“Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together.” -Daniel 5:6
Fear of Judgment, No Sure Sign of Salvation
Washington Allston (1779-1843), an American painter who pioneered America’s Romantic movement of landscape painting, is said to have spent twelve years on painting Belshazzar’s feast, but in the end, abandoned the project. Why? He was unable to capture, to his satisfaction, the abject horror on the face of the doomed king of Chaldea.
Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and king of Babylon was living large, providing a great feast for a thousand of his nobles. While the Medo-Persians were no doubt at the gate about to conquer Chaldea, Belshazzar and his noblemen were all drinking wine from the gold vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem when Belshazzar’s father conquered Judah. Instead of fasting as the King of Nineveh did when he heard Jonah’s prophecy of doom, Belshazzar and his friends were feasting. As they were making merry with wine, the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing on the wall in the king’s palace. That’s when Belshazzar experienced abject fear, as described in the text noted above. What a vivid portrayal of terror. His whole body was severely and adversely affected. The king knew immediately that something was amiss. The master astrologers and diviners could not decipher the message. The queen remembered Daniel who, many years before, had numerous times interpreted dreams and signs for Nebuchadnezzar.
So Daniel was summoned and first reminds Belshazzar that his father, though a great man, had fallen into intense pride, and the Lord, the true and living God, had taken him to the woodshed and allowed him to live in temporary insanity until he remembered who Yahweh was and who he was. Then Daniel tells Belshazzar that he has fallen into the same trap of pride and forgetfulness. He had not humbled himself before the Lord though he knew all this had happened to his father.
So, Daniel reads the Aramaic text, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.” Daniel says, “Mene, God had numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. Tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found lacking. Peres, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” We are then told that very night Belshazzar was murdered and Darius of the Medo-Persian empire began to reign. In other words, the Babylonians were removed from power by the mighty hand of God and Belshazzar met God in an unrepentant state.
To be sure, Belshazzar was shattered by his guilt. He knew all that Yahweh had done to and for his father many years before. He had heard of Daniel and his gift of prophecy. He knew who the true and living God was, yet he had persisted for many years to pursue his false gods and to make light of Yahweh by abusing the instruments of Hebrew worship. And then the handwriting on the wall came to him and all his drunken friends on that ominous night. He was struck with terror. He knew this was not a pleasant message. None of his soothsayers could help him. When Daniel was summoned and exegeted the Biblical text, though in fear, though in guilt, Belshazzar still refused to repent. All he could think to do was to offer Daniel financial remuneration.
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(Editor’s Note: This article was written by Al Baker and originally published at Forget None of His Benefits.)
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