The Writing on the Wall

One of my earliest memories of learning to spell was in an outdoor classroom, with a picnic table as my desk and my big sister as my teacher. The chalky white letters were sprawled across the yellow siding at the back corner of our house as she wrote the word “sweat,” which I pronounced “sweet” and was corrected. My first lesson was in interpreting the English language.

Such a small thing, but unforgettable even after all these years. Life’s lessons come in all sizes; some are more obvious than others. God used a few small words written on the palace wall to teach a big lesson to a king.

Daniel is called to interpret what the fingers of a mysterious hand had just written on the plaster in the king’s palace as he drank from gold and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple and worshipped the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone (Daniel 5:1-5, ESV).

The king of Babylon, before Belshazzar, was Nebuchadnezzar, who had been prideful, and brought to his knees by an all-powerful God. He was only restored when he lifted his eyes to heaven and praised the One True God (Daniel 5:28-34, ESV Emphasis mine). Belshazzar did not learn anything from his predecessor. Instead, he lifted himself up against God by using sacred vessels for an idolatrous feast. 

The king and his wise men knew the Aramaic words MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN as forms of weights, decreasing from a mina to a shekel and a half-shekel. They could read them, but they didn’t know their significance to the king. The ESV Study Bible denotes that when you read the words as verbs and add different vowels to the consonants, the sequence becomes numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided.

Daniel’s divine interpretation informed the king that the Lord had brought Belshazzar’s kingdom to an end because he was weighed in the balance and found wanting (Daniel 5:26-27, ESV). In essence, the king put creation before the Creator, praising and worshiping them as idols instead of God.

We also see this as a warning in Paul’s writing. God’s wrath was righteously revealed because people ignored the truth about the One True God and turned to idolatry and false beliefs. Three times Paul says God gave them up to their sinful desires due to idolatry, the refusal to make God the center of all existence. He handed them over to suffer the consequences of their sins. (Romans 1:24-26, ESV, NLT).

When we put anything other than God at the center of our lives, we risk the consequences of our sins. God alone deserves human praise. Creation cannot save us; only Christ can. We are cleansed by the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7, ESV). Only God protects us from evil (2 Thes. 3:3, ESV). God alone rules the world (Ps. 89:11, ESV). Things are neither good nor bad typically, but we must be careful of our intent and usage of an object and not depend on it instead of God. Paul explains more than once that just because something is not against the law doesn’t mean it is excellent and helpful. Not everything is beneficial (I Cor. 6:12;10:23, ESV).

Paul knows that demons delight in worshiping any ‘god’ but the One True God, and he takes particular interest in idolatry (I Cor. 10:19-20, ESV). The devil can make us think there is no harm in some of our practices, but we are on treacherous ground when we trust anything other than Jesus Christ.

The author of Psalm 1:3 describes two kinds of people and two ways to live. The righteous are like trees planted near a stream, bearing fruit every season. The wicked are like chaff, tossed away by the wind with no benefit. God grows oaks of righteousness to display His glory (Is. 61:3, MSG). They stand firm and mighty. The faithful are eager to please God.

But what about those who have one foot in the Jesus camp and the other in the world, not ready to commit everything to Christ? For this, we can turn to Christ’s Edict letter to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3. An uncommitted church rebuked for being spiritually blind, bankrupt, naked, and lukewarm. Christ uses the term lukewarm because that is something they would understand.

The church was in the center of the metropolis, including Colossae, famous for its cold, refreshing springs, and Hierapolis, equally renowned for its hot springs. When the water reached Laodicea, it was neither hot nor cold but lukewarm and smelly. Their indecisive commitment to Jesus was sickening to Him (Rev. 3:15-16, NLT).

The people of Laodicea were proud of their self-sufficiency. Christ gives them a chance to see their sins and repent; the consequence of their rebellion is that He will spit them out of His mouth. But those who conquer will dine with Christ and sit with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:15-22, NLT).

Sometimes we can’t read the writing on the wall; even if we do, we can’t understand its significance to our lives, falsely believing we can have both God and our worldly idols. If this is the case, it may be time to re-evaluate our priorities and find where our dependence and trust lie, so we aren’t in danger of being spit out by the One True God, Jesus Christ.

May we take this opportunity to ask God to show us anything in our lives that we are placing our trust in instead of Him, then repent and ask for His help to cleanse our lives of them so that Christ can take His rightful place at the center of our hearts. You may have to sweat to get there, but the rewards are sweet once you do.

The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world (I John 4:4, ESV).

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