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Daniel

Weighed In The Balance - and Found Wanting

Daniel  5

{5:1} King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. {2} While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. {3} So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. {4} As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. {5} Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. {6} His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way. {7} The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, "Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom." {8} Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. {9} So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. {10} The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. "O king, live forever!" she said. "Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! {11} There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father--your father the king, I say--appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. {12} This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means." {13} So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, "Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? {14} I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. {15} The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. {16} Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom." {17} Then Daniel answered the king, "You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means. {18} "O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. {19} Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. {20} But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. {21} He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. {22} "But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. {23} Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. {24} Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. {25} "This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN {26} "This is what these words mean: Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. {27} Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. {28} Peres : Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." {29} Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. {30} That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, {31} and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

-- Daniel 5 (NIV)

Sacrilege

Definition

“Sacrilege” is a word not commonly used today. Indeed, the word is almost always used in a satirical sense, designed to portray some character as a self righteous hypocrite. The truth, however, does not change (it is the work of its Author, and reflects Him). So what, then, is sacrilege? “The act of violating or profaning anything sacred, including sacramental vows,” says my Funk and Wagnall's. Let’s break that down:

·        The act of violating anything sacred -- assaulting it, in other words, or attacking it. The sense of the word “violate” (my dictionary dates from the 1960s) is most commonly used in the sexual sense.

·        The act of profaning anything sacred -- that is, to use the things God has set aside for his purposes (the sacred) for the purposes of the world (the profane).

·        It includes sacramental vows -- it is, therefore, not limited to physical objects but also includes the promises of men to God.

God seems to take this most seriously. I suspect that Belshazzar had more than one party in the palace. Historians suspect he was co-regent with his father, Nabonidus (hence the offer to be third highest in the kingdom), and therefore probably a young man. Evidently he was given to partying. Is it too much of a suspicion to consider him like so many today, a cynic who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing? Examples

We have several examples of sacrilege in the Bible. Notice in particular these items:

·        God seems to care for the slightest detail of his commands. Witness the command to carry the ark on poles -- and what happened when He was not followed:

{2} He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. {3} They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart {4} with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. {5} David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. {6} When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. {7} The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. -- 2 Samuel 6:2-7 (NIV)

·        God is no respecter of persons, or past service. King Uzziah was made powerful by God (the lesson is strikingly parallel to the Babylonian kings), but see his pride...

{16} But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. {17} Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. {18} They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God." {19} Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. {20} When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him. {21} King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house --leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.

-- 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 (NIV)

·        The most powerful example is Christ Himself: see how He values the “house of the Lord:”

{13} When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. {14} In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. {15} So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. {16} To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" {17} His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." -- John 2:13-17 (NIV)

(A curious point: when I was a lad, church doors -- even in the toughest of Army towns -- did not even have locks on them. When I asked why not, the rather indignant reply was that “you never know when someone needs to come in to God’s house to pray.” How the mighty have fallen!)

Figurative Use Today

So far it looks like sacrilege is something that belongs to “way back then.” It is not so: remember the definition. Anything which violates or profanes that which is set apart for God is sacrilege, and thus is subject to God’s wrath.

·        Your body is such. We tend to view ourselves as “the human animal”, a body and nothing more, but God sees the Christian’s body quite differently.

{16} Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? {17} If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. -- 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NIV)

Perhaps this is why the body is to be resurrected at the return of our Lord!

·        The Lord’s Supper is another. Indeed, how often have you heard these words:

{28} A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. {29} For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. -- 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 (NIV)

Again, profaning the sacred is here!

·        For teachers -- who handle God’s sacred word, there is the warning against using the things of God for the purposes of the world:

{2} Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; -- 1 Peter 5:2 (NIV)

With all these warnings, with so much history behind it, why is there so much sacrilege today? Discussion Point

Idolatry

Our passage here identifies not only sacrilege as sin but also idolatry. Idolatry, in its classic sense, is a temptation which has not been felt by American Christians. It is well therefore to review just how detestable it really was. Hear the word:

Old Testament Injunctions

{21} "'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.

-- Leviticus 18:21 (NIV)

We think this must be gone, right? This was the practice of taking your newborn son or daughter down to the local temple -- and throwing the baby into the fire to die there. Why would people do this? Molech would grant them good crops; their animals would not miscarry at birth -- in short, financial reasons! (“The reason I had the abortion is because we just couldn’t afford to have another child right now.”)

{25:1} While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, {2} who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. {3} So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them. -- Numbers 25:1-3 (NIV)

Or, to bring this up to date: “I want to sleep with my girlfriend -- therefore, there is no God.” (I’m indebted to Tom Granoff for the concept).

{24} There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. -- 1 Kings 14:24 (NIV)

Often in the Old Testament idolatry is referred to as prostitution. The historical record indicates that many of these male prostitutes were in fact homosexual prostitutes. Perhaps this is not so out of date either!

Current Examples

Most of us today feel that idolatry is of historical interest only. But, in fact, there are forms of it which are still with us today. One very current example is angel worship:

{18} Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. {19} He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. -- Colossians 2:18-19 (NIV)

And, how many of you (like Nancy Reagan) just can’t wait to read your horoscope for the day? Hear what God has to say about their advice:

{13} All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you. {14} Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. Here are no coals to warm anyone; here is no fire to sit by. {15} That is all they can do for you-- these you have labored with and trafficked with since childhood. Each of them goes on in his error; there is not one that can save you. -- Isaiah 47:13-15 (NIV)

How many of you have longed for a “religious experience?” Looking for that session in life to which you can point and say, “Oh, I know it’s real. I could just feel it!” For some of us, the Lord does not provide such experiences (which does give rise to the envy of those who are so provided). Satan, as always, is ready with a counterfeit:

{31} "'Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. -- Leviticus 19:31 (NIV)

The Principle of Idolatry

In fact, idolatry is still with us. It is defined for us in the Ten Commandments:

{3} "You shall have no other gods before me. -- Exodus 20:3 (NIV)

Anything that comes before God, in any aspect of your life, is idolatry. Some of the contemporary examples: Discussion Point

National Sin

One of the hardest lessons in this passage is the concept of national sin. Americans, whose political religion worships at the altar of individualism, seem congenitally incapable of understanding that a nation can sin. The Old Testament in particular makes it very clear that this is a commonplace. Three examples will do:

·        Egypt, in enslaving the Jews

·        Sodom and Gomorrah

·        Israel itself, on a number of occasions.

Common Factors

National sin seems to come in a pattern. There are certain elements which always seem to be present when a nation is in sin. They are not limited to this pattern, but consider that the nation which is in sin seems always to have these characteristics:

·        The Godly are persecuted and ridiculed.

·        Sacrilege and idolatry, in whatever form is popular, are rampant.

·        God, in His mercy, sends messengers to that nation to warn them to repent.

The classic example in the Old Testament is Elijah. In this one passage he summarizes these points:

{14} He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." {15} The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. {16} Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. {17} Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. -- 1 Kings 19:14-17 (NIV)

America Today

It’s test time. Do you see the pattern of national sin in America today?

·         Are the Godly persecuted? Has there ever been a time when the Christian (called by the world “right wing fundamentalist”) was so ridiculed as today? Has there ever been a time when the Christian has had it so difficult in the workplace?

·         Is it a time of sacrilege and idolatry? Has there ever been a time when sacred things have been so sneered at? Has there ever been a time when “New Age” gods are so prominent? Has there ever been a time when God is so much behind the real gods of our minds?

·         And -- if you think this idle -- has there ever been a time when the Spirit has led so many who speak for God to speak the words of doom impending?

Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. Proverbs 14:34, KJV

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