Scripture: 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. Daniel 5:23c ESV
Observation: In chapter 5, the author tells us that Nebuchadnezzar died, and his son, Belshazzar, succeeded him as what would prove to be the last Babylonian king. Unfortunately for the young ruler, he learned nothing from his father’s foolish pride. While hosting a celebration with his court and concubines, he arrogantly toasted his pagan gods using the sacred cups from the Jersusalem temple (taken as spoil by his father). As they consumed wine and mocked the God of Israel, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote four words in Aramaic on the palace wall: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.
Terrified, Belshazzar urgently sought the counsel of his wise men, but they were clueless. Fortunately, the queen advised the king that his father relied on the wisdom of Daniel to interpret mysterious dreams and signs. Belshazzar wastes no time and summons Daniel. Offering him gifts and a ruling position in the Babylonian empire, Daniel respectfully declines the king’s reward but agrees to interpret the writing. MENE, repeated twice, means “numbered,” and signals that Belshazzar’s life is coming to a rapid end. TEKEL means “weighed,” and symbolizes that his sins have tipped the scales, and he is left wanting. Finally, PARSIN means “divided,” and foretells that Belshazzar’s kingdom will be torn from him and given to the Medes and Persians. And that very night, all that Daniel foretold came true. Darius the Mede seized the throne, executing Belshazzar.
Takeaway: Before interpreting the writing, Daniel confronts Belshazzar regarding how he refused to humble himself even though he knew all that happened to his father due to prideful boasting and how the “Most High God” restored Nebuchadnezzar once he repented. Instead, this young and foolish king celebrated lifeless gods and failed to honor and submit to the one true God who sustains his very breath (above verses).
Belshazzar’s tragedy provides us with two takeaways. First, we would do well to learn from our forefathers’ mistakes and not repeat history. The authors of 1 and 2 Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles recorded the follies of the nation’s leaders to warn future generations of the consequences of unrepentant sin. Often, when the sin pattern remains unbroken, the degree of wicked behavior and fallout escalates with each passing age. Secondly, we need to keep the Source of our life-breath at the fore of our minds and regularly give our Lord the praise and glory that is due. But if we fail to do so, we will bow down and worship the lifeless gods of fleeting pleasures. Indeed, the “writing’s on the wall.” When we learn from others’ foolish and reckless behavior and regularly give thanks and praise to our Source of Life, we will rise above the ashes of generational sin and flourish.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who has borne the consequences of our generational sins and for your Holy Spirit who continues to expose our idols and lead us to repentance. Would you please help us continue this faith journey, learning from the lessons of those who have gone before us and rightfully giving thanks and praise to you, our Source of life? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling