Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.…
The events recorded in this chapter occurred in the fifty-first year of the captivity of the Jews. Let me ask you to consider the extreme minuteness of the prophecies with regard to Babylon, made one hundred and fifty years before they were accomplished. It was predicted (Isaiah 45:1) that Cyrus, the king of Persia, should be its conqueror; and this was fulfilled, for it was the Persian troops, commanded by Cyrus, who captured the city. It was predicted (Isaiah 44:27) that the river Euphrates should be dried up before the city was taken; and this was fulfilled when the soldiers of Cyrus, with incredible labour, diverted it from its course, and thus "laid a snare for Babylon." It was predicted (Isaiah 45:1) that, when the city was taken, its "gates should not be shut"; and this was fulfilled, for the historian records that had the gates leading from the river to the city been shut, the Persians would have been inclosed in a net, from which they could never have escaped. It was predicted (Jeremiah 1: 24) that on the night of the capture the Babylonians would be given up to intemperance: "I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware thou art found and also caught" (Jeremiah 51:57) — "And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, her captains and her rulers, and her mighty men; and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake"; and this was fulfilled, for Cyrus selected the occasion of a great festival for entering the city; and Herodotus (as quoted by Dr. Keith) relates that the inhabitants were given up to revelling and dancing — that the guards were drinking before the palace when the Persians rushed upon and slew them, and that the monarch and the princes and the captains were slain at a feast.
I. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE. "In the same hour came forth the fingers of a man's hand," etc.
1. The cause of his alarm. It was the mysterious handwriting, upon the wall. We read that he made a great feast; for what purpose we are not informed, but as it seems to have been anticipated by Cyrus, it was probably some national festival. Such is the love of the human heart for self-indulgence that it will not resign the pursuit of pleasure, however great the risk that is incurred. Now, I submit that unless he had been conscious of doing a wrong act, there was nothing in such a spectacle to have produced the terror which is here described. For anything be could tell, that handwriting, whether supernatural in its origin or not, might have boded good not evil. What was there, apart from a guilty conscience, in a few letters written upon the wall, to terrify a monarch surrounded by his courtiers? Here, then, we have an illustration of the power of conscience — that mysterious monitor which God has placed within us. I ask for no stronger evidence of the universality of conscience than men's superstitious fears, and the remorse which follows the commission of crime. The most abject terror has been displayed by those who have indulged in sin, and derided religion as the device of priestcraft, proving beyond all dispute that whatever may be the hardihood of vice, it cannot anticipate the future without alarm. And this alarm is often excited by the most trifling circumstance. Belshazzar starts not at a phantom — not at some awful manifestation of Divine power — not at the clash of swords and shrieks of the wounded, which proclaim that the Persian army is at hand, but at some unintelligible characters traced on the wall. See how easily God can terrify the sinner. Happy they whose consciences are pacified by the blood of Christ, and who, having nothing to fear because reconciled to God, are anxious to avoid whatever is evil, and walk all day in the light of God's countenance.
2. The mental distress which BelShazzar suffered. His troubled thoughts are evident by his changed countenance and trembling limbs. And this is the more remarkable, because there was everything in the circumstances in which he was placed to dissipate his alarm. He was not alone. It was not in the silence and solitude of night, it was not in the near approach of death. He was seated at the head of a sumptuous board — the princes and nobles of his empire were around him, the wine sparkled — the jest and song dispelled all thought and care. So for a season men of the world may have no anxiety with regard to the future. There are many expedients to which they can resort to prevent reflection, but conscience awakes at an unexpected moment, and they are full of anguish. It is a solemn hour when conscience awakes from its lethargy; and the longer it has slept, and the more a man has sinned against light and knowledge, the more terrible is its awakening. Why, even the heathen could compare it to a vulture gnawing the heart, and speak of the furies who pursue the wicked with their burning torch and whip of scorpions.
3. The miserable expedients to which he resorted. "The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers" (v. 7). And was this his only resort? Has he no better device than this? Had he forgotten their inability to explain to Nebuchadnezzar his dream? I do not think he had forgotten either. The probability is, that he was ashamed or afraid to send for Daniel when those golden vessels of the temple of his God were before him, and that he clung to the hope that the astrologers might, in this instance, afford him the information he desired. And you have here a type of the wretched expedients to which men often resort to appease their conscience. Some summon to their aid new forms of worldly pleasure; some resort to intemperance; others embrace infidelity. The astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers could do nothing for Belshazzar, and worldly pleasure or sceptical doubts can never extract the sting of an accusing conscience. If you once feel that you are estranged from God, and that instead of enjoying His favour you have reason to dread His anger, you will never be happy again until you have found refuge in Christ. You may try many other things. It is probable that you will do so. You may say, I am out of health, the subject of morbid fancies, and perhaps seek a physician; but there is no medicine that can cure a wounded conscience.
II. AN ILLUSTRATION OF DANIEL'S FIDELITY.
1. He charges Belshazzar with neglecting providential warnings. He reminds him of the pride and punishment of Nebuchadnezzar. Now, the measure of our responsibility is always proportioned to the degree of our knowledge. Perhaps there are few families who have not received from God some solemn warnings; there are few to whom He has not spoken by His providential dispensations. But there are many who give no heed to this. There was a moment's impression, but it soon subsided.
2. He charges him with rebellion against God. "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified." This verse contains a very affecting representation of our entire dependence on God. He is the God in whose hand our breath is. He it was who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, and He it is in whom we live, and move, and have our being. There is nothing more mysterious than that principle which puts in motion all the beautiful complicated mechanism of the body. What is it? None can tell. It is not electricity, it is not galvanism, it is not the subtle ether. The pride of science is humbled before this great mystery, the mystery of life. "In God's hand is the soul of every living thing." But this is not all. It is added, "And whose are all thy ways." So complete is God's control over us, that we can do nothing apart from Him. He it is who watches over us by night and day — who keeps us in our going out and coming in — who saves us from pestilence and death. Nothing, then, can be more obvious than the duty of glorifying God. If His works praise Him, should not His creatures? Does it not become those whom He thus sustains and blesses to honour and serve Him? What is idolatry but giving to another the glory that belongs to God? And what is sacrilege but applying to an unholy purpose the gifts of God? Then how many are there against whom this charge may be brought? Of how many a man. engaged in the business of life, may it be said, as he goes to his daily occupation, and never gives one thought to God — "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified." What glory does He receive from those families who never call upon His name?
III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SCRUTINY TO WHICH MEN'S CHARACTER AND ACTIONS SUBJECTED BY THE OMNISCIENT EYE OF GOD. Belshazzar had forgotten and dishonoured God, but God had not forgotten him. He had been the subject of a strict and impartial scrutiny. "And this is the writing that was written — MENE, MENE TEKEL, UPHARSIN!" Conjecture has been busy as to the language in which these words were written. But this is a question of little interest, and can never be decided. The words, as given by Daniel, are in the Chaldean language, and are so enigmatical that had the astrologers been able to read, they could not have interpreted them. But I have said that this narrative teaches us that we are under the inspection of God. We may succeed in baffling the search into our character and motive, of the most curious and observant of our fellow-men; but there is one glance whose scrutiny we cannot elude. Men may mistake — they often do mistake; they may fail to discover those secrets that are folded in the silence and secrecy of our hearts; but God's eye is ever upon us. Nor can others form a correct estimate of us. They can look only upon the outward appearance. What do they know of our hearts? But how comes it to pass that we, who are so sensitive as to what is said and thought of us by our fellow-men, are so indifferent to the scrutiny of God? He is never mistaken. The result of this scrutiny reveals much that is defective in every character. We can be at no loss to understand what it was that rendered Belshazzar's character so defective. It was his pride, he wanted humility; it was his ingratitude, he wanted a thankful spirit; it was his neglect of providential warnings, he wanted a more attentive consideration of God's dealings with him: it was his idolatry, he wanted reverence for the authority and commands of God. Now, the balances in which God weighs our characters can be nothing less than His requirements and our capabilities. It is by that pure and perfect law which He has given that He judges us. Let there be no misconception; you have to deal with God, and not with man; and it is in God's balances that your actions are weighed. Will you place in them the virtues of social life? He admits their excellence and worth, but He asks you what relation they sustain to Him? I ask you to be honest with yourselves. You can gain nothing, you will lose everything, by self-deception. The address of Daniel to Belshazzar was the last to which the monarch ever listened, and he seems to have disregarded the solemn warning.
(H. J. Gamble.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.