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After Nebuchadnezzar died, the Babylonian Empire rapidly declined. In violent coups, several members of the dynasty succeeded each other. Nabonidus eventually imposed some stability, though various vassal states broke away. Nabonidus himself became a religious dilettante. He abandoned the worship of Marduk (chief god in the Babylonian pantheon) and ended up, apparently, excavating buried shrines, restoring ancient religious rituals, and fostering the worship of the moon god Sin. Probably he was on one of these strange religious quests at the time of Daniel 5. As a result he had left the care of Babylon itself in the hands of Belshazzar his son. (The NIV footnote, Dan. 5:2, 11, 13, 18, rightly observes that Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s “father” only in the sense that he was his “ancestor” or possibly “predecessor”—a common use of the Semitic word, not unlike the usage in 2 Kings 2:12.)
The account makes it clear that the Persian army was outside the walls of the city, but Belshazzar obviously felt that the city was impervious to assault. The bacchanalia he ordered up was worse than an orgy of self-indulgence. Bringing out the golden goblets that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem was more than a whim. In the sequence of the two chapters, Daniel 4 and 5, it is hard not to see that this was a repudiation of what Belshazzar’s “father” Nebuchadnezzar had learned about the living God. Perhaps Belshazzar thought that Babylon’s fortunes had declined because of the relative neglect of the pagan deities. Nebuchadnezzar had learned to revere the God of Israel; Belshazzar was happy to spit in his eye. So they drank from the goblets and “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dan. 5:4). Daniel sees the connection between the two emperors, and this forms part of his stinging rebuke: Belshazzar knew what “the Most High God” had done to Nebuchadnezzar, and how Nebuchadnezzar had come to his senses and acknowledged “that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes”—and yet he set himself up “against the Lord of heaven” and refused to “honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways” (Dan. 5:18-24). Somehow Belshazzar thought he could ignore or defy the God who had humbled the far greater Nebuchadnezzar.
So what have we learned? Have we absorbed the lessons of history—that God will not, finally, be mocked or defied? That we are utterly dependent creatures, and if we fail to acknowledge this simple truth our sins are compounded? That God can humble and convert the most unlikely, like Nebuchadnezzar, and destroy those who defy him, like Belshazzar?
I once heard a pastor preach through 2 Thessalonians 1 under the following outline:
Today I wish to reflect a little on the second point.
(1) Paul can speak of the Thessalonians being “worthy” of the kingdom of God that will come in consummated power when Jesus returns (2 Thess. 1:5, 11). The context shows that Paul is not supposing that somehow they become worthy enough to be accepted by God in the first place. The idea, rather, is that, having become Christians, they are manifesting Christian faith and love (2 Thess. 1:3–4), and are persevering in the Christian way despite suffering and trials (2 Thess. 1:4–5). This continued display of grace under fire, this perseverance, is evidence of what is going on in their lives, and “as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom.” In other words, genuine Christians, by God’s grace, persevere in the Gospel, and this marks out their fitness for the consummation. In this sense they prove “worthy.”
(2) “God is just” (2 Thess. 1:6). Therefore there will be payback time for those who have cruelly opposed his people (2 Thess. 1:7) and ignored his Word (2 Thess. 1:8). When Christ returns he “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). What is presupposed is that the perfections of God’s justice are not manifest until Jesus returns. Some outworking of his justice is displayed in this broken world, but let’s face it: in this world, many evil people seem to get away with a lot, and many people of extraordinary goodness suffer a lot. Wise parents often tell their children, “Life isn’t fair. Don’t expect it to be.” Yet at the same time, God is “fair”; he is perfectly just. But do not expect his justice to be manifested in instantaneous rewards and retribution. His time scale is not ours. Life isn’t fair on our time scale. When Jesus returns, however, not only will justice be done, it will be seen to be done.
(3) At that time, Christ himself, and not any of us individuals, is the center of everything. Because of Christ’s centrality, punishment is almost defined in terms of being “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power,” thereby being “punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9). Conversely, among his saints, his “holy people,” that same Lord Jesus will be “glorified” and “marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess. 1:10). If Christ were not there, heaven would be hell.
1:1 After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel.
2 Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” 3 But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? 4 Now therefore thus says the LORD, You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went.
5 The messengers returned to the king, and he said to them, “Why have you returned?” 6 And they said to him, “There came a man to meet us, and said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says the LORD, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” 7 He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” 8 They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
9 Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” 10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.
11 Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty men with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, “O man of God, this is the king's order, ‘Come down quickly!’” 12 But Elijah answered them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.
13 Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up and came and fell on his knees before Elijah and entreated him, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight. 14 Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now let my life be precious in your sight.” 15 Then the angel of the LORD said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he arose and went down with him to the king 16 and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word?—therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’”
17 So he died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. Jehoram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son. 18 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers,1 as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from2 the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
5:1 King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
2 Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father1 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. 3 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. 4 They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5 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. 6 Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. 7 The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared2 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.” 8 Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.
10 The queen,3 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. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.4 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, 12 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.”
13 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. 14 I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods5 is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 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. 16 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.”
17 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. 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19 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. 20 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. 21 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. 22 And you his son,6 Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 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.
24 “Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. 25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered7 the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 TEKEL, you have been weighed8 in the balances and found wanting; 28 PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”9
29 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.
30 That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 10 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
110:1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,1
in holy garments;2
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.3
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs4
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
111:1 5 Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!