LIVING IN BABYLON: The Writing on the Wall
#1 What do we find in this passage?
#2 How does this relate to our culture?
#3 How should we respond?
We continue a 5-week blog series (3 of 5) that focuses our attention on a basic truth that not all of us want to admit and that is that we no longer live in a Christian nation. We live in a land where God is not the priority in politics, marriage, values, sexuality, entertainment, education, family, and worldview. Just about everything in our culture is designed to pull us away from God. We do not live in a nation rooted in Biblical values, but rather we live in ‘Babylon.’ ‘Babylon’ was a real place in the Bible, but in the Bible, it also became a symbol for a culture or a society that marches away from God and away from His way of living. We live in ‘Babylon.’
WHAT DO WE FIND IN THIS PASSAGE?
We find in this passage a Babylonian King named Belshazzar who is absolutely full of himself. He throws a party for himself and his closest 1000 friends. During this party, he decides to break out the best items in his treasury to use and these items happen to be from the Temple in Jerusalem. These items were dedicated to God Almighty. He knows this. He knows his father captured them and he knows where they are from and he proceeds to profane them on purpose because he wanted to highlight himself. If he had a camera, imagine the types of selfies he would have taken with wine and items from the temple and his closest 1000 friends. Belshazzar wanted to be known as a great king and decided that throwing lavish parties and entertainment and showing off was the way to accomplish this.
God noticed. God always notices. Supernaturally God writes on the wall of the palace and everyone sees it. God joins the party and does a little Pictionary action on the wall to get the king’s attention. Does He get the king’s attention? He does. I love how verse 6 says ‘his knees knocked together.’ The king is visibly shaken and calls in all his wise men to decode it. They can’t decode it. That makes him even more upset and even more unhinged.
He thought he could figure out the message on his own with his own resources, but he could not. His queen is a bit wiser than he and she remembers about a guy named Daniel who interpreted dreams for the last king. Daniel was a big deal for his father Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 13, Daniel is brought in and he reminds the king about things he already knows. He boldly reminds the king that the party and using the items from the Jewish temple was very much flipping God Almighty the bird and he would pay for it. I know it sounds crude or rude for me to describe it in that way, but I want you to understand what Belshazzar was knowingly doing.
Verses 21-22 are telling. The king’s father was disciplined by God, ‘until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom He will. 22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this…” Belshazzar decided to follow his culture and go his own way away from God and harden his own heart. He would pay for it. There is no humbleness before God Almighty in this king and only a hard heart and a desire to go his own way. He is absolutely full of himself.
The ‘writing on the wall’ (this is where that phrase comes from) literally is a warning from God Almighty to King Belshazzar. Daniel told the king the message from God and it was a message that would be carried out that very night:
Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;
Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting;
Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
King Belshazzar dies that very night. History tells us (the Babylonian Chronicles and the Cyrus Cylinder) that Babylon was taken ‘without battle’ and all indications were that the Persians marched in with little effort and took over because the Babylonians were in full party mode and no one was paying attention.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO OUR CULTURE?, “FAITH FOR EXILES,’ Kinnaman & Matlock, 2019, pages 24-27
If literal Babylon was around today, the internet would absolutely be used in the same way our culture is wrapped on the internet. The internet and all of our devices inform us and connect us, but also distract and entertain. Whatever comes across computer screens or phones or tablets has our attention for hours on end and becomes our filter for lives and informs our worldview.
* Disney defines what a family does or does not look like.
* Facebook, which is fake most of the time, tells us how our lives are going compared to others.
* Memes, that aren’t even true, inform our beliefs about politics.
* Youtube videos provide a grid by which we test what is real.
* Media and news reports tell us what is true and what is false and we just accept it.
* We Google the answer to deep questions and assume what we are given is correct.
Our screens demand our attention and mold how we view the world and make us focus only on ourselves and focus us on distraction and entertainment. I noticed even I do this. Braeden was gone last weekend and got back into town Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, he and I went to breakfast. On our way, I asked him about his trip and we chatted… all the while I rudely and mindlessly played a game on my phone. Why? Why could I not stop being distracted and looking at my screen to focus on him and the explanation of his weekend? It is our culture.
Belshazzar was absolutely distracted and dedicated to entertainment so much that not only did he willfully and knowingly misuse God’s items from the Temple, but he lost his whole kingdom in one night. All for entertainment and distractions.
We also live in a culture that rejects moral and religious underpinnings of life and leads many to find answers in ourselves. Everything is about us and customized to us. Liberty mutual says you can customize car insurance so you only pay for what you need. A gym is called ‘Youfit.’ Selfies exist. Instagram exists to promote self. Phrases like ‘you do you’ and ‘love who you want’ are seen as good and correct and wise. Burger King says ‘Have it your way.’ Our view of ‘self’ is at the center and individuality is prized over all else. There is a me-sized world out there and there is a me-first set of expectations for much of life.
Belshazzar absolutely shows this in his actions. He was completely focused on himself and rejected the lessons his father had learned and Truth he already knew.
This Babylonian cultural thinking has invaded the church when it comes to being distracted and making trustworthy consistent commitments. Commitments are different in Babylon where we live and commitments are based on if it fits into my schedule and doesn’t inconvenience me. Christians, even those who are committed, are busier than ever and the current national statistic is once a month in a worship service is consistent attendance. That’s sad.
It is not uncommon for people to attend different groups at different churches and for loyalty and commitment to one church to be non-existent. Spreading out your activity at multiple churches means you are not committed to one place which is a lack of commitment.
It is not uncommon for people not to show up even when they say they will; be there and are scheduled. Many are Christian consumers who want to go to church to be fed and entertained, but not be asked to serve or to give money.
Youth group used to serve as a main social outlet for teens, but now is replaced by sports and social media.
The number of hours of personally connecting and fellowshipping and studying the Bible for discipleship has dropped considerably because of distractions and other priorities and an attitude shift.
Babylon has invaded the Church.
This Babylonian cultural thinking has invaded the church when it comes to individuality and me-sized focus. There are many people who think that ‘solo discipleship’ is a real and possible thing which is why we skip out on Bible study groups or corporate worship or corporate times of prayer. We don’t need that stuff. We can do it ourselves or watch a video and it is all the same. That’s not true, but it is what we think… because of our culture.
If you can do it all on your own, it isn’t Christianity.
If you can do it all on your own, it isn’t Church.
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND?
You and I should have in us the desire to be a resilient disciple of Jesus Christ that is able to navigate our culture and maintain a healthy relationship with God no matter what comes our way. We should want to teach our children and our grandchildren the same thing. Our culture is a virus that infects every part of our lives and wants to distract us and draw us away from God. I hope you see that a Christian identity in a rarely engaged church community is not enough to remain faithful. Distractions are strong. The pull of self is natural. Entertainment and the influence of tech screens are powerful.
The writing on the wall tells us that you and I must understand that what our culture offers is not lasting. The culture of the United States that is drifting more and more quickly away from Christian values does not produce a soul surrendered to Jesus Christ. Our Christian faith and commitment to the Church and our time spent in the Bible has been weighed and is found wanting. When we find our commitment and loyalty to Christ divided, we fall. Its all ‘writing on the wall.’
We need to acknowledge and realize that this war and this tug on our souls is real and it impacts us personally. We do not need to be distracted. This virus of our culture is real and it is drawing us, our children, our grandchildren, and our brothers and sisters in Christ in a significant way away from a vibrant life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not fake news that we no longer live in a Christian society and our society actively works against faith. This is truth and we must face it and be actively aware and not distracted.
We need to make sure that we are living our lives for the approval of the Almighty God and not for ourselves or the people around us. On the surface, saying something like that sounds dismissive and close-minded, but I do not mean it in that way. We must live our lives, mold our values, view our world, and pattern our families not after self or the world or other people’s families or what we see on a screen, but rather pattern ourselves after what God has designed. We live to please Him. We live for His approval. A resilient disciple of Jesus Christ has a focus on being the servant of Jesus and allowing the demands of self and our own heart and culture to pass by.
We must invest ourselves in our faith community. That is part of being a servant of Christ. Church is not just a Sunday only thing. It isn’t. Studying the Bible is not 5 minutes a day with a cute story attached. Worship is not only three songs on a Sunday morning. Prayer is not just something before meals and when we are in trouble or before be buy a lotto ticket. We must take our commitment to Jesus Christ and being His disciple seriously and we need to return our commitment to Him to a normal acceptable level… a level acceptable to Him! This truth is for everyone no matter your age or generation or gender or where you are at in your Christian journey.
How will you respond?
What do you need to do differently?