Summary: This sermon takes a look back at ancient Babylon and compares it to modern day America.
Introduction: Most of you here tonight have probably heard the phrase or expression “The handwriting is on the wall” before. But what some of you many not realize is that the phrase originated from an event that is recorded in the Bible. Turn with me if you will to Daniel 5:1-6. (NIV)
On March 19, 2003, Saddam Hussein and his sons Udah and Kusah invited a few of their close friends and advisors to have dinner with them in an exclusive restaurant in downtown Baghdad. They did this despite the fact that an invasion seemed imminent from the U.S. forces that were amassing across the border in Kuwait. Saddam and his sons were used to the good life, and they weren’t about to let the threat of war ruin an opportunity to party with their friends. But someone tipped off some of our Special Forces troops who were already operating in the area and President Bush ordered a strategic strike. Saddam’s dinner party came to an abrupt end when cruise missiles slammed into the building and completely demolished it. Saddam and his sons survived this initial attack, but it was the beginning of the end for a brutal dictator who had ruled Iraq for 30 years.
Saddam liked to compare himself to the Great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who ruled the Babylonian Empire from 519 until he died in 562 B.C. In fact before the war in Iraq began we learned that Saddam had spent millions and perhaps billions of dollars rebuilding the city of Babylon which is located approximately 50 miles South of Baghdad along the Euphrates River.
Babylon was the New York City of its day. It was the economic, cultural and religious center for the world during its hayday. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which Nebucadnezzar had built for his wife, was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.
From a military viewpoint the city of Babylon was virtually impossible to conquer. The wall surrounding it was 300 feet high, 80 feet wide, and extended 35 feet underground to prevent anyone from tunneling under it. At least 100 towers were placed on top of the wall to defend the city against attack.
The city covered approximately 100 square miles, which is five times larger than Paducah. The Euphrates River flowed through the middle of the city, which provided all the fresh water they needed. Historians believe the Babylonians had enough food stored up that they could have survived a 20 year siege. These are just a few of the reasons why Babylon was known as “Babylon the Great.” Earlier in the Book of Daniel, Daniel had interpreted King Nebucadnezzar’s dream and explained to him that the Babylonian Empire was the Greatest of 5 World Kingdoms.
Perhaps these were some of the reasons that Nebucadnezzar’s successor King Belshazzar didn’t seem overly concerned about the threat posed by the Persian army that was laying siege to the city. Like Saddam Hussein and his sons, Belshazzar wasn’t about to let a little thing like the threat of war keep him from having a good time. So he hosted a banquet and invited 1000 of the noblemen of Babylon to join him for a feast. Perhaps he wanted to reassure the nobility that despite the proximity of the enemy that there really wasn’t anything to worry about.
Belshazzar wanted to have a good time and wanted to make sure everyone else did too so I’m sure no expense was too great. These feasts were traditionally wild and unrestrained, and the fact that he invited his wives and concubines has led most scholars to believe that the feast turned into a drunken orgy. Perhaps the closest thing we could compare it to would be “Marti Ghrah” in New Orleans or “Carnival” in Brazil.
At some point during the feast Belshazzar ordered his servants to bring in the gold and silver goblets that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the Jewish Temple and brought back with him when he had conquered Jerusalem. Now verse 2 says that Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father but in reality he was his grandfather. His father was a man named Nabonidus, but it was not unusual for them to refer to Nebucadnezzar as his father, since in fact He was an ancestor.
These Gold and Silver goblets had been dedicated to the Lord and were only to be used in the Temple for the specific purpose for which they were created. But of course Belshazzar didn’t care about that. All he cared about was having a good time and impressing his guests. While they were drinking and who knows what else the Hand of God appeared and wrote a message on the wall. According to verse 6, the King turned pale and was so scared that his knees began knocking. Of course Belshazzar didn’t know what the message said so he summoned all of the wise men of Babylon together hoping one of them could decipher the meaning behind the strange message. He promised that he would promote the individual who could interpret the message to him to be the third highest ruler in the Kingdom, behind him and his father of course. But the wise men were just as clueless as Belshazzar was.