The End Is Coming

Daniel 5:1-31
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 29, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew

The End Is Coming

Since the day Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, there has been an end to life. Why? In Genesis 2:17 God told Adam, "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." There is an end to this world and there is an end to our individual lives. It is appointed, the Bible says, for man once to die and then comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).

There is an end to kingdoms and nations. The God of heaven sets up rulers and puts them down. There is also going to be an end to world history, as we read in the Scriptures. There will be a shaking, not only of the earth, but also of the heavens, so that what cannot be shaken may be revealed and remain. So Peter declared this, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed with fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" (2 Peter 3:10).

However, despite the clear testimony of the Bible, most people today have very little understanding of the fact that all things will end. This has been true throughout history. It was true during the time of Noah, who preached for many years that the end was coming. No one paid any attention, and only eight people were delivered from that end. It was also true during the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Not even ten people were saved, and even the wife of the righteous man Lot was destroyed.

Most people are like Belshazzar of Babylon, whom we read about in Daniel 5. They are engaged in giving and enjoying parties. They just want to have a good time--to eat and drink and forget about any problems.

Belshazzar the King

Do you know the theme of the book of Daniel? It is that God Most High reigns. In other words, God is sovereign over all and does what he pleases, not what men or nations or political leaders please. As we also read in Isaiah, all the nations together are nothing, but God rules over all.

In Daniel 5 we read about a king named Belshazzar, whose name means "May Bel protect the king," or, if you believe in the God of the Bible, "May the dumb idol Bel protect the king." Years ago scholars laughed at this particular reference to King Belshazzar in the fifth chapter of Daniel, and in fact, in 1850 Ferdinand Hitzig opined that this name Belshazzar was a figment of the imagination of the person who wrote Daniel, whoever that person was. Liberal scholars like Hitzig also believed that Daniel was not written in the sixth century B.C. but rather in the second century. To them Daniel was a history written after the events described in it, not a prophecy of things to come.

Until the mid-nineteenth century the name Belshazzar was not found in any ancient secular sources. But, as Dr. James M. Boice writes in his commentary, "in 1854 a British consul named J. G. Taylor was exploring some ruins in southern Iraq . . . and came across several small cylinders inscribed with sixty or so lines of cuneiform writing." These cylinders spoke clearly about Nabonidus and his eldest son Belshazzar, who ruled in Babylon as co-regent with his father (James Montgomery Boice, Daniel: An Expositional Commentary , [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1989] p. 64).

Historical Background

What was the historical context for the events of Daniel 5? In 586 B.C. the city of Jerusalem fell before the Babylonian armies. The great temple of Solomon was destroyed and the vessels of the temple were taken by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon. Around 563 B.C. the great King Nebuchadnezzar died, and his son, Evil-Merodach, ruled from 562 to 560 B.C., until he was murdered by a general, Neriglissar, who had married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Neriglissar ruled till 556 B. C. and was succeeded by his son, Labashi-Marduk, who ruled briefly--less than nine months. Then Labashi-Marduk was murdered by Nabonidus, who probably came from the merchant class in Babylon and was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Nabonidus ruled from 556 B.C. to the end of the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C.

The cylinders discovered by J. G. Taylor spoke about Nabonidus as well as his son, Belshazzar, who ruled with Nabonidus as co-regent for many years. They tell us that the warrior Nabonidus went out frequently to engage in various battles, but his son Belshazzar was a playboy who lived in Babylon while his father waged war. This account of secular history clearly reveals the truthfulness and historicity of God's word concerning King Belshazzar as found in Daniel 5.

Prediction of the End

In the eighth century B.C., two hundred years earlier, Isaiah prophesied that God would destroy Babylon through Cyrus, a Persian king. We find it in Isaiah 44:24 through Isaiah 45:2:

"This is what the LORD says--your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, 'It shall be inhabited,' of the towns of Judah, 'They shall be built,' and of their ruins, 'I will restore them,' who says to the watery deep, 'Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,' who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid."'

"This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.

In this prophecy of Isaiah God clearly revealed the name of the one who would destroy Babylon. Not only that, Daniel himself was given this revelation. In Daniel 2:39 we read that the power would move away from Babylon to the Medo-Persian empire. In 539 B.C., about forty-seven years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple of Jerusalem, on the very night of Belshazzar's party, the Babylonian empire came to an end.

Belshazzar's Party

In Daniel 5, then, we read about a party given by King Belshazzar of Babylon. We do not know what the partygoers were celebrating. It may have been Belshazzar's birthday or perhaps a holiday on the Babylonian religious calendar. But whatever the occasion, it was a grand party. In verse 1 we read that there were one thousand nobles present--all the great ones of Babylon, in other words. There were women present also. Generally, when an eastern king gave a party, women were not invited, but Belshazzar invited his wives and concubines to this great party. It was a festive occasion. Wine flowed freely and there was much eating and drinking. There was sensual dancing, carousing, and coarse joking. There was singing and mocking of others.

At this party there was flattery aplenty of King Belshazzar. In fact, there was a well-lit wall upon which exaggerated exploits of this playboy king were probably written in the Aramaic language. Of course they were mostly lies to boost his ego, but that didn't seem to matter. I am sure that, spurred on by this wall of lies, the nobles told Belshazzar all evening, "King Belshazzar, you are the greatest! You are the champion, the king of kings. In fact, you are greater than the great King Nebuchadnezzar."

Outside the Party

As all the festivities were going on inside, something was happening outside the banqueting hall also. Nabonidus had been fighting in the field against the Persian army of Cyrus, but Cyrus defeated Nabonidus and now was turned to the city of Babylon. Now, we must realize that everyone at that time thought Babylon was impregnable. The city was surrounded by very high walls which were over fifty feet wide. No one had ever been able to breach them in the history of the city. The river Euphrates flowed right down the middle of the city to provide an abundance of water. The people of Babylon had also stored up food for twenty years inside the city.

The inhabitants of Babylon felt very, very secure. They were secure enough to give this great party even though a war was going on just outside the walls. Why not? They had food for twenty years. Water was no problem. The walls were impregnable. There was no history of anyone ever breaking through their defenses.

God had a different plan. Two hundred years earlier God Most High had revealed his mind to Isaiah, and later he spoke to Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. What was the decree of God the Almighty? To destroy Babylon. In God's time he raised up Cyrus, a Persian king, to come against Babylon. Cyrus' general skillfully diverted the waters of the Euphrates which entered the city in the north and caused them to flow to a nearby lake. Then he stationed part of the Persian army in the north and the other part in the south. Thus, the Persian army took its place and waited to enter the city through the dry river bed as predicted by Isaiah in Isaiah 44 and 45.

Sin Defies

The people inside Babylon were very secure. They did not even shut the gates to their city, which was prophesied by Isaiah. They were having a great party--total security, total celebration, total drunkenness. Surely they thought that their carefree celebration signified defiance of the Persian army and Cyrus, who were stationed outside the walls. No doubt Belshazzar was thinking to himself, "The Persians might have defeated my father Nabonidus, but they can never enter this city. They will be out there for twenty years. I am secure!"

At the height of the celebration, the drunken king Belshazzar took his defiance even further. Not only did he defy the Persian army and Cyrus by celebrating as if he were invincible, but he decided to defy God Most High himself. How? He ordered that the holy vessels of Solomon's temple be brought to the banqueting hall so that the revelers could drink out of them, thus mocking the God of Judah. Why do you think he did this? He wanted to show that Babylon had defeated not only Judah, but the God of Judah.

In his commentary Dr. Boice says "sin is not static" (Boice, p. 66). No, sin is dynamic and it gets worse and worse. In Romans 1 we see the degeneracy of sinners. Again and again in that chapter we see that God gives them over to a depraved mind to do what they ought not to do.

The city of Babylon was surrounded by very high walls. The people felt very secure. They were sure they could defy the Persian army, and they were sure they could defy Jehovah. Degeneracy had set in.

Dr. Boice also says correctly that sin makes people blind. Blind to what? To serious dangers. Religion is not opium, he says. It is sin that makes people blind, insensitive, and impervious to danger (Boice, p. 66).

The Danger of Defying God

Belshazzar was a perverted playboy king. He never accomplished anything as king; rather, he lived in dissipation. But the true God was watching him and weighing his actions. Why? Just as sin is not static, God is not static either. He is an acting God, and in due course he will act. He acted in the great flood of Noah's time. He acted in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He acted in the defeat of Egypt when Moses led the Israelites out. He acted in the defeat of the Canaanites through Joshua when their iniquity became full. He always acts in due course.

There is an end to God's patience. I was counseling a couple who were having marital problems. I met with them and asked, "What is your problem? Do you have a disability which prevents you from doing what God wants you to do?" The husband and wife both confessed they have no disabilities in that area. What was their problem? It was their arrogance, stubbornness and fearlessness of Almighty God. I had to tell these people, "I have no answer for you because you will not do what God has told you to do, even though you have absolutely no disability in that area."

God Acts

God is an acting God. There is an end to his patience, and so he acted in the overthrow of Babylon as he promised. At the peak of revelry, as the partygoers drank from the goblets of the temple of Jehovah, Jehovah suddenly contributed something to this party. What was it? A hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the lighted wall. The wall was covered with all sorts of lies, but now real truth was being recorded.

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand wrote a message from heaven on the wall, and for the first time in the party there was silence. Reality had come. A very large wet blanket was put upon this great hall of celebration. This dark omen was the anticlimax of the party.

The face of the king grew pale. His knees gave way and he fell face down. The mighty fell. There was no drinking, no singing, no dancing, no carousing, no coarse joking, no toasting, no mocking. Complete silence reigned. All the revelers were frightened. Why? They had not thought about an end to this party. In fact, they had never thought about an end to anything. They thought Babylon, like their party, would go on forever.

Understanding the End

In Deuteronomy 32:20 God said, "'I will hide my face from them and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.'" And in verse 29 we see the heart of God: "If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!" It is good to reflect today about your end.

No one wants to think about the end. No one wants to hear about death and judgment. I was listening to a famous judge being interviewed on television the other day. The interviewer stated that if so many people in this country go to church, why was the judge writing as though the country was in a state of moral decline? The judge replied that people in this country go to church to be soothed, not to hear how they should live. This was amazing clarity from the judge.

Many, many people are going to church but it makes no difference in the direction our country is going. Why? People are going to church to be soothed. Some say, "Preacher, I have come to church this morning. Can you soothe me?" Others say, "Tell me nice things, things that will lift my spirits. Tell me that I am nice." Others tell their ministers, "Don't scare me with sin and judgment and death. Who wants to hear about hell, fire, judgment, sin, righteousness, repentance, and the kingdom of God?"

The Frauds Fail

When Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall, he immediately called out for his enchanters, astrologers and diviners. We find these soothsayers several times in this book, in chapters 2, 4, and 5. We must note that every time they were called upon to do something, they were impotent. But, nevertheless, in his fright and confusion, Belshazzar cried out, "Call the soothsayers, the wise men, the intellectuals, the magicians!"

Who were these soothsayers? They were the intellectual frauds of their time. They always failed. They failed Pharaoh, they failed Nebuchadnezzar, and they failed Belshazzar. We have these frauds today. They are the talking heads that we see on television. They pretend to be gods but they have no answer. They disappoint us with their theories and dissertations. They cannot help us when our end comes. No matter who they are--intellectuals of the east as well as the west--they fail. There are no gurus, no New Age leaders, no professors who can help us. But the Belshazzars of the world never learn. They still trust these frauds and seek their counsel. Presidents and prime ministers depend on modern frauds just as Belshazzar did, even though they always fail.

The frauds came and looked at the writing, but it did not make any sense to them. In fact, all they saw was MN, TKL, and PRS in the Aramaic language, without context and vowels. The writing made absolutely no sense to these wise men. Once again they failed miserably.

The Wise Man Comes

As Belshazzar observed the failure of his wise men, his face grew even more pale and he was terrified. Who could read the riddle now? Who could save him? Just then a queen, probably the mother of Belshazzar, entered the hall. She had not been at the party but had heard the news of the mysterious hand. As she came in, I am sure she said something like this: "Don't worry, son. Don't worry. I know how to handle this. I know a man named Daniel. He helped your father Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel will read this writing and everything will be all right. Cheer up! The problem will be solved. Aren't we Babylonians known as problem solvers?"

Belshazzar sent for Daniel, who was over eighty years of age at this time. Here was a man who had trusted in God and lived a righteous life all his days. And we can imagine how the frightened playboy king Belshazzar spoke to him: "Hey, Daniel, you are a captive from Judah, aren't you? Here is an opportunity for you to become more rich and famous. Read this riddle and interpret it for us, and I will give you whatever you ask. Do you have ordinary clothing? I will clothe you in purple--that is what people of means wear. I will put a gold chain around your neck and make you the third highest ruler of this land." He said third highest because Nabonidus was the real king and Belshazzar was second to him. The highest position he could give him was third. This was similar to when Pharaoh made Joseph the second highest in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

"I will give you purple, gold and the highest position possible. I will make you rich and famous. Just solve the riddle!" How many preachers today would leap at this invitation! They are thrilled to mingle with powerful political figures and will do so even to the point of compromising their faith. I have seen many people do this. People love to be next to power and persona. They enjoy the glitter and the glory. But what did Daniel tell Belshazzar? "You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else." In other words, "I don't need your gifts, Belshazzar, but I will speak the truth."

At this time, when evangelicals are interested in getting rich and famous, we must listen to the words of Daniel. We must appreciate Daniel's boldness, his difference, his righteousness, and his standing for truth. Daniel was over eighty years of age and yet he was about to declare in no uncertain terms the judgment of God upon this king.

Daniel Brings Reality

What did Daniel tell Belshazzar? First, he rebuked him. Daniel told Belshazzar that he was arrogant because he knew how God had already humbled his father Nebuchadnezzar. God taught Nebuchadnezzar that he was the Most High God who sovereignly rules all, and to whom no one can say anything.

In verse 22 Daniel reminded Belshazzar of this. Belshazzar knew what happened to Nebuchadnezzar but he refused to humble himself. His sin was great because he knew the will of the true God--the God of Israel, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the sovereign God who sets up kings and extirpates them, puts them down, uproots them--and yet he did not fear this God whom Nebuchadnezzar was taught to fear and to revere. No, Belshazzar set himself against this God. He mocked him, defiled his vessels, and praised gods made out of gold, bronze, iron, and wood.

Then Daniel interpreted the writing. "This is the inscription that was written: Mene, mene, tekel, parsin" (v. 25). Daniel recognized these words as four past participles: "Numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided."

What did this mean to Belshazzar? First, mene, mene. The word was repeated for emphasis. It meant God had numbered the days of Belshazzar's reign and was bringing them to an end. Let me assure you, there is one who is numbering our days and weighing our deeds every day. In Psalm 90:12 we read, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." When we don't do what God wants us to do, he numbers it. May God help us to learn how to number our days, which are few, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

So first Daniel told Belshazzar, "God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end." This was unlike Nebuchadnezzar, who was given seven more years to learn a few lessons and who, at the end of that time, was restored. But Belshazzar was finished because he knew what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar and yet refused to humble himself.

The next word was weighed. What does that mean? It means to be weighed in the scales of God on the basis of righteousness. Now, we are constantly weighing ourselves in the light of our own ideas of what is right and what is wrong, or in terms of societal standards. When we do so, we always come out well, don't we? Most people, when they deserve a C, give themselves what? An A. That is the way we are unless we are confronted with some reality. Our minds play tricks on us.

So Daniel told Belshazzar he had been weighed in the scales of God on the basis of God's righteousness and found wanting. In Romans 3 Paul says concerning God's righteousness, "All have sinned and come short of"--are deficient in-- "the glory of God." Now I may ask you how you are doing. What do you answer? Fine. I may persist: Is everything is okay? How is your financial life? Oh, you are thousands of dollars in debt? You didn't tell me that.

God has weighed our deeds. He has his own standard, which is what the Bible is all about. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. When our deeds are put on one part of the scale and God's standard is placed on the other, we begin to move up because there is no weight. The wicked are like chaff, as we read in Psalm 1, which the wind blows away. Belshazzar's deeds were weighed on the scales of God and God found them deficient--without weight. He was an Ichabod, meaning no glory, no weight.

What was the last word? Parsin, or peres, meaning divided. Belshazzar's kingdom was divided and given to Medes and Persians, as prophesied in Daniel 2. There was no more mercy and patience for Belshazzar. He was counted, weighed, divided, and finished. Do you see the difference in reality? Belshazzar was enjoying his great party, but God said he was finished.

What About Us?

Think about these things. Never trust in what you think you are or what others say you are. Ask God to teach you to number your days aright. The truth is, we all have sinned and all are Ichabods. All are lightweight chaff, and yet don't we so often sit together and tell each other how great we are?

What should we do? That is the whole story of the gospel. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That is the hope of the gospel. It is for Belshazzar and for everyone else.

The End of the Party

As Daniel was interpreting the writing, what was going on? Through the dry river bed in the middle of the night the armies of Persia came into the city and put an end to the party. The Babylonians never thought that would happen. It had never happened before in the history of Babylon. But in Daniel 5:30 we read, "That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two." God Almighty, the all-sovereign ruler of the universe, killed Belshazzar, took the power, and gave it to the Persians. God gives and God takes. He sets up and puts down.

The judgment of Babylon is just a prelude and prefiguring of the final judgment that is awaiting all of us. It is especially a prefiguring of the final judgment of all Babylonians--all haters and enemies of the true and living God of the Bible, all who trust and depend upon the soothsaying intellectual frauds of the world.

In Revelation 17:5 we notice the city of Babylon, symbolized by a woman, and in Revelation 18:2 we read of its end: "With a mighty voice he shouted, 'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit.'" In Revelation 19:3 we read that the saints of God are going to shout and rejoice because the defiant Babylon will fall and God will be glorified: "And again they shouted, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.'"

Just as God judged Belshazzar's deeds and the deeds of the Babylonians, God is going to judge the deeds performed in the days of everyone's life on earth. In Revelation 20 we read that the books will be opened and we will be judged according to the deeds written. What will be the criteria? It will be whether these deeds done for the glory of God or done against his glory.

The party will come to an end. God has a way of putting an end to the party and injecting some realism into our lives.

Our End Is Coming

Our end will come and we will be weighed by God. In Psalm 62:8,9 we read "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance they are nothing; together they are only a breath."

In Luke 12 Jesus told of a man whose land produced wonderful crops. The man gathered his crops, built a new barn and filled it. To him retirement was secure, and he said to himself: "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years." Isn't that what Babylon said? Twenty years' food! Impregnable walls! Unlimited water! "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." That is what the man said. But what did God say? "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you." Man proposes and God disposes.

Numbering Our Days

Psalm 90:10 says "The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away." Then the psalmist prays, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (v. 12).

Our days are few. Imagine an hourglass going down fast. Our days are going down fast. It is time that we put away arrogance and begin to exercise wisdom, which is fear of the Lord and trembling before God. It is time that we quickly begin to do the right thing. As we face the new year, we must ask: Are we going to live in unreality or in sobriety? Will we fear God and run in the way of righteousness?

Soon the end will come. We can laugh and mock if we want, but one day we will hear the voice of the Son of Man. Graves will open up and all will stand before God Almighty. It is my prayer for all of us that when we stand before God, he will say to us that he find us not deficient but justified through Christ. Therefore, I counsel by the mercies of God that we listen to hard words like repentance, judgment, righteousness, hell, and heaven. We can go to soothsayers who will tell us smooth things, but I want to inject a dose of realism into our lives that we may be saved.

May God have mercy upon us and help us to pay attention to his word! May we submit ourselves to God Most High, the only Sovereign Lord, the only true and living God. Knowing him through Jesus Christ is eternal life. May he grant us that eternal life and teach us wisdom that we may walk daily in obedience to him. Amen.

Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew

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