Against all odds: The great feast

Daniel 5:1-31

17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 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. 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 heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And 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.

24 “Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. 25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 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.” 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. 30 That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Have you ever had a Déjà vu? The phrase Déjà vu is literally translated “already seen.” It is the feeling you have that you already lived through what you are experiencing at that moment. When you read Daniel 5, you should feel that. Because Daniel 5 seems like a Déjà vu of Daniel 2, 3 and 4. Does anyone get that feeling? The life of Belshazzar is the Déjà vu of what we have seen in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. The same pride that we see in the life of Nebuchadnezzar is evident in the life of Belshazzar. However, there is one striking difference. As we have seen last week, the Lord confronted Nebuchadnezzar of his pride and Nebuchadnezzar repented and restored to his former glory. But that is not happening in this story. The Lord confronted Belshazzar of his pride and Belshazzar does not repent and he is destroyed. Once again, the theme of the book of Daniel is evident in this story. The Lord is the Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom. He gives the kingdom of men to whom he wills. He is in absolute control over every little affair of men. He will not be mocked. He gives grace to the humble and he is able to humble those who walk in pride. And for those who trust in him, they will receive life. But those who challenge his kingship will receive judgement. And in this story, we will see the judgement of the Sovereign King toward those who rebel against his authority.

What happened so far? Previously in against all odds, Daniel and his friends were sent into exile into Babylon. And they were offered two choices by the false prophet Hananiah. One is either they walk away from their faith in God and become one with Babylon, or two, they keep their faith in God and separate themselves from Babylon. But Daniel and friends refused to choose either. They listened to the words of God through Jeremiah to be faithful to God and work for the prosperity of Babylon at the same time. So, when they are offered A and B, they chose C. They chose the third way. Throughout the series, we refer to this third way in different terms. We use the terms such as spiritually bicultural, sojourners and exiles, and the gospel way. It simply means to live our lives in such a way that we are faithful to God and become a blessing to our city at the same time. And this is not easy. This is the hardest choice of the three. It is far easier for us to either withdraw from the culture or become one with the culture. But God commands us to influence the culture. This is extremely hard as we have seen it play out in the life of Daniel and friends. But this is how God wants his people to live. And because Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to live this way, it led to the most powerful man on the earth of their time to acknowledge the God of Israel as the one true God. Nebuchadnezzar became a believer. And that’s the last time we heard of him. From that moment, Nebuchadnezzar disappeared from the story. That’s the end of chapter 4.

In chapter 5, we are suddenly introduced to a new king by the name of Belshazzar. Here is what you need to know. There is a gap of about 23 years between the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5. And Belshazzar is 4th in line from the time of Nebuchadnezzar. He is the last king of Babylon. For many years, we did not have a record of who he is. The last king of Babylon that was recorded in history was a man by the name of Nabonidus. And many historical scholars criticised the reliability of the Bible because of it. But lo and behold, in 1854, evidence was found that Belshazzar was actually the son of Nabonidus. And not only that, but Belshazzar was made co-ruler of Babylon in the last few years of Nabonidus’ reign. Here is my point. You can trust the Bible. You can trust the Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom. History is playing catch-up with the truth that is written in the Bible. And when God said that the kingdom of Babylon will come to an end, it did come to an end. In this story, we will witness part of the fulfilment of the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had in chapter 2. The gold of the statue will be replaced with the silver. The kingdom of Babylon will be replaced with the kingdom of Persia. What the Sovereign King had made known is coming to pass. God is not limited by any king or kingdoms. He is the one true Sovereign King over all kings. And today, we will witness the shocking ending of the great Babylon.

Similar to last week, the weight of this chapter is not on Daniel. This is the confrontation between Belshazzar and the God of Daniel. So, we will not focus on Daniel but Belshazzar. There are three parts to this story. The great feast; the feast crasher; the ultimate feast.

The great feast

Daniel 5:1-4 – King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. 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. 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. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

Anyone love to party? Apparently, Belshazzar loves to party. Let me give you the context of what happens behind the scenes. Babylon is one day away from extinction. The very next day, Persia will overtake the city of Babylon. And this is not a surprise. Few months before, Persia started their invasion of Babylon and destroyed many of Babylon’s stronghold. So now, Persia is knocking at the walls of Babylon. Persia is just outside the wall. And do you know what Belshazzar does? He throws a wild party. He makes a great feast. And this is a strange party. First, he invites his wives, concubines, and noblemen to the party. This is not the custom of those days. The custom is to have a separate party for each group. Second, he takes out the vessels from the temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar took when he invaded Jerusalem, and he uses it for his party. This is blasphemy. Belshazzar pays no regard at all to the God of Israel. Third, he uses the vessels of God to praise idols. This is an assault to the Sovereign King. It’s like this. Let’s say that one day you come to work, and you see all your belongings outside the door of your office. What happens? You get the point, right? When they throw your stuff out, you are out. You are fired. This is what Belshazzar does. Bel is essentially saying that the God of Israel is nothing compared to the gods of Babylon. He is spitting in the face of God.

Here is a question that I want us to wrestle with. Why throw a wild party? Why make a great feast when the enemy is knocking at your door? This is absurd unless you see what is really happening here. There is something about facing death, that makes you desire significance in life. I mean, if you ever experience a life-threatening moment, you know it. For example, COVID19. This pandemic makes us stop to think what really matters in life. Isn’t that right? Suddenly, you want your life to matter. You want your life to have meaning. You don’t want to be a speck of dust that is quickly forgotten. You want significance. Especially if you do not believe in life after death. If this life is all there is to it, then nothing matters in the face of death. And we don’t like that. We want our lives to matter. And there are three things that we try to use to give meanings to our lives. We can see all of them in Belshazzar’s great feast.

First, relationship. It is the wives, concubines and noblemen. We look to our lovers, our family, our companions for our significance. We want people to love us. We thought that relationship will finally satisfy and complete us and take away the emptiness in us. In fact, this is the foundational problem of every relationship. We look to others for what only God can give us. We turn them into God, and they are not good enough to be God and the relationship will eventually get fractured. Men, women cannot give significance to your life. Sure, they are nice to look at for the first few years, but have you ever tried to get in their face a week before their period cycle? Do you think you know her? Think again. There is a reason why they are called woman. The first few months of the relationship, we say, “WOW! Man!” and after a few years we say “wow….. man…..” Women, seriously look at us, men. Have we ever got it right? I think a guy is extremely lucky if he can get 3/10 for this question. No, we don’t understand you, women. You tell us a problem, we give you a solution and you get upset at us. We ask you where you want to go for dinner, you said it’s up to us, we picked a place, and you cry because we don’t pay attention to what you want. We asked already! If you put expectations on your friends, spouses or family to fill that emptiness in you, you are just sowing conflict in your life. They can’t do it. It is impossible for them to do. In fact, it will create more anguish and sorrow for your soul. That expectation will eventually destroy your relationship. It is an impossible weight for anyone to bear.

Second, accomplishment. It is the gold and silver. We look to our accomplishment for our significance. We think that if we are just successful enough, rich enough, powerful enough, then we will not feel insignificant. But once again, it does not work. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are in this life, it cannot satisfy the longing for significance in your heart. Just look at the life of Solomon. Everything in his house is made of gold, including his toilet seat. Does anyone have their toilet seat made out of gold? He is extremely talented. He writes thousands of songs and poem. He is extremely wise. He writes the book of Proverb although it is arguable. He is romantic. He writes the songs of Solomon, the most romantic book in the Bible. And he is good looking. How many of you know this is not fair already? A guy is either smart or romantic or good looking. But he cannot get to be all three. Solomon is all plus others. So, he is rich, wise, talented, romantic and good looking. He has everything going for him. He built the most impressive temple in the history of Israel. Can we agree that this man has everything? If anyone can ever experience fulfilment in life, it is this man. Correct? And yet he says that everything is vanity. It’s like striving after wind. You can feel it, but you can never grasp it. Or in the words of theologian Linkin Park, “I tried so hard and got so far. But in the end, it does not even matter.” Do you know that suicide rates and depression are highest among the rich, powerful and successful people? Why? They seem to have everything that we desire yet those who already reach it know that it is like striving after wind. You can taste it, but you can never take hold of it. It cannot fulfil your longing for significance. No matter what you do you, you will always experience a sense of un-fulfilment.

Third, religion. Belshazzar praises his gods in the party. This is the most popular and dangerous way to find significance. So, you have a set of belief that you live by and you tell yourself, “I am a good person. I know my life is significant because I am good. I follow the law. I am somebody.” Let me speak specifically to Christians. Christians, you try to find significance by being a good person and follow all the rules. You read your Bible, you know how to pray the right prayer, you even know the right Christian doctrines. You know how to play the game called church really well. You are expert at it. In the outside, you look very clean. But if that is how you find significance in life, you are a Pharisee. You are extremely self-righteous, and you look down on everyone different from you. Because in order for you to feel like you are significant, you have to oppress others who are different from you. It cannot give you a lasting significance that you crave. Belshazzar throws a great feast in his desperation to find significance, but it is not working. Just like Bel, we are deeply aware of our insignificance and we go back and forth between relationship, accomplishment, and religion to make us feel like that we are somebody. But in the end, it is not working. Let’s continue with the story.

The feast crasher

In the middle of the great feast, suddenly a finger of a human hand appeared and start writing on the wall of the king’s palace. When Bel sees it, he freaks out. The colour of his face changes, he falls on his knee and his limbs give way. By the way, that’s a nice way of saying he peed on his pants. He is extremely afraid, and he calls all the wise men of Babylon to interpret what is written on the wall. He promises that whoever can interpret the writing will become the third ruler in the kingdom. Why the third ruler and not second? For hundreds of years, people do not know the answer to it. But we know the answer today. Because Belshazzar is co-reigning with his father. The highest position he can give is the third ruler. The first two are already taken. Can you see the accuracy of details in the Bible? But just like before, none of the wise men can read nor interpret the writing on the wall. The queen mother heard what happened and approaches Belshazzar. She has a solution to Bel’s problem. Her solution is very simple. Get Daniel. Daniel has solved these problems before in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and he is the only one who can solve this problem for Belshazzar.

At this time, Daniel is about 80 years old. So, imagine this old man enters a wild party. He no longer holds power in the kingdom of Babylon. So, they bring Daniel in to solve the mystery for Belshazzar. However, Belshazzar might not like what Daniel has to say. I love what happens next. Rather than giving the solution that Belshazzar wanted straight away, Daniel preaches to Belshazzar first. He doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to preach to Belshazzar. He says, “King Belshazzar, I do not need your gift, thank you. You can keep it for yourself. Those gifts mean nothing to me. But I will tell you what you want to know. But before I go there, let me tell you what the main problem is. Do you remember your forefather Nebuchadnezzar? He was the greatest king in Babylon. Every people, nation and tongue feared him. He can do whatever he wanted, and nothing can stop him. But his greatness was given to him by the Most High God. And when King Nebuchadnezzar became prideful and took credit for himself, the Most High humbled him. He became like a beast until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” So, Daniel recap last week sermon. Then he continues. Pay attention to what Daniel says next.

Daniel 5:22-23 – 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 heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And 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 honoured. Do you see the problem? The problem with Belshazzar is not that he does not know about the Most High God. He does. He knows exactly what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Bel has the right information. His problem is not lack of information but his refusal to submit to the information he has. He knows who the Most High God is and he refuses to submit to his authority.

Here is an important lesson for us. Having the right information does not guarantee the right response. We can have all the right information and yet still choose to live our lives our own way rather than God’s way. Right education is important, but the right education is not the answer. Let me prove it to you. How many of you believe that honesty is good and lying is bad? Raise your left hand. I hope every left hand is raised. Keep it up. Next question. How many of you told a lie even after knowing that honesty is good and lying is bad? Raise your right hand. If both of your hands are not raised, you are lying right now. Let’s give high ten to your neighbours. No, that’s a joke. Social distance guys. Understanding the Word of God is important. But understanding does not change us. We need the Spirit of God to make the Word of God comes alive in us and changes us. To have the right information but not changed by that information is to repeat Belshazzar’s mistake.

This is the biggest difference between religion and the gospel. Religion can tell you the right information. Religion can make you live a certain way. But religion cannot change you. Only the gospel can. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that there is a guy who used to be a womanizer. In his college days, he slept with many different girls and he broke their hearts. He would seduce woman, make her fall in love with him and dump her. He had a reputation as a heart breaker. Then one day, he told everyone that he became a Christian. And he no longer sleeps with different girls and breaks their hearts. That’s good, right? We celebrated him and he started to attend Bible study in RSI. But the thing about him is that he always has to be right in every discussion. He would dominate the discussion and answer every single question. Then he would go and share the gospel with non-Christians. But when he does, there is no compassion in him at all. He wants to tell them that he is right, and they are wrong using the Bible to the point that he does not care if he hurts them because of it. What happens? Let me tell you what happens. This man has not changed. He is simply using the new information to his benefit. If before he tries to gain significance by overpowering women, now he tries to gain significance using the Bible. He is using religion to find significance. But the gospel is different. The gospel tells you that you cannot have significance on your own. Significance is something that you have to receive. Significance is not about what you do but about what’s been done for you. Let’s continue with the story.

After Daniel finishes his mini-sermon to King Belshazzar, he gives Bel what he wants. The meaning of the writing in the wall. This is what is written. MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. It literally means, “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided.” Here is what it means. MENE means that God has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and brought it to an end. His days are numbered. Why? Because of TEKEL. TEKEL means God has weighed King Belshazzar in the balance and he is found wanting. So, God is acting like a judge in this case. Look at this image. This is the image that is used in many courts. It is the Lady Justice carrying the weight scales of justice. With another word, the Most High, the perfect judge who judges with impartiality, put Belshazzar on the scale of justice and he is found wanting. He is too light. He deserves a sword or punishment. Which leads to PARSIN. PARSIN means that the sword of God will punish Belshazzar’s kingdom and divides it into two kingdoms, Medes and Persians. This is the meaning of the writing on the wall. King Belshazzar mocks the Most High God and the Most High God is delivering his judgement against him. Bel challenged the Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom and he lost terribly.

So what happens next? Does Belshazzar repent of his sin? Unfortunately, no. Bel shows no sign of repentance. But he keeps his word. Even though Daniel refused the reward at first, Bel insists. And Daniel becomes the third most powerful person in the kingdom of Babylon for a day. It is like getting promoted to CEO the day before your company goes bankrupt. God keeps his words and delivers his judgment. That very night, King Belshazzar is killed, and his death marks the end of the great Babylon. But do not miss the significance of what just happened. Daniel the exile is promoted to become the third ruler in the kingdom. And Daniel will continue to live on to the next kingdom. But Belshazzar and Babylon are no more. It shows us that no matter how powerful a king or a kingdom is, they are nothing than a speck of dust in the sight of the Most High God. The Most High God is the true Sovereign King and his kingdom is the only kingdom that lasts forever. And those who put their trust in him will never be forsaken.

The ultimate feast

What does this story teach us? We are going to fast forward from the days of Daniel to the end of time. If you read the book of Revelation, you will find that the great Babylon is used to depict evil. Babylon is the picture of evil. And the book of Revelation tells us that evil will not last forever. A time will come where the great Babylon will fall, and evil will be judged. The day of judgement is coming for evil. But not only evil. The day of judgement is coming for all of us. All of us will be judged. We will be weighed. MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. Let’s apply it to us.

MENE – All of our days are numbered. None of us will live forever. The day of judgement is coming for us.
TEKEL – We will be put on the scale of God’s justice. God will weigh us with no partiality. God is the Supreme Judge. He will judge us according to his good and perfect standard.
PARSIN – The sword of God is coming to divide us. You either have life or death. You either enter into eternal joy or eternal condemnation.

How many of you realise that this bad news for us? Because there is not a single one of us that can stand on that scale and have the scale weighed on our favour. None. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you will be found wanting. Why? Because God’s standard is nothing other than perfection. He cannot stand even a speck of evil. Therefore, it does not matter what your score is. Some of you might weight 70 on the scale of justice. Some may be 40 or 30. But if 100 is the standard, then even if you get 99, it still means nothing. You still fail. And there is not a single one of us can tilt that scale on our favour. None but Jesus.

And here is the good news. For those who put their faith in Jesus, Jesus tilts that scale on your favour. In Luke 11, Jesus is speaking to the people about the kingdom of God. Jesus has just cast out demons and people accused him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Listen to Jesus’ answer. Luke 11:20 – But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. This is the only time in the New Testament where the term the finger of God is used. Don’t miss the comparison that Jesus has in mind. In the Old Testament, the finger of God marks the end of the kingdom of Babylon. In the New Testament, the finger of God marks the beginning of the kingdom of God. With another word, in the first coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God has begun. And the King of the kingdom of God is different from kings of this world. All the kings of this world seek their own personal glory. But Jesus is different. Our King emptied himself of his glory, became one of us and live out the perfect life. Jesus is the only one who can stand on God’s scale of justice and have the scale tilt to his favour. But at the cross, Jesus became insignificant. At the cross, Jesus received the perfect judgement of the Supreme Judge. Why? How can the only person with the perfect record received judgement? Jesus took on the judgement of God so that when you and I put our faith in him, the scales of God’s justice tilt on our favour. Jesus took our score and he gives us his perfect score. But that is not the end. Look at what will happen at the end of days after the fall of great Babylon.


Revelation 19:6-10 – Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

For the people of God, the ultimate feast is waiting for us. It is the wedding feast of the Lamb. Jesus is preparing a great feast for us in the future. A party that will never end. A joyful party that will continue for Millenia. And when you think the party cannot get any better, it is simply the beginning. This is what Jesus has in store for those who put their faith in him. This is how we find significance. We find significance not in living for what is temporal but in living for what lasts forever. Our significance is not in what we can do for ourselves but in what Christ has purchased at the cross for us. This is the feast of all feasts. And blessed are those who are invited to this feast. So where do you try to find your significance today? Are you looking at Belshazzar’s great feast? Or are you looking forward to the ultimate feast of the kingdom of God? Are you full right now with the feast of this world? Or are you hungry waiting for the ultimate feast of heaven?

One last thing and I am done. One of the questions of this text is, why did God show mercy to Nebuchadnezzar but not to Belshazzar? Here is my answer. I do not know. All I know is that God has the right to have mercy on whom he has mercy. God does not owe anyone anything. He is the Sovereign King. So, I want to plea with you tonight. Do not assume God’s mercy. If you have yet to put your faith in Christ, do not assume that God’s patience will last forever. If you are living in sin, do not assume that you can ask God for his mercy later. A day of judgement is coming for all of us. Today could be the last day for you to repent. God could demand your life this very night. And he is sending you this message. MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. If that is you, do not harden your heart and receive God’s mercy before it is too late. Repent of your sin and hold fast to Jesus Christ. Only Jesus’ perfect righteousness can tilt the scale on your favour. Otherwise, you will be weighed and found wanting. Let go of the feast of this world and take hold of the feast that Christ has purchased for you.

Discussion questions:

  1. What does the story of Belshazzar tell us about the reliability of the Bible? Why do you think the Bible does not describe the story of Babylon (or any other kingdom) in detail?
  2. Out of the three things we pursue for significance, which one is the most dominant for you? How?
  3. Explain how your answer to number 2 fail to give true significance in your life.
  4. What is the main problem with Belshazzar? How can we relate to it?
  5. Explain the difference between religion and the gospel. Give examples.
  6. If you have to weigh yourself in God’s scale of justice, how do you think you will fare? Score yourself out of 100. Give reasoning for your score.
  7. How can we find true significance?
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