Belshazzar threw a party with a thousand guests. In a bid to impress the nobles, because he was drunk, or simply because the bouquet of the wine demanded superior vessels, he called for the temple ware. Years before when the aging Daniel was a boy, Nebuchadnezzar had looted God's temple when he sacked the city of Jerusalem. So in a dusty storehouse somewhere the holy vessels of gold and silver sat waiting. When these sacred artifacts were brought forth and filled with wine, Belshazzar raise his glass and praised the "gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone."
What on earth did he think he was doing?
Belshazzar was blaspheming. Blatantly.
Unlike us the people of the ancient world were well aware of what blasphemy was and taking the Almighty God's chalices and using them to praise the god of this material world was the spiritual equivalent of giving God the middle finger.
Ironic since God came back with His literal hand which writes on the wall “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin”.
Belshazzar remembers to be afraid at this point however there are many lessons from the past that have slipped his mind. He does not know who to call for the mysteries no one else can solve. The queen mother has to reintroduce him to Daniel. He doesn’t remember Nebuchadnezzar’s tumultuous relationship with the God of Israel. Reminding him of that is Daniel’s job!
Yes, Daniel says, Nebuchadnezzar had ultimate power over the life and death of every citizen of his kingdom (Daniel 5:18-19). Yet, God had set him on that throne and was more than capable of sending him to the fields to eat grass like a dumb beast(Daniel 5:20-21). Belshazzar was subject to the same restriction; he was on his throne at the sufferance of God. God wrote on the wall that Belshazzar had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. By the morning the kingdom would be in the hands of the Medo-Persians (Daniel 5:25-28).
My question is this: Who did Belshazzar think he was dealing with?
Had he never heard the story of the fiery furnace? Did he not remember that Nebuchadnezzar three times praised the name of the God of Israel, the God who sent him out to grow eagle’s claws for fingernails (Daniel 2:47, 3:28-29, 4:1-3 & 34-37)? Perhaps he thought since those golden vessels were gathering dust, his gods had defeated the Most High God?
We live in a world that doesn’t remember who we are dealing with. We imagine that God is a great vending machine in the sky- put in the prayer get out the blessing. Or perhaps a toothless grandfather figure who loves us and would never punish us. We forget that our God is a jealous God, an all consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24). We forget that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).” We may not like the idea of fearing God, but we forget it at our own peril.
Read this story with your kids and linger over the details and don’t neglect Daniel’s speech. In this difficult political climate remind your kids that God puts rulers on their thrones for His own purposes even when they are weak or evil. Be sure and focus on a strong understanding of who God is. He is both just and merciful. He set the stars in the sky, held the ocean to its shores and humbled himself to be born in a manger. We live in a world as forgetful as Belshazzar. We have forgotten the stories of God’s mighty workings. The book of Daniel reminds us. We no long remember who to take our mysteries to. Like Daniel we need to take them to God. Adults and children forget what it means to accept authority. Remind your children that submitting to a parent that they both love and fear (you) is similar to submitting to God whom we both love and fear.