When the prophet Daniel was an old man and King Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for more than 20 years, the king’s uber-privileged, spoiled grandson, Belshazzar, was on the throne. During an all-out rager of a party thrown by Belshazzar, a floating hand appeared and carved a message—four mysterious words—into the plaster on a wall and then disappeared.
None of the Babylonian wise men could tell Belshazzar what the message meant except Daniel, who explained to them:
Mene, mene (“numbered”) means God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and brought it to an end.
Tekel (“weighed”) means Belshazzar had been weighed on the balance and found deficient. Unlike his grandfather, Belshazzar had never humbled himself before God.
Parsin (“divided”) means Belshazzar’s kingdom had been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
Less than 50 miles away from the party, those two armies coalesced to mount an attack against Babylon, and that very night they overthrew Babylon and Belshazzar, and all the royal family died.
This story is about how God ultimately dethrones a prideful, rebellious, unjust empire, but it’s also a pattern for how God deals with prideful, rebellious people in all times and all places.
In the midst of interpreting this message, Daniel recounted what God had taught Nebuchadnezzar and how God humbled him by making him go insane for seven years and eat grass like a cow until he looked toward heaven and acknowledged that God rules.
Then Daniel said:
“But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”
– Daniel 5:22–23 NIV
Daniel identified the Temple artifacts that Belshazzar partied with: knives and plates and candlesticks that had been consecrated to the worship of God that Belshazzar used for his drunken orgy. In calling this out, Daniel gave us a glimpse into the nature of all sin: it consists of taking what God has set apart for his purposes and using it for our own.
Believe it or not, we are still tempted to “steal consecrated vessels” today. Here are three ways we do this:
1. We steal consecrated vessels by using our talents for our own purposes.
When you read the Parable of the Talents, does it strike you how Jesus called the servant who buried his talent “you wicked servant”? What wicked thing had he done? Evidently, there’s more than one way to be wicked. You can be wicked by breaking the Ten Commandments; you can also be wicked by failing to leverage your talents for God’s purposes. The first is a sin of commission; the second is one of omission.
One of the biggest myths at work in the church is that only a few of us are called to ministry. But when you accepted Jesus, you accepted the call to ministry (Matthew 4:19). To become a follower of Jesus means to take what you have and open it up like a blank check before God and say, “What purpose in your kingdom did you give me these talents for?”
To do anything other than that is stealing from your Master.
2. We steal consecrated vessels by hoarding our resources.
When Israel conquered Jericho, Joshua, the commander, gave explicit instructions from the Lord not to touch any of the spoils. They were all consecrated to God and not to be used for personal gain. A soldier named Achan took some of the spoils—some gold and a few nice pieces of clothing—and hid them in his tent. When Joshua found out, he said, “Achan, why have you stolen the devoted [holy] things?” The items weren’t holy because they were religious in nature. But God had set them apart for his purposes, and to use them for anything else was stealing.
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions” (Malachi 3:8 ESV).
Of all that God gave you, you are to give back at least the first 10 percent, and God considers failure to do that stealing. You’re misusing a consecrated thing, just like Belshazzar did with the Temple vessels and Achan did with the spoils of war.
3. We steal consecrated vessels by committing sexual sin.
The body is a sacred thing. It is made in the image of God, and for the believer, it is the temple of the Lord. God considers the use of someone else for sexual gratification outside the ways he has prescribed as misuse of a consecrated thing. And he considers it very serious, no less serious than what Belshazzar did. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
We see this, in fact, in Belshazzar’s own story. At his party were a number of concubines—essentially sex slaves. He had taken this precious, holy thing by force, without the consent of the person he was having sex with.
Sexual abuse is one of the most damaging acts a person can commit, and Belshazzar’s story gives us warning of how seriously God takes this.
The Writing on the Wall for Us All
Misuse of the consecrated things for our own purposes is something of which we are all guilty. And these are just some examples; there could be many more. Therefore, in whatever we do, even if it’s as simple as eating and drinking, we should do all of it to the glory of God. To not use every part of our body for God’s purposes and for his glory is to steal the consecrated things and misuse them for our pleasure.
To not use every part of our body for God’s purposes and for his glory is to steal the consecrated things and misuse them for our pleasure.
Mene, mene. Our days are numbered; it is appointed unto man once to die.
Tekel. None of us measure up on the divine scales over how we’ve used the time, resources, and talents God gave us for his glory and his purposes.
Parsin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.
This is the writing on the wall for all of us. But because of Jesus’ substitution, if you are in Christ, you are no longer deficient. With the eternally weighty righteousness of Christ on your side, nothing in all of eternity could ever tip the scales of justice against you.