Tag Archives: Persia

God’s People, part 103: Belshazzar

Read Daniel 5

“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but Me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123Part 103: Belshazzar. In our last devotion, we discussed King Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign and how pride got the best of him. He had great potential. He was a brilliant tactician, a leader with vision, and a ruler that all of the surrounding nations feared. He was, indeed, the “first king” in his dream of a great statue. He was the golden head, the first and the greatest of the kings that the statue represented.

Yet, Nebuchadnezzar had a huge ego and allowed it to get the best of him. He believed that it was HIS power and authority that was to be feared and made the people worship the very ground he walked on. Thus, God allowed him to be humbled and reminded of who was the TRUE AUTHORITY over heaven and earth. Once the king was humbled and came to that realization and place of repentance, he was restored back to his place of authority.

Belshazzar was not of the same ilk as Nebuchadnezzar. He ruled in place of his father, Nabonidus, during his father’s prolonged abscense from the city. While he was technically king in his father’s absence, he never assumed the titles or ritual functions of kingship. Still, while his father was  not around, the crown prince Belshazzar acted as regent and in charge of domestic matters. One of the things he tried to do in his father’s absence was overseeing temple estates and renting out temple land, as well as working to restore the top position of the Babylonian god Marduk of which his father had demoted in favor of the Babylonian moon goddess.

This insight helps us to understand Belshazzar’s actions against the Jews in Babylon. The Bible tells us that the crown prince (the author of Daniel refers to him as “king”) had the plundered cups and plates of the Jewish Temple used for one of his parties. Such an act, according to Jewish law, would defile the sacred cups of the Temple. Belshazzar did not heed that warning and a message was inscribed on the wall by a ghostly, disembodied finger. It read: “Mene, mene, tekel, and Parsin”, which loosely translated to mean that the king had been judged by God, that he  was found wanting, and that his days were numbered and his kingdom would be divided.

That very night, per the Bible, Belshazzar was killed by Darius the Mede who was conquering the city on behalf of King Cyrus of Persia. Whether these events are exactly historical is beside the point; rather, what is important is the point the narrative is conveying to us. The author of Daniel wants us to know that putting other things before the LORD is a defilement of God and will lead to our destruction.

This may sound harsh; however, there is much truth in it. It is not that God is harsh or cruel, but that when we put ourselves above God we do things that end up harming others. Such actions bear unnatural consequences that ultimately come back to bring us down in the end. In our world today, there are plenty of Christians who have made an idol out of their government and its leaders. These Christians have not only put Christ second to these human leaders, but they have distorted Christ and the Gospel message to make the Gospel conform to their worldly ideologies. Woe to such people who use God as a means to their own wicked end. Let us be challenged to subject our ideologies to God’s measure, rather than subject God to the measure of our ideologies.

“The art of government is the [organization] of idolatry.” – George Bernard Shaw

Lord, help me to lay my idols to rest. You are LORD of lords and KING OF kings, and you in you alone do I place my trust and my allegiance. Amen.


Read Isaiah 45:1-8

“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

anointing_of_fresh_oilWhen you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!

I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.

Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.

What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.

“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya

Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.