Scripture Text: Daniel 5:10-17
This sermon series on Daniel has been about godly living in an ungodly world. It has been about how to live a faithful life while in the midst of difficult circumstances, like being an exile in Babylon. When we first started exploring the book of Daniel, I was not as concerned so much with how to merely live in Babylon, but how we can thrive in Babylon. How can we remain faithful to God and deepen our faith when the world around us is opposed to God and us? What is it like to serve God and be faithful when those around you are against you, or at least against your way of life and faith? I think the book of Daniel gives us insight into the life of a man who was able to serve God faithfully in the midst of very difficult circumstances. But first, it may be helpful to remind ourselves about how Daniel and his people got to this point. The Jewish people had long turned from God. They had disobeyed Him, rejected His Word, refused to listen to the prophets God sent them, and they worshipped other gods. So, God finally punished His people. The prophet Jeremiah tells us about God’s punishment on Judah.
Jeremiah 25:8–9 8 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, 9 behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.
When God had enough of His people’s disobedience, He gave them, the nation, and the temple into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Notice that God called Nebuchadnezzar “my servant”. God uses a variety of means to bring about His purposes, even a ruthless leader of a pagan nation. Through his servant, King Nebuchadnezzar, God punished His people for their disobedience. They were exiled. Their homes destroyed. The temple destroyed. But, not all was lost. It was during this difficult time when the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel stood up to say that God was still at work even in the midst of crisis and despair. Daniel was drafted into the king’s service, and through his exile, Daniel had many opportunities where God used him as a faithful witness to declare His Word to others. In this passage of a strange and miraculous message, Daniel had another opportunity to demonstrate his faithfulness.
Be Faithful in Obscurity
Perhaps it can be easy to do something when we are noticed for the thing we do. For instance, people may do well when they are acknowledged for what they do. But, what happens when they are not noticed? What happens when we fall out of favor with those in charge? Are we so faithful in serving then? Babylon had a shift in power. There was a new sheriff in town and he did not worship or acknowledge God. As we found out last week, King Belshazzar worshipped others gods and even blasphemed the one, true God with his party of excessive indulgence and debauchery. It may not have been easy for Daniel to serve God during this time, assuming it was ever easy. For his blasphemy, God sent Belshazzar a message of imminent doom via a supernatural handwriting on the wall. The problem was that Belshazzar did not understand the message at the time. None of his “wise men” could help him either. Terrified, Belshazzar was desperate to know the meaning of the divine message. Fortunately, someone else heard of the king’s desperation and came to offer him help. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 5:10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change.”
The queen was most likely Belshazzar’s mother or grandmother, since his wives and concubines were already present. She heard of his desperation to understand the meaning of the handwriting on the wall. Perhaps she was close enough to hear the king scream for an answer, to which no one could help. But, she had an answer. She knew of someone who could help. She remembered that there was a man who once helped king Nebuchadnezzar. Maybe she remembered his dreams and how Daniel had helped him when no one else could. Therefore, she told Belshazzar about Daniel. Look below.
Daniel 5:11-12 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
The queen reminded Belshazzar of Daniel, whose God-given ability to interpret difficult problems had been repeatedly demonstrated during the time of Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed Daniel as chief of his wise men, because he believed the spirit of the holy gods dwelled in Daniel, enabling him to answer difficult questions. Since this was a culture that believed in many gods, it is not surprising that the king believed that his gods gave Daniel this ability. Daniel served God and Nebuchadnezzar faithfully for many years. But then, something happened after Nebuchadnezzar died. Belshazzar did not seem to be personally acquainted with Daniel. It seems that Daniel had been forgotten. It seems that the new leaders in Babylon did not know Daniel or had no need for Daniel. One reason is that it had been over twenty years since Nebuchadnezzar’s death, and Daniel did not have the exalted position in the new regime that he had enjoyed earlier. Daniel was also much older now and may have been somewhat retired from public life. Either way, Daniel was unknown.
Some people call you only when they need something from you, or when they need to complain about something. As soon as they do not need you, they may have nothing to do with you. Daniel seems to have fallen into obscurity until he was needed again. We may experience a time when our influence is diminished or there seems little need for us. The church once held a prominent place in America. People knew where to be on Sunday morning. Christians expected their family, friends and neighbors to know Jesus and worship Him on Sunday. The culture was different then. We live in a different time now. More and more people in America do not know Jesus. More and more people are hostile to the Christian faith. How should we respond to this? How do we respond to a culture that considers God and His church irrelevant? We speak truth to a world that has been blinded by darkness. Our job is not to convince anyone, to make Jesus seem relevant (He already is), or to save souls, which is not within our power. Our job is to serve God faithfully and to be a witness for Him, just as Daniel was in an ungodly world.
Be Faithful in Adversity
At the queen’s advice, Belshazzar sent for Daniel. God gave Daniel, his servant, another opportunity to serve Him and to help the king. If you are willing to be used by God, God will use you. But, we are reminded that this was not a normal circumstance. The king was not calling Daniel to have tea and crumpets with him. When Daniel arrived before the king, Belshazzar reminded him of his plight and the plight of the rest of the Jewish people. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 5:13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah.”
Belshazzar did not address Daniel as the one whom his father had made chief of his wise men. Belshazzar referred to Daniel as the one whom his father brought from Judah as an exile to Babylon. It is unclear why Belshazzar mentioned that Daniel was a Jewish exile. He may have been attempting to intimidate Daniel by reminding him that he was a lowly captive. The king may have been merely seeking to establish more precisely Daniel’s identity. Either way, Daniel was in exile. He had been trying to live faithfully in an ungodly world. Perhaps, when Daniel first arrived in Babylon as a young teenager, he was not able to see the hand of God as clearly as he saw it in his latter years. But with each step of obedience, Daniel’s confidence in God grew. Every time God solves a problem, walks us through a valley, or stands with us in the midst of a valley, we grow a little bit more like Daniel. The lens of faith is the key to seeing clearly when bad things happen. It’s the only way to make sense out of the senseless. One author once wrote, “When bad things happen, we have a choice to make. Are we going to interpret and respond to our current circumstances through the lens of faith, or are we going to interpret our God through the lens of our current reality?” When we focus on the size of our God, our problems do not seem so big.
The church was born into adversity. In fact, it thrived in adversity. However, I think the church in America does not really know what adversity is. The church in America is used to being comfortable and having things the way it wants. However, God rarely calls His children to serve in situations that are comfortable. Daniel was surely not called to serve in a comfortable situation. Consider the early church. Most of the disciples were beaten, imprisoned or killed for serving Jesus. And yet, many of us complain when we have to take time out of or busy schedules to simply help or share our lives with someone. We complain if we have to spend time with people who are not quiet like us. We want to fellowship with other people, but only on our terms, only if it makes us comfortable. We do not share our faith with others because we are scared of what they may think or we believe it is not our responsibility. We think someone else will do it. But, be a Daniel! Serve God and be a witness for Him as an exile in a pagan world. Be faithful to God in the good times and the bad times, and the times that make you feel uncomfortable. No matter what the circumstance, be faithful to Christ.
Be Faithful Without Reward
Even though Belshazzar reminds Daniel of his place, the king does pay Daniel a significant compliment. He acknowledged that he had heard that Daniel had special insight and could reveal hidden things. He acknowledged Daniel’s reputation for helping solve mysterious that no one else could. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 5:14-16 14 I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. 16 But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Belshazzar was desperate for an answer, therefore he promised significant rewards to anyone who could tell him what the message meant. Anyone who interpreted the writing would be clothed with purple, an expensive color in the ancient world, and would wear a chain of gold, a mark of high rank. He would also be the third ruler in the kingdom; however, none of the Babylonian wise men were able to interpret the handwriting on the wall. Then Daniel entered and Belshazzar promised to reward Daniel with the same rewards, the only motivations the world knows: possession, position, and power. Those are the things the world knows and values. Those are the things the world expects for doing something significant. That is the currency of worldly people. Some will say they will serve you or do this or that for you if they receive something in return. Some will say that they will do this for you if you do that for them. However, that is not how God’s people ought to serve. That is not the currency of the church. We do not serve God to receive earthly rewards. We work for another King, a King of all kings, who rewards on a totally different scale. Thus, Daniel rejected the king’s rewards. Look at the following.
Daniel 5:17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation.”
Daniel refused the king’s rewards. He responded in a way that was not what the king probably expected, or the world would expect. Who would refuse such honors? Who would turn down such gifts? The faithful servant of God has no need for worldly rewards. The faithful servant of God works for a different Master and for a different reason. God provides what no other person or the world can provide. Thus, Daniel refuses the king’s gifts, making sure that God alone is honored for the interpretation. That is what any servant of God needs to remember. We work for God, not for man. When we do a job for our human supervisors, we are to do it as if we are working for God (Colossians 3:23-24). Many minsters and the churches they serve forget that. A minister is not hired to do a job, but he is called by God to serve Him and His church. The same is true for all of God’s people. We serve Him, therefore, let us be found faithful in all that we do, knowing that we will receive a reward from Him that does not compare to anything this world offers.
In conclusion, let us take note of Daniel’s faithful service in the midst of difficult times. He may not have been well known by those important and in power at the time, but he was known by the only One who matters. He may have served during adversity as a Jewish exile in an ungodly world, but he remained faithful and true to God. Let us also remain faithful to God no matter what situation we encounter and no matter what becomes of the world we live in. Should the church find itself in Babylon, may we remain faithful to God through adversity. Lastly, like Daniel, let us serve God faithfully with no expectation of earthly reward. God has called each of His people into fellowship with Him and He has promised us a reward that is incomparable to anything this world has to offer. All we need is Jesus! This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.