By Walter L. Surbrook
Text: "Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." -- Daniel 5:27.
My text is God's last message to a man who had had light and walked over it, God's final message to a man who had seen Jehovah's dealings in his own family, but ignored them. This man as utterly disregarded his knowledge of God as though there were not a God in all the universe; and because he turned the light down he was sent this text which is his death message. This man was Belshazzar, who sat on the throne of Babylon and of the world for forty-three years.
The occasion which surrounds the text is this: Belshazzar gave a great feast in honor of the heathen god, Bel. The feast was given in the magnificent banqueting-hall of the royal palace. The spacious and commodious palace, which was seven miles in circumference, stood on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Belshazzar had invited a thousand of his lords, his wives, and concubines to the feast. They drank wine, laughed, danced, and made great sport until the scene became a wild drunken spree. Belshazzar was drunk, as also were his lords, and the fairest women of his harem. As the wine took a deeper hold on their minds, their fiendish courage and satanic hilarity became more intensified.
In the midst of this gay, drunken, licentious brawl, they praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone. As this satanic orgy and reckless carousing increased, Belshazzar sent for the golden vessels. These were the vessels which his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, had stolen out of the house of the Lord. They had been consecrated alone to holy service. But Belshazzar brought them in, filled them with wine, put them to the lips of prostitutes and profligates, and, at once, the cup of his iniquity was full and God sent a hand which wrote his doom on the plaster of the wall. The arm and the body were invisible; just the hand holding a style was all that could he seen. In the midst of the revelry, somebody saw the hand. I hear him shriek, "Oh! look up there," as he tremblingly pointed toward the writing. Others saw it; a scream of terror and a shudder of horror went over the audience!
The dancing ceased; the sound of the music died out in the distance; there was heard a clanking of wine goblets' being suddenly placed on the tables. Belshazzar turned pale; cold perspiration leaped to his brow; he trembled from head to foot. I see him stroke his black hair as he shrieks: "Who wrote it? Can anybody read it? My God, somebody read it: What is it?" The message was written in the Chaldaic language and he could not decipher it. The king then cried aloud and asked for the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers to be brought into his presence. They were quickly ushered in to read the handwriting, but they could only stand and gaze in silence like everyone else. They were the modernists of that age. Modernists never have been able to read God's handwriting. They could not read it then, and they cannot read it now; for spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
When the king saw that they could not read it, his dilemma increased. At that moment the queen-mother, Nebuchadnezzar's widow, came in. She had heard the shrieks of terror in the banqueting-hall, rushed in, took in the situation at a glance, and said, "O king, live forever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: there is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father . . . made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel . . . now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation."
The king immediately dispatched a messenger for Daniel, while he restlessly and impatiently paced the floor, stroking his black hair, and occasionally glancing at the handwriting on the wall which no one could read. Finally Daniel came in. He was now an old man, for more than eighty years had passed over his head. He stood erect, with a piercing black eye and a commanding personality. I see him glance at the handwriting and read it to himself in a breath. Whereupon the king asked him, "Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king, my father, brought out of Jewry? I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee." Yes, Belshazzar had heard of Daniel. He had seen him before. He remembered him, but he remembered him now too late. He hated the Hebrews, but in the hour of his damnation he sent gladly for Daniel's counsel and prayers.
Friend, if you go over the light and warning of God, as Belshazzar did, you, too, will remember holy men of God when it is too late and you will be glad to send for anybody to help you. No matter of what color or race you may be, counsel and help will be welcomed. Belshazzar then made Daniel a proposition and said, "Now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet," (the insignia of royalty) "and have a chain of gold about thy neck," (a badge of wealth) "and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom".
This meant authority and power. But Daniel was not for sale. He could not be bribed, but threw back his shoulders as the long raven locks of his hair trembled, his black, piercing eyes sparkled, and he said to the king, "Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation".
Before Daniel read the writing on the wall he proceeded to rebuke Belshazzar. No other king was ever rebuked by a captive, as this king was rebuked by Daniel. No other servant or slave ever dared to condemn the actions of his master as this little, black-eyed Hebrew reproved the godlessness and sacrilege of Belshazzar.
In approaching his reprimand, Daniel proceeded to recite some historical facts to the icing. "O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar, thy father, a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: and he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will."
Daniel showed Belshazzar how his grandfather had been humbled, his understanding dethroned, and he was driven out from the presence of men. To further humble him, hair grew out on his body like eagle feathers, and his nails became like bird claws. He stayed out in the field and ate grass like a beast until he was wet with the dew of seven summers. When he was willing to acknowledge God, then his reason was restored.
Then Daniel said, "And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou KNEWEST all this." Daniel reminded Belshazzar that although he had known all this, he had refused to humble his heart and had taken a similar course to that of his grandfather: a course of disobedience, arrogance, and brazen sacrilege. Daniel then pointed out to him how he had "praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified."
I want to emphasize this truth to that soul who also has had great light and rejected it. You have not only refused to glorify the God in whose hand your breath is, but you have willfully rejected him and you are now only one heartbeat out of hell. Medical science states that if the heart ever misses one beat it never takes another. Occasionally, when holding your pulse you think your heart misses a beat; the fact is, it beats, but the beat is so gentle that you do not detect it. So you are here tonight only one heartbeat out of hell, and rejecting the God in whose hand your breath is. If you continue the way you are going, God will not even stop to send you handwriting as a final message. You may be getting your last message now!
I. WARNED. God warned this man before He weighed him. He sends warning to every soul. No soul is ever cut off and finally damned until God has faithfully warned him and waited for his final decision.
In a little northern town, on a New Year's eve a man was standing in the snow halfway up to his knees, and leaning, about half-drunk, against a telephone pole. His mother was down the street a few blocks in a watch night prayer meeting. No doubt she was sobbing, sighing, and praying for the salvation of her son. The hands on the town clock were just pointing at midnight. Immediately, the whistles began to blow and the bells began to ring the old year out and the new year in.
As the whistles and bells announced the closing hour of the old year and the opening of the new, the Holy Spirit whispered to this fellow, "If you don't get right with God before those bells quit ringing you never will get right with God." He lifted his eyes with a start, and glanced about him quickly, but there was no one to be seen. The Spirit again spoke to him, "If you don't get right with God before those bells quit ringing, you never will get right." By that time he was sober and fell on his knees in the snow-bank, groaned, and lifted up his soul in agony over his lost estate. Before the bells quit ringing he found God. God warned him before He weighed him. No soul is ever damned until after he has gone past God's red light of danger. He has willfully, maliciously, and wickedly strangled his conscience, and forced himself beyond the danger signal. I do not know how great the warning may be, or how feeble, but God will send it.
At the time my brother George got converted in the city of Detroit, he was a carpenter, making good money, and he continued this work for several months. One day he was standing on the scaffold, working on the side of a house, with another carpenter, named Joe. In the afternoon the conversation drifted to the question of seeking God. About four o'clock my brother said to his partner, "Joe, why don't you seek God? You see what God has done for me; you see the change in my life. I am not the same man I used to be. Why don't you get right with God, too?"
Joe looked at him and said, "George, I am going to remain in Detroit and save my money until February (this was in the fall); then I am going to the Isle of Pines to make my fortune. I shall then come back to Detroit, marry a wife, settle down, and live a quiet life."
At four-thirty the boys locked their tools in the tool house and went home. The next morning, as they resumed their duties, Joe went back on the scaffold while George went into the house to work. At about nine o'clock that morning, my brother heard a peculiar crash and a dull thud. He ran through the open partitions, to a window, looked out, and saw Joe lying on the ground. A scaffold bracket had broken loose, and Joe had plunged headlong and broken his neck. My brother leaped through the window and rushed over to Joe, slipped his hands carefully under his head and said, "Joe, are you hurt?" Joe uttered one groan, as the blood gushed from his nostrils and mouth. They rushed him to the Emergency Hospital. A doctor came, placed his stethoscope over Joe's heart, listened a moment, then said, "He is dead." As far as we know, Joe had never been in a camp meeting, had never seen an altar service, or heard a revival message or the shouts of praise from new-born souls. The only light he had ever received, to our knowledge, was from the testimony and changed life of his fellow carpenter. But God was absolutely faithful to warn that soul before he was killed.
You do not need to wade through tears and groans, reject God in camp meetings and revivals every summer, to be damned. All you need to do is to go on the way you are going now.
Just pay no attention to God's warnings. Ignore them as Belshazzar did, whether the warnings come into your family or not, and you will soon find yourself weighed out forever.
II. WEIGHED. Not only does God warn men, but He weighs them. The weighing process is always sure to follow if one rejects the warning. For God to weigh a man is to judge against him and, when a man is weighed, often his career is short. During the World War, a man attended a mission on Sunday afternoon in one of our large Michigan cities. A lady preacher was announced to preach. She had gone away and prayed, groaned, and wept out her soul before the Lord until He had loaded her with a message on the judgment. Not very many preachers are dead enough to the opinion of the people to preach on the judgment on Sunday afternoon, but this woman preacher was. She ascended the platform and for over an hour, in her tender, persuasive way, poured out her soul in a message that aroused every hearer. At the close of her message she opened the altar and urged people to come. Among others whom the saints invited was a man in middle life who acted as if he were insulted because they invited him to come forward for prayer. In a very positive tone of voice he said, "No, I don't want to go to the altar." His whole manner, tone of voice, and words showed that he did not want God, and he turned around and walked out. He got in his car, drove over to his war-garden and worked a while on Sunday afternoon, hoeing his vegetables and truck. No one knows how long he worked, but apparently having finished, he came back to his car and cranked it. The car was in gear and, when the motor started, it leaped forward and two wheels ran over him. Then, as though the vengeance of God were set to get him, the car ran out in the field, made a complete circle, came back, and ran over him the second time. When found, he was dead. He had been warned in other days, and God sent him his final message on that Sunday afternoon. He rejected it, and inside of two hours he was weighed and lost forever!
III. WANTING. Within Babylon, which was surrounded by gigantic walls, there was a feeling of perfect safety. They knew Cyrus had been battering on the outside of the walls for more than forty-eight months. But why should they fear him when they knew the walls were eighty-five feet thick and three hundred and thirty-five feet high -- a towering bulwark of defense? Little did Belshazzar, or any of his best generals, realize that the Mede and Persian armies, under Cyrus, for all these months had been cutting a new channel for the Euphrates River. This mighty river, which for so long had flowed under giant archways into Babylon, entering from the north and flowing out under the southern wall, was to have its course changed for a brief period, to admit the Persian army into the city to capture Babylon. Some little distance from the city walls lay the empty bed of an old, artificial lake which had been used by Nebuchadnezzar to receive the waters of the river while he constructed the archways in the walls which surrounded the city.
Cyrus and his armies had labored untiringly to connect the river with this lake bed, yet holding the water back by a great dam, while the channel was under construction and until the moment for attack should arrive. Finally the work was completed, and Cyrus, having been informed by a traitor of Belshazzar's drunken spree, took advantage of this strategic moment to capture the city.
Having divided his army into three divisions, under cover of darkness he hastened the one division down to break the dam, thus changing the course of the river. The other two divisions, armed with keen lances, were placed at the archways of the river; the one where the river entered the city, and the other where it came out. These companies were carefully instructed to enter the city as soon as the waters lowered sufficiently, and to march quietly, yet rapidly, toward each other, putting every man to the lance.
Soon the dam was broken and the Euphrates quickly changed her course, rushing madly down the newly cut channel and filling up the old lake bed. The two divisions of the army which had been stationed at the archways of the wall, on the banks of the river, marched rapidly down the bed of the stream under the walls, driving their lances through every guard and watchman. The defensive strength of the city was broken down, for all Babylon was celebrating a drunken, religious festival.
Soon the Royal Palace was surrounded by the highly armed Persian army. It was about midnight, and Daniel at this time was reading the handwriting on the wall for Belshazzar and giving him the interpretation. He had scarcely finished saying to Beishazzar: "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," when there was heard the clash of lances. As the Persian soldiers slew the Royal Guard and rushed forward toward the king, he, trembling and excited, drew his sword in self-defense. But in a moment he was thrust through by a score of glittering lances. He fell dying and wallowing in his own gore. Babylon had now fallen and was in the hands of Cyrus.
As the Persian soldiers lifted Cyrus to their shoulders and carried him up the steps to the throne of Babylon -- and of the world -- devils were dragging Belshazzar's lost soul down the fiery corridors of hell to be forever damned. What a horrible ending! One time a king, now forever lost! He had been faithfully warned, but now he is weighed for the last time, and is lost forever!
"At the feast of Belshazzar and a thousand of his lords,
While they drank from golden vessels, as the Book of Truth records -In
the night, as they reveled in the royal palace hall,
They were seized with consternation, -- 'twas the hand upon the wall.
"'Tis the hand of God on the wall!
Shall the record be -- 'Found wanting!'
Or shall it be -- 'Found trusting!'
While that Hand is writing on the wall?
"See the brave captive, Daniel, as He stood before the throng.
And rebuked the haughty monarch for his mighty deeds of wrong;
As he read out the writing -- 'twas the doom of one and all,
For the kingdom now was finished -- said the Hand upon the wall!
"See the faith, zeal, and courage, that would dare to do the right,
Which the Spirit gave to Daniel -- 'twas the secret of his might,
In his home in Judea, or a captive in the hall,
He understood the writing of his God upon the wall!
"So our deeds are recorded -- there's a Hand that's writing now;
Sinner, give your heart to Jesus, to His royal mandates bow;
For the day is approaching -- it must come to one and all,
When the sinner's condemnation will be written on the wall."