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The Handwriting is on the Wall
God’s Judgment–Daniel 5
Each one of you here today is going to be judged, and you know it. Every one of you in this room will face Jesus Christ and be evaluated. Jesus even tells Christian and non-Christian alike that the Holy Spirit gives every one of us an undeniable awareness of the absolute certainty of coming judgment. John 16:8 says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”
Throughout Biblical history, God acted in judgment. The universal flood, the tower of Babel–or how about the two female bears in 2 Kings 2 that killed 42 youths from Bethel for taunting the prophet Elisha? I wonder, don’t you, apart from God actively giving people over to their sin as described in Romans 1, if God does not actively judge today in the same manner? Are there events where God is acting in judgment? I wonder . . .
In 1908, a festival took place in Italy where an incredible immorality took place intentionally in defiance of God. The reason for having the festival was to show God that they could get away with it, that God would do nothing to them. So the citizens of Messina, Italy actually dared God in their local newspaper to show Himself, because they didn’t believe He was there. They didn’t believe He would do a thing. So they dared God to show Himself by sending an earthquake. Three days later, 84,000 people died in Messina, Italy in an earthquake.
Early in this century, the captain of the Titanic, in a characteristic show of pride in his day, said before her maiden voyage that God Himself couldn’t sink this ship. General George Armstrong Custer said the day before Little Big Horn, that he could lick the entire Sioux nation with the 7th Cavalry. Barely two decades ago before he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down, sitting in the witness stand in defense of his pornographic magazine Larry Flint said this, “If Jesus Christ was alive today, He would read Hustler magazine.” He made a phone call, went outside, and was shot.
In 1989, Romanian leader Ceausescu, after years of persecuting Christians and killing all potential threats to his power, commissioned the National Opera of Romania to produce a song in his honor, which included the words Ceausescu, is good, righteous, and holy. He wanted it premiered on his 72nd birthday, January 26, 1990. But on December 25, 1989, he and his wife were executed. Romanian Christians say he was killed because he stole the glory of God.
I believe judgment falls from time to time just to remind us that judgment will fall in the future–it is coming. Some of you are thinking–yeah, but I’m covered. Only non-Christians will get judged. I’m in Christ, I’m safe–and you are right, this is true. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) But the Bible does say each of us will be evaluated by Christ for what we have done in this life, whether good or bad. Christ will be evaluating us (2 Corinthians 5:10), “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
The Bible also teaches us, before heaven there is the promise of God’s discipline, and sometime that discipline can be very severe. Remember Ananias and Sapphira, who died in Acts 5 because they lied to the Holy Spirit? Or the Corinthians, who got sick and some died because they partook of the Lord’s Supper with unconfessed sin in their lives? Or Hymenaeus and Alexander, who where delivered over to Satan so that they might be taught not to blaspheme, in 1 Timothy 1:20. When we see the discipline and judgment of a righteous, holy God, it does remind us of the final judgment to come, and therefore motivates us this morning to be ready. Are you ready?
For the non-Christian who has not trusted Christ with your life and your eternal life, it should motivate you to submit to Christ. And for those of us who are His children, it should motivate us to live holy every single day. Are you ready to stand alone before God and give an account for your life right now, as you look at and evaluate your own life and heart?
Are you one of those who Peter talks about in 2 Peter, who basically lives with the attitude, “Where’s the promise of His coming? Hey, life’s going to go on just as it always has before–where’s the promise of His coming?” Therefore future judgment has no impact on your life.
Or are you one of those who Peter talks about in 2 Peter 3:14b, “Be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” You are diligent, literally working to the point of exhaustion to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, because you are looking for His coming, and knowing you will give an answer for your life. As you own the reality that you will face Jesus Christ, it will impact the way you live today and this week. Are you ready to give an answer for everything in your life right now? Are you up-to-date? Are you walking in the Spirit? Will you be found by Him at His coming in peace, spotless, and blameless?
Right now, picture all of us watching your life on-screen, and being able to clearly see every single thought, word, emotion, attitude, motive and action of yours from this past week.
What would we see that you are ashamed of?
What would we watch that you wish you had not said or done?
What kind of sinful attitudes would you want to erase from the tape?
What motives were sinful–what actions didn’t glorify God?
Men and women, married and single, children and adults–this is the scrutiny you are under with your Creator. God not only observes every action, attitude and word, but he also knows your thoughts and motives behind all you do. Your Creator is observing everything, and one day everything will come to judgment. In a sense, the handwriting is already on the wall.
Turn in your Bible to Daniel 5, and follow along in your outline to discover how God evaluated and ultimately judged the last king of the Babylonian empire, King Belshazzar. Picture yourself in the great city of ancient Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is the absolute monarch of Babylon in chapters 1 to 4 of Daniel, but after his death in 562 BC, the empire begins to decline quickly. Even the spiritual lessons Nebuchadnezzar had learned while king began to deteriorate as well. His decrees to honor the one true God, along with his own conversion and commitment Him were quickly forgotten.
The kings that followed Nebuchadnezzar did not learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s example–consequently it set the stage for the weakening of the Babylonian empire and the defeat of the impregnable city of Babylon. Here in chapter 5, the prophecy of Daniel 2 and 7, with the great statue and the four beasts, describing the four coming world empires is going to come true. The head of gold is going to be replaced by the breast and arms of silver. The winged lion of chapter 7 is now going to be replaced by the bear. Chapter 5 describes the end of the city of Babylon, which heralds the beginning of the Medo-Persian Empire.
Rulers during the time of Daniel
Babylon Nebuchadnezzar 605-562 B.C.
Co-regent Belshazzar 550-539
Persia Cyrus 539-530
Darius I 522-486
Daniel 5 describes the end of the Babylonian empire and the death of Belshazzar, the final king of Babylon. And through that you will see a lot of things about yourself, your family and our church.
You’ll find what kind of heart invites God’s judgment or discipline.
You’ll unearth the qualities of a life or a nation about to suffer ruin.
You’ll see the kind of attitudes that invite God’s opposition in your life.
And you’ll discover how you can experience the power of God through you.
Ask the Lord to speak to you personally and intimately through His Word, so that you might either come to Christ in salvation, or become more like Christ in sanctification.
#1 The Ball
Verse 1 says, “Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.” What’s happened in Babylon to bring us to this place? Nebuchadnezzar has died, and Daniel 5 is literally 70 years after Daniel chapter 1, so quite a bit of time has gone by.
The Belshazzar of verse 1 is co-regent (co-king) with his father, Nabonidus. They were co-rulers in Babylon as father and son (Nabonidus the father and Belshazzar the son). Nabonidus seized the throne through an assassination, then married one of Nebuchadnezzar’s daughters in order to legitimize his reign. But Nabonidus fancied himself as a warrior general–he loved to fight battles, so he was always out with the Babylonian armies taking on the growing threat of the Medes and the Persians.
While Belshazzar, the wimpy son, was in charge of the administration and defense of the great city of Babylon, by the time we reach verse 1 in 529BC, Nabonidus has just suffered a significant military defeat by the Medes and the Persians. What is worse, Nabonidus has withdrawn, retreated with what’s left of the Babylonian army, and as a result he has opened the way for the Medes and Persians to make way their way to this incredible city called Babylon and lay siege to it. By the time we read the events of Daniel 5, the Medo-Persian army has been attacking the city of Babylon for months, yet Babylon is so mighty, little progress has been made against the city.
What you find in the hearts of Belshazzar and the inhabitants of Babylon is overconfidence in their own security, as they are holding a banquet to celebrate their safety. They did not take the Medes and Persians as a serious threat, even though they had begun their conquest of the known world, and had already defeated the Babylonian army under his father, co-king Nabonidus.
Before you start rebuking Babylon for being proud, you have to put yourself in their place, and understand just how secure they really were from a human perspective. You might have been just as proud and overconfident as well. Babylon was prepared to resist any siege of their city. They had food enough for years, and the city itself was impregnable. This incredible city covered more than 3,000 acres, was surrounded by a large, deep moat filled with water, with walls that were 83-87 feet thick. The wall was actually two super-thick stone walls with dirt between, making them impossible to break, since it would give some when rammed or assaulted.
The walls were 300 to 350 feet high. Somewhat uniquely, they had chariot races on top of the wall, and because of the width, they could race four chariots wide. This meant if an enemy did somehow make it to the top of wall, they would face not only soldiers and arrows shot from towers, but the charge of cavalry and an assault from chariots. What else was amazing, they had 100 towers on this particular 11 to 13 mile wall, which provided the Babylonian military every advantage it needed to ward off any attack to the city. It seemed that the Medo-Persians had won a hollow victory.
Again as we read verse 1, the battle is currently taking place, but they decide to have a banquet. It could have been to boost morale, but it probably was just a demonstration of their feelings of invincibility, and the pride of the Babylonians in their city. Little did Belshazzar know that, despite Babylon’s fortifications, his rule was about to come to an end–which leads us to verses 2 to 4.
#2 The Gall
Apparently unmoved by Cyrus’s victory over Nabonidus, Belshazzar has this great feast. During the party, when it came time for the offering of a toast and pouring libations out to the god’s of Babylon, verse 2 says, “When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, in order that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.”
Belshazzar wants to use these vessels for drinking purposes. By using these holy vessels from God’s temple for common drinking, Belshazzar was defaming the God of Israel, and exalting himself above the true King of all kings. It was an incredibly arrogant insult, and a bold declaration, telling everyone not only are we not afraid of the Medes and Persians–we are not afraid of the God of Israel who did all those fantastic things when Nebuchadnezzar was king (like saving the three from the fiery furnace, and turning Nebuchadnezzar into the cow king for seven seasons, helping Daniel interpret the king’s dream–actually telling king Nebuchadnezzar that they would eventually be conquered by a kingdom that was made up of two nations dominated by silver, describing the Medes and Persians perfectly).
Are you getting what is going on here? This act is a rejection of Daniel’s prophecy, Daniel’s dream, and the God who gave him the interpretation. This act is in mockery of God, who told them they would eventually be conquered. They had the gall to mock God. By doing this, they are saying we are not going to be conquered. You have no power over us–our city is better than you. Simply, we are greater than you, God of Israel. Your power, wisdom, and prediction hold no power or sway over us. And in using the cups of the temple to praise the false deities of Babylon, Belshazzar was daring God to act. So the ball, led to the gall, which brings us to . . .
#3 The Wall
Verse 5 tells us the festive atmosphere of the banquet came to an end. “Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing.” In the midst of the revelry, a supernatural hand appears from God, as if to say, “I’ve had enough–judgment is going to fall.” It’s almost as if God is saying, “My cup of wrath is full,” or as He said before the flood, “My spirit shall not always strive with man.” God’s longsuffering patience has ended, judgment is now going to fall.
Immediately all drinking, feasting, dancing, singing, talking, partying and all music stops–now there is only deathly silence. Instead of joy, drunkenness, sex, defiance or pride, now there’s only fear. The hand and fingers write near the king, where ancient rooms were designed to focus on him, and where the illumination is the brightest. The location of the writing was probably right above the king, which is why he saw the back of the hand.
We know they are drinking, because the text mentions the presence of wives and concubines–they are most likely engaged in some form of immoral orgy, and suddenly, at the brightest place in the room above the king, this giant hand begins to write on the wall behind the king, scratching large, visible letters into the plaster of the wall. Ancient walls were made of brick, but in palaces they were always covered with plaster, and painted in various colorful ways–so the hand of God is scratching away the plaster, and writing a message. And everyone sees this terrifying event as it happens. They sobered up quickly, and verse 6 says, “Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together.”
Right now be a Bible teacher–interpret this verse. What would you say–do you get the idea from verse 6 that Belshazzar is just a tiny bit afraid? He’s terrified. It must have caused the musicians to put down their instruments, the dancing girls to stand motionless, the waiters to stop in their tracks, the immorality to cease, and the banquet guests to become silent with gasps of fear. Can you see the king, whose face was flushed red with wine, now ashen white with fear? Have you seen someone so afraid they turned ashen in color? The king was not afraid of the natural attack of a familiar enemy outside the walls, but he is petrified by the supernatural presence of an unfamiliar being inside the palace. Pure terror has gripped his heart. The “joints of his hips” means his strength has left him, and “his loins were weakened” may have meant he even wet himself, he’s so afraid. So the ball, led to the gall, results in the writing on the wall, now . . .
#4 The Call
When he worked up the strength, verse 7 says, “The king called aloud to bring in . . . “his counselors.” He shouted, was it, “Hey? HEY! H-E-E-E-Y?” He shouted aloud? I wonder what kind of shout it was–a crack in his voice, a high pitched shriek, or a manly, “GET THEM IN HERE”? In desperation, he calls them into his presence in order to find an interpretation to this writing, and his offer demonstrates his desperation. Verse 7 says, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me will be clothed with purple, and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.”
It is amazing this same group of advisors is around even after two failed attempts to help the king of Babylon in chapters 2 and 4. But Belshazzar was so desperate to get an answer, he called for his flawed brain trust, in order to get an answer to this crisis. But sadly, verse 8 says, “Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king.” In spite of the promise of great position with a purple robe of royalty, great wealth with a gold chain, and great power as third ruler under the father Nabonidus, the son Belshazzar, then you. In spite of that powerful motivation, the brain trust could not reveal the meaning of the writing on the wall.
This causes even greater panic in verse 9, “Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.” Can you imagine this scene–he gained a little relief when the wise men came to help, but their failure to interpret the words made him even more afraid. It is incredible that the wise men could not interpret this inscription, especially after Daniel gives the meaning, which seems so straightforward. It shows them to be foolish men. This is a reminder that the wisdom of this world is foolish–the world does not have answers, the world can’t help. You must not copy their methods, don’t imitate their ways, don’t esteem their logic, don’t embrace their techniques, and don’t follow their paths. Only God’s ways work with God’s creation, and God’s ways are only found in God’s Word.
Now look what happens in verses 10 to 12. After learning of this incident, the queen enters the scene. The queen was most likely Belshazzar’s mother. In those days, if you were the wife of the king and called the queen, you couldn’t just walk right into the king’s court and say whatever you wanted–the king could say, “Off with your head, and let’s get a new queen.” So most believe this queen is the king’s mother and Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter. She entered the banquet hall, and tells the king that Daniel can interpret the writing on the wall.
Daniel is about 80-years-old at this time. It is significant that Daniel doesn’t show up with the other wise men–why didn’t he? He could be in semi-retirement, since he is not known to Belshazzar, even though Daniel was the prime minister and chief of the wise men. Or Daniel was indifferent to the wise men–he was still willing to stand alone. Willing to stand alone as a teenager, and now willing to stand alone as a senior. Or, he could have been angry at what Belshazzar had done in mocking the one true God, by using the temple vessels as drinking glasses, so he avoided all contact with him.
We don’t know the motives, but Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter knows what kind of man Daniel is, and reminds Belshazzar that Daniel could help. Why? Verse 12 tells us, “This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned, and he will declare the interpretation.” The queen uses every possible positive adjective she could think of to describe Daniel. She tells the king he was the most intelligent, gifted, and capable man in the kingdom. What a fantastic witness–regardless of the culture, Daniel stood out as a man who could be counted on to come through when no one else could. The ball to the wall, led to the gall, then a call for help, and now . . .
#5 The Overhaul
Daniel confronted the king to overhaul him in verses 17 to 23. Daniel wasn’t impressed by all the attention given to him, and he wasn’t interested in being third ruler of the kingdom. Who wants to be third ruler of a kingdom about to end that very night? That’s like wanting to be captain’s assistant on the Titanic, or being made an officer under Custer the night before Little Big Horn. What good is that?
Can you imagine being Daniel, and saying to the monarch of the world, “You can keep your gifts, they mean nothing to me–I don’t want them, in verse 17. We desperately need men like this today–men without a price tag, who maintain a passion for Christ with the courage to speak the truth. Daniel was filled with a holy zeal to obey God and His Word. He had no interest in gifts, awards or recognition–he couldn’t be bothered.
Ask yourself: What is your price? What would it take for you to be bought? Daniel had no price. He had integrity. I challenge you to find a man like that today. Daniel was no man-pleaser. Neither was the Apostle Paul, who said in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” In another version it says, “Does this sound like I am trying to win man’s approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval. Am I trying to be popular with man? If I was trying to do so I would not be a servant of Christ.” Isn’t that good?
Daniel chose to be faithful to only one master. So Daniel promised to read the writing on the wall, but like all good preachers, he couldn’t give his message until he got his introduction out of the way. So in verses 17 to 21 he used Nebuchadnezzar as an illustration, and introduced what he was going to tell Belshazzar. He used the king’s own relative, Nebuchadnezzar, even though he was a relative through marriage, as an example of how God judges–an example of how God humbles those who are proud. Daniel tells him that Nebuchadnezzar needed to fully embrace who was actually in control of all things–not the king, but God. Daniel reminds Belshazzar that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar in a dramatic way, turning him insane, into an animal, a cow king for seven periods of time. Why? Verse 20 says, “But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne, and his glory was taken away from him.”
After that divine punishment, Nebuchadnezzar learned submission to God’s sovereignty–he learned God is in complete control. Look at the end of verse 21, “until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind, and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.” After Daniel reviews the events of Daniel chapter 4, and reminds Belshazzar of how God humbled the great Nebuchadnezzar with that amazing introduction, Daniel now confronts the king. Belshazzar should have known all these things. The king should have learned from God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar. In verses 22 and 23 Daniel points out Belshazzar’s sin, and describes the kind of actions that invite God’s discipline and judgment. How did Belshazzar sin? Three major ways . . .
First Belshazzar sinned against knowledge
Verse 22 says, “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. Belshazzar couldn’t claim he was ignorant–he couldn’t claim he didn’t know how God had dealt with Nebuchadnezzar. He knew what had happened. So Daniel tells him in effect–you sinned against light. You knew that Nebuchadnezzar eventually ascribed all things ultimately to the God of heaven. And you knew, Belshazzar, that God was responsible for breaking his pride. You knew God’s rightful demand to be worshipped, yet against that knowledge, Belshazzar, you have sinned, and have failed to humble your heart. Therefore your sin is a flagrant rebellion against knowledge. Belshazzar sinned against what he knew to be true.
The Bible tells us that to sin against knowledge is very serious. Those who know the truth, yet refuse to respond in obedience are under greater condemnation than those who have yet to hear. Remember what Jesus said about the city of Capernaum for their failure to repent, in spite of all the miraculous works Jesus had done there? He essentially said, in Matthew 10 and 11, it will be worse for you Capernaum than it will be for the city of Sodom in the day of judgment, because you refused to respond to the Word you saw and heard through my life and my lips. Isn’t that incredible?
Greater judgment is reserved for those who have heard the truth of the Gospel and refused to respond to it, than those who’ve yet to hear. Every man, woman and child is fallen in their sin and responsible before God, but those who’ve heard the Gospel are even more responsible before God. And I believe greater discipline is reserved for Christians who know the truth and yet refuse to obey it, than for those who are untaught and don’t obey. Do you remember what Jesus taught in Luke 12:47 and 48? “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” Sin against knowledge brings discipline for the Christian, and sin against knowledge brings more severe judgment for the non-Christian.
Second Belshazzar blasphemed God
Eighty-year-old Daniel is livid in verse 23, “But you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them.” Not only did Belshazzar sin against God’s light, but he intentionally and willfully blasphemed God. He proudly sought to desecrate the holy vessels of the temple of the one true God, and in doing so, was declaring their superiority to the God of Israel–we are better than you. So Belshazzar chose to mock God by putting Him down and daring Him to act. Don’t ever dare God to act.
Third Belshazzar committed idolatry
Read the rest of verse 23, “and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. [They are just expressions of you Belshazzar.] But the God in whose hand is your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.” Belshazzar’s sin had a progression to it.
First, he knew the truth and turned away from it. Second, he blasphemed the God of that truth. Third, he worshipped false gods, and gave them and himself glory, not God. As a result of Belshazzar’s sin, what happens in verse 24, “Then the hand was sent from Him, and this inscription was written out.” And there it is, written out for all to see, and Daniel finally tells all who are listening what this writing means.
#6 The Scrawl
The mysterious writing on the wall was God’s Word of judgment to this prideful king. He may have suspected that before, but now it’s confirmed, because Daniel will now interpret the writing in verse 25, “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’” Let me be clear–this is not “many, many tickle the parson.”
In verse 26, Mene—“God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.” Mene means number. We would say, “your number is up, that’s it, time’s up, no more.” Daniel says, “God who numbers the days of every person’s life and every empire’s length, says you’re finished, and to make sure you get the message, I will say it twice–mene, mene . . . numbered, numbered.
In verse 27, Tekel—“you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.” The word tekel means to be weighed and found too light. In those days, you’d place the standard of weight on one side and the commodity on the other, and that’s how you would weigh it. God says to Belshazzar, you’ve been weighed by God’s standard, and you have come up short. You’re too light. You don’t measure up–you’re too light in your moral value and your spiritual virtue. You have not honored Me, you have not given Me glory, you have sinned against knowledge and truth.
In verse 28, Peres—“your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” The root word of peres means to divide or break. The Babylonian Empire is going to be broken, then divided.
The simple message is this: numbered, numbered, too light, divided. It’s a prophesy that the kingdom will be destroyed because it didn’t measure up, and was not crying out for God’s help. They were not hungry for righteousness, there was no heart of humility before God, and they did not recognize who God was, nor seek to worship Him. They only exalted themselves. So Daniel says, “This is the end for you, Belshazzar. Your number is up.” Can you imagine how quiet things got at the ball, when they heard the meaning of the scrawl? They all knew this would lead to . . .
#7 The Fall
After Daniel had delivered the message of divine judgment, Belshazzar promoted him as he promised, but of course it was an empty advancement. Look at verse 30 to 31, “That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. 31 So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.” Under the leadership of one of Cyrus’s generals, a guy named Gubaru, the Medo-Persian military conquered Babylon that night. In fact 80 years later, the historian Herodidist recounted exactly what happened: The Medo-Persians entered Babylon through the river, which had now sunk because the Persians had diverted it to a nearby lake so as to reach midway up a man’s thigh, and thus got into the city.
This incredible walled city had the huge Euphrates River running underneath the walls at two points. And even though there were gates and walls used in the river to trap an army and destroy them before they could enter the city, because of the city-wide party, they were not prepared or aware that the Medo-Persian army had diverted the river into a lake far up river, lowering the river enough for the army to walk right underneath the wall and take the city without a fight. Had Babylon not been overconfident and been on the alert, they would have noticed the danger of a lowered river, and utterly destroyed Cyrus and the Medo-Persian army as they entered, catching them in a vulnerable position in a deadly crossfire. Had they not been proud, had they not been celebrating in their self-confidence, had they not been partying when they should have been alert, they could have wiped the Medo-Persians out.
But as the Persians made their way under the wall, the city didn’t even know they were being attacked. They took the entire wall of the city without the central part of the city even knowing that Babylon had fallen. As one historian states–“but as they were engaged in a festival continued dancing and reviling until they learned about the capture but they learned about it too certainly and too late.”
Now don’t merely be a hearer, but a Spirit-empowered doer of the Word. Don’t just listen with your ears, but act with your will. Don’t merely listen to the story, but understand who God is.
First There is a kind of heart that invites judgment
Belshazzar’s heart was given over to show off, and to put down others. He ridiculed God, robbed God’s glory, sinned against the truth, and that kind of heart invites judgment. There is also a heart that invites discipline in the lives of believers. Where is your heart today? Here are some New Testament clues.
Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Matthew 12:34, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”
Romans 6:17, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”
2 Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
How you use your time, your money, your conversations, your desire for obedience, fleeing lust and pursuing righteousness indicate where your heart is. What did the Bible just say to you? Take an honest look at your calendar, look at your bills, review today’s conversations, check your hatred of and running from sin and see if there is actually an aggressive pursuit to live like Christ Biblically, to show off His heart of love to the unlovely, to display His heart to serve others faithfully, to manifest His passion to share the Gospel with those who are lost, to manifest peace and not fear. That will be an accurate indicator of where your heart is. Like a gas gauge, these will tell you what’s in your tank. Evaluate your heart–it is going to show you to turn to for seventeen years before it finally came to an end. Why did God allow it to continue? Because of His grace . . . turn to 2 Peter 3.
God gave Belshazzar every opportunity to turn from his gods, and commit his life to the one true God. But when Belshazzar set himself up as higher than God and His Word, he was deposed, then killed. God is patient, but He will not withhold judgment forever. Second Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
He’s waiting not because He’s weak–He’s waiting because He’s gracious. He is slow so that you would come to repentance. But He will not wait forever, and when judgment comes, it will come the way it came to Babylon–suddenly and without warning. Verse 10, 11 and 14 say, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”
We dare not take God’s grace, patience and compassion for granted by living how we choose, but rather how he desires. Without Jesus Christ, you can’t live for God. Being made right with God now, and ready for heaven later does not come by making yourself good, but by coming to the cross, recognizing His death, His shed blood and His broken body was offered for your sin. He took your place, He took your punishment, He suffered for you. And because He had no sin of His own, He rose from the dead on the third day so that if you completely depend on Him by faith, and you turn from living your way to follow only His way in the Bible, He will transform you from the inside out.
You don’t become good to get to God. No, you know you are no good and exchange all that you are for all that He is, then when you are truly born again, Christ will transform you and make you good. But you can’t do it without Christ. You know what kind of sin ruins a life as well as a nation. Look at the sins of Babylon at the end: drunkenness, pleasure, madness, immorality, idolatry, blasphemy, willful rejection, unrelieved guilt, materialism, greed, impure motives and pride. When you look at Daniel, you see a different kind of fruit–you see insight, wisdom, courage, integrity, truth. If you want to know who’s walking in a path deserving judgment, Belshazzar sinned against truth, but Daniel followed the truth.
Third Never underestimate the power of one Godly life
Daniel’s highly-respected reputation as a man of God persisted, even to the end of the Babylonian Empire. You will probably never confront an earthly king, you will probably never supernaturally interpret writing on a wall, but God has miraculously internally transformed most of you, and called you to communicate His message, just like He called Daniel.
Daniel never compromised the message of God, even though he could have been killed for doing so. Daniel never compromised his position. Daniel said to the king, “Keep your presents, keep your bribes–I’m not interested.” Sometimes when we speak the truth, we might lose out on some of the goodies others get, but the people God uses are willing to sacrifice those things in order to reach others.
Daniel never compromised the hard truth in verses 22 to 24. He told Belshazzar he was a proud sinner, he was going to die. Again the people God uses will speak God’s Word, no matter what the cost.
And Daniel never compromised by giving his own opinion, but only gave God’s Word. He didn’t add anything, and he didn’t take anything away. The people God uses will speak God’s Word and leave the rest to Him. Because of Daniel’s faithfulness, God was able to use him in a mighty way to influence and confront a pagan empire. I believe God wants to use you in the same way. He wants to use you to communicate His message, and yes His message does contain judgment. It’s not “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” but, “you stand condemned before a holy God and you need to come to the cross in order to be forgiven.”
God is not looking for a perfect person to proclaim the Gospel, He is looking for a humble, dependent, forgiven sinner to share His message. He wants beggars who have found His bread to share His bread with others. Daniel was not a perfect man, but He lived in such a way no ongoing corruption was found in His life, which put on display the transforming power of God’s salvation in Christ. Let’s be those people who speak the truth, live the truth, obey the truth in such a way that Christ is honored and His message is clear.