As a result of the Israel-Hamas war, all public Christmas celebrations have been canceled in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jordan to mourn the recent suffering. However, religious services are still allowed.
More than 2,500 years ago, Daniel faced a different kind of cancellation. In Chapter 5 of the book that bears his name, Daniel is around eighty years old, and the Hebrews have been in Babylonian captivity for six decades. Wow. Sixty years of not being allowed to observe their Jewish festivals. Two generations of people who never experienced or barely remembered Shavuot, Pesach (Passover), and Sukkot. After sixty years, did they remember their history, heritage, and identity?
Here’s an irony. In Daniel Chapter 5, Belshazzar, the ruler of Babylon, was experiencing his own cancel culture as well. The country’s biggest annual shindig, a twelve-day New Year’s celebration, had not been observed for ten years. Why?
A ruler without a party
Because Belshazzar wasn’t the king of Babylon. His father, Nabonidus, was. But daddy had been off conquering parts of Arabia for ten years. Belshazzar ruled as regent—a pro tem, almost-king position. Despite all his authority, he couldn’t do one thing: hold the New Year’s feast (called Akitu). Only the king could do that. Among other observances, the annual celebration of rebirth reestablished the kingship by divine authority. It was a chicken-and-egg conundrum for Belshazzar. He wasn’t king and couldn’t be given divine authority.
What did Belshazzar do? Throw a feast for a thousand of his influencers. To prove he could throw his weight around like a king, he ordered the sacred articles from the First Temple in Jerusalem to be brought from the royal vaults. Why not, he reasoned. They’ve been gathering dust for sixty years since Nebuchadnezzar plundered them.
Belshazzar was maybe seven years old when Nebuchadnezzar died, so the young regent likely knew nothing of Nebuchadnezzar’s transformation into a Yahweh worshipper—or dismissed it as a bedtime fable.
Belshazzar is guzzling his favorite vintage from a sacred cup when the finger of God appears and chisels some words into the plaster of the palace wall. When none of Babylon’s enchanters, astrologers, or diviners can make sense of the words, someone remembers a Hebrew named Daniel can interpret dreams. Amid a huge audience, Daniel declines Belshazzar’s lavish rewards for decrypting the words on the wall and delivers the bad news of what it means. God sees everything you’ve done. He has weighed you on His scales of justice and found you deficient. Now you’ll lose your kingdom; it will be divided.
Belshazzar commanded Babylon’s homeland troops. Although he had built fortifications to protect the area, he hadn’t mobilized any troops against the encroaching Medes and Persians. They had already surrounded Babylon’s capital when Belshazzar proclaimed his party.
The night did not end well for Belshazzar or his family. He was killed; the Medes and Persians conquered and divided Babylon; Belshazzar’s young daughter, Vashti, was taken as a prize and future bride (backstory for the start of Esther’s story). Daniel lived to serve two more Babylonian kings.
How do you live out your identity?
Religious festivals are cherished parts of a people group’s culture, heritage, and identity. Seeing how Daniel conducted himself when denied the chance to celebrate ANY Jewish festival vs how Belshazzar responded to being denied the chance to celebrate the Babylonian New Year blows my mind.
Daniel responded in obedience. He served his captors while continuing to speak God’s truth in a pagan land. Contrast that with Belshazzar’s blast. Some say his party was to impress and inspire his countrymen. Maybe he was trying to ignore the day’s realities. Regardless, he responded out of pride and selfish motives—a humanistic reaction to a spiritual problem.
This begs the question, where does your identity lie? I pray it is in Christ. Countries may cancel Christmas celebrations, but no one can cancel Christ in your heart. May you enter this season with a renewed sense of awe in God’s greatness and joy in knowing how much He loves you!
Never miss a post!
What was Daniel thinking when he was summoned before Belshazzar? In my sanctified imagination, he turned to Isaiah and the Psalms:
- I call upon You, O Lord; come quickly to me … Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to any evil thing or take part in works of wickedness with men who do iniquity.” (Psalm 70:1-4)
- “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41: 13)
- “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” (Psalm 37:23, emphasis mine)
- “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.” (Psalm 57:2)