Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. Daniel 4: 37 And you, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The God in whose power is your very breath… you have not honoured. Daniel 5: 22,23
Daniel told the truth. He told unpalatable truth to tyrants with absolute power. He interpreted their dreams, as the Lord revealed them to him, however damning. His friends told the truth when threatened with death by fire. They told the truth because the God of heaven was their very breath. In the end Nebuchadnezzar accepted the truth that came from the Most High God and his last recorded words before he disappears from the story were words of praise and worship.
But his successor didn’t seem to know Daniel, who may have been in retirement. All we know of Belshazzar is that he held a great feast, got very drunk and used the drinking vessels from the Temple to entertain his wives and girlfriends and the powerful of Babylon. And then the moving finger wrote on the plastered wall and eventually Daniel was called to face this drunk and rather scared bully and to read the cryptic signs.
So once more Daniel stands up to tell the truth. He is uncompromising, scathing in his criticism, refusing any reward. He tells the king that he has learnt nothing from his father, and that judgement is about to fall on him. The next day Belshazzar was dead and Darius the Persian was in charge.
But this is complicated truth. It is not truth of the ‘Did you break that window? Yes or no?’ type. It is truth that arises out of a close relationship with the Lord, letting God’s wisdom, God’s law, God’s character inform understanding. It is truth that is fed by a sympathetic and prejudice-free assessment of the politics and culture of the surrounding world. It is truth mulled over in prayer with close advisers. And it is truth delivered in different modes. With Nebuchadnezzar it was truth that allowed the king space to think it all through, so that eventually he was a changed man. With Belshazzar the truth was hard-hitting judgement.
How do we speak the truth?