Daniel 5:17
In response, Daniel said to the king, "You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the inscription for the king and interpret it for him.
Mene, Tekel, PeresAlexander MaclarenDaniel 5:17
The Faithful Interpreter of the Word of GodT. Newlin, M.A.Daniel 5:17
The True Interpreter of LifeReuen Thomas, D.D.Daniel 5:17
The Crisis of AwakingH.T. Robjohns Daniel 5:5-17
Daniel's Speech to BelshazzarWilliam White.Daniel 5:13-17
The Preacher's OpportunityJoseph Parker, D.D.Daniel 5:13-17
The Value of a Good ManJ.D. Davies Daniel 5:17-29
At the Bar of GodH.T. Robjohns Daniel 5:17-31
The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified (ver. 23). In this tremendous scene Daniel may be regarded as counsel for the crown - for the everlasting crown, for the throne of eternal righteousness, against the unhappy prisoner placed by these awful events at the bar. As such he is the representative of all earnest preachers of righteousness. He was marked by 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).


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.

And made known to him the interpretation.
I. THAT IN NO NATION IS THERE A TOTAL ABSENCE OF DIVINE RULERSHIP. The people of Israel assumed that their God was their own private property. They knew God by the name of Jehovah. He was superior to other national gods, but He had Israel specially in charge, and Israel had Jehovah specially in possession. The Israelites were the first to realise intelligently the great truth of one God for all men. The prophets of Israel were occupied in enlarging the views of the people, so as to get them to grasp the fact that this Jehovah was the one God, and ruled over all men. If you search the Book of Daniel you find this man's mind under the influence of truth far in advance of that of any of his own nation or of the nation of Babylon. Hence when there is panic in the banqueting-hall because out of the sleeve of darkness the fingers of a man's hand are put forth to write on the palace walls the words of doom, it is Daniel who is called out of the retirement of his old age to read and interpret. Babylonian wise men had universal fame for their philosophy and astrology, yet they could not read the writing. When he begins to speak the greatness of the man is felt as the eloquent words roll from his tongue. It is another kind of speech from that to which Belshazzar is accustomed to listen. Not for one single moment does he acknowledge one God for the Israelites and another for the Babylonians. "O thou king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father the kingdom, and greatness, and glory, and majesty." The source of all power is in the Most High God, and the source of all faculty. The past is associated with the present. To learn from the past is the wisdom of the present. Daniel, the seer, distinctly proclaims the fact of God in history. The history of Babylon reveals God's working as really as, if not as clearly, the history of Israel. There is not one law for Israel and another for Babylon. The same law works uniformly. Moral decline brings the same result to Israel and Babylon. Men were of opinion that the Most High God ruled in Israel, but not in Babylon. Not such an opinion did Daniel hold. And we ourselves are even behind Daniel in our culture if we do not hold that in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of God. Everywhere God's laws are working. God gave Nebuchadnezzar his power. God deposed his son Belshazzar. God gave Babylon to Darius the Mode. In no nation is there a total absence of Divine rulership — that is the first basis idea of this narrative.

II. THAT APPEARANCES ARE DECEITFUL, and that when men seem to be most prosperous they are often least so. The Babylonians relied on that which was external to themselves and their own character for safety — upon their magnificent commerce, upon their river Euphrates, the great river which, as it had been the pride of Babylon, now proved its destruction. Wealth, luxury, revelling had taken the heart and soul out of men, as they always do, and the men of Babylon became as women — they were hewn down like the flocks of lambs, of sheep, of goats at the shambles. If men would only read history, if they would only take to heart the lessons which God has writ on so many pages of the world's past life, instead of our being confident when we see everywhere signs of luxury and wealth, haughtiness of head and proud unsociableness, we should then begin to tremble for the character of the people, for the vigour of the young men and the purity of the maidens. The history of Babylon is not exceptional. It is the history of every city and nation that by its luxury and selfishness has become enfeebled and disgraced. "Pride cometh before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

III. THAT THE INTERPRETER OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH NATIONS MUST OF NECESSITY BE A SPIRITUAL MAN. Only Daniel could read that writing on the wall — only he, the faithful man, who from his youth to his old age had served his God in simple confidence could be the interpreter. There he stands before Belshazzar and his thousand nobles, nobly independent of all rewards. Too late was Daniel called. All he could do was to read the undecipherable and irreversible verdict. He belonged to a past age and a past dynasty. Yet he was the most scholarly man there, the wisest man, the most needed man. But he had been retired. The merchant and philosopher could not save the city. These two forces represented by the merchant and philosopher needed a third force. Commerce is good and necessary, learning is good and necessary; but they represent but two parts of that trinity which man's nature is. Daniel, the spiritual man, represents the third part. We need not set one of these over against the other. Bring them into co-operative unity, and the strength of each will come into the other. The history of Daniel is designed to teach us that the spiritual man is the only competent interpreter of the life of nations as of the life of individuals That light which is more than the light of trained intelligence is needed always. The man who steadfastly serves God in simple, childlike faith gets into his soul a light, a seeing power, which can come in no other way. "He that is spiritual discerneth all things, yet he himself is discerned of no man." The spiritual man can see farther into reasons and causes than other men can. The merchant of Babylon would say, "Providing Babylon be prosperous from the merchant's point of view, that is everything!" "Providing we have good percentages on oar investments," says oar modern merchant, that is prosperity! What more do we want?" "Providing we have educational institutions, also," says the educator, "we shall be perfect; plenty of trade and education — then is a people prosperous." But what will you do with Daniel and that which he represents? There was plenty of trade in Babylon, plenty of learning, plenty of everything to which the words "costly" and "magnificent" can be applied — the only thing that was lacking was that which Daniel stood for. All that the people lacked was the unweighable and immeasurable virtues of purity, honesty, truthfulness, integrity, love to God and love to man — that was all. The merchants of Babylon did not trouble themselves very much about those things, and the educated classes thought that so long as the sciences of the day were taught it was all right with Babylon. Sooner or later every Babylonian type of life sees the writing of judgment on the wall. Sooner or later every family brought up in luxury and selfishness, with no spiritual instruction, sees the writing on the wall. The Babylonian type of life is everywhere. It is that type which seeks after the external — wealth and luxury and ease — regardless of spiritual character. It has no light in it by which to interpret itself. It needs a Daniel to interpret it, but never sends for him till it has tried all other sources of information, and only then at the suggestion of someone who knows Daniel, and pleads to have him sent for.

IV. THAT THE SPIRITUAL MAN IS THE INTERPRETER OF LIFE IN ALL ITS FORMS, AND NO OTHER MAN IS. Belshazzar cannot interpret his own life or the life about him; only Daniel can do it. The hour had come when Belshazzar had nothing to give to any mortal on earth. He knew not that that was his last night on earth. How could it be? Look at this magnificent banqueting-bell, these thousands of lords, these beauties of Babylon glittering like fire-flies in summer evenings. No signs of poverty, no signs of bankruptcy — glory, glory everywhere. But see, see — what is that? that hand? writing on the wall? The music stops. Astrologer, read! Wise man, read! None can read! None! — till Daniel is sought and found. Oh, the suspense till Daniel comes! And when he comes, he comes only to read the burial service over a dying king and a dying dynasty. The thought I would leave with you, then, is this: that the spiritual man is the seeing man — the man who has his eyes open — he is the interpreter of life. Enoch in his day; Abraham in his day; Noah in his day; Moses in his day; Elijah in his day; Daniel in his day — these men see most, know most, because they are spiritual men. Every man is eventually what he trains himself to be. Every man has eyes for that on which he has been looking long and intently. Most of us are blind in some direction. The blindest man of all is he who has no use for Daniel and his seeing power. But "it is one of the most melancholy things in the world that while usually the executive part of a man grows sharper and most effective as he advances in life, those things which make his manhood, his noble traits, average worse as he grows older." Without the Gospel received into the heart, and cherished there, persons ripen poorly, badly, and are seldom as generous, seldom as honourable, seldom as sensitive, seldom as fine in their perceptions as they were when they were boys and girls. There are men and women who become so occupied with the externals of life that if Daniel came near them he would be a calamity, an enigma, or, as men say flippantly, a crank. A man can take one or two interests in life, and so give himself up to them that all the greater truths of life are entirely unheeded by him. Of the spiritual influences permeating society, of what God is doing by His providence, of what God's Spirit is doing in the hearts of men — of the very greatest facts in this world of ours they have not even a suspicion. To a spiritual man the Bible is the most living of all living books; to those of whom I speak it is the dullest and deadest. The elaborate art with which even some fathers and mothers plan to try to grow their children on the earth level, instead of letting them aspire under the impulse of the inward life of God pushing within them, is one of the most painful things that a spiritualised mind has to witness in these times on which our lot is cast. I have seen how in gardens certain flowering plants are taken and pinned down to the ground — never allowed to climb one inch above it — made to grow on the ground level. Other flowering plants are allowed to climb and climb; only give them the faintest support, and climb they will sunward, ever away from the earth, ever towards the sun. I suppose that to pin down certain flowers — verbenas and others — to the earth is right enough; but it can never be right to train children that way. Let them climb sunward., lift themselves up above the ground, sweetly and naturally, like God's morning glories, as they are. There was Belshazzar, a most elaborately gilded and decorated sarcophagus, with a soul within in which the worms of envy, lust, pride were crawling over each other. Daniel saw it. The lords and ladies did not. They thought that Belshazzar was not only a living man, but a king of men. But when he was weighed he was light. He had no soul in him. And there are hundreds of such men, whose whole time is spent in trying to get rid of the consciousness of a soul. To these our Lord's words are addressed, to these that unanswered question of His ever comes, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and, in the gaining, lose his own soul?"

(Reuen Thomas, D.D.)

The mightiest of the sons of men are not exempt from the terrors of guilt; neither can their power secure them from the avenging hand of justice. What did the majesty of a king now avail when his countenance was changed with fear? What comfort did he receive from his outward happiness when his thoughts troubled him? Those that are set apart for the work of the ministry should interpret and explain the will of God in its genuine sense, how disagreeable soever to the lusts of men; and should never betray their trust through a cowardly fear, or partial favour, by slackening the bonds of duty, or palliating the heinousness of sin, or concealing the danger that arises from it.

I. IT IS OUR DUTY TO READ THE WRITING, AND MAKE KNOWN THE INTERPRETATION THEREOF. It is indeed every man's duty to acquaint himself with the will of God, and impart his knowledge to his servants, his children, his brother, and his friend. And he should never suffer them to continue in ignorance of sin, but impartially give them instructions, exhortations, or reproofs, as their condition requires. But it is most especially the duty of those that serve at the altar (Malachi 2:7). The necessities of life engage too great a part of mankind in a servile employment, and they are withdrawn by so many avocations from the study of God's law, that it is necessary there should be an order of men who should make it their peculiar care to learn the original language of the Holy Scriptures and the uncorrupted sense of the earliest ages, to examine the tenure by which we hold our Christian charter, and to consider the various objections that have from time to time been made against it. And besides and beyond all this, they may justly expect the especial guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. But how much soever the enemies of our faith or the enemies of our holy order may vilify and depreciate He authority of the ministers, of God, yet they themselves do more effectually injure it unless they discharge their commission in its utmost extent and resolutely declare the whole truth of God. They are bound by the strictest obligations to cleave to it. Great would be the presumption of any minister that should neglect the commands of his earthly prince, and act at his own discretion. Nor are they only unjust to God, but barbarous and unnatural to the souls of men; for the unlearned and ignorant put their entire confidence in them, and depend upon their direction in the way to life and happiness. It must, therefore, be an instance of the most inhuman cruelty to deceive their just hopes and abuse their earnest expectations. To poison the fountains where the flocks are to refresh themselves at noon; and direct the traveller at the approach of night to a fatal precipice, or a treacherous quicksand: these are such brutish practices as nature abhors. It is a strange abuse of Christian moderation, and a false and pernicious show of charity, to indulge the humours of vicious men; to soften religion into a compliance with them, and model it after their own frame. It is lawful, indeed, in indifferent matters to yield a little for the sake of peace, and to become all things to all men; but the articles of our faith and the principal duties of life are not indifferent matters; we may contend earnestly for these without losing our Christian temper. Did Ahab escape the arrow, that was shot at a venture, because the false prophets bid him go and prosper? If Daniel had pleased Belshazzar with an unfaithful account of the writing; if he had persuaded him to continue his impious feast, and eat, drink, and be merry, would the hand that wrote have forborne to punish him? Would not the writing have explained itself before the morning? How widely soever the articles of our religion may be made to differ from their original sense; how broad soever the path to Heaven may be represented; though the obligations to virtue may be described as unnecessary, as indifferent, or even as nothing; though the penalties of vice may seemingly be taken away, and eternal punishments be changed into temporal; to abate the fears, or gratify the desires of the wicked; yet the articles are still the same, and the way to Heaven as narrow; the obligations to virtue cannot be dissolved; the penalties of vice cannot be removed.

II. IT IS THE NOBLEST ACT OF FRIENDSHIP AND CHARITY TO READ THE WRITING, AND MAKE KNOWN THE INTERPRETATION THEREOF. When Hilkiah the Priest had found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses, the good Josiah immediately sent to enquire after it, that he might distinctly know the breaches of the covenant, and the heavy curses that hung over Jerusalem; and as soon as the tender heart of the king was affected with a sense of the common guilt and danger, his compassion to his sinful wretched people would not suffer him to rest till he had read in the ears of all the men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, all the words of the book of the covenant. The affectionate Jesus has placed his ministers as watchmen to observe the dangers of His flock, and sound the alarm when the enemy is stealing upon it. The children of men are liable to be misled, and swerve from the right way, amidst the various and uncertain paths of life; their imperfect understandings give but a feeble glimmering twilight to guide them, and are easily covered with darkness. False appearances deceive them. And those unhappy souls that are engaged in a course of sin do no longer judge for themselves, but receive the flattering reports of their enemies that compass them about. It is indeed a difficult office, but the more difficult, so much greater is the friendship, so much the nobler the charity. What a glorious office is it to turn a sinner from the error of his way and save a soul from death! And this faithful discharge of their duty will:

III. OBTAIN RESPECT, EVEN FROM THOSE UNHAPPY MEN THAT HATE THE INTERPRETATION. Ahab hated Elijah because he told him the truth, but he also stood in awe of him. And Herod feared St. John because he acquainted him with his guilt; and though his bold rebukes interfered with the sin of his bosom, yet he often heard his plain and disinterested preaching; and such was the influence of his unshaken honesty that he did many things, and heard him gladly. And though our open, ingenuous behaviour may provoke wicked men to injure, us for a time, yet it:

IV. WILL AT LENGTH MAKE THEM RELENT AND BE SORRY FOR IT. Constancy and fidelity have a mighty force in obtaining the love of mankind; and this may be illustrated by the ease of Daniel.

V. I proceed TO SHOW THAT THE CASE OF WICKED MEN IS, THEN, MOST DEPLORABLE WHEN THEY ARE DEPRIVED OF THOSE FAITHFUL MONITORS THAT DARE TELL THEM THE TRUTH. They are then left to themselves, and abandoned and consigned over to the most pernicious counsels. They see no tokens of goodness, there is not one prophet move to awaken them out of the sleep of sin. Let not the plausible show of tenderness and moderation incline us to conceal the heinousness and danger of sin, or draw a favourable representation of the case of wicked men. Let us not endeavour to gain their favour for a time by pretending to put off the evil day, and screening them from the thoughts of a miserable eternity.

(T. Newlin, M.A.)

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