the Second Week of Lent
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
NEVER did a military commander attempt a more impossible task than Cyrus attempted when he sat down before Babylon to blockade it. For Babylon was indeed 'Babylon the Great.' Babylon was great in size, in fortified strength, in wide dominion, in wealth, in every kind of resource, and in her proud defiance of all her enemies. But then, to set over against all that, Cyrus was a soldier of the foremost military genius: and, besides that, Almighty God was with Cyrus, and was against Belshazzar.
That was an high day in all the temples and palaces of Babylon. It was the day that Bel had made, and all Babylon was in public worship before Bel their god. And as an evening sacrifice to Bel, a great feast was to be held in Belshazzar's palace that night. But before the sunset, and to prepare his proud heart for his great banquet, Belshazzar rode out in his royal chariot that afternoon on that splendid chariot-drive that his famous father, Nebuchadnezzar, had built round about Babylon. The wall of Babylon was the wonder of the world. The wall of Babylon reached unto heaven; and such a mighty rampart was that wall round the city, that no less than four royal chariots were driven abreast on the top of the wall that afternoon, and all in the sight of Cyrus lying below. And as Belshazzar saw Cyrus and his thin red line lying round the mighty fortress, he mocked at Cyrus, and all Belshazzar's princes laughed with him at that spider's thread laid round a sleeping lion. It was a dazzling spectacle at Belshazzar's supper-table that night. All the grandeur, all the wealth, all the princely blood, and all the beauty of Babylon, drank wine at the king's table, and praised the gods of Babylon. When, just as Belshazzar lifted to his lips that cup of the Lord, which had been carried captive out of the temple of Jerusalem, a man's hand suddenly came out and wrote a writing on the wall over against the king's candlestick. But what is that writing on the wall? Neither the king nor any of his Chaldeans can either read the writing or understand the interpretation thereof. Till Daniel is brought in,-'Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet will I read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. God hath numbered thy kingdom. Thou art weighed in the balances. And thy kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.' And while Daniel was yet speaking to Belshazzar, Jehovah was at that same moment saying to Cyrus, 'Thou art Mine anointed, and I will loose the loins of kings, and will open before thee the two-leaved gates. I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron. I will say to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up the rivers. I am the Lord, and there is none else.' And Cyrus arose, and lifted up the great sluices that he had made in secret, and the Euphrates flowed away into the new bed that Cyrus had dug for it, till the former bed of the river became the broad and open way by which Cyrus led his men into the revelling city. And that night was Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, slain.
Belshazzar's grave is made,
His kingdom's passed away,
He, in his balance laid,
Is light and worthless clay.
The shroud his robe of state,
His canopy the stone;
The Mede is at his gate,
The Persian on his throne!
But come back and look at this. Bid you ever think of this? How do you account for this? If King Belshazzar does not know what the words are that are written on the wall, why do his knees smite so, the one against the other, and why is his countenance so changed? Is this not a banquet to Bel tonight? And are not all these princes and lords and queens and concubines all Bel's worshippers tonight? Why, then, is Belshazzar in such a terror? Why does he not salute with joy and assurance that divine hand? That must be Bel's hand. Rise up, Belshazzar, and kiss the great hand of thy god. Rise up and command more wine. Rise up and call for music and dancing. For that must be the mighty arm of thy god denouncing destruction to Cyrus, and sealing down thy victory to thee. What a cold welcome to give to thy god! O unbelieving and unthankful king Belshazzar! But Belshazzar knew better. Belshazzar's conscience had already interpreted the words before they were all written. You can all sympathise with Beshazzar's state of mind as that hand went on with its awful writing over against the candlestick. You have all come through the same thing yourselves. When something shot in upon you without warning. Something when you were at your ungodly feast with your ungodly companions, or when you had just said, Surely the darkness shall cover me. Something sudden and unaccountable. When your heart suddenly stood still, and did not beat again for a moment. When you were in some sudden accident so that your hair has been white ever since. That is God! your conscience whispered to you. That is God come in anger at last. No wonder your knees shook. No wonder you were as cold as a corpse. If a hand came out on the plaster of the wall opposite the pulpit lamp at this moment you would all swoon in your seats. You would know that that hand had come to write your sentence on that wall. Sitting there in your own soft seats you would all, in a moment, be Belshazzar over again.
Belshazzar was as good as dead and at the judgment-seat already. And this was the sentence of the last day upon Belshazzar: 'Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.' What balances! What tremendous balances! Balances with all Belshazzar's power, and riches, and opportunities, and responsibilities in the one scale, and then Belshazzar himself, naked and open, in the other scale. Belshazzar was weighed that night with weights of the most absolute truth and justice. Belshazzar was not weighed with King Saul's weights, nor with King David's weights, nor with King Solomon's. Belshazzar was weighed with weights of his own, that no man, before nor since, has ever been weighed with but Belshazzar himself. And you will be weighed, you are being weighed at this moment, with your own proper weights also. God Almighty has a special pair of balances beside Him, waiting and filling up till your life also is numbered and finished. Look up, sinner, at the awful instrument. Forecast the awful scene. All that God has done for you in your birth, in your godly upbringing, in your means of grace, in providences, in all privileges, in divine calls to a better life; all such warnings and all such instructions are collecting into one scale, and your soul-your naked and shivering soul-into the other scale with the whole universe looking on. Well may your knees knock! Well may your thoughts trouble you! How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
'The Lord is a God of knowledge' says a solemn Scripture, 'and by Him actions are weighed,' That is to say, you will be weighed in those scales of God by means of which He gets at the very heart's blood of all your actions. Till He has got at the very hearths blood, till He has got at the thoughts and intents of an action, at its most secret motive, He is not yet a God of knowledge. But after that He is. You deceive us, you and your actions both pass with us for what at your heart you are not. But God is not mocked. He knows your exact weight and worth; and the exact weight and worth of all your words and all your deeds. He knows down to the bottom why you did this; and down to the bottom why you did not do that. He has known it all the time, only He has numbered your kingdom, and He lets you go on, deceiving and being deceived, till the Persian is at your gate.
For I am 'ware it is the seed of act
God holds appraising in His hollow palm,
Not act grown great thence in the world below-
Leafage and branchage vulgar eyes admire.
O my soul, what a day that will be for thee when the God of truth, and not any more of lies, brings forth His great balances! His balances, so awful in their burning truth and holiness! What a reversal of reputations! What a stain and overthrow of great names! What a dreadful trumpet-blowing upon the house-tops! What nakedness! What shame! What everlasting contempt! Rocks, fall on us and hide us. O ministers! O people! But O ministers, above all, on that day! your people will gnash their teeth at you on that day unless you preach to them now the terrible balances of that day. Be sure you preach for one whole sermon every Sabbath the terrors of the Lord. To have even one of your people saved as by fire on that terrible day will be your salvation. For your God is a God of knowledge, and by Him every minister's motives and aims and ends will be weighed before the whole assembled world that day. Rock of Ages, cleft for me!
As you go about in this city you will see great scales sometimes at the street corner, sometimes in a shop for loungers, sometimes at a railway station, strong scales, in which, for a penny, you will see people amusing themselves by weighing themselves and one another, some for pure sport and just to kill time, and some in fear and anxiety lest they should turn out lighter and less in health than they were yesterday. Seek out the places where the scales of the soul are kept open, and seat thy soul in them every day. And, especially, never pass a Sabbath day without comparing your light soul with last Sabbath. God hangs out His scales in the heavens every Sabbath morning. And, above all, He weighs ministers, and their pulpits, and their people on that day. Choose your church, then, above all your choices, choose well your church. The city is before you. Choose a church with God's scales in it at any price. Call a minister who, when he is a probationer, and preaches two trial sermons, at one of the diets hangs God's great balances out of his pulpit and over your pew. And if there is no such probationer in all the poor leet, and no such preacher in all the besotted parish, then, all the more, and better for you, learn how to weigh yourself without a minister. Weigh and weigh, and weigh yourself till, in all you think, and all you say, and all you do, you find yourself wanting. Be sure there is something wrong with the balances; all the weights are not in, or there is some hidden rust in the hinges, or you have not read the index right, or something, if you do not find yourself wanting. If you are satisfied with yourself any one day, be sure there is a fatal mistake somewhere. Be sure that a dreadful awakening awaits you if you think that all things are fairly well with you. Never go up into your bed till you have been back in the balance; you and your past day. Never sleep till you know how you weigh, well or ill tonight. Weigh, and weigh, and weigh yourself every day, every night,-till there is no more left for the last day to do. Weigh yourself till you have relieved that terrible day of some of its pressure of business on God's hand. He will be pleased, amid much displeasure, on that day, to be lightened of His strange work even in one sinner. When the book comes to your name, He will say: 'Pass by that man, I know all about him: he is weighed and settled up with Me already.' It will be in that case as the Catechism, which is in your other scale, has it; you will be 'openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment.' Weigh yourself, and find yourself ever more and more wanting, till, in pure pity, God will put away His balance behind His back, and will bring forward His touchstone. I got that out of Thomas Goodwin's fine book, A Child of Light Walking in Darkness. 'For God brings not a pair of scales to weigh your graces with, and if they be too light refuseth them. No: but He brings a touchstone to try your graces. And, if they be true gold, though never so little of it, that gold will pass current with Him. Though it be but smoke, and not yet flame; though it be but as a wick in the socket, Matthew 12:20 (as it is there in the original), likelier to die and to go out than to continue, and which we use to throw away; yet He will not quench it, but will accept it. These things you are to recall and to consider in limes of distress.' That is to say, as often as you every day and every hour weigh yourselves, and find yourselves wanting, after the balance make use of the touchstone. And then, as King Brennus, in the old history book, cast his heavy sword into the too-light scale when the gold was being weighed; so will Christ cast in His cross into your too-light scale where His gold is being weighed on that day in you.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Belshazzar'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​b/belshazzar.html. 1901.