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The Finger of God (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
June 11, 2021 4:00 am

The Finger of God (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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June 11, 2021 4:00 am

The expression “The writing’s on the wall” warns of impending misfortune. In his Babylonian palace, Belshazzar saw the writing—but did the pagan king get the message? Find out when you listen to Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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Many of us have heard the expression, the handwriting is on the wall. It signifies impending misfortune, but did you know that that phrase originates in the book of Daniel? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg introduces us to Belshazzar, the pagan king of Babylon, whose behavior warranted a personal message from God.

Let's read the Bible from Daniel chapter 5. King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand, repetition. Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.

They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Immediately, the fingers of a human hand appeared and rode on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it rode. Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him.

His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, Whoever reads this writing and shows me its interpretation shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold around his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed. The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, O king, live forever.

Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me yourself within your word. Show me myself, and show me my Savior. And make the book live to me.

For Jesus' sake. Amen. Well, when we begin a new chapter, it is important that we pay attention to the chapter that has just ended and the way in which it has ended. You will notice the thirty-seventh verse of chapter four, as Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that God, the King of Heaven, in all of his works he is right, his ways are just, and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. And it is, of course, an explanation of the reality of that that then follows here in chapter five. It's important to keep in mind, hence my repetition, that the audience for this book was primarily people, first of all at least, who were exiles, who were understandably fearful of the power of the force that held them in its grip, and they then were looking beyond themselves to find security in an environment that for them was pretty chaotic and unsure and uncertain. And I think we've said on each occasion that it's not hard for us to realize that as we, part of the larger church of Jesus Christ throughout the world, identify with our brothers and sisters the many, many thousands who today are under threat of death on account of their own faith.

And some of us, at a sublevel, find ourselves destabilized by the possibilities of external attack, internal collapse, government interference, persecution, and all of these different elements. And then we, like the exiles from Judah, as exiles in a world that is broken, need again to hear this message. And so, in chapter five, we have the record of this man, Belshazzar.

His name actually means O Bell Protect Me, which is an irony in itself. And he is not actually the physical son of Nebuchadnezzar. His father was Nabonidus, or Nabon-id-us, and there have been three or four kings between the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the arrival of Belshazzar on the scene. It was seventy years earlier that Nebuchadnezzar had brought these vessels that are referred to here in the opening section out of the temple of God, out of the house of God, and had stolen them away. In Ezra, in the opening chapter of Ezra, Ezra tells us that the number of these vessels was vast.

He records that there were some 5,400 of these vessels. So it's not as if he brought some cutlery or a couple of wine glasses. It was a wholesale raiding of the temple of God, and the symbols of the honoring of God and the sanctity of the name of God were all gathered up, stolen, brought away, and put in the temple of the Babylonian gods as a signal to the people that our Babylonian gods are stronger than that god of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, he couldn't even protect his own vessels. He apparently couldn't protect his own people, and here we have them on display for everybody to see. I wrote in my notes as a heading—and I have a number of headings I'll perhaps tell you as I go along—my first heading was, putting it in the mouth of Belshazzar, it's my party, and I'll drink if I want to.

And I thought that that was a fairly apt summary of what we have before us here. It's a similar scene to the banquet scene in the book of Esther, where you will remember that the king Xerxes, on that occasion, gets more than a little tipsy, gets way beyond himself, and decides that it is a wonderful opportunity for him to parade his wife as if it was a kind of fashion display amongst all of his friends who've been drinking with him at the banquet. She, of course, refuses, and then the story unfolds from there. Well, the queen in this instance, I think, is the queen mother.

You can research that on your own. But it is in this context that this individual, Belshazzar, has not simply taken these things from the storehouse, but he has now employed them in a way that simply denigrates their significance. That's what it really means. You wouldn't do this with these things, not if you cared about why they were there and to whom they belonged. And so it is that not only are they drinking out of them, but as presumably they get a little more jazzed, they then use the opportunity to praise the gods of gold and of silver and of bronze and of iron and of wood and of stone. And you can picture the sort of uncontrollable scene as it begins to develop as the evening goes on. A large crowd of people, a thousand people, which is a round number for a really big group of people, and he's in his position of great authority and significance, and he leads the people in the charge. He has his wives there, he has his concubines there, and everybody would have looked, as it were, up at the top table and said, My, oh my, oh, to be Belshazzar!

What an amazing thing it is! So powerful, so magnificent, so vastly wealthy, such a great and an amazing king. Incidentally, we're told by the historians that under normal circumstances the king and his immediate entourage would actually have been sequestered from the main crowd, a bit like when you go to these political junkets.

You know, you're invited to go for ten thousand you can get in the garden, for twenty thousand you can get in the house, for twenty-five thousand you can have a photograph, for fifty thousand you might actually see the person, and for a hundred thousand you might be able to have a little bit of dessert with him. Well, that was the kind of approach that he had then. So for the king to come out and go mainstream was in many ways an expression of his complete abandon. He was glad to be seen in this way. He was glad to do these things.

It's my party that I'll drink if I want to. Secondly, I wrote down, quoting Luther, "'Tis written by his finger." "'Tis written by his finger." Because verse 5 says, immediately, the fingers of a human hand appeared. Remember Luther's great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, and the lines, God's word for all their craft and force.

One moment will not linger, but spite of hell shall have its course. "'Tis written with his finger.'" And Luther is simply picking up on the anthropomorphism, which is part and parcel of the biblical record.

You don't have to look very far for it. You remember in the plagues of Egypt, the magicians at one point say to Pharaoh, concerning the plague of Nats, which they have endeavored to deal with unsuccessfully, they say to Pharaoh, "'This is the finger of God.'" Of course, God does not have a finger.

It's an anthropomorphism. Moses is then given two tablets, upon which are given the Ten Commandments, which are written with the finger of God. The psalmist looks out on a beautiful scene like this, presumably, and he says, "'And when I consider the heavens the work of your fingers, which you have ordained.'" So you get this amazing juxtaposition, don't you? We've got this man, Belshazzar, who in front of the thousand is apparently in control of the whole world.

I'm on top of the world, looking down on creation. And it only takes the movement of God's little finger to completely change the scene in its entirety. That's what it says immediately. Immediately the fingers cause and effect. God is a patient God, but his patience is not limitless. And immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster opposite the lampstand, and the king, seeing the hand as it wrote, was completely freaked out.

That's the beg paraphrase. His color changed, presumably, to a whiter shade of pale. His thoughts alarmed him. His limbs gave way. He was completely unhinged. His knees knocked together. It's a pathetic scene, isn't it?

Pathetique a la France. It is pathetic. It defines pathetic. I don't know what it must have been like for him as I was pondering this again this morning and thinking about it, and I don't want to play off this as if to say this with the greatest respect. But it made me think of that dreadful scene back now in 1992 when George, 41st president, remember was on a 10-day trip to Japan. And in Tokyo, at a banquet given in his honor, he threw up on a table.

And then there is video on YouTube where all of a sudden he disappears and slides under the table. That's not a good look for the leader of the free world. Any caring person's heart went out to him in that.

But my heart doesn't really go out to old Bill Shazzer here in the same way. I mean, he's getting his comeuppance on this one. Can I say this in a mixed audience? What it actually says here in the Hebrew is he wet his pants. That's how totally, totally trashed he was by what he saw.

There's nothing remotely funny in it, is there? You talk about striking a pose in front of your wives and your concubines and your invited guests. So we're familiar with this now. His color changed, his thoughts alarmed him, his limbs gave way, his knees knocked together, and the king called loudly to bring in—here we go, our boys are coming!

If I was setting this to music, I would have a little theme tune here. Something like that, okay? And we would all know, here they come! They're on their way. In they come, and the king declared, you know, here we go. If you can pull this one off, you get a really nice outfit, another big gold chain, and number three in the kingdom.

They all came in, they all had a look at it, and they all said, can't be done. And then King Bel-Chezur was greatly alarmed. Now he took it up even further, and his color changed. Who knows what his color is now?

He has no color at all. And then it says, and his lords were perplexed. Everybody knows this is not good. Because remember Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. Remember the king says, and why are you looking sad now, Nehemiah? Because no one had been sad in the king's presence before. Why? Because sadness in the king's presence was taboo.

You don't want to appear sad in case you're up to something, and they may just take your head off just because he doesn't like the look of you. Everybody needs to be cheery for the king, but the lords were perplexed. Third heading in my notes, even big kings need to listen to their mothers. Even big kings need to listen to their mothers. With a tribute in passing to the memory of my mother and to the role played by mothers in our world. Many things in life come in twos and threes, but you only get one mother in the world. Only one mom in the whole world. Listen. Listen to your mothers.

Listen to your mothers. And he had to listen to his mother. And her access speaks to the fact that presumably she was, as I suggest, his mom.

In fact, I'm hanging my heading on that fact. And she is able to speak directly to him. She appears as a result of the noise and chaos that has been going on in the banqueting hall.

It says there in verse 10 that because of the words of the king and his lords, he's shouting, they're responding, she came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, good start, O king, live forever. That's nice. Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. Easy for you to say.

Here we go. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. You see how these pagans don't know what to do with God's man. It happens to us as well, isn't it? People don't understand what it is about a true believer.

They don't understand what it means to have been invaded by God, to be filled with the spirit of God, to be directed by the word of God. And so they will often say those kind of things. Oh, whatever it is, it always happens to me on the golf course. If you hit a decent shot, they always say, aha, you see, there you go. That's because you're in touch with God. And I always tell them, no, God told me a long time ago, he has nothing at all to do with me on the golf course. And my game makes that perfectly clear to everybody.

But they just don't know what to do. He is filled with the spirit of the holy gods. And in the days of your father, he says, he gave light and understanding.

And this Daniel is by now probably in his eighties. There is a man in your kingdom. He has an excellent spirit. He has knowledge. He has understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, solve problems. They were found in Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called and he will show the interpretation.

Amazing conviction on the part of the queen, isn't it? You go get Daniel. He's, he's, he's God's man. I can't fully explain it, but I'm sure he's your man. I don't know where he was and neither do you. We're not told. In his eighties, maybe he's walking his dog, you know, who knows? Maybe he's just sitting on a rocking chair and they came and found him. Hey, Daniel, you still doing that riddle stuff?

I haven't done it for a while. Yeah, but you still have it in you. I mean, have you got an interpretation in you? I don't know. What's the deal? Well, Belteshazzar's completely freaked out up at the palace. There's been a handwriting on the wall.

His mother's going nuts, and the whole thing has gone pear-shaped. And she suggested to the king that you come up there. Will you come up? Yeah, well, give me a little chance.

You might have to get a golf cart for me, because I'm not as able as I was. But yeah, I'll get up there. My next heading was Belteshazzar shows no respect, despite his predicament. Then Daniel was brought in before the king, and the king answered and said to Daniel, You're that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah?

I've heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now, if you can read the writings. So he's not absolutely convinced. His mother says if you bring him in, he'll be able to do it.

She says, Well, I've heard that you do this, and I know you're one of the boys from of all, but if you can, then you get a new purple jumpsuit and a chain of gold around your neck, and you'll be third in the ruler of the kingdom. It is quite amazing, isn't it? Arrogance is amazing. Arrogant people, I've discovered, are really arrogant.

You see how clever I am that I can figure stuff like that out? This fellow has started off with a great display of his majesty. He has been reduced to a quivering mass of humanity. He is now confronted by the servant of the Most High God, and he's still arrogant. He's still dismissive. The one person who holds out the possibility of an answer for him, he continues to dismiss in this way. We often say, don't we, can you believe that people react and act in that way? Well, it is godlessness, the spirit of the age. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, part one of a message today titled The Finger of God.

Alistair will conclude this study on Monday. The handwriting on the wall became a wake-up call for Bill Shazzer, and perhaps we can all relate to that. This past year has reminded each of us of the brevity of life. For many, the reality of eternity has been brought into clearer focus.

People all of a sudden have newly inspired interest to find out what happens when we die. That's why your partnership with Truth for Life is so important. Truth for Life would not be heard without your financial and prayerful support. During the month of June, we're asking you to invest in this ministry by becoming a truth partner. When you join the team of faithful truth partners, you'll be invited to request Alistair's latest book titled Brave by Faith, God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World. This is a realistic and yet positive book that examines the first seven chapters from the book of Daniel and shows us how we are to live bravely, confidently, and obediently in an increasingly secular society. You'll be reminded that God is powerful and sovereign, and even in the midst of circumstances that seem to be prevailing against us, we can trust Him entirely. Request your copy of Brave by Faith when you become a truth partner. Sign up at truthforlife.org slash truthpartners or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to spend time worshiping with your local church, and then join us Monday as Alistair talks about why a clear understanding of history can help us keep from making wrong choices. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-05 23:53:10 / 2023-11-06 00:01:43 / 9

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