is more important than ignorance.

Daniel 5:1–4

Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which has been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.

What’s up with this in-your-face desecration of the treasures of the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego?

As a child, Belshazzar should have heard the stories about what happened to Grandpa Nebuchadnezzar1. Heck, we’re reading about them thousands of years later. That kind of family history doesn’t get ignored.

Except that it did. Belshazzar barely knows anything about Daniel. That seems impossible, but the same thing happened to Joseph in Egypt. A new pharaoh came along and suddenly Joseph was a nobody.

We live in an information age. Gutenberg made information plentiful and thus more appreciated. We don’t just hear stories about our ancestors, we read them.

People also now live long enough to spend time with their grandchildren. It was only a couple of centuries ago that the average lifespan worldwide was less than 30 years. (See the purple line on this graph.)

Belshazzar may not have even met Nebuchadnezzar. That would explain a lot.

Belshazzar’s arrogance is more important than his ignorance. He’s showing off to a thousand of his lords here. The temple artifacts are valuable and were stored somewhere secure, yet he treats them like common pottery, letting his lords, his wives, and his concubines drink from them. Even his concubines?

Lastly, and more specifically insulting, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. This all adds up to something very different from the errors Nebuchadnezzar made. He had a false understanding of who God is, but he wasn’t hostile and arrogant about it.

St. Jerome noted that many see this as Belshazzar celebrating the end of Jeremiah’s prophesied 70-year captivity. Since the Jews are still captive, he’s mocking that prophesy’s failure.

Hang on there Belshazzar. God will confirm Jeremiah’s prophesy in just a moment.


1The Aramaic word that’s translated as “father” here can mean “ancestor.” Nebuchadnezzar was either his grandfather or great-grandfather. Belshazzar’s father was Nabonidus.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.