This sermon is going to compare Daniel chapter 4 to chapter 5. Specifically, I want to look at the difference between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, and how God responds to them. Here is Daniel chapter 5:
King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar handled God's vessels improperly. The former king stole them from the temple in Jerusalem and put them into his own. The latter king actually used them--defiled them. Although these are real vessels in history, they also represent God's children. We are called vessels in many places in the Bible. All people are called vessels, and many are for unrighteous use, to be destroyed afterward, and many are to be used righteously, and saved. Was Belshazzar's handling of God's vessels worse than Nebuchadnezzar's stealing them in the first place? Both are sinful, but as we shall see, Belshazzar is an unrepentant sinner, whereas Nebuchadnezzar repents. The desecration of God's vessels in Belshazzar's case is a last straw of an unrepentant man, whereas Nebuchadnezzar's stealing the vessels was before the gospel had been shared with him.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.
Notice that Belshazzar has no idea what to do, only to be frightened. This is not a fear of God, but just an outright fear for himself. Notice that knowledge of Daniel has been lost. The king doesn't know what to do or to whom to turn. He does not know God or Daniel. Now, if we are looking for Christ in this passage, as we should look for Christ in every passage, we find that Daniel is stepping into the role of Christ in this chapter. Indeed, when he talks with Daniel later, the prophet does not share the gospel with him. He is standing in for Jesus, not as savior, but as judge. Now, look at this:
The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
The queen herself does know Daniel. She brings Daniel to Belshazzar. Is she saved? We don't know, but we do know that where the king and his wise men failed to call upon the one, true God's help, she knew where to find him.
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Remember, Daniel is not stepping into the role of Christ for the purpose of saving Belshazzar, like he did Nebuchadnezzar. Remember, Daniel had a heart for the former king. He desired his well-being. When the last discipline came down on the king, Daniel said that he would rather it happen to Nebuchadnezzar's enemies. The same situation is not taking place here. Daniel has no heart for Belshazzar. He is not afraid. He knows he is there to declare judgment, not salvation. This is because Belshazzar does not know God, and God does not know him. Nebuchadnezzar, didn't know God either, but God knew him and had declared him to be among his children from the foundation of the world.
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. 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.
Here is the crux of the judgment: not only has Belshazzar placed the last straw on the camel's back by desecrating God's sacred vessels (remember that in the book of Revelation, God's people are desecrated right before the judgment of the world), but Belshazzar KNEW his father's testimony. Remember, from Romans 1, when judgment comes, the world will have no excuse. They won't be able to talk their way out of death, because God has given them all the information they need to soften their hearts. Belshazzar knew his father's story, and yet he continued on in his practice of sin without his own repentance.
“Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
This is not a gospel message. Again, this is a message of judgment. Christ is not in the message. He is the messenger, in Daniel.
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Too little, too late.
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
That very night he was destroyed. God did not preserve his stump, as he had with Nebuchadnezzar. This was because the former king was known by God, who had always planned his preservation and salvation, even in the midst of deep discipline. God never knew Belshazzar, and so the judgment comes swiftly, with no chance of repentance.
Salvation is of the Lord, and yet we are responsible for ourselves. Were it not for God's grace, none of us would be saved. Let us thank God that he has given us the grace to hear his word and keep the truth of his Christ in our hearts.