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Daniel 5: The Danger of Presumption Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 October 2012

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I am not much of a mechanic. Actually, if I am honest, I know next to nothing about cars. I did change a headlight this week and it only took me three trips to the part store to get it done! When I first started driving I knew even less than I know now, which is hard to imagine. My dad tried to help, but between basketball and Church and everything else, I had little time to spend learning about cars. So dad taught me the basics: put in gas, change the oil, rotate the tires, and no matter what, NEVER drive a car that is overheating. But sometimes I have a tendency to ignore the warning signs, especially when they keep me from doing what I want to do, like drive over to a friend’s house who lives on the other side of town. I knew the car was hot, too hot to be driving, but I mean how much damage could I do (silly teenager)? Well, I found out. By the time I got back to my house I had overheated the engine and cracked the head, which I do know is not a good thing for a car (or a budget). I ignored the warning signs and I paid for it.

Have you ever done something like that?  Do you ever ignore the warning signs and just keep on doing whatever you are doing because it is what you want to do?  We need to understand the dangers in such an approach to life.  But we especially need to realize the danger of taking this approach to our spiritual life.  Daniel 5 tells the story of a king who was heedless of such danger.  He did what he wanted.  He presumed on God’s kindness.  He was full of pride and arrogance, and it cost him his life.  Let’s consider his story and what lessons we can learn from it.

The Story:

Daniel 4 ended with the restoration of King Nebuchadnezzar after his humiliation for his pride.  After such a story, along with the rest of the book of Daniel, we might be tempted to think that this is a book where everything turns out ‘good’ in the end.  Yet, Daniel 5 does not end so well.  Even though the two kings are separated by several years, it seems that we are meant to compare and contrast them since their two stories are placed back to back.  We should note how they are similar and how they differ as we look at the story in Daniel 5.

The story begins with a feast.  We find out later, and from history itself, that Babylon was on the brink of being overthrown.  Yet, King Balshazzar, who was probably ruling in his father’s stead, wants to have a feast.  So he does.  And during the feast, while the wine is flowing, he decides to use the vessels that King Nebuchadnezzar brought from the Temple in Jerusalem (1:2).  Look at verses 2-4.  The King uses these vessels, which were considered holy and only to be used in the worship of Yahweh, to drink wine and praise the gods of his people.  Thus, he is mocking the Lord and practicing idolatry at the same time.  It is a grave offense.

As all of this is going on, we are told that a hand appeared and began to write on the wall in front of the king.  Look at verses 5-6.  The king sees the hand and is afraid (the language could even be taken to indicate that he lost control of his bowels).  He calls for the ‘wise men’ and promises to give them great rewards if they can interpret the writing.  Of course, they once again cannot do what the king asks (you really have to question their usefulness at this point).  The king is left trying to figure out what the writing means.

Yet, the queen, who is not one of his wives but is not further identified by the text, remembers the stories of Daniel and tells the king to call him in.  So, the king does that.  Yet, it seems that he is not all that confident in Daniel’s abilities.  Look at verses 13-16.  The language (‘I have heard…if you can’) seems to indicate the kings doubts about Daniel.  He is not expecting much, but he will give this Judean prisoner a chance.

Daniel begins his response by telling the king that he is not interested in the gifts (although he does receive them in the end, seemingly to indicate that his interpretation is correct).  Then Daniel relates to the king the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation.  The conclusion that Daniel draws from the story is important.  Look at verses 22-23.  These verses form the heart of the message of Daniel 5.  King Balshazzar was arrogant and presumptuous.  He should have known better than to blaspheme God.  He should have learned that from Nebuchadnezzar’s life.  But he did not learn the lesson.  He mocked God and worshipped idols. 

What about the handwriting?  Daniel interprets it in verses 24-28.  Look at those with me.  The words that were written were terms of measurement.  Daniel interprets them using their verbal roots: ‘numbered’, ‘weighed’, and ‘divided.’  He tells the king that he has been weighed and found wanting, thus, the kingdom will be taken from him and divided between the Medians and Persians.  And this is exactly what happens.  We read in verse 30 that the kingdom was invaded that night and the king was killed.  Thus, the writing came true that very night.


What lessons then can we learn from this story of the handwriting on the wall?

First, we learn that it is dangerous to take sin lightly.  The argument could be made that King Belshazzar did not do anything that was all that wrong, I mean, he just had a party.  But such an argument betrays a faulty understanding of man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness.  We want to believe that our sins and never that bad.  We want to believe that will simply overlook our little mishaps.  We presume on His kindness and forget that it was meant to lead us to repentance.  Such arrogance and presumption cost the king not only his kingdom, but his very life.  The price he paid for taking his sins lightly was high.  He mocked the living God and faced His justice, which leads to our next lesson.

Second, the reason we cannot take sin lightly is because God will humble the arrogant.  We have seen this lesson in Daniel 4 and Daniel 5.  Both stories teach us that God will humble the proud.  What is interesting is that Daniel makes it plain to Belshazzar that he should have known better.  Remember, Nebuchadnezzar had gone crazy, lived among the animals, and ate grass for seven years.  You would think that his successors would have known better than to challenge the God of Israel.  Belshazzar should have known even before the handwriting on the wall.  But we so often ignore the signs.  We think that judgment will only fall on others.  We think that we will be able to get away with our rebellion and pride.  We figure we are not as bad as everybody else so we should be alright.  But these are dangerous presumptions and we learn from Daniel 5 where they can lead.

Third, in light of these lessons, we learn that we should heed God’s warnings to repent.  A major difference that we see in the two stories is that Nebuchadnezzar eventually repented.  He humbled himself and lifted his eyes to heaven.  Of course, by the time you get to Daniel 5 it seems that Belshazzar’s opportunity to repent had already passed.  Daniel tells him that he should have known better.  He should have already turned from his arrogance and mockery of the living God.  But he was unwilling.  An interesting conclusion can be drawn from looking at both of these stories, namely that we simply do not know when the Lord will end our chances to repent.  He is sovereign over the number of our days and he has not revealed when they will come to an end.  So do not make the mistake of thinking that God will keep giving you chances like He did with Nebuchadnezzar.  Sure, that could be the case, but it is not promised.  I keep hearing those frightening words: That very night…  Today could be your last day to humble yourself and turn from your sins.  I plead with you to do that.  Do not delay, do not presume that you will be given another opportunity.

God gave Belshazzar a warning through what happened to Nebuchadnezzar.  He warns us as well with both stories.  In fact, God repeatedly warns us throughout the Bible to not presume on His kindness.  We cannot live however we want and just assume that because ‘God is love’ everything will turn out find in the end.  That is not biblical.  In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite.  Story after story, passage after passage, we are warned to humble ourselves before a holy God.  We absolutely cannot afford to ignore these warnings.  One of my commentators writes: “Many around us eat and drink and busily pursue an actively sinful lifestyle, all the while deliberately ignoring God’s revelation of himself in the Scriptures, in their consciences, and in the world.  Just as Belshazzar used the temple vessels to praise his false gods, so too we take the things that belong to God and use them to feed our lusts and idolatries.  Should we continue along the path, our fate is as deserved as it is certain.” 1  How then can we get off of the path that surely leads to death and judgment?

The good news is that God has sent us His Son to save us from our sins.  Jesus died on the cross for all of our pride and arrogance.  He paid the price for our rebellion.  And we know that His sacrifice was accepted because three days later He was raised from the dead.  So then, do not presume on God’s kindness by continuing in your sin and rebellion.  No, turn from your sins and believe in Jesus.  Before Jesus returned to the Father’s side, He told us that He will come again.  And when He comes again, He will be coming to gather His own and judge His enemies (as we saw in the book of Revelation).  Wrath for sin is coming.  Judgment is a breath away.  You may be feasting today and standing before the Holy God tonight.  So do not delay.  Turn from your sins and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. 

Likewise, if you are here and you are a believer in Christ, then stop putting off sharing the gospel with others.  All our friends, all our neighbors, all our co-workers, all our loved-ones, are standing on the brink of eternity and we have the news that can mean the difference between eternal punishment and eternal joy.  We have glorious good news of forgiveness of sin purchased at the cross.  So what are we waiting for?  The perfect situation, the perfect conversation, the perfect opportunity?  We cannot presume that such a time will ever come.  Thus, we must speak the gospel boldly whenever we can.  The writing is on the wall: Christ is coming back to save His own and judge His enemies.  May we spend our days calling for any and all to turn from their sins and trust in Him as Savior.  Amen.

1 Iain M. Duguid, Daniel REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 85.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 October 2012 )

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