Weighed in the Balances (Daniel 5:17-31)


Scripture Text: Daniel 5:17-31

Weighed in the Balances (MP3)

Weighed in the Balances (Sermon Text)


Have you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting? That is a familiar phrase. Even Johnny Cash turned it into a hit, where King Belshazzar had been weighed and found wanting. Cash sung about King Belshazzar of Babylon and said that his kingdom was built upon the sand and it could not stand. What does the statement mean? It means that one has not lived up to what was expected. It means a person is lacking something. For Belshazzar, he was lacking a lot, so God sent him a mysterious and supernatural message in the form of a handwriting on the wall. It was a message that something was changing, some misfortune was about to happen. Belshazzar was desperate to know the meaning of this strange message and thus, he offered great rewards for the one who could interpret it. None of his wise men could help him, so, at the queen’s advice, Belshazzar sent for Daniel, who interpreted the writing on the wall as a message of doom for the Babylonian Empire. Daniel refused the king’s gifts. Perhaps Daniel was indignant at the king’s blatant disregard of God and things he should have known. Or, perhaps Daniel refused Belshazzar’s gifts in order to show that God’s services could be bought and to avoid obligation to the king. Either way, Daniel was able to interpret God’s message, but first, he reminded Belshazzar of some things.

Ignoring the Past is Foolish

There is a common saying that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. I think that is true. If we fail to learn from the past, then we will most likely make the same mistakes. It is good to learn from your own experiences, but it is much better to learn from the experiences of others. But, what if you do know the past, perhaps the failed decisions of someone before you, but you choose to make those same mistakes anyway. That is foolish! God holds us accountable for what we know. Before interpreting the mysterious hand writing on the wall, Daniel sternly reprimanded the king. He began by reminding Belshazzar of the consequences of pride in the life of Babylon’s great king, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel started by telling Belshazzar about how Nebuchadnezzar received his power and greatness. Look at the following verses.

Daniel 5:18–19 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled.

Like a broken record, but one which we need to hear again and again, Daniel continually reminds us about the sovereignty of God. In fact, that is the main theme of the book of Daniel. God is in control of everything and He moves kings and kingdoms like pieces on a chessboard. God gives to whomever He wills and He takes from whomever He wills. God gave Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. God gave Nebuchadnezzar kingship and greatness. Daniel even implies later in the passage that God gave Belshazzar all that he had. God gave him life and determined his ways (v. 23). But, Nebuchadnezzar once thought of himself more than he should have and God brought him back to earth. Daniel reminded Belshazzar of this. Look at the following.

Daniel 5:20-21 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.

Nebuchadnezzar had hardened his heart to God and had acted proudly. He forgot his rightful place, lifted up himself against God and became prideful; therefore, God brought him down. Nebuchadnezzar became like a beast and dwelled with the animals of the field until he learned humility and acknowledged God’s sovereignty. Trouble happens when we put ourselves in the position where only God belongs. God is sovereign and we ought to trust Him to work out His will and His plan as He desires. The great Nebuchadnezzar finally submitted to God’s sovereignty. Belshazzar may have seen Nebuchadnezzar’s fall and restoration with his own eyes, but he still had refused to humble himself before God. The point Daniel was making about Nebuchadnezzar was to say that Belshazzar should have learned from it and acted differently. It was foolish for Belshazzar to disregard what happened to Nebuchadnezzar and disregard what God had said and done. That was not ignorance. That was stupidity. Belshazzar was without excuse. It is foolish to forget the past and repeat the same mistakes. Are we guilty of ignoring the past? Are we guilty of ignoring what God has said and done?

Pride Leads to Destruction

Aside from ignoring the past, what did Belshazzar do so wrong to warrant God’s urgent message on the wall? Strangely enough, Belshazzar was guilty of the same sin that Nebuchadnezzar committed, and the same sin that infects all of us. It is pride! It is thinking more of ourselves than we ought to think. Look at the following verse.

Daniel 5:22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,

Daniel delivered a stinging rebuke to Belshazzar by saying “and you”. After giving him a history lesson, Daniel rebuked the king by telling him that he had not learned from his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Belshazzar had committed the same sin that Nebuchadnezzar did – pride. Pride is a huge problem! It leads us to places that we should not want to go. Pride brings pain and destruction. It destroys relationships with God and others. But, was pride all that was wrong with Belshazzar? Was pride all that Belshazzar did to invite God’s judgement? Daniel listed pride first, but we also see just how far Belshazzar’s pride took him. Look at the following.

Daniel 5:23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.

This verse tells us three things that Belshazzar did, even though he should have known better. First, he rebelled against God. He lifted himself against God. He also blasphemed God by taking what was holy and what was meant for worship to God and using it for unholy reasons. The vessels of the Jewish temple probably had remained in a storage since Nebuchadnezzar had brought them to Babylon. Belshazzar took what was meant for worship to God and used it for unholy purposes. For us, this would be like taking something that belongs to God and using it for our own purposes. This is a problem for many churches, who forget why they exist and why God has given them resources, but choose to use God’s resources for things that do not honor Him. Belshazzar then committed idolatry. He took God’s stuff and used them to worship other things than the one, true God. Belshazzar chose to worship false gods that do not live and could not do anything for him, thereby disregarding the very God who held life in His hands, who gave him life and who determined his fate. Again, this was foolish and destructive. Have we forgotten the God of life in favor of lesser “gods” that really diminish or destroy life? Do we worship the “gods” of money, power, fame, or work and disregard the one, true God who holds our lives in His hands?

Our Sin Will Be Weighed

For Belshazzar’s sin, God sent him a strange message that was written on a wall by a hand with no body. Neither Belshazzar nor his wise men could understand the writing, but one obscure prophet in the kingdom could. Perhaps God obscured the meaning from Belshazzar and his wise men until His prophet, Daniel, was called upon to deliver the message. Look at the following verses.

Daniel 5:25-28 25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28 Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

God’s message to Belshazzar consisted of three words, with the first one repeated. The word “Mene” sounds like the Aramaic word for numbered. This meant that God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom, and finished it. God had determined that Belshazzar’s kingdom was going to end. The word “Tekel” sounds like the Aramaic word for weighed. This meant that God had weighed Belshazzar in the balances, and found him wanting or lacking. Belshazzar was lacking, deficient in moral worth. God’s moral laws were placed on one side of the scales and the king’s wicked life on the other, and Belshazzar did not measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. As far as we know, Belshazzar never repented of his sins and never humbled himself before God. The third word “Peres” sounds like the Aramaic words for divided and for Persia. This meant that Belshazzar’s kingdom would be divided, destroyed, and given to the Medes and Persians. Notice, the word “Mene” was written twice to stress that God’s decision was certain to be fulfilled, as is all that God says. What God says is sure and will happen. So, the message literally read, “Numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided. Although the message was dire, Belshazzar honored his promise to Daniel.

Daniel 5:29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Now that the message had been delivered and Belshazzar had accepted the message from God, Daniel received the king’s gifts; however, the gifts were meaningless. What good was it for the king to proclaim to the people in the room that Daniel was the third ruler in an empire that would collapse in only a few hours? Belshazzar honored Daniel as he promised to do. However, he did not honor Daniel’s God. He did not repent. That very night, the soldiers of Darius the Mede captured Babylon and Belshazzar was killed. Daniel tells us of the end of the great Babylonian empire in two verses.

Daniel 5:30–31 30 That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

God had fulfilled what He told Nebuchadnezzar many years before. In chapter two of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about a large statue made of various materials. Daniel revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that the Babylonian Empire was the head of gold. Now, many years later, the head of gold from that statue has been replaced by the chest and arms of silver representing the Medo-Persian empire (Daniel 2:36-40). What God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar in his dream had come to pass. Belshazzar failed to learn from the past. He failed to humble himself as Nebuchadnezzar finally did. Belshazzar lifted himself above God. He also blasphemed God by taking God’s stuff and worshipping false gods with it. For these things, God weighed Belshazzar in the balances, found him lacking, and judged him.


In closing, Belshazzar’s reaction at seeing the handwriting on the wall is quite revealing. Daniel tells us that when the king saw the hand as it wrote, his color changed, his thoughts alarmed him, his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. This is a description of a guilty man, a man who knows that his days are numbered. When Jesus returns “every knee shall bow” at the sight of His glory. When Jesus returns, why will you bow to Him? Will it be out of joy at the sight of your King, or will it be out of fear with your limbs giving way, and your knees knocking together? Just as Belshazzar was weighed in the balances, we too will be weighed in the eternal balances of God. Will the results be the same? Will we be found wanting? Ask yourself this question, “If I was to die today and weighed in the balances of God would I be found wanting?” If the answer is yes, then you should turn to Jesus and seek Him so that you might have eternal life. We all have been numbered, weighed and divided. Our days are numbered. We have been weighed and found wanting. We have been divided and separated from fellowship with God. And yet, God has provided a way for us. We do not have to face death. God is gracious and forgiving. The only way to offset the balance of sin that we each have is by the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus resets the balance and brings us into fellowship with God. 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.

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