An Effigy of Excess

“King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.”— Daniel 5:1–4 (NIV)

When you think of excess or over-indulgence, what comes to mind? I think of King Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar (he is called “father” in the verse in the same way that Abraham is called father by the Jews; it was a term used for ancestors), and over a thousand of his closest royal and “noble” buddies who threw a lavish, drunken feast to honor a host of false gods while countless subjects of the Babylonian Empire lived in oppression. Theologian Joseph Barnes wrote, “As he was the lord of the feast, and as all that occurred pertained primarily to him, the design is undoubtedly to describe his conduct, and to show the effect which the drinking of wine had on him. He drank it in the most public manner, setting an example to his lords, and evidently drinking it to great excess.”

On the surface, this scene epitomizes vanity, pride, and gluttony. And yet, somehow this display of the sinful and disgusting self-indulgence of mankind isn’t even the worst part! The worst part is that Belshazzar defiled the articles of the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. This king mocked the same Most High God that his grandfather was thoroughly humbled by. But as we see later, he had no interest in the hard-learned lessons his grandfather learned. He took this occasion to glorify himself and his pagan gods.

It all reminds me of Romans 1:21–23 (NIV), where Paul says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” And so, what did God do? “Therefore, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts” (Romans 1:24 NIV), which is why “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1:18–19 NIV). The wrath of God would soon be poured out upon Belshazzar and his friends, and upon this soon-to-be-extinct empire.

So, what’s the lesson? Walk in humility. Vanity, pride, and a life of self-indulgence is not God’s way and it’s in every sense sinful and detestable to Him. Lift up His name, live as Jesus did, and walk by the Spirit in humility, as a servant, because as we saw with Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, the proud will always fall and be humbled. Do not indulge the flesh, instead satisfy the Spirit! There is much spiritual blessing and fulfillment in it.

DIG: What modern examples of self-indulgence and excess can you think of? How have you seen this in your own life or the lives of people around you?

DISCOVER: What steps can you take to keep yourself humble?

DO: Today, pray for a humble heart. Pray the Lord purifies you of any pride. Ask the Lord to forgive you for any self-indulgence and vanity. Ask Him to help you keep your eyes firmly fixed on Him!