The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: H

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Handwriting on the wall

The mighty city of Babylon, situated along both banks of the great river Euphrates, controlled one of the greatest empires of ancient times in the middle of the sixth century BC. The great king Nebuchadnezzar had set the stage for empire by his far-flung conquests seventy years earlier. Among his exploits was the sacking of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews. Now his grandson Belshazzar sat as lord over Nebuchadnezzar's legacy -- the proud ruler of a proud city.

Daniel 5 tells of a great feast prepared by Belshazzar for one thousand of his lords and captains. In the midst of this drunken revelry he offered toasts to the Babylonian idols of wood and stone out of the same holy vessels taken from the Jewish temple by his grandfather (vv 1-4). Such a blasphemous insult to the God Of Israel, the only true God, could not go unnoticed by Heaven. In the same hour there appeared a disembodied hand writing on the wall of the banquet hall, and the haughty king was in a moment reduced to a quivering fear (vv 5,6).

What could the words possibly mean? A search was begun for someone, anyone, who could interpret this divine message. Finally the "queen" (probably the young king's mother) remembered Daniel, the prophet of Israel and wise counselor of Nebuchadnezzar, now about 90 years old and in retirement. With great haste he was summoned to the banquet hall, now in excited disarray, to explain the curious vision (vv 11-16).

The old servant of God stood before the frightened young king, his eyes ablaze: "Your grandfather was lifted up in pride to challenge the one true God, the God of my people. And God cast him down, and drove him into madness for seven years, until he recognized that the most high God -- and He alone -- rules in the kingdom of men! But you, Belshazzar, have not learned this lesson. By relating his mistakes, you have doomed your kingdom."

Daniel now turned to the mysterious words engraven on the wall, and quickly revealed their import (vv 25-28):

"Mene" (numbering): "Your number is up! God has counted out your years, and finished them,"

"Tekel" (weighed): "You are weighed in the balances of divine judgment and found wanting."

"Peres" (divided): "Your kingdom is to be broken up and given to the Persians."
At that very moment the Persians, the longtime rivals of Babylon, were entering the "impregnable" city. History records that Cyrus and his field commander Darius diverted the course of the Euphrates and, guided by two deserters, marched their army through the dry river-bed into the very heart of the vast city. Because of carelessness -- or perhaps the festive atmosphere of the evening -- the watchmen had left open and unattended the river gates opening into the city. Unimpeded, the Persians stormed the palace, where they slaughtered Belshazzar and his lords in their drunken and confused stupor -- as Jeremiah had prophesied years before:

"In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they ray rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the Lord" (Jer 51:39,57).
The warnings in this incident for our modern world are pointed. "Babel" (Gen 11), or "Babylon", has always designated, in Scripture, idolatrous and tyrannical powers, powers odious to God. From the beginning it was a place where men gathered to rebel against God, building a tower to mark their great accomplishments, and as a means of worshipping themselves. The name itself means "confusion'', for there God confounded the languages of those first proud men; ever since, "Babylon" has stood for the confusion of this unenlightened world, which cares not to retain God in its knowledge (Rom 1:28).

In short, our modern world is "Babylon", in all its forms: There is a religious "Babylon" (usually identified as a great false church in interpretations of Revelation) that, by its erroneous teachings and its near-deification of its leader, denies in reality the one true God, while figuratively drinking from the "vessels" of His house. There are political "Babylon", that afflict and oppress God's people Israel, and brutally stifle all free expression of the individual, religious and otherwise. And there are "Babylonian"' societies (like our own!) that ignore God and His claims while exalting man, building "towers" of human accomplishments, and degrading the higher aspirations of man's spirit in debauchery and trivial pleasure-seeking.

The fall of Babylon is not just an obscure Sunday-school story. It is a parable of the impending fate of our modern world. Notice that in Rev 16, "Armageddon" and the second coming of Christ are accompanied by another drying up of the "Euphrates" (v 12), and the remembrance by God of great Babylon, "to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath" (v 19). The next two chapters of Revelation detail the fall of modern "Babylon" in all its religious, political, and commercial splendor, so that -- finally –- "the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (19:6)!

If in fact history is soon to be re-enacted on a grand scale, what are God's servants to do in the meanwhile? Surely they should stand in spirit with Daniel, who boldly proclaimed to a wicked Babylon that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom men'' (Daniel 4:17,25; 5:21), and that one day He would take affairs into His own hands. And they should attentively observe the "handwriting on the wall" in these days, what Jesus called "the signs of the times", that foretell divine judgments on a wicked world. As they hear of "wars and rumors of wars", economic distress, Middle East turmoil, and "third world" instability, they are not to despair, as do others, but to lift up their heads in anticipation of coming redemption (Luke 21:25-28).

Cyrus the Persian conqueror captured the gate and then the city of Babylon. It was said prophetically of Christ that, as Abraham's seed, he would "possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen 22; 17). It cannot be said how that Christ has possessed the gate of his enemies, for wicked and ungodly men still rule the world.

But when the kingdom of God is about to be established, Christ will subdue all world kingdoms as surely as Cyrus subdued ancient Babylon:

"He shall break them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Psa 2:9).

"Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle" (Zec 14:3).

"He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth" (Psa 72:8).
Then shall this world proclamation be made for all peoples to know and accept:

"The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord; and of His Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev 11:15).
Paul said that the gospel encompasses the blessing of all nations in Abraham's seed (Gal 3:8), and that by "Abraham's seed" he meant the singular seed Christ (v 16). First this blessing applies to individuals, and the true gospel has been preached in many nations for the repentance of faith. But the blessing of all nations has not yet been accomplished, for we see the nations still subjected to wicked and cruel rulers. In some countries there is an appearance of good government, but underneath we see sadly that it is rottenness and corruption, the will and lusts of the flesh in absolute control. There is no true fear of God with most world leaders, but mere lip service only.

All nations are not now blessed in Abraham and his seed Christ, but they will be:

"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness and princes shall rule in judgment... the eyes of them that see shall not be dim and the ears of them that hear shall hearken" (Isa 32:1-3).

"In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book: the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness" (Isa 29:13).

"Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isa 35:6).

"Many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord" (Zec 3:22).

"He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper... His name shall endure for ever. His name shall be continued as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed" (Psa 72:12,17).
Modern political leaders, some no doubt with the best of intentions, proclaim "New Deals" and "Great Societies". But the true and lasting blessing of mankind can never come by human efforts. It can only come when "Babylon" is overthrown finally and for all time, and when the nations "learn righteousness" under the righteous rule of Christ.

Cyrus' conquest of Babylon was followed immediately by a decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its repopulation by the Jews (Ezra 1:1-4). In like manner, Jesus Christ's coming conquest of latter-day "Babylon" will signal a massive rebuilding of Jerusalem and Israel. Jews who have been persecuted and scattered across the face of the earth will return to Israel to be incorporated into what Micah the prophet calls "the first dominion" of God's kingdom (Mic 4:8), which will be the kingdom of Israel restored (Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-21), but on an immensely grander scale than before. This rill be facilitated by the righteous rule of Christ and the immortalized saints. The law of God will go forth from a revitalized Jerusalem, backed up God's power in His glorified "children". War and turmoil and famine and unrest will in short order be things of the past (Isa 2 :2-4).

And that lovely prophecy will be fulfilled at last:

"And there shall come forth a rod cut of the stern of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out or his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and night, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the reek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:1-9).
Surely, in our own day, the "handwriting is on the wall". The foundations of our world, weakened by a thousand minor tremors, will collapse utterly in the final great "earthquake". But for those who believe and trust in God, there is no fear in such a prospect, but only abiding hope.

"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets'' (Amos 3:7).
And because we can read and understand those "secrets" in God's Holy Book, we have no reason to fear, but every reason to rejoice, at the unfolding of His purpose with the nations.

"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until" the day dawn" (2Pe 1:19).
That new "day" will soon dawn, and with it will come changes unimaginable for those who have denied God in this present evil age. Now, before it is too late, while the divine warning may still be read on the printed page of Holy Scripture, let us take steps to insure our admittance into God's new world.

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