Shine the Light: "Rescue from the Forgotten" – Daniel 5

When Paul McCartney was sixteen years old, his father turned sixty-four. That birthday inspired one of the first Paul_McCartneysongs the young would be “Beatle” ever wrote. The song was an imaginary conversation between a young man to his young love interest about “growing old together”. Some of us smile at the young man’s notion that “sixty-four” was so very old, especially in light of the fact that McCartney is seventy-two this year (born in 1942).

The song was on the Beatles playlist in the early days of their live concert circuit as an emergency “back-up” song to perform if their amplifiers blew a tube or power was disrupted. McCartney, with the wit and wisdom of his sixteen years of life wrote these words:

I could be handy mending a fuse, When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds, Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four?

That little window into English cottage living in the sixties is telling. McCartney clearly didn’t know the sixty-four would one day be a great age for “sky diving” and “para sailing in the Caribbean”. I love it when the wisdom of youth is challenged by the innovation and energy of adulthood.

I don’t know how I will feel at sixty-four, but I am not thinking Dottie will be sitting and knitting by the fireside, hoping I will take her out for a ride, unless we have flying cars by then. What I DO know, is that life isn’t over at sixty-four, or (for that matter) and eighty-four. We don’t come with “toe tags” and “expiration dates”. We live until God says we are done living. As for me, I want to champion living until I don’t. I don’t want to EXIST, I want to LIVE!

One of my heroes in the Bible is the prophetic writer and former Prime Minister named Daniel. He lived, worked and ministered well into his eighties. In our lesson from Daniel 5, we read of a time when he was quiet old, taken out of sequence because his memoirs are written thematically. He was in his eighties – and that was as old as dirt a world with an average life expectancy that didn’t break the mid-fifties. He was ANCIENT and though respected, not considered part of the “life blood” of his day on the political talk shows. He was the guy you interviewed in retrospectives, or when the guest of the day suddenly cancelled due to an impending crisis. Daniel was OLD NEWS, but God had a plan to dust him off and blow the pungent smell of moth balls – and put him back in the center of the story yet again.

Key Principle: We are never “off the hook” of ministry until we are with the Lord. To offer a positive message, we must stay engaged in the world that needs truth while longing for the life to come!

We all laugh at aging, because we all face it. For the young, just appropriately roll your eyes for a moment as we who have greying hair poke a bit of fun at ourselves…You have read these, I am sure…You Know You’re Getting Old When…

• Your joints are more accurate than the National Weather Service.
• Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
• Your back goes out more than you do.
• The twinkle in your eye is only the reflection of the sun on your bifocals.
• You wake up with that morning-after feeling and you didn’t do anything the night before.
• You don’t care where your wife goes, just so you don’t have to go along.
• Many of your co-workers were born the same year that you got your last promotion.
• People call at 9 PM and ask, “Did I wake you?”
• The pharmacist has become your new best friend.
• There’s nothing left to learn the hard way.
• You come to the conclusion that your worst enemy is gravity.
• Your idea of a night out is sitting on the patio.
• You wake up, looking like your driver’s license picture.
• Happy hour is a nap.
• You begin every other sentence with, “Nowadays…”
• You constantly talk about the price of gasoline.
• You don’t remember when your wild oats turned to shredded wheat.
• You sing along with the elevator music.
• You are proud of your lawn mower.
• You wonder how you could be over the hill when you don’t remember being on top of it.
• The little gray-haired lady you help across the street is your wife.
• Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.
• Your ears are hairier than your head.
• It takes longer to rest than it did to get tired.
• Your childhood toys are now in a museum.
• You confuse having a clear conscience with having a bad memory.
• You know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions.
• You enjoy hearing about other people’s operations.
• Your new easy chair has more options than your car.
• Your little black book only contains names ending in M.D.
• You get into a heated argument about pension plans.

With our smiles and laughter, here is a SERIOUS QUESTION: Do you ever feel too old to be relevant?

Look for a few minutes at the story of a man who got older, but didn’t become so stiff in nature that God could not and would not entrust new ministry to him in the lives of other people. His story showed that a man of integrity can live according to the beliefs he obtained by God’s touch in his youth. How did he stay pliable and useful to God? I believe if you examine the story recorded in this chapter, you will see at least four practical ways he “stayed handy” for the work of God to his generation.

Before we explore the four ways Daniel stayed “in the game” of life, let’s make sure we recognize some truths about the passage the lesson is taken from. First, the story is out of sequence in the book, and Daniel was much younger in the last lesson (and will be younger again later in the book). This is a selection from his life that God placed into the narrative to say something important. The WORLD may say the young are at the center of everything, but God does not. He uses the young, with their vitality and hope, their zeal and their energy. Yet, He uses also the aging, with life experience and tempering in the world. God wants to use BOTH, and use them in harmony with one another!

Consider for a few moments the fact that Daniel reckoned ENGAGEMENT would keep him useful to God… There were FIVE REASONS Daniel stayed engaged…and resisted the temptation to retreat and disconnect:

1. He stayed engaged in lives, because his world placed great weight on a false foundation!

He recognized he lived in a restless age with a pagan core (5:1-4). Drop into the scene and see if you can pick out what he observed:

Daniel 5:1 “Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

Let me set the scene a bit. The year was 538 BCE. King Nabonidas, co-ruler of the Babylon empire, was in a large plain outside the city with his army defending it against the mighty army of the Medes and Persians under Cyrus – a renegade ruler of the nearby emerging empire of the Medes and Persians. Babylon was considered impregnable, and the older Babylonian army had a world reputation for victory. The Persians were upstarts, a newly banded army that was threatening a super power of its day.

According to Herodotus the historian’s still disputed measures, the city had a wall surrounding it was nearly 300 feet high and eighty feet wide, surrounded by deep moats. Any attempt to breach that wall must have seemed pointless – and that is what made the exercise of defense one of such confidence that inside the city a party could be held in a time of conflict. The archaeological data suggests the moat extended 35 feet into the ground. If one were to ride around the city outside the wall, he would travel 60 miles – it was a HUGE city by ancient standards (Consider the trip Nehemiah made around Jerusalem a few years later that took a few hours through rubble). The wall of Babylon reportedly had some two hundred fifty guard towers and rooms for soldiers to sleep. It had upwards of one hundred gates, all armored with brass. If an enemy soldier managed to climb over the wall, he would have to cross a quarter mile of bare land before he could reach the city. In addition, there was enough food warehoused for a twenty-year siege and farmland within the wall to raise more if needed. The Euphrates River flowed under the wall to provide water for the crops, and had a cage fence to guard access by the river.

While Nabonidas was defending the city against its enemies, his regent son, Belshazzar was inside the palace feasting with all the kingdom’s nobles. Neither of them knew it was the last day of the mighty Babylonian empire… Nabonidus (556-539) was a skilled general and field tactician; but a poor politician. He rebuilt temples of older gods, and tried to revive older moral tenets, but largely failed because he offended contemporary priests and lost popular support of the young, who were looking for something new and “hip”. His son and regent was Belshazzar, the holder of the crown for his father during his many military exploits (ruled 549 until 539 takeover by Persian Cyrus II) and administrator of the empire while his father stayed at Teima in western Arabia in the latter years.

Don’t miss the background – OLD SCHOOL KING and youthful and boisterous generation… and Daniel lived in the city, probably in a school teaching, or studying old scrolls and keeping watch on the city with other shuffleboard playing scholars… Yet, he didn’t lose touch with the observations of the false foundation. There are five ways he could see it:

First, Daniel recognized the generation had “false beliefs” they held dear. The very name of the prince betrayed his paganism: 5:1a “Belshazzar”: “Bel protect the king!” The prince followed a religion and based his life on a god of his own making – not a god that required anything of him! One of the valuable lessons those who have been on the planet for longer will be able to readily observe is this: People live life as though they get to determine what truth is; and what eternity and the god that judges them is like! That presumes that there is NO Creator. If there is ONE GOD, then your beliefs about Him must square with the truth of Who He is – or your service to Him will be in error. If He cares about such things, your life and future will be in peril. People who make up their own rules do so because they do not accept the notion that TRUTH exists outside of them – and they must find and follow it – not invent it.

Second, Daniel recognized that people were living in “false security”. 5:1b: “held a great feast”: Archaeologists have unearthed a banquet room that would seat ten thousand people – an astounding sized party in a time when capitol cities of some kingdoms could not hold that number! Daniel recognized the threats of the times were significant, even if the partiers carried on like stocks were secure, and their dollar was unassailable. The prince’s father was fighting a losing battle without, but Belshazzar seemed utterly disconnected from peril – you know the type. People seem to disconnect from the problems of life around them and live as though the issues will not affect them – unfortunately they will!

Third, Daniel recognized that people mistook excess for happiness, but it was a sham. 5:1b-2 “drinking wine in the presence of the thousand”. Belshazzar the prince exemplified the playboy philosophy so prevalent in a paganized society. The end and goal of life seems to be to provide constant satisfaction and ongoing pleasure for the body. The terms used in the text are unmistakable – Belshazzar was at least impaired and at most drunk. He was using the resources of the kingdom to satiate his desires, not to maintain order and prepare for war. Even when the threat is clearly at the door, many people tend to try to find an escape from impending crises and hope they will be averted – unfortunately they seldom are!

Fourth, Daniel could see through the false value system boasted superiority over God and His worship. 5:2b-3 “bring the gold and silver vessels taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem”. The hedonistic philosophy is: “If you want it, get it. If it feels good, do it.” You don’t have to be fabulously wealthy to have this attitude, either. Many in our society live this way on nothing but credit. This philosophy has no place for a God Who places demands and expects moral purity from His followers. Pagans exhibit the reality that nothing is sacred to them. These vessels were carefully inventoried (see Ezra and the numbers of them) and were kept by his ancestors in respect to the gods they conquered. He sat on the throne, but had none of the respectful values of those before him. He was going to give the vessels for common use among the dignitaries (“noble”) but also to the concubines (ignoble uses). Sensual living tends to stupefy! People often scorn the values of the past and the respect system believing we don’t need the old conventions – unfortunately they will discover they are wrong!

The king and his men forgot what (or better WHO) provided the great wealth of their land! How like them we can be!

Some years ago a young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “Start Monday!” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by, and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, he replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” answered the foreman, “but we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the boy’s integrity thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?” The young man replied, “I’ve been working too hard to take the time.” Remember how we got where we are! (author unknown).

In our day the message could not be clearer:

• When you dismiss the Creator, you begin to erode the inalienable rights our fathers fought to preserve. If there is no God above them, there will be no reason to expect men of means will care deeply for those with nothing.

• When you crush the family, you forget the first place people were instructed to find the meanings of words like “responsibility, loyalty and fidelity.” The home will be reflected in the public square quickly.

• When you demean human life by killing the inconvenient, you diminish the whole basic value of society. When the value of life is dismissed, and the value of liberty is curtailed – only the value of the pursuit of happiness is left.

Fifth, Daniel recognized the people became belligerent against truth. 5:4 “they praised the gods of gold and silver”. The prince was totally insensitive to the demands of God and the feelings of God’s people. He became sensual. materialistic, and blasphemous. Belshazzar didn’t hesitate to openly blaspheme the God Who held Belshazzar’s life and future in His hands. The people decided the work of their hands was the measure of success – and that ended them. They blocked the thoughts of eternity, even though the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 (New International Version) “11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” They set aside eternity and measured life by the NOW. People measure life by what they have attained and gained and not what they have become!

People who are taught to emphasize rights and live for physical pleasures make poor society builders…

Daniel stayed in touch with society. He didn’t buy into it, but he didn’t sit and bark at it either. He was useful to God because he wasn’t out of touch with the world around him, but kept himself actively observing the problems, and evaluating the issues. Maybe many days no one listened to what he had to say – but when they did – he HAD something to say. It wasn’t simply about what he learned years before, but about what was happening THEN. Daniel was ENGAGED in the world around him because he wanted to be ready for God to use his life – and HE KNEW THE WORLD AROUND HIM WAS LIVING BASED ON THE WRONG PREMISE.

2. Daniel stayed engaged because God hasn’t finished His work yet! (5:5-6)

Daniel 5:5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together.

Don’t forget that God will move in according to His own timing, and we must be there to assist the people faced with God’s revelation. 5:5a “Suddenly”. God offered no more warning than the revelation of the Word of God itself. Remember Luke 16 and the rich man – send them one from the dead that they may avoid the troubles was answered with – “They have the Law and the Prophets!” Don’t think that troubles will come with skywriting – we have 1189 chapters of truth that are already ignored by most people… The problem isn’t that God hasn’t spoken, warned, explained and exposed the plan…

It is also worth noting that people who know God reverence Him and invite Him into their lives, people who don’t will FEAR Him when they meet Him! 5:5b-6 “The fingers of a man’s hand”. The term “handwriting on the wall” has become synonymous with judgment. When it came, Belshazzar knew it was a power beyond his, but there was little he could do to stop it or change the words written. He was so frightened his face turned pale and his knees knocked together. If you challenge God to a duel, you’d better have a pistol that can fire a billion miles a millisecond – or you will find yourself completely mismatched.

Daniel stayed engaged because he knew God wasn’t done writing His story. The world wasn’t over – and neither was HE. As long as we have breath, we have a ministry.

3. Daniel stayed engaged because people around him were blind without a representative of God’s people – and he didn’t leave his post expecting someone else to pick it up until he was gone. (5:7-12)

Daniel 5:7 The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me shall be clothed with purple and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed. 10 The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11 “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners. 12 “This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”

I cannot help but feel that people without a walk with God and a knowledge of His Word are like blind leading the blind. Look at the phrase: “the king called”. People will look for answers among people who have no more clue than themselves! The men couldn’t explain the truth, because they couldn’t see the truth! Without an ability to pull off a good life, we pay men and women literally hundreds of thousands to educate the upcoming generation. What would happen if we actually demanded a “track record” of example from them BEFORE they became teachers of our young? What if a professor had to actually show him or herself to be a good person in order to be qualified to help shape lives of our youth? Daniel didn’t GROUSE, he stayed a part of the conversation of his community. People TRUSTED him, and that became his platform to speak. Youth haven’t had time to build that platform, and Daniel didn’t trade it away – but kept it for use until his last breath.

Daniel recognized that he was God’s representative: “There is a man…” Look at the description:

• Testimony: In whom is the spirit – the recognition was about THEN, not just about the past. Can people STILL see God active in your life?

• Consistency: In the days of your father… Look at the reality that the testimony of former years wasn’t being replaced by FOLLY in later years. Can people count on continued maturity and wisdom from you?

To offer a positive message, we must stay engaged in the world that needs truth while longing for the life to come! We cannot retire from truth and we dare not leave our post until God calls us home. Stay actively engaged in your walk with God, and continue to add to the old testimony NEW ENCOUNTERS with God and other people!

4. Daniel stayed engaged, because he had lived long enough not be bought off by trinkets that meant little in the longer frame of life (5:13-17).

Daniel 5: 13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? …15 “Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16 “But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems… 17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him.

By the time Daniel was called in before the king, fortune he couldn’t eat meant little. Fame was only a bother to him when he took walks in the city. Power was something he had much of in his life, and watched it pay few lasting dividends. Pleasure was limited to a good stew, a warm fire and some pleasant company.

What I am trying to say is that he had grown in life to see the world for what it was – a temporary mess that held fleeting joys. Life is GOOD, but it isn’t the final object for the person who understands the value of knowing God and living for the eternal. That is your strength as a believer. You can enjoy good food, but not get lost in the need for bigger and more elaborate banquets. You can laugh without needing endless folly. You can see the difference between people who are using people to get “ahead” and people who know that the front of the line isn’t much better than the back of it. Daniel stayed engaged because he could add a sense of reality to a world lost in the search for filling pockets with holes and insatiable appetites.

5. Daniel stayed engaged so that when his moment came, he was ready to be used of God! (5:13-29):

The story concluded:

Daniel 5:18 “O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. … 22 “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 “Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out. 25 “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ 26 “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 “ ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 “ ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” 29 Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.

God provided a testimony by means of His engaged servant. This was a man who lived his disciplines daily. Let me warn you – disengagement is an undisciplined life! The enemy of staying engaged is the “but first” syndrome – that robs our days of accomplishment… Someone explained it this way:

I have recently been diagnosed with the “But First syndrome”. You know, it’s when I decide to do the laundry, I start down the hall and notice the newspaper on the table. OK, I’m going to do the laundry…..
• BUT FIRST I’m going to read the newspaper . Then, I notice the mail on the table. OK, I’ll just put the newspaper in the recycle stack…..

• BUT FIRST I’ll look through that pile of mail and see if there are any bills to be paid. Yes, now where’s the checkbook? Oop’s….. there’s the empty glass from yesterday on the coffee table. I’m going to look for that checkbook…..

• BUT FIRST I need to put the glass in the sink. I head for the kitchen, look out the window, notice my poor flowers need a drink of water. I put the glass in the sink, and darn it, there’s the remote for the TV on the kitchen counter. What’s it doing here? I’ll just put it away…..

• BUT FIRST I need to water those plants.. Head for the door and….. Aaaagh! Stepped on the cat. Cat needs to be fed. Okay, I’ll put that remote away and water the plants…..

• BUT FIRST I need to feed the cat….. End of day; Laundry is not done, newspapers are still on the floor, glass is still in the sink, bills are unpaid, checkbook is still lost, and the cat ate the remote control….. And, when I try to figure out how come nothing got done all day, I’m baffled because….. (author unknown).

I want to call you to remain engaged. Don’t substitute RAGE with ENGAGEMENT! Don’t grouse instead of praying. Be stirred, but not soured by life. God has you here for a purpose!

To offer a positive message, we must stay engaged in the world that needs truth while longing for the life to come!