************ Sermon on Daniel 5:23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 16, 2005
"What Belshazzar Forgot"
I What God's Word Does
A Between the end of Daniel 4 and the start of Daniel 5, there are some 30 years. A number of things have changed. King Nebuchadnezzar has died, and the crown of his world empire has passed on to his grandson Belshazzar.
Another change, definitely a change for the worse, is that the prophet Daniel is no longer influential in the affairs of the empire. Daniel, if you remember, was Nebuchadnezzar's right-hand man, ruler over the entire province of Babylon and in charge of all its wise men (Dan 2:48). But now, under Belshazzar, Daniel lives somewhere in Babylon as a forgotten citizen. Belshazzar has heard of Daniel, but wants nothing to do with him. This is a disaster, I say, because Daniel is a prophet of the Lord and, as such, he represents the Word of God. Daniel's absence from the courts of Babylon, means the absence of God's Word in those courts. And, we all know, don't we, what happens when the Word of God is forgotten, ignored, and shoved into a corner somewhere. The water then breaks through the dam, and the rivers of sin overflow their banks. That's just how it goes in your life and in my life when we seek to escape the sound of God's Word.
B Chapter 5 starts off with a banquet – a drinking banquet – given by King Belshazzar for a thousand of his nobles. In this, our first introduction to Belshazzar, we are given the impression of an indulgent, drunken playboy. The timing of the banquet couldn't have been worse. You see, Babylon was at war. Nabonidus, Belshazzar's father, was leading the troops. The land was in great danger, and the soldiers of Babylon were on the brink of defeat. But what was the king doing, as soldiers on the battlefield were dying, as widows and mothers were mourning? He was getting drunk with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines.
This was not just a party that Belshazzar was hosting. It was a religious event. In our country most wedding celebrations and parties are conducted without any mention or thought of God. Belshazzar and the Babylonians knew better. They knew that religion involves all of life, including celebrations and parties. Therefore, no wine was consumed and no glass raised unless a song of praise was first sung to one of the gods. Scripture tells us that,
(Dan 5:4) As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. The Babylonians certainly put us to shame, for many times we forget that all of life is religious or at least act like religion does not involve all of life!
At some point Belshazzar suddenly hit upon the idea of using the gold goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Wouldn't that be fun? He could drink wine to his gods from the gold vessels stolen from the house of God! What a horrible, wicked thought! Belshazzar took what was holy and consecrated to the Lord and used it to get drunk and for idol worship.
C What was God's response? He did not use His mighty arm to smash those who mocked Him. He didn't even intervene with His hand. He used no more than a few fingers on one hand. But a single finger of God can cause unspeakable destruction. The Egyptians recognized this when their magicians explained the plagues as the work of God's finger (Ex 8:19).
What did the fingers of God do? All they did was write a few words on the bare wall:
(Dan 5:5) Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace.
How powerful God is – even when He does nothing more than write! A wave of fear surged through the crowd. The book of Daniel tells us about the reaction of the king:
(Dan 5:5-6) The king watched the hand as it wrote. (6) His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way. It was as though shock paralyzed him. Unfortunately, his fright was not a godly fear that leads to repentance.
We all know that God has written a great deal more than those few words on the palace wall. The words in the Bible were written by the same hand that wrote the words on Belshazzar's wall. What God has written in the Bible has blazed a path through history. Innumerable sinners have been so frightened by what God has written that they have fallen to their knees and turned to Christ. Through that Word, hearts have been changed, lives have been renewed, nations and kings have turned unto the Lord. Through the Scriptures, God has changed the world.
And what about us? You know the saying: familiarity breeds contempt. Most of us are familiar with the Bible from childhood on. Because we have grown so used to God's Word, its stories of judgment and grace no longer frighten us or move us.
Just think of all we do with the Bible. We read it from Genesis to Revelation. We memorize it. We hear sermons on it. We study it. We read short or long commentaries explaining it. We go to conferences or retreats and hear it explained. We can listen to it from audio CDs. It is on computer discs and it takes me only a second to have two translations and the Greek or Hebrew on the screen in front of me; with the touch of a few buttons I can have any Greek or Hebrew word explained and can find any phrase or group of phrases I want. The Bible contains no mysteries for us, as it did for the wise men of Babylon. Quickly and easily we read through chapter after chapter.
But there is one thing we no longer do: we no longer tremble at the Scriptures! Is there anyone among us who is truly frightened at what he reads there, so that his whole face changes color and his legs buckle under him?
For Belshazzar, this was the first time he encounters God's writing. And, he is frightened, frightened to death.
II What God's Word Says
A God wrote only four words on the walls of Belshazzar's palace. The scholars of Babylon are called in, but they can neither read nor understand them (vs 8). Once more – as with Nebuchadnezzar's dreams – human scholarship fails. Babylon's wisemen try all sorts of things. They read the words backwards and forwards. They ponder all the possibilities. They focus all their ingenuity and cleverness on the hieroglyphics on the wall, but they get nowhere. Despite all their efforts, the words on the wall remain an unsolved puzzle. This should be expected, for what can heathen scholarship make of something that God Himself has written? As Paul puts it,
(1 Cor 1:20) Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? In the wisdom of God, only those who believe His Word can be expected to understand it.
B And now Daniel appears on the scene. Being a Spirit-filled prophet of the Lord, he can read and understand what God's finger has written on the wall. Although there are only 4 words – 4 short words – on the wall, their message is powerful and they give Belshazzar plenty to think about – if only he would listen!
What is the message that God has written? The inscription on the wall is: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. This is what these words mean:
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
We first see that word Mene. Daniel's explanation is that God counts – carefully and patiently. God makes it known to King Belshazzar and to all the world – whether they are interested or not – that there is a last page in every person's book. For Belshazzar the last page has now been reached. And, not surprisingly, it says, "The End."
Let's listen to the next word – Tekel! Daniel's explanation is that God weighs and measures and evaluates. It is time for a spiritual audit. As in any audit, it is too late for any new numbers to be added to the ledger. How does the financial statement look, Belshazzar? Are you in the red or in the black? Daniel's news is that King Belshazzar has been weighed on the divine balance and found wanting. God forgets and overlooks nothing. And His conclusion is that Belshazzar is too light. His life has no content; his heart is empty.
The final word is Parsin. Parsin means into pieces, divided, separated. That's the Lord's judgment against Belshazzar. He has been counted and weighed and found lacking, so he will be broken into pieces and cast into outer darkness.
That Daniel's reading and understanding of God's Word is correct is proven even sooner than anyone would have thought. The chapter ends with these words:
(Dan 5:30-31) That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, (31) and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.
C Why was Belshazzar judged so harshly? Daniel tells us in our text that Belshazzar forgot something.
(Dan 5:23) "But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all you ways."Another translation says Belshazzar did not "glorify" God (KJV). Belshazzar forgot to honor and glorify God. Is that all? This is only a sin of omission! Yet, this is the worst charge that can be laid against anyone. Honoring and glorifying God is the purpose of every creature, from the highest to the lowest. Anyone who fails to glorify God has not responded to his calling and has not understood the meaning of his life. Any life of which it must be said that it was not God-glorifying is a miserable failure! I think here of the Westminster Larger Catechism which asks in question 1: "What is the chief and highest end of man?" Its answer: "Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God ..." I also think of what Paul says:
(Rom 11:36) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Now we know why Belshazzar was found wanting when he was weighed on God's scales. Any life that does not have God as its chief content is an empty life – however beautiful it may look from the outside. It will be weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Now we also know why Belshazzar was killed and his kingdom broken. What can you do with a life that does not fulfill the purpose for which it was created? All you can do is break it into pieces. Any product that does not glorify its Maker but instead dishonors Him must be broken into pieces as quickly as possible.
D What is the message here for us? It is the same message that was given to Belshazzar: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.
The first word is Mene. God has numbered your days, and my days as well. There is a last page in every person's book and on the day that page is turned you die.
A couple of years ago I conducted a funeral service for a cyclist. In my message I compared each person's life to a book. Every day we turn another page. One day the last page is turned and we die.Do you ever think about that? Do you ever wonder how many days you still have left to live? Do you ever wonder how thick is your book? Mene. God has numbered your days and my days.
Three days after the funeral we were on a bike ride and the cyclists were talking about my sermon (that doesn't happen too often on a bike ride). They were actually wondering how many pages were left to turn in their book. One guy hoped his book was still on chapter 1.
Included in our group that day was a 23 year old rider. He told me how much he appreciated my sermon. Three days later he was knifed to death by a jealous boyfriend.
The second word is Tekel. You have been weighed. Daniel's message is that we must never neglect to glorify the God Who holds all our life in His hands. And, he reminds us that the greatest charge which can be laid against you or me is that we have failed to honor or glorify God in Christ.
"You did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways." We don't accuse ourselves of this sin very often, do we?! We sometimes worry about evil deeds we have done, but our failure to glorify God doesn't concern us very often.
Do you know what is the best thing that can be said of you or me after we have died? The best thing that can be said is, "He/she lived for the glory of God." How different this makes us from the world. The world speaks well of a person who has worked hard for his business and family and has left a nice inheritance behind. The world speaks well of a person who has accomplished something for society or science. The world speaks well of a person who has contributed in literature or politics or sports or religion. Yet, if God was not glorified in that life, then the life was completely and absolutely useless. And, congregation, don't make the mistake of thinking that you live for God's glory just because you are a faithful member of the church, or even a "pillar" of the church. For even church members can live for themselves and their own glory rather than for the Lord Jesus and His glory. An article in "Glad Tidings" magazine illustrates this point, that we must live for the glory of God.
Subtopic: Glory of
A growing church was making construction plans. In honor of the pastor's many years of ministry, the building committee told him they wanted to put his name on the cornerstone. He thanked them for their thoughtfulness, then quoted the words of Paul, "... whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." He then asked that the committee not let his name appear. If you were to drive by that church today, instead of the pastor's name you would read these words on the cornerstone: "For the glory of God."
"Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Every evening we should review the day's events to see whether all that we said and did and thought glorified God. Every evening we should ask, "Today, in my life, did God become greater and did I become less?" (cf Jn 3:30).
We know that someday our lives too will be weighed and measured in God's perfect balance. What will the result be? What have we devoted our time, our energies, our gifts, our money to? What is the content of our lives?
Take a single day of your life. Assess its weight. Is it loaded with the fruits of conversion and the battle against sin? Is it full of prayer and Bible reading? Is it weighted with self-denial and the glorification of God? Or, is it a life of self-indulgence and pleasure? Is it a life of criticism and complaints? Is it a life of vanity and self-seeking? Is it a life of following your way rather than God's way? What do you see when you look at your life? What does the church see when it looks at your life? But most important, what does God see when He looks at your life?
The third word is Parsin. You will be judged. That's what it comes down to. The wicked, like Belshazzar, go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
One last thing we notice about Belshazzar. Daniel says to him, "You knew all this" (vs 22). Belshazzar heard what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar, how "his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride" (vs 20), how the Lord humbled him until he acknowledged that God is King. "You knew all this," and yet Belshazzar's life was weighed on the scales and found wanting.
And we know all this too. Since childhood on we are taught to live for the Lord and not ourselves. Since childhood on we are told that "Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God ..." Yet, like Belshazzar, we so easily forget.
I urge you again, congregation, to look at your life, to weigh your life, and to ask, "Do I live for the glory of God?"
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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