FOCUS ON DANIEL - LESSON 3

Running the Wrong Way
Daniel 5 and 6

 

On October 25, 1964, San Francisco's Candlestick Park rocked with the sound of thousands of 49er fans cheering as their team moved down the field against a National Football League rival, the Minnesota Vikings. But their cheers suddenly stopped when a 49er halfback fumbled the ball after a hard tackle.

A Viking defender, Jim, managed to scoop up the loose ball and race toward the goal line, sixty-six yards away.

The 49er fans began cheering again. In fact, they went wild with excitement. Their roar drowned out the shouts of dismay from Jim's Viking teammates—who were trying to catch up with him. None of the 49er players stopped Jim's run to the end zone. Jim was elated, thinking he'd scored a touchdown. But then a 49er player threw his arms around him and said, "Thanks, man, for the safety." Jim, unfortunately, had run the wrong way! He'd been downed behind his own goal line and scored two points for the other team!

After recovering from his horror, Jim played hard the rest of the game, and the Vikings won 27-22. But football history will always remember Jim's wrong-way run.

On the field of life, there are really only two ways to run. We head either toward redemption or ultimate destruction. When we run toward destruction it may seem like we're running downhill. Nobody's going to force us to stop. We may even enjoy the run for a while—crowds cheer, our heart races with excitement. But how awful it will be to reach the end and discover it was all for nothing. That we were running the wrong way, away from Jesus and His cross.

Daniel chapters 5 and 6 tell a story about two individuals running through life in opposite directions. Daniel moved steadily toward the God to whom he was committed. A monarch named Belshazzar was slipping and sliding in Satan's direction. The results of their choices provide lessons for us to think about.

Belshazzar, a relative of Nebuchadnezzar, ruled as king of Babylon. On October 12, 539 B.C., he decided to host the party of all parties in his palace. The most important men of Babylon were there with their wives and mistresses. As the wine flowed freely and the senses dulled, everyone danced and frolicked. It had been about twenty-three years since King Nebuchadnezzar's death. The golden age of Babylon had been declining under his incompetent successor. And now, for this empire, the sand in the hourglass was about to run out.

While Belshazzar and his friends stumbled around in drunken stupors, something ominous was happening just outside the city walls. Darius the Mede, under cover of darkness, had surrounded Babylon with his army. The capital lay within his grasp. This would be the final conquest in a campaign the Medes and Persians had carried on for some time. Moreover, Darius' Persian counterpart, Cyrus the Great, was swallowing up more and more Babylonian territory. Now Babylon had become the proverbial mouse cornered by the cat.

Belshazzar kept partying at this moment of great peril because he felt his city was impregnable; no one could possibly break through the mighty walls of Babylon. Its gates towered over the surrounding territory; its storehouses bulged with food; and the Euphrates River, flowing through the middle of the city, provided a sure supply of water. Let the enemies come!

1. During his drunken party, what did King Belshazzar order his servants to do? (Daniel 5:2.)
    Bring musicians and dancers to the banquet hall to play and dance for his amusement.
    Bring the gold and silver utensils that had been taken from God's temple when Jerusalem was captured.
    Bring more food to replace what had been eaten already.

These gold utensils had been dedicated for use in worship, the worship of the God of heaven at His temple in Jerusalem. This haughty act of defiance swept away the king's last chance to escape disaster.

Suddenly a cry of fear rang through the hall. Belshazzar had risen to his feet and was pointing to the palace wall. "L-l-look!" he cried. The wild revelry turned to dead silence. "What is it?" someone whispered. Another horror-struck voice exclaimed, "A hand. It's a hand!"

2. What supernatural sight appeared at the height of the party? (Daniel 5:5.)
    The fingers of a man's hand were displayed against the wall.
    A brilliant light almost blinded everyone in the room.
    An angel from heaven announced that God would give the king one last opportunity to repent of his sins.

3. What happened next? (Daniel 5:5.)
    The supernatural hand wrote strange words on the wall.
    The bright light became a ball of fire that destroyed the palace.
    The angel disappeared and returned to heaven.

4. What was King Belshazzars' reaction to this supernatural event? (Daniel 5:6.)
    He ignored it and told his guests not to be alarmed because the gods of Babylon were able to protect them.
    He stopped the party immediately and went into hiding.
    He was so terrified that his face fell and his knees knocked against each other.

Belshazzar called in his wise men to interpret what was written on the wall. But they couldn't explain the strange writing. Word of the incident raced throughout the palace. When the news reached the queen, she hurried into the hall where the noisy party had been stilled. Quickly sizing up the situation, she advised Belshazzar to call for Daniel to interpret the writing.

When Daniel arrived, the king vowed to shower him with gifts and make him third in command in his kingdom if he would just tell the king what the writing meant.

5. What did Daniel say to King Belshazzar when he arrived at the hall where the party was being held? (Daniel 5:17.)
     "Keep your rewards; I will tell you what the supernatural writing means."
     "If you will promise to repent and serve the God of heaven, I will tell you what the supernatural writing means."
     "I will do my best to interpret the supernatural writing on the wall, but I can't guarantee that I will be successful."


Daniel wouldn't respond to the king's promises with flattery. He wouldn't "sugarcoat" the situation. He tells it like it is. Read verses 18-21. Here Daniel reviews God's very public attempt to persuade Belshazzar that even monarchs need to bow before the Almighty and serve Him. Throughout Babylon's rule as a world empire, God repeatedly gave the Babylonian people opportunities to understand His will and form a personal relationship with Him. But the Babylonians had hardened their hearts against God, and now there was little left to do but accept their choice—and its consequences.

6. Even though he could have learned from the example of King Nebuchadnezzar, what
     crucial mistake had Belshazzar made? (Daniel 5:22.)
    He had not made sure that there was an heir to take over the throne when he died.
    He had not humbled his heart before God.
    He had not strengthened the fortifications of the city to withstand an enemy attack.

"And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven" (vs. 23).

Belshazzar turned his back on God. He knew what was right, but he chose to run the wrong direction in life. He ran away from God.

The next few words are gripping! "The God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written" (vss. 23, 24).

Wow! God Himself had sent that particular hand to write that particular message on the wall. This powerful king must have been trembling from head to foot. Next he heard God's message.

Read verses 25-28.

What was the meaning of this writing on the wall sent directly from God?

7. The first word the supernatural hand had written on the wall was Mene. What did Daniel say this word meant? (Daniel 5:26.)
    God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.
    God will give you one more opportunity to repent.
    God will cause your first born son to die.

8. What did Daniel say the second supernatural word-Tekel-meant? (Daniel 5:27.)
    You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.
    You have been partying when you should have been ruling your kingdom with justice.
    You have been trusting to the gods of Babylon instead of the God of heaven.

9. What did Daniel say the third supernatural word-Peres-meant? (Daniel 5:28.)
    Your kingdom will be destroyed unless you repent and serve the God of heaven.
    Your kingdom has been weakened economically by your poor judgment.
    Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

10. What happened later that very same night? (Daniel 5:30.)
    handed the kingdom over to his son.
    Belshazzar was killed by the attacking armies of the Medes and Persians.
    Belshazzar repented of his sins and acknowledged the power of the God of heaven.

Historians tell us that on the night of this feast, the Medes besieging Babylon actually lowered the waters of the Euphrates. They diverted its flow through another channel they'd been secretly digging. The soldiers of Darius waded up the riverbed, passed under the city's towering walls, and poured into the streets. Soon they overwhelmed Babylon's defenders, and Medo-Persia replaced Babylon as the next world empire. It happened just as outlined in the prophecy of Daniel chapter 2. The head of gold gave way to the breast and arms of silver.

Babylon fell because it was left to its own defenses. God would not protect the city. Its citizens had been shown what was right, but they openly rebelled against God. There is an invisible line we cannot cross without suffering serious consequences. Sometimes God has to say, "Enough!" The Bible gives examples. It happened in Noah's day when a flood swept over the world. It happened in Lot's day when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone. And it will happen again in the last days of Earth's history. A time is coming when all human beings will have decided their destiny—and all decisions will be sealed forever.

Belshazzar made a decision to walk away from God. But in Daniel chapter 6, we find a very different story—Daniel's courageous loyalty to God. His decision to walk consistently in the will of God creates a stark contrast with Belshazzar's stubborn resistance to the divine plan. When Belshazzar's desires conflicted with God's will, he chose to follow his own whims. But when Daniel was tested, he made his decisions count for God. Temptations and trials don't have to oppress our spirits. They can enable us to grow and become more like Christ.

At the time of the events in chapter 6, Daniel had reached the ripe old age of about eighty-four. Here was a man whose fruitful life demonstrated that God could be a faithful source of support. The words of Isaiah the prophet were evident in his life—"Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isaiah 46:4). King Darius had appointed Daniel to a very high position in his government, similar to that of a vice president. But some of the other cabinet members became quite jealous of this Hebrew, this foreigner, and began to conspire against him. They wanted Daniel's position. These men set a trap for Daniel and waited for him to walk into it. Let's look at the highlights of the story.

11. What happened when the chief officials of the new Persian government tried to find some accusation to
     bring against the prophet Daniel? (Daniel 6:4.)
    They found that he had grown rich over the years from stealing funds from the government.
    They found no fault or error that they could use against him.
    They found that Daniel was plotting to overthrow the government of the new king, Darius.

12. They failed to find a valid accusation to bring against Daniel because: (Daniel 6:4.)
    he was faithful in all things.
    he was clever in hiding his faults.
    he had many friends who covered up his mistakes and protected him.

13. The only area of Daniel's life which his accusers thought they might find something they could use against
     him was concerning: (Daniel 6:5.)
    his government service.
    his religious observance of God's law.
    his personal financial affairs.

14. What trap did these officials design for Daniel? They persuaded the king to decree that: (Daniel 6:6-9.)
    anyone who failed to worship the lion-god of Babylon would be banished from the kingdom.
    anyone who refused to fast for thirty days would be beaten with rods.
    anyone who prayed to any god other than the king for thirty days would be thrown into a den of lions.

15. What did Daniel do when he learned about the king's decree? (Daniel 6:10, 11.)
    He disobeyed the decree and openly prayed to God three times a day just as he always did.
    He prayed secretly at night so no one would know what he was doing.
    He decided not to pray until the decree was no longer in force.

The conspirators lost no time in reporting Daniel to the king. He'd violated the royal decree and prayed to the God of heaven. The penalty: being thrown alive into a den of ravenous lions. The king felt he had no choice; he had to carry out his command. As the sentence was carried out and Daniel was thrown to the lions, the king spoke remarkable words of faith, "Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you" (vs. 16).

Have you ever had someone lie about you or set you up for a fall? How did that make you feel?

Darius had condemned someone he didn't want to condemn. Because this king knew it was terribly unfair to throw Daniel into the lions' den, he spent a sleepless night in the palace. Daniel, however, rested peacefully that night, as we shall see. This story gives us a vivid picture of what creates peace and what takes it away. Guilt and anxiety over doing wrong will always sabotage our happiness. But following God brings a sure bounty of peace—even in the midst of life's toughest moments.

Read verses 18-23 and answer the following questions.

16. What did King Darius find when he came to the lions' den the morning after Daniel had been shut
     up there with the lions all night? (Daniel 6:19-22.)
    He found Daniel's mangled body.
    He found only Daniel's torn, bloodstained robe.
    He found Daniel alive and unharmed.

17. What did Daniel say God had done for him? (Daniel 6:22.)
    He had sent an angel to shut the lions' mouths.
    He had put a supernatural wall of light between Daniel and the lions so that they couldn't reach him.
    He had sent an angel to put the lions into a deep sleep all night.

18. What reason does the Bible give for Daniel not being harmed by the lions? (Daniel 6:22.)
    God protected Daniel because he was His chosen prophet.
    Daniel was innocent of all the charges brought against him.
    Daniel claimed God's promise that nothing could harm him as long as he was following God.

19. What happened to Daniel's accusers who had laid this trap for him? (Daniel 6:24.)
    They were demoted from their positions of power and had to serve under Daniel.
    They had to ask Daniel's forgiveness and promise to allow him to worship God as he chose.
    They were thrown into the lions' den and were immediately destroyed by the lions.

What a powerful message! Daniel had faced a very difficult choice. If he prayed openly to the God of heaven, he would end up in a den of lions. But he made a decision to pray anyway. He didn't hide his faith. He didn't change his devotional habits or adjust his lifestyle. He didn't hunker down—he trusted God. Verse 10 tells us he "gave thanks" as was his custom. Faced with the prospect of being torn to pieces by lions, Daniel was still able to give thanks. Daniel wasn't looking at the danger. He was looking at God's promises. And those same promises are there for us too. They will enable us to be like Daniel.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear . . ." (Psalm 46:1, 2).

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6, 7).

Remember, there are two ways to run on the field of life. You either run toward God or away from Him. Don't think there is anything that can keep you from moving toward your heavenly Father. There's nothing so terrible that God can't fix it. He specializes in what we think is impossible! He can help us overcome any obstacle. So let us get into the good race—and fix our eyes on the good goal, on Jesus Christ who inspires our faith.

To think about: Jesus promised that He would take care of all our needs if we first seek His kingdom and right living (righteousness) and trust fully in Him. What do you want to say to Jesus?

Prayer

Father, thank You for loving me and wanting to be a part of my life. Please help me to understand Your will for my life. I need You to give me faith and trust. Thank You in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

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