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Fear of Judgment, No Sure Sign of Salvation


volume 18, number 23, June 6, 2019

“Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together.” -Daniel 5:6

Fear of Judgment, No Sure Sign of Salvation

Washington Allston (1779-1843), an American painter who pioneered America’s Romantic movement of landscape painting, is said to have spent twelve years on painting Belshazzar’s feast, but in the end, abandoned the project. Why? He was unable to capture, to his satisfaction, the abject horror on the face of the doomed king of Chaldea.[1]

Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and king of Babylon was living large, providing a great feast for a thousand of his nobles. While the Medo-Persians were no doubt at the gate about to conquer Chaldea, Belshazzar and his noblemen were all drinking wine from the gold vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem when Belshazzar’s father conquered Judah. Instead of fasting as the King of Nineveh did when he heard Jonah’s prophecy of doom, Belshazzar and his friends were feasting. As they were making merry with wine, the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing on the wall in the king’s palace. That’s when Belshazzar experienced abject fear, as described in the text noted above. What a vivid portrayal of terror. His whole body was severely and adversely affected. The king knew immediately that something was amiss. The master astrologers and diviners could not decipher the message. The queen remembered Daniel who, many years before, had numerous times interpreted dreams and signs for Nebuchadnezzar. 

So Daniel was summoned and first reminds Belshazzar that his father, though a great man, had fallen into intense pride, and the Lord, the true and living God, had taken him to the woodshed and allowed him to live in temporary insanity until he remembered who Yahweh was and who he was. Then Daniel tells Belshazzar that he has fallen into the same trap of pride and forgetfulness. He had not humbled himself before the Lord though he knew all this had happened to his father. 

So, Daniel reads the Aramaic text, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.” Daniel says, “Mene, God had numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. Tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found lacking. Peres, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” We are then told that very night Belshazzar was murdered and Darius of the Medo-Persian empire began to reign. In other words, the Babylonians were removed from power by the mighty hand of God and Belshazzar met God in an unrepentant state. 

To be sure, Belshazzar was shattered by his guilt. He knew all that Yahweh had done to and for his father many years before. He had heard of Daniel and his gift of prophecy. He knew who the true and living God was, yet he had persisted for many years to pursue his false gods and to make light of Yahweh by abusing the instruments of Hebrew worship. And then the handwriting on the wall came to him and all his drunken friends on that ominous night. He was struck with terror. He knew this was not a pleasant message. None of his soothsayers could help him. When Daniel was summoned and exegeted the Biblical text, though in fear, though in guilt, Belshazzar still refused to repent. All he could think to do was to offer Daniel financial remuneration. 

Profound, all encompassing fear is a wonderful gift from God. As the preacher preaches from the pulpit or in the street, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit often does His work as the Law of God is proclaimed. God does the unbeliever a great favor in making him exceedingly uncomfortable as he contemplates the judgment he deserves at the hands of the One to whom we must all give account. A sense of shame and guilt which comes upon a homosexual, adulterer, fornicator, drug dealer, con artist, drunkard, or Pharisee often is the pathway to new life in Christ. 
However, conversion does not always follow profound conviction of sin, shame, or guilt. Need I remind you of Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal, and though he desired to receive the inheritance, he was rejected because he found no place for repentance, even though he sought it with tears (Hebrews 12:16,17). Paul told Timothy that repentance for sin is a gift bestowed sovereignly by God (2 Timothy 2:25). 

There no doubt are people in every church who have experienced some sense of guilt as they contemplate life “on the other side.” They sense they may not be ready to meet God. They feel the shame of “being outed” concerning their porn addiction or their homosexuality or their adultery. They are grieved at how this has brought great heartache to their parents, their spouse, their children, and their church. They say they have sought refuge in the cross of Christ and that by trusting Him they feel better. They feel as though they are now right with God. 

But Belshazzar felt grief, pain, and horror beyond anything most have ever experienced, yet he died unrepentantly. My friends, grief, sorrow, shame, and fear are not enough to make you right with the Holy One. A vague notion of “being right with God” because you now believe the gospel is not salvation. Herod delighted to hear John the Baptist preach but he remained unconverted (Mark 6:20). Agrippa knew Paul was preaching the truth but he remained recalcitrant and unrepentant (Acts 26:28). Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, even as the Babylonians were right at the gates of Jerusalem, refused to repent (2 Chronicles 36:12,13). And of course Judas, realizing his great sin, sought to give back the thirty pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3-5). 

So, what is your only hope if you are a convicted, grieved, shame filled, fearful sinner? You are in the jail house of your sins, my friend, and you do not have the jail key in your hip pocket. Your only hope is the grace of God in giving you the gift of repentance. You must seek God, asking Him for that gift. If you receive it not, you will die in your sins and you will face the Holy One with the same terror and fear we see displayed on the face of Belshazzar on that horrible night. 

Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the evil man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord and He will have compassion, and to our God and He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6,7). To put it another way, until the shame filled, terror stricken sinner is born again, he is still dead in his sins, regardless of how good he now feels about the grace of God he says he has experienced. True salvation brings true repentance which brings progressive growth in gospel holiness. Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Salvation is of the Lord. Seek Him until you find him. Ask Him for a new heart which loves God and hates sin. Ask Him to take out the heart of stone and replace it with the heart of flesh.    _______________________

1. Studies of the Old Testament, Austin Phelps, page 244, Solid Ground Christian Books.

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