"Tied into the Same Lifeline"#88-10
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 8, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Daniel 4-5
You've got something wrong; I'll give you one chance to fix it. My daughter Elise and I had signed up for this rock-climbing class at a local indoor rock-climbing gym, and I was taking the test to become belay certified. "Belaying," if you're not familiar with the term, it's when you tie a rope to the person who's climbing the rock, so they don't fall to their death. It's pretty important. So this class that we were taking was supposed to give us the skills and the knowledge so that we could pass the test and become belay certified. And my daughter Elise passed the test right out of the gate, no problems. She tied her knots and her belay apparatus and harness, had it all right. But her dad failed. And after I failed, Elise said to me, "It's okay, Dad, you'll, you'll get it next time. Don't worry." And I'm thinking to myself, "Who's worried? I'm not worried. You're 16 years old, and you don't even have your driver's license yet. I can pass this test."
So that night I decided I was going to go back the very next day and retake the test. And all night I'm trying to psych myself up. And I'm thinking, I'm saying to myself, "Come on, dude, you were in the military. You went through survival school and jump school and aircraft maintenance school. You can pass this test." So the next day I walk into the rock-climbing gym, and I strut up to the 24-year-old kid sitting behind the counter. His name tag says, "Danny." And I say to Danny, "Hey, I'm here to take the belay test." And he said, "Okay." So I'm showing off my self-reinforcing, double-figure eight knot, and all my knowledge, and I get to the belay device part and I show it to Danny, and he says to me, "You've got something wrong. I'll give you one chance to fix it." And it was like, someone just cut my lifeline. One minute I was in control of the situation; the next minute I'm falling. I don't know up from down, left from right, and for the second time in two days, I eat a generous portion of humble pie. I was weighed in the rock climbing balance and found wanting.
Something like this happens to the king that we meet in the Old Testament book of Daniel 5. If you've been listening along to Daniel's book with us, you'll remember that the first 4 chapters of Daniel, the main character, have focused on his interactions with the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Now this all started about 605 years before the birth of Jesus, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem. They stole vessels out of the temple, the house of God, in Jerusalem, and they brought them back to Babylon. And they also stole some people and brought them back and Daniel was one of them.
Now Daniel adapted well to the new culture. He learned the ropes pretty quickly, got promoted, got a good government job, was working directly for the king. And all this is narrated in Daniel chapters 1-4. But then there's about a 30-year gap between Daniel chapter 4 and chapter 5. At the beginning of chapter 5, there's a new king in charge. Daniel has largely been forgotten by the current Babylonian power brokers, but he's still there hanging around. He's most likely in his 70s, maybe early 80s at this point. He's been in exile for 65 of those years. And now, as an old man, he's given a new task. To help this new king eat a generous serving of humble pie for dessert at a banquet, with all his friends.
Here's how it happened.
King Belshazzar of Babylon, put on a feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. When he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the order to bring in the vessels of gold and silver. The ones his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. He gave orders for them to be brought in so that he and his nobles, his wives and his concubines could drink wine from them. So they brought in the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple, the house of God, in Jerusalem, and they drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Suddenly, there appeared the fingers of a human hand, writing on the plaster of the wall in the king's palace near the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it was writing, and the cheerful look on his face changed. His thoughts alarmed him. His legs gave out, and his knees knocked together, and he called them out to bring in the astrologers, bring in the enchanters, the soothsayers. So they came in, and the king said to these wise men of Babylon, "Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be clothed in purple with a gold chain around his neck and be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom."
But the wise men of Babylon were not able to read the writing or say what it means. And so the king was even more alarmed, and his nobles were perplexed. The queen heard the sound, the voices of the king and his nobles, and she came in to the banquet hall. And she said, "Your majesty, may you live forever. Your majesty do not let your thoughts alarm you. There is a man in your kingdom in whom there is a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, this man was found to have wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. And so your father, the King Nebuchadnezzar made him chief of all the magicians. And this man, Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar was found to have a keen mind and understanding. Moreover, he was able to interpret dreams and explain riddles and solve problems. So then let this Daniel be called, and he will tell you what the writing means."
Then Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, "You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father brought from Judah? I've heard that there is a spirit of gods in you and that you can give interpretations and solve problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple with a gold chain around your neck and be made third highest ruler in all the kingdom."
And Daniel said, "Keep your gifts for yourself, give your rewards to another. Nonetheless, I will read the writing for the king and explain what it means. Your majesty, the most high God gave your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. And all people feared him and trembled before him. Whomever he wanted, he killed. Whomever he wanted, he kept alive. Whomever he wanted, he promoted. Whomever he wanted he demoted. But when his heart became arrogant and his spirit hardened with pride, he was brought down from his kingly throne. He was driven from humankind, and his mind was changed to that of a beast until he knew that the most high God rules over the human kingdom, and sets over it anyone He pleases. But you, his son, Belshazzar did not humble your heart; although you knew all this. Instead, you lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the vessels of His house brought in so that you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines, might drink from them. You honored gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which cannot see, cannot hear, cannot understand. But you did not honor the God who in His hand holds your breath and all your ways. Therefore, He sent this hand from His presence, and this writing was inscribed and this inscription was written. And this is what the writing says, mene, mene, tekel and parsin. And the words mean numbered, weighed, and divided. God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided between the Medes and the Persians."
And Belshazzar spoke, and Daniel was clothed in purple with a gold chain around his neck and made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. And that very night Belshazzar was killed, and Darius, the Mede, received the kingdom. He was about 62 years old. The word of the Lord excerpts, Daniel 5.
When the instructor from the rock-climbing gym told me that I had something wrong. Part of me knew that this was the end. It's the kind of test where you're on your own. There's no calling for a lifeline from a friend. It's a pass-fail test, and at that moment part of me knew that it was over. But another part of me really wanted him to compromise, and that part of me was saying, "Come on! Just give me a break. Just help a brother out here. Fix it for me so that I can go home and tell my daughter that I passed the test and get on with my life." But another part of me realized that he wouldn't, and the truth is I needed him to stop me, to humble me. I needed him to fail me because this wasn't a game. That belay line would be someone's lifeline. Tied in on the other end of the rope, I would literally be holding someone's life in my hand. And so in that moment, I already knew it was over. I got what I expected, almost.
See, I was expecting something else from Danny in that moment. When he failed me, I expected that I would see on his face, a flash of contempt—contempt. People who study nonverbal communication say that one of the most quickly recognizable emotions on a person's face is contempt. A look of contempt is different than an angry look. An angry look will say to somebody I'm not happy with this situation, and I'm not happy with you. But a look of contempt says something different. A look of contempt says, I am better than you.
You've seen that look on someone's face. If someone feels like they're superior to you, you can tell it with the slightest expression: flash of an eyebrow, tightening one corner of the mouth, slowly tilting the head and raising the chin to look down their nose at you. Researchers have demonstrated that expressions of contempt are among the most destructive emotions for social relationships. For example, studies of video-recorded interaction between newly married couples found that increased micro expressions of contempt between the married couple could accurately predict that they would be divorced in less than 15 years. Expressions of contempt tell us that the person thinks that we are beneath them, that we are less than them, that we are not worthy of them, and that's the look I was expecting to see on Danny's face when he told me that I failed. But that's not what I saw.
Instead, he looked like he wanted to help. Clearly, he loved rock climbing, and he was stoked that this 40-year-old dude wanted to learn how to climb with his daughter, and he wanted us to have fun and not get hurt in the process. And so he did what any good instructor would do. He failed me. Then he corrected me, coached me, encouraged me all without a hint of contempt. And this is how we should hear Daniel's speech to King Belshazzar. Now, Daniel, in that moment could be legitimately angry, and he would have good reasons to be angry. Daniel has faithfully served the royal court of Babylon for over 60 years, and now he's watching it slowly fall off a cliff with no lifeline. Other historical sources tell us that Belshazzar's Neo-Babylonian Empire was already on the brink of collapse, on the night of this banquet. The Persian army was on its way to invade the city of Babylon, and Belshazzar probably knew it.
So this was the worst time that you could imagine for a king to be drunk at a party with his friends and, worse than that, he's drinking out of the vessels from the house of God in Jerusalem. These are the vessels that go with the Ark of the Covenant, the golden box that will melt your face off if you disrespect it. He's drinking out of those vessels. And even worse than all that, Belshazzar should know better because he's heard the story about King Nebuchadnezzar and his descent into madness under God's judgment. He should know better than to treat with contempt the God who holds his life in His hands.
So when Daniel lays down the law, yeah, he might be angry, but I don't see any contempt on Daniel's face. Because he knows that he and his people are not superior to Belshazzar and his. Later in Daniel 9, Daniel will eat his own share of humble pie. Daniel offers this gut-wrenching, heartfelt prayer on behalf of his people. Daniel has accepted that this humiliating exile that they are enduring in Babylon is part of God's justice and generous discipline. In effect, in Daniel 9, he's saying to God, You are still our only lifeline, and we are not worthy of You.
So when he has to confront and condemn an arrogant and insecure king, he can do it without a hint of contempt. Inspired by God, Daniel wrote this story also for us. The one true God is speaking to you through these words. Whoever you are, whatever you've done or not done, you keep finding ways to cut yourself off from God, your lifeline. And so do I. Maybe you try to rest yourself on supports that won't hold. Maybe you try to free climb on your own, depending on no one but yourself. Whatever it is, God refuses to stand by and watch you fall off the cliff. So what does He do? Like any good instructor, He tells you what's wrong and how it can be fixed. And He says it all without a hint of contempt—anger, yes sometimes—because He cares, and this isn't a game. Your life is literally in His hand—anger maybe, but never contempt.
There is no contempt in His voice because He is stoked to share this life with you. He wants to save you for this life, and He won't just stand there and watch you fall off that cliff. So here's the fix. It's very simple: lean back in the harness, and put your full weight on Jesus. God, doesn't look down His nose at you. Jesus, His Son, looked down the cross for you, and He gave you the only lifeline that you can trust, and the look on His face says, "You are worthy to Me."
When I left the rock-climbing gym that day, I wasn't looking forward to telling Elise that I had failed the belay test again. And when I told her, she said, "Ah, what happened?" I told her about eating that second helping of humble pie. She said, "You'll get it next time." Without contempt, God gives Himself to us, and He also gives us sisters and brothers in Christ to share in our failures. They won't always do it perfectly. Elise did admit later that she felt a teeny bit of pleasure in knowing that she had passed the test while her dad had failed—twice! But I can't hold that against her because if I were in her place, I would have felt the same.
This is how it is with people who trust in Jesus. We are no better than anyone else, but we believe, in spite of ourselves, that God in Jesus has made us worthy. He's made you worthy. And so with nothing to prove, we admit these things to each other. We don't hold them against each other, and maybe later we even laugh about them together. And then we keep climbing because in the end, we're all tied into the same lifeline. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Reflections for November 8, 2020
Title: Tied into the Same Lifeline
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, celebrating 90 years of Bringing Christ to the Nations—and the Nations to the Church. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. With us today in the studio are several friends from our podcast, "Speaking of Jesus," co-host Jessica Bordeleau, along with Chris, Chad, and Beatriz. They're going to talk about what they heard in today's text from Daniel 5.
Mike Zeigler: What was a word or a phrase that stuck with you when you heard it this time?
Jessica Bordeleau: When the queen came in the room, and the queen entered the feast. I want to talk about that.
Mike Zeigler: All right.
Chad Lakies: I think it's when Daniel recounts the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, but then he says to Belshazzar, "You, O king, have not humbled yourself. You've set yourself up against."
Chris: For me, the contrast or the interpretation of strength and humility between those two things, it just jumped out at me. It wasn't a word or phrase, but it was, as I was thinking about this whole contrast between Daniel's approach and the king—and what does it mean to be strong? And what does it mean to be humble? —was just something that kept going round and round in my head.
Mike Zeigler: All right. Let's talk about the queen.
Jessica Bordeleau: Yeah, let's talk about the queen. So she was probably the queen mother, what I was reading in commentaries. So it was probably his mom. So you're having a rocking party, and this embarrassing thing comes in. And then your mom comes in and embarrasses you further in front of your wives and concubines and the whole kingdom. I wonder what the tone of voice was when she came in and now she's like, "I'm compassionately trying to help you." Or, "Okay, punk, you haven't listened to me before, but let me tell you what happened to your dad or your grandpa." I thought that was interesting.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, I struggle with how to do her tone of voice in the rereading or the presentation.
Jessica Bordeleau: Yeah. You made her kind of snotty. I don't think she was so snarky.
Mike Zeigler: The reason I took it that way is because she didn't get invited to the banquet. So I think if I were in her position, I'd be a little apt to say like, "Well, your father ...."
Jessica Bordeleau: Do you know if she wasn't invited, or was she boycotting? She was like, "I'm not into that. That's not my ...."
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, you could definitely ... and that's the beauty ....
Jessica Bordeleau: She was wise. Maybe she was too wise to ....
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, this is the beauty of reading Scripture out loud. And I always want to commend you—read the Bible out loud with people. It's different than reading it in your mind silently to yourself. Because you have to make these decisions, and then it opens up new pathways for you. So do it: read the Bible aloud. This is the mystery and the wonder and the fullness of the Scriptures is that we have to make these decisions. We have to imagine, what's the look on her face? What's her tone? She clearly is the one who remembers. She's saying things almost exactly as that were said in chapter 4. And 30 years ago now, they've forgotten them all. But she remembers, so she's clearly the voice of wisdom here. So yeah, that's a good point.
Beatriz Hoppe: Well, and apparently she's the only one that hasn't been drinking. So she's the sober one.
Mike Zeigler: She brought up Daniel out of the ... he was in the cellar, and the way she describes Daniel is a little different than the way, when once he comes in, the language changes. So she says, "In him as a spirit of ...." It could be the spirit of the holy gods or a spirit of a holy God. It's ambiguous in the original language. But then when Belshazzar addresses Daniel, he says, "I hear there is a spirit of gods in you." So he's kind of derisive a little bit.
Jessica Bordeleau: Is it the same in Hebrew? Or is this part in the Aramaic?
Mike Zeigler: This part is all in Aramaic.
Jessica Bordeleau: Is it the same word, or is it just ....
Mike Zeigler: He just leaves out the "holy." He says, "I hear that there's a spirit of gods in you." Chad, what got you? What was the part that you said, the words? Just humbled, you didn't humble your heart. What got you?
Chad Lakies: Yeah. The story of how Nebuchadnezzar had, right, he had to eat obviously some humble pie himself. It brought him around to acknowledging once again the most high God, but Belshazzar did not. In fact, took steps very obviously in this narrative to set himself up, right, like flying in the face of the most holy God, by saying, "Oh, we're going to drink out of these sacred vessels here that are so deeply meaningful to these people." He knew what he was up to. He knew what he was asking for. And then not casually at all, but just invited everyone else in the room to join him.
Mike Zeigler: Daniel, he writes this book to people who are in a humiliated state, his own time, but it's a book that spoke to God's people in their humiliated state, wherever that is. If it was even at the time of Jesus, Daniel was a much-loved book, and in the hundreds of years leading up to the birth of Jesus. Because they still had this sense that they didn't have power in the culture. They were in a sense, still in exile, in this humiliated state, in some ways under God's judgment. And so the good news for them is that God's in control. God's got a plan. This is part of it, and stay steadfast through it. You're not lost. And that's good news for us today, too.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)