The Writing on the Wall
We find ourselves this morning in the midst of one of those grand orgies that would have been common in the ancient world. And it was rudely interrupted, you might say, by this divine graffiti.
There’s a lot of history that is of interest at this point. Up until the 19th century the name of Belshazzar was not known to exist. There was no documentation of him in the extant documents of the ancient world. However, in 1846 a document was discovered which noted that the Babylonian King Nabonidus had a son named Belshazzar. Interestingly it also noted that Belshazzar was considered a co-regent with Nabonidus. Nabonidus was a evil king who no one liked, and he moved to another part of Babylon to set up his throne. But Belshazzar remained in the city of Babylon and exercised his rule from there.
That is likely why Belshazzar offers to reward the person who will read and interpret the sign with becoming the third ruler in the kingdom.
We also know that just outside the walls of Babylon were the armies of Cyrus the Persian. It is believed that Belshazzar took to this elaborate party because he (and many others) believed that the walls of Babylon, being so high and so thick, were impregnable. And Cyrus would generally agree. That’s why he took an alternate route, diverting the Euphrates river and coming in through the water system.
All in all, what we read here in our text lines up with the secular accounts. We have here a true history. It is not in any way a fairy tale or mythical fable. It’s an accurate summation of the events and how they unfolded.
But there is this one difference. The book of Daniel is not a history textbook. Daniel is not concerned with creating a historical record of Babylon or Persia. He is providing us with a history of redemption. This is the history of God’s acts. While it does have accurate history, its purpose is primarily spiritual. It is given so that we might be instructed in the things of the Lord.
So that is what we are going to give our attention to today. And there are three things I want us to glean from this text today; three things about the Lord that we ought to take to heart. The first thing we learn about the God of the Bible is that is the God who speaks the truth.
I. He is the God who speaks the truth
You could also title this point, “I told you so.” And I’ll tell you why. Begin by asking yourself this: what one thing is this passage about? If you could only have one take away from this passage, what would it be? It would be that Babylon falls, wouldn’t it?
Everything in this passage is leading to the very last two verses: Belshazzar is slain and Darius the Mede takes over. Despite all the greatness of this mighty, majestic kingdom, it’s game over for Babylon, isn’t it?
And is that not what we have been anticipating for the last three chapters. In chapter 2 we read about the statue with the gold, the silver, the bronze, and the iron. And interestingly enough, we are reminded of that here because Belshazzar and his compadres worship the gods of gold, silver, bronze, and iron.
And what happened to that statue? There was a stone that was cut without human hands that smashed the statue and caused all the kingdoms to crumble and fade away. And is it not interesting that a hand which is not human appears in the dining hall of Belshazzar and writes upon the wall.
You can say that there are some interesting parallels between chapter 5 and chapter 2. Those are intentional. They are to evoke that statue in mind and you’re to understand that the truth of what God had said has come true. God said Babylon would fall, and it did.
Now, you recognize that this was not written for the sake of the Babylonians—to rub their noses in it. This was not written as a tribute to Darius and to Cyrus, Darius’ mighty general. This was written for you and I. It is a reminder to us of how steadfast and true God’s word is. And it is a reminder that God will bring about the things he has promised in this word, chiefly the victory of Christ over the evil of this world.
You might put it this way: Babylon was the chief obstacle, right? It was the head of gold. Every other kingdom that succeeded it was an inferior kingdom. And if this one block fell, then what’s going to happen to all the others? And what will happen to the kingdom of God?
The truth is this: You can’t stop God from what he has determined to do. There is nothing in this world that can provide any kind of hiccup in the execution of his plan. He’s said that his kingdom will come. He has promised to crush the head of Satan and destroy all that would oppose his righteous rule. And that should give us a great deal of confidence.
That truth is a soothing peace to our souls; for no matter how much evil we see, and no matter how much injustice or oppression we may face, we know what the end result is. Christ shall have dominion. As a matter of fact, its just perfect that we have started singing Isaac Watts’ great hymn this month.
Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.
I know we look around our current culture and we have a lot to lament. We’ve talked about the growing secularism and antithesis to Christianity. But you have to understand that this is an anomaly in the grand scheme of things.
Listen to this is a report that came out just this last year. This is from the (2020).
The number of Evangelicals in the world has increased from 112 million in 1970 to 386 million in 2020. Globally, Evangelicalism is a predominantly non-White movement within Christianity, and is becoming increasingly more so, with 77% of all Evangelicals living in the Global South in 2020. This is up from only 7.8% in 1900.
Lifeway research also reports that evangelical Christianity is growing at a rate 5x that of atheism.
All this is just further testimony to what God has said in these chapters. The Babylon's of this world are no match. And we as New Testament Christians also know that one day Christ will have the ultimate victory because he will come again. The dead will rise, the wicked will be swept away, and there will be no more surveys because the rule of Christ will be 100%.
And on that day Christ will again say, “I told you so,” just like he does right here. Babylon’s fall is just a reminder of the truth God speaks.
But not only do we see that he is the God who speaks the truth, he is also the God who confounds the wicked.
II. He is the God who confounds the wicked
I want to direct your attention to the vision that Belshazzar saw and the words that were inscribed on his wall. It is interesting, is it not, that Belshazzar and his Babylonian wise men saw what was inscribed on the wall, but they could not read the words.
I hope you catch that little nuance. It’s not like they can read it and just are puzzled by what it means. They are left scratching their heads as to what it even says. Look at verse 7. Belshazzar cries out that whoever reads this writing and shows me its interpretation will be rewarded. Then in verse 8 the wise men come in and none of them can read it either.
Now, we don’t know if it was in a different language or if it was written in the native language of the Babylonians and they were just made dumb. All we know is that these are just characters on a wall and nobody can decipher it, let alone interpret it.
But of course, when Daniel comes in, he knows exactly what it says. He’s able to read it and give the interpretation without having to look twice at it.
Why is this interesting? It’s because we are in the land of Babylon. The word Babylon simply meaning “confusion.” And you remember that it was in Genesis 11 that there was the first Tower of Babel and it was there that the languages were first confused. They had sought to build a tower to heaven in defiance to God. And God came down and put a stop to it by causing all the people to begin speaking different languages. There was immediate confusion and the people started spreading out away from that land because they couldn’t understand one another. And Babylon was put out of commission for almost 2000 years.
So it’s interesting isn’t it? The Babylonians first appearance in the world came with languages they could not understand. And here, the empire ends with great confusion over language.
And in the Bible confusion of language means death. You think of the Tower of Babel. The languages meant the death of the tower and their building project. The Israelites were conquered by foreigners—people who spoke a different language. It was literal death for many as they were slain in the streets. But it was also the death of their statehood. Here in Babylon, with the confusion of language is the impending death of Belshazzar and his kingdom.
In the New Testament, Paul says that the speaking in tongues is a sign for the unbeliever. What does he mean by that? I believe, based on all that has come before, that he means that it is a sign of judgment. It’s a sign of eternal death apart from the saving work of Christ. It is a sign to the unbeliever of God’s judgment upon him. It’s also a sign to him that the kingdom to which they belongs (the kingdom of Satan) is coming to an end.
And of course, death itself is the greatest form of confusion. The unbeliever, when he dies, becomes vexed as he enters into the state of eternal damnation. He lives, but he does not have life. He goes on existing, but he is bewildered at the kind of existence he has. It’s a confusion of what life really is, because it’s not life. It’s a life of death. While he lives forever, he experiences the stripping away of life. It is a complete confounding of everything that gives life its meaning.
And that is the state of the unbeliever after he’s judged. That’s the state of men who are outside the kingdom of God. Those who are confused in their beliefs will find themselves confounded by God
But this is the great thing: You and I don’t have to be confounded like that. And it is because of Christ.
And I don’t think that it is coincidence that when Christ is crucified there’s an inscription set above him, written in different languages. Those were intelligible languages, to be sure, but you find the different languages and death rolled together. Why is that? It’s because Christ is undergoing the judgment. God’s wrath is being poured out on him and he’s experiencing in himself the confusion of the sting of death. You can hear it in his cry of “Why have you forsaken me?”
Those who take refuge in Christ, you have the consolation of knowing that you are no longer under that sentence. However, the kingdom of unbelief—which is ultimately a confusion of gods or a confused system of beliefs, that kingdom is coming to an end.
There’s one more item to note from our passage.
III. He is the God who weighs men
The vision Belshazzar has is about a scale for weights. The words “Mene, Mene, Tekal, Parsin” all are weights that you would put on a scale to find out how much something weighed. Belshazzar is a fellow whose days were numbered. In other words, his days were weighed out. He himself was weighed in the balances and found wanting. In other words, he didn’t measure up. The scales tipped and he was too light.
The question then becomes, what was on the other side of the scale? And there’s a sense in which it was Nebuchadnezzar.
Throughout this whole chapter Belshazzar is basically compared with (or weighed against) Nebuchadnezzar. And in virtually every instance Belshazzar is found to be nothing in comparison.
For instance, Belshazzar has this party and he calls for the drinking vessels which were from Jerusalem. It is basically a mockery of God—a sacrilegious thing, but it is also a thumbing in the face of the Jews. But even as he calls for the sacred cups we are reminded that these were the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple. There’s the ever so subtle hint that Nebuchadnezzar was the warrior, while Belshazzar is just riding the coat tails of his victory.
Belshazzar wants the vision interpreted, and what does the queen do? She tells him to call upon Daniel, but she reminds him of Nebuchadnezzar the king, his father, the king. She doesn’t just mention Nebuchadnezzar, but she highlights his kingship and his rank over Belshazzar. And it might be that the queen is not just his wife, but the queen mother. So there might be the embarrassment of being told by mom what to do.
Then Daniel comes out and what does he do? He talks about Nebuchadnezzar. The Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. And he reiterates how powerful Nebuchadnezzar was. Of course, he mentions his humiliation (what we read about in chapter 4), but Nebuchadnezzar had this going for him: He humbled himself and acknowledged Him to be the Most High God. Something Belshazzar has not done.
And he should have. He should have learned from Nebuchadnezzar’s ways, shouldn’t he? This is the one way Belshazzar could have come out better than Nebuchadnezzar. As the grandson, who would no doubt have heard the stories (if not have witnessed them for himself growing up in granddaddy’s palace). He could have learned early that the Lord weighs men and judges their pride.
And that’s what made Nebuchadnezzar that much more weighty. It was his humility. It was his conversion. He recognized the sovereign Lordship of YaWeH. And that’s what made him truly great.
And this is where our text speaks most directly to us. The Lord weighs men. And you have to ask, if you were placed on that scale, how would things pan out?
You know it is interesting, in most cultures there is an idea of scales when it comes to judgment. And almost all places you think that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, then the Lord will be pleased with you and you’ll get into heaven.
But that’s not actually how one is weighed. You are weighed against a standard. If you need 2 pounds of beef, you put the beef on one side of the scale and a 2 pound weight on the other side. The 2 pound weight becomes the standard.
Each of us will be weighed by God. And we will be measured by God’s law, at how well we’ve kept it. And each of us will be found wanting because not one of us has kept God’s law perfectly. Even one evil deed will tip the scales in the wrong direction.
This is where that humility comes in. When you bow before Christ and acknowledge his Lordship, you are forgiven. There are no bad deeds to weigh because they’ve been erased. That’s because through Christ they are completely washed away.
Each of us have a number of days weighed out for us. And there’s a day where each of us will be weighed. And on that day, it will not matter what position or power you held. It will not matter if your good works out weigh your bad. The only thing that will matter is whether or not you’ve bowed your knee to Christ. It’s when you acknowledge His Lordship that you gain his pardoning grace.
This is the lesson that we are to learn from wicked king Belshazzar. Life may seem secure and good right now. We might think that there’s no way that death can ever creep in and take us. Or we might think that we are secure because we deem ourselves to be a good person. But the fact of the matter is, we all have fallen short of the glory of God. And when we die, we all deserve to be confounded with the damning punishment of hell.
But eternal life in Paradise is offered to us in Jesus Christ. If we humble ourselves before the most high God and recognize that He alone is the God of gods and the Lord of kinds—if we cease from being confused about who we ought to worship and turn to Him, the Lord will have mercy on us. We will not end like Beshazzar who came under God’s judgment, but we will have the same mercy that Nebuchadnezzar received. Atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can find redemption and escape.