Daniel 5 Devotions
Pastor Mark Hudson
After Nebuchadnezzar dominates chapters 1-4, we see a new name as King: Belshazzar. He is actually a co-regent since his father Nabonidus who apparently left Babylon because he worshipped the god Sin which angered the priests of Marduk. So Nabonidus left his son, as number 2 in charge of Babylon. Two decades have passed since Nebuchadnezzar was King. Now his grandson is showing poor judgment, immorality, and idolatry in chapter 5.
This is a horrible party where once again idolatry and immorality meet together. Notice the wives and concubines in v. 2. Number 2 man in the kingdom is feeling like number 1 in the universe. In fact, let’s drink from the sacred vessels of Judah and praise our gods at the same time he suggested (vs 2-4). Fatal mistake. This ends the party. This drunken orgy ends with a solitary hand writing Hebrew words on the plaster (v. 5). The King is no longer laughing but almost convulsing. His cry pierces the silence demanding help from the wise men of the Chaldeans. They cannot make heads or tails of these words. But leave it up to someone who knows some history. It seems as if Daniel and his entire history was written OUT of the history of Babylon. No one at the party knew about Daniel.
So the Queen Mother came into the banquet (v. 10) and declared, “O King, live forever! (He would be dead in a few hours). She gives him a history lesson about Daniel (as well as a subtle rebuke) who is summoned into the king’s presence and offered a reward as well as number 3 position (in a kingdom that had hours left to exist). Daniel politely refuses any reward and tells the king in no uncertain terms that his kingdom is doomed. “22 And you his son, 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.”
Daniel then tells him what the writing means. Daniel gives the meaning of each word as well as the meaning for the king. Daniel could have simply said, “You will dead in a few hours.” The king gives Daniel royal gifts and the number 3 position in the kingdom. One almost wonders if Daniel wanted to say, “Wait. You are giving me an honored position that I will only have for a few hours? I’m not sure I want to be associated with you or this doomed kingdom!”
The irony that we do not see in the Biblical account is what the Medes are doing during the party. The King knows they are attacking this impregnable city of Babylon but he is so unconcerned that he is throwing a lavish party inviting (and occupying) 1000 of the most influential people in the city. Meanwhile, the Medes are diverting the Euphrates River that runs under the city. Since the river has been diverted, the Medes walk in under the city walls where the river once flowed and find a drunken King and a city ripe for the taking.
So what do we learn from Belshazzar? Belshazzar was arrogant. He took the sacred utensils that were used for many other tasks and not only drank wine in his drunken stupor but he praised his own gods as if to mock the god of the fallen Jews who is grandfather captured years ago. He was blind and ignorant. His grandmother had to tell him about Daniel who he either did not know about or choose to forget about. Granted the walls of Babylon were massive: three walls thick, with a moat, extremely tall but the King should have kept an eye on the Medes instead of pretending he had no worries.
He was also (intentionally?) ignorant about what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. If a King “becomes” a cow (the modern world call this a neurosis, “clinical lycanthropy”), one would think future kings would know this story very well. While not flattering, future kings may want to know what to do to avoid this condition.
Belshazzar was religious. This party has overtones of religion. We think his father left the city to him over Nabonidus’ choice of the god Sin rather than the Babylonian god Marduk. How could he ignore these important events? But his mocking of the God of Israel was the last thing he did while on earth. The rest was downhill from there; downhill to eternal punishment for Belshazzar.
While we can learn much from this passage, let’s keep one theme straight. These two kings did not recognize*, let alone worship, the only true King who possessed ultimate authority and majesty. This truth was resisted by these kings and is resisted by all unbelievers. What they resist, we must hold fast. This is the message repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. May we not only hold this fast but pray the ancient prayer: Maranatha or Come, Lord Jesus.
*Some Old Testament scholars believe that Nebuchadnezzar as well as his wife (the queen mother in our story) died as believers.