Nebuchadnezzar had learned his lesson. “Pride comes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall” (Proverbs 16:18) & “one’s pride will bring him low” (Proverbs 29:23). Nebuchadnezzar was taught to say, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from 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'” (Daniel 4:34-35).
Why Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, had not learned the lesson we do not know. We are reminded again to “train up a child in the way in which he should go.” Perhaps Belshazzar had forgotten the consequences of pride (Daniel 4:31-33). Perhaps Belshazzar’s life was similar to ours. We easily forget what it is like to find ourselves arriving at the destination of sin’s path. We often forget our decision to do right in our desire to do wrong.
Let us examine the “handwriting on the wall” to better understand where pride leads and how to stay an humble servant like Daniel.
Pride and Profanity–Daniel 5:1-12
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. 2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his fathera Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. 5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6 Then the king’s countenanceb was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. 7 The king cried aloudc to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 8 Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. 9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenanced was changed in him, and his lords were astonied. 10 Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: 11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy fathere light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; 12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpretingf of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.
“Under the influence of wine men may act irrationally, irreverently, and irresponsibly. So the king acted in this manner”. In his foolish drunken pride (Prov. 20:1), Belshazzar profaned the holy vessels which were dedicated to the sacred service of the Holy God.
How foolish it is for Belshazzar, and for ourselves, to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Pride has no place in the life of Christians. By God’s grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8). Job’s affirmation is correct, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
Pride in self always leads to profaning of God. That which is sacred can never be regarded as such when our egos are in the way. The humility required to serve God is crippled by self-satisfaction. Are we too proud to “worship in spirit and truth”? Are we too proud to serve “the least of these”? Are we too proud to acknowledge God’s decisions? Are we so proud as to question God’s actions?
Punishment and Prophecy–Daniel 5:13-28
Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my fatherg brought out of Jewry? 14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. 15 And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing: 16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretationsh, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom. 17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewardsi to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. 20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pridej, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: 21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heartk was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. 22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: 24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. 25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
Proverbs 24:20 tells us “the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” This is the destination to which pride will delivers its captives. Belshazzar sought Daniel’s help at the request of the Queen and offered to make him 3rd in the kingdom if the interpretation could be given.
Daniel is a model of humility. He does not exalt himself. Rather he makes it clear that he expects no physical reward. He only wants Belshazzar to understand that “the Most High God” had exalted Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and everyone else who sits in a place of power. However, Belshazzar had, “lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven” (5:23). Just as the tower of Babel was built up to heaven only to have Heaven come down and destroy it (Gen. 11), those who build themselves up will find certain embarrassment in the glory of God. It is God who “opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 & James 4:6; cf. Deut. 8:2).
Promise and Prosperity–Daniel 5:29-31
Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
Notice how God exalts the humble. James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Peter said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares (“anxieties” ESV) on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Daniel is again exalted because of his humble service.