Thursday, 17 November 2011

Belshazzar’s Feast - Seal Theme Getting on and Falling out – sometimes we don’t see that what we are doing is hurting others.

Props(Optional): Some ornamental looking metal cups, plates, bowls, candlesticks etc on a table, and a sack or rubbish bag to put them in. OHP of the writing on the wall – mene mene tekel parsin and a pointing finger.

This is a story from the Old Testament. Once, long ago, the people who wrote the Bible, the Israelites, had been conquered by the king of Babylon. His soldiers had smashed their city of Jerusalem to bits and destroyed the Temple where they worshipped God as well. The soldiers had even stolen all the wonderful treasure from the Temple – the gold and silver cups and candlesticks, all the things they used in their worship. These weren’t just beautiful things, they were very special, sacred, holy. The people of Israel cared about these things, because they used them for worship and for prayer. But the Babylonians didn’t care about that. Put the cups etc in a sack.  They took the treasure, and the people, far away to Babylon where the people were made to work for them as slaves.

Many years later, they were still there, and a new king was on the throne in Babylon, a king called Belshazzar. Belshazzar was a great king, and he knew it. He had lots of power, lots of money and he thought he could do exactly what he wanted – so he did. He didn’t care whether how anyone felt or what anyone thought, except him.

One day Belshazzar decided to have a party. It would be the biggest, best party anyone had ever had. He invited a thousand people. He ordered wine and food to be brought. The servants piled the food on the tables till they were groaning under the weight. Belshazzar sat down with his guests and began to drink and eat. But as he looked around he thought to himself that the feast could look even grander than it did. What it needed was a bit more gold, a bit more silver. “I know,” he thought. “We could use all those gold and silver cups we took from the Temple in Jerusalem, and the candlestands to light the hall, the ones the Israelites used in their worship.” And he ordered them to be brought up from the treasury. And he gave out the cups to people to use at the party, just as if they were ordinary things. He could do what he wanted – he was king, after all. He was the boss of everyone.

The king sat down again to drink and to eat. But then he noticed something on the wall opposite, something very strange. He could see a hand, just a hand, writing something on the wall. And this is what it wrote. (reveal the words on an OHP – mene mene tekel parsin)
And the king thought, “What!?” . What did these strange words mean? The king had more idea than we do, because they were words that were in the language he spoke. He knew that they were words that were used for weighing and measuring things – just like we use grams and kilogrammes, centimetres and metres. But he still couldn’t understand what this strange message meant, and he knew it must mean something important or it wouldn’t have appeared like this.

He sent for all his wise men and magicians and advisers. “I’ll give you fine clothes and lots of money and power if you can tell me what this means”. They all scratched their heads and thought hard- they wanted the clothes and money and power he’d promised -  but they couldn’t understand the words at all.

Then the Queen had an idea. “There is a man who your father, the old king,  used to talk to,” she said. “He used to say that he was very wise – perhaps you should ask him?  He is one of the people who came from Jerusalem, and his name is Daniel.”

So the king sent for Daniel. “I’ll give you fine clothes and lots of money and power if you can tell me what this message means”. “I don’t want your fine clothes, or your money or power,” said Daniel, “but I can tell you what this means. It is a message from God, the God of Israel, the God who was worshipped in Jerusalem in the Temple, whose cups and plates and bowls you have stolen and are using here as if they were just any old dishes, whose people you have made into slaves. This message says that God has seen what you have done, how you have treated people. He has weighed you up, measured you – not on the outside, but on the inside – he’s had a good look at you, and he isn’t pleased with what he sees. You have treated people badly. You didn’t think it mattered what you did, but you were wrong. There’s going to be trouble coming to you, and you aren’t going to be king anymore.”

And Belshazzar knew suddenly that Daniel was right. He had thought that it just didn’t matter what he did. It didn’t matter if he hurt people or treated them wrong. Nothing would happen to him – he was the king.

And that very night, a foreign army attacked Babylon, and a new king took over, and that was the end of Belshazzar. He discovered that even a king has to think about what he’s doing and change if he is wrong.

  • What do you think about that story?

People sometimes talk today about seeing “the writing on the wall”– it is this story it comes from. They mean that they can see signs that something is going to turn out badly – it might seem fine at the moment, but there’s going to be trouble. If people are being mean to each other in small ways, it will probably end up in a fight – you can see it coming, the writing’s on the wall, we say. It might not seem like anything very big or important, but in the end it will turn out to matter. It’s a bit like having your name on the “sad side”. When that happens you know you really need to think carefully about what  you’ve done and try to change, because it matters.

  • Thinking about that story, I wonder what we should pray about today?

Pray ? that we will see when we need to change and do things differently – small things matter. We can’t just do what we want and expect life to go on smoothly.

***The children were very still at the end – I wondered whether they had expected a happy ending, and were a bit shocked that it didn’t have one. It was important to emphasize in the time of prayer at the end that God forgives us when we do wrong so we can start again.***

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