We've titled this episode “Going Down in a Blaze of Glory” – a term used to describe a final action done in an extraordinary and impressive manner. King Belshazzar of Babylon tried to do just this when he threw a lavish banquet while the Persian - Mede empire was on his doorstep about to overthrow Babylon. But instead of going down in a blaze of glory, he pees his pants when he receives a dire message scrolled on the wall by a bodiless hand.
Daniel Chapter 5 shows us the emptiness and futility of life without God. It’s an important lesson for everyone. It is something every person needs to learn! Almost every day we wake up to at least one news story of someone famous, rich, or powerful who’s been humbled and brought down off of their lofty perch because of sin. But shame doesn't have to be the last word! Tune in to hear more!
Episode 105 – Going Down in a Blaze of Glory
Welcome back! If you’ll remember from last week’s episode, King Nebuchadnezzar’s story in chapter 4 ended with his pride being crushed, but in the end he praised and glorified God, and God raised him up and restored him. But that’s not going to be the case for the king in whose the focus of today’s episode.
Today we’re looking at Daniel chapter 5. Daniel chapters 4 and 5 form the middle part of the chiastic structure we keep talking about. And we came up with an idea for those of you who still might be unsure what a literary chiastic structure looks like.
We did! We’ve been trying to explain it, but it’s hard to visualize just from an explanation. So, we’ve put the chiasm of Daniel chapters 2-7 on the Home page of our website, www.proverbs910ministries.com right beside this week’s episode. So if I you’re confused or just interested, take a look!
We’ve said that a chiastic structure has a main point that’s right in the center. And right in the very middle of chapters 4 and 5 is this line, Daniel 4:37 which says, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
That’s the central point of chapters 2-6. The central point of the chiasm is Daniel 4:37. God’s is sovereignly in control of everything and He has the right to humble the most prideful and boastful nations or rulers or persons and crush them; and to raise up any nation or ruler or person that He pleases. And He is absolutely right and just in doing so. Nebuchadnezzar praised God in the end and was restored. But if his ancestor we’re going to talk about today knew anything about that history (which he probably did), he doesn’t heed the warning! Daniel Chapter 5 shows us the emptiness and futility of life without God. It’s an important lesson for everyone – so important that God wrote a whole book about it, the book of Ecclesiastes.
It is something every person needs to learn! Almost every day we wake up to at least one news story of someone famous, rich, or powerful who’s been humbled and brought down off of their lofty perch because of sin. They go out in shame; not glory; but that doesn’t have to be the last word!
Andrew Cuomo just went down in flames because of sexual harassment. Bill Cosby may seem to have a bright spot in his life by being left out of prison, but his sin has marred his reputation. And we see it in Christian circles with pastors and teachers who are hiding an affair, who embezzle money from their ministries, or some who go off the rails really bad; sometimes to the point of renouncing their faith.
But like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon whose humbling made him turn to God, there are examples of that today. Chuck Colson who was part of the Watergate scandal fell from his position along with the rest of them, went to prison, but ended up turning to God. God took his shame and disgrace and used it for his (Chuck Colson’s) good, for the good of other believers and God used it for His own glory!
Mr. Colson and King Nebuchadnezzar realized that it’s God who gets the glory – not us! Chris, the king in today’s story never comes to that realization. We titled this episode “Going Down in a Blaze of Glory” – a term used to describe a final action done in an extraordinary and impressive manner. This king seemed like he was going to go down in a blaze of glory by throwing a very lavish banquet that ended up being the last thing he did. But it was anything but glorious!
Unless you consider peeing your pants at a lavish party you’re hosting “a blaze of glory” then no…. this king definitely did not go out in any kind of glory! Let’s get started! It’s the year 539 B.C. at this point, and the king we’re talking about today is Belshazzar (not to be confused with the Babylonian name Belteshazzar that had been given to Daniel).
I’ll start by reading Daniel 5:1-2. “King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
2Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his fathera 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.”
Let’s stop for a moment and get a picture of King Belshazzar. Although verse 2 uses the word “father” for Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar wasn’t King Nebuchadnezzar’s son. The word “father” in Aramaic means “ancestor” or “predecessor.” King Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus and was his father’s co-regent when he was away from the city. Nabonidus (the father) spent the last ten years of Babylonian rule in a distant part of the land, forced from having any true power because he didn’t line up politically or religiously with the mainstream majority of Babylonians. So his son, Belshazzar, is in charge.
Belshazzar may have been acting ruler from the capital city of Babylon for about the last ten years of Babylonian history, but he wasn’t too impressive. In fact, his father is commonly referred to as the last king of Babylon, not him. And, except for the biblical account, Belshazzar (the son) didn’t even show up in historical records until some clay cylinders were excavated in 1854 mentioning him, and his name was confirmed later in 1882 when some ancient text called the Nabonidus Chronicle was translated. Until then, people questioned whether the Bible and the book of Daniel were wrong.
We’re telling you all this so that you get a picture of what king Belshazzar was like. Like you said, Rose, not too impressive. And just before Belshazzar became king, Cyrus the Great of Persia came to power, conquered the Medes in 550 BC and now he was marching on, taking more lands, including those of the Babylonian empire. Cyrus of Persia was headed for the city of Babylon, in fact, he had already started besieging it by the time of the account we’re talking about today. The city was thought to be impregnable because of its walls and the fact that it was surrounded by the Euphrates river. But being besieged still had to be somewhat disconcerting!
You’d have to be insane not to have some doubts about whether you’d survive. Now, Belshazzar wasn’t very impressive but that didn’t stop him from being proud. What does a prideful king like Belshazzar do when his enemy is on his doorstep? Prepare the city for the attack? Ration the food? Sure-up the walls? No … he decides to throw a lavish feast for himself, a thousand of his noblemen, his wives and his concubines! Let’s read on.
Verses 3 and 4 go on to say, “ 3Then 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. 4They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” King Belshazzar thumbs his nose at God and brings out the very things used in Jerusalem for worshiping God and then he and his company drink from them and praise the gods (“little g”) of what the drinking utensils are made of.
Here’s what John Calvin said about Belshazzar: “Here we must consider the Providence of God, in arranging the times of events, so that the impious, when the time of their destruction is come, cast themselves headlong of their own accord. This occurred to this wicked king. Wonderful indeed was the stupidity which prepared a splendid banquet filled with delicacies, while the city was besieged. For Cyrus had begun to besiege the city for a long time with a large army. The wretched king was already half a captive; and yet, as if in spite of God, he provided a rich banquet, and invited a thousand guests.”
Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Belshazzar’s feast is about to be cut short. I’ll read the next three verses: Verses 5-7 says, “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. 6Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.” Iain Duguid says in his commentary, “most probably, this does not mean that “his legs gave way,” as most English translations render it, but rather that he lost control of his bodily functions, with a wet patch appearing under his chair.”
King Belshazzar should be that terrified enough for that to happen! Anyone in their right mind would have to know this was God. But notice, his heart is still hardened. He doesn’t fall to his knees in repentance. People can believe that God exists. They can even witness miraculous things happening, and still never turn to God. Look at Pharaoh, the Pharisees, and many of those who followed Jesus while He was on earth.
Let’s stop here for a moment. This is God’s finger writing on the plaster wall. Let’s talk about a few other times in the Bible “the finger of God” is mentioned.
God wrote the Law on the stone tablets according to Exodus 32:16; something the Apostle Paul calls “the ministry of death” because we can never keep the Law. The writing on this wall is a death sentence too.
As we’ll read in a moment! And, there’s another correlation with the finger of God here. In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how God let Pharaoh’s magicians mimic some of the miraculous things Moses was doing, but then stopped them from being able to do more. Their excuse for not being able to was (in their own words) “this is the finger of God.” That was not too long before God brought the Israelites out of Egypt.
Here we are again seeing God’s finger at work. It’s been almost 70 years since God’s people had been exiled to Babylon. What’s going to happen soon? God’s going to bring His people out exile in Babylon!
So, the writing is on the wall, and King Belshazzar calls in his enchanters, Chaldeans and astrologers and offers them clothes of purple, a gold necklace and becoming third highest ruler in the kingdom to whoever can interpret the writing. But none of the pagans could understand the writing., and the king was “greatly alarmed” and his lords were perplexed, according to the text.
Notice who the king calls to tell him what the writing means: enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Why not call Daniel, or any of the men who worship the One, True God? It would have been unlikely that he had never heard of Daniel, or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego either. Could it be that he wanted someone to give him a “good report” about what was written on the wall? That would be a normal human response .... our default sin nature only wants to hear good. That’s why false teachers and false prophets were and are so popular!
And this guy had just used the holy vessels brought from the Temple to drink from. We said earlier they had “thumbed their noses” at God. If you’re not familiar with that term, it means that you’re mocking someone. I’m sure Belshazzar doesn’t want to hear a true report about the writing on the wall. If you had just mocked God and then that happened, you wouldn’t want to know what God has to say! But God doesn’t leave His word untranslated. I’ll read the next part, verses 10-12. “The queen,c 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. 11There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.d 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,12because 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 is most likely Belshazzar’s mother or grandmother. His other wives seem to already be at the banquet. She would have been familiar with Daniel, who was about 80 years old by now. She says some things to take note of: She points out “your father – your father the king” put this guy, Daniel, in charge of guys like the ones you called. And, she has no doubt Daniel can interpret the writing. Out of reverence to her, and to Nebuchadnezzar, and because of the things she just pointed out, the king really has no choice but to send for Daniel.
The queen mother said that Daniel had the “spirit of the holy gods (little g) living in him.” She almost had the right words! Daniel had the Holy Spirit! The pagans couldn’t understand the words, but Daniel could because he had the Spirit of God! Believers can understand the Bible because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and unbelievers can’t understand the Bible because they don’t have the Holy Spirit.
Daniel is offered the same gifts as the others upon interpretation. Kings would often try to sway a message or prophecy using finances to do it, like with King Balak offering Balaam riches in Numbers 22:15-41.
Daniel refuses the gifts as payment, even though the king still ends up giving them to him.
Instead of diving right into the interpretation, he starts out by schooling Belshazzar and his company with a history lesson. I’ll read what he said, “O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.19And 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. 20But 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. 21He 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.”
Daniel’s speech shows the futility of King Belshazzar’s life by reminding everyone of the greatness of his ancestor, King Nebuchadnezzar, but never leaving out the fact that it is God Who is sovereign over it all. Belshazzar would have known this history – in fact, they all would have known about Nebuchadnezzar.
Belshazzar and the rest of the people there should have been humbled. Their false gods hadn’t helped them to this point. Most of their country had already been conquered. King Cyrus of Persia was on their doorstep! And even when fingers appear out of nowhere and write a cryptic message on the wall, they still are not on their knees.
I’ll continue reading. “22And you his son,f Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23but 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. Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. 25And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL,and PARSIN. 26This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numberedg the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27TEKEL, you have been weighedh in the balances and found wanting; 28PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”i”
King Belshazzar gave to Daniel all that he’d promised him. It was pretty worthless though. Verse 30 says, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31j And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.”
King Cyrus, ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire, conquered Babylon that night. His army dug canals along the Euphrates River, Babylon’s natural defense, and emptied much of the river into a basin, making it shallow enough for them to wade through and enter the city.
Right. The text says “Darius the Mede” received the kingdom. King Cyrus of Persia made Darius the Mede (also known as Gubaru) governor over Babylon after they conquered it. Gubaru was born in 601/600 B.C. which would make him 62 years old when he invaded the conquest of Babylon comes from The Nabonidus Chronicle, that we mentioned earlier, which is a clay cuneiform tablet that is in a British Museum.
Some takeaways? The defiling use of the Temple goblets is like taking the good gifts that God has given us like food, family, work and sex and distorting them in ways that blatantly oppose God’s teaching. And no matter what high and lofty position we might think we’re in, our lives are totally in God’s hands. He can do whatever He wants with any of us at any moment. Maybe even tonight!
The judgement of Belshazzar is a picture of coming judgement for everyone! If you remain impenitent you will suffer eternally. No one is without excuse because nature itself tells us about God, according to Romans 1:18-20 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,g in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
All of us need to take our sin seriously. But if you’re living your life blatantly mocking God, if you’ve twisted the things God intended to be good and used them in ways God never intended and you’ve never repented of those things, take a lesson from King Belshazzar. God is longsuffering and patient, but His patience has limits.
Noah called for repentance for 120 years and then the flood came. 2 Chronicles 36:15 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, csent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 dBut they kept mocking the messengers of God, edespising his words and scoffing at his prophets, funtil the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.
God provided a way of salvation through His Son, Jesus. If you turn to God and ask for forgiveness and trust that Jesus already took that penalty for your sin in your place, you will be saved. And if you think there’s no way you would ever be able to live differently than you are now, God will help you. He will give you a new heart and new desires and the Holy Spirit will help you to change. It might not be easy, but it can happen. But you have to turn to God and ask for forgiveness.
And that’s where we have to end today. If you have any questions about God, salvation, or anything we’ve talked about, email us at [email protected] or private message us through our social media. Or check out our website www.proverbs910ministries.com to for information and resources.
Have a blessed day, everyone!
 Halley, Keaton. “Archaeology Belshazzar.” Creation.com | Creation Ministries International. Creation Ministries International, January 10, 2019. https://creation.com/archaeology-belshazzar.