Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
all the facts. But we turn here to the bearing of the passage on the ordinary life of man.
I. THE POSITION OF PRIVILEGE. Guilt must ever stand related to knowledge. What were the king's opportunities of knowing the will of God? They were more than some may think, such as ought to have saved him from the degradations of that night, The parallel with our own position is clear. Though our advantages are in degree greater. For Belshazzar there was:
1. The witness of creation.
2. The open page of providence. (See ver. 22.)
3. The voice of that moral nature which is common to every man.
4. The interpretation of them by the high Chaldean culture; e.g. the revelation of the glory of God in the stars of heaven was one that shone with special clearness on the Chaldean plain (see Sir G. C. Lewis' 'Astronomy of the Ancients,' ch. 5.).
5. Special Divine revelations; e.g. in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (he had not been dead twenty-three years); in the deliverance of the heroic three, by the presence of the Saviour in the fire; by the insanity and recovery of the king. Nor must we forget that Belshazzar was not further away from the Divine than a modern worldling; for in his own realm lived the Church, with whom lay the oracles of God. Compare Louis XIV. and the Huguenots. And enough had been done to draw attention to these.
II. THE STARTING-POINT. The sin of the king was nothing else than that practical atheism (vers. 22, 23) which so often shows itself callously indifferent to all those serious considerations which even people of ordinary prudence entertain (note: the city at the moment in a stare of siege); and which usually is associated with epicurean life.
III. THE ROAD DOWN. A distinct gradation in evil is marked in this, as in every other career. The steps may be different with different sinners; but there is a gradual descent with all, though it must be admitted that on "that night" some were taken by the king at lightning speed. The king:
1. Ignored all the circumstances of his position. This was indeed terrible. For long the Persian lines had been drawn round the city; engineers had been turning the river from its bed. At this hour things were becoming critical. Facts are stubborn things, which even a heathen might note.
2. Defied Providence.. Such extravagance at such a time. Imagine the authorities of Paris banqueting it the Isle siege. A false security the presage of ruin.
3. Sacrificed his own dignity. As king - as man. Not usual for Babylonian kings to make themselves the boon companions of their subjects - even the highest. We owe respect to men, as made in the image of God - rational, moral, immortal, etc.; but not the less to ourselves.
4. Plunged into drunkenness. The lightning leaps which immediately follow are to be distinctly assigned to the drunken condition of the king. Much may and should be here said on the intimate relation existing between moral and spiritual degradation generally and alcohol; and also on the close connection between alcohol and many forms of vice. It is the root of many vices. (The writer of these notes feels that educated men are still the children of many illusions anent this powerful chemical agent; these are well dealt with in 'Dialogues on Drink,' by Dr. Richardson.)
5. Jested with things sacred. Sure mark of a "fool" in the Bible sense. "Holy vessels will we have for such delicious wine," may the king be supposed to say. (Matthew Henry is full and good on this.)
6. Violated the decencies of domestic life. The bringing the harem into the banquet-chamber was a gross offence against even the Oriental idea. (On this see Dr. Raleigh, 'Esther,' lect. 2.)
7. Insulted God. Drank they out of vessels sacred to him, unto other gods. So the indifference of a passive practical atheism culminates in open defiant antagonism against God.
IV. THE DREADFUL END. The loss of everything - kingdom, life, etc. Many things will need to be looked at ere the final ruin of the night comes up for consideration; but this is the place specially to observe that it was the king's own sin and folly of that very hour that led straight to ruin. Had the king and "the lords" been on the alert, not even the turning of the river from its bed had laid them at the mercy of the besiegers. But the revelry incapacitated them. Sin is its own avenger! - R.
I. ROYAL REVELRY. We are not told what was the occasion of this banquet. Possibly it was to celebrate the anniversary of the king's accession; or else an annual festival in honour of Chaldea's gods. But:
1. It was an unseasonable banquet. The foe was already besieging the city. Belshazzar was presuming that Babylon could resist any siege, and that their supplies could last for an indefinite period. There is a time to be merry, but there's also a time for fasting and penitence. The man is a fool who cannot be serious at fitting limes. Gravity is more seemly than gaiety when disaster occurs. He is a doomed man who will not listen when God speaks with voice of thunder. But he shall hear.
2. The revelry proceeded to the extreme of self-abandonment. Wisdom, dignity, good sense, decorum, reason, were all drowned in the depths of the wine-cup. The king led the way to extravagance, revelry, folly, debauchery. He who should have been a guide to virtue, and a pattern of propriety, uses his high influence to pervert and to pollute men. Belshazzar alone is mentioned as the leader of these bacchanalian orgies. All manliness and nobleness were sacrificed at that foul shrine of pleasure.
3. Excess led to wanton profanity and sacrilege. ]PGBR> We do not attempt to measure the sin of these Oriental lords by the standard of modern refinement or modern religious belief; but judged only by the standard of public conscience prevailing in that age, they stand censured and condemned. The ancient nations, however strong their attachment to their peculiar deities, allowed other peoples to worship their chosen gods, and held it to be the grossest sin to lay violent hands on. temple furniture, Throughout the long reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the gold and silver vessels of Jehovah's temple had been scrupulously preserved; and the captive Hebrews had always cherished the hope that these precious vessels would again adorn the temple in Jerusalem. Though Belshazzar had now reigned probably eighteen years, he, too, had not ventured to secularize these sacred things. Nor do we think he would have done so now unless he had been madly inflamed with wine. Sensuality is twin-sister to impiety. II. AN ALARMING OMEN. It came in the form of writing. God might have chosen other signs to betoken his displeasure. An earthquake might have shaken the palace to the ground, and buried these revellers in the dust. Fire from the seven-branched candlestick might have streamed forth, and consumed both king and guests. A voice of thunder might have announced, in unmistakable tones, Jehovah's anger. But this unveiling of his presence and his indignation implies the calm and undisturbed patience with which God proceeds. The kings of Babylon had been famous for writing grave decrees. God will show them that a mightier King than they is upon the scene, and that he too can write decrees in the sight of all. And there was an element of kindness mingled with this judgment. It did not proceed with summary and overwhelming suddenness. Though destruction was near at hand, there was yet time for repentance. But why should king and courtiers be so terrified? Why should they conclude that the portent was unfavourable? Perhaps it was an indication of approaching conquest: tidings that the siege should be raised? Why tremble? What cowardice is here? Why is conscience lashing them with thongs, and afflicting them with such strange alarms? They have just been praising their gods of silver and stone. Will not these protect them now, and recompense their homage with good things? Alas! a sense of sin has fastened itself on them. Self-accusation has sent its fangs into their inmost souls. In a moment they are like dead men. After all, justice slumbereth not. "Verily, there is a God in the earth!" III. IMPOTENT PRIESTCRAFT. The astrologers and soothsayers are summoned to the scene. These were the royal counsellors in matters of religion, and professed to know the secrets of the gods. They had been maintained at the king's expense, and surely should render some proper service in return. But in the hour of urgent need these false supports fail. Ah! better not to lean upon a staff than to lean upon a rotten staff! Better not to trust to a cable in a storm than to have a cable with a faulty link! Every scheme which the king can devise to stimulate these men to attempt the solution is done; but in vain. He does not upbraid them with their empty pretentiousness. He tempts them with fascinating bribes. They shall be raised to affluence and to honour if only they will relieve the king from this scare of terror. Yet the "oracles are dumb." Stricken with feebleness and silence are all the votaries of idolatry. False religion may serve some temporary advantage as an instrument of worldly government; but when a storm of Divine anger beads upon a man, no refuge nor retreat can false faith furnish. When sharp disease invades the vital parts of the body, it is of unspeakable importance that the medicine should have genuine virtue. But no comparison can fitly set forth the moment,ms urgency of having sterling piety. To be deceived in matters of the soul is to imperil everything - is to lose body and soul everlastingly. - D.
II. AN ALARMING OMEN. It came in the form of writing. God might have chosen other signs to betoken his displeasure. An earthquake might have shaken the palace to the ground, and buried these revellers in the dust. Fire from the seven-branched candlestick might have streamed forth, and consumed both king and guests. A voice of thunder might have announced, in unmistakable tones, Jehovah's anger. But this unveiling of his presence and his indignation implies the calm and undisturbed patience with which God proceeds. The kings of Babylon had been famous for writing grave decrees. God will show them that a mightier King than they is upon the scene, and that he too can write decrees in the sight of all. And there was an element of kindness mingled with this judgment. It did not proceed with summary and overwhelming suddenness. Though destruction was near at hand, there was yet time for repentance. But why should king and courtiers be so terrified? Why should they conclude that the portent was unfavourable? Perhaps it was an indication of approaching conquest: tidings that the siege should be raised? Why tremble? What cowardice is here? Why is conscience lashing them with thongs, and afflicting them with such strange alarms? They have just been praising their gods of silver and stone. Will not these protect them now, and recompense their homage with good things? Alas! a sense of sin has fastened itself on them. Self-accusation has sent its fangs into their inmost souls. In a moment they are like dead men. After all, justice slumbereth not. "Verily, there is a God in the earth!"
III. IMPOTENT PRIESTCRAFT. The astrologers and soothsayers are summoned to the scene. These were the royal counsellors in matters of religion, and professed to know the secrets of the gods. They had been maintained at the king's expense, and surely should render some proper service in return. But in the hour of urgent need these false supports fail. Ah! better not to lean upon a staff than to lean upon a rotten staff! Better not to trust to a cable in a storm than to have a cable with a faulty link! Every scheme which the king can devise to stimulate these men to attempt the solution is done; but in vain. He does not upbraid them with their empty pretentiousness. He tempts them with fascinating bribes. They shall be raised to affluence and to honour if only they will relieve the king from this scare of terror. Yet the "oracles are dumb." Stricken with feebleness and silence are all the votaries of idolatry. False religion may serve some temporary advantage as an instrument of worldly government; but when a storm of Divine anger beads upon a man, no refuge nor retreat can false faith furnish. When sharp disease invades the vital parts of the body, it is of unspeakable importance that the medicine should have genuine virtue. But no comparison can fitly set forth the moment,ms urgency of having sterling piety. To be deceived in matters of the soul is to imperil everything - is to lose body and soul everlastingly. - D.
the candlestick - seen by its light - the effect upon the king, pale, trembling, sobered (he will not die drunk) - a great cry for help - why "third ruler"? (Belshazzar co-repent with his father Nabcnadius) - inability of the magi - consternation and confusion of the assembly - Daniel still in the king's employ, but probably in some obscure position (Daniel 8:1, 27) - appearance of the queen-mother on the scene - Daniel called - the advent of the seer, now more than eighty - had been sixty-eight years in Babylon. Picture the tremendous scene, with a background of night, through which seen obscurely the action of the besieging army.
I. To the sinner sooner or later comes A MOMENT OF AWAKING. It is somewhat hazardous to make a universal affirmative; but all we know of God and his dealings with men justifies us in asserting that, sooner or later, God effectually awakens every sinner to his own condition and the Divine claim.
1. The means.
(1) Words from God. Give breadth to the contents of this phrase, whilst insisting on the fact that God oft appeals to sinners by giving a new setting and power to Scripture words. The truth is to be impressed that he speaks variously to men - by aspects of nature, providence, etc.
(2) Accompanied by some evidence of the Divine. Along with the mystic characters the king saw "the fingers," but only the fingers.
(3) But not all that would be possible. The hand, the arm, the whole form of the agent writing might have been discovered. The effect overwhelming. But, no! This ever like God in all his dealings. No evidence of the Divine so overpowering as to shut the mind up to one irresistible conclusion. Nothing like mathematical demonstration. If so, where were the moral elements? This is nevertheless what sinners ask, and what God will not, cannot (respecting man's moral nature) grant.
(4) Coming with impressive undemonstrativeness. No vain show, or noise, or thunder, or lightning; no flaming sword! Only writing! "A still, small voice!"
2. The immediate effect. Note:
(1) What it was. Terror.
(2) Why it was. Nothing in the writing to alarm, so long as uninterpreted. The reason lay there in the king's own conscience. God set his own thoughts against the king.
3. The final end. Not necessarily judgment; the rather mercy. Nor do we know the warning wasted. Many who began the night in revelry may have been awed to penitence and prayer ere they slept the sleep that knows no waking.
II. At such a moment HE MAY FLY FOR SALVATION TO THE INCOMPETENT. TO look at matters in the light of modern experience, we may observe that the king fled for help to the scientists real or pretended. The following propositions may well be insisted on in our time:
1. Scientists fall into three classes. (Scientists, here, they who know.)
(1) Those acquainted with things material.
(2) Mental - things of the ψυχή. Moral, spiritual - things of the πνεῦμα. This classification may not be philosophically perfect, but can be" understanded of the people;" and is sufficient.
2. A false science is useless. Such was much of the magian learning.
3. A true science avails only in its own sphere. A competent leader in natural philosophy or in psychology may be of no use in dealing with a conscience awakened and alarmed. Disregard of this in our modern life. Scientists of the first class (see above) dogmatizing in both metaphysics and theology (Colossians 2:18).
4. Man needs one who knows the moral nature, and its relation to God, and both lighted by special revelations. Such was Daniel - the Christ in Daniel (John 1:9; 1 Peter 1:11) - the Christ of all the ages, and they who have his Spirit.
III. BUT ONLY TO BE DRIVEN BACK ON GOD. In this case the king was constrained to seek unto God in the presence of hit representative Daniel. - R.
I. TRUE WISDOM TREASURES UP THE EXPERIENCE OF THE PAST, If we condemn the spendthrift, who has never learnt the value of money, and only wastes it upon trifles, much more must we condemn the man who throws thoughtlessly away the lessons taught by history and experience. Whether we know it or not, we are responsible for the right use of the past. "A burnt child dreads the fire." A sensible navigator will avoid the hidden reefs on which former mariners have suffered shipwreck. If our father has found a wise and worthy friend, we shall be fools if we do not trust him too.
II. TRUE WISDOM m SUPERIOR TO ALL PREJUDICE. Daniel had been elevated, for his virtues, to the chief place among the magicians; and if, after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was consigned to obscurity, we can attribute it to nothing else than sheer prejudice. He was a foreigner - of the number of the Jewish captives - therefore whatever his goodness or skill, he must be degraded. So prejudice robbed the king of an able and worthy statesman. But the wisdom of the queen advocated that the services of this injured man should again be sought. The occasion was precisely such a one in which his skill was priceless. No matter what his origin, or nationality, or outward condition, if he have superior wisdom or prudence, he is the man for the put, lie exigency. There is a littleness and a meanness about prejudice that genuine wisdom cannot endure.
III. TRUE WISDOM GAINS HER ENDS AT LAST. She has often to hide her head for a time, while Folly is jingling her bells and is making a blustering noise; but her occasion is sure to come. Her voice will prevail at last, and men will chide themselves bitterly that they had not followed her counsels at an earlier day. Wisdom is always patient, because she knows that, sooner or later, her presence will be sought and her guidance followed. Belshazzar had "sown the wind;" now he was "reaping the whirlwind;" and, dismayed with the menacing storm, he became a docile pupil of Wisdom. Without hesitation or delay, he sent for the counsellor whom he had long neglected, and confessed his need of the prophet's service. Even the king is dependent on his subjects for a thousand things. Supercilious pride is the sure forerunner of disaster. - D.
I. SOME OF HIS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Intelligence. "Light, understanding, wisdom" (ver. 11).
2. Excellence of spirit. (Ver. 12.)
3. Faculty. (Ver. 12.)
4. Experience. Some achievement (ver. 12).
5. The indwelling of the Divine Spirit. (Ver. 11.)
II. A POSSIBLE POSITION.
1. Comparative obscurity.
2. Even after years of distinguished service.
III. THE CERTAIN CALL. When God wants a man, he is sure to call (by providence, by his Spirit); and when he calls, man must answer. - R.
etc. A most important subject (not growing exegetically out of the passage, nevertheless) is suggested by the text, which is admirably treated by Horace Bushnell, in 'Sermons on Living Subjects.' For the sake of any who may not have access to the book, we give a brief outline, for the most part in Bushnell's words.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF DOUBT. The prevalence of doubt is exhibited and illustrated at considerable length. "Science puts everything in question, and literature distils the questions, making an atmosphere of them.
II. CAUSES OF DOUBT. They never come of truth or high discovery, but always of the want of it."
1. All the truths of religion are inherently dub/table. They are the subjects of moral evidence, not of absolute demonstration.
2. We begin life as unknowing creatures that have everything to learn.
3. Our faculty is itself disorder; e.g. a bent telescope; a filthy window.
III. THE DISSOLUTION OF DOUBT.
1. Counsel negative. Not "by inquiry, search, investigation, or any kind of speculative endeavour. Men must never go after the truth to merely find it, but to practise it and live by it."
2. Counsel positive. Bushnell asserts and illustrates at length that man has universally the absolute idea of right and its correlative wrong; and then enforces, with power and manifoldness of illumination, this: "Say nothing of investigation till you have made sure of being grounded everlastingly, and' with a completely whole intent, in the principle of right doing as a principle. (No condensation can give any idea of the grasp and fatness with which this is exhibited and applied.)
IV. THE RESULT. A soul thus won to its integrity of thought and meaning will rapidly clear all tormenting questions and difficulties. They are not all gone, but they are going. The ship is launched; he is gone to sea, and has the needle on board.
V. SUPPLEMENTARY DIRECTION.
1. Be never afraid of doubt.
2. Be afraid of all sophistries and tricks and strifes of disingenuous argument.
3. Getting into any scornful way is fatal.
4. Never settle upon any thing as true, because it is safer to hold it than not.
5. Have it as a law never to put force on the mind or try to make it believe. It spoils the mind's integrity.
6. Never be in a hurry to believe; never try to conquer doubts against time. One of the greatest talents in religious discovery is the finding how to hang up questions and let them hang without being at all anxious about them What seemed perfectly insoluble will clear itself in a wondrous revelation." And here is a thought: "It will not hurt you, nor hurt the truth, if you should have some few questions left to be carried on with you when you go hence, for in that more luminous state, most likely they will soon be cleared, only a thousand others will be springing up even there, and you will go on dissolving still your new sets of questions, and growing mightier and more deep-seeing for eternal ages." - R.
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.
I. THE GOOD MAN'S GENEROSITY OF MIND. Daniel does not refuse to come when sent for in haste by the king He might have taken occasion, teem the fright of the king, to remind him of past neglect. He might have accused the king of selfish inconsistency, in that he had dishonoured Daniel in the days of kingly prosperity, but was prompt to use him in the hour of dire adversity. But Daniel was too noble a man on such an occasion to think of himself. He speaks not of his good services to the king's grandsire, nor mentions the ill requital he had received. Nor will he permit the king to imagine that he is now moved to render fresh service by any prospect of reward. This very offer of royal reward had stung the mind of the prophet with pain. Pride and mercenary selfishness were ingrained in the nature of the king, or he would not, on an occasion like this, have spoken of rewards. His vile, base nature could not appreciate the generous nature of his Jewish subject. So Daniel declined the king's proposal with high disdain. They who are employed in the service of God are content with the rewards which their own Master gives. It would savour of treason if an ambassador from the British court should take the pay of a foreign empire.
II. THE GOOD MAN'S RECOGNITION OF GOD. An ambassador to a foreign court will be forward to present his credentials, and will take every public opportunity of maintaining the rights of his sovereign. So, in the very preface of his address, Daniel requires recognition of the supreme authority of God. He reminds Belshazzar of the majesty and glory and dominion which Nebuchadnezzar enjoyed before him - a degree of power far superior to that wielded by Belshazzar - but even Nebuchadnezzar had been compelled to admit that this extensive sovereignty was but a grant from God - a trust delegated by the Most High. Even Nebuchadnezzar was but a vassal prince, and was required to bring his tribute to the supreme Monarch of the skies. To reject the jurisdiction of God is contemptible folly and weakness.
III. THE GOOD MAN'S FAITHFUL REPROOF FOR THE PAST. The effect of God's judgments on Nebuchadnezzar ought to have been the exhibition of pious humility in Belshazzar. God's chastisement of a father is intended to benefit a son, and God's intentions cannot be frustrated with impunity. To despise the lessons of the past is wanton sin and irreparable loss. If Belshazzar's pride had only been equal to that of his grandsire, the guilt would have been greater, because he had inherited all the warnings of the past. In proportion to men's advantages are their responsibilities. Daniel, though a subject and a captive, does not spare his monarch's sins. No prospect of preferment, no fear of disfavour, weakens the severity of his reproofs. He charges the monarch with his haughty pride, with his blatant atheism, his sacrilegious profanation of sacred things, his insane trust in graven images. He arraigns his monarch, as if he were a prisoner at the bar brought up to receive sentence for his crimes. He accuses him of ingratitude to the God who had daily sustained him; accuses him of a wanton misuse of power; accuses him of a flagrant abuse of the gift of life. Now the edifice of his guilt has been crowned! Now the last element of aggravation has been added! God's sacred vessels have been desecrated for human debauchery. The die is cast; the hour has struck. "Because judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil."
IV. THE GOOD MAN'S FORECAST OF THE DEBAUCHEE'S FUTURE. God is not so highly exalted that he cannot see what occurs upon the earth; nor is he so indifferent to human actions that he will pass by any sin with impunity. The hand that wrote the ten commandments on stony tablets - the hand that wrote Belshazzar's doom upon the palace-wall - records all our misdemeanours also. Never still is that Divine hand. The Chaldean monarch's days were all exactly numbered; the sands had nearly run out; there was but an hour or two for repentance. The Orientals had a belief in future rewards and punishments, and were accustomed to represent the supreme Judge as weighing, in the separate scales of a balance, men's good actions, and the bad. Here God accommodated himself to this prevalent belief, and represented himself as weighing in his balances the character of the king. Daniel plainly announced the result, "Thou art weighed, and" - oh! dread conclusion - "thou art found wanting." The final stroke was near and overwhelming. The thunder-cloud was, even then, gathering under the dark covert of night, and was about to discharge its fatal contents over the doomed city. Not another sun should rise upon Belshazzar's earthly life. His course was run; and in his ruin ten thousand others would be involved. We cannot sin alone; we entice others into the fatal way. We cannot suffer alone; we drag others into the whirlpool of destruction. "In that night was Belshazzar, King of the Chaldeans, slain" - D.
surely to its end. But the idea of time is human. The structure of the human mind compels us to introduce the element of duration. But God is superior to this limitation. "With him a thousand years are as one day," and vice versa.
I. THE SWIFTNESS OF THE RETRIBUTION. Although this one act of sacrilege and self-debauchery is the only event in Belshazzar's life which is recorded in the page of sacred history, we are warranted in the conclusion that his public life, and probably his earlier private life, were series of guilty and impious acts. No man reaches great excesses of sin at a single step. In all likelihood God bad condescended to warn and counsel Belshazzar again and yet again, and this last daring act of defiance was the climax of his degenerate course. This was Belshazzar's reply to God's patient expostulations, and sudden destruction was the most fitting penalty. We are surprised, not at the rapid execution of God's warnings, but at his unparalleled forbearance.
II. THE SUDDENNESS OF THE CALAMITY. We are not informed by Daniel the minute steps of the royal overthrow; but possibly Belslhazzar had retired to rest, little supposing that retribution was at his very door. It may be that his senses had been overcome by wine and fear; that deep stupor succeeded, as the natural reaction of his sensual excess; and. that the noise of the city's capture did not reach his ear. Very likely he heard no rumour of alarm until some bold and reckless besiegers gained the palace, and slew the king in his bed. In this case he scarcely woke to die. It is not an uncommon thing for punishment to come on the ungodly at last, suddenly, as "a thief in the night." At the moment when Daniel declared the heavenly Monarch's will, amendment was too late. The king was not in possession of his faculties. He had drowned them in the wine-cup; and, before the fumes of his intoxication had worn off, he was a corpse. Our sin ofttimes disables us for true repentance. "No place for it is found, though we seek it carefully, and with tears."
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF HIS DOOM. It was not a partial disaster, such as the infliction of disease or the loss of his crown; not such a disaster as might yet be repaired by reformation or obedience. It was complete, final, irreparable. In a moment every possession he held ceased. His sovereign power, his worldly possessions, hi. health, his life, his hope, - all were destroyed at a single blow. The stroke was overwhelming. Nothing was left behind but an obnoxious reputation - a beacon to future voyagers. No human mind can estimate the extent of that calamity. What blacker hell can there be than for a man to awake to consciousness in the next life with a sense that he has lost all? He had a splendid opportunity, but he wasted it! He might have gained heaven, but he has irretrievably failed. Existence has become intolerable misery. Now he is compelled to hear this knell of doom, "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." - D.