“This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. “Here is what these words mean: Mene:: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel[: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Daniel 5:25-28 (NIV).
Was Daniel afraid to speak these words to vain Belshazzar? He was telling the most powerful ruler on the planet that he just didn’t measure up and the all-powerful God of Heaven had decided to make a change in leadership. If Belshazzar was terrified before, he must surely have been more terrified now.
What must have terrified him most is knowing it was true. Jeremiah 50 says that the king of Babylon has heard reports of a vast army coming to his city, and yet Belshazzar was paralyzed in fear. He’s like the steward of Gondor in The Return of the King, except this is a story from history; something that actually happened. Even though much of the rest of the book of Daniel reveals prophecies that Daniel learned during Belshazzar’s short reign, in a few verses, we will meet the leader who overthrows Babylon and lays the groundwork for one of the most famous stories in the Bible: one even unbelievers know.
For now, think back to that night in Babylon. You’re in the room with Belshazzar and Daniel and the queen and all the guests, the nobles of the kingdom who are feasting while their very lives are in danger. The impudent Jew tells the wavering emperor that he’s about to be overthrown. I bet you could have heard a pin (or maybe a Temple goblet) drop. Then, of course, the murmuring would begin.
That happens now, too. If you don’t believe me, go sit in on a corporate board meeting, where group-think and complacency long ago overtook boldness in setting corporate policy. Or in our governments, where mediocrity and mendacity are the new norms. Sit in churches, where cliquishness and tradition can be the well-intentioned fuels that drive many poor decisions among the Lord’s chosen.
Maybe we are all a little too afraid to speak up, to stake our claim firmly on the LORD’s side and let Him guide what we say and do. But Jesus wasn’t; neither was Daniel. After the next chapter, Daniel spends the rest of the book explaining visions he has of the end times. Some of those visions include war, and pestilence, and disasters unknown in any time of history. Belshazzar was afraid of these things, and he knew he was about to die. We who cling to the LORD Jesus shouldn’t be afraid, yet we should be on our guard.
For further reading: Isaiah 13:17, Jeremiah 27:7, Jeremiah 50:41-43, Daniel 5:29
Lord Jesus, I cling to You and You alone! Ease my sinful fears.
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