This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. We looked at what is commonly called “Belshazzar’s Feast” and can be found in Daniel 5.
Daniel 5: 1 – 9 and 25 – 31
1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 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. 3 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. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. 5 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. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. 7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
25 “This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN 26 “Here is what these words mean: Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 27 Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 28 Peres : Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 29 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. 30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.
Many people love a party.
Indeed some people treat life as one long party.
Its good to enjoy good things; to eat drink and be merry.
However you can go too far. For those of us who spent our formative years in the 1960’s there is a saying “If you remember the 60’s you weren’t there!”
As we know a party cannot go on for ever. There comes a time when it has to come to an end.
The party’s over and there will be a reckoning. This can range from the washing up to be done or a vast quantity of empties to be disposed of, to pacifying the parents when they come home or having a chat with the local police, depending what sort of party it was!
When there was a change of government in 2010 the incoming chief secretary to the treasury, David Laws, found a note on his desk from the outgoing minister that said “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”
Austerity was with us and the country’s economy was in dire straits.
As we may know from personal experience we can’t keep on spending when we have nothing left to spend.
Years ago when I was in banking, we had a customer who explained to us that his only source of income was his over draft! He was very surprised when we said to him enough is enough. The spending party is over.
Another customer tried to clear his overdraft by writing us a cheque from his overdrawn account!
Some parties get out of hand. People drink too much or take drugs, Morals get forgotten or loosened. Things happen that shouldn’t happen.
Maybe you’ve been at parties like that ? I have; and I thank God that he kept me safe.
Drink and drugs have a price for their use and the pleasure you get from them. Lives are shortened, bodies wrecked and minds destroyed.
That is the price many people end up paying.
So lets look at the party mentioned in Daniel 5.
Belshazzar was the King of Babylon which had been the super power in the Middle East for many years. He had inherited the kingdom from his father Nebuchadnezzar who had conquered Judah and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. He had also taken many of the Jews into exile in Babylon.
As we read about this huge party that Belshazzar was throwing in his palace you should know that the up and coming empire of the Medes and the Persians were on the march. Not only that but their army was surrounding Babylon. Babylon was a city under siege yet the King holds a party!
His attitude seems to be like that of the old Irvine Berlin song “There may be trouble ahead But while there’s music and moonlight (moonlight and music) and love and romance Let’s face the music and dance”
If only Belshazzar had remembered the lessons his father had learnt, Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled by God as we read in the earlier chapters of Daniel. He is recorded as saying, in Daniel 4:37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. “
Belshazzar however did things his way. He seems to either not know about Daniel or forgotten him. No doubt Belshazzar surrounded himself with his own advisors, many of whom didn’t know God or indeed recall just what Nebuchadnezzar had been through and how he changed.
Just look at this lavish party. There were 1000 of his nobles there. No doubt their wives etc were there also. Its quite a bash!
Many people do daft things, actions they later come to regret when they have been drinking. Belshazzar is one of those people. But perhaps he is emboldened by the wine into thinking that as King of Babylon he can do exactly what he wants.
So he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem” and that as he and his guests drank from these goblets they “…praised the gods of gold, silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.”
Here is the King of Babylon drinking from the sacred cups and goblets plundered from the Temple. Not only are they being used to drink from but Belshazzar is toasting the false gods that he and the other Babylonians worshipped.
Our God is incredibly patient with us sinful people. The Bible constantly tells us that this is true. Psalm 103 for example tells us: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” and “ he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
However there will come a time when God will say “enough is enough”.
A few years ago my friend Paul was in Oldchurch hospital having broken his leg. As was his wont, he lay in bed and prayed for the other men in his section of the ward. But as he prayed for one particular young man, Paul distinctly felt God say to him not to pray for that the young man as he was beyond saving.
Belshazzar like many people since, thinks its fun to insult God. But be assured there is a time when we have to answer for what we have done. You can’t get away with it for ever. Hebrews 4:13 we read “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.
For Belshazzar the time has come. It’s like the parents coming home to a teenage party in full swing. They’ve opened the door and shouted and everything comes to a stop!
Daniel 5: 5 & 6 “ 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 legs became weak and his knees were knocking. “
I suspect that many of us would have reacted like that. The supernatural breaking through into the natural world.
So what does Belshazzar do about this mysterious writing on the wall? He summons the “wise men” of Babylon, the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to hear what they have to say. He even promises them a great reward to encourage them to find the answer. But they are hopeless and indeed helpless in this situation.
But don’t you find that if face of many of life’s problems and disasters people seek help and advice from the wrong places? I am saddened at the number of bereaved people who consult mediums and spiritists to see if there is a message from their loved ones.
Similarly I am astonished at the number of Christians who consult their horoscope or fortune tellers.
Daniel 5: 8 & 9 “ Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.”
Here the Queen mother, Nebuchadnezzar’s widow speaks up. She seems to be the only one who remembers Daniel and suggests that he is consulted.
Belshazzar offers the same amazing reward to Daniel as he had done to the “Wise men”. But Daniel is not interested in the wealth and the power on offer. He does however tell the king the meaning of the writing on the wall.
But first of all he gives a history lesson of how Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before God and came to acknowledge that God is the one in control. Daniel then takes Belshazzar to task for the way he rules his kingdom.
Daniel 5: 22 & 23 “ But you, Belshazzar, his son, 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 honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”
Daniel then translates the writing on the wall.
Daniel 5: 26 – 28 “Here 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.”
What was Belshazzar’s reaction? Did he like his father come to his senses and acknowledge that he was a sinful man who needed God’s forgiveness?
No he didn’t! Its as if by rewarding Daniel and dressing him in purple and putting the gold chain around his neck, Belshazzar is saying “Oh that’s all it is. Its only God’s judgement on me. Lets carry on as if nothing has happened.”
But as the Bible tells us, and historic records confirm, the Persian army captured the city that very evening and Belshazzar died. In fact the Persians had diverted the Euphrates river away from the city and marched into the city on the river bed under the city walls.
Belshazzar’s death confirmed what we read in Proverbs 6 “A troublemaker and a villain … who plots evil with deceit in his heart … disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed — without remedy.”
I do wonder what would have happened if Belshazzar had acted differently. Had he come to his senses and realised that he needed God’s forgiveness and mercy. Who knows?
So the message for us here and indeed for everyone is that God’s mercy and forgiveness is available for everyone who acknowledges that they need it. However for those who reject God there will surely come a time when they like Belshazzar will be weighed on the scales and found wanting. At that point there is no hope for their eternal destiny.
If you haven’t come to God through faith in Jesus, don’t leave it, because none of us know the day when the writing on the wall could be for us.