SEEING THE HANDWRITING ON THE WALL
Daniel 5: 2 – 30
On a balmy Saturday morning in January, an alert warning of nuclear doom was erroneously sent to millions of people across the state of Hawaii.
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."
Those were the words that flashed on cell phones and televisions screens across the state, the result of a mistake by an employee of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who selected the wrong option in a text-based dropdown menu.
Though the agency eventually issued a correction,
residents and tourists,
as well as Hawaiian natives tracking the impending disaster on the mainland, in real-time on social media,
criticized the government for taking 38 minutes to issue the retraction.
In 1883, the greatest volcanic explosion in modern history took place. Krakatoa, a volcano in Indonesia, exploded and shot 6 cubic miles of debris 24 miles up into the stratosphere.
Its shock wave traveled around the world 7 times, and its debris fell more than 2000 miles away.
The official death toll – over 90,000 people. The sky was so blackened from the clouds of debris that the sun was blocked from the sky for the next 24 hours …as far away as New England.
At the time of Krakatoa’s explosion, the Captain of a nearby British sailing ship wrote these words in his log:
“I am writing this blind in pitch darkness. We are under continual rain of pumice-stone and dust.
The explosions are so violent that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered.... I am convinced that the Day of Judgment has come.”
How many of you had a chance to see the Solar Eclipse that occurred 5 years ago on August of 2017.
My daughter Megan said that where they were at the solar eclipse made the sky so dark that they could see the stars in the sky and the temperature dropped 25 degrees during the eclipse.
The Eclipse had a lot of people excited and partying...
Someone noted immediately following the events of the solar eclipse that “The festive nature regarding the eclipse brings to my mind the Babylonian King Belshazzar who threw a drunken feast the night the Medes and Persians crept under the city gate.”
It seems that these folks were seeing the eclipse as being “the handwriting on the wall”.
Eclipses are NOT rare...
but hands writing stuff on the wall – that’s pretty rare.
Let’s consider a little background for our text today.
Babylon was a wealthy kingdom and the city was considered insurmountable to attack.
Greek historian “He-row-do-tus” claimed that "Babylon surpassed in wonder any city in the known world" and he specifically praised the walls which he said were 56 miles long,
80 feet thick, and 320 feet high.
There was no way that any foreign power was going to take their city.
But in the days of king Belshazzar.
Babylon was being threatened from the Empire of the Medes and Persians and war was constantly on the borders. And, that enemy was marching toward Babylon itself.
But Belshazzar was convinced that Babylon WOULD NOT fall to these enemies. Belshazzar’s army was too mighty, his walls too imposing, and his nation had dominated this region for nearly 100 years. It was just not going to happen!!!
In fact, Belshazzar was SO convinced that there was no power that could stand against his nation’s might… that he throws a party.
“King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.
In Daniel 5:1-4 we read : “Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.”
Notice – the King was holding a feast to honor “the gods of silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone”. But he didn’t take THEIR vessels to party with. Noooo. Instead, he deliberately calls for the vessels of gold and silver that came from the Temple of Jerusalem.
Now, why would he do that???
Well, apparently he did it DELIBERATELY. When Daniel appeared before Belshazzar he tells us what was going on:
“O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.
And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him.
Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled.
But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.
He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys.
He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.
And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this.”
What was Daniel saying?
He was saying that Belshazzar had deliberately mocked the God of Israel because he was ashamed of his father.
He knew all the stories - he knew how Nebuchadnezzar had been bought low by Israel’s God... and he was embarrassed by it.
So now – faced with an impending attack by an enemy army - Belshazzar is making an open declaration that he not only rejects any threat by the Medes and the Persians
but he ALSO rejects the supposed power of Daniel’s God.
Belshazzar is going to prove that he’s too powerful to be intimidated by some foreign God.
He doesn’t want to bow down to a God that says he has to change his life –
to a God who says he has to be humble rather than proud.
Because that is the constant message of this God of Israel.
The Bible tells us in James 4:6 "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
You know... that’s why a lot of people reject God. They don’t want God to be in charge of their lives, and they don’t really want to change their lives all that much.
George Orwell once observed: "On the whole… human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time."
And that’s what many in this world want. They don’t want to change. They want God to stay OVER THERE. They don’t want His morality. They don’t want Him to be in control. THEY want to be in control
And after a while God says FINE.
You want me off your back,
you want me out of your life,
you don’t want me controlling your life –
we can do that.
But there’s a price to be paid. And the price is that you will be storing up wrath for the day of the judgment.
Romans 2:5 says “... because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
And that’s pretty much what happened with Belshazzar.
Daniel tells him in verses 24 – 28 “Then from God’s presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed.
And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Now, I’m not going to go into great detail on what those words meant. (One, because I CAN’T). 😊
All we need to know is that Belshazzar rejected God and God was sending a message:
Belshazzar had been weighed in the balances and was found wanting, his kingdom was brought to an end,
and his kingdom was to be divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
The wrath of God had descended upon Babylon.
That very night in 539 BC the Medes and Persians conquered the city. They didn’t have to break down the mighty walls of Babylon. Instead they simply diverted the Euphrates river that flowed under the walls and walked into the city on the riverbed.
And verse 30 tells us “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.”
The point is...
there comes a time when God’s patience runs out.
C.S. Lewis once observed: “There are two kinds of people:
Those who say to God: ‘Thy will be done,’
And those to whom God says: ‘All right, then - have it your way’”
You REALLY don’t want to be part of that 2nd group.
Back in the 1800’s Knowles Shaw wrote a hymn about this story
“See the brave captive Daniel, as he stood before the throng,
And rebuked the haughty monarch for his mighty deeds of wrong;
As he read out the writing, 'twas the doom of one and all,
For the kingdom now was finished - said the hand upon the wall.
So our deeds are recorded, there's a Hand that's writing now;
Sinner, give yourself to Jesus, and before His cross to bow;
For the day is fast approaching, it must come to one and all,
When the sinner's condemnation will be written on the wall.”
But now wait a minute!!!
I thought God was a God of forgiveness and mercy.
Isn’t God a God of forgiveness and mercy?
Of course He is!!!
2 Peter 3:9 tells us “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
But the fact of the matter is... there will come a time when people WILL perish. And they’ll perish because they just gave lip service to God. They saw the handwriting on the wall and they squirmed. They sensed the pain of impending judgment and they were sorrowful. But when it came right down to listening to God and what he expects from us... they didn’t really want to change
2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Belshazzar reflected a “worldly grief”. We’re told that when the hand writes a mysterious message on the wall and he is frightened. Daniel 5:6 says
“Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together”
But then the oddest thing takes place. As soon as Daniel interprets the message it seems that Belshazzar goes back into his “party mode”.
Verse 29 tells us that As soon as Daniel tells the King that his Kingdom is about to be destroyed “Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
What’s going on here? Why this big shift in attitude?
Well the King is trying to buy God off. He’s thinking
“If I reward this servant of God - if I clothe him in purple and give him a fancy gold necklace and say nice things about him –
maybe God will realize I’m not such a bad guy after all.
Essentially Belshazzar was trying to appease God with trinkets. He had no intention of changing his lifestyle or humbling himself to God. He just wanted to pay the bill, leave a tip, and then move on with his life.
It was the same way when Krakatoa ... which we mentioned in the beginning of the sermon ... exploded. The skies were so dark in New England that people believed it was the end of the world. According to one source “At the very start, people began to gather in small groups to question what was happening.
Slowly, people began to make their way to the Churches. They say that by twelve noon every Church in New England was filled to overflowing with people on their knees crying out to God. There were cries for mercy, people begging for forgiveness and others confessing their sins. The Churches were full late into the night”.
But, the next day when the sun rose again in the sky...
the churches weren’t nearly as full. Many people no longer went to their knees in repentance and confession. Things “got back to normal” because now ...without the threat of impending doom... they could go back to the idea that God wasn’t that important anymore. God was “OVER THERE” and they were “OVER HERE”.
But those who did that didn’t seem to realize that they were still under judgment.
I once overheard a sales lady talking on the phone trying to recruit an “in home rep” for her business. And as I was eavesdropping on the conversation something clicked for me.
So I began to write down the questions she asked the prospective rep:
• Are you in this for fun?
• OR are you in this to make some REAL money?
• What would you have to make to be happy?
• (And) How many hours a week would you be committed to the business?
Now we’ve all heard that kind of spiel dozens of times before. Essentially she was asking the recruit –
"How much is this worth to you?
Does it matter to you?"
And that’s EXACTLY what God constantly asks us:
how much is this relationship with me worth to you?
Are you just here to play at Christianity or are you really serious about wanting to spend eternity with Me in heaven?
Now here’s the deal: Many people read this tale of the “handwriting on the wall” and they think it’s a cool story. It’s in a lot of children’s Bibles and folks remember it from Sunday School classes... but this story wasn’t just written down for your entertainment. God placed this story in His Bible because He wanted to remind us that there will come a day of reckoning.
A day when repentance will no longer suffice. A day when the handwriting may be on the wall for you.
Based on a Sermon Print
by Roger Thomas