Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Ps. 115: 1, 8
Ps. 115: 2, 4, 5, 6
Ps. 68: 1, 12
Ps. 75: 1, 2, 5, 6
Ps. 98: 1, 4
Scripture reading: Daniel 5: 1 – 31
Text: Dan. 5: 17 – 31
Ps. 115: 1, 8
Ps. 115: 2, 4, 5, 6
Ps. 68: 1, 12
Ps. 75: 1, 2, 5, 6
Ps. 98: 1, 4
Scripture reading: Daniel 5: 1 – 31
Text: Dan. 5: 17 – 31
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
“Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, ‘says the LORD; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation.’” – Jer. 25: 12
When we come to Daniel chapter 5 the seventy years of the Babylonian exile were almost complete. Chapter 5 is about 70 years after chapter 1.
Historians will tell us that when this feast of Belshazzar took place, Cyrus, the king of Persia, was already busy to besiege Babylon.
Babylon was about to fall.
And yet she is having a feast! A great feast!
Belshazzar, the king, invited a thousand of his lords. A thousand of the greatest men of Babylon are gathered for this big party.
At first this seems to be impossible. How can they have such a big feast while the city is being besieged by a vast army of the Persians?
But historians will also tell us that Babylon was such an immense city that it was almost a kingdom on its own. It had an enormous wall, almost unconquerable, all around. And within the city there was such a treasure of wealth and food laid up that the Babylonians would be able to endure a siege for more than ten years. They could simply close their gates and continue their normal life for a very long time.
And how would the Persian army be able to besiege the city for more than ten years? Most probably they would have to return home unsuccessful.
That would explain why the Babylonians were not much concerned.
But the sudden fall of Babylon came unexpected – that very night!
Yes, the fall of Babylon was sudden and unexpected, and so we find them feasting on that remarkable night.
If any of them had concern about their safety, then they must have applied that ungodly saying: let us eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die! (Isaiah 22: 13; 1 Cor. 15: 32, 33)
But as we will see, that night king Belshazzar and his mighty men had no thought of death or judgment until God intervened and gave sentence.
Dear congregation, as this revealed history unfolds before us, we will also be strengthened by this judgement of God, and rejoice over Babylon’s fall, for the same judgment that brought Babylon’s fall also brought Judah’s deliverance.
Yes, this history is recorded for us as a picture that foreshadows the fall of the kingdoms of this world; a picture of Judgement Day.
I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme…
The Fall of Babylon
We will note…
1. Babylon’s blasphemy
2. God’s judgement announced
3. The fulfilment of prophecy
In the first place we note…
Belshazzar means: Bel protects the king. His name speaks of trust in the chief idol of Babylon.
Now, Belshazzar, king of Babylon, drank wine in the presence of the thousand. And then…
“While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.”
Before we look at the way in which they insulted God, we first have to note something else. In these opening verses of the chapter the prophet repeats five times that they were drinking wine.
In verse 1 he says that the king drank wine in the presence of the thousand.
In verse 2 he says that the king gave his command while he tasted the wine.
And again in verse 2 he mentions the purpose of bringing the vessels from God’s temple: that he, and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from it.
And in verse 3 we read that they drank from it.
And then again, in verse 4: they drank wine.
Why does the prophet emphasise this fact, the drinking of wine, by repeating it five times?
The implication is clearly that they came under the influence of wine.
Historians also give us a clear description how these Babylonian feasts went – especially when the wives and concubines were part of the party. It was licentious. And the drinking of wine added to the licentiousness of these feasts.
Now, while he was drinking, Belshazzar gave this command to bring the holy vessels which were taken from God’s temple in Jerusalem, that he, his wives and his concubines can drink from it.
He would not dare to do that with the vessels from his own gods. Even the heathens, though their gods were no gods, had respect for the property of their gods. To bring the holy vessels from God’s temple, from Jahve’s sanctuary, into their drinking party and to drink from it, was to demonstrate their contempt for this God; it was to mock and to challenge Him. It was a public act of insult against the God of Israel, profaning in this way the very vessels that were sanctified for His service only.
This was not an innocent act of an ignorant heathen. No, the king knew exactly what he was doing. It was a calculated insult and meant to make mockery of the God of Israel.
While they drank from the holy vessels of God’s house they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Two things are placed next to each other: they mock God and praise the idols.
The description of Babylon’s idols comes, of course, from the prophet’s mouth. Daniel describes the idols of Babylon as being nothing but pieces of metal, wood and stone! And this is indeed the language of Scripture. How worthless are the idols of the nations!
Before Israel entered Canaan, God already foretold the Babylonian exile. He spoke through Moses and said to Israel that in the latter days when they refuse to listen to the LORD, they will go into exile.
“And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.” – Deut. 4: 28.
And there are more such passages. We may think for example of Ps. 115 where we read:
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, by they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands but do not handle; feet they have but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them will become like them; everyone who trusts in them.”
Now, the heathens never thought that their gods consisted of dead materials such as metal, wood, and stone. They indeed imagined that their gods are dwelling in the heavens. But they thought that the spirit and power of their gods were also present in these images. And thus they revered these images.
However, since their gods do not exist, it follows that the worshippers of idol images were revering nothing but mere wood and stone, gold and silver.
By calling these images “gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone”, Daniel repeats the words of Scripture in which God reveals that the idols are nothing but dumb images; that they are indeed nothing more than mere metal, wood and stone.
By calling these images what they are – wood and stone – God revealed the utter foolishness of such idolatry.
Now, while Belshazzar and his thousand lords with his wives and concubines were drinking wine from the holy vessels of God’s house, they were praising their dumb images of gold, wood, and stone.
They gave honour and glory to these, while showing open contempt for the living God.
It was not a mindless act. Daniel, when he was brought in before the king, said to Belshazzar:
“…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.”
It was an act of open and public rebellion against God: “you have lifted yourself up against the God of heaven”.
Yes, Belshazzar openly challenged God, showing open contempt for God, praising wood and stone, instead of honouring the living God.
The whole event was public and open blasphemy in the face of God.
Our text says:
“In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared…”
In the same hour – that means: exactly while they were busy with this insult, desecration and blasphemy, the hand appeared.
At that point the measure of their iniquity was full, and the time for judgement has come.
We have to understand this event in the context of the rest of the book.
We see two kingdoms standing over against each other: the kingdom of God over against the kingdoms of this world; Jerusalem over against Babylon.
At first it seems as if Jerusalem has suffered defeat before this world empire. But already in chapter 1 we see God at work. There in the midst of Babylon He preserves for Himself a faithful remnant – a young man and a few of his friends who refuse to defile themselves with the food of Babylon.
And thus the kingdom of God is making progress in the manner of leaven that slowly rises up.
Chapter 2 reveals that Babylon and all the kingdoms of this world will come to a fall, but that the God of heaven will establish His kingdom forever.
In chapter 3 the faithful are tested by persecution in the fiery furnace, but God reveals His power and protects His servants in the midst of the fire. Again Nebuchadnezzar suffers defeat before this almighty God who executes His word as He has spoken.
In chapter 4 God removed that mighty emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, from his throne and made him to eat grass like an ox, until he acknowledged that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
The power and the kingdom belong to Him alone, and He will give it to whomever He chooses.
As Daniel will point out in a moment, Belshazzar knew all these things. He was well aware of these events in the time of his father, but still refused to acknowledge or to honour God. He knew that God humbled his father because of his father’s pride, yet he, Belshazzar, did not humble his heart before God or gave Him glory.
And so the time for judgment has come. We note that in the second place…
God’s judgment announced
“In that hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.”
His face became pale and his whole body started to tremble enormously.
It was the paralysing effect of excessive fear. What a pitiful spectacle of a king who, just a few moments before, dared to defy the almighty God!
There he is, shivering so immensely that his knees were knocking against each other!
And that at the slightest appearance of God’s presence!
Yes, while proud men speak great and arrogant words against God, they became pale and shiver when He only lifts His finger!
Crying aloud the king summoned the so called “wise men” of Babylon to come, but they could not even read the writing, much less interpret it – verse 8.
Yes, these astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers would be very glad if they could read the writing and know what it says, because the king has promised a great reward:
“Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” – verse 7
This promised reward, to be made such a great ruler in Babylon, proves that there was no thought in their minds that Babylon may soon fall, or else – if they had any expectation of Babylon’s fall – the promised reward would have been mockery.
No, there was indeed no thought that Babylon may fall. The promised reward was seriously meant: you may become a ruler of Babylon!
But no one was able to read the writing or to interpret it.
Finally the queen came and reminded Belshazzar of Daniel.
The Spirit of the Holy God is in him; he will give the interpretation.
And so Daniel – identified by the king as a captive from Judah – is brought before him.
But before Daniel reads and interprets the writing, he first preaches to this heathen king. And he does this boldly, faithfully and fearlessly! There in public he spells out the king’s sins to him, and declares openly to him that his gods are silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know!
Wow! Who would dare to say that to such a heathen king in his face?
It was already a miracle that Daniel was not slain on the spot.
And Daniel reminds Belshazzar of God’s dealings with his father, Nebuchadnezzar, how he had to eat grass like an ox, until he had to acknowledge that God is the sovereign Ruler over all, and that He gives the kingdom to whomever He wants.
You, Belshazzar, know what God had done to your father, and how your father was forced to acknowledge God’s sovereign rule.
“But you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this.” – verse 22
And then Daniel reads and interprets the writing: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin
And he interprets each word as follows:
Mene – God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it.
Tekel – you have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
Peres – your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
(Peres is the singular of Pharsin, and the U of Upharsin simply means “and”.)
It is a short and powerful sentence – one that will be remembered for all eternity, as we will see in a moment.
For this fall of Babylon is given to us as a picture of the final fall of Babylon when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven.
We note that in the third place….
The fulfilment of prophecy
In the first place our text speaks of the immediate fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy.
“That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius, the Mede, received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.” – verses 30, 31.
The fall of Babylon was sudden and unexpected. That very night the kingdom was taken away from Belshazzar and given to Darius the Mede.
It all happened as the prophets have spoken.
But the fall of Babylon also had eschatological significance.
When we read in the Prophets about Babylon’s fall, for example in Isaiah 13, the prophet describes the fall of Babylon in universal terms as being Judgement Day:
“Wail, for the day of the LORD is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.” – Isaiah 13: 6
“Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” – Isaiah 13: 9 – 11.
“…I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger.” – Isaiah 13: 13
Isaiah spoke these words with regard to God’s judgment that would come on Babylon, but the description is exactly the same as Judgement Day on the day of Christ’s coming!
Now, when we compare the fall of Babylon in this historical passage of Daniel 5, it does not seem at first to fit the description of the prophets who foretold the fall of Babylon. The destruction does not seem to be so complete and so universal.
Yes, Babylon was not destroyed that night when Belshazzar was slain; the destruction of the city came later. But even when we look at the physical destruction of the city that followed later, it still does not seem to fit the language of the prophets where they said that on that day the heavens would shake and the earth be moved out of its place!
No, when the prophets spoke of the fall of Babylon they had more in mind than just the fall of the physical city. In the language of the prophets Babylon become a symbol of world power and of the kingdoms of this world, and its fall became symbol of Judgement Day.
And thus we also find it in Revelation chapter 18 where the fall of Babylon stands for the final destruction of the kingdoms of this world.
And in Rev. 19 we hear the great multitude in heaven rejoicing over Babylon’s fall.
Yes, Babylon’s fall is followed by a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying:
“… ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honour and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgements, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her’.
Again they said: ‘Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!” – Rev. 19: 1 – 3.
And thus we have to place our text this morning within the bigger picture. It is not only about a proud and arrogant private individual with the name Belshazzar. No, our text speaks about the king of Babylon, and how God took this kingdom away from the Chaldeans and slain their king, and gave the kingdom to whom He chose – in that case: to the Medes and Persians according to His counsel.
This event becomes in the rest of Scripture a picture foreshadowing Judgement Day; that great day when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven, suddenly and unexpected, in great power and glory as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
To Him belongs the eternal kingdom, and the dominion forever.
With this understanding we are able to draw conclusions for our own day. We do not have to make a big jump to draw the lines between this historical text and our own day. In fact, Scripture does it for us.
In Revelation 13 we read of the beast that rises out of the sea – the beast represents the kingdoms and governments of this world; the ungodly world powers of this world. And what does this beast, this world power do?
“…he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.” – Rev. 13: 5, 6.
This will happen for 42 months, and as we saw previously, this symbolic number of 42 months in Revelation refers to the total time of the New Testament era from Christ’s first coming up to His second coming.
In other words, the world powers and governments will open their mouth with blasphemies against God during the total time of the New Testament era.
That includes also our time.
The arrogance and the blasphemy of the king of Babylon, as described in Daniel 5, is also present in our own day. The beast is speaking. From his mouth proceeds great words and blasphemy spoken in drunken arrogance.
Yes, Daniel 5 becomes a picture, a model, of what will happen in the latter days – the days in which we are living.
And we do see it all around us.
We may call it the drunken pride of governors and ministers who openly blurt out their denial of God, and their blasphemy.
And all the lords of Babylon partake. It has become characteristic of the decadent world culture of our day – the decadent and God-dishonouring culture of Babylon.
Let me mention a few examples.
The evolution theory which is now being integrated in the syllabus of many public schools – is that not open blasphemy against God?
And when honour and praise is given to “Mother Earth” and to the power of “Nature” – is that not praising idols of wood and stone?
When God’s law is aggressively scrapped from the law books of governments – is that not open rebellion against the God of heaven?
When the Lord’s Prayer is banned from schools, when God’s Name is despised in Parliament, when busses drive through the cities of London with slogans that God is dead, and when His name is blasphemed in almost every film and movie – is that not the same spirit of Babylon as described here in Daniel 5?
Yes, we have almost become used to it! It has become normal for the great men of our day to deny and to defy God. The blasphemy of Babylon is integrated in every aspect of education, entertainment, lawgiving, art, culture, and in every sphere of society.
It is the world in which we are living; a world fully ripe for judgment.
Yes, since Daniel 5 the time has only become fuller and riper, for the blasphemy of Babylon is daily increasing.
Dear congregation, sometimes we may feel disheartened when we see how society and also the world governments are becoming increasingly secular, yes, even aggressively denying God and blaspheming His Name.
But the drunken party of Babylon is almost over.
The greater noise it makes against God, the closer its judgement, and the closer our redemption.
When you hear the arrogant heathen speech of drunkards – of those who are under the influence of the wine of Babylon – know for sure that the days of Babylon are counted.
God has determined exactly how far and how long they may continue.
Yes, the fall of Babylon will be swift and sudden.
It is a comfort to us, but also a warning:
“Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” (Rev. 18: 4)
Brothers and sisters, let us not partake in the drunken feast of Babylon, but humble ourselves before the almighty God who made heaven and earth, and give Him honour and glory. For: it is He who holds our breath in His hand and who owns all our ways.
The writing is against the wall.
Babylon’s days are counted.
The more this world rages against God, the closer the Day of Judgment.
The more the beast increases his blasphemy, the closer we are to the final fulfilment of prophecy.
Yes, when you see these things happening, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near – for those who repent and believe; for those who fear and honour God here and now in the midst of Babylon.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief
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