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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:The Writing on the Wall
Text:Daniel 5:1-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal unless otherwise noted:

383:1-3 - O For a Thousand Tongues 

273 - From Out of the Depths I Cry

536 (Red) - God of the Ages

213 – Rebels, Who Had Dared to Show                    

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Writing on the Wall”
Daniel 5:1-31
This fifth chapter of Daniel was used by liberal theologians for decades to discredit the reliability and authority of Scripture. They had a heyday with this chapter because there was no historical record of King Belshazzar. Historians record Nebuchadnezzar's reign, and the reigns of three of his successors but there is no historical record – outside of the Bible – that shows the reign of King Belshazzar.
Consequently, Ferdinand Hitzig, a liberal commentator back in 1850, declared that Belshazzar was clearly a figment of Daniel's imagination.  But just four years later, archaeologists discovered tablets describing Nabonidus, king of the Babylonians, and his son, Belshazzar. King Nabonidus was eccentric. He left Babylon for extended periods of time, leaving Belshazzar in charge of the kingdom.
That is why three times over – in verses 7, 16, and 29 – we read that whoever interprets the writing on the wall would be the third highest ruler. Why not the second highest? Because King Belshazzar was serving as king in the second highest place, behind his eccentric father, King Nabonidus.
Since that first discovery of archaeologists in 1854, there have been many other discoveries by archaeologists proving the truth of King Belshazzar's reign and proving the truth that God's word is indeed inerrant and infallible. As one commentator points out: “If you want to look very wise in the world’s eyes, and are willing to risk looking foolish years from now, you can make a reputation for yourself by pointing out ‘errors’ in the Bible.” (Commentary on Daniel; James Montgomery Boice, pg. 65).
Not only does Daniel chapter 5 show us the veracity – the truthfulness – of the Bible, it also reinforces to us a number of well-known truths, including that it is perilous to sin against a clear knowledge of God.
The chapter begins with King Belshazzar throwing a large party for one thousand of his nobles, concubines and wives, and at that party it describes how “he drank wine with them.” There is nothing wrong with wine, properly enjoyed. Jesus is, of course, the greatest wine maker in history. And Psalm 104 describes how God has given man wine “to gladden the heart of man” (Psa. 104:15).
But by the same token, when wine or any other type of alcohol is misused, it leads to great sorrow and inevitably leads to other sins. In Belshazzar's case, it led him to give orders, verse 2 tells us, to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem.
He may have been drinking too much wine, but it was not just the wine that drove him to this point of blaspheming what is sacred. He knew full well that those goblets of gold and silver had a sacred use within the Temple of God Most High. One of his predecessors, King Nebuchadnezzar – who is referred to as his father in a manner of speaking (v. 23) – took those goblets of gold and silver from the Temple, which was a great sin in itself, but he was restrained from profaning them by personal use.
(As a side note, Nebuchadnezzar was not the physical father of Belshazzar but he was the political father of Belshazzar; it was another way of saying that Nebuchadnezzar was a predecessor of Belshazzar. In Biblical times it was common to speak of a predecessor as one's father. For instance, Elisha referred to Elijah as his father, and Paul spoke of “Fathers and brothers,” meaning not a physical genealogy but rather spiritual or political predecessors who are referred to as fathers. I mention that just because liberal commentators try to use the notation of Nebuchadnezzar being Belshazzar’s father as an example of errors in the Bible. But they show their own ignorance in the process.)
Nevertheless, we know that Belshazzar's use of the golden goblets is an example of sinning against the clear knowledge of God's will, and we know that from verse 22. In the preceding verses Daniel explained to Belshazzar how Nebuchadnezzar (as we saw last week) was humbled by God.  Nebuchadnezzar was humbled as he was given the mind of an animal and lived with the beasts of the field, eating grass like an ox.
After explaining that to Belshazzar, Daniel says in verse 22, “But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.  Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” (22-23)
It is a terrible thing to sin, no matter what the sin may be. All sin is grievous, heinous in the sight of God and deserving of eternal judgment. But sin that is done with presumption, sin which is done with a clear understanding that it is sin, is deserving of even greater judgment.
We all commit sins of ignorance. Perhaps especially as we grow older and as God sanctifies us by his Spirit through his Word, we realize more and more that we have sinned against him in ways that we never even realized before. That is why David wrote in that beautiful yet convicting 19th Psalm: “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” (Psa. 19:12)
But while all sin is heinous in God's sight and deserving of eternal judgment, sin that is committed against the light of God's Word is especially heinous and evil. That is the type of sin that Belshazzar is committing here. He knew the sacredness of those goblets from the Temple, but he profaned them by using them sacrilegiously, poking fun at God and elevating himself by disdaining the sacred vessels for his drunken party.
That type of sin is a sin of presumption, a sin against the light and knowledge of God's Word. And unfortunately, we have all sinned against light also, haven't we? We know what God's Word says and we know how we are to live, and yet at times, even though we know the truth so clearly, we sin against that truth.
David, the author of Psalm 19, also realized that, because after praying in verse 12, “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults,” he goes on in verse 13 to pray, “Keep your servant also from willful – presumptuous (ESV) – sins; may they not rule over me.”
It is perilous to sin against the clear knowledge of God. If you do not repent, you will receive an even harsher judgment. Jesus pointed that out in Luke 12:47-48 when he said, “The servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Belshazzar's sin was a blasphemous sin against light. It was sin of presumption done with a high hand, and his judgment stands as a serious warning to all those who know what God's Word says, yet refuse to live by it, even purposefully living in opposition to the truths that God has revealed in his Word.
God Is Not Mocked
A second biblical truth that unfolds for us in this chapter is that God is not mocked; we will reap what we sow. In the first 2 verses of the chapter Belshazzar is sowing his wild oats, so to speak. He is having his drunken party and he has the goblets from the Temple for his concubines and wives to drink from. He had the admiration of one thousand people gathered together for this great feast as they “drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (4). They were mocking God, boldly and defiantly. They praised themselves and their false gods instead of God Most High.
But God is not mocked. We reap what we sow. And in the last two verses we find King Belshazzar reaping the judgment for his actions. He reaped judgment for his disdain for the God whom Nebuchadnezzar finally praised and glorified (Dan. 4:34-37). In the closing verses of this chapter we read how “Belshazzar, King of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.”
How did Paul put it in his letter to the Galatian church? Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
A Cost Too Great
A third truth: We cannot buy God’s blessings or presume his patience. Belshazzar thought he could buy the answer to the mysterious writing on the wall. He offered a high reward, not just a purple robe and gold chain, but a position of political power as the third highest ruler in Babylon (7, 16, 29).
In a sense Belshazzar is the Old Testament equivalent to the rich fool in the New Testament. Belshazzar, as acting king of Babylon, certainly had an abundance of wealth. He thought that wealth and prestige could get him an answer to the meaning of the writing on the palace wall. Wealth to him was a means to get what he wanted and so he offered lavish gifts and rewards to anyone who could interpret the writing on the wall. He placed great value on material wealth. So did the rich fool described in Luke 12. You recall that he said to himself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”
Both the rich fool described in the New Testament and Belshazzar failed to see that wealth means nothing since it is “God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways” as verse 23 points out. Because God holds our life in his hands, we cannot presume on his grace. God gave Nebuchadnezzar time to repent, twelve full months as we read in Daniel 4:29. But God was not obligated to give Nebuchadnezzar time to repent. Neither was God obligated to give King Belshazzar time to repent. And God is not obligated to give you and me time to repent and believe in him. He has every right to say to us as he said to the rich fool spoken about in Luke 12:20, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
If we truly gave more thought to these truths, is it possible that we would be more fervent and faithful in the way we live as believers? The only alternative is to be absolutely terrified by these truths. Belshazzar was terrified when a hand began writing on the palace wall. Verse 6 tells us that “his face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.”
His fear was justified, because the writing on the wall was explaining to him the reality of his judgment. As Daniel explained in verse 25, and the verses that follow, three words were written on the wall, with the first word written twice: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN”.
Our Days Are Numbered
The first word, “Mene” means to number. And Belshazzar's number was up. His days on earth were over. The glory that he had received as king was about to abruptly end. As Daniel tells him in verse 26, “Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.”
While Belshazzar was having this great drunken feast, sacrilegiously using the goblets of gold and silver from the Temple, the Medes and Persians were damming up the water that flowed into the deep and wide moat that protected Babylon. As soon as that water diverted from the Euphrates River was dammed up, the Medes and Persians would come in and end the reign of Belshazzar, taking the Babylonians power away from them.
Belshazzar made the fatal mistake that so many millions of other people make. He did not realize that his life and all his ways, were not in his hands but in the hand of Almighty God. Daniel had to remind him, as we read in verse 23, “But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” And now his life was coming to a rapid close. Verse 30 describes how “that very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain.”
But just as Belshazzar’s days were numbered, so are ours, yours and mine. As David writes in the 139th Psalm, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” ­ (Psa. 139:16)
That truth is both encouraging and also challenging. To those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with saving faith it is a great blessing to know that “God holds your life and all your ways in his hand.” What a blessing to know that whether we are given a few days to live, or many decades to live, that all the days ordained for us to live were written in God's book before one of them came into being!
But that also presents a challenge. The challenge is to live for God’s glory and honor, to live in obedience to his Word, to live a life of saving faith in Jesus Christ. No wonder the apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians there in Ephesians 5:15, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”
Weighed on God’s Scales
In verse 27 Daniel explained the meaning of the second word written on the palace wall: “Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.”  Here again, this applies not just to King Belshazzar, but it applies to each one of us. When weighed on God’s scale all of us are found wanting, unless we have saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:10, and the verses that follow, use a number of Old Testament texts to give us a blunt, accurate, and totally unflattering description of all humanity: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” And in Romans 3:20 we read that “No one will be declared righteous in (God’s) sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
But even as we see that we stand condemned on the scale of God’s judgment, unable to redeem ourselves by observing the law – we can yet turn with great joy and gratitude to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Romans 3:21-24 goes on to assure us, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
When we are in Christ through saving faith in him, then all his righteousness and perfection is credited – imputed – to our account. Those who have true saving faith in Jesus Christ, when weighed on God’s scale of justice, are found without spot or blemish, “for there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1), for “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
In verse 28 Daniel describes the meaning of the third word “Peres” which is the plural form of Parsin (25), which means to divide. He says, “Peres: your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Because of Belshazzar’s sinful conduct he would be killed and his kingdom divided by the Medes and Persians. That is the meaning in its original context. But it is interesting to note that the word which means “to judge” means literally to divide.
In the greater context of all of Scripture – and in reference to your life and mine – we are reminded that at the great Day of Judgment there will be a much greater division than that of Belshazzar's kingdom. On that Day of Judgment, the Lord will divide all humanity into two groups, the sheep and the goats, those who believed in his Son and repented of their sin, and those who, in sinful pride, rejected the offer of salvation. (Matthew 25:31-46)
Belshazzar's life was taken that very night. We have no reason to believe that he will be in the glory of heaven. But what about you and what about me? As of this moment we have life and breath. As of this moment we have opportunity to repent of all our sins, even those that have been committed with presumption against the clear knowledge of God’s Word and his commandments.
As of this moment you and I have life and breath to confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and to believe in (our) heart that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead” (Rom. 10:9), having died for our sins so that we may have everlasting life through faith in him. Because of his sacrifice we are not found to be wanting on the scale of God's judgment, but are found to be in Christ, redeemed and presented spotless and without blame before our heavenly Father! Truly, Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)
Knowing that God holds your life and mine, and all our ways, in his hand, may we be ever prepared for that day of ultimate division, the Day of Judgment. And may you and I be found, by God's grace and Holy Spirit’s power, among the sheep purchased at the cost of the Great Shepherd and cared for eternally by him who laid down his life for his sheep. Amen!
Sermon Outline:
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster
of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace.  - Daniel 5:5
                               “The Writing on the Wall”
                                            Daniel 5:1-31
I.  Daniel 5 teaches us, among other truths, that:
      1) It is perilous to sin against a clear knowledge of God (2-4, 17-23)
      2) God is not mocked; we reap what we sow (1-9, 30; Galatians 6:7-8)
      3) We cannot buy God’s blessings (16-17) or presume His patience (18-28)
II. Applications:
      1) Mene (26) means to number. Just as Belshazzar’s days were numbered,
          so are ours (24; Psalm 139:16)
      2) Tekel (27) means to weigh. When weighed on God’s scale, all
          of us are found wanting (Romans 3:10, 20) Only through faith in
          Jesus Christ are we saved (Romans 3:21-24; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9)
      3) Peres (28), the plural form of Parsin (25), means to divide. The Lord
          divided Belshazzar’s kingdom, and on the last day will divide the
          “sheep” and the “goats” – believers and unbelievers (Matthew 25:31-46)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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