King Belshazzar decided to throw a massive party. At the height of the evening, he called for the sacred Jewish temple vessels which had been looted from the Jerusalem temple years earlier, when his father Nebuchadnezzar was king. He wanted to use the holy goblets as a party gimmick.
The truth was, Belshazzar was in rebellion against God. His drunken festival was but one indicator of this. Little did Belshazzar know that his defilement of the temple vessels would lead to an appraisal of his life by the Lord God Almighty. While today, workplace performance appraisals most often take place behind closed doors, this king’s appraisal by God played out in front of all of his friends and those he worked with in the most bizarre way.
Very suddenly, the party comes to a screeching halt when a disembodied hand appears out of thin air and begins to write cryptic words on the wall. Belshazzar is struck dumb with fear, and no one can discern what the words mean until Daniel is summoned.
The words on the wall were God’s warning judgment against the king. John Lennox helpfully summarizes the outcome of this scene for us: ‘What Daniel saw in the banqueting hall proved that the cost of rejecting God was incalculably disastrous.’
This story reminds us of the devastating effects of sin on a leader and the people more broadly. Sin is not static; its pathway is always downhill. We see this in the continued downward spiral that Belshazzar takes; his fall does not happen in a moment.
While Belshazzar was blindly, repeatedly drinking the night way, Darius the Mede was damming up the mighty Euphrates river where it flowed into the walled city of Babylon so that his troops could enter in by the water gate—this would ultimately be the downfall of Belshazzar’s reign. Sin blinds us to the reality of impending danger; while we are distracted with temporary pleasures, we cannot properly focus on that which is really important.
We also are reminded that God is not idle or unaware in matters of sin. He will intervene; the only question is when.
It would be wise of us to remember that God is always fully in control. He is coming back to judge the world that he has created, redeemed, and will make holy. Like Daniel, we should be ready for this and ready always to speak wisdom to even the most rebellious people around us.