PRICE OF LESSONS NOT LEARNED
(c) Copyright 2003 Rev. Bill Versteeg
(Ask children what the last story
was about: [Nebuchadnezzar was humiliated until he recognized that the
God of Israel is the most high God who gives even kingdoms to whomever
Now Belshazzar was young, and not terribly serious in his duties as king. He loved a party and he choose to throw another party while his father was gone to war. He invited a 1000 important guests for a party in which everyone was determined to get drunk with the wonderful wine of the gardens of Babylon. He started to boast about his great city, and his great gods, Aku, Marduk and Nego. To make his celebration even more special he ordered his servants to go to Nego’s temple and take from there the Israelite treasures, the goblets of gold and silver that were taken from Israel’s temple. They were going to celebrate in a special way. They were going to give toasts to their gods, using the sacred goblets of the Most High God of Israel. From these they drank their wine and praised their idols.
“Hear, Hear, there is
no god like Nego!”
There were two things that Belshazzar did not realize in his drunken stupor. The first thing he did not realize is that his enemies had tricked his Father, Nabonidus. While they were prepared to fight in the fields around Babylon, the Medes under Darius had managed to divert the Euphrates river, making it travel a path around the city of Babylon. Under the cover of dark, the soldiers of the enemy were pouring under the walls of the city where the river once flowed. The other thing he did not realize is that while he was drinking from God’s goblets, God was watching what he did and what he said. And his proud boasts about the power of his idols angered our God, the God of Israel, the God of all Christians, and God choose to let Belshazzar know what was about to happen.
Belshazzar was once again lifting God's goblet high when behind him on the wall, right by the light from a lamp stand, a hand appeared. And it wrote on the wall words that everybody could understand, but no one could understand. As far as we know, they were written in Aramaic, the language all could read, but what they said made no sense. On the wall, the hand wrote:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN
Literally, it said
King Balthazar's legs trembled so hard, people could hear his knees knocking together under the table cloth. His face turned pale, he tried to stand up, but he fell back into his chair, weak from fear. King Belshazzar called out for his wise men, the enchanters, astrologers and diviners, and he said to them,
"Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom."
(The third highest would be the ruler after his father Nabonidus, and himself).
The wise men came, they looked hard at the strange writing on the wall, they analyzed it, they parsed it, sure enough, it said
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN,
Sure enough it said “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided.”
But in all their wisdom, they could not understand what it meant. Now King Belshazzar was sick with fear. Nobody knew what to do. The party had been wrecked. Everyone was quiet and they all wanted to go home.
Now the queen, (probably Nabonidus’ wife, Belshazzar's mother) overheard that the music and the fun of the party was suddenly over, so she came to investigate the crowd of puzzled wise men who had suddenly come from the party. Knowing that her son was king, and that he had the power to take her life, she politely came to him and said: "O king, live forever! Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father--your father the king, I say--appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means."
Quickly, the kings servants hustled to Daniel’s house, and roused him out of bed. That wasn’t that easy. Daniel was now over 80 years old. Slowly he got out of bed, and with the help of the servants was led to the kings palace. King Belshazzar waited for him to come in. It was taking a long time. When he arrived, the king said to him:
"Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom."
Daniel answered with the wisdom of an 80 year old man. For a few seconds, he looked at the writing on the wall, and immediately he knew what it meant. At 80 years of age, he no longer needed any power and status, nor did he want it. He simply wanted to be a faithful servant of God. So right away he said: "You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else.” He knew already that the rewards would go to someone else very soon, maybe even that night. But he continued.
Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.
He wanted to remind the king of things that had happened what seemed such a short time ago but this young king had already forgotten the hard lessons God had taught Nebuchadnezzar.
"O king, the Most High God gave your (grand) father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendour. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.
Nebuchadnezzar in his pride was forced to become like an animal, until he recognized that there is one God who is Lord over all and gives kingdoms to kings. Belshazzar not only forgot this, he had chosen not to believe what his grandfather had confessed in a letter to all the nations. Daniel pointed this out...
"But you his (grand) son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription."
Then the old man Daniel turned toward the writing on the wall.
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN
And Daniel interpreted what the words meant as Belshazzar sat in awe and fear.
MENE, means Numbered,
numbered. King Belshazzar, God has
numbered the days that you are to be king, and your time of being king
has come to an end.
King Belshazzar was astonished at Daniel’s boldness, proclaiming the end of his kingdom. But in his heart he laughed. He thought of the indestructible walls surrounding the city, he remembered that no matter what happened, they had plenty of food and water. In his heart he doubted Daniel’s prophetic words. But he had given an interpretation, a bold one at that, so he placed a royal purple robe on Daniel’s shoulder, a golden chain around his neck, and proclaimed him governor that night, the third highest ruler in the kingdom. There was a kind of mockery in what Belshazzar did. He was still king. He would remain so. No matter what Daniel said.
That night, Daniel, sensing from God what was about to come, was glad to get home to the safety of his own house.
That night Belshazzar went to the
safety of his own bed, happy the puzzle had been solved. As he closed
his eyes in sleep, soldiers, the Medes and the Persians poured through
the openings under Babylon’s indestructible walls, they
entered the palace, and king Belshazzar never woke up again. Soldiers
killed him while he slept. King Nabonidus fled the battlefields around
Babylon once he realized his home, his palace, had been taken and his
son killed. He lived the rest of his life in exile in Arabia. A new
king took over the city of Babylon. His name was
Darius. He was 62 years old when he became king. Soon, he
too, would find out about the power of the God of Israel.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.