Daniel 5 Bible Study The Precarious Position of the Unbeliever

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Daniel Bible Study Chapter 5 Part 2

The Precarious Position of the Unbeliever

by I Gordon

Well, we looked last time at a great party! The king of Babylon was throwing a wild party and huge celebrations were in order. Yep, they had the wine, the women and their precious gods of gold and silver. Everything was going swimmingly... well, everything apart from that strange creepy little hand that just suddenly appeared and started writing strange mysterious things on the wall! Yeah, fair enough, that did seem to quiet the party down pretty quickly.

We looked at how God can write 'Ichabod' over a nation and this is what He did with the Babylonian empire. The word Ichabod means 'no glory' and God is able to give or remove the glory of a nation as He so determines. We also saw how nations and empires are like people in that they can have births and deaths. Scary stuff actually for we tend to think that things will continue as they always did and that 'our nation' won't fall like others have. But alas, we also saw that the same Babylonian spirit manifests itself today and you can begin to see the writing on the wall once again.

Anyway, time to move on! This study carries on from where the last one finished and looks at Daniel 5:18-30. Where as the last study focused more on nations as a whole, this study is bringing it back home... this study will focus on the individual with particular emphasis on the following two things:

Two main Daniel 5 lesson points 

1) The precarious position of the unbeliever

2) The importance of this life for the believer

So let's have a look. Daniel has just been called in to give the interpretation of the writing to the king.

Why the history lesson?

Daniel 5:18-21 'O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 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.

As Daniel confronts king Belshazzar he begins with a slightly unusual approach. He starts with a history lesson. Why you ask? Well, this king should have learned! This king should have seen what happened to his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar and humbled himself before God. Belshazzar had been given great light. He had been given tremendous grace. He should have learned  [1]  ... he should have known better than to mock the God of Israel while praising the so called gods of silver and gold. So Daniel, like a wise court prosecutor, starts with the facts of history. He is building his case and laying a foundation for the judgement and conclusion to come! And once he has finished laying out the facts, all will know why the writing has now appeared.

You idiot! - The precarious position of the unbeliever

Daniel 5:22-23 '  But you his 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 honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways  .

When Daniel was asked to interpret the Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great tree being chopped down, he did so almost with a sadness that the interpretation applied to king Nebuchadnezzar and not his enemies. There seemed to be a fondness there. Well, things are quite different for this king and Daniel is straight to the point. 'You knew all this!' 'You knew it Belshazzar... you saw how God humbled your Grandfather and yet you still wouldn't humble yourself!' 'You had been given great revelation and light from God and you rejected it! You mocked the true God and made created things into a god!' You can just imagine the force of Daniel's words as he speaks straight to the king's actions. And yet, as I write this, I see the same words condemning those in the western nations. Have not America, the United Kingdom, Western Europe etc done the same thing? When we look at our history we see that we were given great light. We have received much revelation and teaching concerning the true God and His ways and yet, as a whole, it is now being rejected. That is what makes this book of Daniel so important in this age!

Look at how this scripture above describes the One whom they despise and turn their backs on: 'the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways'. The one that is being mocked and being declared irrelevant in our societies is the one who holds the very life and breath of the mocker in His hand. God could clench His fist and snuff out their life if He so wished. Now I don't want to rush past this verse too quickly as it was one of the main verses in this passage that stood out to me and we all know people in this position. For those curious (and with good eyesight) more has been added in the small print which explores further this precarious position of the unbeliever.  [2] 

What strange little words are these...?

Daniel 5:25 This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN

Now here are the words that were written on the wall - Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. Four little words but what confusion they caused! The problem was that each Aramaic word had more than one meaning.

A strange little inscription!

Mene - means 'numbered' or mena (a unit of money)
Tekel - means 'weighed' or 'shekel' (a unit of money)
Parsin - means 'divided' or 'Persia' or 'half a shekel'

So as the Babylonians tried to interpret this message there were a few interpretations open to them. At it's best it might be saying 'money, money, money!'. Or, just possibly, it meant something more foreboding. I'm sure you know the story... they weren't coming into some quick riches...it was the later. Something foreboding! It meant...

Numbered, weighed and divided

Daniel 5:26-28 'This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'

As Daniel gives the true interpretation of the writing on the wall you can only imagine the fear rising within the king. 'Numbered, numbered, weighed and divided. Your number is up Belshazzar. You have been weighed and found to be a spiritual featherweight. Your life and kingdom is over. You have been found wanting.'

Important words for us all! God not only numbers our days, but he weighs our lives. And He not only weighs our lives, but He records and judges our deeds. The fact is that all of us will have to hop on the heavenly scales one day. The Bible says that 'it is appointed unto all men to die once and then face judgement.' For the believer, this will not be a judgement of their sins, for that took place 2000 years ago as Jesus was nailed to the cross. But there is a judgement of our lives and all that was based on Jesus will remain and be rewarded.

1 John 2:28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.  [3] 

Third in the Kingdom... for a whole entire hour

Daniel 5:29-31 Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

Finally we see that for telling Belshazzar that his kingdom has come to an end, Daniel is rewarded by being made a third ruler in the kingdom! You can probably see Daniel just shaking his head saying 'you don't get it do you? Are you not listening... you don't have a kingdom!' Now from what I know of God, if the king had genuinely repented even at this very late stage then he wouldn't have been judged and lost his life.  [4] 

So we read in the scripture that that very night Darius the Mede took over the kingdom and king Belshazzar was killed. Hmmm... and I thought the walls of Babylon were impenetrable! Belshazzar obviously thought that was the case. So how did the Medes and the Persian army get in? Well it is an interesting story and one that shows how even the mighty can fall in one day.

History records for us how they did it. You may remember that the Medo-Persian army had been camped outside the walls of Babylon. But the walls of Babylon were said to be wide enough to race six chariots side by side so there was no breaking in! The Babylonians had also stock piled up to 20 years of food so there was no starving them out either. But they had an Achilles heel. The river Euphrates ran underneath the wall giving the city a constant source of fresh water. So what the Medes and Persians did was dig up river an alternative channel for the water to flow. This reduced the amount of water flowing under the walls enough so that they could simply walk in under the walls of Babylon. With the king throwing such a grand party inside the Medo-Persian army was able to take the city without much force. And thus, king Belshazzar of Babylon was killed the very night that God wrote His judgement upon the wall.

But this had all been prophesied earlier by Isaiah concerning Babylon:

Isaiah 47:7-9 You said, 'I will continue forever-- the eternal queen!' But you did not consider these things or reflect on what might happen. (8) Now then, listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.' (9) Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells.


Daniels case against Belshazzar was based upon the fact that God had given the king great light and understanding, yet it made no difference and the king carried on living in contempt of God. This speaks to our nation and culture as well as to our lives personally. There is often a disconnection between what we know and how it affects our daily lives. There is no doubting that the pull of the world and the Babylonian spirit are very strong.  [5] 

But let us remember the two aspects that have come out of this study - the precarious position of the unbeliever and the importance of this life for the believer. Let us not be like king Belshazzar who knew it all but did nothing, but like Daniel who set himself apart for the Lord to use.

[1] ↩  There is an old saying 'those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.' Too true. On the lighter side, a school put up a sign in the hall that read 'those who fail history are condemned to repeat it!' Unfortunately that is also true as many of us discovered! But examine history and we find that mankind is so slow to learn. The German philosopher  Hegel said 'History teaches that man learns nothing from history.' Sad but true and especially so in king Belshazzar's case as we shall see. 

[2] ↩  This brief little detour will just examine this precarious position of the unbeliever a little more. There is a key Psalm that emphasises this well. I have written briefly on this before but let's look again at Psalm 73. You are going to have to read it please! Go on, I did say please. In verses 1-3 we read of Asaph, a godly man struggling to remain godly as he views the prosperity of the wicked. Look at how he describes his culture in verses 4-11... it could well be describing king Belshazzar in the text before us. Or for that matter it could also be describing many in our own culture today. Now look at the important verses in 16-20: '  When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surelyyou place them on slippery ground; youcast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. 

After being envious of the prosperity of the wicked, Asaph gets a glimpse of their true position. They are standing on slippery ground and only the goodness of God holds them from falling. Nothing else! And He could take His hand away and let them go whenever He wishes. The one they mock is the only one who now holds them from slipping into a Christ-less eternity! That is the precarious position of the unbeliever!

[3] ↩  When someone dies, there is the sense of finality. That is, you know that nothing can now be changed, no more words can be said or expressed. Sometimes people feel regret when someone dies that they hadn't been with them more or had an issue between them resolved. But death is final in terms of our relationship with someone in this life. 1 John 2:28 tells us to abide in Christ so that when He comes we will be confident and won't feel any shame. It gives the possibility at least that some will feel shame at His coming. Obviously there will be great joy and wonder, but there also could be a limited time of shame or regret over a life that was not lived with eternity in mind. Worth thinking about.

[4] ↩  Other examples exist like the Ninevites in Jonah chapter 3 who genuinely repented and were spared judgement (much to Jonah's annoyance!) They were just as wicked as the Babylonians but after a decree from the king, everyone humbled themselves before the Lord when they heard of the upcoming judgement. Even every beast had to be covered in sackcloth! But not our Belshazzar. No sign of repentance here!

Or think of the thief on the cross. It says in Matt 27:44 that at the start both robbers who were crucified with Jesus hurled abuse on Him. And yet, through a miracle, one robber would later believe in Jesus! Even at the this very late stage of his life, because he genuinely turned to the Lord, salvation was granted to him. Amazing. I have always enjoyed the words of Martyn Lloyd Jones concerning these two robbers crucified with Christ -

'One thief was saved so that there would always be hope. But only one so that there would not be presumption.'

[5] ↩  Regarding the pull of the world, I watched the movie 'Into the Wild' the other day. It is the kind of movie that stays with you for a while. It is the sad story of Chris McCandless who grew up in Annandale, Virginia. After graduating in 1990 from Emory University, McCandless gave away his bank savings of $25,000 to Oxfam, burned his remaining money, cut up his credit cards and went 'Into the Wild'. Now, I'm not suggesting you do that but the movie sure made me think about the pull of society towards commercialism and conformity. As Christians, we should 'conform' to the ways of our Lord, not the ways of this world. McCandless sadly died in Alaska alone (from starvation) but the movie does show some earlier encounters he had with Christians and I can only hope that he knew God before his death. In his journal they found this written - 'I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!'

Here are some lyrics from one of the songs from the movie:



ohhh, It's a mystery to me,
we have a greed, with which we have agreed
You think you have to want more than you need
until you have it all you won't be free
society, you're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely without me
When you want more than you have, you think you need
and when you think more than you want your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
'cos when you have more than you think you need more space
society, you're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely without me
society, have mercy on me
I hope you're not angry if I disagree
society, crazy and deep
I hope you're not lonely without me