Therefore He sent the hand that wrote the inscription.
zeal for the right of the crown; fidelity to the position; sympathy for the arraigned (this may be argued from what we know and have seen of Daniel); fearlessness; and absolute disinterestedness (ver. 17, Any honours given and received might have been recognized by any new king). All these should make every one that pleads with man or against man (ultimately to win the man to the right side) for God.
I. THE INDICTMENT. In order to make forcible modern applications, it will be better to formulate the indictment in the most general way. Belshazzar's particular sins may not be just ours; but he and we both commit sins that fall under like categories.
1. Infidelity to accorded revelations. (Ver. 22.)
2. Substituting shadows for God. (Ver. 23.) In the king's ease there had been inflation of himself against God; sacrilege; indecency; drunkenness; prostration before idols, which are "nothing in the world." The inflations, profanities, improprieties, sensualisms, and idolatries of the nineteenth century differ in form, but are quite as real as those of Belshazzar.
3. Failure in man's prime duty; viz. to glorify God.
(1) The duty. To honour God. We put the highest honour on him when we repeat his likeness. To glorify God is to reflect God, as the lake does the heaven above with all its light. This the final end of our creation.
(2) its ground. Our complete dependence. That dependent life should be devoted life is a truth of natural religion (see ver. 23).
(3) The default is so general and notorious as to require no proof (Romans 3:23).
II. THE AGGRAVATIONS OF GUILT. The king's guilt had been aggravated by what he had been permitted to see of the way of the Divine mercy and of the Divine judgment.
1. The vision of the Divine goodness, in his grandfather's prosperity. (Vers. 18, 19.)
2. The vision of sin, in his grandfather's misuse of position. (Ver. 20.)
3. The vision of judgment, in his grandfather's punishment. (Ver. 21.)
4. The vision of mercy, in his grandfather's restoration. (Ver. 21.) Note:
(1) For every sinner a vision of the great realities of the moral world.
(2) Coming oft in very affecting forms, as here, through the experience of the near and dear.
III. THE ABSENCE OF DEFENCE. The sinner dumb at the eternal bar. No defence possible. Judgment goes by default. There is no counsel for defence; for there is no defence. Sentence must pass. The only thing that can be done, can be done them, viz. show ground for free pardon. This the atoning Saviour undertakes. But -
IV. THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT. Of the supreme court - the court of heaven - the judgment of God against the sinner; in this case written with the very finger of God - the same finger which traced ages before "the Law of the ten words." In the "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," read these permanent truths:
1. The day of probation is limited. "Numbered!" and numbered to the end!
2. The character of the probationer is exactly estimated. "Weighed!" Yes, and found light. "God does as perfectly know a man's true character as the goldsmith knows the weight of that which he has weighed in the nicest scales." Note the moral import of phrases like this: "a man of weight and character; .... a light and frivolous man."
3. Deprivation of endowment is the punishment of infidelity to trust. "Divided!" Given away (see parable of the talents).
V. EXECUTION. It was:
1. Swift upon the climax of a life of sin. "In that night."
2. Sure. By an agent long prepared (Isaiah 45:1-6).
3. Sudden. Utterly unexpected.
VI. A GLEAM OF HOPE. The king died sober: did he die penitent.? The way in which he received the awful words of Daniel look very like it (ver. 29). A star of hope shines above the dark cloud in the horizon. - R.
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.
And this writing was written.I. THE SCENE IN WHICH IT OCCURRED. An eastern palace.
1. It was a scene of drunkenness and revelling. The narrative makes their drinking wine a very prominent feature in this feast. The king and all around him are gay and jovial. Deluded wretches! Little did they suspect the awful doom which awaited them. Is this a scene from which to rush into the presence of God? Are these practices in which you would choose that the Judge of Heaven and earth should find you when He comes to call you to His bar?
2. It was a scene of impiety and profanity. They insulted the God of Heaven and earth. They profaned the implements of His worship. They celebrated the gods of their own hands. Scenes of drunkenness are seldom complete till God and religion have come in for a share of contempt. Little did these wretched blasphemers think how soon the God whom they despised would humble them, and avenge Himself upon them.
II. THE EFFECT IT PRODUCED. In the midst of the scene described above, there "came forth fingers of a man's hand and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote." He cannot decipher one character in which it is written. Then why tremble and turn pale? It was something supernatural and therefore alarming. But why should he fear what was supernatural? If the prodigy was produced by the God of Israel, was not this the God whom he was openly defying as contemptible? And if by his own gods, was he not praising them? Then what has he to fear from either? Oh, vain attempt to resist the eternal God! What is the mightiest, the proudest boaster, when a single arrow from the Almighty smites him, when the guilt of his conscience is awakened? Guilt will speak when aroused from its slumbers by the voice of an offended God. It is too strong to be subdued, and produces effects too powerful to be concealed. It was a part of the punishment of Belshazzar to expose his own dismay to the very persons whom he had led on to sin. Thus shame was united with terror. He proclaims his own defeat at the moment when he had inspired others with the idea of victory. "His lords were astonished." And thus shall all the enemies of God and Christ be ashamed. Observe also the cowardice which Belshazzar manifests. He turns pale, he trembles, he cries aloud. It was not his accustomed tone of arbitrary authority, but the hurried cry of trembling timidity. The boldest in vice are often most destitute of courage when danger comes. Mark the scoffer in affliction. Where is his courage then? And who now can afford relief to the wretched king of Babylon? In vain does he look, in vain does he cry to those around him, and to those who are under his control. How forlorn is his condition! Alas, where is the man, whom an angry God has abandoned to his fate, to look for help? Who can deliver out of His hand? Oh, what can your companions in guilt do for you when your doom overtakes you? Most of them will unfeelingly abandon you to your fate. Others will flee from you as an object of dread. And if any can be found who will still cleave to you, wretched comforters will you find them. What smile of friendship or affection can cheer while God frowns? What words of human kindness can convey peace, while the thunder of Divine wrath assails the ear?
III. THE TRUTHS IT CONVEYED. As yet the writing was neither read nor interpreted. In what character it was written does not appear. The Chaldeans understood it not. The most probable conjecture is that it was written in the form of a cypher or monogram, a mode common in eastern nations for conveying secrets. In this extremity the queen rushes into the banquet house and informs the king of Daniel. By her advice he is ordered in. He enters. And now what a scene presents itself! Alas, what unwelcome truths have good men to tell the wicked in times of trouble. How many will not be persuaded of their, danger in health and prosperity, who cry to the righteous for comfort in time of trouble. However disappointed the king, the queen, the lords may be at the language of Daniel, faithfulness to his God required him to use it. And so it is still. You, and those around you, may find the language of a man of God very different from what you expect and wish. You must be reminded of your sins and of their just desert. And now, having finished his address to the king, Daniel turns to the mysterious and terrific inscription. He first puts it into Chaldea words, and then interprets them. The event so immediately and exactly answering the prediction shows that both the reading and the interpretation were from God. "This is the interpretation of the thing." "Mene." The word literally means to number, or be numbered. But who has numbered? The interpretation says "God hath numbered." But what has He numbered? "thy kingdom," thy glory, thy life, "and finished it." Oh, sinner, this will soon be your case. Your days are numbered in the decrees of Heaven, and with them your pleasures and the sources of your gratification and pride. "Tekel." To weigh, or be weighed. The interpretation, "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting." The law of God is the test of human actions. "Peres." To divide, or be divided. "Pharsin" is the plural of Pares, and U, a conjunction prefixed, making "Upharsin." The interpretation, "Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." Oh mortifying sentence! He is stript of his honours, and to aggravate his loss they are bestowed on his enemies. Thus shall the wicked be bereft of all their worldly honours, of those things in which they most delight. Death will divide them from the world, and the world from them. Their possessions shall be given to whom God pleases.
1. This invisible hand, tracing with its pen-fingers these characters upon the wall, is but the infinite Hand that follows us, tracing day by day, though upon a page unseen by us, the record of our lives. It had followed Belshazzar from the period of his first elevation to power until now. It had traced in indelible characters the history of his idolatries, his debaucheries, and his crimes. These characters were all the darker because of the light against which Belshazzar had sinned. As Daniel reminded him of the visitation of Heaven that had fallen upon Nebuchadnezzar when "his heart was lifted up and his mind hardened with pride," and when, by the Divine decree, "he was driven from the sons of men." "And thou, his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven." They told of a wanton disregard of God's authority and contempt of His former judgments. That jealous God, who will not give His glory to another, had not forgotten all this reckless defiance of His authority. And so with each one of us; an invisible eye marks and an invisible hand records all the sins and shortcomings of our life. In God's book of remembrance they are written with ink that shall never fade.
2. The day is coming when the hand that now writes in invisible Characters shall trace in letters of fire over against the candlestick upon the wall of God's great judgment-hall the characters that shall settle our eternal doom. The pallor that overspread the countenances of the king and his nobles on that awful night in Babylon was as nothing compared with the abject terror of that still more awful day when the sun shall be turned into blackness and the moon into blood. The cry that rang from the festal hall that night for the astrologers and soothsayers shall find its terrible counterpart in the cry of that great day for the mountains and the rocks to fail upon men and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. And the silence of the soothsayers in the presence of the invisible hand is but a prefiguration of that awful silence when "every mouth shall be stopped, and all the world shall become guilty before God."
3. In those three words, "Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," as interpreted by Daniel, we have foreshadowed the three elements in the sinner's final doom.(1) The end of probation: Mene, numbered. Belshazzar's kingdom had been a stewardship. The years of his stewardship are now numbered. The day of his probation is now ended. The eternal hand comes out of its obscurity to announce the fact that the day of opportunity is ever and the day of reckoning has come. And so to you and me, my dear reader, shall that day suddenly come. Death's bony fingers shall write over against us the word Mene, numbered. It may come as suddenly and as awfully in the midst of your worldliness and gaiety as it did to Belshazzar amidst the impious revelries of his midnight feast.(2) The sentence of condemnation: Tekel, weighed and found wanting. Little as Belshazzar dreamed of it, his life had been placed in the balance of eternal and unerring justice. It had been impartially weighed. Your best righteousnesses would be but as the "small dust of the balance." As over agninst the weighty demands of God's perfect law they would be lighter than vanity.(3) The doom of disinheritance: Perez (Upharsin — U, and, and Pharsin, the plural form of Perez), divided. Belshazzar's kingdom was taken from him and divided between the Medea and Persians. But what was the kingdom of Belshazzar compared with that kingdom forfeited by the soul which at last shall be weighed and found wanting? Oh that kingdom in the skies, that kingdom that cannot be moved, that kingdom whose capital city is one that "lieth foursquare" like Babylon, but the side of whose square, instead of being, like Babylon's, fourteen miles, is, as measured by the angel of the Apocalypse, twelve thousand furlongs, and the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal!
4. The day of the sinner's undoing shall be the day of the saint's coronation. Amidst that scene of terror in Belshazzar's festal hall there was one figure that stood unappalled. No terror blanched the cheek of Daniel. No sudden weakness "loosed the joints of his loins." No dismay made his knees "smite one against another." It was his Father's hand that was writing; why should he fear? There was no guilty conscience in his breast responding with its Tekel to that upon the wall. What a grand character he appears, erect and self-possessed amidst the cowering throng, the light of a serene peace illuminating his face as he reads the writing that carries terror to all around! Even so shall it be in that great day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, when the books shall be opened, and the dead shall be judged out of the things that are written in the books. The judgment-day shall have no terrors for those who have been the servants of Christ. Not only shall they be exempted and honoured of God, but they shall on that day receive at the hand of an ungodly world the just meed of honour and praise which has been so long withheld. So the servants of God in that final coronation-day shall receive, even from the most depraved, that tardy recognition denied them here upon the earth.
5. Repentance, long deferred, may come too late. Had Belshazzar sought the counsel of Daniel before the handwriting appeared on the wall, had he signalised his entrance upon the responsibilities of regal power by restoring the prophet to the post of influence and authority he had once so happily filled under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar — he might have escaped the impending ruin. Alas! it is now too late! Divine patience has been exhausted. Doom is sealed. And so must it be with those who wilfully postpone the great interests of the soul.
(T. D. Witherspoon, D.D.)
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.)
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