Charles Simeon Commentary - Daniel 5:23 - 5:23

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Daniel 5:23 - 5:23

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Dan_5:23. The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.

WHEN we look around us, and see what iniquity prevails in the earth, we are ready to imagine that God does not notice the affairs of men, or take any interest in their conduct. But, when we open the inspired volume, we find that, on many occasions, the sins of men have been so strongly marked in their punishment, as to bear ample testimony to a superintending Providence, and to constrain us to say, “Verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth [Note: Psa_58:11.].” The judgment inflicted on Nebuchadnezzar so exactly accorded with the prediction which had been uttered respecting it, that no doubt can be entertained of the hand from whence it came. Nor was the hand of God less visible in the punishment of the impious Belshazzar. In the midst of his drunken revels, “there came forth, as it were, the fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote on the plaister of the wall where the king was sitting.” The words he could not understand: nor could any of his astrologers or soothsayers interpret them. But, on his application to Daniel, the import of them was declared unto him. The prophet first set before him, and reproved, his impiety: and then denounced the impending destruction of himself and his whole empire; which accordingly took place that very night.

The charge which is here exhibited against Belshazzar is more or less applicable to all the children of men, even to ourselves, as well as others; and will give me occasion to shew,

I.       How far our conduct has resembled his—

Belshazzar was as dependent upon God as any of his subjects could be—

[He received his breath from God; by whom also “his sold was upheld in life [Note: Psa_66:9.].” His times were altogether in God’s hands [Note: Psa_31:15.],” who could prolong or cut them short, as he saw fit. Nor was Belshazzar ignorant of this. He could not but feel his dependence on a Superior Being: and he had an evidence, in the dispensations with which his father (his grandfather) had been visited, that this Being was God.]

Yet had he not glorified God, in any part of his conduct—

[He had not acknowledged his supremacy, or regarded his authority, or rendered thanks to him for his mercies, or dreaded his displeasure. On the contrary, he had, with daring impiety, profaned the vessels of God’s sanctuary, “drinking out of them, together with his wives and concubines; and praising his gods of gold and silver, of brass and iron, of wood and stone [Note: ver. 3, 4.]” and thus provoking the Most High to jealousy, and setting him at defiance. In this, he not only “had not glorified God,” but had greatly and impiously dishonoured him.]

And we, too, like Belshazzar, are dependent on God—

[“In him we live and move and have our being [Note: Act_17:28.].” “In his hand,” says Job, “is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind [Note: Job_12:10.]:” and, “if he take away our breath, we die, and return again to our dust [Note: Psa_104:29.]. So jealous of his own honour is God, in this respect, that he characterizes himself as much by the preservation of all things, as by their first creation: “Thus saith the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein [Note: Isa_42:6.].” “He sees our ways, and counts all our steps [Note: Job_31:4.]” Nor does he leave man to walk at large without controul: “I know, O Lord,” saith the prophet, “that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps [Note: Jer_10:23.]” In a word, it is as true of us, as it was of Belshazzar, that “our breath is in God’s hands;” and “his, even under his governance, are all our ways.”]

Yet, like him, have we also forgotten to “glorify our God”—

[Though “we have known God, yet have we not glorified him as God [Note: Rom_1:21.]” We have not a “given him glory by repentance” — — — though that would have honoured him in a very especial manner [Note: Jos_7:19. Jer_13:15-16.]. Nor have we honoured him by the exercise of faith — — — though that also would have greatly redounded to his glory [Note: Rom_4:20.]. Nor have we endeavoured to honour him in a way of holy obedience — — — though our blessed Lord has so expressly told us, that by our fruitfulness in good works “his Father would be glorified [Note: Joh_15:8.]” Had we acted, in any respect, as we ought to have done, we should have laboured that “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified in us [Note: Joh_17:10. 2Th_1:12.].” But, in having altogether neglected this, we are obnoxious to the very same charge as the impious Belshazzar.]

But as our opportunities of instruction have greatly surpassed any that that unhappy monarch ever possessed, I shall go on to shew,

II.      How far our guilt has exceeded his—

“To whomsoever God has committed much, of him will much be required:” and our demerits are aggravated in proportion to the advantages which we have enjoyed. As a heavier condemnation was denounced against the cities of Bethsaida and Capernaum, because of the special mercies which they had abused, so will God regard us as more guilty than Belshazzar himself; because,

1.       Our knowledge of him has been more clear—

[It was but little that Belshazzar knew of God. He did know that Jehovah was above all gods, and that he was able either to save or to destroy, He had seen this, in the degradation to which his grandfather had been reduced, and in the mercy that had been vouchsafed unto him [Note: ver. 20–22.]: and he knew it, from the testimony which that restored monarch had borne to the honour of Jehovah [Note: Dan_4:34-37.]. But we have a revelation from God himself; a revelation, wherein he has made known to us his nature and perfections, his works and purposes. There is not any thing respecting him which we are concerned to know, which he has not clearly revealed unto us: so that it is not an unknown God that we are called to serve, but one “with whom we may acquaint ourselves, and be at peace [Note: Job_22:21.].” The precise nature of Ins will, too, he has declared unto us; so that we are informed respecting every thing which he would wish us either to forbear or do. We cannot plead ignorance in any respect: and therefore “knowing, as we have done, our Master’s will,” we have contracted greater guilt by our disobedience; and deserved a heavier punishment than he ever did, who knew it not [Note: Luk_12:47-48.].”]

2.       Our obligations to him are more abundant—

[Belshazzar was indebted to God for all the blessings both of creation and providence: but we are made partakers of the infinitely higher blessings of redemption. O! what tongue can declare the obligations we owe him for the gift of his only dear Son to die for us, and to redeem us to God by his blood? — — — This as far exceeds all other mercies, as the radiance of the noon-day sun exceeds the glimmering of a twinkling star. By the consideration of this, we should have been impelled to the most strenuous efforts in his service. The surrender of our whole selves to him, in body, soul, and spirit, has been our reasonable service. Yet have we not given to him the glory due unto his name; but have “set up idols in our hearts;” and in the whole course of our lives have “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is God over all, blessed for evermore [Note: Rom_1:25.].” What then do not we deserve at his hands? we, who “have trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of Grace?” If by this we have incurred a far sorer punishment than they did who “despised the law of Moses [Note: Heb_10:28-29.]” much more must our guilt and punishment exceed that of the impious Belshazzar.]

3.       Our responsibility to him is more manifest—

[Of a resurrection from the dead, and a future judgment, that unhappy monarch must have had a very indistinct notion. But we are as assured of these things as if they were at this moment exhibited before our eyes. We know that God has appointed a day “wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he has ordained,” even by the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has raised from the dead. We know that he will then call, not our overt acts only, but “every secret thing, into judgment;” and recompense us “according to what we have done, whether it be good or evil.” Hence we have been concerned to take especial care to our ways; and so to order them before him, that we may find acceptance with him in that day. What guilt, then, must attach to us, for our neglect of him, and for our numberless violations of his holy laws! What excuse shall we have, when we stand at his judgment-seat? Belshazzar, though he can never excuse, may palliate, his guilt, by saying, ‘Lord, I knew not what a judgment would await me:’ but we must stand self-condemned, as having set at nought our God and Judge, and, in defiance of his justice, have “treasured up for ourselves wrath against the day of wrath [Note: Rom_2:5.].]


1.       Those who are insensible of all the guilt they have contracted—

[The greater part of mankind, though they live altogether as without God in the world, are as unconcerned about their state as if there were no God to call them into judgment — — — But, Brethren, this is a most awful infatuation. You do not wonder that King Belshazzar trembled, so that “the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another, when he saw the hand-writing upon the wall: but do you not wonder at your own insensibility, when ten thousand heavier judgments are written against you in this book? And what is written against you, there is no need of a prophet to interpret: it is expressed in terms plain and intelligible to the meanest capacity. Take but that one sentence: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God [Note: Psa_9:17.].” Will you not tremble at such a word as this? Know ye assuredly. that, whether you will believe it or not, it shall be fulfilled in its season; and that, if it ever be executed upon you, it would have been “better for you that you had never been born.” You may possibly be distinguished amongst men for rank; and learning: but, if you were as great as ever Belshazzar was, yet should you find no protection from your greatness: for God’s declaration is, that “though hand join in hand,” and there were a confederacy of the whole world to protect you, “the wicked shall not pass unpunished.”]

2.       Those who are trembling for fear of the Divine judgments—

[Others may pity you because of the terror that has seized your mind: but I will congratulate you from my inmost soul. Not that terror constitutes repentance: for, in truth, it is no part of true repentance; but it is often introductory to it: and the man that is “pricked to the heart,” and led to cry out, “What shall I do?” is “not far from the kingdom of heaven.” Only let your sorrow for sin become more ingenuous, so as to feel like those of old: “We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God [Note: Jer_3:25.];” and you need not fear but that “the handwriting that is against you shall be blotted out [Note: Col_2:14.],” and “your iniquities also be blotted out as a morning cloud [Note: Isa_44:22.].” Hear what God himself has spoken for your encouragement: “To this man will I look, even to him that is of a broken and contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word [Note: Isa_66:2.].” Yes, God himself will look upon you with complacency, and “all the angels around his throne rejoice in your behalf.” Be of good comfort, then: and look to that Saviour “whose blood will cleanse you from all sin:” and fear not, but that in Him you shall be justified from all the iniquities that you have ever committed [Note: Act_13:39.].]