Belshazzar’s Worst Choice

By Curt Darling

Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, was the third king of the kingdom of Babylon. We don’t know much about his father. It has been said that he might have been still alive and out of the country commanding a battle on foreign soil. Unlike his grandfather who had humbled himself before “the Most High [God] and praised and honored Him” (Dan. 4:34 NKJV), Belshazzar “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone” (5:4).

It seems, according to tradition, the army of the Medes and Persians, under Cyrus the Great, diverted the river that flowed through Babylon. Through this method or another, as Belshazzar held a great feast with much drinking of wine, the army of the Medes and Persians was able to enter and capture the city, bringing the Babylonian Empire to an end according to the Word of God.

This was tied with the prophecy of Jeremiah, which said the Jews would be in exile for 70 years (Dan. 9:2) – a period that would end a short time after the fall of Babylon. Cyrus, the king of Persia, according to a prophecy announced around 150 years before the king was born (see Isa. 45:1), would be the one used of God to open the way for the exiles to return to Jerusalem.

Belshazzar’s Choice
The drinking party Belshazzar held was certainly a bad choice, but his command to get and drink from the gold and silver vessels plundered from the temple of God was worse. They had been acquired when God gave Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar, who was then king of Babylon. You see, when kings went to war and won they carried off the religious articles, often storing them, to show that the gods of the defeated country could not help them in the battle. Of course we know from the Bible that this was not the case with Judah, for what took place was a work of God with His people rather than simply weakness on His part.

Belshazzar, although aware of what took place in his grandfather’s life, lifted himself up in pride and defied the Most High God, for the cups and bowls had been set apart for His glory. Instead, Belshazzar sought to drink wine from them in the names of other gods (Dan. 5:22-23). This could bring nothing but disaster, like what happened when the ark of the covenant was taken into battle and captured by the Philistines (see 1 Sam. 4-5).

Because of Belshazzar’s foolish choice, “the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote … on the plaster of the wall … and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote” (Dan. 5:5). Not one of the king’s wise men could interpret it. Then the queen, either Belshazzar’s mother or grandmother, thought of Daniel. Sadly, it seems Belshazzar did not know Daniel, a righteous man (Ezek. 14:14,20).

Daniel was brought in, and he scolded Belshazzar for not heeding the lessons he should have learned from his grandfather’s life. He then interpreted the writing: “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (v.27). That night King Belshazzar was killed and the kingdom – even the world rule – was given to the Medes and Persians.

What Is Our Choice?
The cups and bowls from the temple were “holy,” separated to God. They were His – not something to be used for simply any purpose. If you think this is not significant, consider what Jesus said when He spoke about the temple in His day. At the age of 12, He called it “My Father’s house” (Jn. 2:15-17). Later, as He cast out those buying and selling in the temple just days before He was crucified, the Lord Jesus called it “My house” (Mt. 21:12-13). How personal!

So where is the temple now? There are two forms in which it is expressed. One is collectively with all believers: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). The second is individual: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you …?” (6:19). These two points are reiterated in Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-9.

We Christians need to be careful. What are we indulging in? Remember, God destroyed Belshazzar for drinking out of the holy vessels from the temple, and Jesus took a whip and drove out those who desecrated it. Listen to the Word of God. Honor Him to whom honor is due!