But you his son, O Belshazzar, … have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. Daniel 5.22-24.
Belshazzar had succeeded his father, Nebuchadnezzar, as the ruler of the Babylonian empire while the Jews were still in exile in that land. But he had little respect for the exiles and, in the story containing this morning’s reading, he has been showing his contempt for their God by using the sacred goblets plundered from the temple in Jerusalem as the drinking cups at his latest party. Suddenly, however, “the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace” (Daniel 5.5). The words that the hand wrote were (we find out later), “Mene, mene, tekel, parsin” (Daniel 5.25) and they prophesied the downfall of the Babylonian kingdom and its division between the Medes and the Persians. That is, of course, where the colloquial English expression “to see the writing on the wall” originates; but what caught my attention and set my thoughts alive this morning was the hand and the way that Daniel (who has been called in to interpret the hand’s writing) links it to “the hand of God”.
The hand of God is the hand that “made all things so they came into being” (Isaiah 66.2), and that hand of God, Daniel tells this all-powerful ruler of the mightiest nation on earth, holds within it “your life” … but not only your life; it holds your life “and all your ways”. That last phrase speaks to me of God’s complete and attentive knowledge and understanding of every twist and turn of every individual. There is that old negro spiritual, “He’s got the whole wide world in his hands”; and in my imagination I can see that vast hand of God, holding all humanity within it, through all of time, as he watches each one, from cradle to grave, with eyes of infinite love and mercy and grace. I see myself there today, for, as the song goes on, “he’s got you and me, brother, in his hand”.
But as I meditate on that, I see something wonderful. There is a scar in the hand of God where a nail was once driven through it. For as Graham Kendrick says in his song The Servant King, “hands that threw stars into space” were, two thousand years ago, on Calvary, “to cruel nails surrendered”. God could not just keep looking at the lives and all their ways that lay in his hand; he had to join them and redeem them. So he took on human flesh and went to the cross for us … for me. And though he rose again, he keeps the scars.
I love the resurrection story concerning Thomas who doubts that Jesus really has risen. “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20.26-28).
The God who holds my life and all my ways in the palm of his hand invites me to reach out my hand to him this morning in trust and faith, because the scars he bears are my assurance that nothing can separate me from his love and that his hand will hold me in that love forever.