ISSUE: 2013, Volume 10, Issue 3
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It’s great to see how the Bible stands. The attacks on its integrity and reliability have been relentless, but after every fresh wave of attacks the Bible emerges unscathed. Scientists have gone into the lab to disprove God, and have ended up providing more evidence of His existence. Archaeologists have gone to Bible lands to undermine confidence in the Bible, and have only managed to confirm it. King Belshazzar is a case in point.
For centuries scholars thought that Belshazzar was a legend, because no ancient historians referred to him, but rather spoke of how Nabonidus was the King of Babylon at the end of the Babylonian empire. The sceptics laughed at the gullibility of the Bible-believers – their holy book has been disproved, and can now be ignored.
But that’s not the end of the story. It was well established by historians that Nabonidus was in North Arabia when Cyrus invaded Babylon, and, thus, there would have been a viceroy in charge during his absence. I wonder who that could have been?
Excavations at Ur (Iraq) in approximately 1854 uncovered a cylinder, which has been named the Nabonidus Cylinder. The cylinder contains prayers of Nabonidus for himself in his reign, and also for his firstborn son, whose name is . . . Belshazzar!
‘As for me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great godhead and grant me as a present a lifelong of days, and as for Belshazzar, the eldest son – my offspring -- instil reverence for your great godhead in his heart and may he not commit any cultic mistake, may he be sated with a life of plenitude’.
The fact that prayers are included for Belshazzar indicates that he was in a position of authority too. This explains why, in Daniel chapter 5 verse 7, Belshazzar offered the third place in the Kingdom to whoever could interpret the writing – it was because Belshazzar was number two!
Furthermore, due to the stunning accuracy of the prophecies in Daniel, unbelievers had concluded that it must have been written well into the time of the Greek empire. They thought there’s no way someone writing in the time of the Babylonian or Medo-Persian empires ever could have written so accurately about Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes etc., (because that would mean that God was somehow involved, and they couldn’t have that!) But we know that Belshazzar was not known by Greek historians, such as Herodotus (approximately 450 BC). This shows that the book of Daniel must have been written much earlier than that. So the discovery of this inscription not only confirms the historical accuracy of Daniel, but also the prophetic accuracy – it is God’s word. We have no need to fear the fiercest attacks of unbelievers – the foundation of our faith is more firm that the foundation of our feet! The Lord said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away’, Matt. 24. 35.
In the last chapter we saw how God is able to humble the proudest of men, and in this chapter we see something similar, yet sadly different. God will humble sinners, but not everyone is brought to repentance. Belshazzar was profaning the holy vessels of the Temple, defiantly provoking God. With just a finger, God puts all the laughter out of him, sobers him up very quickly, and has his knees knocking together in absolute terror. He is brought to see that God is sovereign, but despite the wake up God gave him, and the warning Daniel gave him, he is not saved.
It is worth reminding ourselves of this serious truth: not everyone will be saved. We are seeing a resurgence in the ‘evangelical world’ of the false doctrine of universalism. This used to be a doctrine that would never have seen the light of day in any Bible-believing church, but the internet has made the world a smaller place, and has made wrong doctrine a lot more accessible, and, thanks to some pastors, a lot more attractive. Now, what one compelling speaker says on his podcast, or what one trendy pastor says from his mega-church stage, can have worldwide reach and influence, and some people who used to take the title of ‘evangelical’ are embracing the view that everyone ultimately will be saved.
It is true that everyone will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, Phil. 2. 9-11, and some have taken from this statement that this means they all are saved. FRANCIS CHAN points out:
‘If you were on a deserted island and you uncorked an empty bottle containing Philippians 2. 9-11, you would probably be a Universalist . . . By itself, this could mean that every single individual who ever lived will embrace Jesus – if not in this life, then surely in the next.2
But all we would need is for the rest of the Philippian letter to float ashore in order to see that Philippians 2. 9-11 doesn’t teach universal salvation’.
To suppose that the man who wrote in the very same epistle of enemies of the cross that ‘their end is destruction’, 3. 19, actually believed that their end is heaven, is to demonstrate a commitment to one’s own doctrine rather than to the word of God. All will certainly be subdued, but not all will be saved.
We also see from this chapter that salvation is not something that runs in the blood. You would think that with such an amazing testimony to the saving power and grace of God in the life of his grandfather, Belshazzar would have yielded to the Lord in repentance, but he doesn’t. The experience of chapter 4 was something Belshazzar knew all about, and Daniel was keen to remind him of that, vv. 18-22, but Belshazzar still hardened himself, and exalted himself against God.
It also shows that miraculous manifestations do not produce faith and repentance in the hearts of sceptics. People say all the time, ‘If God made something appear right in front of me then I would believe’. It just is not true. God has given adequate evidence of His existence in the glory of creation, the witness of conscience, the canon of scripture, and the person of Christ. We remember that Abraham said, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead’, Luke 16. 31.
We see again the courage and integrity of this man, Daniel. Those of you who have been following these articles will be stifling a yawn here as you say that you’ve read all this before. So you have, in chapter one, chapter two, and chapter four (every chapter in which Daniel features), as we have observed, a man who will not flinch, no matter who he is facing. He lives in the shadow of the sovereign God and in the light of eternity, and thus, he will not be intimidated by any man’s presence or influenced by any man’s presents. He tells Belshazzar to keep his gifts, or give them to someone who cares about them, v. 17 – Daniel is not for sale, and faithfully he delivers God’s message to this man.
What about you? Do you find yourself counting the cost of faithfulness, and holding back a bit when people ask you what your views are, or what the Bible’s views are, on theological or moral issues? We ought, of course, to always speak in love, but the Bible’s exhortation is to speak the truth in love, Eph. 4. 15. Faithfulness may be costly, but Daniel recognized that unfaithfulness is much more costly.
The mighty Babylonian empire came to an end that night. God was still on His throne, and Daniel continued to shine brightly, and touch lives in another empire. ‘The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’, 1 John 2. 17.
1 This information has been taken largely from GLEASON L. ARCHER, The New International Encyclopaedia Of Bible Difficulties.
2 FRANCIS CHAN, Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up, Preston Sprinkle, 2011. It is sad that this book is so weak on the subject of annihilationism, despite presenting compelling evidence that the Bible teaches eternal conscious punishment.