Learning From Those Who Came Before Us

We are continuing in a sermon series on the book of Daniel and the tests we find there.  The test we’re going to look at today has to do with learning from those who came before you.  It takes place when Daniel is an old man.  He’s 85 years old now and he is second in command in the most powerful empire of the world.  King Nebuchadnezzar, the most power king of the most powerful empire, the Babylonian Empire, has died.  He reigned for 45 years and now his grandson, Belshazzar, is king.  Belshazzar is a terrible leader, a really terrible leader.  He’s a party boy.  He’s a spoiled brat.  All he’s interested in doing is drinking and partying with his friends.  The two major enemies of the Babylonian Empire, the Medes and the Persians, see this as an opportunity to invade Babylon and divide the empire between them.  Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great have their armies camped outside the city walls.  These walls are so high and so deep and so strong.  They cannot be scaled and they cannot be torn down.  Belshazzar is unconcerned, he’s so over confident, that he completely ignores the threat of these two major enemies and he throws a party for 1,000 of his friends.  They all show up and their having a great time, everyone is drunk and the king gets a very bad idea.  He says, “Hey, remember when my grandfather sacked Jerusalem and took all the gold and silver and precious stone utensils from the temple there.  Let’s get them out and use them.  Bad idea.  So he orders all the goblets and stuff that have been in storage for 45 years to be brought out and they begin to drink toasts to the pagan gods with them.  Very bad idea.  They took what was created to honor God and instead, they misuse it to dishonor God.  They turned something sacred into something profane.  It was a really, really bad idea as we will see.

Let me read the story to you from Daniel, chapter 5, beginning with verse one.  “King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and they all got drunk… [then] Belshazzar… gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar, his predecessor, had taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem.  He thought it would be fun to drink using these goblets intended for the worship of God… So they used the cups, laughing and making toasts to all the pagan gods and idols.  Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared in the royal banquet hall and began supernaturally writing on the plaster of the wall... The king watched the hand as it wrote.  His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.” (Daniel 5:1-6)   The translators are being kind here.  His legs becoming week and his knees knocking was a polite way of saying the king soiled himself.  This young ruler was so scared, he lost control of his bowels.  This hand without a body, writing on the wall, caused the king to lose it.

By the way, this is where the saying, “The handwriting on the wall…” comes from.  It is an idiom still used today.  When someone says, “I can see the handwriting on the wall…” it means they see a warning sign or have a premonition that something terrible is going to happen.  They’ve put two and two together and it means something bad is going to happen.

There’s a thousand people attending the party and not one of them can interpret what the hand has written.  Apparently the queen was not in the room at the time of this mysterious hand writing on the wall.  She gets word that her husband is in trouble, and she runs to him and says, “Don’t be alarmed!  Don’t look so pale!  There is a man in your kingdom…Daniel… who has a sharp mind and is filled with knowledge and understanding.  He can interpret dreams, explain the meaning of mysteries and solve difficult problem.  Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.  So Daniel was brought before the king….’” (Daniel 5:10-13)   At least the queen had learned something from those who came before her.  She remembered how wise Daniel was.  But her husband, as we will see, failed this test.  He had learned nothing from those who came before him.

I imagine that the king had been cleaned up and had sobered up before Daniel arrived.  When Daniel saw what the hand had written, he said, “The handwriting on the wall says, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.”  Of course no one knew what that meant because it was Aramaic.  This is the only phrase in all of the Old Testament where the Aramaic language is written.  Everything else was written with Hebrew words.  This is the only place in the Old Testament where Aramaic is used.  We know it as the native language, the first language, the heart language of Jesus.  But it was not a language used by the Hebrews.  Fortunately, Daniel had studied Aramaic somewhere along the way and he interpreted it for the king.  “Mene” means numbered and it means your days are numbered.  They are coming to an end.  “Tekel” means weighed and it means you have been weighed in the balance as on a scale and you have been found wanting.  You have not measured up.  Then he says “Parsin” means divided, which means your kingdom is going to be divided tonight between the Medes and the Persians and you are going to die. Daniel passes the test!  He had learned from those who came before him.  But the king had not!  This is very important.  We need to learn all we can from those who have gone before us.  The Bible says, “Always remember what you have learned.  Your education is your life, so guard it well.” (Proverbs 4:13)  Once again, Daniel passes the test and he is promoted to an even greater position of power and influence.  It was his wisdom that enabled him to be promoted.

How do we develop the wisdom that will enable us to be used by God?  How do we develop the kind of wisdom that will enable us to interpret the signs and provide guidance to others?  How do we become wise?  Let me share with you FIVE WAYS TO BECOME WISE.

FIRST, MAKE A COMMITMENT TO NEVER STOP LEARNINGThat’s a choice no one else can make for you.  You have to decide that you will never stop learning.  The Bible says, “Commit yourself to instruction; and tune in your ears to hear words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 23:12)   This is what King Belshazzar failed to do.  He stopped learning and became a party boy.  He got through school and started to just have a good time.  But learning isn’t just for kids.  Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate.  Learning isn’t just a stage of life; learning is your life!  It keeps you sharp.  The Bible says, “If the ax is dull and its edge is unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10)   God wants you to use your mind to learn something every day so you can keep sharp.  You can pray all you want for success in life.  You can dream about being successful.  But you can’t succeed in life without skill.   Skill is what brings success and skill comes from learning.

If you want to be wise and succeed in life, make the commitment to be a lifelong learner.  If you want to be a leader, in your home, in your community, in your church, in your place of employment, commit to never stop learning.  The truth is: you can never lead others any further than you are yourself. If you stop learning you’ll end up being a follower, not a leader.  The Bible says, “Do yourself a favor and learn all you can; then remember what you learn and you will prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8)

Over the years, I’ve discovered as I’ve interacted with people, that I can learn something from anybody.  It’s true!  You can learn something from anybody because we’re not all the same.  We’ve all had different experiences.  I know things you don’t know and you know things I don’t know.  We can learn something from anybody if we ask the right questions.  We can learn something from anybody if we humble ourselves and admit we don’t know everything.  The Bible says, “Pay attention to your teacher and learn all you can.” (Proverbs 23:12)   A teacher is anyone who can teach you something and that’s anyone you interact with when you ask the right questions and humble yourself to pay attention.

Here’s something I try to do when I’m interacting with someone, even a stranger.  I keep two questions in my mind as I’m interacting with them.  The first question is: How can I help them?  How can I serve them?  Maybe they need encouragement.  Maybe they need someone just to listen and offer to pray for them.  Maybe they need to know something I know that might help them.  The second question is this: What do they know that I don’t know that might help me?  What can I learn from them?  When I first started doing this it was a real effort, but now it’s become a way of life.  I’ve learned that if you ask the right questions you can learn something from anyone.  Make the commitment to never stop learning.

The SECOND way to become wise is LEARN ALL YOU CAN FROM PREVIOUS GENERATIONS; from those who came before you.  That’s another thing King Belshazzar failed to do.  His grandfather was King Nebuchadnezzar.  We learned about him last week.  Nebuchadnezzar lost his position of power as the emperor and he even lost his mind all because of his arrogance.  He refused to give God the credit for his success, so God humiliated him in order to humble him.  Belshazzar’s own grandfather had made all these mistakes and he didn’t learn a thing from it.  He failed to learn from previous generations.  That’s something God commands us to do.  The Bible says, “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and we know so little.” (Job 8:8-9)  If you want to be wise, then learn the lessons of the people who came before you.  Belshazzar was too full of pride to humble himself and learn from those who came before him and this destined him to repeat the same mistakes.

We all need to have FOUR KINDS OF PEOPLE in our lives.  First, we need MENTORS.  Mentors are the people who coach us.  They tell us how to be successful and encourage us by helping us develop the skills we will need to do what we choose to do in life. My son-in-law just competed in an Ironman competition.  When he decided he wanted to do this, he went out and got himself a coach, someone who was trained and experienced in mentoring others for such a challenge.  We all need mentors in our lives, people who can help us prepare for the challenges of life.  And we all need to be mentors to others and help them along.

Second, we need MODELS.  Models are the people who are already doing what you want to do.  They learn from them by watching how they do it.  This is the fastest way to learn how to do something.  Models are the people we watch because they’re good at what we want to be able to do.  We learn by imitating them.  Here’s the thing about models.  They can let you down.  They can mess up.  So it really is better to have models who are already dead.  Why?  Because the jury is still out on people who are alive.  Some people start out well and end up not so well.  It’s better to choose a model from history because you can see their life from beginning to end.  If you choose a model who is still living, they may crash and burn along the way which leaves you climbing the ladder of success only to find you’re leaning it against the wrong wall.

Third, we need PARTNERS.  They are the people who join us in whatever work we’re doing.  They’re in the same boat as we are and they’re rowing along with us.  Partners help us get further than we could working alone.  They are our colleagues.  They can help us, challenge us and hold us accountable to the mission of the organization.

Fourth, we all need FRIENDS.  Friends love you no matter what.  You can really mess up and they will still love you.  A friend stays with you when everyone else has walked away.  That’s how you know they’re really a friend.  They are there when you need them most.  They are there even when you don’t deserve them.

The Bible tells us we are to learn all we can from those who came before us.  We do that by asking them questions and learning from the things they did right and the things they did wrong.  How do you do that if they’re dead?  By reading biographies and autobiographies.  ALL THE LESSONS OF LIFE ARE IN THE PAST AND ALL THE OPPORTUNITIES OF LIFE ARE IN THE FUTURE.  You won’t see the opportunities of the future unless you know the lessons of the past, nor will you be able to make the most of them unless you learn from those who came before you.

So much of the Bible is stories about people’s lives, biographies and autobiographies, about real people who did real things, and they teach us powerful lessons about life, what to do and what not to do.  The Bible says. “These things occurred as examples to warn us and keep us from wanting to do the same evil things they did.  For Scripture says that we should avoid drunken parties, sexual immorality, and worshipping things that aren’t God… We should not test the Lord’s patience or grumble and complain as some did and died… These things happened as examples and were written down as a warning for us….” (1st Corinthians 10:6-11)  We are to learn the lessons of the previous generations so we can avoid the pain they went through.

THE THIRD way to become wise is to MAINTAIN A HUMBLE ATTITUDE.  You’ve got to keep a humble attitude no matter what you accomplish.  Being humble and being teachable go hand in hand.    The Bible warns, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)  Humility begins by realizing you are not God.  It helps you admit that you need God.  Humility enables you to give credit to God for your success.  The Bible says, “Reverence for the Lord is an education in itself.  You must be humble before you can ever receive honors.” (Proverbs 15:33)   That’s because the proud are unteachable.  They think they know all there is to know.  The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6b)

The FOURTH way to become wise is to REFUSE TO FILL YOUR MIND WITH GARBAGE.  People get so concerned about water pollution and air pollution, and we should be.  We are to be stewards of the earth and care for it.  But those very people often completely unconcerned with the pollution they pour into their minds.  They are totally unconcerned with the concepts, the words, the thoughts, the images they pollute their minds with from television, movies, books, magazines and especially the internet.  What you feed your mind is just as important as what you feed your body.  The Bible says, “A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash.” (Proverbs 15:14)

There are FOUR TYPES OF CONTENT you can feed on.  The FIRST is POISONIt will destroy you and your relationships.  It will degrade you and others.  It will defeat you.  Pornography is a poison.  Don’t fill your mind with it.  Stay away from it.  Hateful ideologies are poison.   Run from them.  See the destruction and pain they cause around the world.  SECOND is JUNK FOOD.  That’s the worthless information and knowledge we fill our minds with.  Most of the entertainment industry qualifies as junk food.  It is the equivalent of mental Twinkies.  There’s no nutritional value.  You can feed on mental junk food, but you won’t become wise on it.   THIRD is BRAIN FOOD.  That’s the good stuff.  That includes the sciences, math, history, English and geography.  That makes you well educated and well rounded.  The FOURTH is SUPER FOOD.  That’s what we get from the Bible.  It can teach you stuff you’re not going to get anywhere else.  It answers the really big questions like Who am I? Where did I come from?  Where am I going? What is the meaning of my existence?  Is there a purpose to my life?  Am I of value?  Am I significant?  The reason you might say, “I don’t have much of an appetite for reading the Bible,” is because you’ve filled up on junk food!  Some of us need less time on Facebook and more time with our face in the Book.

FIFTH, if you want to be wise, DON’T FAIL TO LEARN FROM WHAT YOU already KNOWThere’s a big difference between knowing and putting into practice what we know.  When Daniel was called on to interpret the handwriting on the wall, he flat out told the king, “King Belshazzar, even though you KNEW all that happened to your [grand]father, you didn’t LEARN from his life and you still refused to humble yourself [before God] who rules from heaven.” (Daniel 5:22)


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