I’m thinking about Daniel on this Election Day. Daniel, the young Hebrew who was taken into Babylonian captivity, served in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar and then King Belshazzar. There are many stories about Daniel—his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, his ordeal in the lion’s den, his apocalyptic visions—the oddest of which includes an encounter with a disembodied hand and some cryptic writing on a wall.
In Daniel 5, we are told that King Belshazzar hosted a feast in which he desecrated the sacred vessels once used for temple worship in Jerusalem. At this banquet, a ghoulish hand appeared and began to write on the wall: “mene, mene, tekel, parsin” (loosely meaning: numbered, weighed, divided). After the king’s advisors failed to interpret the mysterious phrase, Daniel was called on to help.
Daniel immediately interpreted the inscription as an indictment of Belshazzar. His explanation is found in 5:25-26,
Here is what these words mean:
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
The chapter continues, “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom” (5:30). It was the end of an empire.
This is a great story for Election Day because it reminds me of two things.
First, regardless of who wins the presidential election, the days of any leader’s earthly reign are numbered. Presidents, princes and prime ministers are temporal officials, all subject to removal. Tomorrow, November 7, we’ll know who will lead this country for the next four years. After that, who can tell? In a very short time we’ll hear of politicking in Iowa and Ohio, we’ll weigh the validity of parties and candidates and we’ll decide who will be given the next chance to run the earthly empire called America.
Second, I’m reminded that God’s kingdom is very different than those of nations and states. “God has numbered the days of your reign.” Earthly kingdoms are temporal. Kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall. But God’s kingdom is eternal. The “now and not yet” has already come, is coming in an ongoing way and will continue to come, regardless of who is elected. Daniel’s role in the empire of his day is also worth paying attention to. He engaged the court and served the king, but he never abandoned his Hebrew heritage. Daniel refused to capitulate to the king or surrender his identity as a member of God’s kingdom. In fact, he very quickly spoke truth to power, an act that could have meant his death. Thus the tension: how to live as members of a nonpolitical eternal kingdom while participating in an earthly one. Daniel is one of my heroes in this regard.
The handwriting is on the wall. Whether it’s Obama or Romney, the days are numbered. Not so with God. What a grand kingdom we have the opportunity to be a part of. The King of all kings is active and working for the advancement of his kingdom in ways that political pundits and strategists will never understand.