Daniel 5. Belshazzar's Feast.
Key Notes: Partying in the crisis. God's investment in Nebuchadnezzar. We are found wanting?
The reason for this palace feast and its aftermath are not evident in Daniel 5. Our background information, facts that would be known to Chaldean readers, comes from a Greek historian, Herodotus and other ancient sources. He reported that about 539BC a new power was threatening Babylon from the North. A Persian army under Cyrus had routed Nabonidus, king of Babylon, from a distant city (Pema) and had come to encircle Babylon. Nabonidus had left Babylon in the hands of his son Belshazzar as co-regent and had been living in Pema in retirement for years.
Realizing that the city wall was massive and that the inhabitants had food stores for years, Cyrus partially withdrew. He left a garrison south of the city and went up the Euphrates River. He took advantage of the fact that the Euphrates ran through the city of Babylon. He diverted the River into a swamp, and ordered his Babylon force to go into the City through the stream when the water was below the waist. The troops encountered no resistance and surprised Belshazzar and his nobles having a party. Babylon was conquered by his general, Darius the Mede, with little blood-shed.
5:1–4 As our story begins, with Cyrus and his army nearby and the city of Babylon under partial siege, Belshazzar made a feast for a thousand lords, their wives and concubines. When he had tasted the wine, he ordered the gold and silver goblets confiscated from the Temple in Jerusalem to be brought out and used for drinking. The party praised their gods--Bel, Marduk, Sin, Ishtar, and others.
5:5–9 A stunning sign appeared on the plaster wall, written by the hand of an unseen figure.
MENE; MENE; TEKEL; U PHARSIN
Belshazzar was so frightened that he could not stand up. He called for the wise men to interpret the sign. They could not read it or interpret.
5:10–13 The Queen (? Nabonidus' mother) came in and advised Belshazzar to call in Daniel, a man in whom the spirit of the holy gods resided, the advisor to Nebuchadnezzar, his (grand)father.
5:14–28 Daniel was promised a position of third in the Kingdom, presumably behind Nabonidus and Belshazzar if he could read the interpretation of the inscription.
Daniel refused the honor, and went on to preach a sermon. Nebuchadnezzar had been given great power and glory by the Most High God. His power was absolute. But when he became hardened in pride God took his glory from him until he knew that the Most High rules the kingdom. Belshazzar knew that, but lifted himself up against God, desecrated articles from His Temple in Jerusalem and praised the dead gods. God held Belshazzar's breath in His hand.
|Mene||Mene||Tekel||U Pharsin (literal words)|
|Mina||Mina||Shekel||and a half (coins)|
|Numbered||Numbered||Measured||and Divided (verb forms)|
The word were written from right to left, with no vowels, in Aramaic: nsrpu lkt nm nm. The chart (top line) uses English letters and the order is reversed so that we can read it. The code words (line 2) as nouns are names of money. With slight adjustment (line 3) they are verb-forms and can be read as a sentence. Daniel interpreted the code: The days of the kingdom have been numbered by God and the kingdom is at an end. Belshazzar has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
5:29–31 Belshazzar kept his word to Daniel, but that night Darius the Mede invaded and killed him. Darius was 62 years old.
Why the Feast? It is an unfortunate human tendency to behave badly as a group when under stress. One common activity is to have a desperate party: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. ICor.15:32.
What was especially wrong about it? Feasts and debauchery have gone on for ages. In his intoxication, Belshazzar made a wrong move: he dishonored God directly by desecrating Israel's sacred vessels and using them to toast his demonic gods. God intervened personally to tell him the party was over, and used His servant Daniel to preach a sermon, the main theme being Nebuchadnezzar!
God had devoted considerable attention to Nebuchadnezzar.
Dan.1 Nebuchadnezzar observed some outstanding youths from Judah who declined to eat his excellent food and were thriving. That caught his attention.
Dan.2 One of these youths had the supernatural ability to read his mind and interpret his dream. There was something said about his kingship and a series of kingdoms being destroyed by God and replaced by God's kingdom. He delared that Daniel's God was "God of gods and Lord of lords." None of the Babylonian gods could compete.
Dan.3 Three of these youths refused to bow before Nebuchnezzar's image, but would rather be burned alive. Unbelievably they survived the fire and Nebuchadnezzar got a glimpse of God's Messenger involved in their survival. Surely there must be a God more powerful than anything the Babylonians knew about. He declared that no one dare speak a word against such a God.
Dan.4. Daniel interpreted another dream for Nebuchadnezzar which admonished his wickedness and cruelty and warned him of disaster if he did not change. The disaster came as predicted and for seven years Nebuchadnezzar was incapacitated. This forced him to acknowledge the true God, righteous in all His ways and sovereign over the kingdom of men, and he proclaimed it to all.
However, Isaiah prophesied that the King of Babylon, lifting himself against God (Isa.14:12–14), would finally be brought down to the pit (14:15), and die in disgrace (14:19). Like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar was forced to his knees but was not converted. All of this Belshazzar knew but did not respond to.
As God said, "We would have healed Babylon but she was not healed". (Jer.51:9)
Will we also be weighed in the balance and found wanting? To be found wanting is to be something less than the standard. Such a question raises anxiety and threat. How should we answer?
Certainly the New Testament teachers were always dealing with Christians who fell short of the mark; that is the definition of sin. (Rom.3:23). Other expressions are "to be disqualified" (ICor.9:27). or to be "an unprofitable servant". (Lk.17:10 KJV). I take "being found wanting" in this sense. Otherwise what need is there for New Testament teaching?
But has Christ not redeemed us from the curse "and made us to sit together with Him in the Heavenly places..."? (Eph.2:6). Surely "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus... who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Rom.8:1,4). We are "washed, sanctified, justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (ICor.6:11). Certainly.
Yet Paul admonishes the arrogant, the immature, disorderly, unloving Corinthians. And the "bewitched" Galatians. And what of the wavering, backsliders of Hebrews, the lukewarm of Laodicea, the half-dead of Sardis? Demas loving this present world? Eutyche fighting with her sister? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Are we among the heroes of faith? (Heb.11). Jesus said "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'" (Lk.17:10).
Not being under condemnation does not mean that we will not be evaluated, and judged individually.
"We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ so that each may receive good or evil according to what he has done in the body. " (IICor.5:10).
"So each of us shall give an account of ourselves to God." (Rom.14:12).
"...whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord...." (Eph.6:8)
Our salvation, our ticket, is paid. Our reward, our crown, is negotiable. The central text on this subject is ICor.3:12:
"Now if anyone builds on the foundation (which is Jesus Christ) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, straw, stubble--each one's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire."
Our home is secure, but we are not home yet. We have work to do. Work. Build on the Foundation. And don't attend the drunken party.