July 12, 2015
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
How do we respond to the concept of God’s judgment both now and in the future: for us personally, for our church community, for our nation, for our world?
In Daniel 5:1-31, God revealed to an arrogant Babylonian king that both he and his nation would be judged severely. In the story of “The Handwriting on the Wall”, God used the interpretations of Daniel to tell King Belshazzar (the 5th king since Nebuchadnezzar) of the immediate coming destruction of Babylon.
Instead of reinforcing the city in protection against the fast approaching Medes and Persians, the king chose to depend on history: with no successful sieges on Babylon in the past 1000 years, and present sufficiency: in a seemingly impregnable castle with vast stores of food and water.
Instead of strong protection and warrior aggression, Belshazzar chose a dinner party flowing with wine, served in gold cups taken from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. With these goblets, the king and his nobles “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dan. 5:4).
God’s warning of judgment was swift as “the fingers of a human hand wrote on the plaster of the wall” (Dan. 5:5). When Daniel was called in for an interpretation of the handwriting, Daniel told Belshazzar that he had not “humbled himself” (Dan. 5:22) and that he “did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life, and all your ways” (Dan. 5:23).
Daniel interpreted to the king the three Aramaic terms written on the wall: the king’s days were numbered, his actions were weighed and found wanting, and his kingdom would be divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Dan. 26-29). That very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over Babylon (Dan. 5:30).
What does this story show us today about God’s judgment?
I. There is a time for judgment.
It is cautionary and sobering to see from this story, and several others earlier in Daniel (and elsewhere both in the Old Testament and New Testament), that God sometimes does judge people and nations in the here and now, to change things around and bring justice.
It is problematic for us that we have no prophets around to connect the dots of interpretation of God’s judgment for us now in this world. We must be careful because we see glimpses of His judgment but do not know for sure.
However, with regards to eternity, God clearly determines our eternal destiny when we choose whether or whether not to place our faith in Jesus. God also evaluates our life styles when we stand before the Lord, and somehow it is going to matter.
Like the words of warning to Belshazzar: our days are numbered as well and we must live our lives in the light of our end; in some sense, God will evaluate our lives and accounts are going to be settled; and the “stuff” of our lives (our kingdom) will go to someone or somewhere else.
II. God prospers His people even in judgment.
In hope and encouragement, we learn from this story that we do not have to live in fear. Throughout their trials with the Babylonian kings, Daniel and his friends were given promotions, physical gifts, and praise. From these stories, we are shown that God knows how to prosper His people even in the most tumultuous times in our lives and in the world around us. As Christians, we can thrive in all circumstances.
In the midst of balancing the tension between the sobering and encouraging truths about judgment, we have hope that judgment ultimately belongs to God.
Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we are encouraged that God’s primary will is to love and forgive us. Judgment is only for those who turn away and refuse His love. As Christians, we can live out lives of hope in a world that desperately needs hope.