Daniel 5 opens with a new king on the throne in Babylon. Belshazzar is the king now and so many years have passed by. Based on the events recorded in this chapter we know that the time is about 539 BC, 47 years after Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord. The first verse is important because it helps understand what is happening. This is not just a feast but notice that the king “drank wine in front of the thousand” which tells us that this is a show. It is not just a party but a statement the king is making in front of the thousand. Verses 2-4 reveal what statement the king is making by drinking in front of the thousand. He commands that the silver and gold vessels that Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple of the Lord be brought so they could drink from them. Verse 4 reveals their hearts: “They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
This is a total mockery of God. This is a show against the true and living God. They are praising their gods while drinking from the captured vessels of God’s house, indicating that their gods are powerful and the true God is nothing. This is personal pride and this is the blaspheming of the Lord. So while they are drinking their wines from God’s vessels captured from God’s house and praising their gods, fingers of a human hand appear and write on the wall. Now that is a party stopper! Fear strikes the king as his body just melts in terror. Belshazzar calls for all of his enchanters to be brought in to read the writing and give its interpretation. So urgent is his message that he says that anyone who can read the writing and give the interpretation will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain placed around his neck, and will rank third in the kingdom. But none of the enchanters could read the writing or tell the interpretation. Thus, the king is greatly terrified and his thousand in the room are perplexed (5:9).
The queen mother came into the banqueting hall and tells Belshazzar that there is a man who can give you an answer. He did this for Nebuchadnezzar with the wisdom like the wisdom of the gods and he was chief of the enchanters because of his excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding of dreams (5:11). That man’s name is Daniel. Call him in and he will show you the interpretation. So Daniel is brought in before the king. The king gives the rundown of what has happened, how no one can read the writing or give the interpretation, and how the one who can will be clothed in purple, given a gold chain, and made third ruler in the kingdom.
But Daniel does not care about these things (5:17). Yet Daniel will read the writing to the king and make known the interpretation. Before he does, Daniel gives the king a history lesson. The Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty so that all peoples trembled and feared him. But when his heart was proud he was taken down from his kingly throne and his glory was taken away from him. He was driven away from humans, his mind was like an animal, he lived with the donkeys, eating grass like an ox. All of this happened “until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will” (5:21). Belshazzar, you did not humble yourself even though you knew all of this. You lifted yourself against the Lord of heaven, praising the gods of silver and gold which do not see or hear or know. Listen to the end of verse 23: You have not honored the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways.
It is from the presence of God that this hand was sent and the writing says: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. Now before we go on it is important to know why this was so difficult to understand. Each of these words are a unit of weight. So it would be like us seeing the words on the wall: “a pound, a pound, an ounce, and a half a ounce.” But here is why the reading is tricky. Remember that Hebrew and Aramaic languages do not have vowels. So if you insert different vowel points to these words you get: “numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided.” So what does this mean? This is why there is no understanding among all the enchanters of Babylon. Daniel reads the handwriting on the wall and now gives the interpretation.
God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. You have been weighed in the balances and found lacking. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians. Perhaps the most surprising part of the account is that with the message of judgment and the end of this kingdom, King Belshazzar gives Daniel a purple robe, a gold chain, and made this third ruler in the kingdom of Babylon (5:29). But that very night Belshazzar was killed and the kingdom was given to Darius the Mede. History reveals to us that the Medes and Persians had surrounded the city for invasion. But Babylon was an impenetrable city. Cyrus had attacked the city before and was not successful. Babylon was an amazing city. It had two sets of walls. The walls were so thick that four horsed chariots rode on the tops of the walls to thwart any attackers who tried to come over the walls. The walls were more than 40 feet high and encompassed the city at least 11 miles around. So while the Persians have the city surrounded, Belshazzar has his nobles partying in his palace because they believed in their pride that they could not be taken. The Euphrates River flowed through the city of Babylon. Cyrus ordered that this river be diverted by digging out a channel so that the water level lowered enough that the armies could wade through shallow water under the walls and attack the city while the leaders partied inside. So what is message for God’s people from this account? Consider how the book jumps to end of the Babylonian Empire. What is the message for the people of God?
The Message: Honor God
The heart of the message comes from the mouth of Daniel as he teaches King Belshazzar in verses 22-23. “You have not humbled your heart though you knew all this” and “you have not honored God.” The whole of the account is about the need that God must be honored and we humble ourselves before him because nothing else must be honored. Belshazzar praised useless gods and dishonored the true God. Belshazzar showed contempt for God and the things of God. God must be honored or else judgment rightly falls. Think about how God declared that to us in the New Testament. Romans 1:18 declares, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” How did this come about? Why does the wrath of God fall on them? Romans 1:21 reads, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” The wrath of God falls on those who do not honor him as God because by refusing to do so, we become futile in our thinking and give ourselves over to sinful actions (Romans 1:21-32). Honoring God is the basis for right living. Failing to honor God is the basis for all our sinfulness. Sin is the result of not honoring God in our hearts. When a nation does not honor God or people do not honor God, the handwriting is on the wall that judgment will come.
We must honor God. Daniel 5 gives us three important reasons to place in our hearts to motivate our continued honoring of God. First, God must be honored because we all have been found lacking. Just like Belshazzar, we have been found lacking when we are weighed in the balances. Ephesians 2:1-3 makes it clear that we are dead in our sins and by nature children of wrath. We have been found lacking. Too often we do the same as Belshazzar, praising the physical realm and physical things. We give glory, honor, and attention to our possessions or to ourselves rather than God. We honor ourselves and set ourselves up as supreme rather than honoring God and humbling ourselves before his supremacy. We have been found equally lacking and must turn our hearts to God and honor him.
Second, we must honor God because the Most High God rules over the affairs of the earth. This has been a repeated message in many chapter in the book of Daniel. Once again this message is declared in Daniel 5:21. Since the Most High God rules over the earth, what else must be our response but to honor him as Lord and Master! Our Sovereign God can bring down even the mightiest kingdom on earth and the mightiest of evil kings. He is worthy of our glory and honor. God is in control in spite of all appearances. What a comfort to know that we worship and honor the God who has power and might in all creation! Putting the two together, consider that we have been found lacking before the Most High God who rules over the affairs of the earth. This leads to the final point.
Third, we must honor God because he is “the God in whose hand is your breath and in whose hands are all your ways.” Let those words sink in you for a moment. Your life is in the hand of God. Your very breath is in the hand of God. All of your ways are in the hand of God. Do we have a greater sense of the scripture saying that our lives are but a breath or a vapor? Do we have a greater sense of how limited and finite we are when we understand that our lives rest in the hand of Almighty God? Belshazzar had a right to fear because Daniel is telling him that your breath is in his hand and the implication is that he can snuff out your life. Your life and your actions are in his very hand. Do you think that God must be honored since our lives rest in his hands?
How much more should our God be honored because our very lives and breaths are in his hands, yet he shows grace to us and does not immediately extinguish our lives because of our sins! How God must be honored because he has mercy toward us which is seen in his love and grace in Jesus! If your life is in someone’s hands, what would you do? If your life is in someone’s hands who has the power to end your life because of what you have done, what would you do? If your life is in someone’s hands who has power to end your life because of what you have done but that person shows your mercy, what would you do? Honor God because we have been found lacking, yet the Most High God who rules over earth and holds your life in his hands, loves you and gave his Son for you so that you could be saved from the wrath to come. Honor God in your hearts. Honor God in your actions. Honor God in your words. Everything in our lives must be done to the praise of his honor and glory. Live to honor God in all you do.