It was the last night of a nation's existence, but the people knew it not. Some slept in unconscious peace; some reveled and whirled away in thoughtless dance. In the dens of Babylon, men steeped in vice continued their wild orgies; in the palace halls Belshazzar feasted with a thousand of his lords. Music resounded through the brilliantly lighted rooms. The nobles lounged about the tables sumptuously spread. Court women and concubines of the king entered those halls. It was a feast of Bacchus, and they drank to the health of the king on his throne. He ordered that the sacred vessels be brought from the temple to show that no being, human or divine, could raise a hand against him, the king of Babylon. The golden cup filled with wine was raised and the blessing of Bel invoked, but it never reached the lips of the half-intoxicated king. His hand was stayed. Those vessels had been molded by hands divinely skilled, and after heavenly models. Angels had watched them as they were taken from the temple at Jerusalem and carried to Babylon. Messengers divinely appointed had guarded them, and their very presence in the heathen temple was a witness of the God of the Jews. Some day the silence would be broken. The desecration of his temple would not always remain unpunished. That time came when the king lifted the goblet
let filled with sparkling wine. His hand grew stiff, for on the opposite wall over against the lights was a bloodless hand, writing words of an unknown language. The winecup fell to the floor; the king's countenance grew pale; he trembled violently, and his knees smote together until the gorgeous girdle of his loins loosened and fell aside. The loud laughter ceased, and the music died away. Terror-stricken, a thousand guests looked from the face of the king to the writing on the wall.
The Chaldean astrologers and soothsayers were called, but the writing was meaningless to them. They who taught all earthly languages failed to recognize the language of heaven. The four strange characters remained as at first seen, emblazoned in letters of fire on the wall.
For days the siege of Babylon had been on. The gates were closed and her walls were considered impregnable, while within the city were provisions for twenty years. But however strong she might seem, God had said, "Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from me shall spoilers come unto her."
The strongest strongholds which man can build are crushed like a dying leaf when the hand of God is laid upon them. But this was a lesson which the rulers of Babylon had not yet learned. The father of iniquity, who was urging these rulers forward into deeper sin, had not yet owned the weakness of his cause. Heaven and unfallen worlds watched the progress of affairs in this great city, for it was the battle-ground of the two mighty forces of good and evil. Christ and Satan here contended.
Angels, unseen by human eyes, as they gathered the animals into the ark before the flood, had mustered forces against Babylon. God was using men who knew him not as God, but who were true to principle and wished to do the right. To Cyrus, the leader of the Persian army which was now outside the city walls, God had said that he held his hand to make him strong. Before you "I will loose the loins of kings." I will open those two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut; "I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut in sunder the bars of iron."
While Belshazzar and his lords drank and feasted, the army of Cyrus was lowering the waters in the bed of the Euphrates, preparatory to entering the city.
As the Chaldeans were unable to read the writing on the wall, the king's terror increased. He knew that this was a rebuke of his sacrilegious feast, and yet he could not learn the exact meaning. Then the queen-mother remembered Daniel, who had "the Spirit of the holy God," and who had been made master of the wise men in the days of Nebuchadnezzar as the result of interpreting the king's dream.
Daniel, the prophet of God, was called to the banquet room. As he came before Belshazzar, the monarch promised to make him third ruler in the kingdom if he would interpret the writing. The prophet, with the quiet dignity of a servant of the Most High God, stood before the gorgeous, terror-stricken throng that bore evidence of intemperate feasting and wicked revelry.
In Israel, children were named under the inspiration 58Margin
of the Spirit, and the name was an expression of character. When God changed a name, as in the case of Abraham, Jacob, or Peter, it was because of a change of character in the individual. True to the name given him by his mother, Daniel-God's judge-again appears to vindicate the truth. Nebuchadnezzar had called him Belteshazzar, in honor of the Babylonian god Bel, but to the last this Hebrew, who knew the Lord, remained true to his God-given name, as shown in the twelfth verse of this chapter. He did not speak with flattering words, as the professedly wise men of the kingdom had done, but he spoke the truth of God. It was a moment of intensity, for there was but a single hour in which to make known the future. Daniel was now an old man, but he sternly disclaimed all desire for rewards or honor, and proceeded to review the history of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Lord's dealings with that ruler-his dominion and glory, his punishment for pride of heart, and his subsequent acknowledgment of the mercy and power of the God who created the heavens and the earth. He rebuked Belshazzar for his departure from true principles, and for his great wickedness and pride.
"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; . . . And the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified." Straightforward and strong were the words of Daniel. Belshazzar had trodden on sacred ground; he had laid unholy hands on holy things; he had severed the ties which bind heaven and earth together; and there was no
way for that life-giving Spirit of God to reach him or his followers. Day by day his breath had been given him, a symbol of the spiritual breath, but he praised and thanked the gods of wood and stone. His every motion had been by virtue of the power of the God of heaven, but he had prostituted that power to an unholy cause. "Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written." What he could not see written in his own breath and muscles, what he could not read in his own heart-beats, God wrote in mystic characters on the palace wall, over against the candlestick.
The people waited with bated breath as Daniel turned to the writing on the wall, and read the message traced by the angel hand. The hand had been withdrawn, but four terrible words remained. The prophet announced their meaning to be: "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin: . . . God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it: . . . thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting: . . . thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
In dealing with men God always uses a language which appeals forcibly to their understanding. This is illustrated in the handwriting on the wall. It is a common belief among idolaters that the gods weigh deeds in balances, and that if the good deeds outweigh the evil, the individual enters into his reward; if the opposite result is obtained, punishment follows. The language, therefore, was familiar to King Belshazzar. "God hath numbered thy kingdom; . . . thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." To the magicians who stood within hearing, as Daniel gave the interpretation, the
words came with peculiar force because of their familiarity with religious customs.
To the one who knows God, the attitude of the Lord toward the sinner is very different, and still the symbol of the weights and balances is applicable. That this subject might be understood, God had sent an explanation by the prophet Ezekiel. When man sins and dies without repentance, he is cut off from God, because our iniquities separate between us and God, and the man can not be saved. If a man loves Christ and accepts him and his righteousness, Christ's character is written opposite the name of that man in the books of heaven, and so long as a love of the truth is cherished, the man hides in Christ and is known by the character of Christ. God deals with men in the present. We may have been the worst of sinners, but if to-day we are hidden in Christ, heaven takes into account only our present position.
So it was that God dealt with the nations, and this answers the question why Nebuchadnezzar might one day be in favor with God and the next day be in condemnation; why Zedekiah's course of action was condemned once, and then again he was told that it lay in his power to save Jerusalem.
God gave the Babylonian monarchs, and through them the entire kingdom, an abundance of time to accept him. He waited long. The Holy Watcher hovered long near the center of earthly governments; every blessing which Heaven could bestow was given to woo the kingdom to the side of right. But at last the slender cord which connected earth and heaven snapped; there was no channel for the flow of the Holy
Spirit; death and death only could result. That there might be no misunderstanding, the last word read, "Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians."
Scarcely had the scarlet robe been placed on Daniel and the golden chain hung about his neck, when the shouts from the invading army rang through the palace.
In the midst of their feasting and rioting, none had noticed that the waters in the Euphrates were steadily diminishing. The besieging army of Cyrus, which had long been held at bay by the massive walls, was eagerly watching the river. The river had been turned from its course, and as soon as the water had sufficiently subsided to allow the men a passage in the bed of the river, they entered from opposite sides of the city. In their reckless feeling of security, the Babylonians had left open the gates in the walls which lined the river-banks inside the city. So the Persians, once in the river-bed, easily entered the city through the open gates.
Soon one post was running to "meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to show the king of Babylon that his city is taken at one end." But the news was received too late to save the king. God had numbered and finished his kingdom. The enemy made a mad rush for the palace. The pen of inspiration describes the overthrow of the kingdom more vividly than any human historian. Of those guests at the banquet of Belshazzar it is said, "I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not awake. . . . I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter." Then as if the eye of the prophet failed to separate
Satan from the kingdom which he had so long controlled, he exclaims, "How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! How is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!" Fire raged through the streets, and as the people realized that destruction was upon them, a cry reached heaven. It was a hand-to-hand fight with fire and sword until men grew weary and gave up the struggle.
"In that night was Belshazzar slain," and the kingdom was given to Darius, the aged king of the Medes. Thus came to an end one of the proudest monarchies that has ever been upon the earth. When an individual or a nation fills up the cup of iniquity, and passes the limit of God's mercy, they are quickly humbled in the dust.
The question naturally arises, Why did not the conquering army destroy Daniel, who was the third ruler in the kingdom, at this critical moment? The answer is simple and natural. When the kingdom was taken and Belshazzar slain, Nabonadius, the first ruler, at the head of an army, was surrounded by the enemy in another part of the kingdom. This left Daniel sole ruler in Babylon. He knowing that over one hundred years before, Isaiah had prophesied that Cyrus should take the kingdom, was ready to welcome him whom God had said should build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem.
There is also good reason to believe that Daniel and Cyrus were not strangers. When excluded from the council of Belshazzar, Daniel had spent a portion of his time at Shushan, the capital of Elam.
Elam had revolted from Babylon, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah.
Daniel may have formed an acquaintance with Cyrus, and showed to him, as the high priest did to Alexander on a certain occasion, the prophecy that pertained to himself, and also revealed to him the way God had said he should enter Babylon. It is evident from the wording of the decree given in the first chapter of Ezra, that Cyrus was familiar with these prophecies.
God gives continual opportunities for his people to prepare the way for blessings to come to them, when they are walking in the light. God is never taken by surprise, but his Word is a lamp to the feet and a guide to the life. This illustrates the importance of God's people's "knowing the time" in which they live from the light of prophecy. There is a Witness in every scene of sacrilegious mirth, and the recording angel writes, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." This same Witness is with us wherever we are. Although we may feel that we have liberty to follow the promptings of the natural heart, and indulge in lightness and trifling, yet an account must be rendered for these things. As we sow, so shall we reap.
Nations to-day are repeating the history of the last years of the kingdom of Babylon. Medo-Persia was the instrument in the Lord's hands to punish Babylon. The next great overthrow of governments will usher in the kingdom of our Lord. For the final battle, nations are now mustering their forces. The cry has gone forth, "Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul; be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord's vengeance."
Page 68: Isa. 21:4, 5; 2 Chron. 36:7; Dan. 5:1-4; Ezra 1:11; Ezra 1:9; Ex. 25:40 [margin.]; Ex. 31:2-7; Ex. 25:9, 40; Jer. 50:28; Jer. 50:24-28; Jer. 51:11.
Page 69: Isa. 21:3-5; Dan. 5:5-9; Isa. 45:1-3; Jer. 51:53; Ps. 127:1; Zech. 2:9; Ps. 75:4-7; 1 Cor. 4:9.
Page 70: Gen. 7:7-9; Jer. 50:25; Jer. 51:2; Isa. 13:1-5; Isa. 45:1-4; Isa. 43:1-3; Jer. 51:27, 28; Isa. 44:27; Jer. 50:38; Dan. 5, 10-13.
Page 71: Gen. 17:5 ;Gen. 32:28; John 1:42; Acts 4:36; Dan. 5:14-21.
Page 72: Acts 17:28; Ps. 139:14; Job 31:6; Ps. 62:9; 1 Sam. 2:3; Prov. 6:2, 11; Dan. 5:22-27; Eze. 33:10-16.
Page 73: 2 Thess. 2:10; Luke 7:47; Rom. 5:20; 1 John 1:9; Ps. 32:5; Prov. 28:13; Jer. 18:7 10.
Page 74: Zech. 4:11, 12; Dan. 5:28, 29; Jer. 50:35-46; Jer. 51:30-33; Jer. 51:53-58; Isa. 51:57; Jer. 51:40.
Page 75: Jer. 51:41; Jer. 50:24; Dan. 5:30, 31; Isa. 26:12; Isa. 45:1-3; Isa. 44:28; Dan. 8:2; Jer. 49:39; Isa. 21:2.
Page 76: Isa. 44:27; Isa. 45:1, 2; Jer. 50:38; Jer. 51:36; Ezra 1:1-5; Ps. 119:105; Rom. 13:11; Mark 4:22; Ps. 139:1-16; Matt. 12:36, 37; Isa. 41:1-5; Jer. 51:6; Rev. 18:4.