Youth Messenger Online Edition

October-December

The Handwriting on the Wall
The Handwriting on the Wall
Stephen N. Haskell
Part 2 of 2

In dealing with men God always uses a language which appeals forcibly to their understanding. This is illustrated in the handwriting on the wall. It is a common belief among idolaters that the gods weigh deeds in balances, and that if the good deeds outweigh the evil, the individual enters into his reward; if the opposite result is obtained, punishment follows. The language, therefore, was familiar to King Belshazzar. “God hath numbered thy kingdom; . . . thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:26, 27). To the magicians who stood within hearing, as Daniel gave the interpretation, the words came with peculiar force because of their familiarity with religious customs.

To the one who knows God, the attitude of the Lord toward the sinner is very different, and still the symbol of the weights and balances is applicable. That this subject might be understood, God had sent an explanation by the prophet Ezekiel. When a man sins and dies without repentance, he is cut off from God, because his iniquities separate between him and God, and he cannot be saved. If he loves Christ and accepts Him and His righteousness, Christ’s character is written opposite the name of that man in the books of heaven, and so long as a love of the truth is cherished, the man hides in Christ and is known by the character of Christ. God deals with men in the present. We may have been the worst of sinners, but if today we are hidden in Christ, heaven takes into account only our present position.

So it was that God dealt with the nations, and this answers the question why Nebuchadnezzar might one day be in favor with God and the next day be in condemnation; why Zedekiah’s course of action was condemned once, and then again he was told that it lay in his power to save Jerusalem.

God gave the Babylonian monarchs, and through them the entire kingdom, an abundance of time to accept Him. He waited long. The Holy Watcher hovered long near the center of earthly governments; every blessing which Heaven could bestow was given to woo the kingdom to the side of right. But at last the slender cord which connected earth with heaven snapped; there was no channel for the flow of the Holy Spirit; death and death only could result. That there might be no misunderstanding, the last word read, “Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Scarcely had the scarlet robe been placed on Daniel and the golden chain hung about his neck, when the shouts of the invading army rang through the palace.

In the midst of their feasting and rioting, none had noticed that the waters in the Euphrates were steadily diminishing. The besieging army of Cyrus, which had long been held at bay by the massive walls, was eagerly watching the river. The river had been turned from its course, and as soon as the water had sufficiently subsided to allow the men a passage in the bed of the river, they entered from opposite sides of the city. In their reckless feeling of security, the Babylonians had left open the gates in the walls which lined the riverbanks inside the city. So the Persians, once in the riverbed, easily entered the city through the open gates.

Soon one post was running to “meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to show the king of Babylon that his city is taken at one end.” But the news was received too late to save the king. God had numbered and finished his kingdom. The enemy made a mad rush for the palace. The pen of Inspiration describes the overthrow of the kingdom more vividly than any human historian. Of those guests at the banquet of Belshazzar it is said, “I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not awake. . . . I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter” (Jeremiah 51:39, 40). Then as if the eye of the prophet failed to separate Satan from the kingdom which he had so long controlled, he exclaims, “How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! How is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!” (Verse 41). Fire raged through the streets, and as the people realized that destruction was upon them, a cry reached heaven. It was a hand-to-hand fight with fire and sword until men grew weary and gave up the struggle.

“In that night was Belshazzar . . . slain” (Daniel 5:30), and the kingdom was given to Darius, the aged king of the Medes. Thus came to an end one of the proudest monarchies that has ever been upon the earth. When an individual or a nation fills up the cup of iniquity, and passes the limit of God’s mercy, it is quickly humbled in the dust.

The question naturally arises, Why did not the conquering army destroy Daniel, who was the third ruler in the kingdom, at this critical moment? The answer is simple and natural. When the kingdom was taken and Belshazzar slain, Nabonadius, the first ruler, at the head of an army, was surrounded by the enemy in another part of the kingdom. This left Daniel sole ruler in Babylon. He knowing that over one hundred years before, Isaiah had prophesied that Cyrus should take the kingdom, was ready to welcome him whom God had said should build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem.

There is also good reason to believe that Daniel and Cyrus were not strangers. When excluded from the council of Belshazzar, Daniel had spent a portion of his time at Shushan, the capital of Elam. Elam had revolted from Babylon, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah.

Daniel may have formed an acquaintance with Cyrus, and showed to him, as the high priest did to Alexander on a certain occasion, the prophecy that pertained to himself, and also revealed to him the way God had said he should enter Babylon. It is evident from the wording of the decree given in the first chapter of Ezra, that Cyrus was familiar with these prophecies.

God gives continual opportunities for his people to prepare the way for blessings to come to them, when they are walking in the light. God is never taken by surprise, but His Word is a lamp to the feet and a guide to the life. This illustrates the importance of God’s people’s “knowing the time” in which they live from the light of prophecy. There is a Witness in every scene of sacrilegious mirth, and the recording angel writes, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” This same Witness is with us wherever we are. Although we may feel that we have liberty to follow the promptings of the natural heart, and indulge in lightness and trifling, yet an account must be rendered for these things. As we sow, so shall we reap.

Nations today are repeating the history of the last years of the kingdom of Babylon. Medo-Persia was the instrument in the Lord’s hands to punish Babylon. The next great overthrow of governments will usher in the kingdom of our Lord. For the final battle, nations are now mustering their forces. The cry has gone forth, “Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul; be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance" (Jeremiah 51:6). —The Story of Daniel the Prophet, pp. 73–76.