From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

June 22, 2008 – Daniel 5

Daniel 5, the famous “handwriting on the wall” story, is the text for this coming Sunday. Like every other chapter of Daniel, it’s full of potential preaching themes, and I have to make some choices as to which to take up. So one question I’d have of you, dear posting one, is: if you chose one idea or theme from Daniel 5, what would it be?

Right now I’m heading in the direction of “judgment”. Daniel 5 is the story of the end of the Babylonian empire, the end of Belshazzar’s reign. It’s a story of incredible arrogance and blasphemy; Nebuchadnezzar had also been arrogant and blasphemous, but Belshazzar takes it to new heights, and in chapter 5 God will have no more of it. The message of the chapter, I think, is the message on the wall, written by the finger of God, and would be a seemly message for a sermon: mene, mene (doubled for emphasis)/tekel/parsin.

As in many other places in Daniel, scholars have several interpretations of these words. Apparently the words are open to more than one level of meaning. On a superficial level, the words are units of money: mina/shekel/half (half mina? half shekel?). Moreover, they are nouns. Daniel interprets them more deeply, however, making the words verb forms (something like participles): numbered/weighed/divided. Or, as another interpreter has put it: God has paid out/you are too light/Persia! Belshazzar doesn’t know it, but he’s a dead man walking; same could be said for his entire empire.

For reasons why, note the story’s emphasis not just on Belshazzar’s partying on the eve of destruction – he’s partying with the goblets taken from the Jerusalem Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. It’s like spitting on God. But I think it’s more than just this one act. This one act is a result of a long series of acts. In any case, in chapter 5, time’s up for Babylon. And it’s God who’s calling a halt to it.

So, in preaching on this text to us 21st century North Americans – is time up for us? Without being too apocalyptic, I wonder. Thinking about Belshazzar’s use of the Temple goblets for his own partying, using holy things for unholy purposes – I wonder about parallels in our time. What about trophy Bibles, gathering dust on the shelf or coffee table? What about using worship for entertainment? What about times at communion when we’re more concerned with using napkins than with the body and blood of our Lord?

I have a lot more to think about at this stage, but this is the general direction I’m heading right now. Jesus, of course, had a lot to say about judgment. But things are different after the cross than before it. So here’s my question for you: what’s the same about OT judgment and NT judgment? And what’s different?


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