Writing on the Wall | Daniel 5:1-31
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Daniel 5:1–31
Good Morning! We are continuing our series on the book of Daniel. GOD in the Secular World. God’s people have been taken and placed in exile, some Daniel and his friends have been put in positions of leadership, but there are challenges. God is in control over the affairs of nations and in the lives of individual people. During the first 4 chapters we’ve see several snapshots of the pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar in how he’s ruled over God’s people he’s taken in Exile and how God has been displaying His overwhelming, wisdom, power and ability to humble whoever he wills for the purposes of reminding them where power authority and provision come from. Each of the first 3 times however, Nebuchadnezzar was enticed by what He saw God do, but his allegiance was never changed, until he was humbled and he said God did a “wondrous” thing in turning his heart from worshiping himself to praising the God of the Bible. It’s a pretty cool story of God’s patience with man’s sin leading to repentance and restoration. God is good! God is merciful, not always giving us the consequences we deserve. God is gracious, giving us exceedingly more than we could earn or deserve. We will see today God is also just.
Part I | v1-9 | Party Like it’s the End of the World
Daniel 5:1-9 | 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 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 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.
Nebuchadnezzar’s reign has ended, just as God said it would, but Babylon remains. There was a quick succession of 3 kings after him each with short tenures until one of Nebuchadnezzar offspring Nabonidus rose to power, likely killing whoever as in power at the time, and he was the last official “King of Babylon” He was big religious reformer which lead to some controversy so he set up his own royal residence and defacto capitol in Taeman, to the south east. His eldest son was Belshazzar. For a decade his son was granted to be the ruler over the city and region around Babylon. From the perspectives of the Jews in exile in Babylon he was the “king” Here we only see him a snap shot of him that is brief but defining as we see the state of his character in the specifics of his actions and what he says.
We are in the city and there is this big party thrown by a pagan king! As we did with the statue in the desert and with Nebu’s hanging gardens we see the trajectory of scripture attempted to be coopted by men. Scripture ends with a great wedding feast where all nations, tongues, and tribes are gathered around one table all enjoying good food and drink and praising King Jesus specifically his mercy and grace in saving his people. Here Belshazzar is trying to create the same type of spectacle but it is focused on him and his great feat, not saving His people, but in his ability to binge drink. BTW that is not a skill.
There is another layer that needs be understood to put this scene into context. The kingdom of Babylon is not in a place of ascendency but has been under siege for quite some time. Historically we know Nabonidus has been fighting off the Medes and the Persians, and losing. God is in control of history and he told Nebu back in Chapter 2 your kingdom will not last past you. So when we see this scene we have to know Belshazzar is partying while there are solders bleeding and dying on the battle field around the city. There is a unique arrogance and pride about pretending everything is awesome when in fact decay and defeat are right around the corner. This isn’t a victory party it’s a “let’s ignore the defeat”. This is “it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I’m feel fine.” He’s leading the elites of the culture in denial of reality.
At a certain point in the party he’s like “you know what would be a good idea!?? Let’s get the all the stuff from the Jewish temple my grandfather took when he put a city under siege and took it in defeat. Remember the good times when we took over Jerusalem and we were the dominate power in the world? Wasn’t that great!” More than nostalgia this is blatant blasphemy. Let’s take the stuff from the trophy case and drink from them in our big Babylonian Frat party. They then take it to another level as they give God the proverbial middle finger and begin praising other gods which line up with the materials of the image back in Chapter two. They praising the kingdoms and idols of men; statues they have actually built who are eerily silent as the kingdom crumbles around them, rather than the Creator God who has displayed His wisdom and power to this kingdom before. Let’s take God’s stuff that is intend for worship and lets miss use it. This is the definition of blasphemy, dishonoring God though what we say or what we do. We don’t limit this to “holy religious” items. Because God is Creator blasphemy is when we misuse any part of creation.
God will not be mocked. God always has the last word. In this case He doesn’t wait for sleepless night to send a message. He cuts right through the drunken revelry with a message clearly written on the wall. Sometimes God is subtle, and other times he’s really, really clear. While all of Belshazzar’s gods he’s praising are silent; the God he is mocking speaks. You can almost hear the music stop and the lights come on. There is so much going on out in the world outside the walls of the place that should get his attention to the reality of the difficult situation he’s in, but he’s actively avoided it. This he cannot ignore. Even when he doesn’t know what it says, it’s clear God has his attention. His color’s changed, he’s destressed, when it says “his limbs gave way” the clearest translation is he actually became incontinent. Either way, he’s a mess. This isn’t a drunken hallucination because the other “wise men” and Daniel see the writing on the wall.
He offers up purple, gold chain (like a rap star) and to be the “third ruler of the kingdom (Nabonidus is the first, he is the second) But nobody could figure it out. These guys really aren’t very good, first they couldn’t read Nebu’s dream, then they couldn’t even when he told him a dream, now they literally can’t read the writing on the wall. They are as warp and in denial as Belshazzar is. They even have some motivation, they’re at the party and they could get promoted! Belshazzar is so desperate for clarity and relief of the tension have having to face reality he is willing to offer all he can (which is third place in kingdom that is about to end. The offer is like being promoted to first mate on the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.) This is our world. It promises so much but it cannot deliver because it is perishing. The world is drunk pretending it’s not ending and promising what it cannot deliver. It tells us to be entertained to death and drugged from the reality of God, sin, and death and promising an abundant life frivolous life that will quickly end.
Part II | v10-12 | Grandma’s Here!
Daniel 5:10-12 | 10 The queen, 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. 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.”
The Queen, most likely the Queen mother (His grandma) comes into the party. That had to be a bit of an additional buzz kill. She has a longer term perspective than Belshazzar and a better memory. She lets him know there is a person he can engage with, but she also gives a bit of a family history lesson. There is a man who has a connection with God that is unlike any of the others we know or you’ve tried. He was a big deal in Nebuchadnezzar’s day. This guy brought light to dark situations, understanding and where there is ignorance and foolishness (like there is at this party.) Remember “your father –predecessor”? “I knew Nebuchadnezzar, and you sir are no Nebuchadnezzar!” But you can trust the guy he trusted and made the chief of all the types of guys you’re relying on because there was something different about him. Because of the Holy Spirit in him; he was able to brink clarity to difficult situation and can even “solve problems”. Quit asking people at your party to tell you what’s going on and go get Daniel. There is a man in this land who knows God; you only know about his stuff. Knowing God’s stuff is not the same as knowing God.
Part III | v13-16 | So you’re Daniel.
Daniel 5:13-16 | 13 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 is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15Now 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.”
Daniel was a trusted advisor for Nebuchadnezzar; but clearly this generations leader wasn’t interested in his wisdom or perspective, until now. He is willing to engaging with Daniel who was obviously close but not part of his normal court. Belshazzar is even prideful in how he calls on Daniel. He’s not (The guy who saved all the magicians by ending his grandfather’s wrath or the leader over part of the kingdom) He’s one of the exiles of Judah, oh you’re just a slave from a defeated country. (Ahem, you’re about to be defeated) But he cannot deny Daniel’s relationship with God. You’ve got the Holy Spirit in you and you’re wise. I’ve also heard you’re a problem solver and I’ve got a problem. (not how can you help save the kingdom from destruction, how can I be a better leader, how can I interact with your God, just fix my problem of this wild writing. Ease my conscience so I can get back to the party and I’ll hook you up!
Part IV | v17-28 | Prosecution Preacher!
Daniel 5:17-28 | 17 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, 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 the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28 Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
He just wants his “problem solved” and instead he gets sermon. Actually it reads like a bit of a Hebrew lawsuit. Let me tell you the case against you. (v18- 21) God has revealed himself to your family in recent history. Let me tell you about your Grandfather and His God. He was prideful like you (But he accomplished something too) He was an effective leader, but He was humbled by God. We preached this last week. His pride was beastly and God treated it as such. For the purposes of knowing the Most High God rules the kingdoms of mankind and sets over it whom he wills. (Hey you’re about to lose yours who do you want to pledge allegiance too?) You can and should learn from the testimonies of others. You are not ignorant, but you are doubling down on pride going beyond “God I don’t need you because I am so great” TO “God you are not great at all and I will defile anything I can get my hands on that points to you.” God will not be defiled by us so the best we can do is try to miss use or pervert His stuff.
This sermon is personal not general. 15 times in these verses Daniel says you or your. It’s doesn’t matter what your Parents or grandparents confess(ed) What is your orientation to God? He’s hitting him like a machine gun (Sober up and listen!) Place faith in things with no power, no sight, hearing, or knowing. While God has given you life and even your very breath is a gift from him and you are using it to curse God. It’s judgement time let me tell you what the writing on the wall of your life, soul, and kingdom is:
God, the God who is in control of history and is the author of all life has determined the length of all of your days, and the days of your kingdom. He has said “time is up.” Decade of rule is more than enough for you; you and your kingdom are done. All of our days are numbered and our kingdom has come to an end.
You are in the court room of God and when he has looked at your life, your sin, your rejection of Him and your exaltation of yourself and your idols he has found you lacking, and unworthy. Whoa this is harsh! Is it? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all found wanting before the Holy God
Your time is up, your life is lacking, and now here is the sentence, all that you cling to, take pride in, place hope in or believe you have accomplished even the very breath of your life and the kingdom you’ve overseen will be taken from you. Because of our sin, all of us are separated from the Kingdom of God.
Part IV | v29-30 | Parties Over!
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. 31And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
No contrition, no pleading, no repentance, his heart is hard, but he can’t ignore the truth of what Daniel has said. He just doesn’t respond and repent in light of the truth. It’s sad. The final act of a dead man: He gives Daniel what he’s promised him despite Daniel’s previous objection. Daniel is the third ruler of the kingdom! It’s a gesture, but it’s not repentance. For Belshazzar, the party’s over! He is killed that night, judgement is swift. History records Babylon was finally taken during a big night time festival and the King was slain. God’s prophecy is come to fulfillment and Babylon is no longer, as they’re overtaken by Medes-Persians. The God who has all authority over history and the kingdoms of men has authority over our lives as well.
We are all dying we do not know when our souls will be demanded of us and when we’re going to be weighted in the scales of God and be found wanting. That’s the bad news. But there is good news!
God who judges is also merciful and gracious. He shows us this in Jesus who “while we were yet sinners” or “while we were found wanting” died and took our punishment on the cross. So we have hope in Jesus, who doesn’t divide our kingdom but adds us to His own. IN Christ, God can have our days numbered and we be found lacking and in His mercy we don’t get judgement, and in His grace we get to be united to a kingdom that is eternal that never fades, that will not be overrun. When He grants us entrance into his family it’s not the wild offering of a dying man, but it’s because of the offering of Jesus death in our place. The Gospel means we are in a Kingdom united and an inheritance granted, much better than divided and taken.
While Belshazzar’s father Nabondinus is actually out fighting Darius the Mede and is losing. We have faith in a Father who takes our defeat on the cross places it on His son so we can share in His victory over death. This son of a king was holed up in the palace saying. “look at me while I party as the world around me is crumbling and perishing.” He hears a word of final judgment against him from God and the parties over.
Jesus the Son of God left the comforts of heaven to a world that is perishing and says look at what I am going to do for you see me on the cross suffering in your place for your sin with sour wine put in my mouth while I drink the cup or wrath you deserve, I will proclaim a final word “It is finished” sin is paid for, be buried, rise again, death is conquered and my Kingdom isn’t shrinking, it’s growing, now be clothed in white of my righteousness and come join me! The party has just begun and never ends when we Trust Jesus!