Friday, November 29, 2019

The Visible Hand of God

"Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote" (Daniel 5:5).

The biblical doctrine of divine providence teaches that God controls everything that comes to pass. He is the great Overseer of history, and nothing happens outside of His control. He raises up one nation and puts down another, according to His plan. We sometimes speak of the “invisible hand of God” directing all human affairs.

On one occasion that invisible hand became visible. We read in Daniel 5 that sometime after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar came to the throne. The Bible does not tell us why, but one day Belshazzar decided to host a great feast. It occurred to him to use as drinking cups the sacred vessels of the temple, which had been brought to Babylon from Jerusalem. During the feast, he and the people used God’s vessels to toast their pagan gods.

To get the full import of this story, think back to 1 Samuel 4–6. At that time the tabernacle was defiled and the ark was captured by the Philistines. While the ark was in Philistia, God used it to make war on the gods of the Philistines. When the ark was brought in close contact with the idol Dagon, it fell down and broke to pieces. In great fear, the Philistines eventually returned the ark to Israel.

The same thing happened in Daniel. The opening verses of chapter 1 tell us that the sacred vessels of the temple were brought to the palace in Babylon, along with Daniel and his friends. God made “holy war” on Nebuchadnezzar through the young men, and Nebuchadnezzar eventually repented. Then God made “holy war” on the gods of Babylon, as the sacred vessels were brought in contact with them. God’s hand appeared and wrote on the wall that God was bringing an end to Belshazzar’s reign, and that his kingdom would be divided.

Greek historians tell us that this party was held while Cyrus was besieging Babylon. Babylon had enough stores to last for years and such strong walls that no one could break them down. Belshazzar’s feast flaunted his invulnerability. God’s hand wrote on the wall, however, showing that walls are under His control. Cyrus diverted the flow of the river Euphrates and walked into Babylon right under the walls of the city, bringing down Belshazzar’s reign.

Belshazzar’s feast was a counterfeit, but God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. He is our wall, and the feast is the Lord’s Supper. Though the enemies surround us, as Gog and Magog about the Holy City, we can relax and rejoice (Revelation 20:9). God’s walls, unlike those of Babylon, are completely secure. Remember this security the next time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper.