excuse our failures while being critical of others.

Can you relate to this?  Facades - hollow people - fearful of what lies within.  Knowing that deep within is dark and ugly and needy.   

From beginning to end - throughout this entire account - there’s no question that God is sovereign - in complete control of everything that’s going on.  That’s not luck - by coincidence God happening to get it right.  Everything is well orchestrated - planned out.  It unfolds exactly as God said it would.  From the prophecy of Isaiah to the timing of the feast on the night of the invasion.  God putting all the right people in all the right places at all the right times.  All with complete understanding of the emptiness and façade that is Belshazzar.

When God - in His word - warns us - it is not to be taken lightly.  When God appeals to us - telling us where our actions - our coverings - our pride - will take us - He is completely honest - truthful - and accurate in what He says.  What He says will happen - happens.  We need to listen to His warning. 

Second thought of application: 
The implications of what God writes.  Say that with me, “The implications of what God writes.”

One of my favorite road signs is in Mexico:  “No se juega con su vida.”  “Don’t play with your life.”  Where I’ve seen these is on rural roads where - just like around here - at night cattle will wander out onto the roads.  The temptation on those wide open roads is to floor it.  But, hit a cow at high speed and you’re history.  Be warned.  Slow down.  Don’t play with your life.

With God the warnings are boundaries - divine wisdom applied to human circumstance - the only safe way to travel the road of life.  Follow any other direction in life and we’re living alone - empty - frightened - lacking courage for the things of life.  Even as Christians - when we value anything greater than God and His guidance - turn anywhere else for what we need in life - and we are in serious trouble.  The courage we need for life does not come from our emptiness within.  Courage comes as we acknowledge God’s truth about our lives and allow Him to fill us.

Let me leave you with a question.  If the hand of God were to appear on your kitchen wall tonight and scratch into the wall a message about your life - a description of how God views your life - maybe a word of warning - what would He write about your life?

If you don’t know the answer to that question ask God to tell you.  See what he says.  Do what He says.  “No se juega con su vida.”



1. Ray Stedman quoted by Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes
2. National Observer, May 29, 1967    

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960,1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.