Weighed and Found Wanting (Phil Johnson)

Daniel 5   |   Sunday, October 19, 2014   |   Code: 2014-10-19-PJ

My assignment was to cover Daniel 4, with an option to

delve into chapter 5 as well. But what I want to do is survey

Daniel 4 without reading every verseCjust to give us some

context, and then we'll take a slightly closer look at Daniel 5.

Daniel 5 is where we'll land and draw our major points.

Daniel 4 is one of the most unusual, unexpected, and

uplifting chapters in all of Scripture. It is the record of

document written by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar,

then included by Daniel in the inspired record.

If we were to take the entire biblical record of

Nebuchadnezzar and exclude this chapter, we would rank

him among the primary villains in all of Scripture. Of all the

heathen rulers mentioned in the Old Testament, he had the

most power, ruled the most territory, and did the most harm

to the Davidic dynasty in Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar was a Chaldean, and he was king of

Imperial Babylon. Babylon, of course, is the one political

entity in Scripture that most clearly symbolizes everything

unholy, everything worldly, everything that glorifies the

power of humanity. The book of Revelation repeatedly refers

to the regime of Antichrist as "Babylon the great." In

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Revelation 17:4, we encounter a symbolic "woman . . .

arrayed in purple and scarlet . . . holding in her hand a golden

cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual

immorality." That's the religious system of Antichrist. And

Revelation 17:5 tells us, "On her forehead was written a name

of mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of

earth's abominations.'" When an Angel who announces the

final destruction of the Babylonian system of politics and

religion, it goes like this: Revelation 18:2: "[The angel] called

out with a mighty voice, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She

has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every

unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every

unclean and detestable beast.'"

Ancient Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar was likewise

both a religious and political entity. The king was deemed

the great high priest. He was considered the incarnation of

everything the Babylonians worshiped. They purposely tried

to exalt human glory over the name of YHWH. In fact, as

we're about to see, the Hebrew God became the focus and the

brunt of their worst blasphemies. They understood that He

stood against every religious and political value that was

precious to them.

Nebuchadnezzar was the founder of this wicked Empire.

He had a warlike disposition. He won a decisive defeat over

the combined Egyptian and Assyrian armies at the Battle of

Carchemish. That was a major turning point in world history,

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and it's recorded in Jeremiah 46:2. From then on, no one

could stop Nebuchadnezzar from conquering anyone he

chose. So he picked fights with every other known nation

within his reach, and he overthrew them all. He defeated

Judah and laid waste to Jerusalem. He captured king

Jehoiakim, put him in chains, and carried him back to

Babylon. He also drove most of the inhabitants of Judah into

exile and slavery in Babylon. That was the start of the

Babylonian CaptivityCand it was seventy long years before

the Jews were allowed to return.

And listen to this (2 Chronicles 36:7 ): "Nebuchadnezzar

also carried part of the vessels of the house of the LORD to

Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon." The second

verse of Daniel 1 likewise describes the same event.

"[Nebuchadnezzar brought] the vessels of the house of God . . .

to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the

vessels in the treasury of his god." Notice this: "the treasury of

[Nebuchadnezzar's] god" was part of the royal palace. He had

devised a religion based on his own power and human

achievements and the glory of his conquests. That's what he

worshiped, and in that regard, he was a very religious man.

The truth is, he thought of himself as godlike.

So Nebuchadnezzar was as proud and powerful as any

man who ever lived. If anyone ever thought of himself as the

captain of his own soul and the master of his own fate,

Nebuchadnezzar did. Ask any citizen of ancient Babylon

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who was the highest sovereign and the most powerful entity

in the universe, and without hesitation, they would say it was

King Nebuchadnezzar.

He was the living epitome of everything profane and

unholy; and the whole principle of his religion lay in the

overconfidence he placed in his own sovereignty. He was

perhaps the last human character in the entire Old Testament

record you would ever expect to be humbled, converted, and

persuaded to glorify God.

And yet, that is precisely what happens in Daniel 4, and

we have Nebuchadnezzar's own testimony about it. He had

already had at least two significant encounters with the

Hebrew God. Daniel had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's

dream in chapter 2. In Daniel's interpretation of the dream,

Nebuchadnezzar was told that his kingdom would be

superseded by a succession of kingdoms, each one less

glorious than the previous ones. This, of course, was not

good news for Nebuchadnezzar, but he was clearly

impressed with Daniel's ability to interpret the dream, and at

the time he gave lip service to Daniel's God (2:47): "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." And

he elevated Daniel to a position of supreme authority under

the king, and gave him first place among all his wise men.

But those words of praise at the end of chapter 2 were not

from his heart. Nebuchadnezzar clearly didn't believe in the

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sovereignty of God, because he didn't believe the prophecy

was fixed and inevitable. (If you don't believe in

predestination, there's no logical way to believe any

predictive prophecy. Prophecy is simply speaking in advance

what God has predestined.) Anyway, Nebuchadnezzar's

response in chapter 3 was to build a massive golden idolCan

image that in Nebuchadnezzar's mind probably represented

himself. And he set the idol up to be worshiped. That golden

image was an altered echo of the dream in chapter 2, as if to

say, forget the "chest and arms of silver . . . thighs of bronze . . .

legs of iron, [and feet] of iron and . . . clay." There's no need for

more than one empire. The idol, I believe, represented his

view of Babylonian power and gloryCdifferent from the

divine prophecy. He was saying, in effect, No empire of

lesser glory will ever overthrow my mighty works.

Nebuchadnezzar was determined to write his own history.

This was quite simply a rejection of God's sovereignty.

Then Nebuchadnezzar had a second encounter with the

Hebrew God, when the Lord saved Shadrach, Meshach, and

Abednego from the fiery furnace after they refused to bow

and worship Nebuchadnezzar's colossus. At the end of

chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar makes a second halfhearted

acknowledgement that YHWH was greater than he reckoned,

and not someone to be trifled with (3:28): "Blessed be the

God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego . . . " And verse 29:

"Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that

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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


But this is still not a genuine expression of true faith.

These are, I think, reluctant concessions. Nebuchadnezzar is

a superstitious man. He can see that God is capable of

causing him great troubleCbut he doesn't want to

acknowledge God as sovereign God over him.

Then Nebuchadnezzar's experience in chapter 4 changes

all that. This chapter is Daniel's record of a document the

king himself wrote to declare his conversion.

Nebuchadnezzar starts and ends the chapter with powerful

statements of faith (v. 2): "It has seemed good to me to show

the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.

How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom

is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from

generation to generation." He exalts God. Then he tells his


Time doesn't permit us to read all of chapter 4, but turn

there with me so you can follow along, and we'll survey

some of the highlights:

Verse 4: It's near the end of Nebuchadnezzar's career. He

is "at ease in [his] house" and he has a terrifying dream. So,

like he did in chapter 2, he summons the wise men to

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interpret the dream. Again, Daniel is the only one who can

interpret the dream.

Verse 10: It's a dream about a massive tree (v. 11), "its top

reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole

earth." But a message comes from heaven (v. 13), saying,

"Chop down the tree and lop off its branches." Verse 16: "Let

his mind be changed from a man's, and let a beast's mind be

given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him."

When Daniel hears the dream, verse 19 says he was

astonished and dismayed, and he remained silent for "about

an hour" (that's what the Hebrew means). He is stunned.

Then (v. 24) he gives the interpretation: "It is a decree of the

Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall

be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the

beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and

you shall be wet with the dew of heaven"Cfor seven long years,

"till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and

gives it to whom he will." Until you acknowledge the

sovereignty and majesty of God. Verse 26: Until "you know

that Heaven rules."

And that's what happened. Verse 28: "All this came upon

King Nebuchadnezzar." First, he was given a year's

opportunity to repent. But (v. 29) " At the end of twelve

months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of

Babylon," Still enthralled with his own greatness; musing to

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himself about the glories of his own achievements; talking to

himself about how great he was.

By the way, the monuments Nebuchadnezzar had built for

himself were stunningly magnificent by any human standard.

He built the Ishtar Gate, a massive edifice of glazed bricks.

That gate was located by German archaeologists in the early

20th century and moved brick by brick to Berlin, where you

can see it today in the Pergamon Museum. (I've seen it, and it

is spectacular.) Nebuchadnezzar built colorful temples and

shrines to all the gods whose people he had conquered. The

main street of Babylon was a wide processional paved with

bricks and lined with fabulous buildings. He dug canals and

reservoirs and built dams. He made The outer walls of the

capital city 350 feet high and eighty-seven feet thick. Inside

those walls were two more rows of inner walls and moats

arranged in an ingenious way to make the city of Babylon

impenetrable. If an army attacked from the north, he could

open floodgates that would deluge the area north of the city

and make it impossible for either footmen or horsemen to

mount an effective assault. The city was decorated with

massive statues and monuments, bronze bulls, brazen

serpents, and gold-covered structures. The Hanging Gardens

of Babylon were one of the true wonders of the ancient

world, and ample water was available a through a

sophisticated irrigation system. In its prime, Babylon was a

magnificent display of human achievement and earthly glory.

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So here's Nebuchadnezzar in the prime of advanced years,

walking on the roof of his opulent palace, looking over all he

had accomplished (verse 30): "and the king answered and said

[to himself], 'Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my

mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my

majesty?'" And (v. 31)C

While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice

from heaven, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken:

The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven

from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts

of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox,

and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know

that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to

whom he will."

So for the next seven years, Nebuchadnezzar suffered

under the delusion that he was a cow; he lived like a cow; he

ate like a cow; he slept outdoors like a cowCand he held fast

his stubborn unbelief like a donkey. (By the way, this is a

known form of mental illness. It's called clinical lycanthropy.

Look it up on Wikipedia). It's a rare psychiatric syndrome

where the affected person thinks and acts and lives like an

animal. In this case, it was clearly God who afflicted

Nebuchadnezzar this way. God literally drove him crazy and

kept him in that state until Nebuchadnezzar confessed the

sovereignty of God.

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This is what's known as irresistible grace. I have known

some crazy Arminians, but this one takes the cake. You

might wonder why in seven years' time the Babylonians

didn't get a new king. But this wasn't a democracy, where

you can simply elect a new leader. World history is full of

czars and dictators who were stark, raving mad. Look that up

on Wikipedia. (In fact, there's a Wikipedia entry titled "List

of mentally ill monarchs." Some interesting reading material

there.) Anyway, this wasn't as unusual as you might think.

Nebuchadnezzar's madness lasted seven years, and then

Nebuchadnezzar looked up from the cow pasture and made

this thoroughly Calvinistic confession of faith. Verse 34:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to

heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the

Most High, and praised and honored him who lives

forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and

his kingdom endures from generation to generation;

35 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; and

none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you

done?" [That verse, by the way is a perfect summary of

the theme of Daniel. "God does all His will, and no

one can thwart His plan or challenge it." The whole

story of Daniel is all about the sovereignty of God. I'll

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come back to that later, but here's the rest of

Nebuchadnezzar's testimony:]

36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the

glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to

me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was

established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was

added to me.

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.

This time there is every reason to think Nebuchadnezzar

has genuinely been converted. Scripture says nothing about

him after this. By the time we get to chapter 5, he is dead.

But I think if this were a false conversion, Scripture would

not have recorded it in Nebuchadnezzar's own words, and we

would also have been told about his falling away. I gather

this is the sincere confession of a genuinely converted man,

and I expect to meet him in heaven.

That's one of my favorite episodes in Old Testament

history, right up there with the revival in Nineveh during

Jonah's time. In fact, those two events (the revival of

Nineveh and the conversion of Nebuchadnezzar) are

remarkable for precisely the same reasons. Both accounts

stress the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of the

lost. Both incidents have to do with the unexpected

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conversion of hostile Gentiles. Both events are simply and

dispassionately recorded in just one chapter apiece (without

much drama or elaboration). Neither event is ever mentioned

anywhere else in the Bible or in secular history. And

although both the revival in Nineveh and the conversion of

Nebuchadnezzar might be expected to signal a massive

change in the flow of human history, neither event had any

long-term effect on the course of this world. Nineveh

reverted to hard-core paganism within a generation and was

overthrown completely in about a hundred years.

Nebuchadnezzar died and his heirs tried to erase the memory

of Daniel's God from the collective national consciousness.

That's precisely what we see in chapter 5. Fast forward

about twenty-five years. According to the best records of

secular history, the event described in Daniel 5 occurred on

October 12, 539 BC. (The month and day are certain; the

year differs slightly according to various secular historians.)

But it's autumn of the year. Nebuchadnezzar had by now

been dead for about 23 years. In fact, after Daniel 5, he is

never mentioned again in Scripture, and in this chapter, it's

clear that he has been dead awhile.

The ruler who is the subject of Daniel 5 is Belshazzar.

Verse 2 refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his father, but it's using

the word in a Hebrew sense. It means "ancestor."

Nebuchadnezzar was actually Belshazzar's grandfather.

Weighed and Found Wanting 13

Some of the gaps in the biblical account are perfectly filled

in by secular history.

The record shows that after Nebuchadnezzar died in 562

BC, there were two and a half decades of political upheaval

in Babylon. The king who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar was

called Evil-Merodach. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 25:27 and

Jeremiah 52:31. Those two verses are practically identical

and both say Evil-Merodach graciously released Jehoiachin

from prison, 37 years into the captivity. But secular

Babylonian records record that he ruled only 2 years, and he

was succeeded by Nergal-Sharezer (mentioned twice in

Jeremiah 39). He reigned for less than four years, and was

succeeded on the throne by another ruler who held the throne

for less than a year, and he was overthrown by Nabonidus,

the last king of the Babylonian empire. Nabonidus was

apparently married to one of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters,

and his firstborn son was Belshazzar. So Belshazzar was

Nebuchadnezzar's grandson.

Nabonidus made Belshazzar co-regent, giving him the

same rights and powers he enjoyed as king. And when

Nabonidus took the Babylonian army out to answer the

assault by the Medes and Persians, Belshazzar remained in

command over the city of Babylon. He occupied the palace

and had full authority over the nation's affairs. And he

decided to host a banquet. It was a massive banquet, with the

emphasis on drunkenness and revelry (verse 1): "King

Daniel 5 14

Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and

drank wine in front of the thousand."

Now, don't get the wrong impression here. Belshazzar was

about thirty-five years old at this time. He not your

run-of-the-mill adolescent throwing a big party in the palace

while Dad is away. This is much more than that. Untold

thousands of armed Medes and Persians were camped just

outside the city walls, and they had been occupied with some

kind of digging project for weeks. The Babylonians thought

they were trying to undermine the city's outer walls or build

a siege ramp to get over the walls. But with so many layers

of interior walls and moats, the Babylonians had no fear for

their safety.

And this gala is a deliberate public statement to show that

Belshazzar is completely safe, secure, and defiant in the face

of his adversaries' assault. In fact, it's not just a party. It's a

pagan religious ceremonyCa Bacchanal offered as a

sacrament to summon the aid of a broad pantheon of pagan

deities. Verse 4: "They drank wine and praised the gods of gold

and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone." There's a lot of

debauched carousing, tooCwith sexual overtones. That's the

point of the women who are mentioned in verse 3:

"[Belshazzar's] wives, and his concubines." These girls are

drinking along with the men of the Babylonian ruling class.

This is a wicked celebration from every perspective, but it's

also a religious event.

Weighed and Found Wanting 15

Every detail Scripture gives us in this chapter portrays

Belshazzar as an obstinate unbeliever. He is hostile to the

truth, secure in his unbelief, committed to pagan spirituality,

and impervious to reflection, correction, or any other

expression of humility.

Daniel purposely recounts this whole incident right after

he posts Nebuchadnezzar's testimony. Chapter 5 is actually a

continuation of the theme of chapter 4Cwhich as I said, is the

central theme in the book of Daniel: the sovereignty of God.

Here we see, side by side in the span of two chapters, both

sides of Romans 9:18: "[God] has mercy on whomever he wills,

and he hardens whomever he wills." Nebuchadnezzar (who as

an evil person was by far more notorious, more smug, more

pleased with himself) was nevertheless shown grace. God

first put him on notice and on probation for a year, during

which time Nebuchadnezzar had every opportunity to repent

but only became more pleased with himself. And then, in an

agonizing seven-year-long ordeal that was really an act of

amazing grace, God humbled him, redeemed him, and

elicited from him a testimony that ultimately gave all the

glory to God.

What you're going to see in chapter 5 is that Belshazzar,

in stark contrast to his grandfather, was given no warning

and no opportunity to repent. He was doomed from the time

he is introduced to us. And he stands only as a lesson about

the dangers of unbelief.

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This chapter highlights at least six features of unbelief

that guarantee the doom of Belshazzar, and I want to point

them out as we follow the narrative. They form a neat

acronym for the first six letters of the alphabet, so I'll call

them the ABCs of unbelief. First isC


Bear in mind that Babylon is under siege. Belshazzar is

both oblivious and unconcerned about the threat posed by the

invading armies camped at the city gates. The engineers and

defense experts of Babylon had assured the people that the

city defenses were strong enough to withstand a siege of 70

years. Belshazzar is so brashly and pompously certain that

the Medes and the Persians pose no imminent threat to his

safety that he puts on this massive, drunken orgyCas if to

show his disdain for his enemies in the most graphic way

possible. The text says, he "made a great feast for a thousand

of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand." The

implication is that he was purposely drinking wine in

copious amounts, deliberately getting drunk in the most

public manner, showing his contempt for the Medes and

Persians by intentionally drinking to excess.

The armies of the Medes and the Persians were under the

command of Cyrus II of PersiaCCyrus the Great. The secular

records reveal that Belshazzar's father, Nabonidus, had taken

an army to mount an attack against Cyrus. That left

Weighed and Found Wanting 17

Belshazzar in charge of the capital city. Unbeknownst to

Belshazzar, his father's troops had surrendered to Cyrus just

two days before Belshazzar threw his banquet. That makes

his cocksure arrogance doubly appalling. He was engaged in

this drunken orgy, oblivious to the doom that was already

beginning to overtake him.

And the more he drank, the more arrogant he became.

Verse 2 highlights the second evil feature of his unbelief:


The depraved character of this drunken celebration now

manifests itself. This, as I said, is a pagan religious

sacrament with eucharistic overtones. And now it becomes a

deliberate act of blasphemy against the Hebrew God.

Remember how Nebuchadnezzar had ransacked the Temple

in Jerusalem and carried away some of the sacred vessels?

The vessels he took are listed in 2 Kings 25:14-15: He "took

away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes

for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple

service, the fire pans also and the bowls." Pretty much

everything made of precious metal and small enough to

carry. There were lots of them. When the Jews returned from

their exile, they brought them back, counted, and catalogued

them. The details are recorded in Ezra 1:9-11:

This was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000

basins of silver, 29 censers, 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of

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silver, and 1,000 other vessels; all the vessels of gold and

of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up,

when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to


Those same vessels make an appearance here in Daniel


Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the

vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his

father 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.

This is deliberate blasphemy, performed with evil mirth and

drunken laughter. Bear in mind that most of the vessels are

not designed for drinking. They include shovels and snuffers

and incense holders and fire pans. But Belshazzar hauls them

out and drinks his wine from them and urges his princes and

concubines to join in the revelry, and they dedicate the whole

blasphemous ceremony to their pagan idols of "gold and

silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone."

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That's a pretty strong clue that the whole point of this

religious ceremony from the very start was a public

repudiation of Nebuchadnezzar's conversion and the God

who through Daniel had foretold the fall of Babylon and the

rise of a succession of empires. As openly as possible,

Belshazzar was showing his defiant unbelief in that

prophecy, and he was exhibiting his utter hatred for the true

God, whom his grandfather had embraced. This was a

conscious, calculated, resounding act of deliberate


All unbelief has an element of blasphemy in it; here

Belshazzar makes his blasphemous disdain for the Hebrew

God as graphic and as flamboyant as possible.

Now here's a third evil feature of unbelief:

Daniel 5 20


There's an inherent cluelessness in all unbelief. First

Corinthians 2:14: "The natural person does not accept the

things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not

able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

But Belshazzar is profoundly stupid, and you see that in

everything he does. His carefree attitude while his nation's

very existence is being threatened is one expression of that

stupidity. After everything his grandfather experienced,

Belshazzar's open show of defiance and loathing for God

trumps everything for sheer stupidity. But now while he is in

the very act of blaspheming God, the Lord Himself crashes

the party with a visible display of sovereign power.

Belshazzar hasn't got a clue what is happening.

Verse 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


6 Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts

alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked


7 The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the

Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the

wise men of Babylon, "Whoever reads this writing, and

shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple

Weighed and Found Wanting 21

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


9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color

changed, and his lords were perplexed.

Suddenly the whole gathering is thrown into confusion.

Belshazzar was well into a drunken state anyway. He

suddenly realizes that something profound is happening that

is far beyond his power to command or control or

comprehend. The arrogance suddenly evaporates from his

attitude. The blood drains from his face (repeatedly the text

tells us that "his color changed"). He calls for his magiCthe

wise men. His fear and confusion are evident in the fact that

it says he "called loudly to bring in the enchanters" and

soothsayers. The hand appears; it writes. The noise of

drunken revelry suddenly grows silent, and Belshazzar's

voice pierces the silence with a loud call for help. He

promises a reward of gold and a promotion to third place in

the kingdom. Nabonidus was first. Belshazzar himself was

second. Whoever deciphered the handwriting on the wall

would be third.

But the wisest men in the kingdom couldn't explain or

interpret the writing. All that collective wisdom, and not one

man among them had any insight into the meaning of this

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phenomenon. So (verse 9), "King Belshazzar . . . and his lords

were perplexed."

Confusion. It's one of the inevitable features of unbelief.

Here's a fourth feature:


This whole dilemma echoes a scene from years before.

Compare verse 8 with Daniel 2:27: "No wise men, enchanters,

magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that

the king has asked." Same thing happens again in Daniel 4.

The very wisest men in Babylon never do seem able to

interpret any prophetic sign from the Lord. That's because

their wisdom was "not the wisdom that comes down from

above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic"Cto borrow words

from James. As Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:43:

"Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you

cannot bear to hear my word." Their unbelief made them dull

of hearing, and it dulled all their spiritual senses.

What stands out here is that Belshazzar seems utterly

oblivious to the history of his grandfather's dealings with

Daniel. Remember that when Daniel interpreted

Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2, he was promoted to

viceregent (second in command) in the capital province.

Daniel 2:48: "Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many

great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of

Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon." So

Weighed and Found Wanting 23

in his prime, Daniel was a man of great influence and power,

in charge of all the wise men in Babylon. Daniel appointed

three associates, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to assist

him in that capacity. And at the end of chapter 3, they are all

still in positions of prominence.

But not now. Sometime during that twenty-year gap

between Daniel 4 and Daniel 5, Daniel and friends were

demoted, or retired, or otherwise relieved of their high

positions. And by Belshazzar's time, he seems like the king

doesn't even know who Daniel is. This is another clue that

the current regime has done everything possible to purge the

memory of Nebuchadnezzar's conversion and the influence

of the Hebrew God from their collective consciousness.

The Babylonian concept was that the state is the

incarnation of God. (Very similar to what's happening in our

nation right now.) The state is the source of truth, and virtue,

and domestic securityCthe final judge of right and wrong

and the ultimate arbiter of morality. The ruler is the

undisputed high priest. (Does that sound familiar, or what?)

Any hint of the Hebrew God was an unwelcome challenge

to that point of view. The history of Daniel's dealings with

Nebuchadnezzar was therefore written out of the official

record. Belshazzar had totally missed the main lessons he

might have learned from his grandfather's experience. His

spiritual perception, his conscience, and his memory had all

been systematically dulled.

Daniel 5 24

But the queen still remembers Daniel. Chapter 5, verse


The queen, 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. 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."

This is now Belshazzar's only hope of understanding the

writing on the wall, so he summons Daniel. Now we see

feature 5 of his unbelief, and it is a remarkable display ofC


Belshazzar speaks to Daniel in a very subtly

condescending way. Verse 13:

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king

answered and said to Daniel, "You are that Daniel, one of

Weighed and Found Wanting 25

the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from


14 I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods 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."

Belshazzar has nothing but contempt for the Jews. He

pretends to know nothing about Daniel, and in his very first

sentence, he reminds Daniel that he's Jewish. Daniel is an

exile; he was conquered and deprived of his freedom by

Nebuchadnezzar. And furthermore, any advantage or any

glory Daniel ever enjoyed is a borrowed Babylonian benefit.

Even Belshazzar's recitation of Daniel's accomplishments is

muted and inaccurate. "I have heard of you that the spirit of the

gods is in you"Cno mention of the one true God, whom

Belshazzar had just been blaspheming. Belshazzar refuses to

acknowledge God.

Daniel 5 26

But still the king offers gifts and status to Daniel if he can

interpret the writing on the wall. That too is a backhanded

insult. Remember, Daniel had once held a higher position

than Belshazzar was now offering himCback when

Belshazzar was still in diapers. This is either incredible

ignorance. Or more likely (as we're about to see) it was a

deliberate insult on Belshazzar's part. Either way, it shows

what an unbelievable egomaniac he was.

And Daniel, who is in no mood to mince words, is about

to expose Belshazzar for what he is: an evil, unbelieving,

egomaniacal fool. And here's the sixth feature of all unbelief:


"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" There's a

built-in foolishness in all unbelief, and it is on full display

here. Verse 17: "Then Daniel answered and said before the

king, 'Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to

another. [Tonight, of all nights, Daniel had no desire to be

third in the kingdom.] Nevertheless, I will read the writing to

the king and make known to him the interpretation.'"

And then (before explaining the handwriting), Daniel

preaches a sermon to the king, using the king's grandfather as

his illustration. He rehearses the history of Nebuchadnezzar's


O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your

father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.

Weighed and Found Wanting 27

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. [And here in one

simple sentence, Daniel sums up, exposes, and indicts

Belshazzar for his arrogance, his blasphemy, his

confusion, his dullness, his egomania, and his


22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your

heart, though you knew all this,

23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of


That's the damning charge: "You knew all this." Your sin has

been deliberate. Verse 23: "And the vessels of [God's] house

have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your

wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And

Daniel 5 28

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." You sinned directly against God, waving

your unbelief in His face.

Verse 24 (Daniel continues):

Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this

writing was inscribed.

25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE,


26 This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has

numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an


27 TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and

found wanting;

28 PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the

Medes and Persians."

Literally, then, the writing meant, "Numbered, numbered,

weighed, and divided. It was a declaration of judgment and a

pronouncement of doom.

This was also a direct confrontation of Belshazzar's belief

system, along with every other pagan religion and every

sub-orthodox attempt to rewrite biblical soteriology. The

image of a judgment with scales is what most people expect,

and it's the very thing fools hope for. This is the epitome of

human self-righteousness. Every religion ever invented by

Weighed and Found Wanting 29

the human mind has at its core the foolish notion that we can

earn favor with God by doing enough good works to atone

for and outweigh our sins. That's the driving notion of our

culture as well: Steve Jobs must be in heaven because he

accomplished so many things that change the way we live.

Mother Teresa has to be there because of all her

philanthropic works. Every unbelieving rich person and

worldly power-broker hangs his hopes on that same rickety

coat rack. But there's not a person alive, or anyone who has

ever lived who can be weighed in the balances and not be

found wanting. Belshazzar is a prime example: one of the

world's most powerful and advantaged people, he utterly

wasted every advantage he had. He had never humbled his

heart, even though he knew the truth about God.

Belshazzar was one dull-hearted, confused

unbelieverCand a fool. Even after hearing the prophecy of

doom, he made a public show of fulfilling his promise to

Daniel. Verse 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." Belshazzar clearly

still doesn't believe God. Why is he declaring Daniel third

ruler in the empire now? He clearly does not believe his

doom is about to catch up with him, and the empire will be


Daniel 5 30

Remember I mentioned that the armies of Cyrus had a

digging project going outside the city walls? They weren't

building a rampart or trying to tunnel under the moat. They

were diverting the flow of the Euphrates River, which flowed

under the wall to bring water into the city. When the water

level dropped, Cyrus and his men simply slipped under the

wall where the river flowed. (It's a poetic bookend to the fall

of Nineveh, exactly 73 years earlier. The Khosr river flowed

under Nineveh's massive walls and through the heart of that

city. But the Khosr flooded and caused a large section of the

wall to collapse. That's what finally exposed Nineveh to

invading Armies.) Here, Cyrus simply diverted the river, and

the water level dropped enough to let his soldiers under the

wall and into the city. Cyrus's army arrived in the city that

very night, while Belshazzar and all his princes were still

drunk from their winefest. Verse 30: "That very night

Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede

received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old."

The situation reminds me of the warning of things yet to

come in 1 Thessalonians 5:3: "While people are saying, "There

is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon

them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will

not escape."

But the central lesson here is exactly the same as chapter

4, and it's the overall theme of Daniel: "[The LORD's] dominion

is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from

Weighed and Found Wanting 31

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; and

none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'"

God is absolutely sovereign.

And the correlative truth is the very heart of the gospel:

Only God can save. If you think your own accomplishments

will be enough to win you favor in God's eyes, when you are

weighed in the balances, you will be found wanting. The only

hope of salvation is unconditional surrender to the one true

and sovereign GodCwho promises to save all who come to

Him through Christ. Furthermore, "Everyone who calls on the

name of the Lord will be saved." That's Romans 10:13. You

have that very same promise in Acts 2:21, and it echoes the

promise Jesus Himself made in John 6:40: "This is the will of

my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in

him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last


If Nebuchadnezzar can be saved, you too can be saved, no

matter how dark your history of sin. If the power and

influence of Belshazzar couldn't save him, neither can your

accomplishments give you any hope. The same corruptions

that fed Belshazzar's unbeliefCarrogance, blasphemy,

confusion, dullness, egotism, and foolishnessCare the

common sins of fallen humanity. All of us are guilty of those

Daniel 5 32

same transgressions. And the only remedy is graceCbut the

good news is that God is gracious to all who call upon Him.