It must have been quite a party— the surroundings were opulent, the guests represented the cream of society, the food was the best the world had to offer, and the wine! The wine was an elixir; its intoxicating influence gave those who imbibed an enlarged sense of themselves and their own importance. No wonder the king brought out the finest of the spoils of war from his treasury— gold and silver goblets, fit for a king, indeed, fit for the gods! And the lighthearted guests used the holy cups as they toasted their own gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone— the elements that built their kingdom on earth.
And as the wine flowed and the guests celebrated their gods, the God for whom the goblets had been made showed up unexpected and uninvited— or at least a vestige of that God appeared… a hand appeared out of a cup, writing strange words on the wall unintelligible but still somehow menacing.
The date was October 11, 539 BC and the setting was the most important, safest, wealthiest city in the world, Babylon the Great! Babylon— the city boasting the tallest, widest city walls the world had ever seen. Babylon— the city that had taken in the wealth of the world from every part of the world thought to be worth having. Babylon the Great, storied Babylon, Babylon of myth and legend!
King Belshazzar and his guests were using cups made and consecrated for God’s use in the Temple in Jerusalem, taken back to Babylon years before by Nebuchadnezzar, King of earthly kings. They were abusing holy things made for God, made according to God’s own design. And as they toasted and drank, they did so with confidence that their army, their strength, their walls, and their own importance would keep any and all harm away.
Today in the United States we live in a country whose power and wealth are unfathomably greater than Babylon’s. Though our wealth is slowly but constantly bleeding out to other nations in the world as we borrow against our children’s and grandchildren’s future, still, no nation on earth can compare to the US in prestige, power, and wealth. We are the Babylonian Empire of our day.
And like Belshazzar and his guests, we are taking things God created for His honor and we are abusing them as we toast gods of our own making: gods of license and pleasure, greed and lust, self importance and willfulness.
We abuse the gift of marriage as we toast homosexual “unions;” we abuse the gift of children as we toast abortion; we abuse the gift of life as we toast our own divinity in creating new life by destroying embryos; we abuse the gift of community as we lie to each other with straight faces.
Babylon took God’s holy things and abused them and God responded by destroying that mighty empire. The very night they toasted their self proclaimed gods was that empire’s last; the Medo-Persian army destroyed their army, diverted the Euphrates River and sacked the city, killing Belshazzar and ending the mighty Babylonian Empire.
The writing was on the wall for that ancient power— its days were numbered and ended, weighed in God’s balance and found deficient, divided and given to others. The writing is on the wall again for those with eyes to see: we cannot take God’s holy things and abuse them with impunity. If God held a pagan king and nation responsible for defiling His holy things, how much more culpable must we be, a nation grown up with the knowledge of the truth, a people who in times past knew the difference between the holy and the profane, a power on earth that once appealed to the God of heaven for His aid?
While God’s judgment fell on Belshazzar and Babylon in 539, judgment was averted a generation earlier when Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty king who had destroyed Jerusalem and taken the gold and silver of the Temple, was humbled by God, and then humbled himself before God. Such humility is always honored by God and is this nation’s last, best hope to forestall God’s judgment in our generation.
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” Daniel 4:37
(Read Daniel 5 for the full version of the story of Belshazzar and the end of Babylon.)