Sermon March 13, 2016 Daniel Chapter Five “Can You Read the Handwriting on the Wall?”

Daniel Chapter Five                          Daniel Sermon #6                               March 13, 2016

Sermon Series: “The Lord is King”                 

Title:  “Can You Read the Handwriting on the Wall?” 

Pastor Louis Prontnicki   Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church

We sometimes hear the expression, “the handwriting is on the wall.” Taken from Daniel 5, it means that there are signs that a person or organization is in trouble, and might soon fail. The problem is that sometimes those people or the heads of those organizations can’t read that handwriting, or maybe they just don’t want to see it! Such was the case with King Belshazzar of Babylon…and such may be the case for some of us.

The Sermon Outline:

I. The Path of the King’s Downfall (to avoid his negative example)

II. The Power of Daniel’s Speech (to imitate his positive example)

 III. The Purpose of Everyone’s Life (to consider our direction and our eternity)

Just a quick word on the historicity of Belshazzar. For many years, scholars scoffed at Daniel 5, because there was no secular record of Belshazzar ever being the king of Babylon. But more recently it was discovered that while his father, Nabonidus (556-539 BC), was last king of Babylon, he often left the rule to his son Belshazzar, while he went off to other places/ and went into exile about 11 years earlier. This helps to make sense of why Belshazzar made Daniel the “Third highest ruler in the kingdom” (vv. 7, 29), as Belshazzar’s father was number one, and Belshazzar was number two.

I. The Path of the King’s Downfall:

  1. He trusted in the city walls for his security. (vv. 1 and 30-31)

These magnificent walls (which were on the on the original list of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World) gave the king a false security, a misplaced confidence.  These walls encapsulated the city and protected it from harm, circling the city on all sides and even spanning the Euphrates River (which ran through the center of the city). The outer walls ran 6 miles in length, measured 25 feet thick, and were said to tower 85 feet over the city. The walls were impenetrable by any technology available to sieges at the time. Large metal gates were installed at the river’s ends (preventing any underwater intruders), and eight massive gates were constructed to contain any foot traffic. These walls protected the city for almost one hundred years. So you can see that even while an enemy army was outside the city walls, Belshazzar and his people were partying inside, without a fear or a care. BTW: the name “Belshazzar” means “Protect His Life”; or, possibly, “[May] Bel Protect the King”). But all his confidence was misplaced! What about your confidence? Is it placed in your retirement fund? Your savings? Your health or job?

2. He mocked the sovereign God, while praising his powerless idols (vv. 2-4)

During the feast and under the influence of wine, Belshazzar called for the vessels from the temple of Jerusalem to be brought, so that he and his guests might drink from them… while praising the Babylonian gods! This was a deliberate act of contempt by the pagan king to reproach the God of the Israelites. This was a brazen sacrilege, a gross blasphemy, to mock and ridicule the Lord, praising his powerless idols while drinking from the Lord’s goblets! But God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7), and this would be part of the King’s downfall. (Think about how the soldiers mocked Jesus in his crucifixion.)

3. He suppressed God’s truth. (v. 22)

Belshazzar had undoubtedly heard all about how Daniel had interpreted the dreams and visions of his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, and how the God of Israel has protected His people from the fiery furnace. He knew what the true God had done. He knew the historical record. But he chose to deliberately suppress that truth, so that he could live a godless and immoral life. (Romans 1:18-32) This too led to his downfall.  Is there anything that you are suppressing about God?

4. Therefore he was shaken by God’s handwriting. (vv. 5-6, 9)

You can only walk down the path of unbelief, of mocking God, and suppressing God’s truth for so long, until sooner or later you walk off the end of the pier.  When the God starting writing a new script for Belshazzar, a script that spelled judgement and disaster, the king fell apart. In fact the Hebrew of v. 6 could be translated “he wet himself.”

Being terrified by the handwriting, the king in desperation promises to give his counselors everything he could. “He was prepared to offer them anything in exchange for his soul.” (Mark 8:37) “In his own spiritual bankruptcy he turned to the bankrupt wisdom of the world, but found it to be empty as well.” (S. Ferguson). All human resources had failed the king.

5. That night the king was slain, and his empire fell. (vv. 30-31)

Cyrus the Great, outside the city walls with his army, unleashed a plan which diverted the Euphrates River further upstream, thereby lowering the water level enough so that his soldiers could walk through it, under the river’s metal gates, and under the cover of darkness, They took the city from within. Belshazzar did not live out the night, being murdered by Cyrus’s men, as the city fell during the night of October 5, 539 B.C.  With the death of Belshazzar and the surrender of Nabonidus to Cyrus, the Babylonian Empire came to a close.

Belshazzar couldn’t read the handwriting on the wall, and his walls- and his idols – failed him.

What about you: Can you read the handwriting on the wall?  What “walls” are you trusting in? Is your confidence misplaced? Are you suppressing truth about God, because you want to be god?

II. The Power of Daniel’s Speech:

  1. He proclaimed God’s sovereignty over history. (vv. 17-24)

I know what some of you are thinking: “But I’m not a Daniel! I don’t have his courage? I’m an introvert.”  Yet all believers are called to declare God’s glory and to speak His truth and life into people and places of darkness.  So we can learn something here from Daniels’ example.

Daniel, the Lord’s faithful servant, emerges from obscurity and once again becomes the ambassador of God’s truth. And because Daniel trusted fully in the Lord, he was not afraid to speak to the king so boldly. God had given him a message of judgment to deliver to the king, and Daniel was going to convey it.

What was his message to Belshazzar? First, he declared how God had worked over decades in the lives of his ancestors- things that Belshazzar knew, but suppressed – and then he brings those truths to bear upon the king’s crisis. To paraphrase a familiar saying: “Those who fail to learn from God’s history are doomed!”

Second, Daniel condemned Belshazzar’s blasphemous act in using vessels of Jehovah’s worship in praising see-nothing, hear-nothing, know-nothing gods. Daniel rebukes him for all this: “You knew the truth about God! You knew what He had done, right here in Babylon’s history, but you refused to submit to it.”  Daniel faithfully proclaims God’s sovereignty over all history and over each person.  And God calls you and me to do the same, today.

2. He interpreted the “handwriting on the wall.” (vv. 25-28)

Daniel understood the signs of the times, and he skillfully applied them to the situation at hand. In the handwriting on the wall, God had already delivered the message of His judgement upon the king and his empire. Now the party was over. Belshazzar had been found eating and drinking judgment on Himself from the sacred vessels of God (compare with the warning about taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, in 1 Cor. 11:29)

Daniel, inspired by God, revealed the meaning of the miraculous message on the wall, and predicted the fall of Babylon, to the Medes and the Persians:

Mene: Your days- and that of your kingdom- are numbered, and will be brought to an end (26)

Tekel: Your life has been weighed and found wanting in the balance. (27)

Peres: Your kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians (28)

Allow me to give you a brief application, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. You too can be a Daniel. How? Ask God to use you to “interpret the handwriting on the wall” today, by being able to open and interpret the Scripture to the people of our culture. What do I mean?

We can show others how the Bible provides the knowledge we need, so we can tell people who they really are and what their life is about. For example, we can diagnose people’s problems (a failed marriage, a troubled child, someone’s fears) and trace them back to their root cause of sin and unbelief.

We can tell people how God’s word interprets their crisis and difficult situations.

We can apply the Gospel to the sins of our culture, and we shouldn’t shrink back from doing so. After all, the Holy Spirit lives within us!


 III. The Purpose of Everyone’s Life:

1. Whose kingdom and banquet are you pursuing? Belshazzar’s? How many people today are spending money and living as if there is no God, and no final accounting, just like Belshazzar’s banquet, when the enemy was already entering the city? Don’t be like the rich fool (Lk. 12:20)  Or are you pursuing Christ’s kingdom and banquet, the one that requires humility and grace and dying to self, and clinging to the person and work of Christ?

           Can you read the handwriting on the wall?

2. Who is weighed in the balance, and what is the outcome?

When Belshazzar is weighed on the scales, he is found wanting, lacking, or deficient. (v. 27)

Are you like Belshazzar, failing to respond to what you know about God and the gospel? The chapter ends with Judgment day for the king and his empire. He wasn’t ready for it. Are you ready for your day of being judged by God?

What happens when you and I are weighed in the scales? We, too, are found wanting. (Romans 3:10-23; “No one is righteous… no one seeks God… all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory)

But what happens when Christ is weighed on the scales? He was found perfect (Heb. 2:10), fully holy and righteous (Acts 3:14; 1 Peter 3:18, and lacking in nothing.

Daniel 5 ends with God’s judgement falling on Belshazzar and his empire. He didn’t expect it. He wasn’t ready for it. Therefore, as far as we know, he died an unrepentant sinner, and is now spending a Christless eternity in hell.

Someday God’s curtain will fall on America, and it will fall on each of us. Are you ready? If God took your life this evening, what would you say to him when you stand before Him?

I urge you to humble yourself… turn from not only your sins, but from your “good works”, and turn to Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation and life.

Don’t be found wanting in the balances.