Dan_5:5-6. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
IN former days, God was pleased to reveal his mind and will to men by dreams, and visions, and signs of different kinds; and this he did, not to his friends only, but also to his enemies. To Nebuchadnezzar he revealed his purposes towards the world at large, in the successive establishment and ruin of four mighty empires, and of the final erection of the Messiah’s kingdom, which should stand for ever. His purposes also towards this monarch in particular he was pleased to make known through the same medium of communication. In like manner, to the impious Belshazzar he here in a miraculous manner foretold the impending destinies of himself and of his falling empire. The effect of this revelation upon the mind of Belshazzar is described in the words which we have just read; and it will give occasion to many useful reflections, whilst we consider,
His overwhelming fears—
[That the sight of a hand-writing upon the wall of his room should surprise him, we may well expect. But why should it create in him such terror as is described in our text? What though he did not understand the writing? he need not on that account to be dismayed, if he had no inward reason to interpret the sign itself as auguring ill of him. But conscience, which had long been silenced by him, now lifted up its voice, and spoke to him in the language of keen remonstrance, and of dire foreboding: and this it was that made “his loins to shake, and his knees to smite one against the other.”
Now this is a striking and instructive incident. We may, by carelessness and dissipation, drown for a season the voice of conscience; (unhappily for them, many succeed in this too well!) but sooner or later it will speak, and that too in such an authoritative tone as will make the stoutest sinner tremble. Every one, whether willingly or not, must listen to it at last: and the longer our attention to it is delayed, the more poignant and terrible will its reproaches be. Behold the convictions of the converts on the day of Pentecost, or the desponding and self-destroying attitude of the jailor! Yet these were the kindlier offices of conscience for their good [Note: Act_2:37; Act_16:26-30.]. In many who continue to withstand its dictates, it stings, it rankles, it corrodes, it fills with gloom and melancholy, destroying all their peace, and leaving them nothing but “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation to consume them.” And oh! with what horrors does it fill them at the instant of their departure from the body, and will fill them in the day when they shall be summoned to the judgment-seat of Christ! What “fearfulness will then surprise the hypocrites, when they see nothing before them but dwelling with devouring fire and in everlasting burnings [Note: Isa_33:14.]!” How will they then “call upon the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of that Lamb” of God, whom here they have neglected and despised! Brethren, listen to the voice of this faithful monitor: let not its slightest whispers be unheeded by you: cherish it; consult it on all occasions; labour to the uttermost to “keep it pure; attend to it, and it will prove your kindest friend: neglect it, and it will be to all eternity your bitterest enemy.]
Consequent on these terrors were,
His anxious inquiries—
[“He cried aloud to bring in all the magicians,” that he might inquire of them the import of what was written: and when they were unable to give a satisfactory reply, he was induced to send for Daniel, who on former occasions had expounded the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, but had since been neglected by the weak ungrateful prince who now sat upon the Chaldean throne: now was he glad to learn, even from him, a just interpretation of the words before him.
Here again then we see what sinners will be driven to, when Conscience summons them to its bar, and constrains them to call their former ways to remembrance. Then they will be glad to be instructed in the written word of God: yea, they will request instruction even from a neglected and despised Daniel, in whose judgment and fidelity they can trust, when they have seen, that those on whom they before relied were “physicians of no value.” But let not these inquiries be delayed. There is a hand-writing against us all; a writing so plain and intelligible, that “he who runs may read it.” It requires no Daniel, no person of extraordinary wisdom, to expound it. We may see in the sacred volume, which lies open before our eyes, “the wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” You need not go to men to interpret this to you: go to God; and he will expound it to you, and by his Spirit will “give you an understanding to understand it.” But it is not a sentence of condemnation only that is written there: no; blessed be God! there are many glorious sentences which proclaim pardon and peace through the atoning blood of Christ — — — Read these; meditate on these: and your fears shall speedily be dispelled, and your sorrows be turned into joy. Mark the answers given to those whose terrors we have before spoken of, and the effect of those answers on their souls; and then you will see what you may assuredly expect as the result of your inquiries, if only they be made in sincerity and truth [Note: Act_2:37-38; Act_2:46-47; Act_16:26-30; Act_16:34.].]
The instruction given him was however unavailing: it had no effect on,
His confirmed obduracy—
[He listened not only to the instructions, but also to the reproofs of Daniel, who set before him the guilt lie had contracted, by his misimprovement of those judgments which had been inflicted on Nebuchadnezzar for his pride; as also by his utter neglect of Jehovah, “in whose hand his life was;” and particularly in so heinously insulting God, as to take the sacred vessels of the sanctuary and profane them in his drunken revels, and make them an occasion of exalting his gods of wood and stone above him. Having set before him these grounds of God’s displeasure, Daniel proceeded to explain the writing, and to tell him from God, that his life and kingdom were just ready to be delivered over to his enemies. All this he heard without offence; and he even gave orders, that the promised rewards should instantly be conferred on this faithful servant. But we hear not one word of humiliation on account of all his wickedness: he does not, like Ahab, humble himself in sackcloth and ashes [Note: 1Ki_21:27.]; he does not, like the Ninevites, proclaim a fast; he does not even, like Pharaoh, say, I have sinned; nor does he even, like Simon Magus, desire Daniel’s intercession, that these judgments might not fall upon him [Note: Act_8:24.]. He seems altogether insensible, given over to a reprobate mind and an obdurate heart.
And do we not often see a similar result from all the most faithful expositions of God’s word? A momentary fear perhaps may be excited, even to terror; but no solid improvement follows it; no godly sorrow is produced in the soul; no humiliation before God; no cries for mercy; no departure from iniquity. But, if we thus “harden ourselves against God, can we prosper?” No: “he that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without a remedy.”]
In reading this account, we cannot but observe,
The vanity of all earthly enjoyments—
[What can we conceive more gratifying to flesh and blood, than to be entertaining, as Belshazzar did, such multitudes of his nobles, together with all his wives and concubines? Yet, behold, how in an instant all his pleasure vanished, and was turned into insupportable agony of mind! Nor is such a change uncommon: many in the midst of the most licentious scenes have been struck with horror, and made to anticipate their final doom: even a thought passing through the mind has been sufficient to cast a damp over the spirits, and to rob the soul of all its gaiety. What folly then to seek our happeness in things which are so unsatisfactory at best, and which may so speedily become an occasion of our more aggravated woe! Let us remember, that all which the world can afford is “vanity and vexation of spirit.” As for “laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, it may be asked, What doeth it?” Yea, even in “laughter, the soul is often sorrowful; and the end of all such mirth is heaviness.”]
The comfort of a good conscience—
[Daniel was not alarmed, notwithstanding his life was in jeopardy, as well as the life of all who dwelt in Babylon. But Daniel enjoyed the testimony of a good conscience, and therefore had confidence towards God. He knew that the enemy could only kill the body; and that the death of the body would translate his soul into the more immediate presence of his God. Thus Paul, when ready to be offered up a sacrifice, contemplated his departure with joy, assured, that the Lord, the righteous Judge, had prepared for him a never-fading crown of righteousness and glory. And Peter also, when on the very eve of expected martyrdom, and chained to two soldiers, was sleeping as sweetly, as if he had known that God had decreed to liberate him from his prison. Such are the effects of peace with God, and peace in our own conscience. Let us but maintain “a conscience void of offence towards God and man,” and nothing shall have power to disturb our rest. Assured that “nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” we shall smile at all the storms that encompass us around, and “commit ourselves with confidence into the hands of a faithful Creator.”]
The blessedness of an interest in Christ—
[Whatever “hand-writing there is against us” in the Scriptures of truth, Christ has “blotted it out, and taken it out of the way, nailing it, as a cancelled bond, unto his cross [Note: Col_2:14.].” Search the sacred volume from one end to the other, and not one word will be found menacing to a believing penitent. The very moment we believe in Christ, all our iniquities, of whatever kind, are blotted out as a morning cloud, and shall never more be remembered against us. Is there then any one amongst us that “trembles at God’s word?” let him know, that the more he trembles, the less reason he has to tremble; since God looks upon him with complacency [Note: Isa_66:2.], and engages “in no wise to cast him out.” Suppose that such an one beheld at this moment written on the wall before him, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin;” and that we were authorized to expound it to him, “Thy days are numbered; thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting; and all that thou hast shall now be divided by thy surviving relatives, thy soul being summoned into the presence of its God;” even were this so, he need not fear, because Christ, being apprehended by faith, shall be put into the scale, and make it preponderate in his favour. We do not mean by this, that Christ and his merits are to be added to something of our own; (for He alone must be put into the scale against our sins;) but this we mean; that if there were the sins of the whole world lying on the soul of a single individual, the blood of Christ, applied by faith, should cleanse him from it, and the righteousness of Christ be a sufficient plea for his acceptance with God. Seek then, Beloved, to be united unto Christ by faith; and then, instead of trembling at his approach, you shall “rejoice before him at his coming.”]