Memorial Day is uniquely an American experience. We pause on this day each year to remember those who expressed what our Lord referred to as “greater love” who “laid down their lives” for family, friends and freedom. One week after the Pearl Harbor attack then President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Those who long enjoy such privileges that we enjoy forget in time that others have died to win them.” Freedom is never really free; it is most always bought with the blood of patriots.
The biggest battle Americans are waging today is a battle for the very soul of a nation. We see it manifested in a myriad of ways every day. The erosion of a culture is a slow process but we have seen it accelerate rapidly in the past few short years. In the broader picture it continues to erode whether there is a Democrat or a Republican sitting in the Oval Office. We have today what we tolerated yesterday. And, we will inherit tomorrow what we tolerate today.
History has its own way of repeating itself down through the centuries. In his day, in the midst of a Babylonian culture, Daniel saw much of what we seem to be seeing today. Yet, his situation was even worse. We read in the fifth chapter of Daniel of the collapse of a culture. They had felt so smug and secure within the confines of their strong walls. But, they crumbled from within. Babylon made four major mistakes. They lost all sense of remembrance. They lost all sense of reality. They lost all sense of restraint. And, they lost all sense of respect. On this Memorial Day may we be challenged to call our people to repentance and to acknowledge that “all is vain unless the Spirit” comes down upon us.
The Danger of Losing All Sense of Remembrance
“…the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men…but you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven…” (Daniel 5:18-23)
Belshazzar’s problem was the same as many today. This King of Babylon had forgotten some of the valuable lessons from the past. He had forgotten lessons like his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had learned the hard way. Lessons like, “Those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Pride is most often the predecessor to destruction. Daniel gives us a pertinent insight when he challenges the king with the accusation that “you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven.” To “lift one’s self up” means to boast, to elevate, and to lift up. This is exactly what Belshazzar had been doing, that is, boasting about himself. He picked up right where King Nebuchadnezzar left off, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty (Daniel 4:30)?”
Pride always leads to a fall. It is right up there at the top of the list of those things which God hates. Just ask Lucifer about this. Ask Adam and Eve. Ask King David. Ask Simon Peter. Yes, “Those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Our own nation once honored God unashamedly and openly. The truth of this is etched in numerous marble monuments all over the nation’s capital. It is carved in granite on many of the government buildings we hold dear. It is printed on our currency. We once credited Him with our blessings and our successes and turned to Him in our trials and our losses. But today, we, like Babylon, seem to have lost a sense of remembrance. President Woodrow Wilson said, “A nation that does not remember what it
was yesterday does not know what it is today, or what it is trying to do. We are about a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.”
In some ways we have forgotten our past. What was it about America that made her so great and caused men and women from the nations of the world to risk their lives and fortunes to make her their home? Is there something about America that distinguishes us from our neighbors to the north and south? Canada was settled by French explorers who were looking for gold. Mexico was settled by Spanish explorers who were also looking for gold. America was settled by men and women who came here primarily looking for God. They came searching for a home where the Lord Jesus could be exalted and worshiped in spirit, freedom and truth.
This became blatantly apparent when they penned the charters of those original thirteen colonies. They left their motivations for founding these colonies for all posterity to read and remember. Rhode Island was chartered in 1683 with the following words inscribed in her charter, “We submit our persons, our lives and our estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and absolute laws given us in His Holy Word.” In Maryland their charter read that they were “formed by a pious zeal to extend the Christian gospel.” Not to be outdone, their neighbors in Delaware wrote in their charter that they were “formed for the further propagation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And up in Connecticut they expressed in their charter that their colony’s purpose was “to preserve the purity of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” With talk of someday adding Washington, D.C. as a 51st state, I wonder how different her charter might read?
We have come a long way today. We have diverted from our founders’ path so far that it is now common to see the federal courts repeatedly doing such things as restricting manger scenes from city squares and removing ten commandment displays from government buildings. Except those, I might add, where they are carved in granite like the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. itself.
Unfortunately, there are some alarming similarities between ancient Babylon and modern America. There is an expensive price to pay when any nation loses all sense of remembrance of who they are or from whence they have come.
The Danger of Losing All Sense of Reality
“Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand.” (Daniel 5:1)
In order to understand how the king had lost all sense of reality around him, it must be remembered that outside the city walls of Babylon, the Medes and the Persians were encamped besieging the city. But inside, Belshazzar is partying. Here is presumption personified. The Babylonians began to think that because of their history of dominance and their strong walls they were invincible and indestructible. Those great walls stretched for sixty miles in circumference. But everywhere you looked along the top of them now you saw the enemy surrounding the city. But, no problem, they thought. After all, the walls were so high and thick they were impossible to penetrate and a twenty-year supply of rations lay inside.
So, what did Belshazzar do? He lost all sense of reality. He threw a big party and invited thousands of guests to his drunken orgy. His confidence was in the physical. His was an impregnable city, at least, so he thought. So he partied when destruction was at his door. It is often in those times when we feel most secure in our own strength that peril is most imminent and danger is most near.
While the armies of Cyrus encircled the city, Belshazzar, at the moment of his greatest danger, thought he could party his troubles away. He is a picture of many today who think that because they have gotten away with it before they will do so forever. This king was too blind and drunk on his own success to realize that the strength of a kingdom, or an individual, is never on the outside but on the inside. Babylon soon fell because they had become corrupt on the inside with no more sense of remembrance or reality.
Some in our own Babylon seem to think our walls are impregnable, that somehow God needs America to carry out His plan on earth. After all, we have won all the world wars, the cold war is over, and we seem to be the only real superpower still standing in the world today. But, I believe God is saying to us today, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he also fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Like those in ancient Babylon, we are so often prone to think we, too, are invincible. But, remember the judgment of God came to Judah and she was called the “apple of His eye.” There was a time when Israel was, herself, the world’s only superpower. She was one nation under God. Her motto was “In God we trust.” King David and King Solomon took her to superpower status. God gave her a land, a law, and a Lord.
Three thousand years after King David, God birthed another nation. God gave us a land. He gave us a law built and based on Israel’s ancient commandments. And, He gave us a Lord to love and to live under. Why should we think we, too, are invincible when we lose our sense of remembrance and reality? Of Babylon, God said, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Daniel 5:26). Is it not time for us to remember who we are and from whence we have come? Is it not time for us to recapture the reality of what is taking place around us and truly pray, “God forgive us and God bless America” again?
The Danger of Losing all Sense of Restraint
“While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.” (Daniel 5:2)
When a nation, or an individual, loses all sense of remembrance and reality, it follows that they also lose all sense of restraint. The Babylonians were too blind to see any correlation between moral decay and national decline. Does this sound familiar at all? Daniel 5:2 describes what the Old Testament politely calls “concubines.” These were women who were kept for the king’s pleasure for the purpose of sexual gratification and additional procreation. Our nation, like Babylon, has been virtually given over to sexual permissiveness and perversions of all types.
There is not enough time to describe by way of illustration the various depictions of graphic sexual perversion that infiltrate this modern western culture twenty-four/seven through movies, television, print media, Internet and the like. In his book, Our Dance Has Turned to Death, Carl Wilson chronicles the pattern of decline of the Greco-Roman culture. He observes that first, men began to cease to lead their own families in spiritual and moral development. Next, they neglected their wives and children in pursuit of material wealth and power. This was followed by men becoming so preoccupied with business ventures that they began to ignore their wives and become involved with other women outside the home. Thus, their wives began to seek their own worth and value outside the home and marriage laws eventually made divorce easier to come by. Then, because male and female role models were no longer prominent in the home, the children developed identity problems of their own. Finally, this left many children unwanted and, for the most part, undisciplined. I do not believe we need much in the way of application at this point. Now, two thousand years later, it is strangely descriptive of another culture we know all too well.
Belshazzar and the Babylonians had lost all sense of restraint. And, not just morally. Here we also see them in a spiritual debacle. They took what God called “Holy,” the vessels of the temple, and desecrated them for their own godless satisfaction. God is still serious about anyone anywhere desecrating what He calls holy. God is weighing us on His balance today and I fear we, too, are being found wanting. Have we, too, lost all sense of restraint?
The Danger of Losing All Sense of Respect
“Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” (Daniel 5:3-4)
Look at this crumbling culture of Babylon. Nothing was sacred to them anymore. Because they had abandoned all absolutes, it naturally followed that there were no restraints and, when restraints are left behind, then there is found no respect for anything that is sacred. It was party time in Babylon.
Then an amazing thing happens. “The fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lamp stand on the plaster of the wall” (Daniel 5:5). The king sobered up. His “knees knocked against each other” (Daniel 5:7). Into the party hall comes Daniel (Daniel 5:13). He was not at the party. Most people do not want the man of God around when the liquor is flowing and the women are present. But, when the writing is on the wall, when the crisis comes, they no longer want their immoral friends and drinking buddies, they are looking for someone who can tell them what this means.
Daniel looked around the scene. The shouting and drinking and sex had come to a stop. A strange silence filled the banquet hall. People looked as if they were frozen in time. The sacred vessels were scattered around the tables. Daniel was the only one in that ballroom who was calm. He then did what every preacher should do. He took the Word that came from God and without fear or favor simply revealed to them all of what God had said. This is still the preacher’s responsibility to this very day.
Listen to Daniel as he stands before them. Before he interpreted the handwriting on the wall, he preached a sermon to them with three points. First, there was a word about power. Daniel reminded Belshazzar that King Nebuchadnezzar’s power came from God (Daniel 5:18-19). Second, there was a word about pride. Daniel reminded the king that Nebuchadnezzar lost his kingdom because of pride (Daniel 5:20). Third, there was a word about punishment (Daniel 5:21). King Nebuchadnezzar was punished until he came to realize that the “Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses”(Daniel 4:32).
Next, Daniel applied the text. “You have not humbled yourself, although you knew all this” (Daniel 5:22). He said, “King Belshazzar, you knew about the power, the pride, and the punishment.” Yet, sadly, he had lost all sense of remembrance, reality, restraint and respect.
When, and if, we forget these things ourselves, then we become blind to the fact that, like Babylon, our problems are not primarily political, economic or social. The decline of any nation has its roots in spiritual factors. All the other issues are simply symptomatic.
Back to the banquet. The hall is hushed. Daniel now reveals the handwriting on the wall. “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” (Daniel 5:25). Daniel digs into the lexical roots of these words in order to reveal the three elements involved in the sinner’s doom. Numbered. Weighed. Separated. The end of opportunity, the Judgment, eternity.
Mene is from Aramaic meaning “numbered.” That is, your number is up, your time has run out, you are finished, it is over. There are no more opportunities and no more second chances. And that is the way it happens. Suddenly. The finger of God writes on the wall, “Mene,” when we least expect it. Yes, even in the midst of partying our way through life. Mene…your number is up.
Tekel is a word meaning “to weigh.” The word picture is of a scale with God’s standard on one side and you on the other. But you are too light. You do not measure up. God’s standard is the law. Who of us has not been measured on this scale and found wanting apart from the righteousness of Christ in our behalf?
Upharsin means “to break into two pieces, to separate, to divide.” The Lord was always doing this. He separated, divided, the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the tares.
Note the scene that evening in Babylon. The ballroom was now a scene of fright and terror but there was one figure who stood in perfect peace. There was no fright on his face and no concern on his countenance. He knew well the very One who had written on the wall. The Day of Judgment holds no fear for those, like Daniel, who know the Living God.
Daniel, chapter five, concludes with these very words, “That very night Belshazzar…was slain and Darius, the Mede, received the kingdom” (Daniel 5:30-31). Yes, “that very night.” While Babylon had partied with no sense of restraint or remembrance, the armies of the Medes and the Persians diverted the Euphrates into swampland and the Persian army marched right into the city through the dry river bed that ran under the city walls and took the city.
God’s judgment is sure. There are no walls high enough or thick enough to prevent a man, or a nation, from falling when God writes, “Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” on the wall.
Who really knows how close we might be to that word, “Mene,” our time is up, our number is up? Or, who knows how close we might be to “Tekel,” weighed in the balance and found wanting? Or, “Upharsin?” The kingdom is divided and separated from you.
Few nations have had a history like America. For over two hundred years we have been as a shining light to the world in many respects. We have been a launch pad to take the gospel literally to the very ends of the earth. We often hear people say, “God is our only hope.” But, I wonder if God might not be our
biggest threat! What is there about America that should offer us a special dispensation that neither Babylon nor even Ancient Israel were given?
There is a last night for every nation, and for every individual. In light of eternity what is the kingdom of Babylon or any other nation compared to the kingdom forfeited by men and women without Christ who shall be weighed and found wanting? Since our days are numbered, should we not sense the urgency to exchange our own righteousness for the righteousness of Christ through the new birth that we might not be found wanting in that day?
America has had some proud moments but none finer than that foggy morning of June 6, 1944. Those American boys approached the French coast at low tide. In wave after wave after wave they stormed the beaches of Normandy. Within one month over one million Allied troops had filled Europe and brought an end to the diabolical and murderous grip of Hitler’s Germany. But, when we think about it, that was not the original D-Day. I once heard Max Lucado, the master wordsmith, in telling this story put it like this — “God established his own beachhead in Bethlehem. He triumphed over the strongest enemy. He used a woman, a baby, and a Bethlehem feeding trough.” Christ is our hope!
On this Memorial Day, as we remember those who gave so much for the freedoms we enjoy today, may we be reminded anew that, in the words of Daniel, “The Most High still rules over the affairs of men” (Daniel 4:32). And, may we bow our hearts and our knees before Him...and may God bless America!