The Finger of God
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The Finger of God

Daniel 5:1–31  (ID: 3111)

In Daniel 5, another pagan king, Belshazzar, reigned over Babylon, and in the midst of a lush banquet, he was confronted by the hand of God. Despite his knowledge of God’s power and dealings with Nebudchadnezzar, Belshazzar refused to humble himself before God’s throne, and it cost him his life. Alistair Begg reminds us that there is no refuge from God except the refuge found in God. Although all stand condemned in sin, Christ offers forgiveness and protection to those who humble themselves before His goodness and power.

Series Containing This Sermon

Faith Under Fire

Daniel 1:1–6:28 Series ID: 12702

Sermon Transcript: Print

Let’s read the Bible from Daniel chapter 5:

“King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.” Repetition.

“Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, 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, iron, wood, and stone.

“Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.’ Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.

“The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, ‘O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.’

“Then Daniel was brought in before the king.”

And I leave you to read the rest on your own if you haven’t already done so.

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, when we begin a new chapter, it is important that we pay attention to the chapter that has just ended and the way in which it has ended. You will notice 4:37, as Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that God, “the King of heaven,” in “all [of] his works” he is “right … his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” And it is, of course, an explanation of the reality of that that then follows here in chapter 5.

It’s important to keep in mind—hence my repetition—that the audience for this book was primarily people first of all, at least, who were exiles, who were understandably fearful of the power of the force that held them in its grips, and they then were looking beyond themselves to find security in an environment that, for them, was pretty chaotic and unsure and uncertain.

And I think we’ve said on each occasion that it’s not hard for us to realize that as we, part of the larger church of Jesus Christ throughout the world, identify with our brothers and sisters—the many, many thousands who today are under threat of death on account of their own faith—and some of us, at a sublevel, find ourselves destabilized by the possibilities of external attack, internal collapse, government interference, persecution, terrorist cells, and all of these different elements, then we, like the exiles from Judah, as exiles in a world that is broken, need again to hear this message.

And so, in chapter 5 we have the record of this man Belshazzar. His name actually means “O God, protect me”—“O Bel, protect me,” which is an irony in itself. And he is not actually the physical son of Nebuchadnezzar. His father was Nabonidus, and there have been three or four kings between the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the arrival of Belshazzar on the scene. It was seventy years earlier that Nebuchadnezzar had brought these vessels that are referred to here in the opening section out of the temple of God, out of the house of God, and had stolen them away.

In Ezra, in the opening chapter of Ezra, Ezra tells us that the number of these vessels was vast. He records that there were some 5,400 of these vessels.[2] So it’s not as if he brought some cutlery or a couple of wine glasses. It was a wholesale raiding of the temple of God, and the symbols of the honoring of God and the sanctity of the name of God were all gathered up, stolen, brought away, and put in the temple of the Babylonian gods as a signal to the people that “our Babylonian gods are stronger than that God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, he couldn’t even protect his own vessels, he apparently couldn’t protect his own people, and here we have them on display for everybody to see.”

“It’s My Party, and I’ll Drink If I Want To”

I wrote in my notes as a heading—and I have a number of headings I’ll perhaps tell you as I go along to try and trace my line through—my first heading was, putting it in the mouth of Belshazzar, “It’s My Party, and I’ll Drink If I Want To.” And I thought that that was a fairly apt summary of what we have before us here. It’s a similar scene to the banquet scene in the book of Esther, where you will remember that the king, Xerxes, on that occasion gets more than a little tipsy, gets way beyond himself, and decides that it is a wonderful opportunity for him to parade his wife as if it was a kind of fashion display amongst all of his friends who’d been drinking with him at the banquet. She, of course, refuses, and then the story unfolds from there.[3]

Well, the queen in this instance, I think, is the queen mother. You can research that on your own. But it is in this context that this individual, Belshazzar, has not simply taken these things from the storehouse, but he has now employed them in a way that simply denigrates their significance. That’s what it really means. You wouldn’t do this with these things, not if you cared about why they were there and to whom they belonged.

And so it is that not only are they drinking out of them, but as, presumably, they get a little more jazzed, they then use the opportunity to praise the gods of gold, and of silver, and of bronze, and of iron, and of wood, and of stone. And you can picture the sort of uncontrollable scene as it begins to develop as the evening goes on: a large crowd of people—a thousand people, which is a round number for a really big group of people—and he’s in his position of great authority and significance, and he leads the people in the charge. He has his wives there, he has his concubines there, and everybody would have looked, as it were, up at the top table and said, “My oh my, oh, to be Belshazzar! What an amazing thing it is! So powerful, so magnificent, so vastly wealthy! Such a great and an amazing king!”

Incidentally, we’re told by the historians that under normal circumstances the king and his immediate entourage would actually have been sequestered from the main crowd, a bit like when you go to these political junkets. You know, you’re invited to go; for $10,000 you can get in the garden, for $20,000 you can get in the house, for $25,000 you can have a photograph, for $50,000 you might actually see the person, and for $100,000 you might be able to have a little bit of dessert with him. Well, that was the kind of approach that they had then. So for the king to come out and go mainstream was in many ways an expression of his complete abandon. He was glad to be seen in this way. He was glad to do these things. “It’s my party, and I’ll drink if I want to.”

“’Tis Written by His Finger”

Secondly, I wrote down, quoting Luther, “’Tis Written by His Finger.” “’Tis Written by His Finger.” Because verse 5 says, “Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared.” Remember Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and the lines,

God’s word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
’Tis written [with] his finger.[4]

And Luther is simply picking up on the anthropomorphism which is part and parcel of the biblical record.

You don’t have to look very far for it. You remember in the plagues of Egypt, the magicians at one point say to Pharaoh concerning the plague of gnats, which they have endeavored to deal with unsuccessfully, they say to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”[5] Of course, God does not have a finger. It’s an anthropomorphism. Moses is then given two tablets upon which are given the Ten Commandments, which are “written with the finger of God.”[6] The psalmist looks out on a beautiful scene like this, presumably, and he says, “And when I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, which you have ordained…”[7]

So you’ve got this amazing juxtaposition, don’t you? We’ve got this man Belshazzar, who, in front of a thousand, is apparently in control of the whole world: “I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation.”[8] And it only takes the movement of God’s little finger to completely change the scene in its entirety.

That’s what it says: “Immediately… ” “Immediately the fingers…” Cause and effect. God is a patient God, but his patience is not limitless. And “immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster … opposite the lampstand. And the king [seeing] the hand as it wrote” was completely freaked out. That’s the Begg paraphrase. His “color changed,” presumably to a whiter shade of pale, “his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way,” he was completely unhinged, “his knees knocked together.”

It’s a pathetic scene, isn’t it? Pathétique, à la France. It is pathetic! It defines pathetic. I don’t know what it must have been like for him. As I was pondering this again this morning and thinking about it—and I don’t want to play off this as if to… I say this with the greatest respect. But it made me think of that dreadful scene back, now, in 1992, when George, forty-first president, remember, was on a ten-day trip to Japan. And in Tokyo, at a banquet given in his honor, he threw up on the table. And then there is video on YouTube where all of a sudden he disappears and slides under the table. That’s not a good look for the leader of the free world! Any caring person’s heart went out to him in that. But my heart doesn’t really go out to old Belshazzar here in the same way. I mean, he’s getting his comeuppance on this one.

Can I say this in a mixed audience? What it actually says here in the Hebrew is he wet his pants. That’s how totally, totally trashed he was by what he saw. There’s nothing remotely funny in it, is there? You talk about striking a pose in front of your wives and your concubines and your invited guests!

So, we’re familiar with this now. His “color changed, … his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, … his knees knocked together.” And “the king called loudly to bring in”—here we go, our boys are coming! If I were setting this to music, I would have a little theme tune here. It’d be like [hums]. Something like that. Okay? And we would all know, “Here they come! They’re on their way. In they come!”

And “the king declared,” you know, here we go: you know, “If you can pull this one off, you’ll get a really nice outfit, another big gold chain, and number three in the kingdom.” And they all came in, they all had a look at it, and they all said, “Can’t be done.” And “then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed”—now he took it up even further—“and his color changed.” Who knows what his color is now? He has no color at all.

And then it says, “and his lords were perplexed.” Everybody knows, this is not good. Because remember, Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. You remember the king says, “And why are you looking sad, Nehemiah?”[9]—because no one had been sad in the king’s presence before. Why? Because sadness in the king’s presence was taboo. You don’t want to appear sad in case you’re up to something and they may just take your head off just because he doesn’t like the look of you. Everybody needs to be cheery for the king. But the “lords were perplexed.”

Even Big Kings Need to Listen to Their Mothers

Third heading in my notes: “Even Big Kings Need to Listen to Their Mothers.” “Even Big Kings Need to Listen to Their Mothers”—with a tribute, in passing, to the memory of my mother and to the role played by mothers in our world. Many things in life come in twos and threes, but you only get one mother in the world—only one mom in the whole world. Listen. Listen to your mothers. Listen to your mothers.

And he had to listen to his mother. And her access speaks to the fact that presumably she was, as I suggest, his mom. In fact, I’m hanging my heading on that fact. And she is able to speak directly to him.

She appears as a result of the noise and chaos that has been going on in the banqueting hall. It says there in verse 10 that “because of the words of the king and his lords”—he’s shouting, they’re responding—she “came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared,” good start, “‘O king, live forever!’” That’s nice. “‘Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change.’” Easy for you to say! Here we go: “‘There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.’”

You see how these pagans, they don’t know what to do with God’s man. It happens to us as well, isn’t it? The people don’t understand what it is about a true believer. They don’t understand what it means to have been invaded by God, to be filled with the Spirit of God, to be directed by the Word of God. And so they will often say those kind of things: “Oh,” whatever it is. This always happens to me on the golf course. If you hit a decent shot, they always say, “Aha! You see, there you go. That’s because you’re in touch with God.” And I always tell them, “No, God told me a long time ago, he has nothing at all to do with me on the golf course.” And my game makes that perfectly clear to everybody. But they just don’t know what to do.

“He is filled with the spirit of the holy gods. And in the days of your father,” she says, “he gave light and understanding.” And this Daniel is by now probably in his eighties. “There is a man in your kingdom. He has an excellent spirit. He has knowledge, he has understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, solve problems.” They “were found in … Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.” Amazing conviction on the part of the queen, isn’t it? “You go get Daniel. He’s God’s man. I can’t fully explain it, but I’m sure he’s your man.”

I don’t know where he was, and neither do you. We’re not told. In his eighties—maybe he’s walking his dog, you know? Who knows? Maybe he’s just sitting on a rocking chair. And they came and found him: “Hey Daniel! You still doing that riddle stuff?”

“I haven’t done it for a while.”

“Yeah, but you still have it in you? I mean, have you got an interpretation in you?”

“I don’t know. What’s the deal?”

“Well, Belshazzar’s completely freaked out up at the palace. There’s been a hand writing on the wall, his mother’s going nuts, and the whole thing is gone pear-shaped. And she suggested to the king that you come up there. Will you come up?”

“Yeah, well, give me a little chance. You might have to get a golf cart for me, because I’m not as able as I was, but yeah, I’ll get up there.”

Belshazzar Shows No Respect, Despite His Predicament

My next heading was “Belshazzar Shows No Respect, Despite His Predicament.” “Belshazzar Shows No Respect, Despite His Predicament.”

“Then Daniel was brought in before the king,” and “the king answered and said to Daniel, ‘You[’re] that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah.’” This is kind of demeaning, isn’t it? He doesn’t say, “You’re that Daniel, who’s able to interpret dreams and visions and riddles and all that kind of stuff.” He says, “You’re one of the riffraff that was brought in here when Nebuchadnezzar was in charge? I’ve heard of you.” Verse 14. “I’ve heard of you.” Although he probably said it like, “I have heard of you. I’ve heard that you give interpretations.” ’Cause by now, he’s not on his game, right? I mean, this guy is… Between the wine and the hand and the whole thing, he’s not like “Thank you for coming by, Daniel. It’s good to hear you and meet you.” No, this fella, I don’t think so.

“I[’ve] heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing[s]…” So he’s not absolutely convinced. His mother says, “If you bring him in, he’ll be able to do it.” He says, “Well, I’ve heard that you do this, and I know you’re one of the boys from of old. But if you can, then you get a new purple jumpsuit and a chain of gold around your neck, and you’ll be third in the ruler of the kingdom.”

It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? Arrogance is amazing! Arrogant people, I’ve discovered, are really arrogant. You see how clever I am, that I can figure stuff like that out. This fellow has started off with a great display of his majesty, he has been reduced to a quivering mass of humanity, he is now confronted by the servant of the Most High God, and he’s still arrogant. He’s still dismissive. Calvin says Belshazzar treats Daniel as if he were interviewing a prisoner.[10] The one person who holds out the possibility of an answer for him he continues to dismiss in this way. We often say, don’t we, “Can you believe that people react and act in that way?” Well, it is godlessness, the spirit of the age.

Straightforward Talk from Daniel

“Straightforward Talk from Daniel.” That’s my next heading. I don’t know if any of you are tracking with me, but “Straightforward Talk from Daniel.”

“Number one,” he says, “you can keep your stuff.” “I’ve had a lot of this stuff,” he says, you know. “I don’t need another purple jumpsuit, and frankly, I look like an Italian, all the chains hanging around my neck.” After Scotland, after America, Italy’s my favorite country and Italians are my favorite people. I say it with the greatest respect. It was just a little joke. “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another.” That’s number one, straight talk number one.

“[But] I will read the writing [on the wall].” And then—and this is part of the literary development of the story. And this is for those of you who do English and who do creative writing. You can learn from these Old Testament narratives. Because he is going to tell him, but then there is a delay. And the delay is there purposefully to provide a little history lesson that is necessary, but it also creates, in a literary sense, anticipation in the reader: “I will give you the interpretation.” “Okay, what is it?” “Well, hang on a minute.”

“The Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father [the] kingship and greatness and glory and majesty,” and so on. In other words, he says, “History is important, if you would’ve paid attention to it. God was the one who put your father in place, because he is the God who sets up kingdoms and who brings them down.” He is the God who Nebuchadnezzar, by the end of his time, acknowledges that he humbles those who walk in pride.[11] And he says, verse 19 and following—you can read it again for yourself—“And because of the greatness that he gave him, all [the] peoples, [and the] nations” and so on “trembled … before him.” If he wanted to kill somebody, he killed ’em. If he wanted to keep ’em alive, he kept ’em alive. Whatever he wanted to do: if he would raise them up, that would be fine, or humble them, that would be fine. “But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.” And then he continues along the line.

And in verse 23 he makes the point: “But you”—that is, “you, Belshazzar”—“you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.” And then he says, “And this is what you’ve done”: “The God,” verse 23, “in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.”

Now, this really is pivotal, isn’t it? “Even though,” says Daniel, “you know all this, you haven’t humbled your heart. You have simply vaunted your pride”—a pride that has then issued in sacrilege; a sacrilege displayed in the idolatry of he and his friends.

Pride is at the very heart of things, from the fall of Satan to the garden of Eden and beyond. Every pastoral collapse that I have observed in my thirty-two years here in America actually, if push comes to shove, may be traced to one thing: pride. Pride. Because the pastor has decided that because he’s preached it, he’s actually believed it and lived it. And unless he has believed it and lived it, then he has no right preaching it. He’d be better to be struck dumb than to be brought down as a result of the arrogance of his heart.

No, “You knew these things, but you haven’t humbled your heart. You’ve vaunted your pride.”

“From His Presence the Hand Was Sent”

And then, just three more. “From His Presence the Hand Was Sent.”

Verse 24: “Then from his presence, this God in whose hand is your breath, whose are all your ways… The only reason you have synovial fluid in your knee joints, Belshazzar, is because God is an amazing Creator. The only reason that you wake up in the morning and your eyelids open is because God not only created everything, but he sustains everything by his powerful word. And the God of heaven—from heaven this hand has appeared, and this writing has now been inscribed.” Three words, each used for a different weight, used on a scale for weighing precious metals: “mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter.” Not difficult to understand. He turns the nouns into verbs: “numbered,” “weighed,” “divided.” “Numbered: your days are numbered. Not just your days but the days of the kingdom. God has numbered them, he’s bringing them to an end. Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. You just are completely on the wrong side of the equation. And your kingdom is divided and is given to the Medes and the Persians.”

God Keeps His Word

Now, how much of a pause there is for breath in between verse 28 and 29 I don’t know. But my next heading—and it’s just a heading with nothing attaching to it—was simply that I noted that Belshazzar is a man of his word. Credit where credit’s due. I don’t know about you, but if I’d been through this ordeal, and I’d brought this fellow in, and this was the best he could do and give me this kind of report, I might just have had his head taken off, if I was Belshazzar, just for the fun of it—just as a reaction, a knee-jerk reaction. It’s quite remarkable: “Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel” got the new outfit, got the new position, got the proclamation throughout the kingdom.

But then I wrote down in my notes, “God keeps his word too.” And “that very night,” you will notice—“that very night,” verse 30, “Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.” What God said would happen happened. Was there time for repentance? Did Belshazzar, in the ensuing hours, minutes, moments, fall down on his face and acknowledge that God is God? We don’t know. But we do know that he died.

When you read the ancient sources, the record there says that the Medo-Persian army, in its invasion, directed water from the Euphrates—water which ran underneath the walls and into the city—they directed it into a marshland, making it possible for their soldiers to wade through the shallow water, down the riverbed, under the wall, into the city, into the palace. And they killed the king. Belshazzar means “O Bel”—Bel being Marduk, the big deity of Babylon—“O Bel, protect the king.” What an irony. There was no protection.

You see, there is no refuge from God except the refuge that is found in God. There is no way to run and hide from him. All we can do is run to him. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are saved.”[12]

Well, we’re done, aren’t we? It’s time. It’s 10:19—10:13! I have a few minutes. Beautiful. Beautiful.

There is no refuge from God except the refuge that is found in God. There is no way to run and hide from him. All we can do is run to him.

Once again, what an encouragement for the fearful exiles. One of my friends was saying to me the other morning, “You know, these are great stories, but what about all the white space? What about all the stuff we don’t know about, all the routine?” And I’ve been thinking about that ever since. It’s true, isn’t it? We’ve got the high peaks, as it were, the dramatic moments of this apocalyptic. But meanwhile, moms and dads and grandparents and so on were going about their business. They were getting up in the morning as exiles and living as exiles and doing what they did, and praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “O God, help us. Help us be true to you. Help us to hold the line. Help us not to be completely undone by the pressures that are about us as the result of the interference of those who are our oppressors.”

So presumably, if we had been there, we would have, when we went for the equivalent of coffee in the morning down to the local Starbucks, we would have found somebody in there saying, “Did you hear about last night?”

And we would have said, “Last night? No, I didn’t hear about last night.”

“Oh, yeah, big banquet up at the palace. Amazing! Fantastic! Yeah, one of my friends, he works in there on security.”

“Well, there’s nothing unusual in that, is it?”

“Wait a minute, I haven’t told you the whole story. Belshazzar became a walking nightmare. I mean, they said that—well, I can’t even tell you what they said! But he was a goner. And, you know, he’s dead.”

“He’s dead?”

And some wisecrack from over the corner says, “Well, so what, he’s dead? There’ll be another one just as bad as him that’ll come around. We’ll still be stuck here.” There’s always a happy fellow, you know, to pick it up. Can’t have a moment to rejoice in the fact that the one guy’s dead, somebody says, “Yeah, there’ll be another one right behind. Don’t you worry,” you know. Which, of course, is perfectly true—and another one behind him, and another one behind him, and fast-forward all the way down for these miserable kings.

And “now,” says Matthew, “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem … in the days of Herod the king … there came wise men from the east”[13]—the Chaldeans, the enchanters, the scribblers, these people that don’t know what’s going on: “Where you going?”

“I don’t know. I’m going. Yeah.”

“What are you following?”

“Well, it’s up… No, it’s up there.”

“Well, let’s just keep going.”

And eventually they arrive: “Hey, fellas what are you looking for?”

“I’m looking for the king.”

“There’s a king? Hmm. I don’t like kings. I don’t like the sound of that,” said Herod. “Why don’t you track him down and come back and let me know, ’cause I’d like to worship him as well.” And furious, furious, a handmaiden of Satan seeks to destroy the work of God in its infancy by the slaughter of the innocents.[14]

Time elapses. John the Baptist says, “You think what I’m doing’s good? Wait till you see this guy. I baptize with water; he baptizes with the Holy Spirit.[15] He actually is going to do things that you have never, ever imagined would take place.” And Jesus is then immediately confronted by Satan in the wilderness.[16] He is then confronted by the demons. He is then confronted by sickness and illness and everything else. And remember what he says? “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”[17] Of course it is by the finger of God, by the very hand of God! Here he is!

You see, loved ones, either Jesus really is incarnate God, or he’s not! And if he is, then he must be reckoned with. And if he’s not, then we are each engaged in the biggest religious con trick that the world has ever seen. We are not just fastening onto a religious notion which we’re happy to secure for ourselves, and others may do what they please.

We are going to our Jewish friends and saying to them, “Do you know that there is an end to your story—that Jesus is Yeshua, he is the Messiah of God? Can we tell you about him? You believe he isn’t. I believe he is. We can’t both be right.”

To our Muslim friends, whether we meet them in taxis or whether they are doing obstetrics for our daughters and our granddaughters, we say to them, “We have so many things in common with you in terms of family and moral purity and the notion of a God. But do you know that Jesus paid the penalty for sin and that the symbol is not scales but is actually a cross broken under the feet of a triumphant and resurrected Jesus? You say this isn’t true. You say it’s scales. We say it’s a cross. We can’t both be right.”

To our Hindu friends, when we meet them on the ski slopes or whatever else it is, or the Buddhists with no god at all, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and his birthday cakes that he can’t eat because he can’t get a gown big enough to cover him if he eats all the cakes—all of those people, we’re going to them in kindness and in love to say, “Listen, we’re staking our eternal destiny on the fact that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” And that makes a difference to everything. Everything! Our view of politics, our view of history, our view of science, our view of life—everything!

Loved ones, I hope this is helpful to you. I hope that we can bow down underneath this.

Do you remember Khrushchev and his shoe? You remember him banging that shoe? Funny little man. I used to worry that the Russians were going to fire one at us. Those were the good days, when the Polaris submarines were in the Holy Loch of Scotland, when the Western alliance was preserved, as it were, when we understood what was going on. I don’t worry about that anymore. No, I just worry about what airport I’m in, what terminal I’m standing in, what street corner I’m on, what marathon I’m trying to run in. Do you worry about that? What about North Korea, if it arms? What about Iran? What about ISIS? What about the horrible, immoral revolution that we have lived through in the last fifty years? What about the fact that our country is upside down morally? What are you gonna do? You’re gonna read Daniel. And you’re gonna remind yourself of what we’ve been saying repetitively, admittedly, but purposefully.

I’m now finishing with two quotes from the Psalms that came to my mind again this morning. That’s not a rhetorical device, incidentally, for those of you who are saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m sure that’s the way he closes: he says, ‘It came to mind this morning.’” No. No. No, no, no. It came to mind this morning.

Incidentally, the verse that came to mind this morning is the verse that Byron Nelson carved on individual pieces of wood which he gave to all the members of the United States Ryder Cup team when they went to play at the K Club in Dublin. And every one of them, Tiger and the rest, were given a little piece of wood. Yeah, they got a Rolex watch. They got a bunch of stuff. There’s no question about that. They had all the business. But he said he wanted them all to have this verse. Psalm 18:29: “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.”

Now, he gave it to them to turn their thoughts to the Psalms, not to tell them that this was a mechanism whereby they could win the Ryder Cup. ’Cause they didn’t!

This God—his way is perfect;
 the word of the Lord proves true;
 he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.[18]

“By my God I can run through a troop. With God’s help I can jump over a wall.” Well, some of us are having have difficulty just jumping down off a wall, let alone jumping over a wall. But there’s a word of encouragement.

And the last verse, actually, is two verses from Psalm 118. And I always remember this because my boss, when I was in Edinburgh, he gave a little talk on this, and it’s stayed with me ever since. The psalmist says,

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
 but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my song;
 [and] he has become my salvation.[19]

Some of us can identify with that progression, and some of us are actually here, and we’re pushed hard—we’re not necessarily talking about what’s really involved—but pushed hard, falling, helped, strengthened, singing, saved. Psalm 118:13–14.

You say, “Well, that was a good talk. Why didn’t you do that one instead of Daniel chapter 5? It would have been a lot quicker.” There’s always another year.

Pushed hard, falling, helped, strengthened, singing, saved. The story of the exiles. The story of all the exiles. Our story in a destabilized world.

Well, Father, thank you again for the truth of your Word, and grant that that which is of yourself may find a resting place in our hearts. I pray for some of us who actually are pushed hard at the moment—the external vicissitudes of life, the things that are going on inside of us, perhaps with our families, whatever it might be. Lord, we pray that we might, in confidence and in childlike faith, take our stand, as we sang this morning. By faith we will look to the future. By faith we will rest in your promises.

Be with us now in the hours of this day. Bless the word that has been spoken to the little ones and the young people as the day unfolds. May great grace be upon us all. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] See Ezra 1:11.

[3] See Esther 1:1–12.

[4] Martin Luther, trans. Thomas Carlyle, “A Safe Stronghold” (1529, 1831).

[5] Exodus 8:19 (ESV).

[6] Exodus 31:18 (ESV).

[7] Psalm 8:3 (paraphrased).

[8] Richard L. Carpenter and John Bettis, “Top of the World” (1972).

[9] Nehemiah 2:2 (paraphrased).

[10] John Calvin, Commentary on Daniel, Daniel 5:13.

[11] See Daniel 4:37.

[12] Proverbs 18:10 (paraphrased).

[13] Matthew 2:1 (KJV).

[14] See Matthew 2:8, 16.

[15] Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8 (paraphrased).

[16] See Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13.

[17] Luke 11:20 (ESV).

[18] Psalm 18:30 (ESV).

[19] Psalm 118:13–14 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.