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The Price of Rejection; The Unforgivable Sin

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The Price of Rejection; The Unforgivable Sin

Daniel 5                                  July 18, 1999

 

Introduction:

          This chapter we read this morning gives us the high points, or essential details, on an intriguing story of truth and disaster. But it leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. Such as who is King Belshazzar and what point are we now at in Babylonian history? How did this transistion take place, seemingly so easily, from the world empire of the Babylonians, to that of the Medes and the Persians. Why does it appear that Daniel was no longer intimately involved in the royal court? Why wasn’t he at the party, and why didn’t the king seem to know about him? Why did Belshazzar take out the holy goblets? And why was he having this banquet anyway? Who is the queen who seems so wise in the face of such a seemingly foolish king? Why didn’t Daniel want the reward at first but then took it later? Why was Daniel’s attitude different toward Belshazzar than it was toward Nebuchadnezzar? How did Daniel interpret words that should have been obvious to the diviners? Why didn’t Belshazzar repent, and why wasn’t he given more of a warning? Why did God even give him this message? Why does it appear that the king was afraid of the message before he knew what it was, but not after? In a nutshell, what was this king’s problem?

          These are important questions if we are to understand what we must apply from this passage of truth. Asking such questions is a very effective way of studying the Bible. We learn much as we seek and find the answers. So we need to take a look at some of the historical context around this story. History is important for present lessons and direction. In our own culture there is a present attempt to rewrite our history (called revisionism) in an effort to make certain problems and truths conveniently disappear. The purpose for this is so that present beliefs and actions may be redirected without the conscience of the past. But we will have to pay the price of learning the same lessons all over again. Perhaps the historical and spiritual lessons of this chapter in Daniel will stir us about the handwriting on the walls of our own culture.

Some twenty-three years pass between chapters 4 and 5. Remember that chapter 4 was the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s sin of pride, and God’s judgment of insanity upon him until he would acknowledge that God is sovereign. Nebuchadnezzar died after 43 years as king. He yielded his heart to God, and God gave him a long reign for the benefit of his people, the Jews, whom he held in captivity. A lot happens between the close of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and the events of chapter 5. Most notably, the lessons learned by Nebuchadnezzar are lost upon his successors. He was succeeded by his son who reigned just two years and then was assassinated by his own brother-in-law who ruled for four years when he was killed in battle. He was succeeded by his son who reigned for only a few months before he was executed and succeeded by Nabonidus. Nabonidus was the last king of the Babylonians and the father of Belshazzar, the subject of today’s message.

Nabonidus was also a son-in-law to Nebuchadnezzar and may have married his widow. At this time, Nabonidus was king of the Babylonian empire, and his son Belshazzar was king of the city of Babylon. This explains why the offer was given to make the interpreter of the divine writing the third highest ruler in the kingdom (v. 7) because Nabonidus was first ruler and Belshazzar was second. How this came about was the result of a religious power struggle. Nabonidus was devoted to the moon god, Sin, which was unpopular with mainstream Babylonian culture that followed the powerful Marduk priesthood. However, his son, Balshazzar, did worship Marduk and was more favored politically. Even though Nabonidus was not forced to vacate the throne, it did result in his abandonment of the capital to reside in an oasis in Saudi Arabia to protect a vital trade route. But just several days earlier to the events in chapter 5, the Babylonian army under the leadership of Nabonidus was defeated only 50 miles from Babylon by Cyrus the Persian, although Nabonidus had escaped elsewhere.

The Babylonian Empire comes to an end in 539 B.C. by the hand of God who takes it from the remaining co-regent, Belshazzar, and gives it over to the Medes and the Persians entirely. Recall that this was part of the vision of the statue that Daniel interpreted from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – the chest and arms of silver. It all fits into the progression of God’s plans for the redemption of his people. We can be confident that God’s plans are also in effect for us as believers in Christ. As we read in Isaiah 45 this morning when we opened the worship service, Cyrus, the king of the Persians, was God’s prophetic choice to release the Jews and to allow the reconstruction of the temple. The stage is being set for this to take place. We can be confident that God is in control and keeps all his promises – for the Jews and for us. But the theme of this morning’s message is what it means to reject God, and what happens when we do reject God.

I.       Enjoying his feast: begging for a fall (5:1-4)

          Notice the situation that opens before us. There is a huge banquet with lots of drinking and idolatry. It is being put on by King Belshazzar for the elite. Notably, the king is drinking with his guests. This is important to note because many foolish decisions have been made while one is under the influence of alcohol, or any other mind bending and controlling substance for that matter. People say, “It is not my fault.” But the foolish decision started with a previously unwise decision to start drinking which increased with the momentum of the crowd. Each of us is the king or ruler of our motivations and actions. Especially when our leadership is responsible for others, we must consider the result of our decisions. Even beyond that, any decision we ever make will effect someone else at some point. We cannot contract away our responsibility.

The king makes a decision, possibly under the influence of his drinking that makes us say, “Oh, oh.” He decides to send for the golden goblets that served the worship of God in his holy temple. These vessels had been previously taken by his “father” Nebuchadnezzar when he conquered Jerusalem (Dan. 1:2). The reference to Nebuchadnezzar as his “father” most probably means “predecessor” or in the sense of his ancestral relative or grandfather. We can picture the foolish motivation of this scene. Perhaps in his drinking, this upstart king sought to foolishly promote himself as the one who dared to profane the truly holy - to challenge Yahweh himself. Perhaps he was trying to prove himself as greater than Nebuchadnezzar who took the golden goblets as trophies but never trifled with them. Perhaps he was trying to impress the temple priests of Marduk and his guests. Perhaps he was trying to provide diversion in the face of onslaught.

Perhaps it was all of these. But let us ask another question. Why was Belshazzar throwing this party anyway? The answer is probably the same as why Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make the large golden image that he commanded everyone to worship at the sound of music. It was because he wanted to have a symbol to bring together the divergent parts of his kingdom and satisfy his insecurity. Here we see that there is an urgent need to rally the people together in a public display of loyalty to the king in the face of the Medes and the Persians who are even now outside the city walls. It was a means to promote a sense of security in comraderie. The boastful drunken courage of this comraderie also finds support in their traditional idolatry that now gets out of hand in an orgy promoted by the sotted inspiration of their upstart king. They take what is most holy and worship idols with it. They take what exclusively belongs to God and drink mindless and immoral toasts to the gods of gold and silver. But it was a false sense of security. With huge bronze gates and walls 350 feet high and 87 feet thick, the Babylonians thought themselves invincible. They, in their impregnable city were laughing at the invading armies. But God is in control and Belshazzar is begging for a fall.

What a picture of our world today when judgment is about to fall and people go on blaspheming God in their sinful arrogance. They make merry and worship their false gods. “When they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them” (1Thes. 5:3).

Notice also that Daniel is not on the guest list. Nor would he have come if he were invited to such a thing (2Cor. 6:14-18).

II.      Revealing his fear: the writing on the wall (5:5-9)

          The hand of God is a mighty thing. It can be hard, or gentle, or even instructive as it is here. But like the law of the Medes and the Persians that is to come – the laws that cannot be changed as we shall find in the next chapter in v. 8 – this instruction shall be irreversible. None of us in this situation would doubt that such a sight as a hand writing on a wall is overtly a spiritual matter. The question is the nature of the spirit and the meaning. It was written near the lampstand for all to see on the chalky walls of the banquet hall. This was not a private vision but a public announcement. Appropriately, the king saw it first. Suspecting calamity and shaking with uncontrollable fear – keeping in mind the alcohol induced mental state of the king – Belshazzar perhaps even loses control of his bodily functions. Wine gave no courage now. The nature of the Babylonian court has always tended toward the occult, and the king sends for the diviners and offers a reward of rulership. This in itself is humorous, given the writing, since there will be nothing left to rule. But he must have thought so or he wouldn’t have offered the position of third highest ruler. But no one could interpret it.

The words were in the commonly understood Aramaic, but they were in code form. But even the obvious is never understood by the godless. The diviners are the same incompetent fools that they have always been, and the king grows even more afraid. Why didn’t he know about Daniel? Perhaps he didn’t want to know about Daniel. Perhaps he didn’t want to acknowledge him. Perhaps the king was carrying out his own form of historical revisionism. The king was only about 35 years old and interested more in the powers and pleasures of careless youth than in the things of spiritual truth. No wonder his city would fall. Daniel himself must have been around 80 years old or older at the time.

III.    Discovering his future: the meaning of it all (5:10-28)

          Now there is a woman in the royal court who hears the commotion and comes forward with a solution. She is a queen mother in the royal family, although just how she is related we do not know. It may be that it was Nitocris, the wife of King Nebuchadnezzar. Perhaps she is the one whom Nabonidus married in order to solidify his power. But whoever she is, she has been around long enough to remember and apply some of the past lessons of God during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. She speaks with an air of authority and dignified confidence but also with a certain disdain for the revelry that has been going on around her. She speaks somewhat derisively to the king about his undignified panic and the wisdom of Daniel that could still be made available. Note that she addresses the king with, “Oh, king live forever!” but he would be dead before nightfall. Daniel is brought in to deliver the news.

          Now notice the tension in the air in this discourse between Daniel and the king. Belshazzar slams Daniel with the reminder that he is an exile and a captive slave. He interrogates him as if he were a prisoner. His condescending attitude and disrespect are obvious. He wants him to know his place, which is surprising considering the significant place that Daniel has had in the kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar had come to the place of saying to Daniel that he knows that the spirit of the holy gods is in him, but Belshazzar will only assert that he has heard it. Belshazzar’s flattery is provisional and his request for interpretation is conditional. He says to Daniel, “If you can read this writing and tell me what it means---.” But the king still wants to know what the writing means so he tries to impress Daniel by continuing his offer of the third rulership. But Daniel would not be impressed. He has not missed the king’s slight. He is annoyed by this second-rate monarch. He disdainfully declines the king’s offer, telling the king to keep his gifts for himself or give them to someone else. And why would he want to be a third ruler in a doomed dynasty? The reward means nothing. The king has nothing to give. But Daniel does see the opportunity and God-given necessity to interpret the writing for the king.

He proceeds by giving him a history lesson in the form of a sermon. He reminds and redresses Belshazzar about his father Nebuchadnezzar’s absolute power on earth and the lessons he had to learn about where his power came from. It came from God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who humbled him until he understood the continually impending disaster of pride. But now Belshazzar, who knew all this, was committing the same error of self-exalting pride and worse. He has directly challenged God with the misuse of the holy. He did not honor God who holds his life in his hand, and so this inscription has been etched upon the wall of time, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.”

In the code language in which they were written, the letters appear as three nouns translated as “mina, mina, shelkel, and a half” which all refer to units of money – an interesting connection with the prophetic Babylon and the gods of materialism. Also, the initial judgment of God against Babylon began with a confusion of language at the Tower of Babel, and here we see its end by the same means. Daniel’s inspired interpretation takes these three nouns and treats them as three passive verbs for their understanding. Mene, or m-n-h, becomes “numbered”. Tekel, or t-q-l, becomes “weighed”. Peres, or p-r-s, becomes “divided”. So Belshazzar had become numbered – weighed – divided. His days had become numbered and his time was up; he had become weighed in God’s scales and found wanting; now his kingdom would be taken from him and divided by the Medes and the Persians. The word “Parsin” also had the double meaning of being reminiscent of the name Persia. The first word in the equation “Mene” was repeated twice for emphasis. The doom of Babylon has now been spelled out. There is no more time to spare. God has sent his message of judgment and it is now too late. The time for pompous arrogance is over.

Now, God had given Nebuchadnezzar 12 months of grace after Daniel’s compassionate warning about his pride. And even after he fell he was given 7 years to repent. But there was no such lengthy offer or opportunity to Belshazzar. Daniel’s attitude toward him was much different. Whereas Daniel had dealt with Nebuchadnezzar with a sense of loving and respectful concern, there is no such tenderness here. Why? It is because Belshazzar should have known. Nebuchadnezzar would repent – Belshazzar would not. He has committed an unforgivable sin. His rejection of God is obvious because he has not applied what he knew about God. The price of his rejection is soon coming. It may be that Daniel was not too heartbroken about this news he was giving Belshazzar. The time was drawing close for his people to go home after almost 70 years in captivity. Cyrus, the Persian king, would be the one to allow it by the hand of God – because God is in control, both then and now.

IV.    Meeting his fate: no time to stall (5:29-31)

God’s judgment is double-edged. As he punishes his enemies, so he frees and rewards his people. Belshazzar seems unaffected by the announcement of the interpretation and goes ahead to make Daniel third ruler in the kingdom. It is as if he feels that his kingdom will continue. He hasn’t believed the message or perhaps has even dismissed it. How is it that he was afraid of the message before he knew what it was, but not after? Perhaps he thought that he still had time. Isn’t this too the rejection of God – an unforgivable sin? We just can’t rest until we know what it is, even if we ignore what it is. It is just that we think we have to know. We think we have control by knowing. We could care less about what God knows. We put God on hold and go our merry way regardless. If Belshazzar had truly believed the message, perhaps he would have repented in the short time he had. Daniel does not prompt him to do so. The king should have known. He was fully responsible to take initiative.

Daniel had told him about his doom but he didn’t exactly say when. But he did say, “Your kingdom is divided and given---.” In a sense, it was already an accomplished fact. The Medes and the Persians were waiting just outside the walls. They had put into effect a plan to break into the city. They had been doing some massive earth moving a ways outside the city for awhile now but the Babylonians just thought it was preparation for seige works or a mound against the city. Still thinking they were invincible, they ignored it. But they ignored it to their detriment. They were too involved in drunken pleasure to think about defense. The Medes and the Persians under the leadership of Darius were building a diversion for the Euphrates River that ran diagonally through the city. That very night, while the leaders were reveling, they smuggled their troops under the river gates, stormed the royal palace, killed King Belshazzar, and took over the city by surprise attack. The king’s pride, lust, indifference, irreverence and self-satisfaction led to his downfall and the capture of his city. He was so foolish in rejecting what he knew about God, and he paid the price. As a nation, we too should listen. There is no time to stall.

Why did God give Belshazzar even this much warning and reveal to him the meaning of the writing on the wall? Why did God write on the wall at all? It was to show him that God is God and to take away every shred of excuse as he burned in hell. He could never say he did not know. He would have eternity to consider his mistake and the sovereignty of Almighty God. And this eternal message would not be lost on the rest of the Babylonian leadership who participated in the sacrilege of the temple vessels. I pray it is not lost on any of us here today.

But there is also another reason, and that is the answer to the question of why Daniel refused the king’s reward initially, but then accepted it later. Perhaps he didn’t want his interpretation to be polluted by the reward. The message needed to be given without a shred of ulterior motive. Remember that Daniel is a wise man. But I believe that part of what God intended here was for Daniel to be that third ruler in the kingdom that very night when the second ruler as well as the first were now in the hands of the Medes and the Persians, dead or alive. This is what transitions us into the next chapter where we see that Darius has made Daniel one of three administrators to rule over the conquered kingdom. God intended for Daniel’s righteousness, faith and obedience to carry over into the new dynasty. It was now God’s will that his people be released from captivity. They had served their time for disobedience. Daniel survived the transition because he was not a native Babylonian, and because he prophesied the fall of Babylon, and because it was the will of God. He was not a threat to the Medes and the Persians, and they saw that they too could make good use of this most capable man within whom the Spirit of God resided.

Timeless Truth: The price of rejecting God is the cost of unforgiveness.

The thing we need to realize as we close this account is the connection between holiness and the unforgivable sin. Belshazzar rejected what he should have known about God’s holiness and died for it. In the N.T. we see the unforgivable sin as the rejection of the holiness of God offered to us by faith in Jesus Christ. This sin leads to death. The H. S. testifies to us about Jesus as the holy truth of God. Daniel served as God’s H.S. testimony to Belshazzar. The king’s misuse of the golden goblets was the ultimate rejection of the holy from which there was no return. His heart was hardened against what he should have known.

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.  And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32 NIVUS)

"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.  But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:8-10 NIVUS)

 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.  But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mark 3:28-29 NIVUS)

 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. (1 John 5:16 NIVUS)

 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 NIVUS)

As long as we reject what we know God wants us to do, we cannot be forgiven for it. It is when we yield to his authority and control in our lives, on each issue that we face, that we come into his grace on any particular issue. How can we ask and receive his forgiveness when we are unwilling to obey? When we are ready to obey, then we can ask for his forgiveness for past failures to do so. Any sin that we refuse to bring to God for forgiveness remains unforgiven and unforgotten. It is as if we have made it unforgivable by rejecting the holiness of God in Christ that would cover it all. It is our pride that has gotten in the way. We have rejected God on that particular point of sin. But we must keep a short account with God lest we find ourselves bankrupt with debt and without the means, the time, or the will to set it right – like Belshazzar.

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."  Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:13-18 NIVUS)

          It is the Holy Spirit that writes with the finger of God upon the walls of your conscience and testifies to you about all that is holy. And all things are subjected to the holiness of God. So we must take up the challenge of holiness.

(But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; (1 Peter 1:15 NIVUS)

Why? Because we are the temple of God.

(Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIVUS) (Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIVUS)

We are God’s holy vessels, his golden goblets.

The Price of Rejection; The Unforgivable Sin (first draft)

Daniel 5                                  July 18, 1999

 

Introduction:

          Let us start with a history lesson. There is much we are not told in this chapter that we should know in order to fully understand it and the lessons we can learn from it. History is important for present lessons and direction. In our own culture there is a present attempt to rewrite our history (called revisionism) in an effort to make certain problems and truths conveniently disappear. The purpose for this is so that present beliefs and actions may be redirected without the conscience of the past. But we will have to pay the price of learning the same lessons all over again. Some of those lessons are about our national support of gambling, sexual license, family disintegration, the changes in banking laws, public support of morality and institutions of spiritual truth, the right to life, the sanctity of national security, etc. Perhaps the historical and spiritual lessons of this chapter in Daniel will stir us about the handwriting on the walls of our own culture – even the handwriting on the walls of our own church.

Some twenty-three years pass between chapters 4 and 5. Remember that chapter 4 was the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s sin of pride and God’s judgment of insanity upon him until he would acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. after 43 years as king from the point of beginning of Daniel’s book in 605 B.C. He yielded his heart to God and God gave him a long reign for the benefit of his people the Jews. A lot happens between the close of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and the events of chapter 5. Most notably, the lessons learned by Nebuchadnezzar are lost upon his successors. He was succeeded by his son, Abel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach of 2Kings 25:27), who reigned just a few years (until 560 B.C.) and then was assassinated by his own brother-in-law, Neriglissar, who ruled until 556 B.C. when he was killed in battle. He was succeeded by his son, Labashi-Marduk, who reigned for only a few months before he was executed and succeeded by Nabonidus. Nabonidus was the last king of the Babylonians and the father of Belshazzar, the subject of today’s message in Daniel chapter 5.

Nabonidus was also a son-in-law to Nebuchadnezzar and was married to the widow of one of the previous kings. At this time, Nabonidus was king of the Babylonian empire, and his son Belshazzar was king of the city of Babylon. This explains why the offer was given to make the interpreter of the divine writing the third highest ruler in the kingdom (v. 7). Nabonidus was first ruler and Belshazzar was second. How this came about was the result of a power struggle due to the devotion of Nabonidus to the moon god, Sin, which was unpopular with mainstream Babylonian culture, and the powerful Marduk priesthood that his son, Balshazzar, embraced. Even though Nabonidus was not forced to abdicate the throne, it did result in his abandonment of the capital to take up residence in Teima, an oasis in Saudi Arabia, to protect a vital trade route. While the events in chapter 5 are taking place, the Babylonian army under the leadership of Nabonidus had already been defeated several days earlier at Sippar, 50 miles from Babylon, by Cyrus the Persian, although Nabonidus had escaped elsewhere.

The Babylonian Empire comes to an end in 539 B.C. by the hand of God who takes it from the remaining co-regent, Belshazzar, and gives it over to the Medes and the Persians entirely. Recall that this was part of the vision of the statue that Daniel interpreted from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – the chest and arms of silver. It all fits into the progression of God’s plans for the redemption of his people. We can be confident that God’s plans are also in effect for us as believers in Christ. As we read in Isaiah 45 this morning when we opened the worship service, Cyrus, the king of the Persians, was God’s prophetic choice to effect the return of the people to Judah and to allow the reconstruction of the temple. The stage is being set for this to take place. We can be confident that God is in control and keeps all his promises – for the Jews and for us. But the theme of this morning’s message is what it means to reject God and what happens when we reject God.

I.       Enjoying his feast: begging for a fall (5:1-4)

          Notice the situation that opens before us. There is a huge banquet with lots of drinking and idolatry. It is being put on by King Belshazzar for the elite. Notably, the king is drinking with his guests. This is important to note because many foolish decisions have been made while one is under the influence of alcohol, or any other mind bending and controlling substance for that matter. People say, “It is not my fault.” But the foolish decision started with a previously unwise decision to start drinking which increased with the momentum of the crowd. Each of us is the king or ruler of our motivations and actions. Especially when our leadership is responsible for others, we must consider the result of our decisions. Even beyond that, any decision we ever make will effect someone else at some point. We cannot contract away our responsibility.

The king makes a decision, possibly under the influence of his drinking that makes us say, “Oh, oh.” He decides to send for the golden goblets that served the worship of God in his holy temple. These vessels had been previously taken by his “father” Nebuchadnezzar when he conquered Jerusalem (Dan. 1:2). The reference to Nebuchadnezzar as his “father” most probably means “predecessor” or in the sense of his ancestral relative or grandfather. We can picture the foolish motivation of this scene. Perhaps in his drinking, this upstart king sought to foolishly promote himself as the one who dared to profane the truly holy - to challenge Yahweh himself. Perhaps he was trying to prove himself as greater than Nebuchadnezzar who took the golden goblets as trophies but never trifled with them. Perhaps he was trying to impress the temple priests of Marduk and his guests. Perhaps he was trying to provide diversion in the face of onslaught.

Perhaps it was all of these. But let us ask another question. Why was Belshazzar throwing this party anyway? The answer is probably the same as why Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make the large golden image that he commanded everyone to worship at the sound of music. It was because he wanted to have a symbol to bring together the divergent parts of his kingdom and satisfy his insecurity. Here we see that there is an urgent need to rally the people together in a public display of loyalty to the king in the face of the Medes and the Persians who are even now outside the city walls. It was a means to promote a sense of security in comraderie. The boastful drunken courage of this comraderie also finds support in their traditional idolatry that now gets out of hand in an orgy promoted by the sotted inspiration of their upstart king. They take what is most holy and worship idols with it. They take what exclusively belongs to God and drink mindless and immoral toasts to the gods of gold and silver. But it was a false sense of security. With huge bronze gates and walls 350 feet high and 87 feet thick, the Babylonians thought themselves invincible. They, in their impregnable city were laughing at the invading armies. But God is in control and Belshazzar is begging for a fall.

What a picture of our world today when judgment is about to fall and people go on blaspheming God in their sinful arrogance. They make merry and worship their false gods. “When they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them” (1Thes. 5:3).

Notice also that Daniel is not on the guest list. Nor would he have come if he were invited to such a thing (2Cor. 6:14-18).

II.      Revealing his fear: the writing on the wall (5:5-9)

          The hand of God is a mighty thing. It can be hard, or gentle, or even instructive as it is here. But like the law of the Medes and the Persians that is to come – the laws that cannot be changed as we shall find in the next chapter in v. 8 – this instruction shall be irreversible. None of us in this situation would doubt that such a sight as a hand writing on a wall is overtly a spiritual matter. The question is the nature of the spirit and the meaning. It was written near the lampstand for all to see on the chalky walls of the banquet hall. This was not a private vision but a public announcement. Appropriately, the king saw it first. Suspecting calamity and shaking with uncontrollable fear – keeping in mind the alcohol induced mental state of the king – Belshazzar perhaps even loses control of his bodily functions. Wine gave no courage now. The nature of the Babylonian court has always tended toward the occult, and the king sends for the diviners and offers a reward of rulership. This in itself is humorous, given the writing, since there will be nothing left to rule. But he must have thought so or he wouldn’t have offered the position of third highest ruler. But no one could interpret it.

The words were in the commonly understood Aramaic, but they were in code form. But even the obvious is never understood by the godless. The diviners are the same incompetent fools that they have always been, and the king grows even more afraid. Why didn’t he know about Daniel? Perhaps he didn’t want to know about Daniel. Perhaps he didn’t want to acknowledge him. Perhaps the king was carrying out his own form of historical revisionism. The king was only about 35 years old and interested more in the powers and pleasures of careless youth than in the things of spiritual truth. No wonder his city would fall. Daniel himself must have been around 80 years old or older at the time.

III.    Discovering his future: the meaning of it all (5:10-28)

          Now there is a woman in the royal court who hears the commotion and comes forward with a solution. She is a queen mother in the royal family, although just how she is related we do not know. It may be that it was Nitocris, the wife of King Nebuchadnezzar. Perhaps she is the one whom Nabonidus married in order to solidify his power. But whoever she is, she has been around long enough to remember and apply some of the past lessons of God during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. She speaks with an air of authority and dignified confidence but also with a certain disdain for the revelry that has been going on around her. She speaks somewhat derisively to the king about his undignified panic and the wisdom of Daniel that could still be made available. Note that she addresses the king with, “Oh, king live forever!” but he would be dead before nightfall. Daniel is brought in to deliver the news.

          Now notice the tension in the air in this discourse between Daniel and the king. Belshazzar slams Daniel with the reminder that he is an exile and a captive slave. He interrogates him as if he were a prisoner. His condescending attitude and disrespect are obvious. He wants him to know his place, which is surprising considering the significant place that Daniel has had in the kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar had come to place of saying to Daniel that he knows that the spirit of the holy gods is in him, but Belshazzar will only assert that he has heard it. Belshazzar’s flattery is provisional and his request for interpretation is conditional. He says to Daniel, “If you can read this writing and tell me what it means---.” But the king still wants to know what the writing means so he tries to impress Daniel by continuing his offer of the third rulership. But Daniel would not be impressed. He has not missed the king’s slight. He is annoyed by this second-rate monarch. He disdainfully declines the king’s offer, telling the king to keep his gifts for himself or give them to someone else. And why would he want to be a third ruler in a doomed dynasty? The reward means nothing. The king has nothing to give. But Daniel does see the opportunity and God-given necessity to interpret the writing for the king.

He proceeds by giving him a history lesson in the form of a sermon. He reminds and redresses Belshazzar about his father Nebuchadnezzar’s absolute power on earth and the lessons he had to learn about where his power came from. It came from God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who humbled him until he understood the continually impending disaster of pride. But now Belshazzar, who knew all this, was committing the same error of self-exalting pride and worse. He has directly challenged God with the misuse of the holy. He did not honor God who holds his life in his hand, and so this inscription has been etched upon the wall of time, “Mene, mene, Tekel, Parsin.”

In the code language in which they were written, the letters “mnh-mnh-tql-prs” appear as three nouns translated as “mina, mina, shelkel, and a half” which all refer to units of money – an interesting connection with the prophetic Babylon and the gods of materialism. Also, the initial judgment of God against Babylon began with a confusion of language and here we see its end by the same means. Daniel’s inspired interpretation takes these three nouns and treats them as three passive verbs for their understanding. Mene, or m-n-h, becomes “numbered”. Tekel, or t-q-l, becomes “weighed”. Peres, or p-r-s, becomes “divided”. So Belshazzar had become numbered – weighed – divided, or appointed – evaluated - punished. His days had become appointed or numbered and his time was up; he had become evaluated or weighed in God’s scales and found wanting; now his kingdom would be taken from him and divided by the Medes and the Persians as his punishment. The word “Parsin” also had the double meaning of being reminiscent of the name Persia. The first word in the equation, Mene, was repeated twice for emphasis.

The doom of Babylon has now been spelled out. There is no more time to spare. God has sent his message of judgment and it is now too late. The time for pompous arrogance is over. Now God had given Nebuchadnezzar 12 months to repent after Daniel’s compassionate warning about his pride. And even after he fell he was given 7 years to repent. But there was no such lengthy offer or opportunity to Belshazzar. Daniel’s attitude toward him was much different. Whereas Daniel had dealt with Nebuchadnezzar with a sense of loving and respectful concern, there is no such tenderness here. Why? It is because Belshazzar should have known. Nebuchadnezzar would repent – Belshazzar would not. He has committed an unforgivable sin. His rejection of God is obvious because he has not applied what he knew about God. The price of his rejection is soon coming. It may be that Daniel was not too heartbroken about this news he was giving Belshazzar. The time was drawing close for his people to go home. Cyrus would be the one to allow it by the hand of God – because God is in control, both then and now.

IV.    Meeting his fate: no time to stall (5:29-31)

God’s judgment is double-edged. As he punishes his enemies, so he frees and rewards his people. Belshazzar seems unaffected by the announcement of the interpretation and goes ahead to make Daniel third ruler in the kingdom. It is as if he feels that his kingdom will continue. He hasn’t believed the message or perhaps has even dismissed it. How is it that he was afraid of the message before he knew what it was but not after? Perhaps he thought that he still had time. Isn’t this too the rejection of God – an unforgivable sin? We just can’t rest until we know what it is, even if we ignore what it is. It is just that we think we have to know. We think we have control by knowing. We could care less about what God knows. We put God on hold and go our merry way regardless. If Belshazzar had truly believed the message, perhaps he would have repented in the short time he had. Daniel does not prompt him to do so. He should have known. He was fully responsible to take initiative.

Daniel had told him about his doom but he didn’t exactly say when. But he did say, “Your kingdom is divided and given---.” In a sense, it was already an accomplished fact. The Medes and the Persians were waiting just outside the walls. They had put into effect a plan to break into the city. They had been doing some massive earth moving a ways outside the city for awhile now but the Babylonians just thought it was preparation for seige works or a mound against the city. Still thinking they were invincible, they ignored it. But they ignored it to their detriment. They were too involved in drunken pleasure to think about defense. The Medes and the Persians under the leadership of Darius were building a diversion for the Euphrates River that ran diagonally through the city. That very night, while the leaders were reveling, they smuggled their troops under the river gates, stormed the royal palace, killed King Belshazzar, and took over the city by surprise attack. The king’s pride, lust, indifference, irreverence and self-satisfaction led to his downfall and the capture of his city. He was so foolish in rejecting what he knew about God, and he paid the price. As a nation, we too should listen. There is no time to stall.

Why did God give Belshazzar even this much warning and reveal to him the meaning of the writing on the wall? Why did God write on the wall at all? It was to show him that God is God and to take away every shred of excuse as he burned in hell. He could never say he did not know. He would have eternity to consider his mistake and the sovereignty of Almighty God. And this eternal message would not be lost on the rest of the Babylonian leadership who participated in the sacrilege of the temple vessels. I pray it is not lost on any of us here today.

But there is also another reason, and that is the answer to the question of why Daniel refused the king’s reward initially but then accepted it later. Perhaps he didn’t want his interpretation to be polluted by the reward. The message needed to be given without a shred of ulterior motive. Remember that Daniel is a wise man. But I believe that part of what God intended here was for Daniel to be that third ruler in the kingdom that very night when the second ruler as well as the first were now in the hands of the Medes and the Persians, dead or alive. This is what transitions us into the next chapter where we see that Darius has made Daniel one of three administrators to rule over the conquered kingdom. God intended for Daniel’s righteousness, faith and obedience to carry over into the new dynasty that his will would cause to release his people from captivity. Daniel survived the transition because he was not a native Babylonian, and because he prophesied the fall of Babylon, and because it was the will of God. He was not a threat to the Medes and the Persians, and they saw that they too could make good use of this most capable man within whom the Spirit of God resided.

Timeless Truth:  The price of rejecting God is the cost of unforgiveness.

As long as we reject what we know God wants us to do, we cannot be forgiven for it. It is when we yield to his authority and control in our lives, on each issue that we face, that we come into his grace on any particular issue. How can we ask and receive his forgiveness when we are unwilling to obey? When we are ready to obey, then we can ask for his forgiveness for past failure to do so. We must keep a short account with God lest we find ourselves bankrupt with debt and without the means, the time, or the will to set it right – like Belshazzar.

One thing this chapter should tell us is that we should be aware of the approach of certain judgment for our offenses. There are a lot of ways in which we can defy God. Now, we should not go around judging others, but we should judge ourselves. (But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:31 NIVUS)

Certainly the most severe judgment we can face is not to accept Christ as the Lord of our lives and believe upon him for salvation unto eternal life. This will keep us out of the hell that Belshazzar was sure to experience. Beyond that, I don’t think any of us who are bound for heaven really want to face God’s displeasure for things we refused to obey him on either. Any sin problem we refuse to confess and work on with his power and help is like a slap in the face of God - like we don’t believe his power to overcome it. It is if we are rejecting God on that issue. We profane the holy vessel that God has made of us in Christ. We are his temple. (Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIVUS) (Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIVUS)

We were bought with a price. (you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20 NIVUS)

There is a reward for honoring Christ’s possession. (Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 NIVUS)

          Now with Christ’s appearing, all who are in him are holy. (But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- (Colossians 1:22 NIVUS)

          And we who are in Christ also form the church which is holy. (and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:27 NIVUS) (Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIVUS)

          So we must take up the challenge of holiness. (But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; (1 Peter 1:15 NIVUS)

          So let us beware of anything that would profane the holiness of God in ourselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit or in the church as the body of Christ. I’m sure we can all think of certain gross sins which would do that. But there are other things that I also think dangerously trifle with the holiness of God and border on blasphemy. How about the unspoken issue of control which seems to crop up every so often in church? Will we say, “I want to be in control, but I don’t want to own up to the responsibility that goes with it?” Will we say, “I won’t help anybody else if I can’t be in control?” Will we say, “I won’t change because then I won’t be in control of my means of control?” Will we say, “I would rather die at the hands of my own control than give any of it up?” Belshazzar wanted to be in control. He rejected God’s control, and he decided his own fate. But he should have known ---

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.  And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32 NIVUS)

 "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.  But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:8-10 NIVUS)

 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.  But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mark 3:28-29 NIVUS)

 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. (1 John 5:16 NIVUS)

 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 NIVUS)

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