Don't be like Belshazzar
I'm referring, of course, to the ruler of Babylon at the fall of the empire to the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C. He is an interesting figure because for a long time scholars took the book of Daniel to be a later work of fiction; after all, everyone knew that Nabonidus, not Belshazzar (as seems to be claimed by the book of Daniel), was the last ruler of Babylon. However, once again, we see the Bible proved true: later investigation showed that Belshazzar did indeed co-rule Babylon with his father Nabonidus. This, incidentally, is the reason why Belshazzar could only offer Daniel the place of third ruler in the kingdom, since Belshazzar was second and his father was first (Dan. 5:7, 29).
But more particularly, I'm referring to the incidents described in the fifth chapter of the book of Daniel. In this chapter, we see Belshazzar and his crew mocking the God of Israel and committing sacrilege with the vessels that had belonged to the temple of God, and instead praising "the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, or wood, and of stone" (Dan. 5:4). While he and those with him were drinking themselves drunk, a hand appeared on the wall of the palace, writing something which none of them could quite understand. It was a warning from God; and although they could not read it, it frightened them - in fact, we are told that "the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another" (Dan. 5:6). He was terrified. As well he should have been.
At length, Daniel was called, and he interpreted the writing to Belshazzar. "And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (Dan. 5:25-28).
My friends, let us not be like Belshazzar. He forgot three very crucial realities, to each of which the warnings pointed him. First, he forgot the reality that our days are numbered: "God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it." The Psalmist wrote, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). Those who live as if they will go on forever in this world, forget that they must one day give an account to the God of heaven (cf. Rom. 14:10-12). Some of the Christians in Corinth apparently forgot this as well, when they were defiling the Lord's Supper, and they died! (1 Cor. 11:29-30). Beware of this attitude. Our days are in the hands of God, and we would do well to remember that. "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that" (Jam. 4:15).
Second, he forgot that it is not what we think about ourselves that is so important; it is the judgment that God makes of us: "thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting." Whose balances? God's. Beware of feeling satisfied with yourself; it is not my estimation of myself that is important but God's: "For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord," the apostle Paul wrote (1 Cor. 4:4).
Third, he forgot that all of our earthly accomplishments and glories are fleeting things and will one day fade away: "thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." There are a lot of people in this world that are smug with self-confidence, building better and bigger barns to store up their accomplishments. But God will come to them one night and say, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Lk. 12:20-21). What is important is not the earthly kingdoms we build, but our place in the kingdom of God.
Faith in Christ is really the only effectual way to combat these soul-deadening tendencies. For by looking to him for our life and hope, we are not looking to live forever in this world, but we are "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit. 2:13). By looking to him and to his righteousness, we can live in light of God's balances, knowing that if we confess our sins, in Christ God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). And by looking to him, and seeing his perfections and glories, we will no longer have an appetite for our own self ambitions, but we will want to make Christ known. May the Lord make it a reality in each of us.