“Belshazzar’s Feast”, by Rembrandt (c. 1630)
What will be your final warning?
As I studied the account of the final king of Babylon, several words came to my mind. How would you describe this man?
Refusing to listen.
Refusing to learn.
The part that scares me is how much these words also describe me.
It is easy to look down through history and criticize king Belshazzar. He was a classic fool and he paid dearly for it. He lost his kingdom, his empire, and his life.
But before we look more closely at Belshazzar’s final days, we need to be sure that we are not guilty of the same failures. At the core of it all, Belshazzar knew about God. He knew all about Him, yet he chose to reject God.
The Most High God holds our very breath in His hands, yet we do not honor Him!
“…the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” – Daniel 5:23
The scene in Daniel 5 opens up to a great party. It has been over 30 years since Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the previous chapter (see here). Nebuchadnezzar has died and there is a new king in Babylon. Daniel is now an old man and has retired from serving the king.
There is also a new enemy outside the city gates. The Medio-Persian army has conquered every nation in its path and has come for Babylon. The king of Babylon fought against them and completely lost. He was captured and his army was destroyed.
The king’s son and co-regent, Belshazzar, was still in control of the city. Babylon was the greatest fortress in the world, and he knew that the Medes and the Persians could never get inside. They have plenty of water and enough food to last for 20 years! They can simply wait for the Persians to leave.
At the time of Belshazzar’s party, the Medio-Persian army has been camped outside the city of Babylon for four months!
Daniel’s God had given the king a message. He told the king three times that the kingdom of Babylon would end and that it would be replaced by the Medes and the Persians. The army outside the gates would win.
God had also given the same message through other prophets. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would fall to the Medes (see here and here). Isaiah’s prediction was over 200 years earlier!
Belshazzar knew what God had said, but he felt safe inside his city walls. In a final act of defiance, he threw a great party. As he began to get drunk, he called for the holy vessels of this God of Jerusalem. He drank from the golden cups of the temple and offered them to his Babylonian gods.
Immediately, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing mysterious words on the wall next to the king. It terrified the king! He called for his wise men, but they could not understand what was written.
In the midst of the confusion, the king’s mother arrived and offered good news to the king. There was a man who served his grandfather who had the “spirit of the holy gods” and could explain great mysteries. Surely this man—Daniel—could interpret this mystery to the king.
Daniel came at the king’s request. He first reminded the king of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. God brought Nebuchadnezzar low, making him live like an animal when he became proud (see here). Belshazzar knew all this, yet he refused to humble himself before the Most High God. He taunted the very God who holds his breath!
Therefore, God sent this final message:
- Mene: God has numbered the days of his kingdom and brought it to an end.
- Tekel: Belshazzar has been weighed (evaluated) and came up short.
- Peres: The kingdom has been taken from Belshazzar and given to the Medes and the Persians.
This was one last chance for Belshazzar to repent, yet he refused. He awarded Daniel with the honors of interpreting the writing, sent him off, and resumed his party.
The Medio-Persian army had diverted the waters of the Euphrates river. Unknown to the drunk Babylonians, they lowered the water level and waded under the river gates, into the city. They found king Belshazzar and all of the leaders of the city at the party and killed everyone.
The account in scripture puts it bluntly, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.” (Daniel 5:30).
- God will judge those who refuse to obey Him. He is patient, but He will not forget.
- Don’t refuse to listen to God! He will warn you, but one day it will be too late!
- He is the Most High God and He holds our very lives! Give Him the honor that He deserves!
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