This is a talk I gave at Wood Lane Baptist Church in Dagenham on 28th September 2008 at the start of the financial crisis that brought about the crash of many financial institutions and led to the recent recession.
Daniel 5: 22 – 30
22“But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 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. 24Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. 25“This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN 26“This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 27Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 28Peres:Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 29Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. 30That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.”
What do we think of when we hear the phrase “the writing on the wall”?
Do we think of Graffiti?
You know “Kilroy was here”which spread everywhere in World War 2 or the even more widespread “Banksi” which is all over London?
Often writing on walls is a social comment or just the expression of someone’s viewpoint. You can find ancient Greek and Roman Graffiti preserved in some surprising places including the ruins of Pompeii In the Paris riots of 1968 many political slogans were written or sprayed on walls including such as “Boredom is counter-revolutionary”.
Alternatively we say the “writing is on the wall” when we perceive the end is in sight for someone or something. And indeed there have been lots of examples of the writing on the wall in recent times even though many people refused to see it.
Just consider what has happened in the finance markets. What pundits are now calling “junk bonds” inflated the banks and finance houses of the world. It was thought that everyone was a winner, so everyone jumped on the band wagon. No one remembered that if something is too good to be true, it is too good to be true.
We know the result as many major banks and financial institutions collapsed and have gone bankrupt. Lehman Brothers and Bear Stern in the USA with even HBOS and Bradford & Bingley in this country looking very shaky. Even AIG Insurance which was said to have $1trillion in assets is in trouble. That’s a one followed by 12 zero’s. Or about £55,000 Million. A vast amount to lose! Lets try and give you an idea what that is. According to the Office of National Statistics the average wage in the UK last year was about £23,764. So you would have to work for 2,314,425 years to earn what AIG may stand to lose!
Surely financial institutions like this are too big to fail? Yet leaders of other empire have always thought the same. Empires and countries come and go and the Bible tells us who really is in charge. Just listen to what God says through the prophet Isaiah about it: Isaiah 40:15 “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.”
So what about the original writing on the wall as found in our reading from Daniel 5? Does it have message for us in 2008?
I think we need to start with a brief history lesson.
God had allowed the Jewish people to be over run by the Babylonians. Well, God had constantly warned them through the prophets that if they didn’t repent they would be in trouble. Its not as if they hadn’t been warned. The people of Judah had seen what happened to the ten Jewish tribes of Israel, conquered by the Assyrians and taken away into exile never to be seen again. So most of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. If you wonder what it was like for them look at Psalm 137 which starts: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
The Babylonian empire had arisen out of nowhere and had over run most of the Middle East including the hated Assyrians. Its Emperor Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 587 BC and brought the temple treasure back to Babylon. He was the man who constructed the famed hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Yet strangely in the very centre of Babylonian government were some godly men, including Daniel as well as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The book of Daniel gives an interesting account of what God was doing whilst his people were in exile.
In the first chapters of Daniel we read how God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar not only through the dreams he had but also through the practical demonstration of his power when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the furnace for not worshipping the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of chapters 2, 3 and 4 Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges who God is and how great he is.
But Nebuchadnezzar is dead and Belshazzar is now on the throne. According to Jewish historians he was the grandson, not the son of Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar’s father had had the wonderful name of Evil-merodach. The Jewish historians state that the feast in Daniel 5 took place at the end of 70 years from the fall of Jerusalem. Clearly they argue Belshazzar knew about Jeremiah’s prophecy that the exile would end after 70 years. This is what they say: “Jeremiah must be wrong,” argued Belshazzar, “for the limit has been reached, and since the Jews have not yet returned to their land, they probably will not return any more.” So he held the feast and used the sacred treasures from the temple, as if to say; this is what I think about God, he can’t do anything to save his people. Equally extraordinary is that historical records tells us that the Persian army is at the walls of Babylon and yet here is Belshazzar and his royal court having a beano.
Daniel 5:1 – 6. King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.
All Belshazzar’s advisers, wise men and so on can’t decipher the writing on the wall. Eventually someone remembers Daniel and he is summonsed to help.
After recounting the history of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel delivers the verdict:
Daniel 5:24 – 31 But you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. “This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN “This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.
I find it fascinating that having received such dreadful news, Belshazzar doesn’t take any action to deal with what is clearly coming his way. The Bible tells us that he gives Daniel his promised reward and that is it.
No attempt to sort things out with God. Just carry on – business as usual. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die! History tells us that the Persian army diverted the Euphrates river which followed through the city, allowing troops to charge along the river bank into the city whilst the king and virtually everyone else was enjoying the feast and too drunk to defend themselves. And so Belshazzar died and events were set in progress to bring the Jews home from exile.
You may say that this is a wonderful story but does it have any relevance for us?
I would say so. It does us good to remember one of the fundamental laws of the universe as stated by Isaac Newton: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Put it another way every thing we do has a result. Every wrong action or sin has to be accounted for.
God knows our every action, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. The Bible tells us that he records our actions in his book and that is what we are judged on unless of course we have come to faith in Jesus and our sins have been paid for by the blood of Jesus. In which case our names are in the Book of life. This is what we read in Revelation 20: 11 & 12 “ Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”
I am often amazed by people who think that what they have done in the past is of no consequence. After all its history, its in the past. But I have to tell you sin doesn’t dissolve away like a recyclable supermarket carrier bag with the mere passage of time. If we haven’t dealt with it, its there for all eternity. We either deal with it now or we answer for it in the court of eternity when the books are opened.
Many folk sweep their past misdeeds under the carpet. Its all in the past – let it stay there! Oh if only life is like that.
People who sweep things under the carpet eventually trip over the buried mound and come to earth with a bump.
What’s on your wall?
Has God issued you a written warning? If so what are you going to do about it?
If you have something in your past that hasn’t been properly dealt with: some of the sin issues were highlighted in our psalm at the start of our service, get on your knees as soon as possible and seek God’s forgiveness and then, if you have to make peace with someone do so.
None of us, apart from God, know how long we have on this earth, as the psalmist reminds us in Psalm 139 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
So lets pray that we will be wiser than Belshazzar and that if God has weighed us in the balance and found us wanting, we will come before the throne of Grace and get matters right without delay. Amen.