(Photo compliment of Balmagie Baptist)
Last week, we explored the story of Belshazzar; the ruthless, shameless and heartless king of Babylon whose pursuit of greed and glory enabled his dangerous, destructive and devastating preoccupation with material prosperity, power, prestige, and pleasure. This ungodly preoccupation it was said, usually heralds the culture of criminality, the creation of corruption and the collapse of a civilization. It was said that in our time, we have seen many who have been preoccupied with prosperity, power and pleasure deceitfully devise schemes, shams and scams to satisfy their immoderate, immoral and impetuous lifestyle. It was said that Belshazzar in his pursuit of greed and glory was gluttonous, sacrilegious and became anxious in the height of his revelry when he saw the mysterious fingers of a human hand writing a cryptic message on a wall in his palace.
On this Lord’s Day, I call your attention again to the passage as it is recorded in Daniel 5:1-9 and as I give particular focus to those who are powerful, prominent, prosperous, and privileged; who manipulates or manoeuvres the system to perpetuate inconceivable, inexcusable and inhumane injustices which obstruct, oppresses or obliterates the lives of the defenceless, the destitute and the despondent among us. These powerful, prominent, prosperous and privileged persons who continue to perpetuate atrocities, excesses and injustices do so confident, courageous and cognisant that they will always elude our system of justice; but might be surprised to learn today, according to the text, they shall never escape the sureness of the judgment. I believe that God is watching the evils we perpetuate, have weighed our fate in the balance, have found many wanting and is waiting for the opportune time to pronounce God’s final verdict. According to our text:
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 legs became weak and his knees were knocking. 7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he 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. The Word of the Lord!
It was during the reign of Jehoiakim, the proud, pessimistic and presumptuous king of Judah who abused and assassinated his own people that Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity. His dynasty ended abruptly by Nebuchadnezzar, the cold-hearted, calculated and callous king of Babylon who surrounded Judah with his vast army, forced them into subjection and took captive the affluent, the accomplished, the academics along with the temple vessels which he carried away and placed in pagan temples in Babylon.
On their way to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar mercilessly commanded his army not to allow the exiles to stop, not even for a moment. A board his ship, he ordered a great feast and entertained his guests, while the captives of Judah lay chained and naked by the Euphrates River. Naked and in chains, Nebuchadnezzar heartlessly drove the captives before him, until he was persuaded to clothe them. However, even after the burdened, broken and bewildered Jews finally reached the city of Babylon; they had no rest from their persecutor, who mistreated, massacred then trampled upon their mutilated bodies.
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, his successors remained relatively obscured until Nabonidus, the last of the dynasty, ascended to the coveted throne. However, for some strange reason, the enigmatic Nabonidus chose to live and rule in the Arabian Desert which was a vast distance from Babylon. In Babylon, Nabonidus left his son Belshazzar; a miserable, merciless miscreant to rule and reign over the kingdom.
As successor, Belshazzar chose to perpetuate the same inconceivable, inexcusable and inhumane injustices, excesses and atrocities against a people who were at his mercy. As successor, Belshazzar knew that his power, his prominence and his prestige would allow him to rob, repress and ruin the lives of others while affording the reward of certain liberties and legal technicalities. As successor, Belshazzar was fully conscious and confident that his status would offer him immunity from prosecution, penance or prison.
Could it be, that many in our society who enjoy the seat of power, the security of prominence and the surge in popularity are afforded the same liberties as Belshazzar; can perpetuate injustices and enjoy the comfort of legal liberties? Could it be, that many in our society who are well positioned, prosperous and prestigious can perpetuate crimes, participate in criminal activities and engage in the practice of corruption with the knowledge of their peers and the public and still enjoy the loopholes in the system which appear to guarantee no prosecution? Could it be, that the prisons in our society were really made for the poor, the pauper and the poverty-stricken; but not for the powerful, the prominent and those well positioned?
Unfortunately, if these pronouncements are true; it would appear that many in our society who perpetuate atrocities, excesses and injustices do so mindful that justice is the figment of the imagination and the justice system is really a fantasy, a fallacy or a failure. If these pronouncements are true; it would appear that many in our society who are prominent, prosperous and well positioned and who perpetuate injustices are more likely to be pardoned.
Allow me on this Lord’s Day to make three observations from this text; a text which again outlines the story of Belshazzar, a miserable, merciless, miscreant, who in his rule and reign over Babylon perpetuated atrocities, excesses and injustices and who believed he would have escaped culpability because he was powerful, prominent and prosperous.
Firstly, I would like to suggest that BELSHAZZAR PERPETUATED THE EXPLOITATION OF JUDAH.
The city of Babylon rose from a Mesopotamian city on the Euphrates River to become a powerful force and one of the greatest empires in history. As king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar forced King Jehoiakim of Judah into suppression; in other words Judah became a colony of Babylon. However, when Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, he captured Judah and took the king and other leaders as prisoners to Babylon. The deportation marked the beginning of the Babylonian exile of the Jews. In exile, they were degraded, disenfranchised, and deprived. In exile, they were forced to live under conditions which were inhumane, idolatrous and persecution. In exile, they were robbed of their dignity, raped of their identity and repressed into idolatry. In exile, they suffer misery, marginalisation, and martyrdom.
As successor, it appeared that Belshazzar assumed the mandate to be cruel, callous and calculated; continuing in the footsteps of his predecessors. He exploited, extorted and used the spoils to entertain himself, his nobles, his wives and his concubines. As successor, it appeared that Belshazzar felt compelled to perpetuate a vicious cycle of injustices; forcing the exiles into idolatry mindful that those who disobey would be mistreated, marginalised or martyred. As successor, Belshazzar ordered a feast with an abundance of food and liquor perhaps to reaffirm their faith in their Babylonian gods or to reinforce his stupidity. Under the influence of wine, the thought occurred to Belshazzar to bring in the gold and silver vessels looted from the temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar his predecessor and led them in drinking toasts to their deities.
Isn’t it true, that like Belshazzar there are those who are powerful, prominent and prosperous who exploit their employees; paying them less than the required minimum, forcing them to work long unpaid hours while deducting monies from those who are a few minutes late while firing those who dare to claim that which they are entitled on days like Election Day? Isn’t it true, that like Belshazzar there are those who are well positioned, privileged and popular who exploit the poor by submitting false claims for work they did not render, submitting claims for persons who have long died, and defrauding the unaware, the uninformed and the unsuspecting. Unfortunately, victims of such crimes remain silent or are silenced. Sadly, like Belshazzar there are those who continue to exploit the defenceless; perpetuating atrocities, excesses and injustices which demands even the dignity of the already disenfranchised.
Secondly, not only did Belshazzar perpetuated the exploitation of Judah; but BELSHAZZAR PRACTICALLY ELUDED JUSTICE
Belshazzar like his predecessors was a law unto himself. He fits the general profile of those who consider themselves above prosecution, punishment or prison. He fit the general profile of those who treat others with disdain, devastating the lives of others without regret, remorse or rebuke. He was powerful, prominent, prosperous and well positioned with a vast army to defend his interest. Those who perpetuate atrocities, excesses and injustices in our time do so in arrogance that they will never be held accountable for their crimes. The truth is, for seventy years the captives were robbed of their dignity, raped of their identity, and repressed into idolatry; for seventy years they were mocked, marginalised and martyred; for seventy years they were stripped of their rights, suppressed in the practised of their religion and suffered repeated abuses at the hands of a cruel king. Yet, for them justice remained elusive.
Could it be, that like the captives for the last 55 years we could have been better as a people; but those in the seat of power have been self-seeking, self-serving and self-sustaining? Could it be, that like the captives for the last 55 years we could have been better as a people; but those in the seat of power have not been held accountable for perpetuating excesses such as mismanaging, misappropriating and misdealing public resources? Could it be, that like the captives for the last 55 years we could have been better as a people; but it appears that those who are well positioned in our society, who are able to order elaborate feasts and who are in possession of obscene fortunes are able to practically elude justice?
I humbly submit to those in the seat of power that until those who have practically eluded justice are held accountable for their injustices; until those who are powerful, prominent and well positioned are prevented from escaping through loopholes and prohibited from enjoying legal liberties and technicalities as a people we will still continue be exiled in our own nation. I humbly submit to those who continue to perpetuate atrocities, excesses and injustices that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment [1Peter 2:9].”
Finally, not only did Belshazzar perpetuated the exploitation of Judah and practically eluded justice; BELSHAZZAR PROVED WE CANNOT EXCAPE THE JUDGMENT
God has a way of extending a hand in the moment we least expect him. For Belshazzar it was height of his drunken orgy. Imagine the sudden change that came over him and guests when the mysterious hand appeared and began writing the mysterious message on his wall. I believe the resplendent revelling came to an abrupt end, the tinkle of utensils ceased, the music stooped while the chattering and laughing were replaced by deafening silence. Belshazzar himself became stone sober, his thoughts turned on him, his face paled compared to happier times, his legs could hardly support him, his knees buckled under him and perhaps experienced a rush excreting through the lower cavity of his body. The writer of the Hebrews reminds us that: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31].”
Belshazzar had overstepped the boundary. He had been imperious, idolatrous and immoral. He had been senseless, selfish and stupid. He had pursued greed and glory and had perpetuated atrocities, excesses and injustices. Moreover, he had used the sacred vessels that had been dedicated to God, for eating and drinking utensils to offer tributes to dead and lifeless idols. His judgment was immediate and there was no escape; for none shall escape the judgment. Terrified, he summoned his witch doctors, his prophets and his fortune tellers to decipher the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, they were of no help to him. Belshazzar just could not escape the judgment. It is important to note that no matter how much power you wield, how prominent you are, how prosperous you have been or how well positioned you sit at the end of your days, they are of no essence to the God you must face alone. It is important to note, that no matter the people you have around you; those you depend on to protection, those you allow to give you misguided information and those who stroke your ego just to receive from you, at the end of your days you must face God alone.
I believe that God had been watching Belshazzar and taking note of his actions for some-time. However, Belshazzar did not learn from the lessons of his grandfather, rather he did something sacrilegious that his predecessors had not even considered. I call on those in their pursuit of greed and glory and those who are perpetuating atrocities, excesses injustices against humanity to stop, reflect and recognise that your chosen path is leading to your ultimate destruction.
What might we take away from all this? We can take away, that we too have done things that are against the will of God and have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We can take away, that we too must recognise the need to repent of our sins, to request the mercy of God and to restore our fellowship with him. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see.
(Christ For Today – Dukett Duncan – July 9, 2017)