We all know the stories about Daniel. He was a faithful servant of the Lord during a trying time in Israel’s history. He had been taken captive when he was a teenager and lived the rest of his life in Babylon.
When we get to chap. 5, Daniel is a man in his 80s. The Babylonian Empire was on the verge of being defeated by the Medes and the Persians, but the Babylonians themselves thought they were safe in their city with its massive walls.
Amidst this setting, the king of Babylon had a feast in which he dishonored the God of Israel by using in a lavish party the vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem years before. As the party was going on, a hand appeared out of nowhere and wrote four words on a wall. None of the king’s experts could interpret what the words meant. Someone reminded him that Daniel had interpreted dreams for his grandfather many years earlier. The king called for Daniel.
Understandably, the king was afraid. He earnestly wanted to know what the words meant. As a result, he told Daniel that he would reward Daniel very richly if he interpreted them.
What were these rewards? Daniel would be clothed in purple. This indicates that he would be given some kind of royal privilege. He would also be given a gold chain for his neck. There is disagreement about what this means. It was probably some indication of power, but it definitely was financially valuable. Finally, the king told Daniel he would become the third ruler in the kingdom.
This last reward was especially noteworthy. The king in Daniel 5 is named Belshazzar. His father was a man by the name of Nabonidus, who is not named in the chapter. They were co-rulers. Evidently, Belshazzar is offering Daniel to be the head of the empire, along with himself and his father. Power and money were at Daniel’s fingertips.
Daniel tells the king that he will interpret the words for him and does so. The words basically meant that the Medes and the Persians were going to defeat the Babylonians. We are told at the end of the chapter that Belshazzar himself was killed that very night (v. 30).
Even though Daniel knew what the words meant, I love what he said to the king about the rewards the king offered him. He basically said, “Thanks, but no thanks. You can keep them.”
One could argue that Daniel did this because he knew being a ruler in Babylon would mean nothing very soon. But it certainly couldn’t hurt! Even if the Persians were going to destroy the country, his position of power would have at the very least helped him survive or escape. In addition, the golden chain, whatever it signified, would have been very valuable.
In the final analysis, Daniel’s attitude is a great picture of the value of earthly rewards. He recognized that they are temporary. This is what spiritual maturity does for a person. Whatever power, whatever riches the world offers us have no eternal value. Daniel was a man who had been faithful to the Lord for years. He did not use the wisdom God gave him to gain the world’s praise. He found himself in a situation where God was defamed. He did not want what those who were doing so offered him.
Daniel wanted the Lord’s praise. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are offered eternal rewards. The world competes for our affections and offers rewards of its own. May we have the wisdom to respond like Daniel did: “you can keep them.”