Bible Topics
in the Christian Library
BELSHAZZAR – National Morality Meltdown!
Daniel 5

 1. King Belshazzar is an intriguing character. He abruptly appears in Daniel 5 without introduction, biographical data, or explanation of his place in the succession of Babylon’s Kings. He appears and disappears in the brevity of one chapter of Scripture. Yet this King teaches a tremendous lesson to modern Christians.

 Evidentially he was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar and the son of Nabonidus, the last King of Babylon. Nabonidus tried to redefine the hierarchy of the Babylonian gods. He wanted to exalt the moon god (“sin”) as the chief deity and thus replace “Marduk.” Such an effort was met with great resistance and the King had to move his royal residence to the city of Teiman. When he did this, he set Belshazzar as co-regent on the throne in Babylon. That Belshazzar was not the total sovereign is evident from his promise to make anyone who interpreted the handwriting on the wall “third” in the Kingdom (v. 7, 16, 29).

 2. The narrative of King Belshazzar focuses upon the sovereignty of Jehovah God. Consider the major points in the account recorded in Daniel.

 a. The feast (5:1-4).
  A thousand guests plus the King’s wives and concubines were assembled together for a period of drunken, boisterous partying. It was held in the royal palace and all the nobility were present. It was a period of celebration to the pagan idols and the feast could possibly have been in honor of a specific god. During this time Belshazzar sent for the cups of the Temple and drank from them to honor the pagan gods.

 b. The handwriting (5:5-9).
  Suddenly the hand appeared and instantly the mirth vanished. Characters were written on the wall and were visible to everyone present. All were seized with terror. The King was especially struck with fear. As the message was completed no one could discern its meaning. Daniel is sent for to interpret the writing.

 c. The reproof (5:10-24).
  Before interpreting the writing, Daniel gives a solemn reproof to the King. The present King is an insult to the past Kings (v. 20, 21). Belshazzar’s arrogance is condemned and has led him to defy Jehovah and honor dumb idols (v. 23, 24). Following this rebuke the prophet interprets the dream.

 d. The interpretation (5:25-28).
  With calm confidence Daniel deciphers the mysterious message. The words expressed a stern judgment upon Babylon and pronounced its doom.

 e. The end (5:29-31).
  The pronounced punishment came. The prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah were fulfilled (Is 21:2; 45:1, 2; Jere 51:28-39). That very night of the riotous feast the city of Babylon falls to defeat before Darius’ army.

 3. The tragedy that befalls the great Babylonian Empire began with its leader’s character. Regardless of what society’s popularity polls and political pundits say, “character” DOES make a difference! (Pr 25:5; 28:2, 16; 29:2, 14; 31:4-5). From a study of King Belshazzar we discover the following traits that will ruin a nation. These traits will exist in the Ruler of the corrupt nation because they are existing in the hearts of the citizens! The best prevention from a blasphemous Ruler is a citizenry with hearts of devotion for God. How tragic is a nation where these traits are evident:

 a. Unteachable.
  The King was disrespectful to Daniel and scornful toward God. Belshazzar was old enough to have heard of, and possibly seen, the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet he learned nothing from the incident. The King had learned nothing from the past! He was only concerned about the immediate. To him the past meant nothing.

  How sad is this attitude! Especially tragic is this unteachable nature among Christians. There are those who refuse to admit the Truths of the past and who question the absolutes of God’s Word. These are always stirring quarrels and endangering unity/harmony. These are poison to the life of the congregations where they are found (cf 2 Ti 3:1-9; 2:15-19).

 b. Pride.
  Belshazzar took pride in the splendor of Babylon yet he had not designed or constructed it. His pride was vain and his security was false. (Pr 18:12).

 c. Ignorance.
  Belshazzar’s pride was founded in ignorance. He wilfully refused to learn the lessons of Babylon’s past. Nebuchadnezzar had spoken of the true God in heaven (Da 4:2-3, 34-37). He could have read from Isaiah 47:10-11 and learned of Babylon’s ultimate defeat, but he did not do so. He welcomed ignorance and found a comfortable security. Yet he was led to damnation and destruction.

  This same tragedy befalls far too many Christians today. They have the opportunity to know the absolute Truth of God but they chose to always question, always stir strife (cf 2 Ti 3:1-9). Ignorance of God’s Truth has NEVER excused one from obeying God (Hos 4:6; Lk 12:48; Jn 16:2).

  Belshazzar did not realize that his blasphemy was so serious. Many today do not realize they are guilty of blasphemy. Ignorance is no excuse. Ignorance will condemn.

 d. No Restraint.
  Whatever restraint Belshazzar had was thrown away on the night of the festival. Even the pagan mind could acknowledge that some things were “holy” to worship. However the King removed all limitations and desecrated the sacred. He took the holy cups of the Temple and treated them as if they were ordinary things!

  Such a release of restraint is a common practice in our modern society. All over our nation there are cries from all churches about how certain changes and fads are compromising our worship. There is no longer an awe of the holy; a respect of the sacred! The boundaries of Holy Scripture are thrown aside, neglected, ignored, or “redrawn” to include what God never included (1 Co 4:6; 2 Ti 4:3,4). Many are saying that whatever the Bible “does not” forbid it allows! Those who throw away the guiding restraints of Scripture are joining Belshazzar and will share his damnation!

 e. Foolishness.
  “Belshazzar is perhaps the supreme Old Testament parallel to the rich fool in Jesus’ parable” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel, 110). The King did not consider God. He did not anticipate the judgment of God. He was so engrossed in living life to the way that he desired that he failed to remember A Jehovah was the sovereign of his life! As a fool, this King had rejected the history of the past. He thought the past lessons had no meaning for him in the present!

  The modern “Fool” is very much like Belshazzar. The past is ignored. God’s sovereignty is ignored. The judgment of God is erased from memory. All is lived for the moment and is directed by Self! (Mt 7:26-27; Tit 3:3).

 f. Selfish.
  Here is the taproot of Belshazzar’s problems!  This trait explains why the King became such a “fool”! He allowed his ways to be directed by selfish desires. If anything prevented his “needs and desires” from being satisfied, it was quickly rejected. This selfishness is seen as the King led those present at the feast in honoring idols (5:4). Belshazzar was interested ONLY in HIS gods! 

  This trait is pronounced in our modern religious society. Many will say they believe in God but they believe in a “god” that is not in the Bible! This “god” that they worship is really a reflection of their own strong desires for that which is perceived as giving them comfort and pleasure! If they are told about Jehovah God of Scripture, they are repulsed because that God does not fit their “needs.” Thus, selfishness redefines the God of Scripture to become a “god” of personal convenience. Many today (if at all honest) want a heaven that is “Godless”! They want the rewards and beauties but not the God!  “If even only a fraction of the teaching of Scripture is true, they are in for the rudest of awakenings, similar to that which Belshazzar experienced” (Ferguson, 113).

 g. Unconverted.
  When Belshazzar saw the hand writing on the wall, he was perplexed, frightened, and shaken to the bone!  He had been made aware of the judgment of God. The foundations of his life were shaken. Such a depiction should have brought Belshazzar to conversion. However, the King’s heart became even harder! Even confronted by the presence of God, the King remained devoted to Self and antagonistic toward God!

 h.  Desperate.
  When the King realized the terror he faced, he was desperate to do anything or find anyone who could answer his dilemma. He promised everything he was able to give. He wanted out of his trouble. He was prepared to offer anything in exchange for his soul (Mk 8:37). He trusted in human resources; human potential. The splendid city and glorious past were of no use. In 5:9 Belshazzar’s desperation is evident. All he had trusted for security was worthless.

  This is a portrait of the utter despair that will overcome all who face the Lord’s terror unprepared! They have trusted in everything but God. They have constructed their own idols and fashioned God into a polluted image that caters to their wants and needs. However they will sadly discover the futility of redesigning God and of modifying God’s Laws to suit personal tastes. When the Lord returns they will demonstrate the terror of 5:9 (cf Rv 6:14-17). “WHO” is able to stand in such a day? ONLY those who have OBEYED God’s will. ONLY those who have not turned to the right or to the left. ONLY those who have remained strong and courageous in their faith. Human resources, material strength, good-time feelings will NOT provide eternal security!

 I. Arrogant.
  Belshazzar’s arrogance is pronounced! In his drunken condition the King cynically addressed Daniel. He saw God’s prophet as inferior because he was an alien captive. He saw Daniel as little better than the common slave. He despised Daniel’s age (the prophet was about 80 years old) in the comment in 5:13. The Queen Mother (This was possibly Nebuchadnezzar’s wife because the Bible does not make references to “grand” parents or “great-grand” parents. It simply uses the term “father” to indicate relationships.) Displayed respect for Daniel but such was not demonstrated by Belshazzar.

  j. NOTE: This was the character of the leader of Babylon. Such a character would not recognize the sovereignty of Jehovah God. Such a character was reprobate. Such a character in the nation’s chief executive could only lead the nation into dissolution. This tragic Truth is eternal and explains why there has been a succession of “world empires” throughout earth’s history. One nation will rise in might and supremacy because it honors God’s purposes but then self-centeredness takes over and God is rejected. Through a series of downward incidents the once great nation becomes less and less until ultimately it vanishes (cf Da 2:21). King Belshazzar had chosen to ignore Jehovah God. His choice spelled doom for his nation. 

 4. This single chapter offers insight to the “national sins” of Babylon. That a nation is held accountable by the Almighty is evident in many Scriptures (cf Pr 1:22-26; 29:1;  Amos 1:3-3:2; etc.). Babylon’s national decay was encouraged by . . .

  The Babylonian Empire had conquered the world. Her armies were victorious. Her wealth unparallel. Babylon, the capitol city, was well protected against a siege and had stores of food that would last for years. However, this security led the nation away from Nebuchadnezzar’s confession of God’s sovereignty. The very night of the feast, Belshazzar was killed and the splendid city was destroyed! Such is the “folly” of those who lean upon things for security other than God’s Word (cf Lk 12:20). 

  Daniel addressed Belshazzar as a covenant breaker (5:22, 23). The might of the King did not void the power of Jehovah God! Belshazzar was guilty because he failed to live according to God’s will. Belshazzar simply turned away from the Truth that he should have obeyed. In 5:23-24 the words “you” and “your” are used fourteen times to underscore the King’s folly. He had thought he could place himself above Jehovah God. Such an attitude permeated the entire nation and brought the sudden punishment!

  The King and nation refused to worship and honor Jehovah God (5:21, 23). They demonstrated devotion to Self. This condemned them! NOTE: Such condemns anyone whether s/he is striving to “worship” God or Self. Whenever man takes God’s Will and refashions it to suit Self, blasphemy occurs EVEN if the person is sincere! (Cf Mt 7:21ff).

  Mankind is “incurably religious.” S/He will worship. The troubling question asks, “WHAT will mankind worship?”  Belshazzar and Babylon worshiped metal, wood, and stone. That was idolatry. Modern man worships a “god” that s/he thinks is in the Bible BUT it is a redesigned God of the Bible. It is fashioned to fit man’s “personal” desires. The only difference between modern society and ancient Babylon is that modern man has become better at disguising his idols! 

 5. Babylon’s national destruction resulted because of the nation’s moral meltdown. In rejecting the God that Nebuchadnezzar confessed, Babylon faced horrible consequences. Here is what happened to a nation that rejected God’s righteous rule:

  The hand writing on the wall bluntly judged the King and nation as having been weighed but found lacking. There was nothing in the nation that was worth redeeming – all was corrupt! “The part was over!” Now Belshazzar realized too late that Jehovah God is the Universal Sovereign. A tragic observation – even when damnation is pronounced, Belshazzar shows no regret. There is no repentance demonstrated!

  The historian Xenophon records that Babylon was captured that very night and the King were killed. See 5:30-31. After a lifetime Belshazzar had nothing! He had sacrificed everything for that which would give him pleasure on earth. He was unprepared to meet the great God.

  Belshazzar learned the hard way that God requires total submission. This submission will be given voluntarily or compelled (cf Ro 14:11). A person, or a nation, may scorn God and redefine God’s Laws but such will only be done for the briefest of time. It may appear that some are escaping God’s punishment as they lessen Divine restrictions and encourage innovations to God’s commands. However these are on a slippery slope and will only descend into greater rebellion and ultimately greater damnation (Ps 73:3-28).

  The nation that rejects God’s Laws will perish (Pr 14:34). A nation had never endured once it began to redesign God’s Laws!

 6. In looking at this somber chapter we find the following lessons that have a significant lesson for our lives and especially our nation.

 a. The Summons – “MENE.”
  The word literally means “numbered.” It reminds us that earthly days are limited and accounts will be made. This figure is taken from the marketplace where products would be weighed and tested for integrity. The scales would be hand-held and objects would be tested. The scales that judge mankind are held by One who sees all actions; who knows all thoughts and hearts; who hears all words. He is impartial because He does not allow emotions to cloud judgment!

 b. The Trial – “TEKEL.”
  This word literally means “weighed.” It reefers to being placed on the judgment balance. Eternity is not decided by fate, chance, luck, or emotions. Eternity is decided by reasoned judgment.

 c. The Sentence – “UPHARSIN.”
  This term literally refers to “divided.” This refers to the punishment that is given. After our limited time on earth, we will be judged by God’s Truth and then will be sentenced accordingly.

Copyright 1999 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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