The leader was arrogant, self-serving, and surrounded by other corrupt officials. But God did not let them get away with it. A Biblical lesson for any generation. ◊
Do you ever get frustrated that corrupt behavior conducted by government or corporate officials often does not get punished or even addressed? It’s as if the “bad guys” always seem to get away with it. They blatantly or covertly enrich themselves and their families and even expand their power and influence.
Of course, this is not always the case. Sometimes they get caught.
Actually, in all circumstances, no one really gets away with anything. In truth, we are all flawed and failed people with our own secret and overt actions, thoughts, and behaviors. But God knows the truth; and, thankfully with amazing grace, He loves a contrite and repentant heart.
Anything less than that will not end well, as highlighted in this profound historical narrative in the Book of Daniel.
The Arrogant, Blasphemous Leader
The year was 539 B.C. and the Babylonian Empire had dominated the entire Near East region since 626 B.C. As king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews captive to Babylon, a city over 1,600 miles away from their decimated homeland of Jerusalem. Nabonidus, his son-in-law, now ruled the empire together with his son Belshazzar.1
Cyrus II king of Persia, was commanding the combined Medo-Persian forces against the Babylonians. Nabonidus was in charge of the Babylonian army in the field while Belshazzar was in charge of the city of Babylon. Herodotus, the Greek historian, writes that:
“A battle was fought at a short distance from the city, in which the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian king, whereupon they withdrew within their defenses. Here they shut themselves up and made light of this siege, having laid in a store of provisions for many years in preparation against this attack.2
We see how lightly the Babylonians took this siege by what happens shortly afterwards. In spite of the siege, King Belshazzar held a state banquet in his palace in the city of Babylon for a thousand of his nobles. As presented in the Book of Daniel:
King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 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…. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:1-4)
The Writing on the Wall
As they were drinking toasts to their idols, suddenly everyone saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the wall. Belshazzar turned pale with such fear that his legs gave way as terror gripped him. (see Daniel 5:5-6)
Belshazzar immediately demanded that his enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers be brought before him to interpret the writing. But none could do it. Belshazzar was now even more alarmed. (see Daniel 5:7-9)
When the queen mother heard what was happening, she hurried to the banquet hall and said to Belshazzar:
“Don’t be so pale and afraid about this. There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods…This man Daniel…is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems. Call Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.” (Daniel 5:10-12)
Daniel was summoned, and the king said:
“I have heard that you have the spirit of the gods within you…. If you can read these words and tell me their meaning, you will be clothed in purple robes of royal honor, and you will wear a gold chain around your neck. You will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:13-16)
Exposure of a Defiled Leader
In front of everyone, Daniel answered as follows:
“Keep your gifts or give them to someone else, but I will tell you what the writing means….You have defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from His Temple brought before you. You and your guests have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone…. So God has sent this hand to write a message.”
“This is the message that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARIN. This is what these words mean: Mene means ‘numbered’ – God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end. Tekel means ‘weighed’ – you have been weighed on the balances and have failed the test. Parsin means ‘divided’ – your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:17-28)
That very night the Medo-Persian army diverted the waters of the Euphrates River that flowed through the city of Babylon. With the water in the riverbed reduced, the army was able to enter the city under cover of darkness. They captured Babylon and killed Belshazzar before his defenders knew what had happened.
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old. (Daniel 5:30)
Lessons for Today
God raises up and takes out kings and nations. He’s done it through human history. There is purpose and there are long-term implications behind the movement of God’s hand in the affairs of mankind.
True wisdom is knowledge of God that begins with the fear of the Lord. Foolish kings and leaders either forget it, never knew it, or drift from God through greed, corruption, or arrogance like Belshazzar. Even the great and foolish King Nebuchadnezzar learned a humbling lesson (see Daniel 4).
We should take neither joy or solace in the fall or exposure of corrupt leaders in our midst. These are but reminders of the fallibility of man and point fingers at ourselves for holding mere men and woman up as models of merit and praise. May we, like good leaders, acknowledge, fear, and honor God.
Are you a respecter of persons, even fallible leaders, or God?
“…for all [God’s] acts are just and true, and He is able to humble those who are proud. – Daniel 4:37
1 Note: As recent as several decades ago the historicity of Belshazzar was in doubt. Secular history gave no confirmation of his actual existence. But in light of cuneiform records more recently discovered, it has been admitted by all that he was a real person who was a viceroy to his father Nabonidus. Cited in footnote, Harper Study Bible, Zondervan, 1982, p. 1303.
2 Misguided Nonchalance, The One Year Book of Christian History, E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, Tyndale Publishing House, IL, 2003, pp. 572-573.