Daniel 5 - Lessons from the Handwriting on the Wal

Steve Viars April 17, 1999 Daniel 5:

- This morning I’d like to begin, as I often do, by asking you a question....
- In God’s economy, does payday always come at the end of the week?

- in other words, we know the biblical principle of sowing and reaping....whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.....so we know that payday comes....
- we know that God rewards those who are faithful and judges those who are not...
- but the question I’m raising has more to do with the issue of timing.
- In God’s economy, does payday always come at the end of the week?, in other words, right away?

- what’s the answer to that question?.....(no)
- in fact, in some cases, there are long periods of times between the sowing and the reaping....between the actions and the consequences.
- do you agree with that....both biblically and experientially?....(yes)

- now, let me ask you this......since that’s true......for what kind of people does that become especially challenging?
- a couple of categories come immediately to mind.....

1) Its a challenge for those who are living faithfully for God.....
- because you may be trying to do what’s right, trying to obey the Scriptures, trying to please God.....and there have not been any evident blessings or rewards, humanly speaking......
- in fact, your attempts to obey and please God may have resulted in grief and heartache, humanly speaking......
- and then you couple that, with people who seem to ignore God, or clearly violate His principles, appearing to prosper......

- and you’re tempted to think or say...as you survey the fact that in God’s economy, payday doesn’t always come at the end of the week.....
- maybe God doesn’t see....or maybe God doesn’t know, or maybe God doesn’t care...
- and the temptation is to become, what the Bible describes as, “weary in well-doing.”

2) So this presents a challenge to those who are living faithfully for God....it also presents a challenge for those who are living in disobedience to God....or estranged from God....
- why is that true?.......that because payday does not always come at the end of the week, its a challenge for those who are in disobedience???
- because they too, may be tempted to conclude..... maybe God doesn’t see....or maybe God doesn’t know, or maybe God doesn’t care...

3) You could even take that one step further and say...what about the person who is a combination of both categories....
- who in some areas of their life, are trying to be faithful but are discouraged because there are not immediate blessings......
- and in another area of their life, are displeasing God, but are not particularly motivated to do anything about it?

- Would you agree with me, that this phenomena that we are describing could be a challenge to them as well?
- it certainly could......

- by the way.....it might be helpful for you to consider the question --- which of those categories might you fit in?
- we’re not simply having an intellectual chat here.....I’m wanting you to come down a particular road with me.....
- and the trip will be most beneficial if you are already thinking about ..... which one of these categories do you fit in?
1) Is there any sense in which you are weary in well-doing, because you are trying to live for God but don’t seem to be reaping much in the way of immediate human rewards.....while at the same time those who are unrighteous around you are prospering?
2) Is there any sense in which you are disobeying God.....but you’re been slow to take steps to change, because so far, there’s been no negative consequences?
3) Is it possible that you could think of examples in your life that fit both categories?

- there’s no question that in God’s economy, payday does not always come at the end of that week......the consequences are not always automatic.
- the question then is.....what should we do about that?

- one of the answers is.....how about studying an example from the word of God, where, in someone’s life, the consequences did finally come.
- and to add to it, let’s say that the example is so famous, that it has even led to the use of a phrase today that is commonly known in our culture....even better than the story itself.....
- let’s say an expression like------the handwriting on the wall.

- this morning, I’d like to invite you to open your Bible to Daniel chapter 5, where we’re going to study this great event in the life of God’s prophet, and talk about “Learning lessons from the handwriting on the wall.”

- I thought about beginning our time this morning by blowing a coach’s whistle....because you may remember that four Sundays ago I said that we were going into half-time in our study of Daniel.
- we’ve been working through this book verse by verse and chapter by chapter....but a month ago we called half-time......
- there were some special studies we wanted to do around Easter....and then last week I was slaving for the Lord in Florida.....

- well, guess what.....today, half-time is over.
- we’d like to study Daniel chapter five this morning.

- Now, I realize we’ve had some folks start coming to the church in the last month....and all of us may be a little rusty......
- let me give you the two minute update before we read the text.....

- This book began with a Jewish teenager named Daniel living in God’s chosen nation of Israel.
- the Bible tells us that king Nebuchanezzar, from the country of Babylon, came to Israel, and began to besiege it.....that happened around 605 BC.
- Nebuchanezzar took some of the choice young people, and some of the choice articles from the Jewish temple, and carted them off to Babylon.
- that was the first deportation, and Israel went into complete Babylonian captivity in 586 BC.
- now this book is all about how Daniel maintained his relationship with God, and his faithfulness to God....even though he was in a pagan culture, with great pressure to compromise.

- By time we get to chapter 5, Nebuchanezzar has died.....in fact he’s probably been dead about 20 years...we date the events of chapter five to have occurred about 539 BC
- the person who now is the king of Babylon is named Belshazzar.
- now there’s a couple of things about this that might be confusing, and I’d like to clear them up before we read.....
1) One is, the names......
- you remember Daniel had been renamed to what?
- Belteshazzar......he’s the good guy.....
- but now we have this king named Belshazzar---whether he’s a good guy or not remains to be seen.
2) Also there’s the issue of how Belshazzar is related to King Nebuchanezzar.....
- in our text, he’s called Nebuchanezzar’s son....
- if you have a study Bible, it probably points out that the word father was used to describe any relative....because there language didn’t have a word for grandfather, or great-grandfather.....
- most conservative Bible students believe that Belshazzar was actually Nebuchanezzar’s grandson.
- now, even if that didn’t make complete sense to you....the big picture is.....we’re studying a situation that illustrates the principle....that in God’s economy.....payday does not always come at the end of the week......
- but for any of us who would let that fact lead us astray....we need to learn some very important lessons from the handwriting on the wall.
- READ Daniel chapter 5.
- in the time we have remaining, I’d like us to seek to find three lessons from the handwriting on the wall.


I. Choose to be Controlled by the Spirit of God.


- It is very important to understand what is happening here historically.
- the reason I gave you those dates a moment ago was to stimulate some thinking.
-  the nation of Israel had undergone this Babylonian captivity as a result of judgment from God.
- but the Lord had told them how long the captivity would last....which was how long?
- 70 years.....
- well, if the first deportation took place in 605 BC...and the events we’re reading about this morning are about 538 BC...what’s that tell you?
- the answer is....the Babylonian captivity is about up......
- and that’s exactly what’s happening here......secular history tells us that the armies of the Medes and Persians had already surrounded the city of Babylon.
- of course as we’ve already studied, the city had very thick walls, and some scholars believe that they could have had provisions for as long as 20 years inside the city walls.
- but Belshazzar is in trouble....
- and the question is.....how is he going to handle the stress and difficulty in his life?

- and his answer is the same as many back in that culture, and ours today.....
- break out the booze.....and bring out the women.....turn up the music.....
- we’re going to have a great party.....and try to drown out the pain, and drown out the uncertainty.......
- that’s the way he’s handled life up to the point and there hasn’t been any negative consequences....so why not have another big bash.

- the critical lesson comes when comparing the king....to Daniel.
- remember, Daniel has to be how old by now?
- in his 80’s....and he’s lived faithfully for God, and faithfully for God.......now for  lifetime....but where’s he still living?
- in Babylon....serving yet another wicked boss.

- if anyone had reason to be drunk, it’d be Daniel.....
- if anyone had reason to be discouraged and ready to quit....it’s be Daniel.....

- but Daniel hasn’t become weary in well-doing.....how do we find him described repeatedly in this text?
- “One in whom is the Spirit of the Holy Gods”

- the NT parallel just comes screaming out.......what did the apostle Paul tell the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:18?
- Be not drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but......be filled with the Spirit.
- or be controlled by the Spirit.

- that is a critical issue for every person here to face.....
- we are living in a time where there are not always immediate consequences for doing wrong...and there are not always immediate blessings for doing right.....
- so how are you going to handle the freedom that comes from that kind of economy?...and how are you are going to handle the frustration that might come from that kind of economy?
- what’s going to control you?
- what’s going to be your source of joy, happiness, and satisfaction?
- where are you going to turn if times get tough?

- and you have a clear choice before you......
- you can be like Belshazzar, or you can be like Daniel.
- you can be controlled by booze, drugs, sex, food, entertainment, pleasure, or any myriad of things our world offers up to take your mind away from reality....
- or you can be controlled by the Spirit of God.
- you can choose to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.....
- and when that happens, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit takes us residence inside of you.....you become a temple of the Holy Spirit.....
- and then if you choose to, you can begin walking in the Spirit.....by studying and applying His Word....
- by praying to your heavenly Father....
- by finding your pleasure in growing in Him.

- Daniel was able to remain faithful to God even though the blessings were not immediately evident because he was determined to be controlled by the Spirit of God.
- Daniel was able to avoid all of the sinful habits of the culture in which he was immersed because he was determined to be controlled by the Spirit of God.
- friend, can I ask you --- are you like Daniel, or are you like Belshazzar?
- have you taken steps this week that could be described with the Biblical phrase “walking in the Spirit?”
- what would have to happen this coming week for that to be more true of you?

- and for any who would say....well. I haven’t done that thus far and there haven’t been any real consequences.....you know, that’s exactly what Belshazzar would have said.....
- and notice what happened to him.....
- there was a progression in his hardness towards the things of God....that he would get to the place of even calling for the ancient articles from the Jerusalem temple.
- that obscure detail we saw back in chapter 1...when his grandfather Nebuchanezzar stole them and brought them back to Babylon.

- no one had dared do that in nearly 70 years....but Belshazzar did......and mark it down.....you are either walking in the Spirit and growing in your relationship to God....or you are getting harder....
- and I’ve been a pastor long enough to see people ignore God in their life, believing they could play church.....believing they could stop before things really got out of hand....
- and what was happening all along is that there was another coat of varnish being applied on their life, and another coat, and another coat.....
- and they ending up doing things, or saying things, or taking steps of gross disobedience to God that they would have never believed possible.
- and wise is the person who stays right with God, or gets right with God, before they have to see the handwriting on the wall.

- and wise is the person who makes a decision about who your god is going to be....
- about who is qualified to control your life.....
- for Belshazzar, his were obvious......
- in verse 4, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone...
- they worshipped the gods of booze, and sex, and another good time.....
- just serving and worshipping the idols of the day...

- for Daniel, he had already decided to serve, and live for, and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph....
- the God of the Bible....the One he described in verse 23 as “the God in whose hand are your life-breathe and your ways” but whom Belshazzar did not glorify.”

- and I realize that some might say, but PV, why should we believe in, and place our eternal destiny in this God....what about all the other gods....and all the other religions.....
- if you’re really interested in that....let me recommend a new book entitled “Ready with an Answer”
- one of the co-authors of this book has a Ph.D. in comparative religions....and he provides a very helpful contrast between the God of the Bible in general, and in Jesus Christ in particular.....
- compared to the other religions and their gods......
- its a very thorough and helpful study.
- Daniel decided that the God of the Bible was worthy of His trust......and he walked in such a way that even the pagans described him as ““One in whom is the Spirit of the Holy Gods”

[could apply that to the three categories mentioned in the introduction]

- a second lesson that flows out of our text is....


II. Strive to Be a Learner.


- if you’re at all in the habit of writing in your Bible, I would encourage you to underline a key phrase in your Bible...at the end of verse 22-  “even though you knew all of this.”
- Belshazzar could not claim the excuse.....but I didn’t know.
- God had given him plenty of opportunities, through the lives of his own ancestors, to learn about the person of the true God.

- and someone might say, did Belshazzar really know what had happened to his grandfather Nebuchanezzar.....
- and the answer is....”Of course”.....Daniel is not telling Belshazzar something that he’s hearing for the first time......
- but there’s a huge difference between hearing, and learning.......
- would you agree with me on that?

- this man had not truly been a learner because he hadn’t done anything with the information.
- this man hadn’t truly been a learner because he hadn’t changed.
- faith without works is dead......that kind of faith cannot save.

- what a haunting phrase in the Word of God..... -  “even though you knew all of this.”
- Belshazzar, you knew how God humbled your grandfather Nebuchanezzar....yet still, in verses 22-23, you have not humbled your heart......you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven.

- see, there’s a direct relationship between failing to be a learner, and having a heart that is puffed up with pride.
- Proverbs 12:15 - The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
- Proverbs 15:5 - A fool rejects his father's discipline, But he who regards reproof is prudent.
- Proverbs 17:10 - A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool.
- Proverbs 18:2 - A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.

- Belshazzar got to the place where he was because he failed to be a learner....
- “even though you knew all of this.”
- God has given you all of these people in your past, and God has given you all of these experiences in your past....and God has given you a Bible filled with stories of men and women who have gone on before us.....
- and one of the lessons from the handwriting on the wall is.....God wants us / God expects us....to learn from those who have gone before us.
- Friend, can I ask you this morning.....would the Lord have any reason to use this phrase “even though you knew all of this” to describe you in any way?
- I wonder if there might be someone here today who grew up in a godly home.....but you’re a second or third or fourth generation believer.....
- and you’ve kind of gotten used to the things of God......
- and you don't take cultivating a relationship with Christ as seriously as your parents and grandparents did.....
- and you’re quick to look at some of their standards as being old-fashioned and legalistic.....maybe they were----but have you asked about the reasons for those positions before discarding them?
- some of you have grown up in this church, or some other church or churches.....and you haven’t learned what God want you to learn.....
- not if we’re going to define learning as involving action and change.

- where did that tendency get Belshazzar?
- we can either benefit from the story of the handwriting on the wall in this text, or we can face the handwriting on the wall in our own lives.

- I believe this lesson has some institutional applications.....
- our church is over 35 years old now......we are facing what could be a very exciting time in our history......
- you may have noticed a sign on the property across the street from the church where the owners are requesting a hearing before the zoning board.
- that is for a major planned housing development.
- the county school board announced this week that they are seeking to purchase 80 acres of property in that same area.
- talks are ongoing about how to extend McCarty Lane over I-65 and then tie into SR 26.
- INDOT is planning to widen SR 26 right in front of our church in the year 2002.
- the property behind the church has been sold to a new developer.
- if Jesus tarries His coming, what this area looks like ten years from now will probably be radically different than how it appears today.

- and for us, all of that translates into ministry opportunities, into people, into souls.

- and the kind of church family we are ten years from now is going to be impacted greatly by whether we act on what we should have already learned as a church from our past.

- and I’m concerned about that in two primary ways.....
1) One is, whether we are going to be serious about personal holiness....
- about growing in Christ.....
- about taking our commitment to being a follower of Jesus Christ seriously....

- you might say --- what does that have to do with our history?
- I think there are some folks who have the view that this church has always grown....
- that its always paid its bills.....
- that’s its always made decisions in calm, rational ways......
- that’s there’s always been unity and harmony....

- and friends, that’s not even close to being true.....
- when Pastor Goode came here about 25 years ago now, the church was not paying its bills.....
- there was great division.....
- there were some business meetings that were the hottest attraction in town.....

- and God used him, along with some lay-leaders in the church....to say....
- we’re going to emphasize certain principles....
- we’re going to believe in the sufficiency of the scriptures....and we’re going to apply all of it...when its easy and when its not
- we’re going to work at progressive sanctification....at encouraging every person in our church to be growing....
- we’re going to work at service and sacrifice, serving God and one-another.....
- we’re going to love one another enough that if one of us gets caught up in sin....we’re going to encourage one another, and confront one another....and if there’s no repentance, even carry out the steps of church discipline......

- and we could develop that further....but the point is ---- God blessed those emphases but the issue we now face is....”do you and I know all of this?”
- are we going to continue with an emphasis on personal holiness even when its hard, and even when it’s unpopular?

- the alternative could be, to get larger numerically, but weaker spiritually.

2) the second corporate challenge has to do with passion for Christ, and for those who don't know Christ.
- the Lord will undoubtedly move all sorts of people within a stone’s throw of the church who don't know the Lord?
- and it doesn’t matter how many people were won to Christ last year....or last decade....
- the question is going to be....what about you......what about now?
- what about your heart?
- what about your willingness to reach out?
- what about your willingness to befriend others....to show love to someone you don't know?

- there’s no question that we should “know all of this”......but as we’ve learned from the life of Belshazzar....knowing isn’t biblical knowing until there’s biblical action.

- a third lesson I’d like us to think about this morning is....


III. Be Motivated by the Omnipresence of God.


- we can really benefit from these words, mene, mene, tekei, upharsin.
- you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

- all these years, Belshazzar believed he was getting away with something.
- all these years, he had ignored the lessons he should have learned from the experiences of his grandfather.....but he hadn’t.....
- perhaps he thought God didn’t know.....or that God didn’t see....or that God didn’t care...
- he mistook the long-suffering of God...for indifference.
- he mistook the patience of God.....for ignorance.
- we’re not going to take the time this morning to go back through the book of Jeremiah.....but if you would like to do additional study on this chapter, I would encourage you to compare this chapter to the prophecies in Jeremiah 50:1-3, 51:1-11, 28-29, 36-37, and 57.

- these verses predict with incredible accuracy how the city of Babylon fell.

- its an amazing event historically.
- as we said before, the people believed the wall was impenetrable......the walls were huge, and they had plenty of provisions.......

- but what about water?
- no problem, there was a large river that flowed right into the city....
- it was their source of fresh water ... and also the way they disposed of waste.....

- and that’s how Darius the Mede conquered the city.
- secular history tells us that on the very night of this drunken feast.....

- Darius the Mede had instructed his armies to divert the flow of the river......
- and he divided his army in half, and positioned them at either side of the river....

- and the command was.....when the river goes down to knee-deep....attack.
- and that’s exactly what they did, and Belshazzar never knew what hit him.

- mark it down, when God writes something on the wall....its going to happen.
- for that matter, when God writes something in His book, its going to happen.

[finish off with how the doctrine of God’s omnipresence is a two-edged sword]

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video