Sermon: When you see the Writing on the Wall
Summary: God has given both warnings and promises regarding pride and humility. In account of Belshazzar demonstrates that pride breeds insolence, which blinds one to God’s lessons and prevents repentance that leads to life. Coming to God with a humble and submissive heart brings a great blessing in many ways.
Text: Daniel 5
Scripture Reading: Jer 9:23-24
1. Wonder where some of our sayings come from? Which from the Bible?
a. The Powers that Be – Rom 13:1 - Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (KJV)
b. Apple of his eye – Dt 32:10 - “He found him in a desert land
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the [a]apple of His eye
c. The skin of my teeth – Job 19:20 - 20 My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.
d. Man after his own heart – 1 Sam 13:14 - 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart,
e. Set Your House in Order – 2 Kg 20:1 - In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’ ”
f. A little birdie told me – Eccl 10:20 - Do not curse the king, even in your thought; Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; For a bird of the air may carry your voice, And a bird in flight may tell the matter.
g. The 11th hour – Parable of the Laborers Mt 20:1-16 - 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.
h. Drop in the Bucket – Is 40:15 - 15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
i. Fallen from Grace – Gal 5:4 - 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
j. Scapegoat – Lev 16:10 - 10 But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.
k. “The Writing on the Wall” – From Daniel 5, today’s text
2. Dan 5 Belongs as a unit with Daniel 4: Nebuchadnezzar’s Sabbatical
a. Made to think he was a grazing animal for seven periods “until he knows that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men.”
b. When his sanity returned, he praised and honored God and acknowledged that “ his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;”
c. Nebuchadnezzar wrote his experience down to pass on what he had learned
3. Daniel 5: Begins with “King” Belshazzar at the very end of his reign
a. Where he is in the line up of the Neo-Babylonian Kings
i. 626-605 – Nabopolassar (21 yrs)
ii. 605-562 – Nebuchadnezzar (43 years)
iii. 562-560 – Amel-Marduk (2 yrs)
iv. 556 – Labashi Marduk (3 months)
v. 556-539 – Nabonidus (17 years)
b. Who is Belshazzar? – Discovered his name in Babylonian sources as the son of Nabonidus
i. For the last 10 years of his reign, Nabonidus was away in Arabia pursuing religion
ii. Left his son, Belshazzar in charge
iii. They were “co-regents”
c. Text skips 19 years from Nebuchadnezzar to the end of Babylon
4. Chapter 5 parallel/contrast with Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 – Lessons?
a. Lesson still the same as last week – Phrase repeated in v.21: “the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.”
b. Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and accepted this
c. Belshazzar did not – So I will focus on pride
d. More than just moral lesson on pride, but how God responds to pride and arrogance. What pride does:
I. (Dan 5:1-16) Pride Breeds Insolence
A. Even chapter 4 was a lesson on pride for Nebuchadnezzar
1. He needed to understand that God was Lord of all and was the one that set him over Babylon
2. This was a reminder to God’s people that no matter how mighty and prideful a king/ruler is, God is the only one that is omnipotent
3. This scene seems like a déjà vu moment
a. A message comes to the king, none of the king’s professionals can interpret it
b. They have to call Daniel to come and interpret it
B. But Belshazzar stands in stark contrast to Nebuchadnezzar
1. Belshazzar did what Nebuchadnezzar never did
a. Seems all of the holy utensils from the temple were put away somewhere by Nebuchadnezzar
b. But Belshazzar takes the holy items for all his friends to use at a party
i. Using the items from the temple, they praise the lifeless gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone
ii. Those are holy items. Normally, only the Levites handle them
2. Notice how Belshazzar refers to Daniel’s God
a. 5:14 - I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you,
b. 4:18 - but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
c. May seem like something minor, but may reflect contrast in Nebuchadnezzar over Belshazzar
i. Even though Nebuchadnezzar worshipped Bel, he did not disrespect Yahweh
ii. This is probably why the holy items from the temple were stored away somewhere and probably untouched, until Belshazzar brought them out for his party
iii. Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar recognized Yahweh and worshipped and praised him
3. Why did Belshazzar do this? – Goes beyond just pride
a. Would call it arrogance
b. He demonstrated contempt and insolence to Yahweh
c. Probably had an inflated ego, far far beyond Nebuchadnezzar
d. The common Israelites would not touch these items because they might die
4. This is probably why Daniel does not seem to have the same relationship with Belshazzar as he did with Nebuchadnezzar
a. In chapter 5 – We see that Daniel seems to have had a good working relationship with Nebuchadnezzar
b. We don’t see that at all with Belshazzar because of the contempt and dishonor he has shown to Yahweh at his party
C. ILL: Can you imagine if you are an Israelite how that might affect you?
1. Already humiliated by the destruction of the temple and made exiles
2. Now, the king throws a party and uses the holy items from your destroyed temple
a. Fire doesn’t come down from Heaven and destroy them
b. You may wonder if God has abandoned you
D. Do we face the same thing today? Yes
1. Historically, Christian have been marginalized in many ways
a. Nothing to get bent out of shape over – Daniel didn’t
b. We are not of this world, so the world is not going to love us
c. Jesus warned that the world will hate us as it hated him
II. (Dan 5:17-23) Pride Blinds Us to God’s Lessons
A. God doesn’t reinvent the wheel every generation
B. Daniel points out that God had already communicated to Belshazzar
1. Belshazzar knew better
a. Had the benefit of knowing Nebuchadnezzar’s story
b. Maybe from personal experience – it was just a couple of decades prior
c. Nebuchadnezzar even wrote a letter to pass on what he had learned about the God of Heaven
i. The “Most High” rules over the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will
ii. Nebuchadnezzar praised and worshipped the most high
2. Belshazzar should have taken heed, but didn’t. Why?
a. Perhaps it was his pride. Never thought that would happen to him
b. Maybe he thought he was superior to Nebuchadnezzar
c. Whatever the reason, he did not head Nebuchadnezzar’s message
3. Several passages apply to Belshazzar
a. Prov 1:7 - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
i. Belshazzar had no fear of God
ii. That made him a fool
b. Prov 15:5 - A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
i. Belshazzar did not listen to his predecessor’s letter
ii. That made him a fool
c. Prov 26:11 - Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.
i. Not only did Belshazzar repeat Nebuchadnezzar’s folly, he one upped him with the holy items
ii. What was he thinking????
C. ILL: Have you ever known anyone who refuses to learn from history, or from the mistakes and lessons of others
1. Like the guy that says, “Unless God comes down personally and tells me, I have no reason to listen.”
2. BUT – He HAS come down and HAS spoken!
a. Heb 1:1-2 - 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,
b. 2 Tim 3:16-17 - 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
c. 2 Pet 1:19 - 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
3. Has God communicated? YES – We have 1252 pages of it in a book!
4. Question is NOT whether God has communicated, but whether you will pay heed to it or not
D. Need to pay attention God’s message
1. Notice how Daniel refers to Yahweh - but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
2. How do we honor God? Start by listening to his message and being faithful to it
3. Message has been preserved and handed down to us in this book
III. (Dan 5:24-31) Pride prevents repentance
A. Pride will never honestly admit you are wrong and need to change
B. This message is much, much more forceful than to Nebuchadnezzar
1. Think about it – a HAND appearing in and writing on the wall!
a. Would this get your attention?
b. The message said: numbered, numbered, weighed, divided
i. Kingdom is numbered, and is at an end
ii. You have been weighed/ and you have come up short
iii. Your kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians
2. What would your reaction be? - pray, ask for mercy, change your life, repent?
3. Nebuchadnezzar’s Reaction(s)
a. 2:47 - 47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
b. 3:28-29 - 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside[f] the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”
c. 4:37 - 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
4. Belshazzar’s reaction?
a. 5:29 - 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.
b. Do you notice what is noticeably absent?
i. No mention of Belshazzar humbling himself
ii. No acknowledgement of the most High God
iii. No repentance
c. Why? Boils down to pride and arrogance, which led to his undoing
C. ILL: Recently (2014), a team of British researchers surveyed 85 convicts at a prison in South East England about their pro-social traits. The inmates were aged 18 to 34 and the majority had been jailed for acts of violence and robbery. The inmates completed questionnaires anonymously and in relative privacy. Here's what the study concluded:
1. Compared with "an average prisoner" the [convicts] rated themselves higher than the average person in the community on these traits:
2. more moral, kinder, self-controlled, law-abiding, compassionate, generous, dependable, trustworthy, and honest.
3. One exception: Law-abiding. Rated themselves as equivalent to the average community member
4. This was a Demonstration of pride:
a. Causes people to overrate their goodness
b. Causes people to minimize bad qualities
c. Pride Makes you BLIND to the need to change
D. Pride is not just a temptation for people like Belshazzar, but for all people
1. What does pride look like?
a. Feel entitled, inflated ego, self-absorbed
b. Insists on MY rights, what I am entitled to, ME, MY, I, MYSELF
c. Can result in resentment, anger, broken relationships, harm
d. It damages faith, wounds compassion, injures relationships, blinds the heart
2. Because it blinds the heart, pride prevents you from changing
a. If not a good husband/wife, will be stuck there due to pride
b. If you have anger, attitude, grudge, problem – more likely to deflect it on someone or something else
c. Like those guys in prison – both blind and stuck
3. Ultimate result?
a. Jas 4:6 - God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble
b. Will find yourself in opposition to God, as Belshazzar did
4. Don’t have to be in the seat of power like Belshazzar to be afflicted with pride
a. Poor people can suffer from pride every bit as much as the rich and powerful
b. Pride was at the root of the original sin in the garden
c. Humble yourself, confess, pray, ask God to change you, submit
d. Accept help from others on this
1. The first one we must accept help from is Jesus (inv)
2. If you have obeyed, then remember the lesson from this text
a. If pride is a presence in your life, then recognize the “writing on the wall”
b. The writing is this James 4:10 – Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up
c. James 4:6 God is opposed to the proud - - but gives GRACE to the humble