“But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.”
Daniel 5:22 (NIV)
About a month ago, this chapter-a-day journey trekked through 2 Kings 19, the historic account of a true and miraculous event. The Assyrian army encircled the city of Jerusalem laying siege to it. King Hezekiah tore his clothes, dressed in sackcloth (a sign of humility), reached out to the prophet Isaiah for prayer, and went personally to the temple to ask God for deliverance. In this instance, the miraculous happened and the city was spared.
Today’s chapter is one of the more fascinating stories in all of the Great Story. It is also the source of two famous phrases that are still commonly used today: “Handwriting on the wall” in reference to a clue or sure sign of something that is about to happen, and “weighed and found wanting” which has been re-used multiple times in stories and films like A Knight’s Tale.
What the narrative of today’s chapter doesn’t state is that the situation for Belshazzar was not unlike that of Hezekiah. The Persian army is on a campaign to destroy the Babylonian empire. They are close to Babylon and have been making steady progress. Belshazzar is the regent of Babylon, and should be leading his people in preparing for the defense of the city. Instead, he gathers his wives, concubines, and nobles to party hard.
As I contemplated this in the quiet this morning, I realized that Belshazzar’s revelry could have been a cop-out, as in “There’s no hope so let’s get drunk and enjoy our final days!” Given the fact that Babylon was one of the most securely fortified cities in the world, it may have also been a party thrown out of sheer hubris, as in “We have nothing to worry about. Babylon is impenetrable. Don’t worry. We have nothing to fear! Let’s party!”
The situation also sheds light on why Daniel, who has been offered a robe of purple, great wealth, and the third-highest position in the kingdom if he interprets the mysterious handwriting on the wall, tells Belshazzar to keep his gifts. Being in the third-highest position of the kingdom when the Persians arrive is a death sentence.
Daniel reads the cryptic message written by a disembodied hand on the wall for Belshazzar, pronouncing his doom. What is particularly damning, according to Daniel’s explanation, is that Belshazzar knew Nebuchadnezzar’s story of going insane and returning to sanity in acknowledging that everything he had and everything he was came to him from the Most High God. Still, Belshazzar was unwilling to learn the lesson. Rather than humble himself, he chose to either ignore or dismiss his precarious circumstances.
I pray that when I find myself in precarious circumstances on this life journey and things hang in the balance, I will choose to follow Hezekiah’s example, not Belshazzar’s. I’d rather be weighed and found faithful.
Featured Image: “Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt
Public Domain. National Gallery, London, UK.
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