An umpire named Ralph ‘Babe’ Pinelli, who was once a third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, called Babe Ruth ‘out’ after 3 strikes at the plate. He was told to never call a strike on Babe Ruth. This was when Babe Ruth was at the top of his career.
When the crowd booed with sharp disapproval at the call, the coaches and players braced themselves. They knew Babe Ruth had a quick temper and he was likely to be ejected from the game if he went off on the umpire. That’s when Babe Ruth turned to the umpire with disdain and yelled, “There’s 40 thousand people in this park that know that was a ball, tomato-head!”
Pinelli replied calmly, “Perhaps, but mine is the only opinion that counts.” Babe Ruth had no answer for that, he just lowered his bat and walked away.
To sit in judgment is to have power. It is to have the final word on a matter. Truth be told, we often like standing in judgment over others. We like seeing others get what they deserve.
Courtroom dramas and television shows are very popular and they used to tout the phrase, “This is a real court. You make the call, you be the judge, you decide.” And many times, simply by the way people look or act, before they are arrested and tried, we have already declared them guilty of a crime.
But as quick as we are to pronounce others guilty of some improper behavior, we ourselves would rebel if the roles we reversed. I hear folks regularly quote Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
But judgment is coming for us all; the Bible makes that all to clear. The truth, like that clever umpire said to Babe Ruth, is knowing whose opinion counts.
Before we begin our study in Daniel chapter 5 today, we need to get a grasp on the historical context. As you may recall, Daniel was captive under King Nebuchadnezzar the 2nd, whose reign lasted 43 years. It was prophesied by God that their captivity by Babylon would last 70 years.
After King Nebuchadnezzar’s death, his oldest son, Amel-Marduk, reigned over Babylon for 2 years, before his power hungry brother-in-law, a general, assassinated him and stole the crown.
6 years later, he died and left the kingdom in the hands of his youngest son. But the kingdom was unstable and only lasted a few months, when another son-in law of Nebuchadnezzar’s named Nebonidus, led a coup that murdered him.
King Nebonidus spent most of his 14-year reign away from Babylon, securing the borders and strengthening his kingdom. So he appointed his son, Belshazzar, ruler over Babylon in his absence. Put in a modern context, King Nebonidus is living and protecting Saudi-Arabia and Belshazzar is in Iran.
That is where Daniel chapter 5 picks up, over 20 years after King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. And that would make Daniel around 80-years-old, living in retirement.
King Nebuchadnezzar was a very clever king and had always kept peace between his nations and other surrounding ones by marrying into the families; he regularly married the daughters of other kings. Unfortunately, the rest of his relatives tried to rule by force.
Historians tell us that King Nebonidus was attacked and killed by the Medes and Persians and now they were approaching the city of Babylon. Inside the walls, Belshazzar was celebrating his new reign with a spectacular party.
He wasn’t worried, because the City of Babylon was considered invincible. No invader had been able to launch a successful attack against it for over 1,000 years. Babylon was 60 miles around in circumference, surrounded by a wall 350-ft-high and 87 ft across.
You could race 4 full chariots side-by-side around the top of the wall. Guards were constantly on watch as if they were guarding a prison wall. The Euphrates River ran through the middle of the city and there was also a 30-ft-mote outside the wall that ran around the city.
Over a million people lived in Babylon and even though the city was soon to be under siege, no one was worried because they had 20 years of supplies; even without planting new crops. By 6th Century standards, they were smug, sophisticated and superior.
In fact, Belshazzar was so sure of himself, that he arranged a great celebration banquet for 1,000 of his nobles and wives, to show he does not fear the army surrounding his city. The Bible says that King Belshazzar and his guests were drunk and involved in all kinds of perverse orgies. A modern example would be how executives at Enron behaved. It was total debauchery and hedonism.
Archeologists tell us that this party was held on the night of October 12, 539 B.C. They have apparently unearthed the banquet hall, where the party was held.
King Belshazzar had given all present free range to have the time of their lives. But as things started to get boring, he decided to notch things up a bit. “Bring me”, he demanded, “the gold and silver goblets, my grand-father pilfered from the Temple in Jerusalem, so that my guests and I may drink from them.”
Although this was not a religious event, whenever you toasted at a banquet, it was customary to honor the gods of Babylon. Belshazzar wanted to show that he had no fear of the Hebrew God or the army descending outside.
And just as they raised their goblets to drink, God showed up! Or at least his hand did. “Suddenly, a disembodied human-hand appeared and a finger began to write upon the plaster wall, near the lampshade in the royal palace.”
It was like something out of a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. In truth, let’s not forget, they did have a lot to drink. But whatever it was that they saw, it sobered them up very quickly.
In fact, King Belshazzar was so frightened, he turned pale, lost all bladder control and scripture says, his knees buckled. As soon as the mysterious hand disappeared, he called for his enchanters, astrologers and diviners ‘to interpret the writing on the wall’. But all the king’s best men, could not read the words.
So King Belshazzar became even more frightened while his nobles and guests were also baffled and upset. Then, the Queen Mother, Belshazzar’s grandmother arrived.
“O King, live forever,” she began. “Don’t be alarmed! And get a grip on yourself.” She continued, “There is a man in the kingdom, with great wisdom and influence, who can interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems.”
“Your grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar appointed him, chief of all wise men, back before he retired. “So now, call for Daniel and he will tell you what this writing means.” So he sent for Daniel and when he arrived, King Belshazzar said,
“I have heard of you and your gift and would like you to explain what this writing means. If you can, I will cloth you in the finest purple robes, have a gold chain placed around your neck and make you the 3rd highest ruler in my kingdom.”
Daniel answered the king, “You keep your gifts for yourself, and give the rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I Will read and interpret the writing.”
Then Daniel began, “O King, ‘The Most High God’ gave your grandfather Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty, greatness, glory and splendor. The king witnessed miracles. But when his heart turned cold, God humbled him and drove him out until he repented. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the ‘Most High God’, who is over and above all.”
“But you, his grandson, have never humbled yourself. You knew all these things, and instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. By drinking from the Sacred Goblets, you have spit in his face. Therefore, his hand has written this inscription.”
This is what is written, Mene, Mene means; that God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. And Tekel means; you have been weighed on the scales and were found wanting or lacking. And finally, Parsin means; your kingdom shall be divided and given to your enemies, the Medes and the Persians.”
Then Belshazzar gave all the gifts to Daniel, he had promised. But that night, unbeknown to them all, the Medo-Persian military commander ingeniously devised a way to divert the Euphrates River and lower the level of the moat. Once the water levels dropped, the army was able to wade in the mud into the city under the darkness of night. And they conquered the great city ‘without a fight’.
Then, on that night, King Belshazzar was slain and his dynasty fell forever; just as Daniel had predicted. King Belshazzar learned the hard way, – what the Bible says in Galatians 6:7,
“Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked.”
We should also recall the parable that Jesus told in Luke 12:13-21. It was about a rich man who chose not to sell his good crop to help others around him, instead he built bigger barns to store his surplus. Then he sat back, took it easy and felt secure. But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then, who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
To this very day, the Jews love the stories in the Book of Daniel, because they are rich in divine judgment and show God active in human history.
And with all of the injustice in the world today, it isn’t hard to imagine and feel the way that they did, is it? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of the most brazen, misguided people, get what they deserve? Yet the Bible tells us that all sin is punishable by death. No one can avoid it. And that no sin is greater than another. We have all fallen short, and will all be called to account. (Romans 3:23)
The only way to be prepared for that accounting is to know Jesus personally as Lord and Savior. We must turn our lives over to him and trust that he will deal with the rest of the injustice in the world. And we must believe, even when we do not see it, that God is working within history to right the wrongs.
In John 5:17, Jesus reminds us, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working!” And we must remember that all things are going to be worked out in God’s Time, not ours.
Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that, “The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than a two-edged sword.”
If God empowers us with his Holy Spirit, we might be forces for change in the world. But first, we have to read the writing on the wall for each of us. We must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and secure our souls in Him before we can stand firm like Daniel. He was a guy who was constantly on his knees before the Lord in Prayer.
A National Poll conducted in 1993 asked Americans this question; “Do you believe it is true that all will be called before God on judgment day to answer for our sins?” Back then, 8 out of 10 Americans answered yes. In 2015, it dropped to 7 out of 10.
The follow up question was this one, “Knowing you will be judged by God one day, has it changed the way you live now?” Less then 1 in 5 said yes.
Just before the death of actor W.C. Fields, a friend visited Field’s hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through the Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”
We want justice for everyone else, bit loopholes for ourselves. I guess that is the American way. But it cannot be ‘the way of the Christian!’ Here is the thing, without mercy, forgiveness and grace, not only do we try to hold everyone else accountable, but in the end, we may end up trying to judge God. And we are in no place to judge God’s decisions.
Daniel spent his time in prayer, in study and remaining faithful to God in the small things. So when, when he was called to speak for God, he was secure and ready to be a faithful witness.
He was humble, tactful and trustworthy. He did not need to judge others he knew that God was in charge. And God’s judgment is always fair, honest and complete.
The writing is on the wall! Don’t ignore it. You never know when it will be too late.