Daniel 5: The Reckoning


Series: Daniel

Title: 5. Daniel 5: The Reckoning #repentence


  • 2017-12-16: White Rock Lake


  1. 296: Lord, I'm Coming Home

Scripture: Hebrews 3:7-14

  1. Intro
    1. Have you attended the School of Hard Knocks?
    2. When I was a kid, I once knew another boy who we sometimes called Scarface. He was called that because he had a huge scar running from his mouth to his left ear. So, how did he get his scar?
      1. Every winter, we all loved to go sledding. We would find a snow-covered hill–the steeper, the better–and ride our sleds down as fast as we could get them to move.
      2. There was one hill near Scarface’s house which was strictly off-limits for sledding. Yet it looked like a great hill.
      3. Obedience not being Scarface’s forte, one day he decided to try the off-limits hill. He had a great, fast ride down the hill.
      4. Unbeknownst to him, at the bottom of the hill was a barbed wire fence.
    3. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you really knew better than to do some particular thing, you knew that the outcome would be bad, yet you inexplicably decided to do it anyway?
    4. Maybe you ignored the instructions of those who knew better.
    5. That’s the situation we find in Daniel 5.
  2. Background
    1. Last week, we studied Daniel 4 and learned about the conversion of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon.
      1. Prior to his conversion, Nebuchadnezzar had been arrogant and had failed to realize that his successes were the result of God’s hand.
      2. Afterward, he realized that God was ruler over all, and he began to worship the Creator, rather than created things.
      3. At this time, Daniel was still a fairly young man, probably in his 40s or younger.
    2. There’s a gap of many years between Daniel 4 and 5.
      1. When chapter 5 begins, Nebuchadnezzar is long dead, as is his successor, Evil-Merodach. Daniel is in his 80s, and much has changed.1
      2. Nabonidus is now the king of Babylon, but for reasons unknown, he has spent many years at the Teima oasis in what is now Saudi Arabia. His son, Belshazzar, is acting regent in his absence. Thus, while Belshazzar isn’t actually the king, Daniel calls him that because he acts with the authority and power of the king.
    3. As our story begins, there have been several other developments.
      1. Cyrus II (aka Cyrus the Great) has ascended to the throne of Persia. He quickly subdues his northern neighbors in Media and sets about creating the joint empire of the Medes and the Persians, dominated by the Persians.
      2. The Medo-Persians start expanding their empire in all directions, one of which is toward Babylon.
      3. The Babylonian empire is in disarray.
        1. King Nabonidus has been so preoccupied by whatever he had been doing in Teima that the empire was essentially undefended.
        2. Belshazzar, the regent, was also lax in his duties, and failed to take the Medo-Persian threat seriously.
      4. Cyrus’ general Gobryas marched through Babylonian city after Babylonian city, meeting only the most minimal resistance.
      5. Finally, Gobryas reached the city of Babylon itself.
        1. Nebuchadnezzar had ensured that the capital city was virtually impossible to capture.
          1. It had walls thick enough to host chariot races. With the technology of the period, they were absolutely impregnable.
          2. Babylon had plenty of storage capacity. It was said to house enough food to feed the entire population for the duration of a ten-year siege.
          3. The Euphrates river ran through the city, ensuring an unlimited supply of water.
          4. Thus, a direct assault on the city was impossible, and only the wealthiest and most determined enemy would even contemplate laying siege for ten years.
        2. When Gobryas reached the city, he surrounded it and laid siege, making it impossible for anyone to enter or leave the city.
          1. Doubtless, Belshazzar wasn’t particularly concerned, confident in Nebuchadnezzar’s defenses.
          2. However, Gobryas had a creative plan. Rather than using his entire army to besiege the city, he kept a portion back, out of sight of the city. The rear troops then began digging a new channel for the Euphrates River with the intention of diverting the river and depriving Babylon of its water supply.
          3. Because the diversion project was done beyond visual range of Babylon, and because the siege prevented anyone from coming or going from the city, Belshazzar had no idea what Gobryas was up to.
  3. So now, we begin the Bible story.
    1. Daniel 5:1-4 p861: Belshazzar, the foolish king, throws a party. Never mind that his city is under siege and that it would be wise to limit consumption.
      1. Jeremiah 29:10 p 761: Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonian captivity would last for 70 years.
        1. According to Jewish tradition, Belshazzar incorrectly calculated the starting point for the prophecy as the start of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, so he wrongly believed the time to have expired without God’s delivering His people.
        2. Thus, he threw his party.
      2. In his drunken state, he brings the articles from the Temple to mock the God of heaven, and he further uses those articles to worship all the false gods he can manage to worship.
      3. It is clear from the rest of the chapter that Belshazzar was well aware of the history of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. He knew his predecessor’s history, he knew of the capture of Jerusalem, and he knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s eventual conversion. Yet, Belshazzar ignored all this, and chose to mock the very God who had humbled the greatest king in Babylonian history.
      4. Let’s pause here to consider this:
        1. Has God shown something to you which you have rejected? Is there something that you know to be right, but you haven’t addressed it?
        2. Belshazzar foolishly rejected all the lessons his predecessor learned from hard experience. Have you done likewise?
    2. In the midst of the party, God intervened.
      1. Daniel 5:5-9: Nebuchadnezzar’s experience is reprised, and once again, the astrologers are exposed as frauds.
      2. Vv. 10-16
        1. The queen is perhaps the Queen Mother, old enough to remember something of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. She remembers Daniel, who had apparently fallen out of favor after Nebuchadnezzar’s death.
        2. Third ruler in the kingdom: After the king (Nabonidus) and the regent (Belshazzar). This is the highest position Belshazzar had the power to grant.
      3. Vv. 17-24
        1. The contrast couldn’t have been clearer. Nebuchadnezzar became great by the gift of God, and became arrogant. However, after God humbled him, he repented. Belshazzar, on the other hand, had thoroughly ignored the lessons of the past.
      4. V 25:
        1. Translated literally, “mina [a unit of weight], mina, shekel [a unit of money], and half shekels.” Thus, the message was perfectly readable to anyone who understood Aramaic, the international lingua franca of the day. However, it seemed to be nonsense.
        2. The Old Testament writers were fond of puns and wordplays, and this is an example of an elaborate Aramaic set of puns.
          1. v 26: The word for number sounds similar to the word for mina.
          2. v. 27: The word for weigh sounds similar to the word for shekel; Money in those days was usually weighed out in balances, since coins weren’t made with precision.
          3. v. 28: “Upharsin”: The U means and, and the -in suffix marks it as a plural. The word for half shekel sounds like the word for Persian.
      5. Vv. 29, 30: The rest of the story.
        1. Gobryas finished diverting the Euphrates River while Belshazzar’s party was taking place.
        2. He probably had no intention of entering the city that night, because it was known that there were strong gates which extended to the bottom of the river, and there were guards posted to kill anyone foolish enough to attack them.
        3. However, tradition holds that the guards were drunk as a result of the party, and the gates had been left open.
        4. So, Gobryas had the unexpected opportunity to march his army under the walls along the now-dry riverbed, overpower the drunk guards, and take the city quickly and easily.
        5. Belshazzar, who showed no signs of repentance, was killed.
      6. God had set the stage to give a message to this defiant king.
        1. Even in the midst of defiance, God still spoke.
        2. When Nineveh was in the midst of its great wickedness, God sent Jonah with a message of impending disaster. Yet, the city repented, and God spared them.
        3. When King Josiah turned to God, God promised that he wouldn’t see the impending disaster that God intended to bring on Judah through the Babylonian Captivity.
        4. In Belshazzar’s case, what would have happened if he had humbled himself? Would God have spared Belshazzar?
          1. We’ll never know this side of heaven, but it seems to me that God must have given his message of judgment for a reason.
  4. What about you?
    1. Have you been resisting God?
    2. Have you been trying to serve Him by your own strength?
    3. One of the themes of Daniel is judgment, and that is what Belshazzar faced. Will God’s judgement go for or against you?
    4. Belshazzar never repented. Will you?


  1. The exact details of the kings after Nebuchadnezzar is the subject of much debate.