The Most High God Rules
Nebuchadnezzar was Babylon’s greatest king. At his death, his son, Awel-Marduk, became king in his stead. After only a couple years, the husband of one of Nebuchadnezzar’s daughters, Neriglissar, murdered Awel-Marduk. After 4 years, Neriglissar was succeeded by his young son, who, after only a few months as king, was murdered by Nabonidus, who happened to be the husband of yet another of Nebuchadnezzar’s daughters.
Nabonidus was the last ruler of the Babylonian empire. He spent much of his time away from Babylon on foreign expeditions, and left his son and co-regent, Belshazzar, in charge of the kingdom in his absence. It is interesting to note at this point that for many years critics of the Bible pointed out that the only place Belshazzar appeared in history was in the Bible. However, in 1854 and 1881, archeological finds of the historical records kept by Nabonidus have established the identity of Belshazzar,[ii] and the authenticity of Daniel’s account.
When Daniel chapter 4 ends, Nebuchadnezzar is king over Babylon. Daniel chapter 5 is an account of the last night of the Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC, and Babylon fell in 539 BC. Therefore, Daniel chapter 5 begins roughly 23 years after Daniel chapter 4 ends.
The book of Daniel starts in 605 BC when Daniel was a young man. When chapter 5 takes place, it is 539 BC, 66 years later. If Daniel was 14 years old when the story started, he is 80 years old when he stands before King Belshazzar. Daniel saw the comings and goings of the Babylonian Empire and the changes in dynasties from a unique vantage point. He was advisor and prime minister under the great king, Nebuchadnezzar, and continued to serve in the administration of the Empire when the Medes and Persians took over. From his vantage point, he drew the following conclusion:
The Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. (Daniel 5:21)
This is the point of Daniel chapter 5. God rules over the affairs of humanity.
This is precisely where many people object to Christianity. If God is good, why is there evil? However, God has given us free will. We bring the evil on ourselves. This is what happens with Belshazzar in Daniel 5.
Daniel chapter 5 starts out with a proud king, Belshazzar.
He is having a party, and calls for the gold and silver cups that Nebuchadnezzar had brought from the temple in Jerusalem. This was an act of defiance. The aged and wise Daniel said to Belshazzar:
When his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.
22“You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. 23For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. (Daniel 5:20-23)
According to Daniel, Belshazzar proudly defied the Lord of Heaven by having these cups brought out, and he knew better. He knew what his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar went through.
The party’s whole focus was having a good time. The text says the king drank wine with 1,000 of his nobles. The cups were brought out to drink wine. With the focus on wine, the purpose of the feast is clearly pleasure.
History is unclear whether the city was under siege or if Belshazzar had no idea that a great army was gathering outside his city. However, it shows the human tendency to grow overconfident, proud and arrogant. Belshazzar and his nobles felt secure inside the walls of their city, and were boastfully confident in their own wisdom and strength.
The text says that as the nobles, Belshazzar’s wives and concubines drank, they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:4) Their confidence was in gods that did not and do not exist. These idols were empty, vain statues that showed the foolishness of those who made them. However, their pride and confidence rested on the mighty empire they ruled, the magnificent city they lived in and the symbols of success they enjoyed such as the spoils of war, abundant wine to drink and the ability to host magnificent feasts. They thought they achieved all of this by their own cunning, strength and power. Therefore, they proudly defied the God of heaven.
Modern man is no different.
I am not a financial wizard. However, the financial crisis of 2008 is an example of how we can become proud and arrogant, worshipping gods of our own making.
James speaks of our over confidence when he says:
13Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.
The planning is not evil. The boasting is evil. It is human to think of ourselves in god-like terms, as if we can make things happen. To live life without acknowledging the God who gives us life, is evil. To drink the wine He provides while boasting in our own greatness without gratitude to Him, is evil.
There is accountability when we live in a world ruled by the Most High God. If we are the highest power in our universe, there is no accountability. We can do as we please and do not have to answer to anyone. Humans are quick to forget what the Lord says in Psalms 94:8-11:
8Think again, you fools! When will you finally catch on? 9Is he deaf—the one who made your ears? Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes? 10He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you? He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing? 11The LORD knows people’s thoughts; he knows they are worthless! (Psalm 94:8-11)
He knows our thoughts. In Psalm 139:4, it says that he knows what we are going to say before we say it. However, we live and carry on as if He does not know or care and we are the masters of our own destiny.
Belshazzar carried on until it was too late.
Daniel read the writing on the wall to Belshazzar and explained it to him. First, Daniel explained the meaning of the history that Belshazzar had lived through. Daniel explained that God had humbled Nebuchadnezzar until Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that God rules over the affairs of men. Next, Daniel explained that Belshazzar was ignoring these lessons and should have known better. Finally, Daniel interprets the message written by the hand on the wall.
The message was a pronunciation of judgment. This was not a “turn, repent and be saved” message. This was an “it is over” message.
Belshazzar ignores this news and pronounces Daniel the third highest ruler in the empire. Nabonidus is number one. Belshazzar is number two, and Daniel is number three. Wow, the seat of power for an hour or two!
This points out another human tendency.
The nation of Israel ignored God’s warnings until the country was finally destroyed. The kingdom of Judah ignored God’s warnings until the country was finally destroyed. Jesus warned the Jews of His day of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, but they also ignored the warnings. This same pattern will continue to the end. The Great Tribulation will be a seven-year period when God gives humanity one last chance. The vast majority will be like Belshazzar and his nobles, partying until the very end.
God has always kept a remnant for Himself. For example, Daniel was a godly man in an ungodly nation. After the seventy years of exile, thousands of Jews returned to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, people who had remained faithful to God.
13“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
The question for each one of us today is, “Will we choose to acknowledge God today, or will we blindly rush on to destruction?”
The Bible is clear. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) The handwriting is on the wall. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) However, this is not an “It is over” message. Because, this handwriting says, “But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) All one has to do to avoid the penalty of death is to accept this free gift of God.
The Lord Jesus will be returning soon. He promised to return. Meanwhile, the world is feasting, drinking wine, watching movies and celebrating its gods of gold, silver, iron, wood plastic and chrome. The first time he came as a baby, and died to be our Savior. He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and will return as a victorious conquering King. Those who are not ready will find themselves, like Belshazzar, lost and without hope.
We all need to humble ourselves and call upon the Name of the Lord now, while there is time.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cylinders_of_Nabonidus. Note also, Schultz, Samuel J., The Old Testament Speaks, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1980. pg. 370