Daniel 5:22, “And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;”
This morning, people are much more understanding and compassionate to someone that errs through ignorance rather than willful stubbornness. For example, if someone hurts another’s feelings without knowing it, that situation is much easier to remedy in the light of revelation than someone who consciously injured another. Even in the law, there are separate punishments for crimes with the same outcome. If someone kills another without premeditation, they might be labeled by the law as guilty of manslaughter or accidental homicide. However, premeditated killing merits the moniker of murder. God’s law brings about the same things. God has far more mercy and compassion on people that sin through ignorance than He does on those that sin willfully after the flesh. (Luke 12:48) However, the most egregious sin is the oft-repeated, stubborn sin. If the misbehavior is known by the offender but he keeps it up with seemingly no remorse, that is looked at the most unfavorably of all.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I just didn’t know?” Perhaps they follow that statement with, “I would never have dreamed of doing ____ had I only known.” These types of sentiments are perhaps many times true, but oftentimes people use them to curry an extra measure of compassion from someone when called on the carpet about it. Sometimes, people make excuses for not following God as they should with self-proclaimed statements of ignorance. “I just didn’t know what God said to do….” Lately, I have heard a fair number say, “I would not doubt God if I could see what that book talks about.” They are referencing the Bible and all the naturally remarkable stories that cause our natural mind to stand back in utter awe and amazement. A worldwide flood that covered the highest mountains? Wow! A sea parting for people to walk across dry while their enemies drowned in the same body of water? Amazing! Water flowing out of a rock in the desert? Wish I could have been there! Tables of stone burned on by the fiery imprint of God’s own finger? Would love to have read those stones personally!
No matter what the Bible talks about in all of its amazing qualities, we can be assured of 2 outcomes from amazing events like these: 1. the supernatural events are 100% true just as they appear on the page,and 2. the events fade from mortal man’s immediate memory due to the weakness of the flesh. In all of the amazing events we listed, the people who were recipients of those wonderful events and saw the majesty of the Lord through these supernatural deliverances still had problems, doubts, fears, unbelief, and stubborn sin to fight. We, as natural creatures, are no different today in struggling with our failings no matter how much we have seen of God’s goodness and mercy.
Daniel is speaking in our study verse to a wicked king that has just held an impious feast of idolatry. During this feast, God breaks up the party by writing on the wall a prophecy of condemnation to this man and his kingdom that none of them can read. Daniel is called in to read the writing for them. Now, before Daniel fulfills the king’s request to read the writing, he upbraids the king for being in this shape. Belshazzar the king was obviously alive to witness some of the things that happened to Nebuchadnezzar in the previous chapters as he ruled over the land of Babylon. In the preceding verses to ours, Daniel briefly recounts what happened to Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4. Daniel 5:19 gives as rich a description of the sovereignty as can be found in Holy Writ. It all boils down to this: if God so desires it, none can hinder or stop it. What man wants or desires is not secondary to what God desires. What man wants is immaterial to what God desires. He is the holy and just Ruler of things seen and unseen.
In reminding Belshazzar of God’s sovereignty, he also reminds him of what happened to his forebears. Nebuchadnezzar had to endure one of the most humiliating periods that any mortal man has suffered. For seven years, he was hideous beyond compare. He had feathers on his back like a bird. He had claws on his hand like a beast. He ate grass in the field like an ox. Wow! Consider this sight. The man who ruled over the greatest empire in the history of the world to that point is now regulated to a fate like that of a beast. For seven years! All of his subjects could walk by and witness the abject humiliation of this man. In our verse, Daniel reminds Belshazzar that he knew and saw all those things. He was not ignorant of God’s power and authority. If God so wills, it is done. Without any question, Belshazzar was not ignorant. However, Belshazzar had fallen victim to the same pride of his forebears. A careful reading of Daniel 4 shows that Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar exactly what would happen to him. 12 months later, the man was lifted up with pride to fall prey to the very consequence to which he was warned. Belshazzar saw all this. He knew all this. Yet, he allowed himself to get lifted up with pride and fall victim to neglecting and attending to the things he should have: ruling honorably and in fear of authority greater than his own.
Now, you might say, “Preacher, what do the events in the lives of kings that lived thousands of years ago have to do with me today?” The answer is simply this: I have never seen a sight like a man being struck down to the level that Nebuchadnezzar was. I have never witnessed any of the majestic sights like the children of Israel had in the wilderness or in the days of the Old Testament prophets and kings. I have seen – by faith – the unspeakable and utterly amazing work of God delivering, protecting, and at times casting down things in my own life. However, I am prone to the same follies of these men of olden times. All of us are creatures of “like passions” one to another. We so often forget the things we should retain and retain the things we should neglect. Notice the point later on this story. Belshazzar is told by Daniel that the writing on the wall speaks of the imminent demise of his kingdom. That very night, Babylon was taken by the next world empire – the Medes and Persians.
How many times have all of us witnessed God’s power and glory in our lives? How many times have we left off what we should and gone after the devices of our own thinking? If we have witnessed these things again and again, yet have fallen again and again into the same holes of pride and self, we are guilty of the worst of all shortcomings: repeated, willful, and stubborn sin. It goes beyond having knowledge. It goes beyond being simply stubborn. We do it again and again. Whether it is an individual, church, community, family, or country, God’s longsuffering and mercy will not be nearly as broad for those that not only know better but know better a lot. Friends, to those that know the Lord’s dealings very powerfully and personally, I beseech you. Let us who know better leave off the servings of the flesh and focus on devotion to our Lord. Certainly in our cleansed soul we understand how deserving He is of our all. May we put it into full and total effort so that a servant of God does not stand before us and say, “though thou knewest this, yet….” May our examples set a Godly tone that perhaps may yield fruit that springs up richly toward our Lord that can bless us, our churches, our families, our communities, and yes, even our country too.