August 10, 2011

Thursday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 85, 1 Sam.9:22, Lk. 14:1-14
Evening - Ps. 89:1-9, Dan. 5:1-9, Acts 24:10-23

Commentary

Whether the faith of Nebuchadnezzar was real or not, all traces of it have dissipated by the time Belshazzar became king. Belshazzar (not Belteshazzar, Daniel's Babylonian name) whose name means "Bel protects the king," is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 2 refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his father in the same sense the Jews refer to Abraham as their "father." In tonight's reading he is throwing a pagan festival, which is basically a drunken orgy. Under the influence of much wine, he calls for the vessels stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. His intent is to insult the vessels, and the God they represent, by using them as containers from which to drink wine in honour of Babylonian idols (5:4). It is easy to see that this action is an intentional affront to God. They are using sacred vessels to toast all manner of things that stand against everything that God is.

This is not at all unusual. Even people who call themselves by the name of Christ do the very same thing today. Denying the doctrines of Scripture and blessing ungodliness in the name of God, their actions are no less insulting to God than those of Belshazzar.

Truly the handwriting is on the wall, for a hand appears to the Babylonians and writes upon the wall of the hall in which they revel in ungodliness (5:5). Belshazzar knew his actions were wrong, and he knew that his grandfather held the God of Daniel in high esteem. He knew the story of God's dealing with Nebuchadnezzar (5:22), yet he committed this terrible insult against God. This is why his countenance was changed and his body trembled so much that his knees knocked together (5:6). Yes, the appearance of the hand was frightening, but the knowledge that it wrote a message from the God of Israel, whom he insulted in high contempt, was even more frightening.

The handwriting is on the wall for all to see. God has given all people a witness to His existence and will (Acts 14:17, Rom1:19-20). Man's problem is not that he does not know God; it is that he refuses to act on his knowledge. People hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Therefore, they are without excuse (Rom. 2:1) and under the wrath of God (Rom 1:18).

Again the wise men of Babylon are unable to interpret the message. The "wise men" of our own time have the same problem. The prophets of the religion of secular humanism, for example, often express a desire for justice, clearly borrowed from the Bible. But they deny the existence of God and insist that man can create a just world by his own abilities. Modern theistic humanists believe in God, but think they find Him/her/it/they inside themselves, and believe only what their "hearts" tell them about God. Their religion also often expresses a desire for justice, but it is justice according to their own personal definitions. Both forms of humanism have rejected the one foundation upon which justice may be built, the revelation of God in the Holy Bible. Without this revelation, man can never agree on what constitutes peace and justice. Without a revelation from God, the only arbiter of truth and morality is the individual person, and every person's truth and morality is different. The revelation from God available to modern day "wise men," but they reject and distort it. Like the prophets of Babylon, the handwriting is on the wall, but it is meaningless to them.

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