Belshazzar - Testing God's Patience
by Peter Kek
Pastor Of Grace Reformed Church
Alright, again a good morning and welcome to worship together this Sunday, and welcome to our series on the amazing stories of the Bible. And today we are looking at the story of this man by the name, I have a bit of difficulty trying to pronounce alright this name, Belshazzar alright- Belshazzar. I’m not sure whether you have heard of this story before. Maybe some of you have, and some have not. But this is not a very well-known story like the one we studied the last time- Daniel in the lion’s den, and maybe many other more familiar Bible stories. But nevertheless, now this is a story I feel must be told alright, and the reason is because it contains a very important message. In fact, it contains a warning alright, and that warning is this: that God’s patience has a limit. God’s patience has a limit. And so, do not test alright His patience.
Now there is a hymn, I was trying to find the tune, I couldn’t find the tune. Maybe one of you can later find the tune so we can all sing this hymn. But it begins with this line: “There is a line by us unseen, that crosses ev’ry path, the hidden boundary between God’s patience and his wrath.”. God’s patience and His wrath. It’s just one more act of sin, just one more act of defiance against God, and that may be the end of you alright. So that is what the hymn is saying here, and it captures alright I believe very well the point and the warning of this story. So stop testing the patience of God. So the story here is intended alright to sum out this warning, and we’re going to look at this story along this line. First, we are going to find out who is this guy alright- who is Belshazzar? And then we shall look at how he lived his life. And then finally, what happens alright? Who is this man, how he lived his life, and then what happened? So let us begin.
Who is Belshazzar? Now we see that in the first two verses alright. In verse 1, we are told Belshazzar the king alright. So that is this man by the name of Belshazzar. Now Belshazzar, the name itself means this: it means Baal protects me alright or looking to Baal to protect the king. So that is the meaning of this name. And you might remember there was another man with a very similar name. In fact, you see that already just now in the reading. But if you look at chapter 4 of Daniel and verse 8 alright- chapter 4 and verse 8, here we read: “But at last Daniel came before me”. Then he said: “his name is Belteshazzar” alright- Belteshazzar. And then it says here: “according to the name of my god”. Now you see, the word ‘Baal’ is the name of one of the gods of the Babylonian people alright- the Babylonian empire. So that is the meaning alright of that name too given to Daniel. It is linked to one of the gods.
So clearly when we look at this man, his name in a sense gives him away. It means that his trust is not in Yahweh. His trust is not in the true and the living God. His trust whom he looks to is the god of the Babylonians. It is Baal. And so that is what his name means. And he is here also called the king. He is called the king. Belshazzar the king. And we are told later on in verse 2 that he is actually the son of Nebuchadnezzar. He’s either the son or the grandson, probably the son of Nebuchadnezzar as we see here in verse 2 that which is his father. His father is Nebuchadnezzar. That means he is of course the king alright. And we are told that much. Then, so that is his name, and we have his position, his status as the king. And then we want to look at, consider his experience alright. Now if he is the son of Nebuchadnezzar and now the king, now that means that he had lived as a boy through the stirring events of Daniel chapter 1 through 4 alright.
I mean, he grew up in the empire. He grew up being very well aware of the happenings alright earlier on alright in his childhood days, which was recorded in the first four chapters. Now that means that he would have heard of Daniel, and he would have heard of Daniel’s interpretation of his father’s horrific dreams in chapter 2. It also means that he would have witnessed the courageous act of Daniel’s three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) being thrown into the fiery furnace and being delivered by the true and the living God. He would probably have even witnessed that, the whole empire was there in chapter 3. Now it also means that he would have seen his father being humbled by God in chapter 4 and became like an animal, and then later being converted. Now, this must be stirring events in his life. In fact, every one of these stories are actually amazing stories in the Bible. And he was there.
In other words, he had virtually grown up alongside Daniel and his friends. He had heard Daniel preached. He had heard godly testimonies of his three friends. In other words, here is a man. Here is a man who had been exposed to the truth of God from young. Here is a man who has been exposed to the truth of God from young. And like his father Nebuchadnezzar, he had had the opportunity to turn to God. The Saviour had knocked on his heart alright, on the door of his heart through the events that he had witnessed in his life. He has seen and heard enough. Week after week, month after month, he has heard the witnesses of God. God has spoken through many different events, through different people. But what does that mean to him?
Now that should say something to perhaps many of us here. Perhaps like this man here, that God had been kind to us alright, that all through our lives alright- all through our lives we have been exposed to events, exposed to people where we could hear the voice of God. How many of us actually enjoy the same privileges as Belshazzar? Question is: How did all those things affect him? How did he live his life in light of these testimonies? And that is what we’re going to find out next alright. So how did he lived? That is Belshazzar alright and his background and his person, but how did he live his life? And that we see in the beginning of this chapter again alright in the next few verses.
Now one might have thought that with so much exposure to the Word of God and to godly influence, now that might have changed this man. Now he might have lived a godly life. He should have been a Christian already. But far from turning to God, we find this man in this chapter alright continuing to resist God, continuing to live a godless life. And so we find that described in the first few verses. Now a few things here about his life. First, we are told here that he throws a party alright in verse 1: “Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand.”. It was time for wine and women, and lewd songs and music, and unrestrained behaviour.
Now that’s what we find this man doing. In spite alright, despite of the fact that he was exposed to all those testimonies, he now throws a party. And partying seems to be a picture used in the Bible to describe a certain kind of life, to describe a pleasure-seeking, godless, sinful life. We find Jesus saying in Matthew 24 describing the days of Noah, where the people “were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” alright. That kind of life of partying and drinking and making merry. And we find the same thing in Luke chapter 12, where Jesus, in telling a parable, describes the man with a basic human philosophy of life, and that is eat, drink, and be merry.
Now that is the life that this man is living. That is a picture of this man: eating, drinking, and marrying as it were. Now little did he realize that that was to be his last party. The fun will not last forever because God is not mocked. The day of opportunity to turn from his old ways, from his wickedness is now coming to an end. Now the story of Belshazzar will prove to us that we cannot go on ignoring God. And so that is first thing we see about his life alright, is described as that of partying: eat, drink, and be merry.
Now the second thing we see about this man’s life is that not only he throws a party, but he throws all decency and propriety to the wind because as we read his life and as we continue on in verse 3, we read that they thought and “they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. And as they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and wood and stone.”.
You see, sin is not static. We see a descent. When a person lives a godless life, we find that it just goes from bad to worse and worse, and it just goes in that direction. And we see that in this man. First, perhaps it’s just a matter of neglect. Neglecting worship, neglecting the Bible, but it won’t stop there. It doesn’t stop there. Then there will be rebellions, disobedience, clear disobedience to the Word of God. And then after a while, you become immune alright, become insensitive, no longer sensitive to these things, to sin. And so as a drink begins to take effect in the life of this man and his companions, the lords and all the other officials in this kingdom, you find him together with all the others desecrating the vessels taken from the temple of God.
In other words, it begins to deal with this so-called holy instrument that begins to more outwardly and directly mocking at God. There is no restraint. At first, it’s only this kind of thing we would do, but then you see they will go on and on and on. And that is here an outright, a sin of utter contempt of God. And remember that it is a sin of utter contempt of a God whom he has heard from childhood. It’s not because he was ignorant. And that is a description of this man’s life alright. He throws a party, and then he throws all decency and propriety to the wind, gotten from bad to worse.
Now that leads us to the third thing about this man’s story, and what happened? What happened? A man with such an exposure and yet living this kind of life. Now, what happened to this man? I think that is what Daniel wants to tell us in this story. What will happen to you if you continue to live such a life? Now there are a lot of people who think that nothing will happen. And so let us find out, what happened to Belshazzar? Now that we see from verse 5 through the end of this chapter. And so we see that as they continue to drink, continue to laugh, and continue to pour scorn at God, and you can probably imagining them you know as they were half drunk, and as they were laughing, and as they were sconing at God, saying things like “God is dead”, “There is no God”, or “Who needs God?”, or “What can God do to me?”.
Perhaps some of these sounds familiar to some of you. You have heard that from friends. Now perhaps you yourself have said such things before, mocking at God. And as they were doing this, and suddenly we see here that there were three appearances. The three appearances. First, there is the appearance of the fingers and the writing. We see that in verse 5. Suddenly alright, we see that the fingers appear and wrote on the wall. Verse 5: “In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.”. In other words, suddenly he was stunned when he saw fingers alright writing on the wall.
Now that is how quickly God can change a man’s fortune. God has been taking note. God has been observing everything that this man is doing. And remember, God is taking note and He is taking note of everything that we are doing in this world. The time is up, and God writes over his grave four words which is recorded in verse 25: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN”. Now suddenly we are told here that the king was terrified in verse 6: “Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.”. Suddenly gone is all the laughing, gone is all the mocking. And we find this man suddenly in deep fear. And in his fear, he stammers out. He stammers out promises to anyone who could interpret the writings on the wall.
As we read on, none alright could actually come to the king’s aid because in verse 7, “The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, the soothsayers. And the king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”“. But we are told in verse 8: “Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation.”. And so we have the appearance of the writing. Suddenly the king is in fear. He called for help, and there was no help. So the party ended. The party just ended. Just four words from God alright reduced the whole crowd to a panic.
Now the second thing we observe here is the next appearance, and that is the appearance of the queen. So we read on in verse 10 that “the queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall.”. Now the queen here obviously is not the king’s wife alright. The queen here is the king’s mother alright. And so the queen appeared upon hearing the commotion. We are told that the queen came and she spoke to the king alright and said: “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor your countenance change.”. So in other words, the queen mother came in and she tries to calm the situation.
Now hearing the commotion she says that well, stay calm, there is help. And she went on to say in verse 11. The queen reminded him that “there is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And 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 the chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers.”. In other words, the queen mother came and she tried to calm the situation. She tells the king to be calm and reminded him of someone. She said there is a man in your kingdom whom your father acknowledged as a wise man. Your father used him. And so the queen came and reminded him, and God wanted to warn this man, but the queen come here and reminded the king of someone who could explain the word.
Now sometimes people may ask if the king wanted to warn Belshazzar (Mistakenly mentioned “the king”, supposedly “God”). Now why didn’t God, why didn’t God write, you know, send another finger and just write on the side the meaning? The reason is that that is not God’s way alright. We find in Scripture God’s way is to use man to bring His message to us, and that’s what the queen is saying to Belshazzar. She said: King, there is a man in your kingdom. He is God’s man, and God uses His men, His messengers, His servants to bring the message to His people. And that is what the queen is saying, there is a man and he is able to explain to you the message.
Now that leads to the third appearance alright. So we have the appearance of the fingers writing on the wall, we have the appearance of the queen telling the king where help should come from, there is a man in his kingdom. And thirdly, we have the appearance of Daniel in this story. The appearance of Daniel that we read from verse 13 onward. Verse 13: “Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?”. So Daniel was brought in. And so Daniel appeared before the king, and from this, we learned that Belshazzar actually already knew about Daniel. So Daniel, isn’t that you, the one that my father brought from Judah? But you see, although Daniel was known to this man, although Daniel was in the kingdom of this man, but Daniel doesn’t feature in this man’s life. Isn’t it sad alright? Here is a man with the message from God, but he doesn’t feature in this man’s life. Why? Because he doesn’t want someone to keep telling him what to do alright. He wants to do what he wants to do, not what he should do. The man of God alright- Daniel, the man of God, is for time of crisis.
Maybe this is the time that he needs Daniel. But in ordinary times in his life, he doesn’t need a man like Daniel. But anyway, Daniel is now brought in time of crisis. And so he explains the situation to Daniel in verse 14 through 16. Verse 14, he said: “I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.”. It is amazing. In fact, you should be underlining that phrase there: “I’ve heard of you”. I’ve heard of you Daniel, but I never pay attention to you. Just like so many people, it’s not that I have not heard of these preachers. How many people have I know that have been listening to John MacArthur? I have heard of you, but one day they will say: “I’ve heard of you, but I never live life the way you told me to live.” I’ve heard of you Daniel, he says, that “the Spirit of God is in you”. It’s not that I didn’t know you.
And he says in verse 15: “Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give” me. So that’s the reason why I need you. I mean, I need your help. There’s no one now who could help me. And so he got Daniel in, explained to him the situation. He says that again in verse 16 that “I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and a chain of gold around your neck, and you shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”. And so he makes promises to Daniel, and he says I will reward you now if you come and help me at this time. Now imagine that the whole crowd alright was silent. Here is the king speaking. Here is Daniel being brought in. You can imagine them waiting in expectancy.
What is going to happen next? What is Daniel going to say? A moment ago remember, they were all laughing and mocking. But now they are in silence, waiting to hear the Word of God. God has to bring them to a situation whereby now you listen. Now it’s a sad thing for many people alright. They will not listen. Things are well in their lives, an ordinary you know life that they live, when they don’t feel that they need God, they will not listen. God has to bring them to a situation. And now you see you stay silent. And now you listen to what the man of God has to say to you. And so Daniel begins in verse 17, and the first thing he said to them is this, verse 17: “Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself”. I’m not here for the money. Take it back, all the rewards you want to give it to me. Take it back, give it to somebody else. I cannot be bribed because I’m going to speak the truth. I’m going to speak what you need to hear.
So if by so saying, by so telling the king that you can have your gift for yourself alright take it back, Daniel is preparing the king for the truth. Then Daniel says in verse 8 (Mistakenly mentioned “8”, supposedly “18”): “O king”. I think this is the message. I mean, this is a sermon alright. This is Daniel’s sermon to the king. Probably he has heard that many times before, but now he has to hear that again. And Daniel said: “O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honour. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him.”. Now he didn’t get it himself. It was God who gave him that life. Your father Nebuchadnezzar, his glory, his majesty, his kingdom were all given by God. Therefore “whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; whomever he wished, he put down.
But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.”. And so Daniel begins his message and reminded Belshazzar this truth. Your father was a great man, but he’s in God’s hand. God had to humble him when your father became proud and think that he was great because of himself. God humbled him. Then he went on to tell what you know this king needs to know.
He says, he continues: “But you”. Verse 22: ““But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you”. Now Daniel is describing his life. “And you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.” Now listen again. Daniel said to Belshazzar here, I told you of your father. God dealt with him, and he says: “But you his son”. And he says in verse 22 that you “have not humbled” yourself or “your heart, although you knew all this.”.
Now how frightening it is that there are people who all along in their life, it’s not that they have never heard. Many of the people even in our church have grown up since Sunday school days. From baby onward, they were brought to the church. From young, they sat in Sunday school classes. They grew up literally in the church, listening to the warnings and the message of God all through their life. Although you knew this, yet that is the indictment on this man. You knew, but yet you lived differently. You knew, and yet you have not humbled your hearts before the great and the almighty God. And now your life, you’re living a life of idolatry. You’re praising the gods of stone and bronze and wood, and the God who holds your breath in his hand you have not glorified. Now that was Daniel’s sermon alright to Belshazzar. That was what Belshazzar needed to hear.
That is perhaps what many, many people today need to hear. And that was the last sermon that the king heard because God had wanted to let him know alright- God wanted to let him know that he had crossed the line. Yes, God was patient because God has been very, very patient with us. He waited and waited and waited. Then the time comes, God says enough is enough. And so the fingers appeared and wrote these words. So what are the writings on the wall? Verse 25: “And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”. God wanted him to know this alright.
Now the meaning of these words are these: MENE, which is already interpreted here alright in the verse itself alright in the following verse in verse 26. MENE means numbered, and God is saying that your time is up. Your days are numbered. God knows alright the number of your days. In fact, he knows the number of hairs on your head. Your days are up, are numbered. Remember God, verse 23 tells us that it was God who holds our breath in His hand and owns all our ways. So time comes, God says enough alright. Your days are up. Remember God let us live our life on this earth, and He gives us life every day for a reason. I’m not sure how many of us realize the reason for our existence. God gives us life every day for a reason. The reason is that we might glorify Him. Verse 23, God gives you breath and life that you may glorify Him.
TEKEL. Now TEKEL, we see in verse 27, TEKEL means “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting”. In other words, the word TEKEL means that every action of our life is being evaluated. It’s being weighed. That’s the meaning here. It’s being assessed. Isn’t it frightening that everything that we do in this life alright in our life in this world is being assessed by none other than God Himself? He will evaluate, and that is what that word means alright. TEKEL, that God is taking note of everything that this man is doing or not doing.
Don’t we realize that there are things that we should not do, and there are things that we should do? So God is taking note of everything that you are either shouldn’t do or what you should do. God takes note of our drunkenness here. God takes note of our pride, we see here. God takes note of our wrong priorities, our disobedience, our defiance of God. God takes note of every sin in our life, and every item is put on the weighing machine as it were. It’s weighed. Nothing is forgotten.
And then PERES alright. Verse 28, PERES is actually the singular of PHARSIN alright in verse 25. And here is used in the singular PERES, which means “your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians”. So the word means that that is the end alright of your kingdom. It’s taken away from you, no longer have the kingdom. The kingdom is taken from him and now given to another. And not just the earthly kingdom, perhaps is a reference here. But he also has no place in the kingdom of God. It’s taken away from him. Now you see that the writings on the wall challenge all of us. Our life, remember, is taken note of by God. Now when it is weighed alright, our life when it is weighed, the question is: Will it measure up? When it is weighed on the balance alright, will it measure up?
The chapter closes alright this way in the last two verses to verse 30: “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.”. Now you see, the chapters are kind of closed very simply and swiftly. What happened to Belshazzar? What happened to Babylon? What would happen to you? It kind of just ends very swiftly. Now, who knows? Who knows when God will say to a person? Who knows when God will say to you or to me that one more act of defiance and that will be your last, then the writing will be on the wall for you alright?
There’s the ending of the hymn that I read out earlier on alright, the hymn that I still haven’t learned how to sing. Now the ending of the hymn goes this way: “How long will I go on in sin? How long will God forbear? Where does hope end? And where begin the confines of despair? The answer from the skies is sent: “Ye who from God depart, while it is called today, repent, and harden not your heart.”. I think that captures alright what the message is that we should not test God’s patience. It will come to an end, but let us repent while there is still time. Let us pray.
“Our Father in heaven, again we are reminded that You are the one who holds our breath in Your hand and owns all our ways. And we pray that the reason why You have given us life is that we might honour You and glorify You. And yet, you know Lord that is not true so often of us. Lord, we know that You take note of how we live our life. You will weigh it, and one day we know that the time will come, we’ll have to give an account to You. And so we pray, Lord, that we would indeed learn to remember that today is a day of salvation. Today is a day of repentance. And those who have yet come to repent of their sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray Lord that this day might be the day that You will work in their hearts, for this we pray and ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.