Ever heard the phrase, “Writing’s on the wall?” If you’re a parent of a young child, you’ve probably experienced that literally—you come home one day and find your intelligent child got the brilliant idea to put his new writing skills to use on your walls. I remember when Justin, my son, was young—old enough to write, so old enough to know better—and one day Kathy and I find writing on the door to his room. Apparently he had had enough of his big sister, mom, and dad enter his private space without permission, so he decided to put a sign—in permanent marker—clearly on the outside of his door which said, “Warning: graphic violins, enter at your own risk,” and even drew a picture of a violin to make sure we understood the scary warning. We also found a soccer goal drawn on the other side of the door in permanent marker—he decided it was Writing on the Walls day.
But the term “The Writing’s on the Wall” actually comes from the book of Daniel, chapter 5, which we’re gonna look at today. Today, It generally means, “a boastful, overconfident person, or group or team, has a great downfall coming, and everybody could plainly see it, except the person that it happened to—the writings on the wall.” Like “The writing was on the walls—everybody could see it coming When Carlos lost the Superbull throwdown to John” Perfect example. And I didn’t even have to pay the refs nearly as much as the Chiefs did to win. Come on—it was a catch, and I’m impartial.
As we continue in our series Welcome to the Jungle, we’re looking at the chapter in Daniel where this phrase The Writing’s On the Walls originated. Just to give you a quick reminder of where we’ve been, Daniel is the story of a living faithfully to God in the midst of a culture that is opposed to God and his ways. We’ve been talking about how stay faithful to God in your workplace or school or other organization when you don’t want to be there, but you are there. And that’s the situation Daniel and the Jewish people were in.
The Jewish people were overthrown by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and they were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. Yet God said you’re gonna be in Babylon 70 years, but I still have a plan for you—it’s a plan to prosper you, not to harm—it’s a plan of hope and for your good. And God told them, settle down and work to make the city prosper—as it prospers so will you. And from this we saw that God can use us within a workplace or situation that seems evil or opposed to God and his ways—Babylon definitely was—and yet Daniel and his friends stayed true to God, even if it went against the culture, yet also found win-wins to help the King succeed. And as a result, God uses Daniel and his 3 friends faithfulness to change the heart of the King—last week we saw God warned Nebuchadnezzar about his arrogance, he didn’t llisten, until he hit rock bottom. He lost his mind for 7 years, yet in that state of brokenness, at rock bottom, he looked up and called on God Almighty—and God not only saved him, and restored him, but made him more prosperous.
It’s noteworthy for Christ-followers to understand what this means. God is at work in all nations, and all peoples, even when it seems like they want nothing to do with him. And the other lesson is summed up by Peter “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Sometimes people see the gift of life, the blessings they’ve been given, and thank and acknowledge God—they are humble and God lifts them up. Sometimes the more people succeed, the more blinded they get by their own power and might, and it takes rock bottom to help them see reality. God loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves playing God trying to control of the universe. So in his mercy, he lets us hit rock bottom.
For me I thought I was so great and successful and just enjoying life, if there was a God, which I doubted, I didn’t need God. I was fine—in fact, I didn’t want anyone to get in the way of the plans I had for me. My rock bottom was losing my father. I don’t think God took my father to make me come to my senses, but I did suffer the consequences of my father’s lung cancer from 30 years of smoking. And that was my wake up call. I’m not in control, “The writings on the wall” life is short—so what’s the point of life? Suddenly pretending I was in control of my destiny, didn’t make sense. It was the catalyst that got asking question which is how I came to faith in Christ.
Our South Campus Pastor, Kenny green, went 10 years as a Meth addict, when he landed in the LA county jail—finally hit rock bottom, detoxing in Jail, and realizing he needed God’s help. Sometimes crisis points get you asking sincere questions. But you don’t have to wait for Rock Bottom to seek God. Dale emailed this week: “I had so many questions about what it meant to devote my life to Christ. The Alpha group experience gave me an opportunity to explore these questions and many more topics in a welcoming, open setting. I loved the group setting because I didn’t feel alone with my questions any longer. So, if you have questions like; is there even a God, who/what the Holy Spirit is, how do I pray, why did Jesus have to die, what is faith, then Alpha is for you like it was for me!” Dale got baptized here at North this August. Alpha is about to start along with some great classes, like one on understanding the Bible. Now is a great time to prioritize spiritual growth. You don’t have to hit rock bottom to look up—but unfortunately many do.
So Evil King Nebuchadnezzar does hit rock bottom, humbles himself, looks to God and God forgives him and saves him. And as a result, the whole Babylonian Kingdom hears of God Almighty. And Daniel keeps getting promoted to more and more influence in Babylon—at this point, he’s the Executive Director of all the King’s magicians, sorcerers, and wise men. So Daniel shows them Yahweh’s will and ways, and God gives him favor that influences the whole culture.
We’ve been asking, “Where does God have you?” Do you realize, you’re there for a reason. It may be for a season, or it may feel like 70 years, but are you humbly following God faithfully—trusting that He can use you to influence the culture and help people see God’s goodness as you love and serve and do your best? And if God prospers you more and more—stay humble—don’t wait for the Writing on the Wall. And that’s where we pick up in Chapter 5.
So Nebuchadnezzar dies, and King Belshazzar is now in power, and in Chapter 5 we read: Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. Daniel 5:1-3. [Belshazzar is the new King in town. He’s actually co-ruling with his Father, Nabonidus. Don’t confuse him with Belteshazzar from chapter 4 (that’s the name Daniel was given by Nebuchadnezzar)]. King Belshazzar is a party animal—he’s neglecting the famine and poverty hurting the people he’s ruling. He arrogantly thinks it’s all for him and about him. He knew Nebuchadnezzar’s history, but was blinded by his success.
It’s worth mentioning—these stories in the Bible are there to teach us—so we don’t just repeat the history. The great Spanish philosopher Santayana (not to be confused with the great philosopher of wailing guitar, Carlos Santana), said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – Santayana. And King Belshazzar was grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. He would surely have known the story of his granddad’s 7 year humbling and how the his grandfather worshipped Yahweh the Almighty God of Heaven and proclaimed that all should worship Yahweh. But this is the tragic lesson of history—humans don’t learn from history, so we keep repeating it.
That’s the unfortunate story of the Old Testament over and over. The garden of Eden, we believe the lie that God doesn’t know anything, we know best how to rule our own lives—have it your way. And we eat the bitter consequences of now knowing what evil is—the absence of God’s love, order, joy, peace, harmony with nature and each other—everything goes to hell, literally. Yet when people hit rock bottom and turn back, God is compassionate, merciful, loving and forgiving and takes them back—he had already planned to pay the price to be just and forgive (he did that through Jesus). But the story repeats, and with Israel, They didn’t learn from history. God told them through Moses as they entered the Promised land saying “I love to bless you, make you prosper, you’ll be blessed in every way” but… 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands … Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…and say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:10-18) God told them, I want to bless you, I want good things for you, but don’t become proud and think you’ve done all this—don’t forget to thank God and honor God and follow God who has blessed you—not just for your own benefit. It’s not just about you or me, it’s about we.
Maybe the saddest verse in the Bible is Judges 2. Moses passes the baton to Joshua who leads them into this land, they do prosper, they’re safe and secure and it says: 0 After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.11 The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight (Judges 2:10-11). And Judges is this horrible rollercoaster of dropping down to rock bottom, turning back to God, God delivers them and prospers them again—because he has good plans for us all—then within 2-3 generations they forget God, down they go to rock bottom–Over and over—rinse, repeat. Finally after 490 years of this rollercoaster ride—God allows them to hit Rock Bottom in Babylon. But again, he uses it for good, even for the evil kingdom of Babylon to find faith and prosper under Almighty God. God is good to all—always. But once again, a few generations go by and Belshazzar forgot the God Nebuchadnezzar worshipped—instead he indulged his hedonism. At this big party with 1000s from his nobles and his Harim, his arrogance and pride swells. Just so you see the height of his arrogance, history tells us that while this party was going on, not only were his people in poverty and famine, but Cyrus the Great’s army was outside the gates preparing to siege Babylon. But Belshazzar thought Babylon was impenetrable.
By the way, this is real history. Up until the 1900’s the Bible was the only reference point we had to Babylon’s existence. And scholars claimed it was just a mythological city with it’s Ishtar Gate, hanging gardens, and enormous size—because of course, you can’t trust the history of the bible. And then archaeology found Babylon 54 miles from Bagdad, Iraq—it’s now one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Archaeology has affirmed the Bible’s record again and again. The Cyrus Cylinder is an archaeological find that tells us Belshazzar was son of King Nabonidus who had disappeared and left Belshazzar in charge for 12 years when this happened – October 539 BCE. Archaeological excavations found the dimensions of Babylon made it seem impenetrable: The outer walls were 17 miles long., 22 feet thick, and 90 feet high.· The city gates were made of bronze.· A system of inner and outer walls and moats made the city extremely secure. So in his arrogance Belshazzar throws a huge party.
Kind of funny sidenote – Iron Maiden released a song in 2021—yes you heard that right, they’re not dead yet–still going (maybe the living dead?). Song was called “Writing on the Walls” and the animation video starts with concert leaflets inviting everyone to “Belshazzar’s feast.”
Belshazzar thinks to himself, I’m better than any of the gods—go get me the sacred goblets taken from the Jewish Temple so me, my nobles, wives and concubines can drink until we’re drunk from Yahweh’s sacred goblets. He was basically giving Almighty God the finger, saying “It’s all about me.” And he praised the gods of gold and silver, as they do. And at the height of this drunken bash comes… Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, 6 and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. (Daniel 5:5-6). The Writings on the Wall for King Belshazzar. God writes on the wall [or has angel do it] [Your kids cannot write on the walls, but no one can stop God]. Everyone freaks out, and the King can’t hide his obvious fear and trembling watching this Hand carve words into the plaster 7 The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him. He said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed in purple robes of royal honor and will have a gold chain placed around his neck. He will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!” (Daniel 5:7). None of his astrologers and fortune tellers had a clue how to read the writing, then the Queen mother remembers Daniel. She said, Daniel has the spirit of the gods in him. They call for Daniel, and he’s offered all the bling–a purple robe, gold chain, 3rd highest in power over all Babylon if he can read it.
Daniel is the opposite of arrogant, proud or self-seeking. Daniels main aim is to please God and do his will—no matter what it costs. So he says, “Keep your bling and power, I don’t need them, but I will tell you what Almighty God says to the King. Imagine confronting your CEO like this. Daniel reminded Belshazzar of the story of King Nebuchadnezzar, and says “He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.22 “You are his successor,[c] O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. 23 For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven… “This is the message that was written: Mene, mene, tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is what these words mean: Mene means ‘numbered’—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.27 Tekel means ‘weighed’—you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.28 Parsin[d] means ‘divided’—your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” That night Belshazzar was killed and the Medes and Persians took over the Babylonian kingdom.
So what do we learn from History and God’s story interwoven with humanity’s story? Let me leave you with a couple of thoughts:
Learn from History – God gives us the history of humanity in the Bible, so we will learn and not just repeat the past. Paul tells us: 11 These things happened to them [in the Old Testament] as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (I Corinthians 10:11-13). We are all human, we all fall into the same traps and temptations, but God is faithful and will lead us out of them if we humbly seek his help.
So where are you right now? Are you at Rock Bottom, great—just reach up and God’s merciful, forgiving Hand will be there to pull you up—he’s faithful. Don’t stay down, turn to him. Or maybe you’re on your way up—feeling blessing and prosperity—are you thanking God, are you remembering not to trust in blessings, but trust in God? Or are you seeing the Writing on the Wall? You’ve done well for yourself, you’re on top, you don’t need God—maybe you’d never say that—but in reality you live for you. Don’t be like Belshazzar, Humble yourself like Nebuchadnezzar and God will lift you up. Learn from History—don’t be condemned to repeat it.
Stay Humble – Peter told us, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”[a]6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. I Peter 5:5-6. This is the lesson found in scripture over and over. Don’t wait to be humbled, stay humble before God. That means thinking rightly about yourself. As Carlos taught us–thinking about yourself like God does, no more, no less. If you’re smart, successful, beautiful, powerful—things the world values—do you thank God and acknowledge that He gave you these gifts and abilities to help others? And if you see yourself as worth less than others, that’s not being humble—God has gifted you equally and you have equal value and purpose—that’s true humility. Thank God for what he has given you, don’t focus on comparing to others.
Use what you have to help others – At the end of the day, life is not about me, or you—it’s about God and loving God by loving and serving one another. So learn from the proud who fall—they thought it was for their own glory and security and pleasure. But God puts people in positions of power or wealth not just for themselves, but to be a blessing to others as well. How are using the time, resources, money, gifts God’s given you to make a difference in people’s live around you?
And let me just encourage the many of you at Gateway who do this so well—you do BLESS your neighbors and coworkers, you serve our kids, or students, the homeless or so many others by volunteering, and you give financially to impact our city and world together. [PICs] I was in India with Eric for 10 days, and it was so encouraging. Hospital you guys built—became a Covid center, Gov’t so impressed, decided to help subsidize impoverished people through our hospital. I held a newborn baby and prayed with a grieving mother. We played with the 250 kids who are being loved and fed and educated and who love Jesus—because of your support. We taught 100 pastors —ministering to mostly illiterate rice farmers, living in mud huts, $2/day, 30 million gods, yet Almighty God is there doing amazing things. You’re making a difference in people’s lives all across Austin and around the world. Thank you for using what God’s given to help others.