We know Daniel 5 is not only important to the Church, but has become a crucial part of civilized society. For instance, the story in Daniel 5 has popularized a common phrase in our culture, “the writing is on the wall.” This is way to say, “the end is near.”
Many times the arts communicate to us the significance of something. We saw that in Daniel 3 when Nebuchadnezzar built his statue. I wanted to show this painting from Rembrandt on Daniel 5 [show painting]. In it we can see the “writing on the wall,” but notice the shock and awe upon everyone in the room. One of the people literally looks like they are about to fall to their knees in fear. They women on the left looks like she is seeing something terrifying. But this is not the only piece of art that has used this story. In his song “The Times They Are A-Changin,” Bob Dylan uses his words and show us the image we see in Daniel 5.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's the battle outside raging
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slowest now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
Cause the times they are a-changing
- Bob Dylan
Most scholars believe Dylan wrote this as an anthem to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This was Dylan way of telling people the “writing is on the wall”—the status quo was about to change.
In our story today we will see something similar—the status quo is about to change. I believe what God will tell us from this story today is…
Theme: God determines what is sacred, therefore, it is wise to humble our hearts, and pay attention.
1. Things Change But God Does Not—Daniel 5.1-16.
Daniel 5 opens up with the author significantly fast-forwarding the story of Daniel’s life. At the end of Daniel 4 we saw Nebuchadnezzar humbling himself under God’s might power, and this resulting in glorious worship of God. But our text today opens up today with a relative of Nebuchadnezzar who is right back into the systematic sin of the Babylonian empire.
Belshazzar is a distant relative of Nebuchadnezzar. Later in our text it will say, “And you, his son, Belshazzar,” but we know the son of Nebuchadnezzar was Nabonidus. Not only that, but until 1853 we had no other historical record of a Babylonian king named Belshazzar. As a result of this some might ask, “Can we trust the Word of God?” As Christians we must remember, even though the world changes God does not. Just because the world can’t prove God’s Word, just because we can’t prove God’s Word, that does not mean God can’t. Proverbs 30.5 tells us, “Every word of God proves true.” God used an archeologist named John George Taylor to prove that His Word was true about Belshazzar being a real person who ruled over Babylon during the extended absence of his father Nabonidus. Belshazzar is a son of Nebuchadnezzar as much as Jesus is a son of David. This is an ancient way of saying a distant relative.
What does all this mean? What we see is there are systems in the world that evaluate and observe the world in which we live. These systems of thought are put together by people who want to better understand the world in which we live. These systems include science, philosophy, history, and etc. The systems are not sinful, but they were designed by sinful imperfect men and women. Those who designed these systems openingly admit they are not without error, but that is not the claim of the Bible:
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?—Numbers 23.19
Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.—Psalm 89.35
We believe the Bible is the highest form of thought, because it was written by God, preserved by God, and carried out by God. Our Bible is trustworthy because God is trustworthy. There will be times when it seems to us that God’s Word is off, but this is when we must remember we are sinful and imperfect and renew our faith in God. We must confess, “God I do not understand, but I trust You are who You say You are.”
This is not the only thing in our text today that shows us God does not change while the world around us is changing. We know from history that the Babylonian empire was being attacked by the Mede and Persian empire on a consistent basis during this time. In the midst of that chaos this political leader decided to throw a feast or party. It would seem like he probably did this to keep the spirits of his people up in the midst of suffering, anxiety and chaos. Many people were probably struggling, crying out, “where are our gods?” They were going through theological anxiety, doubt, fears, and so much more. Many people who face these kinds of adversities want a way to numb the pain they are facing. Leaders are no different today, and in some ways it is worse. We still have people who throw parties to numb the pain of the in which we live. In fact, some of the common numbing devices back then can be same for us today—alcohol, sex, and drugs. But we also see those numbing devices can be Netflix, websurfing, watching TV, checking social media, playing video games, and so much more. The most common numbing device today is “escapism.” We want to enter a world of fantasy, free from the painful realities of our world.
During this drunken escapism festival we once again see the gracious hand of God (literally)—READ Daniel 5.5-6. Belshazzar and his guests were now in awe. They were filled with fear and puzzled by this miraculous event. But God is intervening on behalf of Belshazzar and his people to warn them of their coming destruction. What this tells us is God can speak to us even in our escapism. While not every time, but many times, our desire for escapism is rooted in the same sinful reaction of our first parents—run and hide. But like He did with our first parents in the garden, God is seeking us out, asking us to come out of hiding. God could have whipped them off the face of the earth and rebooted, but He chose to seek them out. God could whip us off the face of the earth, but He is seeking out right now. God has not changed.
2. Humble Lessons Learned From History—Daniel 5.17-31.
As we continue our story, the king recognized the significance of this event, so he calls us his royal advisors to tell him what the writing on the wall means (Dan 5.7-9). We have heard this story before, but none can. His mother, the queen, comes in and tells him about Daniel (Dan 5.10-12). Quickly note, how Daniel had become a fleeting thought. This is important, because Daniel’s life shows us God’s fame is most important and not ours. We are called to faithfully lives that are pleasing to Him, for His glory and not worry about our glory.
Belshazzar calls Daniel into his presence, and this 80 year old man comes on the seen like these smooth seasoned professional. The king offered him “glory” and Daniel like, “Nah, I’m good” (Dan 5.17). Daniel then tells him about his own family history, which shows us the importance of history, especially our family history. There many great lessons to be learned from others mistakes. Knowing human history, our family history, even church history can help us learn from others mistakes. But Daniel tells us what can happen if we refuse these lessons—READ Daniel 5.22-28. When we refuse to be humble students of history we will be destroyed with everyone else.
Slow down and think about this with me for a moment. Belshazzar shows to take what belonged to God and use it however he wanted. He chose to take what was sacred and use it to escape, to numb away the pain, to use for his own glory. Many people in human history, our family history, and yes, even in church history have chosen to take what is sacred and use it for their own glory. We are not supposed to tamper with what God has made sacred. God has said human life is sacred, marriage is sacred, our bodies are sacred, truth is sacred, God’s Word is sacred. How do we know what is sacred and what is not? Simply put, GOD. Have you ever thought about how God calls a table holy in the OT? How can a table holy? Isn’t “holiness” about some attribute we have or the morality we have? It is not less than that, but is so much more. Sacredness, holiness, is about God, not us. God makes holy, God makes sacred whatever He choses. In these later days God has chosen to make everything holy through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you claim that God has set you apart as holy, as sacred to Him, then we must live like that.
Many in human history, many in our family members have been married, they have had bodies, they have had children, they have pursued truth, and have even heard God’s Word, but what have they done with it? Have they treated all these things like they are sacred? Those who chose to live however they want, not considering how to steward what God has given in a holy way then they will face the same end as Belshazzar. God will number our days, and if we do meet His measure, not our own, we will brought to an end—“the writing is on the wall.” Friends, may we be reminded today through the message of Daniel and the example of Belshazzar, that we should humble our hearts, learn from history, and let God tell us what is sacred. May God tell us how we can steward what He has given us for His glory.