Summary: Big Idea: Our days are numbered--how much will they weigh?
“The Writing on the Wall”
You might not want to listen to this message today. I’m serious—you might not want to know what I’m going to tell you. You may be happier not knowing, because once you know, then you are responsible for what you know. What the Scripture has to tell us today is very important. When we’re done today, we’ll know more, you’ll know more, but you will be responsible for what you do with what you know. So please don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Let’s take a journey back to 539 BC, to Babylon under King Belshazzar, a co-regent with his father Nabonidus, successor to King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar died 23 years ago, but Babylon is the world’s greatest city, capital of the world’s greatest empire. You’ll want to visit the museum and many temples, and of course the world famous hanging gardens. Oh, there are some problems, internal and external, as you might expect. But the King isn’t worried. His name, Belshazzar, means “Bel has protected the king.” Bel was another name for Marduk, one of the Babylonian gods. Not much of a god, really—none of them are when you get right down to it. They were made of gold & silver, bronze & iron, wood & stone. Oh, they make marvelous statues, no question. They had been cast with commanding faces, striking poses, and strong hands. Of course, if you pray to them they couldn’t listen; if you need guidance, they can’t speak; and if you need a miracle, they can’t deliver. So at that level, they aren’t really great gods, but they are convenient, and easy on the conscience. They make no demands. They are safe—unlike the Hebrew God. The Hebrews, captives in Babylon, were an internal problem for Belshazzar. They worship one God, the Most High, whom they claim is superior to all other gods. People like that are always hated—hated for being different, for being closed minded & intolerant, for claiming to know the truth. They had gained influence in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar back in the day, but Belshazzar and Nabonidus had worked to undo much of that influence. Belshazzar lives for power, lives for riches, lives for glory, and so couldn’t live with this God of the Hebrews. So for many years Bel DOES “protect the king.” He protects him from Truth. But truth has a funny way of catching up with you and asserting itself, as we’ll see from Daniel 5.
It was October—time for the religious festival of Marduk, the god after whom Belshazzar was named. But the mood in the city of Babylon was not festive. There was a significant external problem. The city was under siege by the Persian army. Now you’d think this would be cause for alarm, but Babylon was surrounded by enormous fortified walls of stone, thrusting upward from the ground 150 feet high! These defenses were ringed with 270 guard towers. The city had enough food & supplies to withstand an assault for 20 years. And the waters of the Euphrates River ran underneath the walls into the city, so the water supply was unending. Plus, they had history on their side. No army had taken the city of Babylon for ten centuries. Those Persians weren’t going to get in by force, and they weren’t going to starve them out. But still, people in the city were getting restless. King Belshazzar decided to get people’s minds off the threat outside the walls by throwing a party [READ 1-4] Belshazzar liked to party, and for this one he pulled out all the stops. One thousand nobles gathered in the palace’s grandest dining hall, where Belshazzar’s golden throne was set at one end. One after another on this October night, the Babylonian nobility arrived in their finest attire, prepared for a orgy of hedonism on the king’s tab. It was a wild night! Picture the scene, filled with all the noblemen, their wives and concubines, eating heartily, drinking heavily, dancing sensually under the eyes of Marduk and the other idols that guarded the doors and corners of the great hall. Belshazzar was in fine form, drinking down generous amounts of wine and shouting toast after toast in defiance of the Persians, and anyone else who dared defy his power. People cheered, and Belshazzar’s heart swelled with pride. Emboldened by the wine, he couldn’t restrain his contempt just to the powers of human armies, but to the power of God as well. He sent a few servants to fetch the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had seized from the Hebrew temple years before. They had been kept under lock & key since Nebuchadnezzar’s day, but Belshazzar would have them brought out for his party. It wasn’t just that they were valuable, but also that Belshazzar wanted to make a statement—about who was king; about who was in power; about which gods would be honored this night.