Our last chapter ended on such a good note that we might have expected it to read – “and they lived happily ever after.” But as we move to chapter five, we have a new king and two new problems. The new king is making very bad choices, and the Medo-Persian armies are threatening the very gates of the beautiful city of Babylon.
We are left to wonder about the influence that King Nebuchadnezzar had on his family. The new king appears to have lost all of the valuable lessons that Nebuchadnezzar learned and spread around his world. It seems to be human nature to rebel to some degree against our parents’ value system. Parents may seem old fashioned and out of touch to us. This new king has rejected all of King Nebuchadnezzar’s acquired wisdom about the one true God.
King Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. There seems to have been a scramble for power that followed. After three other men from his family ruled for very short times and passed from the scene, Nabonidus became king in 556 B.C. He was apparently one of Nebuchadnezzar’s sons-in-law. Nabonidus built a royal palace in the Arabian Peninsula and spent most of his time there It appears that Nabonidus appointed his son, Belshazzar as co-regent and left him in charge of Babylon.
DAY ONE: KING BELSHAZZAR REACTED TO THE IMPENDING CRISIS.
Read: Daniel 5:1-4
A. BABYLON’S LEADERSHIP HAD WEAKENED.
King Belshazzar was obviously not a seasoned leader. Although the Medo-Persian troops had conquered the areas surrounding the city of Babylon about four months earlier, the king was not overly concerned about the security of Babylon. The city had been made into one of the world’s mightiest fortresses by Nebuchadnezzar. The walls and towers and ramparts would appear to have made the city impregnable.
In addition to their amazing fortifications, they had built their walls over the Euphrates River. The river flowed through the city at all times, providing a constant supply of fresh water. The king had also supplied the city with enough food to maintain the population for twenty years. In light of all of these preparations, the king and his subjects could laugh at the idea of an attack or siege from the Medo-Persians.
B. BELSHAZZAR DEFIED THE MOST HIGH GOD.
Possibly all of the dignitaries were within the city walls because they had fled from the approaching armies. Belshazzar took this opportunity to have a feast that became a drinking party. In the midst of the celebration, the king decided to bring in the sacred vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. He used them to toast “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” (v.4)
This was a direct insult to Daniel’s God as well as being offensive to the people of the king’s day. Sacred articles were never used in a profane way but were treated with respect in their houses of worship. (I remember being appalled once when I went to a theatre in Chicago to see a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. At intermission time people ran up and down the aisles serving “communion” in a disrespectful way.)
Belshazzar obviously knew that his grandfather had conquered Jerusalem and had taken these articles from their temple. He took this opportunity to use these goblets to toast the Babylonian gods. Perhaps he thought these gods who had helped Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Jerusalem would help him to withstand the Persians. But Belshazzar had also heard of Nebuchadnezzar’s encounter with Daniel’s God and most likely also knew of the experience of the blazing furnace and the dream predicting the fall of Babylon. This leader had no excuse for his behavior. He was ripe for judgment. This is yet another opportunity for God to show His sovereignty.
- What does Proverbs 31:4-5 say about kings and drinking?
- What does Proverbs 20:1 say about the danger of over indulging in drinking for anyone?
- What are some ways we can show contempt for God today?
- What are some of the things in our lives that make us feel invincible?
DAY TWO: BELSHAZZAR RESPONDED TO MYSERIOUS WRITING.
Read: Daniel 5:5-9
A. BELSHAZZER SUDDENLY SOBERED.
The next thing that happens reminds us of a Halloween trick! The fingers of a hand without a body began to write words on the palace wall. The mood shifted from revelry to terror. What did these words mean and who wrote them?
B. BELSHAZZAR SOUGHT AN ANSWER
Belshazzar did what his grandfather did when he was trying to solve a mystery. He called for his wise men. He promised them great things if they could tell him what the words meant. The one who could reveal the mystery would receive a purple robe (robe of royalty), a gold chain, and would be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Nabonidus was the number one ruler, Belshazzar was second, and the wisest man would be made the third. But none of the men could interpret the message. They could read the words, but they were at a loss to know what they meant in regard to Belshazzar and his kingdom.
Once again, the best minds in the Babylonian Empire were rendered helpless in explaining the mysteries of THE MOST HIGH GOD. God alone knows the future and chooses to reveal whatever He likes to whomever He chooses.
- Today we use the expression “the handwriting on the wall” to describe something that will surely happen. What reasons can you think of for God using this method of communication?
- Describe what physically happened to Belshazzar when he saw the hand.
- What reasons did Belshazzar have for being so frightened?
- Where do you go when you need answers to life’s surprises or crises?
- What does Scripture say about fear for God’s children? (1 John 4:18)
DAY THREE: DANIEL RETOLD NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S STORY.
Read: Daniel 5:10-21
A. THE QUEEN MOTHER POINTED TO DANIEL FOR HELP.
We might wonder why Daniel was not among the wise men who were initially brought in to seek help for the distraught king. It appears that Daniel was no longer in active service. King Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for a number of years and the leadership had changed hands several times. Daniel would be in his eighties by now.
The queen that is mentioned is thought to be either the widow or the daughter of King Nebuchadnezzar. It was an Oriental custom for a new king to marry the widows of former kings in order to make his claim to the throne more secure. As a queen mother, she would have a highly respected position. She appears to be old enough to remember the special skills of Daniel.
B. DANIEL REMINDED BELSHAZZAR OF HIS FAILURE TO LEARN.
Belshazzar offered Daniel the same rewards that he offered the other wise men. But Daniel refused the offer to make it clear that he wasn’t inventing an interpretation for personal gain.
Before giving the message, Daniel gave Belshazzar a history lesson. He recounted how the God of Israel made Nebuchadnezzar a great king (with much authority over men) but then humbled him because of his pride until he recognized the sovereign rule of God.
Then Daniel pointed an accusing finger at Belshazzar who knew about this and yet refused to honor God. Belshazzar had even arrogantly mocked God with the desecration of the temple vessels. That is the reason for the hand-written message from God. How different Jehovah is from their gods who do not see, hear or understand anything. (v.23)
- Many times in Scripture God reminds Israel of events in their past history. What did God expect Belshazzar to learn from the past?
- What does scripture say about what we are to learn from the historical records of the Bible? (1 Corinthians 10:11)
- The feasts of the Jews were meant to remind them of God’s past deliverances. What are we to remember when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
- What is one personal lesson you have learned from this study of Daniel?
- How will you put this lesson into practice in your life?
DAY FOUR: DANIEL DELIVERED THE DIFFICULT MESSAGE.
Read: Daniel 5:25-29
A. DANIEL GAVE GOD’S INTERPRETATION.
The words on the wall were not a secret language. They were common Aramaic words, but they made no sense to the wise men. It was left to Daniel to give the meaning he received from God
Mene means numbered – God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and those days had come to an end. It was written twice to emphasize the certainty of this end.
Tekel means weighed. God had weighed Belshazzar in His divine balance and found him lacking in moral worth. He is not fit to rule.
Peres means broken or divided. God had determined to shatter Belshazzar’s kingdom and give it to the Medo-Persians.
B. BELSHAZZAR WASN’T GIVEN A SECOND CHANCE.
When God delivered Nebuchadnezzar’s message about his terrible fate, Daniel urged him to do what was right and perhaps his prosperity would continue. He was given a chance to shape up. An entire year passed before the sentence was carried out. Belshazzar is not given a second chance. His evil actions of defying God and making a mockery of God’s sacred vessels reveal a heart that is hard.
C. DANIEL WAS REWARDED DESPITE THE BAD MESSAGE.
Perhaps Belshazzar thought he could redeem himself in some way. He accepted the message, but gave Daniel the reward anyway. Daniel was made the third highest ruler in the land. Unfortunately, the kingdom would undergo a drastic fall that very night.
- How would you describe Belshazzar’s character from this chapter?
- Do you consider God’s judgment of Belshazzar harsh?
- What does Scripture say about God’s evaluation of man? (1 Samuel 16:7)
- Daniel had a reputation for speaking the truth of God. How careful are you to always support and defend God’s truth in all of your circles?
- Read Psalm 1. What two categories of people are mentioned? Thank God each day this week for his protection of you,
DAY FIVE: BELSHAZZAR SUFFERED GOD’S PROPHESIED FATE.
Read: Daniel 5:30-31
A. BABYLON SUFFERED A NIGHT ATTACK.
The book of Daniel is amazingly brief in describing the fall of Babylon. We have to turn to secular history to get the full story. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus records the details of the fall. As was mentioned before, the city was well fortified. The Persian troops would not be able to gain entrance into the city through conventional means of warfare. Some unique strategy would have to be employed.
The key to the strategy was the Euphrates River that ran through the city. While the Babylonians were partying in the great banquet hall, the Medo-Persians diverted the water of the River from its normal channel under the city walls. Once the water was shallow enough, they entered the river bed and walked under the walls into the city. The Babylonians were taken completely by surprise. The city was taken without a major battle in October, 539 B.C. The Persian troops killed the king and many of his officials. Daniel survived to tell the story.
B. THE BABYLONIAN EMPIRE FELL TO THE MEDO-PERSIANS.
A man of few words, Daniel tells his readers that Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of 62. History tells us that King Cyrus divided his enormous empire into twenty provinces and appointed a governor to rule each province. Each province formerly had been an independent kingdom with its own king. Thus, each governor replaced a former king. So, Darius was the reigning monarch of Babylon – even though Cyrus was king over the entire Medo-Persian Empire.
- What does Scripture say about the anti-God plans of kings? (Psalm 2:1-4)
- What sad lesson in this chapter is destined to be repeated by others? (Revelation 9:20-21)
- What kind of success today most often leads to pride and rebellion against God?
- In what area are you most tempted to have pride?
- Make a list of your blessings and thank God for his enablement and good gifts.
This chapter concludes the sad story of another arrogant ruler who thought he was bigger and more powerful than God. This story seems to be epidemic in the world of powerful leaders. They don’t all defy God by sacrilegious use of temple vessels but they shake their fists at God in one way or another. Many speak ill of Him and others simply ignore Him. We should all heed the many warnings in scripture about human pride. No matter how large or small our personal kingdom may be, we can all succumb to this temptation to shut God out of the equation. Ironically, our own rise to glory is often the very thing that disqualifies us from great service for God.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK: Humility qualifies us for God’s greatest assignments. (Matthew 18:4).
CHALLENGE: Pray for God to show you where you need to repent of great pride and develop true humility.
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