December 22, 2020

Don’t Let This Attitude Bring Down Your Empire

by | Would Jesus Wear a Mask?

You can spot it in others easily enough. Politicians and sports stars, especially. That smallish swagger they think makes them big. That eye-rolling arrogance they think makes them special.

But do you see any of that in YOU? And do I see it in ME?

Because if it lurks in us, or even nearby to us, we might be in for a rude awakening—like Belshazzar, who lost his whole empire because he was, by any honest account, incredibly stupid. Pride made him that way. It often has that effect on people.

Belshazzar had it all for a guy in 539 B.C. His grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had built a glorious empire; his father, Nabonidus, was doing the hard work of leadership; and Belshazzar basically got to steward the throne. He presided over a political structure unmatched in terms of its cultural and military power—the greatest there had ever been in the world, up until that time.

And while Nebuchadnezzar learned the lesson of humility in his own generation (see Daniel 4, for details), the prevailing culture continued walking the path of arrogance. Decadence and the assumption of superiority had lured the next generation into inattentiveness.

While they were partying, the world was changing. While they were coasting on the accomplishments of yesterday, their enemies were studying up. And even when Nabonidus was out on the battlefields facing defeat, the triple walls around the city of Babylon were the ultimate trump card. Unassailable.

It was clear that the discipline, productivity, and values that made Babylon “great” were fading. Babylonians felt entitled to greatness; they were born into a world that told them so. 


Slowly, the enemies encroached.

“Not to fear, we have the walls!” And into those walls the people went, intent to wait out the threats behind their vast array of aging yet formidable defenses. Their pride clouded their vision, blinding them to the facts regarding how grave their situation actually was. In fact, it would seem that their pride actually WAS their vision—it was all they could see in front of them.

Meanwhile, the Persian army surrounded the city, no doubt earning the snickers of Babylonian watchmen high upon the impenetrable walls. No offensive could possibly succeed. And to besiege Babylon? Good luck with that!

The strategy was familiar at the time—a long-term siege to find out who could wait out the opposition into starvation or desperation. Babylon was sure they had the upper hand. The unbeatable military construct of their grandparents’ generation would protect them.



Belshazzar certainly thought so. Inside the walls he decided to host a vast party, with a thousand of his nobles, to drink and revel in the wealth of long-ago-conquered territories, and to consume all they wanted from the city’s apparently inexhaustible stockpile of food. They even got out the temple utensils from the land of Israel, ostensibly to thumb their noses at God.

Suddenly, a hand appeared and wrote something on the wall, striking immediate terror into hearts that moments prior had been laughing the evening away with old drinking buddies. But who was sober enough to understand this strange sign?

Daniel was called in to translate. He was a man among the leadership class (and a previous Hebrew slave) who had preserved his integrity in the midst of such a cultural freefall. His words quieted the room. The handwriting on the wall announced to the king that his days had come to an end, rendering the party effectively over. Not just this party, actually, but the whole Babylonian-conquer-and-control-the-world party. Over. Right now.

And it was. Just as this scene was playing out, the invading army had blocked the Euphrates River that flowed under the walls of the city, just enough to move their troops in undetected. Surprise!

The invaders found an atrophied and ineffective defense force, led by distracted, drunken, arrogant leaders who were, remember, incredibly stupid. Belshazzar and his minions could have learned and adapted and grown up to meet the challenges of their day, but their pride told them such work was unnecessary. Beneath them, even.

And that night, the Babylonian empire met an inglorious end.

Whatever our mini-empires might look like, they don’t have to crumble.

You and I don’t need to make the same mistake, with the families we love, churches we serve, businesses we operate, and nations we help lead. Whatever our mini-empires might look like, they don’t have to crumble. And you and I can walk the road of humility, which leads to life, learning, listening, and adaptation.

Pride doesn’t have to take our empire away, too.

But, will it?

Dan Jarvis is a pastor, author, husband, father, missions mobilizer, and aspiring space exploration enthusiast. He has served with Life Action in various roles for more than two decades and is convinced that the virtues and vision of Jesus are the key to changing lives for the better—on earth and in eternity.
Dan Jarvis

Dan Jarvis

Managing Editor
Dan Jarvis

Dan Jarvis

Managing Editor

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