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Divine Graffiti: The End of an Empire

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
July 14, 2021 4:00 am

Divine Graffiti: The End of an Empire

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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This chapter becomes for us a powerful look at what causes the end of an empire. The first scene in the chapter is an orgy, and the midst of the orgy is the awesome intervention of God who pronounces doom on the whole empire.

And I believe that all civilization follows the very same pattern. In Italian, it means scribbling, and probably just about everyone today would concede that graffiti is an eyesore, something that should be covered over. But there was once some writing on a wall that not even the most powerful king in the world could remove. As we continue our study of the rise and fall of world powers today on Grace to You, John MacArthur presents a fascinating lesson with an equally intriguing title, Divine Graffiti, the End of an Empire. It's a story about the Old Testament hero Daniel, King Belshazzar, and, well, some ominous graffiti.

And as you'll see, those words bear a warning for nations today, and really for each of us as well. So turn to the book of Daniel, and here's John. As we come to Daniel chapter 5, these 31 amazing and marvelous, insightful verses, we see the end of an empire, in fact, the end of the most glorious empire of the times of the Gentiles, the great Babylonian empire.

We see the movement from the head of gold, as the image in chapter 2 indicated, to the breast and the arms of silver, which indicate the Medo-Persians who followed the Babylonians. This great transition takes place at the close of this, the fifth chapter. As we begin our study, let me remind you of a verse in Ezekiel 18, 20. It says this, the soul that sinneth, it shall die. The soul that sinneth, it shall die.

And this chapter is a vivid commentary on that verse. Sin brings death in the life of an individual and in the life of a nation and an empire. The Babylonian empire was once the glorious head of gold, the crown of the times of the Gentiles, but it had gradually deteriorated. It had gradually entered a state of debauchery, a state of degeneration until the hour of its doom is finally pronounced suddenly and totally and the Medo-Persian army sweeps in and it is the end of a great and historic era. This chapter becomes for us a powerful look at what causes the end of an empire.

What causes something as great and magnificent, as wealthy and as far-reaching, as militarily mighty as the Babylonian empire to fall. The first scene in the chapter is an orgy. It is filled with desecration, blasphemy, evil acts that history would describe for us but I would not assault your brain with such a description. And in the midst of the orgy is the awesome intervention of God who pronounces doom on the whole empire.

And in a few hours that doom comes. And I believe that all civilization follows the very same pattern. It rises to its heights. At its height it is filled with pride. In the midst of its pride and self-indulgence and materialism, it begins to descend into degeneration and debauchery and evil. And as it descends, it comes closer and closer to its destruction. In Psalm 9 verse 17 it says, the wicked shall be turned to hell and all the nations that forget God. The doom of a nation is spelled when it forgets God.

So the empire fell. In one night the end came and Daniel gives us the record. Now I want you to look at the chapter in two perspectives. First the account and then the application.

First the account, just the historical record and then its application. And under the account we've tried to break it down so you can see the flow of the text. First is the scene in verses 1 to 4. Let's look there. Verse 1, Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords.

Stop there. Immediately you're introduced to a name, Belshazzar. This name sets the scene. Who is he? Where did he come from? When did he live? When did he rule? For years and years the critic says, Daniel is wrong because there is no Belshazzar.

Still something was found which archeologists call the Nabonidus Cylinder and in it is a record of Belshazzar, just as Daniel said. He was young, 36 years old about. He was decadent. He was dissolute. He was idolatrous. He was immoral.

He was impious. He was unworthy, but he was the ruler who sat in the seat of royalty in Babylon the night it fell. Seventy years have passed since Daniel chapter 1. Seventy years since Daniel and his friends were taken captive. Daniel isn't a teenager anymore.

He's in his 80s. Twenty-three years have happened since chapter 4 ended, the great breaking of Nebuchadnezzar and his recognition of the true God. So a lot has happened. For one thing, Nebuchadnezzar has died. After 43 years of reigning, seven of them in insanity like an animal, but after 43 years in 562 BC he died. Now Daniel doesn't record for us anything between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned in verse 37 of chapter 4 and Belshazzar is introduced in chapter 5 and we have nothing in between.

But history fills it in for us very clearly and there are several records of this. After Nebuchadnezzar died, the empire began to decline. He was followed by his son whose name was Amal-Marduk. And by the way, these kings have a couple of different names. They seem to be changing names according to whatever gods they identified with, but his name was Amal-Marduk. He was the son of Nebuchadnezzar and he only reigned for two years.

And the reason he only reigned for two years was because he was assassinated. The Bible mentions him as a man named Evel-Marodak who is the same as Amal-Marduk. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 25 and in Jeremiah 52 as one who released Jehoiachin from prison and gave him a place of privilege in the Babylonian court.

So he figures in the biblical record. Amal-Marduk only lasted two years. And as I said, he was assassinated by his own brother-in-law. His brother-in-law's name was Neregliser.

It sounds like a medicine, but that was his brother-in-law. And he ruled for four years. He is mentioned in Jeremiah 39 under the name of Nergal-Sharizor. He was an official under Nebuchadnezzar who apparently was involved in helping Jeremiah be released from prison. So Amal-Marduk lasted two years.

Neregliser lasted four years. He died and was succeeded by his son. I can't imagine anybody naming his son this, but his little boy who only reigned nine months and was just a child was named Labishi-Marduk.

Just calling him would be a linguistic problem. Labishi-Marduk only lasted nine months as a little boy because he was beaten to death by conspirators. And the kingdom kept waning. One of the conspirators appointed Nabonidus as king. And Nabonidus reigned 17 years. And Nabonidus was finally defeated by Cyrus who was the leader of the Medes and the Persians.

Cyrus who came in and conquered the Babylonian Empire. Now when Nabonidus was appointed as monarch, he was not related to Nebuchadnezzar so he didn't have a right to the royal line. And so he was the king, but he was apparently very intimidated by trying to hold on to that royal position in not being a member of Nebuchadnezzar's family. So as best we can tell, he married either the widow of Nebuchadnezzar or one of his daughters.

And therefore he married into the royal family. And this daughter of Nebuchadnezzar or more likely one of the widows of Nebuchadnezzar had a son named Belshazzar. So that Belshazzar was in Nebuchadnezzar's line.

A remaining child who had not laid claim to the throne and so had not been assassinated. And so it is most likely then that Nabonidus in order to secure his position married into Nebuchadnezzar's family by marrying one of his widows and then adopting the son Belshazzar. He was still intimidated, so amazingly he moved the capital or his palace or the place of his dwelling clear down to an area known as Temah in the middle of Arabia. I mean it was clear across the Arabian desert from Babylon.

Days and days and perhaps weeks to make the journey. And for 14 years of his 17 years, he never set his foot in the city of Babylon. Now in order to hold on to the power in Babylon, he appointed Belshazzar who had the line of royalty as co-king, co-regent. So Belshazzar occupied the throne in Babylon and he just went down in Temah and they took care of him almost like he was in exile. The amazing thing about Nabonidus is that he was not a bad man apart from the fact that he worshipped false gods.

I mean in character. He in fact was a very deeply religious man. He rebuilt a very special temple to his own god. He rebuilt all kinds of religious centers and religious rites were instituted under his reign. He appears to be a totally non-warring king who wasn't very interested in that at all.

And by the way, this whole picture has been verified again and again in historic writings. He was probably the most capable king next to Nebuchadnezzar. He came from a priestly lineage. He was a man of peace. He was a man of conviction.

He was a man of capability. But Cyrus, now mark this, Cyrus the king of the Medes and the Persians was eating up the world and the Medes and the Persians were just crawling across the countryside. And they met Nabonidus and his forces outside the city of Babylon, out in the wilderness of the Babylonian empire. And they destroyed the whole army of Nabonidus and they took him captive. This is in a place called Borsippa and Borsippa is somewhat south of Babylon, maybe 50 miles. That's where the battle happened and he was taken captive. He was exiled to a special place known as Carmania until he died and never again did he see Babylon. When we begin chapter 5, Nabonidus has been defeated. The Medes and the Persians literally surround the entire city of Babylon.

They're everywhere. And depending on which historian you take, they had already been besieging the city of Babylon either two months some say, three months some say, and four months one historian says. So Belshazzar is in Babylon and all around him is a siege from the Medes and the Persians who have exiled his adoptive father, destroyed his army, and are doing all they can to cut off the city of Babylon. Now as you pick up the story in chapter 5, we meet Belshazzar, this adopted son of Nabonidus, the de facto king now who sits on the throne in Babylon. And it says, he made a great feast to a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand. He sat up on an elevated deal where kings would sit and he drank.

Belshazzar while he tasted the wine commanded to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem that the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. Now it's hard to conceive that the guy could be that stupid to get a drunken orgy going while his city is enwrapped by the Medo-Persians. But Babylon was so formidable. You realize the city supposedly was 15 miles square according to Herodotus. Herodotus says that the walls were 87 feet thick.

That's thick, folks. And there were 100 massive bronze gates. And they had no problem with water because the Euphrates River flowed right through the middle of the city. What did they have to fear?

They had it all going for them. So Belshazzar got up on his deal and sitting up there above all of the thousand of his lords that were gathered for the big feast, he started really drinking the wine. And it says in verse 2 that while he tasted the wine and the implication there is that he became drunk, he called for the gold and silver vessels which his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem. When Nebuchadnezzar first took captives from Jerusalem, in order to show them that his gods, the gods of Babylon were more powerful than the God of Israel, he desecrated the temple. He took all of the gold and silver vessels that were in the temple used by the priests and he hauled them off to Babylon and he put them in a special place in the house of his own deities. This was his way of showing his people that their god was stronger than Israel and showing Israel that their god was stronger too.

And apparently these vessels had sat in this place all this time. And now Belshazzar in the midst of his drunken stupor is going to really mock the God of Israel one great last time. And so he says, bring all that stuff that is representative of the God of Israel and we're going to drink out of it.

An act of desecration and blasphemy openly defying the God of Israel. Now he wasn't totally uninformed. He knew the God of Israel. He knew history about Nebuchadnezzar. He knew how the God of Israel had made Nebuchadnezzar a raving maniac for seven years. He knew how the God of Israel had been able through Daniel his prophet to reveal dreams and visions. He knew the God of Israel was a great and glorious God, but in the midst of his paganism and folly, he decided to mock this god. And he knew that such an act was totally blasphemous. He knew it. Later on when he has a conversation with Daniel in this chapter, he talks to Daniel and he admits who Daniel is and he knows about Judaism and he knows where Daniel came from.

He knew the whole story. This was a flagrant mocking of God. And to make it as blasphemous as possible, he takes those things that came out of the temple of God and he uses them as a part of his drunken debauchery. He challenged God.

And you want to know something? God accepted the challenge. He threw down the gauntlet and so did God.

Now I want you to know what happened in verse 3. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem and the king and his princes and his wives and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone.

You see the descending there from the most precious gold down to the most worthless stone. He says all their deities from the gold ones to the rocks. They praised their gods. They used those utensils set apart for the true God in the worship of false gods and you can just see the picture. Drunkenness everywhere, an orgy with the concubines, the wives, everyone there being drunken and in their worship, Canaanitish worship, very similar to this. In that kind of worship there were sexual atrocities that are beyond description, perversions.

You think people today have invented group sex and you haven't read your history in terms of biblical times. This was all going on in the midst of it, the desecration and the mockery of the God of Israel as they used these utensils. Music went along with it as well. They were all engulfed in an orgy. That's the scene.

Secondly, the sign. Verse 5. Like a lightning bolt come these words. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand and rode over against the lampstand upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Now imagine this. In the midst of all the revelry at the same hour, God said, the cup of wrath is full.

As He had said to those at the time of the flood, my spirit will not always strive with man. My patience has ended and immediately and suddenly and swiftly when the orgy was at its apex, a hand appeared. Not even hand really, but fingers. Just whatever was necessary to hold whatever instrument was used to write.

Supernaturally. And the drinking and the singing and the feasting stopped and the loud mouths were slammed shut. Deathly silence and fear fell like a pall over the whole group. And you'll notice it says in verse 5 that it was against the lampstand. In the place where the lampstand would be, illuminating this wall, that's where the hand of the fingers began to write, where it could be seen best. And by the way, lampstands were usually placed for the lighting, the brightest lighting at the point where the king sat because he was the crown of the occasion. It is very likely that as the king sat with the lampstand in his presence right over his head, those fingers wrote across that plaster wall.

Supernaturally. The archeologists called away who excavated Babylon, says that in their excavation of the palace of Babylon from the time of Belshazzar, they have found in the palace a large room 55 feet wide and 169 feet long. That's a long...that's a large building. And it had, says called away, it had plaster walls.

Isn't that amazing? Just what the Bible said. Wrote on the plaster. And the place they found had plaster walls. And it also had, says the archeologists, a niche in one wall where they believed the king sat, elevated and with a niche in the wall so he would be central. And so in that very setting came the fingers and they wrote, verse 6, then the king's countenance was changed and his thoughts troubled him.

Now that's a mild statement. The next one helps you to understand how much. The joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another. His face changed. All of a sudden the flush red face that's been warmed by the wine and the drink and the revelry and the emotion and the food and all the perversion that's going on turns to an ash and white. He is troubled. He didn't seem to be too troubled by a natural foe outside the gate but he was pretty well troubled by a supernatural foe inside the palace.

Fingers writing on the wall. Sheer terror gripped that man's heart. His face paled. The joints of his loins, literally the word is knots and it speaks of hip joints or joints of bones, particularly in the loin area would be the hips. All of his strength left and he couldn't stand up and his knees started to collapse.

By the way, Nahum 2.10 uses the same expression. His knees smote against each other. Now this demonstrates how fearful the man was.

He was shaking. But that's prophetic because in Haggai 2.7 God says, I will shake all nations and the desire of all nations shall come. God shook one nation then and some day God will shake all the rest of them too and there'll be a whole lot of rulers standing with their knees banging together. Zephaniah writes about the same thing in the first chapter of how God is going to come some day into this world and there will be a day of wrath, a day of trouble, a day of distress, a day of waste and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men that they shall walk like blind men because they've sinned against the Lord and their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung and neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath. But the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy and He shall make a speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land. That's the day when Christ returns. But here is a little preliminary shaking. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur. Thanks for being with us. John's current study is looking at God's sovereign control over nations, even the most powerful ones.

It's titled The Rise and Fall of World Powers. Now John, as you spoke about the wrath of the Lord and His fiery destruction today, it occurred to me that this is pretty far from what we normally hear today. I think in most people's eyes there's a deafening silence where God is concerned.

Is there really going to come a day when the Lord shows His hand in a worldwide, unmistakable way? Well, of course there is, because that's pretty clear in the Bible. I mean, that is the scoffer's query in Peter's epistle, you know, where he says, you know, where is His coming? All things continue as they were from the beginning, right?

That was their argument. And Peter answers by saying, did you forget that God destroyed the entire earth and drowned the entire human race in the flood? So Peter uses the flood as evidence that God judges and judges in a colossal, massive, worldwide way as he did in the flood. So from the standpoint of whether or not God's judgment is coming in the future, you have the flood to show that.

Short of the flood, you have all kinds of judgments. You have judgments throughout the Old Testament that are enacted in many different places and many different times, all for the same thing, unbelief and sin. And you have Jesus from His own mouth standing and looking at the temple and saying, it's coming down.

It's going to come down, and this nation's coming down with it. And He's pronouncing essentially judgment that ended up in the bloodshed and disaster of the Roman invasion in 70 A.D. So we have history that shows us that God judges. The prophets said He would judge, and historically those judgments came.

Jesus pronounced judgments on cities—Corazan, Bethsaida, Capernaum—and that judgment fell, and those places don't exist today. So plenty of history to indicate that there's going to be judgment. The uniqueness of the final judgment compared to the flood is that the flood, God drowned the world and then set a rainbow in the sky to promise He would never do that again. But when He does judge again, it won't be water, it will be fire. And that is a kind of judgment that you see played out in the book of Revelation. And all the way to the end, Peter even talks about the elements melding with a fervent heat. That's the atomic implosion when this whole universe goes out of existence and there's a new heaven and a new earth.

All of that is touched on in the book of Revelation, and I want to remind you that I put together a little booklet that takes you through the whole book of Revelation, and you can follow the complete flow of the book. It's called A Jet Tour Through Revelation. All you have to do is ask for a copy. It's free to anyone who asks.

And do ask, friend. You can know exactly what's ahead and why it matters for you today to get a free copy of The Jet Tour Through Revelation booklet. Contact us now.

Our toll-free number? 855-GRACE, or you can go to the website A Jet Tour Through Revelation unlocks Scripture's final prophecies with a panoramic view of all 22 chapters of the book of Revelation. It can also equip you to explain the truths in this incredible section of Scripture to others in a way that points them to Christ and His eternal glory. For your free copy, call 855-GRACE or go to And for even greater depth on Revelation, you'll appreciate John MacArthur's two-volume commentary on this book.

John will go through every single verse giving you detailed explanations about what the passage means and how you can apply its truth to your life. This is a great resource for pastors, lay leaders, or really anyone who wants to understand what's ahead for the world. To place your order, call 855-GRACE or go to our website, That's our website, Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace to You staff, I'm Phil Johnson, reminding you to watch Grace to You television this Sunday. You can check your local listings for channel and times. And then make sure you're here tomorrow for another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-22 16:34:18 / 2023-09-22 16:44:28 / 10

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