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Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Hand Writing on the Wall Daniel 5


The Hand Writing on the Wall

Daniel 5



As we read through the book of Daniel in the Bible we come across a strange little story- a Bible story- about a king and a mysterious hand that appears out of nowhere and writes on his palace wall. The king in our story is King Belshazzar of Babylon and the year is 539 B.C.


King Belshazzar was the grandson of the mighty Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who had been the ruler of much of the known world (626 B.C-562B.C.).  Belshazzar had grown up hearing stories of how his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had lost his mind and wandered in the fields like an animal for awhile.  But then Nebuchadnezzar had learned his lesson and God had given him back his sanity and his kingdom.


The lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar finally learned was that he had not become a great king all by himself.  That it was God who had given him his talents and his kingdom and even his sanity. Once Nebuchadnezzar had been a proud and arrogant king, living only for himself, but then God had intervened.  And Nebuchadnezzar had learned to be humble and to thank God for giving him what he had.


Belshazzar knew that God had allowed his grandfather to lose his mind when he had forgotten God. This lesson had made a big impression on the whole royal family. And Nebuchadnezzar had warned his grandson Belshazzar that when he becomes king he should not make the same mistake –that he should always remember that God has given him his kingdom and his power. Time passes by and Nebuchadnezzar dies and finally his grandson Belshazzar takes his place and becomes the new king of Babylon.


Our story begins in 562 B.C. in Babylon with King Belshazzar throwing a big party.  We find the king sitting in the royal banquet hall with a thousand of his noblemen eating and drinking and making merry. The dancing girls are entertaining the men while the palace musicians are busy playing the lute and the harp and the lyre. The servants are bustling about carrying in more food and refilling the wine goblets.  And the king has even opened the harem doors and invited all of his wives and concubines to come out and join in the fun.  


By now the liquor is flowing and the party is getting noisy. Several noblemen have passed out on the floor and several more are getting too friendly with the dancing girls. King Belshazzar orders his servants to get out the gold and silver drinking vessels and bring them in to the banqueting hall - the gold and silver vessels that were stolen from the temple in Jerusalem. I believe these vessels had been used in the temple in Jerusalem for worship, these vessels had been set apart for God and now Belshazzar was profaning and mocking their original use. But Belshazzar wants to impress his guests with the very best.  And why shouldn’t he and his guests drink wine out of these gold and silver vessels? They are important people and should have it all.  


The gold and silver vessels are passed around the palace banqueting hall with much laughter and everyone having more drinks.  The music plays on and the incense is lit as King Belshazzar proposes a toast.  “I order you to drink to the gods of gold and the gods of silver,” he commands!  More than a toast, he decides that everyone should worship the gods of gold and silver and the gods of bronze and iron and also of wood and stone.   Clouds of smoky incense are filling the palace hall now with a sweet smelling fragrance.      


King Belshazzar staggers as he holds his drinking vessel high in the incense filled room and bows to the gods of gold and silver.  He brings in animals and kills them and sacrifices them to the idols of gold and silver while praising these gods for giving him his kingdom and his good fortunes. All of the guests follow the kings’ lead leaving money and gifts before the idols and holding their golden vessels high in praise to the gods for giving them their king.


And soon the crowd at Belshazzar’s feast is drawn into a crazed orgy of drinking and feasting and praising and sacrificing before the idols of gold and silver and bronze and iron and stone and wood. Their shouts and moans grow louder and louder as the servants scurry around through the crowd freely pouring more liquor and bringing small animals in for the guests to sacrifice to the gods. Blood and wine are flowing freely now. The air is filled with the slurred screams of the frenzied worshippers cutting themselves and bleeding and falling down before their idols in worship with Belshazzar lying prostrate on the floor in a trance before the burning altar worshipping his idols of gold and silver.


But then just when the party is reaching its’ peak and the drunken guests are careening around wildly worshipping before their gods of gold and silver; everything suddenly comes to a stop!  Something happens in the great hall that causes everyone to gasp in shock!  King Belshazzar freezes in his tracks and becomes so panicky that his knees knock together and his body shakes all over.


Right in the middle of the festivities a man’s hand has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and the fingers of the hand began writing on the palace wall!  Scripture tells it this way.  “Suddenly in the middle of the party the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace. “  (Daniel 5:5)  The hand writes four words on the wall:  “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Peres” And no one has any idea what these words can mean!


The party is pretty much ended. The shaken party goers slink away from the palace and hurry back to their homes. And an upset King Belshazzar immediately calls for his astrologers and soothsayers to come to the palace and tell him what these words written on the wall could possibly mean. 


The queen mother hears the news and drops by the palace to see her grandson, King Belshazzar and to give him some motherly advice.  She tells him to call for Daniel, as she believes that Daniel could interpret the handwriting on the wall for him. She reminds Belshazzar that Daniel had been helpful to his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, and that the spirit of God is with Daniel.


The astrologers and soothsayers come to the palace but they have no idea what the words on the wall mean.  And then Daniel arrives and he asks God to reveal what the message is and what the words on the wall mean.  And God gives him the answer.


Daniel tells Belshazzar that he grew up knowing that his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar  lost his mind because he had become proud and had left God out of his life. But his grandfather had gotten his sanity and his kingdom back “when he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men.”  (Daniel 5:21b)  Daniel tells Belshazzar that he should have learned to recognize God’s authority from his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation.


Then Daniel turns to Belshazzar and says: “Even though you knew all of this, you, his son (grandson), Belshazzar have not humbled your heart.  You have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  …You have praised the gods of silver and gold and bronze and iron, wood and stone.  And these do not see or hear or know, and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all of your ways, you have not glorified.” (Daniel 5: 22 -23)  Daniel says that God is displeased because Belshazzar has forgotten Him and has worshipped other gods and also because Belshazzar is proud and arrogant.


Then Daniel interprets the meaning of each word written on the palace wall for King Belshazzar.  “Mene” means “God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.”  “Tekel” means “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.”  “Peres” means “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”  (Daniel 5: 26-28) 


Immediately after Daniel finishes interpreting the meaning of the words written on the wall for King Belshazzar, the Persian armies appear outside the gates of Babylon and they attack the city. The year is 539 B.C. and that very night the Medes and the Persians kill King Belshazzar and destroy the great city of Babylon taking over the mighty kingdom. After that night the mighty Babylon is no more.


The kingdom of Babylon had been a powerful influence in the ancient world and the city of Babylon was known for its’ architectural beauty. But all of that is gone. This powerful kingdom was brought down because of pride. And also because the kings and the people left God out of their lives and worshipped the gods of gold and silver (materialism). Archeologists have discovered an unimpressive mound that they believe was once the city of Babylon beside the Tigris River in Iraq. Broken fragments in the dust are all that remain now of that once exalted city that ruled over the whole known world so long ago.     


What can we learn from this short Bible story tucked away in the book of Daniel?  Perhaps we see here that there can be an end to God’s patience with us.  Scripture tells us that God does not always strive with humans.(Genesis 6:3)  The time can arrive when God has had enough. We learn that God judged Babylon and allowed this ancient kingdom to fall partially because the kings did not recognize God’s authority in their lives and they did not recognize that their power and their very life came from God.  Instead they worshipped materialism – the gods of gold and silver.  Let’s be forewarned by this story from antiquity and not make the same mistakes in our lives today that they did back then.       


















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