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. 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.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.22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 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. – Daniel 5:17-23

wordcloud

WordCloud based on a passage from Daniel 5

The above WordCloud is generated by taking words from the passage above and emphasizing them according to their importance/frequency in the text. It’s an interesting exercise to see the results of various communications. More interesting is Daniel’s comments and upbraiding to Belshazzar. He is clearly calling him to account for his failure to embrace the truth that had been revealed to his father during his reign, and his blatant abuse of and desecration of the vessels from the temple of the True Living God.

To some extent this sounds all too familiar. Daniel has encountered several instances of Nebuchadnezzar’s unfaithfulness; one instance of which seemingly comes on the heals of his recognition that Daniel’s God was the true God of all.

Emboldened by the profound weight of truth, Daniel will speak. He will retell the history of Nebuchadnezzar. He will let Belshazzar know that he had no excuse for failing to honor God as Lord of lords. He will make it very clear that the idea of who or what is worthy of praise is sinful and wrong.

Daniel does not flinch from the truth. He will serve, fear, love, and trust in God above all else. His safety is of no concern: How are they going to punish a man who survives being thrown into the lion’s den?!?

People who lie must use an inordinate number of words in complex constructions to keep the world going which they are seeking to build by their lies. Their WordClouds are massively complex and wordy – hardly edifying. Not so with God. Not so with Daniel. May it be no so with us today who follow Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of grace and truth; the Word made flesh.

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. 14 I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods[e] 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.”

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 5:13-17

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Henry Leu Gardens | Orlando, FL | January 2018

Gary Chapman has written a book, The Five Love Languages, in which he identifies the five ways we give and receive love. These are words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, touch, and acts of service. Some people’s love language is obvious; he loves to give and receive gifts. She is delighted when she hears the words, “I love you.” Others find great joy in serving others as an expression of their love.

Daniel’s love language seems clearly not to be receiving gifts. At least he seems not to be at all concerned about being treated well or rewarded financially for telling the king the interpretation of the writing on the wall. He is not willing to receive the gifts that the king offers. He might well realize that such gifts will only make him beholden to the king’s future pleasures and purposes. He may think that such honor is not proper for simply using the gift of discernment and interpretation that God had given him.

He will, nonetheless, read the writing to the king and tell him the interpretation. It is not clear whether Daniel knew beforehand that the news would be unfavorable. He is confident that he will be able to read the handwriting to the king. He is certain he can interpret the words. He was certainly aware of the king’s lack of humility before God, and his dismissal of advice of Daniel. Daniel had been put on the back burner of the king’s wisdom cohort. Daniel may have realized that the king had abandoned any sense of humility or groundedness; the news was likely not to be good.

Once I asked a colleague whether he would be willing to serve as the president of our national church body. His immediate answer was, “No.” When I asked why, he said, “Why would I want to be king of nothing?” Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, the assessment of one’s power and prestige may have led Daniel to turn down the king’s offer.

Daniel will receive the honor and gifts he had declined. But they were not the motive for providing the interpretation to the king. That seems to be much more about giving glory to God and revealing his truth to the king and all who are in his entourage.

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. 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.”

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Henry Leu Gardens | Orlando, FL | January 2018

Do you know someone whose advice you are inclined to reject – no matter whether they might be helpful or not? Perhaps he reminds you of an unreasonable college professor. She never seems to have a good word for you and your ideas. Suggestions come, but they are either unwelcome, unneeded, impractical, unreasonable, or simply not possible to take.

When the queen comes into the banqueting hall, she offers great advice. The question is, will the king listen? Will he dismiss her as a meddling interloper?

Sometimes our pride gets in the way. We would rather fail than be shown to need another’s advice. We would rather lick our wounds in private failure than be seen as one who does not have all the answers. We can be our own worst enemies that way.

The queen offers good advice to Belshazzar. She grounds her words in the past experience of Daniel’s help with other dreams and mysteries. He is one who should be called. He will reveal the meaning of the handwriting on the wall. Daniel is the one in whom there is “the spirit of the holy gods.” Will the king listen to her?

A person who is wise will listen to the advice of others. A wise man will seek counsel. A wise woman will embrace the insights of the wise.

Notice how the queen has it almost right: Daniel has the Holy Spirit of God, not just “the spirit of the living gods.” Her advice is right on as far as it goes. It remains to be seen whether Daniel’s advice will be heeded. The fact that he has been ignored for all these years does not bode well for Belshazzar’s future.

If we are ready to listen to others’ advice only when we are scared witless, we are in danger of reaching the limit of our days and our opportunity fully to take advantage of God’s favor in the paths of righteousness to which others may be seeking to direct us.

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed. – Daniel 4:5-9

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Baby’s Breath | Henry Leu Gardens | Orlando, FL | January 2018

It was a very difficult lesson. The assignment was due on Friday. It wasn’t turned in until the following Monday. You might think that would be OK; the teacher could let it slide. But it was not to be. The student would not be eligible for the National Honor Society – even though the grades were all sufficiently high.

The failure to get the assignment turned in was a threshold that was final and irrevocable. It took the wind out of the sails of academic excellence; scholarships were lost. Opportunities evaporated. Could it be that final?

Nebuchadnezzar is dead. His son rules in his place. In an overly-confident display of his wealth and enviable status, Belshazzar sets himself up for a fall. The assignment will not be turned in on time. The plans will not move forward.

Desperate the king seeks someone to interpret the handwriting on the wall. Bravado and hubris give way to panic and frantic measures. Who will give the interpretation? Who can tell us what this means?

When we say that the handwriting is on the wall, we are saying that the inevitable is about to happen. The pink slip is going to show up. The medical report is going to come back. The credit card statement is coming in the mail. The news is not going to be good.

Those who know the rescue and redemption stories of the Bible know that this is a set up for what God will do through Daniel. An even greater deliverance has been accomplished by Jesus, God’s Son. Just when we think there is no more hope, God would have us remember Jesus’ rescue, look to him, and wait for his deliverance.

King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.

Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. -Daniel 5:1-4

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Henry Leu Gardens | Orlando, FL | January 2018

Perhaps you’ve been to a party at which the hosts were trying to make an impression. Nothing but the finest china was on the table. The best wine, most delicious appetizers, perfectly-prepared food, and scrumptious desserts are the order of the event. Everyone has to know there is great wealth, power, influence, and taste are here. I suppose those things must happen in the halls of political powers or the realm of the Hollywood elite.

I’ve not experienced such displays, but I’ve heard of them. There are people who want to make an impression. I’m don’t seem to be one who is the target of such impression; or I’m oblivious to it.

Belshazzar – Nebuchadnezzar’s son – seems to have been one who wanted to make an impression. There are a thousand of his lords, he will show his bounty. In a moment of self-importance he decides to bring out the sacred vessels that had been taken from the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem. He not only profanes the things from God’s temple, he even praises the false gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone! 

Gold, silver, bronze and wood can bring a certain pleasure – short-lived as that may be. How else do we sell exciting cars, beautiful houses, or delightful works of art? But none of these bring true lasting joy. They will be lost, subject to decay, stolen, or left to another. Belshazzar is soon to learn this – though he will try his best to prove himself more powerful even than God.

Such folly is unworthy of any follower of Jesus Christ. We must repent of every tendency to do so, or reject any overtures to be impressed by others who would seek our approval. In the end, he who dies with the most toys…still dies.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me.37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. – Daniel 4:34-37

 

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Henry Leu Gardens | Orlando, FL | January 2018

I have had limited but significant experience with prison ministry. I’ve gotten to know different inmates at a few different state penitentiaries. I have been wary of their possible ploys, ruses and cons. Those who got to prison got there because of miscreant behavior. But I have also seen and heard of genuine conversions. Men who were in for life – no possibility for parole – becoming pastors inside the prison. Their testimony is profound and impactful.

Some may wonder whether these conversions are real. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, one may wonder. We’ve seen him praise the highest God. We’ve heard him proclaim the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be the only true God. But we also saw him become overly-self-important and fail to give God the glory. We’ve seen Nebuchadnezzar waffle back and forth between humility and hubris.

What are we to make of his profession here? He says of God:

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

Rather than attempting to judge Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and the sincerity of his confession, perhaps it is good for us to check to see that it is in keeping with God’s word (it is), and acknowledge it as true and important. You will never know another’s heart. That is the purview of God alone. But we can listen to those who profess their faith in him, and as we discover it’s truth, join in praising the King of heaven.

Truly we cannot call God to account, asking whether it is appropriate for him to forgive the most vile sinner, “What have you done?” That word of Nebuchadnezzar is unassailably true. We can thank God that he forgives sinners and redeems the lost – which includes us even at our worst.

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:28-33

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Henry Leu Gardens | Orlando, FL | January 2018

I don’t know much about Howard Hughes. But the little I know spans a broad range of information. He flew the “Spruce Goose”, a very large airplane made of plywood. Of this aircraft in 1947 Hughes said, “The Hercules was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That’s more than a city block. Now, I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it’s a failure, I’ll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.”

According to Boeing, “Hughes lifted the giant aircraft 33 feet (10 meters) off the surface of Long Beach (Calif.) Harbor and flew it for one mile (1.6 kilometers), for less than a minute, remaining airborne 70 feet (21 meters) off the water at a speed of 80 mph (128 kph) before landing. The H-4 Hercules never flew again.” That sounds like a failure to me.

Perhaps that is why (the other bit of knowledge I know about Hughes is that toward the end of his life, he refused to cut his toenails and fingernails, hair, and beard – much like that which is described of Nebuchadnezzar.

Whether Hughes ever repented (as we will learn of Nebuchadnezzar) I am not certain. But I do know that outlandish behavior is most obviously connected with a life lived without boundaries, feedback, rebuke, or challenge. They say it’s good to be king. But that’s true only if one is willing to acknowledge the King of kings and order one’s life by values of decency, justice, godliness, and humility. I suspect that these values are not much in demand by kings and lords.

It may be good to be king for limited reasons. It is far better to be one who confesses Jesus as Lord: our Redeemer, Savior, and Sovereign, than to be a king who abandons the ways of God and all prudent self-control.