Later, King Belshazzar held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he drank wine with them.
Belshazzar was the last of the Babylonian kings. The great feast which he made for a thousand of his lords was on the last night of his reign. He belonged to the proud and profligate race of the Chaldeans, whom the Hebrew prophets describe as given to pleasures, dwelling carelessly, and trusting in wickedness. All this can be abundantly shown from the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; from the Greek historians, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Diodorus. and from inscriptions on monuments that remain to this day. And knowing all this concerning the young men of that great and mighty city of ancient time, we are not surprised that Babylon became a desolation. The day of doom is not far off from thy great city when its young men have become "tender and delicate"; nerveless and spiritless about the nobler demands of effort and duty. There is no more effectual way to destroy a great and mighty nation than to give its young men all the money they want, provide them with plays and festivities and amusements and dances and wine, and then leave them to sweat the life and manhood out of body and soul in the hot-bed of pleasure and self-indulgence. That is the way Babylon was ruined. That is the way imperial Rome became an easy prey to northern barbarians. That is the way Christian Constantinople came under the debasing and abominable sway of Mohammedans. That is the way Venice ended a thousand years of independent and glorious history with shame and servitude. Belshazzar had everything to flatter his pride and indulge his passions. He was an absolute monarch, holding the life and property of his thousand lords and his countless people entirely at his disposal. His servants were princes. His concubines were the daughters of kings. His capital was enriched with the spoils of nations — his provinces were cultivated by captive people. He was hasty and violent in temper, yet effeminate and luxurious in his habits of living. He was gracious and indulgent toward his favourites; and yet when their best efforts to please him did not happen to suit his caprice of the moment, he would be cruel as the grave. The great hall of the palace, in which he feasted his thousand lords reclining upon couches, was large enough to accommodate four times as many guests arranged as we now seat ourselves at table. It was adorned with carvings and sculptures of colossal dimensions, and the lofty walls' were emblazoned with the trophies of war and the symbols of idolatrous worship. The profane orgies of royal mirth were adorned with every artistic decoration that the genius of the age could supply. I believe that the fine arts are capable of ministering to the highest and purest civilisation; but thus far they have done little to enlighten the ignorant, to lift up the degraded, or to help the world forward in the career of moral improvement. They have always flourished in the corrupt and reeking society of a dissolute and licentious age. Rome, the modern Babylon, was never more depraved and abominable than when it had Michael Angelo to build St. Peter's, and Raphael to fresco the Vatican. The capital of France was never more like Rome than when the Grand Monarque, Louis the Fourteenth, dazzled the world with his splendid court, and the great masters of every land were decorating the palaces of Fontainbleau, Versailles, and the Louvre, with the loftiest achievements of art. In three hundred years the highest art has done less to refine and improve the common people in Rome and Naples than would be done by the spelling-book and New Testament in one year. Belshazzar inherited the pride, the glory, the riches, the power, the palaces, the capital, the kingdom of his great father. He inherited enough to ruin any young man who was not fortified by great strength of character and a severe mastery of his own appetites and passions. At the time immediately preceding the great feast which Belshazzar made for his thousand lords, the province of Babylon had been overrun and the capital assailed by a great army from the north. But, for some strange and inexplicable reason, the besieging force had apparently withdrawn. No effort appears to have been made to discover what had become of the enemy, or what had occasioned their disappearance. It was enough that they could no longer be seen from the towers and walls. It was taken for granted that the siege was abandoned and the war was over. The whole city was immediately given up to rejoicing and every form of riotous excess. Belshazzar set the example, and people and princes were only too ready to imitate their king. "The music and the banquet and the wine; the garlands, the rose-edours, and the flowers; the sparkling eyes, the flashing ornaments, the jewelled arms, the raven hair, the braids, the bracelets, the thin robes floating like clouds; the fair forms, the delusion and the false enchantment of the dizzy scene," take away all reason and all reverence from the flushed and crowded revellers. There is now nothing too sacred for them to profane, and Belshazzar himself takes the lead in the riot and the blasphemy. Even the mighty and terrible Nebuchadnezzar, who desolated the sanctuary of Jehovah at Jerusalem, would not use his sacred trophies in the worship of his false gods. But this weak and wicked successor of the great conqueror, excited with wine and carried away with the delusion that no foe can ever capture his great city, is anxious to make some grand display of defiant and blasphemous desecration. At the very moment when their sacrilegious revelry was at its height, the bodiless hand came forth and wrote the words of doom upon the wall of the banqueting-room; the armies of Cyrus had turned the Euphrates out of its channel, and marched into the unguarded city along the bed of the stream beneath the walls; they were already in possession of the palace-gates when Belshazzar and his princes were drinking wine from the vessels of Jehovah, and praising the gods of gold and silver and stone; and that great feast of boasting and of blasphemy was the last ceremonial of the Chaldean kings. The reckless and the profane not unfrequently display the greatest gaiety and thoughtlessness when they are on the very brink of destruction. The feeling and the appearance of safety are not always to be taken for reality. Death still enters the banquet-hall anti the ball-room as well as the bed-chamber. The last opportunity for any good work is apt to look just like all that came and went before it. We seldom know that; it is the last, until it is gone never to return. Our only safe way to improve the last opportunity is to use all that come as if any one might be the last. The apparent thoughtlessness of the gay and worldly does not prove that they are at peace with themselves A smiling face and a reckless manner are sometimes put on to hide an anxious and an aching heart. To find joy in everything we do, we must do everything for God. To have the light of Heaven upon our faces in all the dark hours of trial and trouble, we must have Heaven's peace in our hearts. The messages of the gospel is God's way of peace for man. Belshazzar and his thousand lords did not profane the golden vessels of Jehovah until they had drunk wine. Indulgence in the intoxicating cup prepares the way for every excess and profanation. No man can be sure that he will be saved from any degree of shame or crime when once he has a put an enemy in his mouth to steal away his reason." The eye of the Great Judge is upon every scene of profanity and dissipation. The handwriting appeared upon the wall of the bouquet-room in Belshazzar's palace in the hour of their wildest mirth, to show that God was there. And God is in every scene of wickedness and dissipation not less really than in the Holy Place of His own sanctuary. The finger of God is ever writhing the witness of His presence with us upon the living tablets of our hearts. That infinite and awful Witness is in every storehouse, workshop, and place of business, every day of the week and every hour of the day. In the deepest solitude we must all have one companion. To every act and word of our lives there must be one witness, and that witness is the holy and sin-hating God. We cannot escape our accountability to Him. Why, then, not live so that we can give Him our account with joy? Conscience is a mysterious and mighty power in us all. The great and terrible king Belshazzar was completely mastered and unmanned by its secret whisper. He was afraid, because an accusing conscience always makes darkness and mystery terrible to the guilty. It is mightiest in the mighty. Milton's Satan, Byron's Manfred, Shakespeare's Macbeth and Richard the Third are truthful illustrations of the harrowing torture produced in the mightiest mind by the calm, solemn voice within, which only says, "You are wrong." The Supreme Creater has put us absolutely in the power of that mysterious judge which pronounces sentence in our own bosoms upon all our conduct and motives. And we cannot conceive anything worse for a man than to die and go into the eternal world with an unappeased and accusing conscience to keep him company and to torment him for ever. Belshazzar had riches, and pleasure, and glory. He was absolute master in the greatest palace and the greatest city the world had ever seen. But what is his life worth to the world now, except to warn men not to live as he did? With all his splendour and luxury he lived a wretched man, and he died as the fool dies. He lifted himself up against God, he trusted in wickedness, and so he became but as the chaff which the wind driveth away. And the same sovereign God counts out the days of life to us all. He weighs our character, our conduct, our motives, in the balances of infinite truth. And there is no deficit so damaging as that which is charged to one who is found wanting before God. It has been said that the thought of our responsibility to God is the greatest thought ever entertained by the greatest mind. Certainly the discoveries and demonstrations of science cannot carry our minds so far over the sweep of ages and over the expanse of the universe as the bare thought that our individual being is bound inseparably and for ever to the being of the infinite and eternal God. Whatever we do, wherever we are, we can never cease to be responsible to Him. For He has appointed us to do His work. He has given us the means, the faculties, and the opportunity; and He holds us answerable for using them well. What the world wants most is men in whose minds the great thought of responsibility to God is ever present — men who are made strong by the consciousness that they are doing God's work.
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand (ver. 1). The history of the fall of Babylon must form the background of any homiletical treatment of this chapter (see the histories; and the Exposition above). The clearing up of the difficulty of this portion of Scripture, of the seeming discrepancy between Daniel's statements and the records of secular history, by the discovery of clay cylinders, simultaneously by M. Oppert and Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1854, is one of the most interesting episodes in the history of Christian apologetics; and is eminently suggestive in that line of things, showing particularly how easily Biblical mists would be cleared away if only we could have at hand 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.
Belshazzar the king made a great feast.
This feast is, like how many other events, rescued from oblivion by the interposition of a Divine hand. The presence of God in history is its salt, and keeps it from perishing. When does credible history begin, but with the exodus of Israel from Egypt? What kind of interest attaches to European history, apart from the work of God in the church? Let English history be read, minus the Reformation and Puritan element, and it would be very meagre and watery. What rescues human life from insignificance? The presence of God What gives to the work of every day a serious interest? The presence of God. Whereever we see the finger of God, we are arrested. We may see it in the page of history, in the life of a family, in the quiet prosperity of a church. This poor, luxurious, profane king, who comes up, drinks, trembles for an hour before us in the blaze of splendour, and then passes away swiftly into chaos and old night — this reveller would never have been heard of, but for "the fingers of a man's hand that wrote ever against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of his palace." There is nothing interesting in this man. He does nothing, says nothing, is nothing; nothing but a dark ground on which fiery letters are written, the more luminous because the ground is black. We take a kind of interest in Nebuchadnezzar, with his proud, stormy greatness; with his gigantic plans and terrible visions. We read of his insanity with concern approaching to horror. If Belshazzar excites any feeling in our minds it is utter astonishment at his folly. Was this a time to give a great feast to the thousand of his lords? Cyrus, with his mighty army, lay outside his city — Cyrus, who had already defeated him in a pitched battle — Cyrus, the greatest soldier in the world. What had the gods of gold and silver done for Nebuchadnezzar? How had they avenged the slight put upon the golden image which he had set up? What had they done for the poor insane king? How had they helped Belshazzar lately, when Cyrus beat him and shut him up in Babylon, a prisoner in his own capital? They slighted the great and awful past, with its stern lessons; and they have always had a hard and dreadful future, who made early work of the past. If men will not take the trouble to read the warnings of yesterday, to-morrow's fingers will write a word on their walls which will scare their eyeballs, and make their knees shake! Oh, take kindly to the warnings of all history, but of your own in particular, for it is as grave and important to you as over Belshazzar's ought to have been to him. But when they made light of the God of Israel over their cups, they made light of those "portions and parcels of the dreadful past," which they must have known and remembered. "Thou, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this." "They lifted up themselves against the Lord of heaven," though they had seen His marvellous works wrought before them. The fiery furnace, the four men in the fire, the dream, the madness, the recovery, the proclamation; they knew it all; they slighted it all; and at this time, too, with the foe at their gate, and such a foe! The Chaldeans are called in, as of old, and, as usual, are at fault. Then the queen mother, Nitocris, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, "came into the banquet-house." Profane history speaks well of this lady. She was a wise and prudent woman, and had the chief administration of affairs Her memory was all alive. She recollected past perplexities. She remembered Daniel, and said, "Let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation." "Then Daniel was brought in before the king." Scarlet and a gold chain! and, in the meantime, the Mede and the Persian are entering by stealth, like thieves in the night, through the dried-up bed of the Euphrates! "Let thy gifts be to thyself." "Tekel" "Weighed in the balances and found wanting." A very significant word. It represents God as putting us into a just balance, and judging accordingly. This is not an unusual figure. "Thou dost weigh the path of the just." "By the Lord actions are weighed." "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits." We all remember how strongly the Bible speaks of "a just weight." Look at this great appearance of royal government, pride, pomp, and circumstance of state — Belshazzar's rule over the poor people of Babylon — how fine it all looks. But look at it; is it doing what it professes to do? Is it defending the city? Is if caring for the poor? Drunken on the night of the seige. A sham government. Light as a leaf before the whirlwind. God takes it up, weighs it, finds it worthless, and throws it to Cyrus. Then the officer of justice steps in and does his work. Pass for what you are; and be what you pass for; or Peres, the sentence will go against you. You pass for a Christian, you use the passwords of the Christian religion; men take your word, just as without suspicion we take our pounds of meat and tea, and pay for them. Is it only seemingly good weight? Tekel you will be found out. A light ruler! But stop! before we blame Belshazzar and other light kings, let us ask a question — Are you doing in the royal line what you profess to do? Are you ruling your households in the fear of God? Is there a just government there! Is there equity, love, purity, the law of truth, swaying the family? Ye the scrutiny of Heaven is there a kingdom of God there? And how is the inner kingdom ruled? You profess to have a conscience, a presiding judge — reason. Are you taking it easy, and making light of your responsibilities, of the charge which God has laid upon you, and thinking that God doth not see? "Let integrity and uprightness preserve us, O God of our salvation."
Now let us look at the scene. What is this a picture of? Can you express the whole of that revel in one word? I think I can, and this is the word — godlessness. When, presently, the soothsayers have proved their ignorance, and the enchanters are unable to decipher the mystic writing upon the wail, and Daniel comes, what is the supreme charge that he makes against Belshazzar? He does not charge him with drunkenness, though he is drunk: he does not charge him with sacrilege, though he has sent for the golden vessels of the House of God in order that these drinking men may drink from them; he does not charge him with lasciviousness of life, although there are tokens of it on every hand in that banqueting hall. This is the charge that Daniel makes against the king. He passes from the superficial to the central, and in these words he makes his supreme charge against the king: "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast then not glorified." Every power of the king was a God-given power — his breath, all his ways, his throne, his opportunity, his kingdom, his capacity for laughter and for tears — everything God-given, and yet he sat on the throne without reference to the other throne: exercised his kingship without reference to the other kingship; laughed without reference to God; entered into all the avenues of his own life and enjoyed the very blessings of Heaven, and yet without reference to God, and this not because of ignorance. And now mark in the case of this king how that supreme sin works itself out. Foolhardiness! The enemies are at the gate; Darius is on his way; the very kingdom over which the man presides in self-satisfying security is being undermined and shaken to its foundations. Foolhardiness! A feast where there ought to have been preparations for a fight Belshazzar has been living as though Nebuchadnezzar had never lived; Belshazzar has been living as though his father had never come under the immediate government of God; he has been living as though the great lessons of the past had never been uttered or taught. And you tell me he has forgotten! No, he never forgot; these men do not forget — they act as though they had forgotten, but forgotten they have not. But you say to me: "How do you know he has not forgotten?" Because when the wine has worked into his brain and the wit is out therefore, the underlying memory asserts itself in idiotic insult: "Fetch the vessels of the House of God, and we will drink from them." That is how godlessness works out in its finality. If you let me turn aside for a moment, I can quite understand there is a young man who is living a godless life to-night, and he says: "I never meant to do it." Belshazzar never meant to do it. Do not allow the sin to blind you to the facts of life that are patent on every hand. Do you suppose that any murderer who has gone to his doom ever meant to commit murder? Never. But it was the last bitter fruitage of the root of godlessness. That is how godlessness works itself out. And I look at that great banqueting hall with its thousand lords, and I look at Belshazzar, the man who knew, who had lived as though he did not know, who remembered in the midst of the revelry, and then insulted God.. Now, still watching that hall and that scene, I pray you mark the next fact: the Divine assertion in the midst of the revelry, the handwriting by which God asserted His own presence and His own Divine right amid all the revelry of foolhardy men. For let me say at once that all the mystery of the soothsayers and the enchanters was not due to the mystery of the writing, but to their attempt to explain away simple, evident truths. "Mene," everyone knew that it meant "remembered"; "Tekel," everyone know that it meant "weighed"; "Upharsin," everyone knew that it meant "divided." And whereas I do not for a single moment want to take away from the fact that there dwelt in Daniel the spirit of insight into spiritual things; in Daniel as in many another man, the spirit that sees into the heart of spiritual things is the spirit of a little child. It was the cleverness of the soothsayers that prevented their understanding the writing on the wail, and all the heated feverishness of the king to get someone to explain it was not heated feverishness to get someone to explain it, but to explain it away; and what Daniel did was to come and speak the truth and enforce it and drive it home, the truth that was patent to the king. This was God asserting Himself in the life of this man. It was an assertion of Himself that interfered with all human arrangements, that disturbed the feast. Just look at the king. His knees smote together, his countenance was changed, he sees all the horror of his own foolhardiness and all the awful fruitage of his own sin. If he can he will escape it; if he can he will undo the past and blot out his own handwriting; but he cannot, and God has come into the midst of the revelry to disturb the life of this man. Now, mark the writing for a moment. Remembered, counted, finished — there is no more. The solemnity of this whole story lies in the fact that it is not a warning uttered, but a verdict pronounced. "In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain." In looking at the narrative as we have been doing for the last few minutes, I cannot possibly put any single word of hope into the story. It is not a story of hope; it is a story of judgment; swift, sure, irrevocable — nothing left. A man had his opportunity, had his examples, had his warnings, best of all had God — failed. Now, why take you back to the old story? Only in order that I may now for a few moments endeavour to take out of the story the principles of importance and ask you to face them. And what is the first? That the supreme sin of every life, including all others within it, is the sin of godlessness. Godlessness is the root of sin. And if it should happen that to-night in the case of some person in this house the end should come, if your years are numbered and the last hour is upon you and you have failed, what is your sin? Exactly what this man's sin was. "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified." You belong to God, everything you have is a Divine gift, and all these years of your life up to the present moment What is the story of your life? You are God-created; His image is on your brow; the supreme glory of the Godhead in some sense is reproduced and re-expressed in you. "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways." What relation have you borne to Him? And I want to ask you now for a moment, since God created man and God preserved man, what relation have you borne in the days and years of your life to the God who created you, to the God who has preserved you? That is the supreme thing; there is no other question left; there is no other problem ought to vex the heart of man but that. Now, is it true of you that you have not glorified Him? You have thought of Him as a distant Deity; you have thought of Him, perhaps, as a supreme intelligent force behind Nature, to be spoken of reverently and nothing more; you have thought of Him as the God of judgment and the God of mercy, for you have lived in the gentle light which breaks from the cross of the Crucified. But these things are of no moment; the question is, How have you answered your knowledge and your conviction concerning God? And remember, godlessness is the life lived within the provision of God that never recognises the One who provides. I would have you very solemnly put away from your mind the false idea that godlessness is the peculiar condition of the man who dwells in the slum, that godlessness is that which expresses itself in profanity and bestiality and lasciviousness — all those things are true, but there is a godlessness which is refined, cultured, pleasant, and yet is the most arrant and hardening godlessness of the age, issuing in indifference and presently manifesting itself, it may be, in the sceptical allusion and the pitying and patronising attitude which a man takes up to those who are godly people. Oh! the blight of it. That is the supreme sin. And out of this sin of godlessness spring all the other sins. Folly! A man has lost the balance of life who has lost his sense of and obedience to God. But what was the supreme sin of the man illustrated in the story of the prodigal? It was this, that he took his father's substance and wasted it in riotous living. And that is the sin of humanity the whole way along. It is you sin that every gift God has bestowed upon you, you have wasted upon yourself. And there is no man more blind, no man more utterly foolish, no man proving his insanity more than the man who lives through these days so swiftly passing without reference to God and without relation to God. Godlessness issues in folly; godlessness leaves a man a prey to all the lusts to play about the life to tempt. And what is the other lesson? It is that, sooner or later, God asserts Himself in every human life. The freedom of the will is a limited freedom. God in His great universe will never allow the will of man to be so free as wreck for evermore all who come into contact with him. Liberty and licence are two things, and there must be a moment when God arrests the life and deals with the man. This man knew about Nebuchadnezzar and yet did not humble himself; he never laid the glory of his own opportunity at the footstool of the Divine sovereignty, and made wreckage of his life in consequence. God, at some point, comes into every man's life, arresting it. "Ah!" you will say, " I have not glorified God, and the godlessness of principle hag blossomed into the fruitage of evil habit." Do not play with the habit do not try to cut off the habit; get down to the principle, and by way of the cross of Christ to-night find your way back into the Kingdom of God, yielding to Him your whole life, trusting in the Saviour who comes with matchless patience wooing you back to God, and then, when presently the story is told of your life, instead of the sentence being passed, "Found wanting," it will be written, "Ye are complete in Him."
()The character of Belshazzar appears to have been of the most contemptible description. He was addicted to the lowest vices of self indulgence, and felt no restraint whatever in the gratification of his desires. With all this there was combined an arrogance of the haughtiest kind, which would brook no interference with his designs, and would submit to no expostulation in the interests of morality. At length, however, the cup of his iniquities became full.
1. The intemperance by which this banquet was characterised. He cared for nothing but the revelry of the hour. We know too well the concomitants of an excess like this.
2. The profanity by which this banquet was characterised. There is an old fable which tells of a man who had the choice which of three sins he would commit — drunkenness, adultery, or murder. He chose drunkenness, as being apparently the least, but when he was intoxicated he committed both the others, and thus ended by being guilty of all three. Profanity is rampant even in our midst. Who among us has not often had his ears pained and his heart sickened by the unhallowed use of the name of God by those who have no reverence for him in their hearts? O that men would remember that holy law which says that "the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain"!
3. This night was one of supernatural visitation. What means the sudden lull in the noisy revel? The king is pointing, with a shudder of agony, where a mysterious hand is tracing letters on the wall. No ray of hope brightens the gloom of that awful sentence.
4. A night of terrible retribution. God threatens, but He means what He says, and He will bring it to pass. God is faithful who has threatened.
()Social enjoyment, when guided by reason, when bounded by temperance, when springing from mutual benevolence, is not forbidden by religion, and may tend, in so far, within these limits, to promote the welfare of the world. Considering, however, the shortness of man's life, the solemnity of his condition as a lost sinner, the infinite eternity into which he must soon enter, and the tribunal of Divine holiness before which he must soon stand, it appears evident that man has not much time to spend in feasting. Considering the destitution and misery that are in the world, it is also clear that he cannot devote much of his means to this end without being guilty of inhumanity to his fellow-creatures and disobedience to that God who commands us, according to our ability, to show kindness to the poor. Much immorality, much inhumanity, much ungodliness, are manifested by all classes in the large sums which they expend, and the time, more precious than gold, which they dissipate, in feasts and entertainments. It is one of the crimes of our land, and fast becoming one of its calamities, that our ancient simplicity, and our ancient sobriety and frugality, are fast departing from among us, and that, instead of them, there is coming in a flood of epicureanism, and affectation, and frivolity. Luxury, love of false refinement, refinement of manners and not of morals, refinement in appearance apart from dignity of character, is coming in upon us more and more, in every succeeding generation. And unless there be a change in the morality of the land, effected by its religion, or some awful calamity be sent to us by a righteous Providence, this growing luxuriousness will, in a short time, be the ruin of our beloved country. It will dissolve the national character. It will be worse than hurting the trade or hurting the agriculture of the land. It will hurt the population. It will produce a degenerate race of men. Luxury, as all history shows, is one of the greatest among national evils.
()I. THE FEAST OF BELSHAZZAR. It was a great annual festival, commemorative of some great event. Some think it was Sacae, the Saturnalia of the Babylonians. Others say it was a feast in honour of the king's birthday, or of his coronation. Whatever feast it was, it seems to have been attended with the pomp, religious rites, and services of the empire. The Babylonians were famous above all other nations for intemperance, especially in drinking. A feast commemorative of a man's birthday or of his marriage is not necessarily sinful. A national festival is not in itself sinful; nor was it the eating and drinking in moderation, but the excess, and the spirit in which it was done, that made Belshazzar's feast so impious. Their excess was a great sin, but their defiance of Jehovah and impious mockery in using the sacred vessels brought from Jerusalem was a far greater sin. The king and his lords, by using the holy vessels of the Jewish temple for their licentious and idolatrous festival, hurled defiance at the God of Abraham, and showed their contempt for the power of Him who doeth according to His will in the armies of Heaven. The king, heated with wine, commanded them to bring in the vessels of the Jerusalem temple. There was needless insult to the captive Jews, as well as impious blasphemy against their God, in this desecration of their holy vessels. Any and every perversion of holy things is a desecration of them. When the sacrament is taken without faith to discern the Lord's body, or to cover some sinister design, or as a passport to some office, then the sacred vessels of the Lord's house are desecrated to an unholy end. In whatever way religion is dragged from its lofty and controlling sphere, and made to gild the claims of a party or of a sect, then and there we have a repetition of Belshazzar's profanation. When the Sabbath is made a day of pleasure, of visiting, feasting, and writing letters — when the house of God is used for anything but the purposes of religious worship — then we have an approach to the desecration of Belshazzar's feast. But let us leave this disquisition about the desecration of holy things and observe the feast. It was one of the greatest splendour. A mysterious writing appeared upon the plastering of the palace wall. As the king and his lords could not read the inscription, it is said, why were they thus afraid? They were afraid because their own consciences condemned them. All men who live in sin dread what is future and unknown. It has been asked why the wise men of Babylon could not read the inscription. The words are mainly Chaldean. Why could not the Chaldee scholar read them then as well as now? To this we answer, all the learned men of Spain could make an egg stand on the table after Columbus had shown them how. Several reasons are assigned by commentators for the inability of the king's astrologers to read the writing. One is, that the words were written in the ancient Hebrew character, the knowledge of which was even then lost to all except the Jewish priests and scribes, and not in the modern Hebrew character, which differs little or nothing from the Chaldee. The characters, the forms of the letters in which the Old Testament is commonly written, is not the ancient Hebrew characters. It is supposed that the square form of the letters now used is not the primitive form. English letters are alike, but the Greek characters are different. So, when, for convenience sake, the printer puts the Greek word aionios in English letters, the mere Greek scholar does not know his old acquaintance, nor the mere English scholar divine whence it comes nor what it means. If the inscription on the wall at Belshazzar's feast was in ancient Hebrew characters, it is not strange that his wise men were unable to read it. Others think that the words were inscribed in hieroglyphics, of which the astrologers had no key, and that we have not the original in our Bible, but translations of the forms of the letters, as well as of the sense; others think that the writing was intelligible only to such as were aided in reading it by the Spirit of God: and others think they were so intoxicated or so frightened that they could not read. I only insist, however, on the fact that the king's astrologers could not read this inscription, and that Daniel could; and you will be pleased, no doubt, to observe how the interpretation was brought out. It was obtained, as is often the case with our greatest blessings, through the agency of woman, the aged grandmother of the king, the queen dowager, as our European cousins would call her. Blank terror and alarm reign in the court. The king and his courtiers are at their wit's end. No one seems to be calm and self-possessed but Nitocris, the widow of old Nebuchadnezzar. She instantly steps up and suggests that Daniel should be sent for, and gives her reasons. It often happens that a woman, whose sex is usually so easily agitated by trifles, when overtaken by some great crisis, which calls forth an the latent energies of her soul, is found to display a calmness, a magnanimity., a self-possession that puts to shame the powers of the other sex. These astrologers were not enchanters — they were not diviners — they professed no communion with evil spirits. They were men who studied the signs of the Heavenly bodies, and having no written revelations, they believed that God had written the past, the present, and also something of the future in the sky — that the stars were the letters of that revelation, and that by studying them they might interpret things to come. In allowing himself, therefore, to be placed at their head, Daniel does not violate the laws of Moses against soothsayers, witches, and the like Satan-possessed persons. These wise men of Babylon were not peeping and muttering spirit tappers, whose pretended revelations were filling the land with lunatics. They were magi, but not magicians. They were philosophers, but not sorcerers. They held communion with God's outward world, and not with the spirits of the dead or with devils.
II. THAT ONE SIN OFTEN LEADS TO ANOTHER. Sensuality is usually connected with profaneness, and both lead to ruin.
III. LEARN THAT THERE IS GREAT GUILT AND DESERVED PUNISHMENT IN NOT TAKING WARNING FROM THE JUDGMENT OF GOD UPON OTHERS, ESPECIALLY OUR OWN COUNTRYMEN AND ANCESTORS.
PeopleBabylonians, Belshazzar, Belteshazzar, Daniel, Darius, Micah, Nebuchadnezzar, Persians
TopicsBanquet, Belshazzar, Belshaz'zar, Drank, Drinking, Feast, Front, Held, Lords, Nobles, Presence, Thousand, Wine
Outline1. Belshazzar's impious feast.
5. A hand-writing unknown to the magicians, troubles the king.
10. At the commendation of the queen Daniel is brought.
17. He, reproving the king of pride and idolatry,
25. reads and interprets the writing.
30. The monarchy is translated to the Medes
Dictionary of Bible ThemesDaniel 5:1
LibraryMene, Tekel, Peres
'Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another: yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 19. And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
The Scales of Judgment
There has never been a deed of persecution--there has never been a drop of martyr's blood shed yet, but shall be avenged, and every land guilty of it shall yet drink the cup of the wine of the wrath of God. And especially certain is there gathering an awful storm over the head of the empire of Rome--that spiritual despotism of the firstborn of hell. All the clouds of God's vengeance are gathering into one--the firmament is big with thunder, God's right arm is lifted up even now, and ere long the …
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 5: 1859
"So Then they that are in the Flesh Cannot Please God. "
Rom. viii. 8.--"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." It is a kind of happiness to men, to please them upon whom they depend, and upon whose favour their well-being hangs. It is the servant's happiness to please his master, the courtier's to please his prince; and so generally, whosoever they be that are joined in mutual relations, and depend one upon another; that which makes all pleasant, is this, to please one another. Now, certainly, all the dependencies of creatures one upon …
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning
Human governments a part of the moral government of God. In the discussion of this subject I will,-- I. Inquire into the ultimate end of God in creation. We have seen in former lectures, that God is a moral agent, the self-existent and supreme; and is therefore himself, as ruler of all, subject to, and observant of, moral law in all his conduct. That is, his own infinite intelligence must affirm that a certain course of willing is suitable, fit, and right in him. This idea, or affirmation, is law …
Charles Grandison Finney—Systematic Theology
Eastern Wise-Men, or Magi, visit Jesus, the New-Born King.
(Jerusalem and Bethlehem, b.c. 4.) ^A Matt. II. 1-12. ^a 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem [It lies five miles south by west of Jerusalem, a little to the east of the road to Hebron. It occupies part of the summit and sides of a narrow limestone ridge which shoots out eastward from the central chains of the Judæan mountains, and breaks down abruptly into deep valleys on the north, south, and east. Its old name, Ephrath, meant "the fruitful." Bethlehem means "house of bread." Its modern …
J. W. McGarvey—The Four-Fold Gospel
Messiah Unpitied, and Without a Comforter
Reproach [Rebuke] hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. T he greatness of suffering cannot be certainly estimated by the single consideration of the immediate, apparent cause; the impression it actually makes upon the mind of the sufferer, must likewise be taken into the account. That which is a heavy trial to one person, may be much lighter to another, and, perhaps, no trial at all. And a state …
John Newton—Messiah Vol. 1
Sovereignty of God in Administration
"The LORD hath prepared His Throne In the heavens; and His Kingdom ruleth over all" (Psa. 103:19). First, a word concerning the need for God to govern the material world. Suppose the opposite for a moment. For the sake of argument, let us say that God created the world, designed and fixed certain laws (which men term "the laws of Nature"), and that He then withdrew, leaving the world to its fortune and the out-working of these laws. In such a case, we should have a world over which there was no intelligent, …
Arthur W. Pink—The Sovereignty of God
Jesus Sets Out from Judæa for Galilee.
Subdivision A. Reasons for Retiring to Galilee. ^A Matt. IV. 12; ^B Mark I. 14; ^C Luke III. 19, 20; ^D John IV. 1-4. ^c 19 but Herod the tetrarch [son of Herod the Great, and tetrarch, or governor, of Galilee], being reproved by him [that is, by John the Baptist] for Herodias his brother's wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done [A full account of the sin of Herod and persecution of John will be found at Matt. xiv. 1-12 and Mark vi. 14-29. John had spoken the truth to Herod as fearlessly …
J. W. McGarvey—The Four-Fold Gospel
The Eternity of God
The next attribute is, God is eternal.' Psa 90:0. From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.' The schoolmen distinguish between aevun et aeternum, to explain the notion of eternity. There is a threefold being. I. Such as had a beginning; and shall have an end; as all sensitive creatures, the beasts, fowls, fishes, which at death are destroyed and return to dust; their being ends with their life. 2. Such as had a beginning, but shall have no end, as angels and the souls of men, which are eternal …
Thomas Watson—A Body of Divinity
That Upon the Conquest and Slaughter of vitellius Vespasian Hastened his Journey to Rome; but Titus his Son Returned to Jerusalem.
1. And now, when Vespasian had given answers to the embassages, and had disposed of the places of power justly,  and according to every one's deserts, he came to Antioch, and consulting which way he had best take, he preferred to go for Rome, rather than to march to Alexandria, because he saw that Alexandria was sure to him already, but that the affairs at Rome were put into disorder by Vitellius; so he sent Mucianus to Italy, and committed a considerable army both of horsemen and footmen to …
Flavius Josephus—The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Or, a Brief Relation of the Exceeding Mercy of God in Christ, to his Poor Servant, John Bunyan
In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not be amiss, if in the first place, I do in a few words give you a hint of my pedigree, and manner of bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty of God towards me, may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men. 2. For my descent then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is meanest, and most despised of all the families in …
John Bunyan—Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners
There is a Blessedness in Reversion
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Matthew 5:3 Having done with the occasion, I come now to the sermon itself. Blessed are the poor in spirit'. Christ does not begin his Sermon on the Mount as the Law was delivered on the mount, with commands and threatenings, the trumpet sounding, the fire flaming, the earth quaking, and the hearts of the Israelites too for fear; but our Saviour (whose lips dropped as the honeycomb') begins with promises and blessings. So sweet and ravishing was the doctrine of this …
Thomas Watson—The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12
The Life and Death of Mr. Badman,
Presented to the World in a Familiar Dialogue Between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive. By John Bunyan ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR. The life of Badman is a very interesting description, a true and lively portraiture, of the demoralized classes of the trading community in the reign of King Charles II; a subject which naturally led the author to use expressions familiar among such persons, but which are now either obsolete or considered as vulgar. In fact it is the only work proceeding from the prolific …
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD , make straight in the desert a high-way for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. T he general style of the prophecies is poetical. The inimitable simplicity which characterizes every …
John Newton—Messiah Vol. 1
The Greater Prophets.
1. We have already seen (Chap. 15, Nos. 11 and 12) that from Moses to Samuel the appearances of prophets were infrequent; that with Samuel and the prophetical school established by him there began a new era, in which the prophets were recognized as a distinct order of men in the Theocracy; and that the age of written prophecy did not begin till about the reign of Uzziah, some three centuries after Samuel. The Jewish division of the latter prophets--prophets in the more restricted sense of the …
E. P. Barrows—Companion to the Bible
Meditations Before Dinner and Supper.
Meditate that hunger is like the sickness called a wolf; which, if thou dost not feed, will devour thee, and eat thee up; and that meat and drink are but as physic, or means which God hath ordained, to relieve and cure this natural infirmity and necessity of man. Use, therefore, to eat and to drink, rather to sustain and refresh the weakness of nature, than to satisfy the sensuality and delights of the flesh. Eat, therefore, to live, but live not to eat. There is no service so base, as for a man …
Lewis Bayly—The Practice of Piety
The Chorus of Angels
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour and glory, and blessing! I t was a good report which the queen of Sheba heard, in her own land, of the wisdom and glory of Solomon. It lessened her attachment to home, and prompted her to undertake a long journey to visit this greater King, of whom she had heard so much. She went, and she was not disappointed. Great as the expectations were, which she had formed from the relation made her by others, …
John Newton—Messiah Vol. 2
Daniel is called a prophet in the New Testament (Matt. xxiv. 15). In the Hebrew Bible, however, the book called by his name appears not among the prophets, but among "the writings," between Esther and Ezra. The Greek version placed it between the major and the minor prophets, and this has determined its position in modern versions. The book is both like and unlike the prophetic books. It is like them in its passionate belief in the overruling Providence of God and in the sure consummation of His …
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament
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