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By : Lonnie Branam [ Sermon Belshazzar's Feast ]


Belshazzar's Feast
Lonnie Branam

Daniel 5:1,2 says, “Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and sliver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.” Then the last two verses of the chapter says, “That very night Beishazzar was slain, and Darius the Mede received the kingdom being about 62 years old. The author of this statement from ancient history, was Daniel who was a prophet of Israel in the 6th century B.C. Daniel was one of the Jews taken captive in Jerusalem when that city was captured about 606 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar. King of Babylonia.
In 587 B.C. the Babylonians returned and utterly destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon̓s temple, and all the population save only the poorest of the land were carried captive to Babylon. This tragic event was a judgment of God on Israel because they exalted their traditional beliefs above God&'s laws revealed in the Bible. Their cultural beliefs disagreed with the written laws of God revealed in the scriptures. A little over 1OO years before this tragedy God said to the people through Isaiah. “In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt. 15:7-9). God intended this to be a lesson for future generations that He will not accept cultural beliefs which disagree with His written laws and precepts. Nevertheless, Christendom, by and large, has fallen into the very same mistake. Years after the destruction of the first temple Daniel became Prime Minister of the Babylonian Empire that ruled the entire world.
About this time Belshazzar ascended to the throne of Babylon. The young ruler was rich, powerful, proud and happy-go-lucky. He did not accept the responsibilities thrust upon him. He had a playboy philosophy and enjoyed all the sensual things of life. The reference to this ruler Belshazzar is just one more evidence that the Bible is one of the most authentic books of ancient history in the possession of the human race. Did you know that from about the 3rd century A.D. to the 19th century the Bible was the only extant historical writing which mentioned Belshazzar as a Babylonian king? Bible critics charged the book of Daniel as being a forgery and surmised that it was written in the 2nd century B.C. instead of the 6th century B.C. These supposed literary experts said that the stories about Daniel, Babylon and their varous kings were nothing but fiction or, at best, old folk tales1 historically worthless. One of the critics' chief arguments was that Belshazzar was obviously a figment of the Jewish writer's imagination, for his name had never been found outside the Biblical text. That argument was convincing to many unbelievers for almost 2,000 years. However, in 1854 the British Museum excavated in southern Iran, and clay cylinders were uncovered written in cuneiform. They were written by Nabonidus, King of Babylon. It was a prayer for long life and good health of Nabonidus, and for his eldest son. The name of that son, clearly written, was Belshazzar. Friends, the Bible is accurate beyond the critics' dreams. Here was clear proof that an important person named Belshazzar lived in Babylon during the last years of its independence. Bible believers knew this man lived for the next 2500 years after his death, but skeptical and unbelieving literary scholars have only believed for about 130 years or since 1854 when they found his name written in Babylonian historical records.
On October 13, 539 B.C., a great banquet was held in the world renowned city of Babylon, and on that night the Babylonian empire came to an end. That banquet hall was the battleground of one of the notable battles of history. When the inhabitants of Babylon went to bed that night they were subjects of the Babylonian Empire, but when they awoke the next morning, they were all subjects of the Medo-Persian Empire. In one night world dominion passed from the Babylonians to the Medo-Persians. The Bible says that Belshazzar, King of the Babylonians, was killed that night when the Medo-Persians crashed this party and turned the drunken banquet into a bloody nightmare The Bible gives a graphic description of the banquet. Let me take you back to that banquet hall and take a look at what these revellers were doing. On that night Babylon was surrounded by the Medo-Persian army which had conquered all cities in that part of the world but Babylon. The city was under siege. However, the most prominent military and political leaders had come to Babylon for protection within its impregnable walls.
There was enough food stored in the city to last for 20 years. The city was built in a square, surrounded by two
two sets of walls, 10 and 12 feet thick and about 300 feet high. Each side was 14 miles long, making the circumference of the city about 56 miles. There was no means of warfare known at that time by which a city fortified like Babylon could be taken by an enemy. In spite of the grave danger of the city, Belshazzar decided to throw a party to show that they were not afraid of the enemy on the outside. Present were a thousand of the lords and ladies of the realm. The guests were of the highest nobility. I wonder if there has ever been a party since that time that could compare to it in magnificence, excitement and revelry. He had the finest wines, the most beautiful dancers and the best musicians available. It turned into a drunken orgy. It seemed to be a feast in honor of Bel or Marduk the chief Babylonian gods of the city. They drank wine and praised the idol gods made of gold and silver.
After a while King Belshazzar, feeling his booze, pounded the table and whispered something to his cupbearer. He commanded that the drinking vessels from God's temple in Jerusalem be brought to the tables. His grandfather Nebuchadnezzar robbed Solomon̓s temple of these holy vessels when he destroyed the Temple in 587 B.C. Drinking wine from these holy vessels Belshazzar toasted the idol gods of gold and silver and laughed in the face of the God of Israel. These vessels from the temple were evidence of their victory over the great God of the Jews and what made the Persians think that their gods would be victorious over the Babylonians? So the party went on through the night, but the Bible says you can only go so far with God. Scripture says, “Do not be deceived God is not mocked.” It literally says you cannot stick up your nose at God; you can't laugh at God and get away with it. Sometime, somewhere, somehow God says, “That is enough.” That night Belshazzar thought he could get away with it, ,but he went too far. He taught us all a lesson we should never forget.
At the height of the party an armless hand appeared and the fingers began to write something on the wall. The king was horrified; his legs gave way and his knees knocked together for fear. Startled and amazed, Belshazzar cried out, “What is it? Who can read that writing? No one in the banquet hall knew what it said. He called in the Babylonian wise men, astrologers, fortune tellers, and the Ph.D's from the University, but none could interpret the mysterious writing. They couldn't read it because it was God̓s handwriting. This reminds me today of people to whom the Bible is a closed book. A man or woman can be a brilliant scientist, educator, philosopher or even a theologian, but if he is not a Christian the Bible is a book of riddles to most of these people. Yet in every congregation of the Lord's people there are those who have never been to college, yet they can tell exactly what the Bible is all about. An awful fear gripped everyone in that banquet hall because of that handwriting on the wall.
Finally the Queen mother came to the rescue of Belshazzar. She told him of a man who was greatly honored by Nebuchadnezzar, years before because of his supernatural knowledge. She said that his name was Daniel and urged the king to send for him at once. It is noteworthy that Daniel, a prophet of God, was not at this drunken party, even though he was an honored man in Babylon. They had to send for him because he did not attend drunken parties. May I say to you that God's people do not attend drunken parties, and. if they should they bring reproach on the name Christian, that honorable name by which they are called. When Daniel entered the party room and was shown the mysterious words on the wall, he knew immediately what they meant, for God gave him the meaning. Daniel said, “Keep your rewards to yourself; I don't want your gifts, but I will tell you what this is all about. You have lifted up your heart and mind against the one true and living God. You have not humbled your heart and have not been thankful for the gifts God has given you. You̓ve gone too far. Now I will read the writing to you.”
The words on the wall say, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, IJPHARSIN. Daniel said the word MENE means, “God has numbered your kingdom and finished it. TEKEL means, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. UPHARSIN means, “Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” In full the handwriting meant that Belshazzar had been weighed by God in the balances and was found wanting. He didn̓t measure up and greatly displeased God. As a result God has ended his rulership and the dominion of the Babylonians. God will give the entire Babylonian Empire to the Medes and Persians.
Sometime after Daniel left the banquet hall. another fearful event happened which caused most of the people in that festive room to lose their lives. Medo-Persian soldiers made entrance into the hall and a bloody battle ensued in which Belshazzar was slain. They thought no one could get through the two walls and enter the city, but they were wrong. Outside the wall Cyrus, King of Persia, had devised a plan for his army to get into the city. He figured that this drunken party might cause . He figured that this drunken pary might cause the soldiers to be a little careless and off guard. The Euphrates river flowed through the center of the city and the city was built on both sides of this beautiful river. The only way Cyrus could enter the city was where the Euphrates entered the city. He lowered the depth of the river so that his soldiers could walk on the river bed and enter the city where the river entered. On that fatal night soldiers turned the river into a large artificial lake, lowering the level of the river by several feet. Another detachment of soldiers took position where the river entered the city. Another group of soldiers were positioned 15 miles on the other side of the city where the river emerged. When the river became fordable the soldiers walked into the river under the walls from both sides of the city. In the darkness of the night they explored their way beneath the walls and pressed toward the palace. But all of this would have been in vain had not the whole city given themselves over to the most reckless carelessness and presumption. The Babylonians anticipated that some enemy might possibly enter the city by the river bed. To counter such an eventuality, on each side of the river throughout the length of the city, they built walls of great height and thickness. Huge gates of brass blocked entry to all the 25 streets that crossed the river. A few soldiers could have kept an entire army from getting into the city through these inner gates. When these gates were closed and locked the city was perfectly safe. No army could harm them standing in the river. However, the hunch of Cyrus was right. In the drunken merrymaking of that fatal night, all these gates were left open and unguarded. The Persian army invaded the city without anyone knowing it. The soldiers entered the banquet hall swinging blood-stained swords. After a bloody battle, Belshazzar was slain, and the Babylonian Empire came to a close. A drunken party changed the course of history. Seldom, if ever, have so many thrilling events been brought together in so short a time.
In closing I would like to present a few practical thoughts suggested by the handwriting on the wall on that fatal night: Mene. Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. MENE means “God numbers.” The Bible says that God numbers the hairs of our head and remembers our sins. When we come to the judgment, the books will be opened and everything we have swept under the rug and everything we thought had been forgotten will all be brought to our remembrance.
On the other hand God also remembers to forget. When we become Christians by repentance and baptism. God remembers to forget that we have ever sinned He has removed the sins of Christians as far from them as the east is away from the west. The second word in the handwriting was TEKEL lwhich means, “Weighed in the balances and found wanting.” ̓ Each one of us is being weighed in God's balances to determine which ones who live on earth are qualified to go to heaven. But you might say, just how does God weigh us̓? He weighs us by the gospel of Christ. The one standard of human behavior for all mankind is the New Testament revelation. There is but one code of morality for Christians, Jews. Mohammedans. Buddhists, Atheists and anyone else. It is the law of Christ as revealed in the New Testament. We shall all be weighed, not only by our faith, but also by our works. The last word in the handwriting on the wall was UPHARSIN. It meant, “Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” It meant he was a condemned man. The Bible teaches that all who live their lives unreligiously without God and without Christ are living under a sentence of condemnation. Jesus said to his followers, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15,16). That scripture is a kind of handwriting on the wall to all who live in our day and time. There was a dying man who was roused. and shaken by a friend, and the man said, “Let me alone. Can't you see I'm dying.” When we present the solemn truths of the Christian religion to people today, they often say, “Let me alone. I'm busy. Don't disturb me with that religious stuff.” They are really dying and don't know it.
However, the Bible holds before the world the promise that they can be made alive. The lost and dying can receive an injection of eternal life which brings peace, joy and forgiveness into their lives. The New Testament says, “This is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (I John 5:11). Will you receive the Son by confessing Him before men as the Messiah, the divine Son of God and agree to stop living an ungodly life and submit to baptism in water to have your sins washed away? Life is beautiful and wonderful: it is a gift from God. It is not for us to waste it, or tamper with it either before birth or as we near the normal time of death. Let me urge you to become a New Testament Christian, for when you do that. you accept God̓s invitation to spend eternal life in heaven with Him. May God help you make that choice.

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