There is a striking parallel between what Daniel faced in chapter 5 of the book that bears his name, and the conditions that believers face today. And because these things “have been written for our instruction” (Rom. 15: 4), they will help us see clearly the mistake of you and I accepting worldly honours.
The contents of Daniel 5 are well known. The children of Israel were in captivity, and Belshazzar the Babylonian king had “made a great feast to a thousand of his nobles” and was drinking wine out of the holy vessels “that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem” (vs. 1, 3). What we read next is like nothing that has ever happened before or since: “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace” (v5). Not being able to understand the writing, the king is eventually forced to call in Daniel with the promise that “if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom” (v16). It is Daniel’s reply to this that I wish to draw attention to: “Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another” (v17, my emphasis).
These were no mean gifts that Daniel was rejecting. Indeed his reply to Belshazzar might come across as rather churlish and (bearing in mind the unpredictable nature of Eastern despots) somewhat reckless. Yet despite his summary dismissal of the king’s proffered rewards, Daniel is not a rebel—he is still willing to do the kings bidding: “Yet will I read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation” (v17). Thus while Daniel does not hesitate to turn down these worldly honours, and is not afraid to express himself on the matter in blunt and uncompromising terms, he is still mindful to “Be in subjection [therefore] to every human institution for the Lord’s sake; whether to [the] king as supreme, or to rulers as sent by him” (1 Pet. 2: 13, 14).
Why then was Daniel so clear in his rejection of Belshazzar’s gifts? Why the startling rebuff: “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another” (v17)? Why indeed, when we consider that years earlier Daniel had interpreted another dream for another king and had shown no reluctance to turn down Nebuchadnezzar’s reward: “Then the king made Daniel great, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon” (Dan. 2: 48). Indeed, Daniel requests that his three friends be the recipients of the same worldly honours from Nebuchadnezzar (see v49)!
Why then the difference? The difference is just this. When Daniel stood before Nebuchadnezzar, the king and his kingdom could truly be said to be “flourishing” (Dan. 4: 5). When Daniel stood before Belshazzar, the Medes and the Persians were at the gates of Babylon. The parallel between the latter and our day is striking. In the purpose of God judgment for Belshazzar was certain. The light had been given long before, and of this the king could not be unaware: “thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom” (Dan. 2: 38, 39, my emphasis). Belshazzar had rejected that light and though the Persians had over–run the empire, he did not believe the city of Babylon itself could fall, hence the somewhat insane scene of debauchery we see in chapter 5. And is this not like the world in which we live? This world has rejected the light. This world is already judged. The execution of that judgment against this world is about to fall (“God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it”—v26). And yet despite this, this world parties on as if God didn’t exist and sin will never be brought to account! It is for this reason that Daniel is so ruthless in his dismissal of Belshazzar’s gifts.
What was the value in what Belshazzar offered? The eye of man would make a great deal of these honours, but the eye of faith sees them for what they are: transient and worthless baubles from a world that is passing. If Daniel had accepted them then he would deny the very message he had just delivered! Solemn lesson for you and me—the writing is on the wall for our world, just as much as it was for Belshazzar’s! “Third ruler in the kingdom”? The answer came quickly: “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain” (vs 16, 30).
Daniel had another reward in view, a reward that was lasting and truly valuable. I have no doubt that for many years now this faithful man, a captive far from home, had opened his windows towards Jerusalem, and “kneeled on his knees three times a day, and prayed” (Dan. 6: 10). As far as we can tell, he never went back to the land of promise. And yet God gives him a wonderful individual promise: “But do thou go thy way until the end; and thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days” (Dan. 12: 13). What were Belshazzar’s rewards compared with this? Nothing at all! And what, dear reader, are this world’s honours when compared to that place prepared above? Nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING AT ALL! The answer then of the Christian to any honours this world proffers should be: Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another.