Daniel: Being a stand up person in a bow down world (week 8)

Daniel: the writing is on the wall.
Daniel 5:1-30


We now turn our attention from the first king of the Babylonian empire (Nebuchadnezzar) to the last king of the Babylonian Empire (Belshazzar).  Two very different men, both with power, both with pride, but both respond to God differently. Chapter 5 relays the account in which King Belshazzar is weighed and subsequently severely judged by God.   The fact that these two accounts of these two kings sits side by side in the book of Daniel invites us to compare and contrast them and how God dealt with them.  These passages raise all sorts of questions about both the justice and the grace of God.  Questions like why is God so persevering with Nebuchadnezzar and yet so severe with Belshazzar?  What was Belshazzar’s crime that incited such judgment?  Why was Nebuchadnezzar given so much divine revelation and Belshazzar seemingly not?The text itself helps us to arrive at answers to these questions. King Belshazzar is a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar and when the passage refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his father it is most likely referring to him as his forefather. Interesting to note is that history tells us Belshazzar was co-regent with his father, Nabonidus who had installed him as his 2yc during a ten year absence in Arabia which is why the promise of 3rd in charge is given to anyone who can interpret the writing on the wall.

And so while dad’s away, the children will play and Belshazzar throws an elaborate banquet, in which the golden goblets that featured in Daniel 1 again feature.  Nebuchadnezzar had taken them from the temple of Jerusalem and had installed them in what was for him, a sacred place; in the temple of his gods and there they had remained. But Belshazzar wants them as adornments for his lavish feast.

We know from Nebuchadnezzar’s story that God had revealed himself and his plans through a variety of means.  As we saw in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar eventually comes to understand what a right response to the Most High God ought to be. The important thing to note is that although Belshazzar may not have received first hand revelation like Nebuchadnezzar he still would have heard about Yahweh through the accounts that were handed down to him. Belshazzar would of in no way been ignorant to who the God of Israel was and what He had done.

But Belshazzar knowing all that he knows about Yahweh and the history of how the Most High God dealt with his forefather takes these very same golden goblets (fully knowing their significance) and deliberately uses them to praise the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.  This is not the act of a man ignorant of Yahweh, this is the act of a man  who is defiant towards Yahweh. A man who ought to know better but who willingly is stating his position when it comes to Yawheh.  His position is, “I would rather serve manmade idols and satiate my desires than acknowledge the Most High God.”

Now when it comes to revelation about God, all revelation is revelation whether it arrives to us first hand or second hand from those who are eyewitnesses to what God has done and what scripture seems to suggest is that we will be judged in accordance with how we have responded to the measure of revelation that has been given to us about who God is.  And so when Daniel comes to interpret the writing on the wall, Daniel reminds Belshazzar of this history that has been handed to him and how in spite of that, Belshazzar has chosen to dishonour God. For this, there are consequences.

Belshazzar’s response to Daniels interpretation is curious…he just carries on almost unwilling to accept the truth of what is coming to him.  Personally, I wonder if God would have given him a chance had he at that point turned and repented but of course by that time his heart had been so hardened and pride so instilled that He would not even entertain the truth despite having seen the hand of God write these words on the wall.    Belshazzar rewarded Daniel but showed no signs of being repentant or saying sorry for living life without reference to God. He gave God no room to offer his grace. Belshazzar’s story reminds me of C.S Lewis famous quote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”  Those who come under God’s judgment sadly have chosen it,  by continually refusing to  acknowledge and submit to both the sovereignty and authority of God.

Listen to the sermon here

For discussion in communities:

Question to open discussion:

Imagine a not-yet believer asked you, why does God if He is so loving send people to hell, what would you say?

Read together Daniel 5:1-30 and John 8:2-11

Q1.   From reading the passage, what kind of a person do you imagine Belshazzar was?
Q2.  What do you think the significance might be of God writing on the wall as His means of revelation?
Q3. Given that Daniel had been within the royal courts for some time why do you think it is that Belshazzar was not aware of him? Why do you think the Queen (or Queen mother) had to bring Daniel to his attention?
Q4.  What do you notice about the tone, content and message of what Daniel has to say Belshazzar?
Q5. Remember that Daniel’s Hebrew name means God is judge.  In what ways is this truth reassuring?  In what ways is it frightening?
Q5.  Why do you think Belshazzar comes under God’s condemnation?
Q6.  From John 8:2-11, we read another occasion when the hand of God writes something for people caught in pride and sin to see…think of all the different people involved in this circumstance, what were the different responses to what was written in the sand?
Q7. What can we learn about God from this scenario?

For accountability + prayer:

You can use these discussion questions either in smaller prayer and accountability groups or as a part of your own individual devotional life.

Q1. Share with each other  areas of your life where God might be speaking to you.
Q2. How are you maintaining a submissive heart towards God?
Q3. What could you be doing to encourage your receptivity of the Holy Spirit?

Pray for greater humility in your heart and life.  Pray that the Holy Spirit might help you to grow more dependant upon God.

For personal devotion + study:

Monday: Your heart is the most important thing about you. 

This week as we learn from Belshazzar’s example, we see that idolatory infects the heart.  The heart is the very seat of our being, it is the centre of our desire which affects  every other area of our life. Over the course of this week, we are going to meditate upon scriptures that talk about the heart

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
What would it mean for you to guard your heart today?

Tuesday: a teachable heart.

The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Proverbs 10:8

Is your heart teachable?  Are you seeking to learn God’s ways?

Wednesday: a heart that knows deep joy.

The precepts of the Lord are right, and giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eye. Psalm 19:8

Does your heart know the deep abiding joy of God’s presence?  Of living in line with His heart for your life?

Thursday: a thankful heart.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1
What could you give thanks for today?  How could you foster more thanksgiving in your day?

Friday: a foolish heart

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. Psalm 14:1
How can you avoid foolishness today?  How can you say “yes” to God today?

Saturday: the heart of worship and the worship of the heart.