And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but 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. -Dan. 5:22-23
We have arrived once again at a vital time in American history. It is election day. During this political season a certain proverb often comes to mind which says, “Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble” (Prov. 25:19). I am constantly reminded that time after time human institutions fail. It should be no surprise, yet I find myself at time slumping in my seat, peeking through my fingers in disbelief at the choices set before us. Quite simply we are voting for pagans (and quite possibly have been with the majority of presidential elections). There is no way around it.
This election has been weighing on me a little more than previous elections. It may be because I am a little older. It may be because I have a growing little family of five and I legitimately have thoughts and questions about what the world will be when my children are my age. My duty as a husband and father are immediately brought to the forefront of my mind. Am I teaching those in my care how to live well, how to follow Christ no matter what? When the time comes, will I teach them how to die well? Barring the Lord’s return, if I leave them before they leave me, will I have given them the tools they need to navigate a barren land and remain faithful to God? It is interesting how the good providence of a dim political sphere rips the world and its system from your grip and gives you a clearer vision of what truly matters. It is times like these that often make me think more about those ultimate issues.
I was comforted by a familiar story from the book of Daniel recently and I believe the lessons from it are immanently practical for such a time as this. But familiarity has a curious way of making us overlook the obvious, and it may ultimately leave us ignorant of the truth that would otherwise transform us. I will offer no new things here, yet I pray by such a familiarity you will comfortably perceive its truth and be pierced by the comfort this story offers.
The story of Belshazzar is the story of the last night of an empire. It is the story of imperceptible demise. Empires , however, do not fall over night. Sometimes giants take time to hit the ground.
Belshazzar was a man of advantage. He was not ignorant of the dealings of God in the world. He had an example of what God would do with a man who lived in rebellion against the voice of the Lord. That man was Nebuchadnezzar, his father. God humiliated his father and made him eat grass like a beast of the field (Dan. 4:28-33). God made him lose his mind. He made Nebuchadnezzar as stupid as the ox of the field. Sin always reduces a man to the level of a beast (Gen. 4:7).
We may confidently say that Belshazzar did not take heed to the dealings of God in the life of his father. In the truest sense of the word, Belshazzar was an existentialist. All that he cared about was the here and now. But a man is not a culmination of the here and now. A man is always a product of his past, whether he wants to admit it or not. Wise men take heed to the past. They cannot, nor can the nation they lead, move forward without a proper view of the past.
On the last night of the empire, Belshazzar was feasting. It was a great feast with much wine flowing. Once the wine was coursing well through his veins he called for the vessels of the Jerusalem temple to be brought out that they might drink from them in defiance of God. Belshazzar partied with what was consecrated to the worship of God. The kings, lords, his wives and concubines all drank from the sacred items of the temple. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Belshazzar drank in defiance of God, not knowing that very night was the last night of his empire and that very night his soul would be required of him.
Numbered, Weighed, Divided
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the wall. Though silently written the sound was deafening. Like mighty rushing waters, Belshazzar was swept away in fear. His mind was consumed with alarm. Life rushed out of his face, fleeing back to his heart in self-preservation. Groping for answers he called for enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers. No one could answer, except one.
Daniel, the man of God, had answers…and he was willing to speak. Daniel’s answer was not one of hope, joy, political victory, or even long life. It was a message of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come.
Daniel’s message was a message of the past. He reminded Belshazzar of the dealings of God with his father Nebuchadnezzar. He reminded him that it was the Most High God who gave to his father kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. He also reminded him that it was that same God who stripped his father naked, drove him into the field, made him like a wild beast “until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.“
Daniels message was also a message of the present. God’s ways had not changed simply because the kingdom had been passed from one to another. Daniel rebuked Belshazzar and leveled five charges against him.
- He did no humble his heart, though he knew how God had dealt with his father.
- He made war against God. He had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven.
- He desecrated what was holy. He drank wine from holy things.
- He worshiped idols of silver and gold, bronze, iron, and stone.
- He did not honor God, in whom was his very breath.
And then came the fateful words written on the wall.
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN
God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and brought it to an end. God had weighed him in the balance and found him wanting. God had divided his kingdom and given it to another. The imperceptible demise of the kingdom was now upon him like a roaring lion. That very night Belshazzar would stand face to face with the God who wrote those fateful words with His very finger and give an account of his life.
Shall Not The Judge of All The Earth Do What Is Right?
The story of Belshazzar is fascinating. I believe it offers three practical lessons (among many others) for the Christian.
First, God is utterly sovereign. He is meticulously sovereign. Maverick molecules do not exist in his universe. He will do what is right all the time because he is in control of all things. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. One thing is certain – it is not only by God’s sovereign appointment that any particular ruler be established in a nation, but the very decisions of that ruler are not outside the bounds of his sovereign control. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1).
Second, Christians must speak the truth in season and out of season (Ecc. 11:1-6; 2 Tim. 4:2). Sadly, religious speech is being attacked daily. What regret we would have as the people of God if in favorable times we were too afraid to speak out of fear of opinions, only to find in unfavorable times we are shut up under law from speaking? Daniel spoke, even as a captive in a pagan kingdom. He spoke plainly, boldly, and without compromise (Dan. 5:17). “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1).
Third, Christians must trust God. The Son of God, according to the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7-8), in his humanity, was not omniscient, nor was he omnipotent. God has concealed from us certain things that we might learn to trust him and be on the watch for his return (Deut. 29:29). If the Son of God, according to his humanity, was reliant upon the Father, if there was such an acquiescence of the heart of the Messiah to rest in his Father’s hands, if he was content in his humanity with not knowing all things (Matt. 24:36), can the believer do less? Is not Christ our example?
The times are uncertain and the future is unknown to all but God. The believer ought not let their heart be troubled. The rebel ought to fear. Their kingdom has long come to and end. Their captain has been chained and thrown into outer darkness. Thankfully for the believer we are not electing a Messiah. We already have one. Hallelujah! So, keep trusting believer. Keep speaking. Our King comes speedily!
Not only does the story of Belshazzar have much to say to us, but it has much to say to both Presidential candidates. Those words are this: God has established His kingdom. It will never be destroyed. It will not be given into the hands of another. A stone not cut with human hands will crush all other kingdoms and bring them to an end (Dan. 2:34). It will endure forever because its King lives forever. The bounds of your kingdom fall within the pale of the ultimate sovereign kingdom of God. The weight of your responsibility is enormous. Act wisely. True wisdom, fit for kings and judges, is found in obedience to Christ (Prov. 9:10). Are you truly wise, dear candidate? Or are “We the people” electing a fool? Are you of the stock of Belshazzar – proud, presumptuous, idolatrous, desecrating holy things? Do you find yourself in the bulls-eye of Psalm 2, raging, plotting, counseling how you may somehow shake off the rule of the Lord? Weighty questions indeed. Eternally significant questions for sure. Take heed to the words of one of the wisest kings who ever lived.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.