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The God Who Holds Our
Breath and Owns Our Ways


Belshazzar

by Dennis Pollock

When we think of the prophet Daniel, we usually think about his night in the lions’ den, and God’s miraculous deliverance. But there is another story in this venerable prophet’s life which is also quite dramatic. I am speaking of the “handwriting on the wall” incident which occurred under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s descendant, Belshazzar. In this study I want to focus particularly on a short but powerful statement Daniel makes to the ungodly Babylonian king named Belshazzar, a declaration which has tremendous ramifications for every one of us.

First the background: King Belshazzar was in the mood for a party, and being the king that he was, he wanted to do it in a big way. The Bible tells us that he invited one thousand of his leading officials, along with his nearly uncountable harem of wives and concubines, and provided them with lots of wine. Strangely, all this revelry was going on while they were being besieged by an invading army of the Medes and the Persians. Apparently the king was certain no army could ever penetrate the mammoth walls around the city which had been built for such a time as this.

At some point in the festivities Belshazzar remembered how his grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar, had taken all the beautiful gold and silver articles associated with the fabulous temple in Jerusalem, when they had conquered the Jewish capital. These items had been stored away, gathering dust. He thought it might be fun to have these gold and silver vessels brought to his party, and used as drinking glasses.

Handwriting on the Wall

These vessels, designed for the holy temple of YHWH, the God of Israel, were collected, and they were made to serve as wine glasses, while the Babylonians drank themselves into a stupor, and made toasts to their own idol gods. Suddenly, a mysterious sight appeared. A disembodied hand was seen writing some strange words on the wall, which stopped the king in his tracks and struck his heart with absolute terror. When the hand disappeared the kings’ counselors were called to interpret the strange words. None could give a satisfactory explanation.

Then the queen, chief among the king’s wives, remembered Daniel, who had served other administrations with distinction, and had a reputation for being a bit of a mystic. At her urging, the king called Daniel to come and explain the meaning of this fearful phenomenon. By now Daniel was an old man, at least in his seventies, but his mental acuity and spiritual insight were razor sharp. He immediately perceived the situation, and understood God’s message.

He reminded King Belshazzar of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar, who had once lost his mind for seven years due to his proud assumption that his life’s accomplishments had been achieved by his own power and energy, failing to recognize that all that we have is a gift from God. After this brief history lesson, Daniel turned to the present situation, declaring:

But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. (Daniel 5:22, 23)

Daniel will go on to explain the mysterious words on the wall, and prophesy that Belshazzar will lose his kingdom to the Medes and Persians, which happened that very night. It turned out that while Belshazzar was partying and drinking, the Medes and Persians were digging their way under the city walls, and Belshazzar would be killed before the morning light.

But for the purpose of this study we are going to turn our attention away from the party, and focus on a few simple words Daniel used to emphasize just how foolish the king was to defy the God of Israel. The words are these: “…and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.” Daniel is telling this arrogant king that it is not at all smart to mock the very One who controls even the most minute details of your life and who determines whether you will live one more minute or fifty more years. Ridicule the idol gods if you will, mock the religions and worship practices of your neighbors if you please, but whatever you do, show respect for the God of Israel, who, as your grandfather discovered, “rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”

A Matter of Dependence

Daniel is giving two very practical reasons why Belshazzar, and for that matter, all the rest of us, should show respect and honor for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. First is the fact that He holds our breath in His hand. Men and women have many needs in our short lives, but the most fundamental need of all is breath. We can live in rags if we have to. Some people manage to survive in a homeless condition for years, sleeping in shelters, on park benches, or under bridges. Food is essential, but people can often stay alive with the barest of provisions for years. And even if food is entirely take away from us, most of us would live at least several weeks. Poverty stricken people have survived frigid winters without coats and jackets. And hermits sometimes live for decades without friends. But the one thing we all need every day, every hour, every minute, and even every few seconds is air. Deprive a man of breath, and within seconds he becomes miserable and all his attention is quickly focused on one thing: getting that next breath. Within two minutes most of us would pass out, and within a minute or two more we would be dead.

In terms of the physical needs of men and women, breath is the gold medal winner; breath surpasses and transcends every other need we will ever have. And this is precisely what Daniel reminded proud king Belshazzar, and what we must remember today – that the God who created you holds your breath in His hand. Ultimately it is not how much time you spend exercising at the gym, or how many vegetables you eat, or how carefully you watch your carbohydrates, or how many push-ups you can do, or how fanatically you control your weight – it is God who will determine whether you live for four or five more decades, or whether your loved ones will be saying nice things over your gravesite a week from now, and then going back to the church to eat potato salad and drink iced tea!

As so many abrasive employees who have been unceremoniously fired have discovered, it is not smart to offend the one who holds the reigns over your life and destiny. And God, our Creator, is the Boss of bosses and the upholder of every one of our lives. We live at His good pleasure. We take our next breath, wake up the next morning, pay our next house payment, eat our next meal, enjoy our next family outing, and live to attend our children’s weddings because God has said a divine, “Yes,” to us. And should His “Yes” turn to a “No” we are done, finished… game over.

EarthAt one point in the Scriptures God seems almost puzzled that men and women don’t get this. In Jeremiah we read: “Do you not fear Me?” says the LORD. “Will you not tremble at My presence?” (Jeremiah 5:22). To look at the matter rationally, one might wonder, “How could anyone not show respect and even a bit of fear at offending our Almighty Creator, who is so fully capable of either blessing us in amazing ways, or judging us in terrifying ones?” Isaiah describes God’s greatness, declaring:

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He brings the princes to nothing;
He makes the judges of the earth useless. (Isaiah 40:22, 23)

What we are talking about here is the greatness and the sovereignty of God, and man’s total and absolute dependence upon Him. It is not that Christians are dependent upon Him, and the others are independent. All humanity is dependent upon Him: saints and sinners, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and all the rest. The only difference is that there are some people in this world who know this full well, but the vast majority go through life blissfully ignorant. Naively assuming that their success is their own, their long lives are due to their health habits, and their prosperity comes from diligently applying a few principles they learned at some motivational course, they spend their years offending the One who has graciously showered His blessings even upon those who barely acknowledge His existence.

…Who Owns Our Ways

Not only does God hold our breath in His hand; He owns our ways – all of them! This means that every path we take, every decision we make, every course direction we initiate, every person we meet, every business opportunity that presents itself, the person we choose for a spouse, the children that are born to us, the city we were born in, the city in which we currently live, and the city where we will take our last breath – all of this and infinitely more have all been vetted, approved, and allowed by our sovereign Creator. No matter how much we try to assure ourselves that we are acting “independently,” the truth is that our every step, our every little drive to the corner grocery store, our interactions with others, our detours and distractions are all ordered and directed by the God “who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). The Bible leaves us no wiggle room on this matter:

  1. A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
  2. There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel–that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
  3. Not one (sparrow) falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. (Matthew 10:29)


In the book of Revelation we are told of ten kings who will yield their kingdoms to the antichrist figure who will arise in the last days. Yet even in this act of surrendering the sovereignty of their nations to this vile, evil man, God’s purposes are at work. We are told in Scripture: “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17).

The Way of the Cross

This is the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One we depend on continually for our every breath, and who directs every step our feet take, and every turn of the wheels as we drive our cars. Our God is surely an awesome God! And for those of us who are in Christ, we look to Him for more than merely our breath and our lives. We also look to Him continually for our forgiveness and justification. Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been given not merely a few decades in which to live and enjoy ourselves, but an eternity. He who “works all things according to the counsel of His will” has sovereignly determined that “having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” we should be forgiven and accepted in Jesus Christ, and should live together with Him in a state of happiness and joy throughout the endless ages of eternity.

He who owns all our ways has made a way for us to come to Jesus and be eternally saved. This was not a last minute, hastily arranged plan by God, desperately attempting to salvage some good out of an unforeseen fall by Adam and Eve. Rather the Bible tells us, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). The God who holds our breath in His hand has breathed His own breath of life into all who come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ!



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