in a World That Doesn't
Scripture Reading: Daniel 5:22-24
Many of us have probably heard the phrase “the writing is on the wall”. That Phrase comes from Daniel chapter 5. Daniel 5 deals with the sovereignty of God and illustrates that God is in control.
Paul Harvey tells a remarkable story that illustrates God’s control over everything, including control of the clouds in the sky.
During WWII one of Americas bombers took off from the island of Guam and headed for Kokura, Japan, with a deadly cargo of bombs they intended to drop on that city. But, even though they were directly above their target, they couldn’t drop their payload of deadly weapons because the clouds covered the target area, blocking their view. The crew became frustrated that the weather would not cooperate. The B-29 circled for nearly an hour until its fuel supply reached the danger point. The captain and his crew had to abandon their primary target so they decided they had better go for their secondary target. Changing course, they found that the sky was clear. The command was given, “Bombs away!” and the B-29 headed for its home base after completely decimating the secondary target.
Upon returning to base new intelligence came in. The pilot learned that thousands of allied prisoners during World War II, many of whom were Christians had just been transferred to the location of his primary target one week earlier.
When he learned this the pilot thanked God for the cloud that had made their mission so difficult. He knew if the city hadn’t been hidden from the bomber, it would have been destroyed and thousands of American boys would have died.
At the opening of the fifth chapter of the book of Daniel I want us to notice it begins with the phrase, “Belshazzar the king”. I want to be careful not to confuse anyone. If you have been here for the last four sermons on Daniel you might remember we’ve been mentioning King Nebuchadnezzar as the king of the Babylonian empire. The reason Belshazzar is described as king now is because in between the fourth and fifth chapters of Daniel, somewhere between twenty and twenty-two years have passed and a new king, Belshazzar now reigns in his place.
I want to remind you that the Jewish nation and Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians decades earlier and many of the surviving Jews were carried away into captivity and are now living in the Babylonian empire.
Now there is something we need to understand about the way the ancients looked at their battles. They believed that the battles between the two nations were more than just a test between the might of two armies. They saw it as a test between the strength of the God of one nation vs. another nation. It was a chance to prove whose God was stronger and would grant them the victory.
The book of Daniel repeatedly emphasizes the sovereignty of God. When I say sovereignty, I mean that Daniel records stories that demonstrate that the God of the Hebrews is the God over everything. He is God over the world, over every king and worldly leader and He is even over you and I.
But the Babylonians worshiped pagan gods. Their primary God was called Marduk. He was frequently depicted with his pet dragon and the Babylonians considered him to be the supreme deity over all the other gods. Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that he was not the hard way (if you recall the end of chapter four). Belshazzar now needs to learn this lesson as well.
At the opening of the chapter we read that king Belshazzar throws an enormous feast…a feast for one thousand of his lords and during this feast, Belshazzar does something that illustrates his belief that Marduk and the Babylonian gods were mightier than Yahweh, God of the Hebrews. So, he has the gold and silver vessels Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, and brought them out so that his lords, his wives, and his concubines could drink from them. These were sacred items, consecrated for the Lord and were only to be used in the temple to worship God and they use them as common drinking vessels. But the insult against God didn’t stop there. As the people drank from the vessels they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Then something amazing happens. At that very moment the king sees the fingers of a man’s hand appear and they write these words on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN but they are written in a strange language and the king is deeply disturbed, wondering as any person would, what the writing on the wall meant.
He calls the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers- all the wise men of Babylon and offers them that whoever could read the writing on the wall and tell the king the interpretation of the writing, he would be clothed with purple (a sign of royalty and power) have a chain of gold around his neck and be promoted to the third ruler in the kingdom.
The king’s wise men couldn’t interpret the words on the wall but the queen tells the king of a man who has the Spirit of God within him…a wise man whose God had given him “an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas.” The queen was describing the prophet Daniel.
I want to pause here for just a moment. You might recall that Nebuchadnezzar renamed Daniel and his companions in chapter one. In that chapter He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar. I want us to take note that the Babylonians have reverted back to calling Daniel by his Hebrew name. We aren’t told the reasons but my assumption is because of Daniel’s God. You see, the name Belteshazzar meant “Bel is my judge” but Daniel means “God is my judge”. Daniel’s God had proven to Nebuchadnezzar that Bel was not his judge, God was.
Daniel is brought before the king and the king offers Daniel the same reward if he would give the king the interpretation of the words written on the wall. Daniel agrees to do so but first, must explain…
Daniel refers back to the time when Nebuchadnezzar was king and he tells Belshazzar that it was the God of the Hebrews that gave his father his kingdom and power and it was the God of the Hebrews that had given him victory over the peoples and nations he conquered. It was God that made him the mighty king that he was. But Daniel recalls that it wasn’t always that way.
Daniel recalls a time when Nebuchadnezzar’s pride got to him he lost his mind, was driven from his throne and he lived like the beasts of the field, eating grass until he came to realize one important truth:
“…till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.” – Daniel 5:21
Daniel warns the king that he is following in Nebuchadnezzar’s footsteps. Daniel tells the king:
22 “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. 23 And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.
– Daniel 5:22-24
In summary, Daniel is telling the king that he has made a grave mistake – (even though he knew better) he has failed to acknowledge the sovereignty of God.
Daniel tells the king that the fingers that wrote on the wall were sent from God to deliver a message:
Belshazzar has been weighed and found wanting.
The days of Beltshazzar’s kingdom are numbered. The kingdom is finished. It would be given to the Medes and Persians."
Daniel was promoted to the position of third in control of the kingdom. But his promotion would be short-lived because Belshazzar was killed that night and Darius the Mede (king of the Persians) took over and conquered his kingdom.
What does it look like when a person has submitted to the Sovereignty of God? Let’s take some time to look at four things true of Belshazzar that may be true of some of us.
Main theme: Sin blinds us. (2 Cor. 4:4)
"4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them."
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NKJV)
1. Sin blinds our thinking.
At a time when Belshazzar’s army has been decimated by the Persian army and they are standing at the gates of the city about to conquer his kingdom you might think that the king would be scrambling to try and muster some last defense for his kingdom or to negotiate some type of peace treaty or to surrender or to retreat. Instead he decides to throw a lavish party. Sin has blinded the king.
If you study the book of Proverbs, one of the things you will notice is how many times the idea of sin and a fool are intertwined. But the word “fool” in that setting doesn’t refer to someone who lacks intelligence but rather someone who lacks the clarity to make good judgments (make good choices, good decisions). Describe anyone you know? Describe you at some point in your life? In Proverbs, the one marked as a fool is usually one because they are an unbeliever of some kind and the author looks at this person’s life and sees them as someone who has lost their mind. The fool is the deliberate sinner who persists in evil (Eccl. 5:1 [MT 4:17]). He acts without counsel (12:15). He doesn’t live a godly life so he is often indiscreet (v. 23; 13:16), hot-tempered (14:29; 17:12), ignorant (Eccl. 2:14), lazy (4:5), and thickheaded (2:12). He is easily led astray (Prov. 1:22) and his life always ends in ruin as a result (Prov. 10:8). Usually the unbeliever has to learn his lesson the hard way (10:13; 19:29).
"16 One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless."
- Proverbs 14:16 (ESV)
Belshazzar was like that and a lot of people are that way today. We live in a world full of people who lack any constant moral compass. Their morals change with the given situation. People who haven’t accepted the sovereignty of God over their lives tend to live as if they have no accountability at all. The attitude is:
“I do what I want.”
“I answer to nobody.”
“I’m my own boss.”
And what the Bible is trying to teach us is that is a disconnect with reality.
"3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed."
- 1 Samuel 2:3 (ESV)
"3 …I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…"
- Romans 12:3 (ESV)
Sin has a tendency to make us feel entitled. It moves us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.
2. Sin blinds our Morals.
There is something in our text that many of us might not catch because of cultural differences we may not catch it. Verse three of Daniel 5 tells us that the king’s wives and concubines were present at the feast. This was highly unusual. Under normal circumstances the only males that would be allowed to have any contact with the king’s wives and concubines would be other women or eunuchs. Some commentators believe that this indicates that a sexual element was brought into the party. At the very least it indicates that, for whatever purpose it may have been, the Babylonian king lowered his morals, even if only from a Babylonian standpoint.
That’s what sin does.
Have you ever heard a Christian explain that, even though they are doing something that is wrong, they are going to continue to do so because quote “they know God wants them to be happy?”
I had a person I baptized one time tell me they weren’t going to come to church anymore because, even though they knew God hates divorce, they had met someone new and they knew it was o.k. because God wanted them to be happy.
Sin causes a person to ignore the fact that it’s a child in the womb of the mother and argue that they should be allowed to murder babies because a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her own body. (I always wonder why that trumps the baby’s right to their own life, their own body?)
Sin gives allows people give themselves permission to pick and choose which of God’s laws they want to follow.
"20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"
- Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)
Sin blinds our morals so much that we develop a world view that opposes God’s. We don’t care about what God wants. My desires take priority in my life when I refuse to accept the sovereignty of God.
This is because when we sin I ignore God’s sovereignty. I refuse to acknowledge God as Lord over my life. I refuse to allow Him to dictate the direction my moral compass points. I refuse to let His word guide my life. I pick and choose when I am going to submit to Him and when I am not (and that’s not submission at all).
3. Sin blinds us religiously.
Looking to Daniel 5 once again I want you to notice that verse two tells us that Belshazzar brought in the gold and silver vessels from the temple that had been in Jerusalem. But Daniel reminds Belshazzar of Nebuchadnezzar – how he learned to humble himself in the eyes of the Lord. Then Daniel says, “you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this.”
Belshazzar knew that he should humble himself in the eyes of God but he chose not to.
Often, people who refuse to submit to the sovereignty of God refuse to be moved about what Gods word says.
Think about it. According to a recent study 65% of Americans polled identify as a Christian. So do you think, if I stood in the middle of the mall and simply read from God’s word that 65% of people would agree with me if I said:
“You should do your best to attend worship services.”
“Homosexuality is a sin and people who practice it will go to hell.”
“You should not engage in sex outside of marriage. Adulterers will have their place in the lake of fire.”
“You shouldn’t have anything to do with palm reading, horoscopes or the occult.”
“It is a sin to worship any god other than the God of the Bible.”
“You need to be baptized to be saved.”
“A large number of people who die will not be saved.”
(I could go on.)
People who’ve submitted themselves to God have an attitude that says, “If God said it, that settles it. If He says ‘don’t’ then I won’t and if He says ‘do’ then I will.”
"7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
- Galatians 6:7 (ESV)
4. Sin blinds us to history.
Belshazzar knew about the past. He had heard of Daniel and how his God was the only God who could enable a man to interpret a dream. How Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego’s God saved them from the fiery furnace and how His grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar went mad because his pride moved him against God and how he was restored when He finally submits to God at the end of chapter four. Nebuchadnezzar knew about all of these things.
And yet Belshazzar gave God no honor of all.
Sin blinds us to history – allows us to forget it.
God destroys the world with a flood because of sin but delivers Noah and his family and almost immediately after they exit the ark, there is sin.
God delivers Israel from slavery in Egypt. There are several miracles along the way in the wilderness. But before Moses could climb a mountain and get back down again the people are already worshipping a golden calf.
Jesus dies for our sins, we are baptized and have those sins washed away and how any times have you or I gone right back and repeated those same sins?
Sin blinds us to history.