Billy Graham Sermon: Is the Handwriting on the Wall, America? (Transcript)

Read the transcript of Billy Graham’s sermon titled “Is the Handwriting on the Wall, America?” which was preached in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1973.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Billy Graham – Evangelist

Going to ask that we bow our heads in prayer. Many of you have come from a long distance to be here. To many of you, this is your first time in the arena this week.

And you’ve heard and read in the press all the great and wonderful things that have been happening here. And a friend asks you to come and you’ve come. Or maybe you made your plans months ago to be here at this particular service.

Or God knows all about you. He knows your heart. He knows your intents and your thoughts and your mind. And He can meet your need, whoever you are. And whatever you need.

You need sin forgiven… He gave His Son to die on the cross for that purpose.

Problem solved. He said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

You that are tired and weary and sick, He’ll meet your need.

Our Father, we pray today that the people that have come here with great spiritual and moral needs may find the answer in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we ask it in His name. Amen.

To you that are watching by television, we’re in the St. Louis arena, as you know, in St. Louis, Missouri. And this arena has been filled to capacity every single service. And many of the services we’ve started 15 minutes and even today a half an hour early because the arena is already filled that far in advance.

And one of the great problems we have faced here in St. Louis is that it has not been large enough. And yet this arena is larger than Madison Square Garden in New York City. And this has been a tremendous outpouring of people in this period. And we have seen God do great and mighty things as hundreds of people every night have come to make a commitment to Jesus Christ.

Now, today I want you to turn with me to the 5th chapter of the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel. The fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel.

I suppose more than any other book in the Bible, this book predicts the future, unless it’s the Book of Revelation. And when you read the Book of Revelation, always read the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel in one hand, the Book of Revelation in the other. And then in front of you the daily newspaper. And they all tie in, because Daniel is a book of prophecy.

But the thing that I want to talk about Daniel today is an incident that happened in his life that I think bears on what we see happening today in our world.

Some time ago, if you remember, about two years ago now, the Shah of Iran gave a great party. The Vice President of the United States went. Barbara Walters went. Many distinguished Americans went to that great party celebrating 2500 years of the history of Iran, or Persia.

And it was my privilege just a year ago this month to visit with the Shah of Iran in his palace in Tehran. And I reminded the Shah that the first prime minister of ancient Persia was Daniel, because Daniel was the first prime minister when the Medo-Persians came in and took over in this particular chapter, the 5th chapter.

Then you move to the 6th chapter of Daniel and you find Darius making Daniel his first prime minister. And that is a tremendous tie in with what is happening in the Middle East and in the world today and all the concentration of forces that are gathered there.

And in this chapter that we’re turning to, I won’t take time to read it to you. I’ll tell it to you.

It’s the story of Daniel already in Babylon. He’d been carried to Babylon from Jerusalem. Jerusalem had come under the judgment of God, as Jeremiah had predicted. All the judgments that Jeremiah predicted, all the judgments that the prophets predicted have all come true or they’re yet to come true.

This is God’s Word. It is an infallible Word. And in many places in the Scripture, the Bible predicts that future day of judgment and that future period of judgment that is to come upon the world.

Well, Jerusalem had been judged as Jeremiah had predicted. He said, “Unless Jerusalem repents of their sins, they will be judged.” And judgment came.

And among those that were carried captive away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon, 1500 miles away, was young Daniel and his friends. They were just in their teens, and they were carried over to Babylon.

And Daniel had been one of the young men that had been chosen especially by Nebuchadnezzar, to be taken to Babylon and trained in his court and trained in all the arts and sciences of the Babylonians.

Now, when this chapter opens, Nebuchadnezzar is dead. Daniel had been a friend and a prophet and a prime minister for Nebuchadnezzar, the great king. But now he’s more or less been forgotten because a young man is now on the throne by the name of Belshazzar, who was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king.

Now, Babylon at that time was the greatest empire in the world. It was the most powerful nation in the world. It was the richest nation in the world.

And the Bible pictures Belshazzar the king as young, rich, powerful, but at the same time egotistical, self-centered. And the Bible teaches that God hates pride. He loves humility. All the way through the Scriptures, pride is listed as one of the greatest of all sins.

The Scripture says in Proverbs 17:19, “and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.”

Obadiah 4: “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, I will bring you down”, saith the LORD.

Now, Belshazzar was young, egotistical, filled with pride and filled with his own self-importance. And Jesus was to say years later in Matthew 23:12, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased.”

If you try to tell how great you are and leave God out, or if you act as though you can solve your own problems and arrange your own life without the help of God, God says, I’m going to bring you down.

And I would like to say that to the leaders of our world: you that are leaders of our world that do not give God the glory and do not put your trust totally in Him and think that you can solve the problems yourself, you’re going to come down according to the Scriptures.

And the Scripture is very clear about it. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be brought down”, said Jesus, Matthew 23:12.

And then he was a man that was very carefree. He was a playboy. He loved ease and he loved pleasure. And the Bible says, “Woe to them that are at ease.” (Amos 6:1)

We in America are at ease in comparison to the rest of the world. We have an energy crisis, and you would think the whole roof has caved in, the whole country is gone because we have to turn our thermostats down to 68.

We’ve gotten so used to ease and luxury and fine foods, and being rich Americans that when you go to India and go to Africa and go to other parts of the world and realize that we’re only 6% of the population of the world, but we own so much of the wealth of the world, we’re wealthy, we’re rich.

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And when you read about a rich man in the Bible in comparison to the people Jesus was talking about, it’s talking about nearly all Americans. Even the people we call poor in America are considered rich in Bangladesh, rich in India, you talk about poverty in some parts of the world. You have to really explain what you mean, because they don’t understand American poverty, because American poverty is wealth compared to great hordes of the people of the world.

And so Belshazzar had just won some military victories and his father, who was a great general, was out on the frontiers, leading them from victory to victory. And so he decided that he wanted to celebrate, and he decided to have a great feast. And it would be the greatest feast that Babylon had ever seen.

Babylon with all of its glamour, Babylon with all of its wealth, Babylon with all that it had. He said, we’ll have the greatest feast in the history of the world. So he ordered the finest dancers, the finest wines, the best foods, and he sent an invitation to a thousand of his lords and ladies throughout the empire to come. And in their jewel chariots they came.

And that evening, as they were feasting and dancing and wining in the low-hanging gardens that Nebuchadnezzar had built for his Median wife, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Belshazzar became intoxicated.

He became guilty of pride. He became guilty of immorality. He was guilty of desecrating the holy vessels of God because he ordered the holy vessels of God that had been captured in Jerusalem and used in temple worship. He had ordered them to be brought into the banquet hall and shocked the guests at his sacrilege.

He was guilty of drunkenness. And the Bible says a great deal about drunkenness. “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning that they may follow a strong drink that continue until night till wine inflames them.” (Isaiah 5:11)

There he was, king of an empire, master of a banquet, the center of all attention, dancing the night away. But the Bible says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

‘Belshazzar, watch out, judgment is coming. You’re going too far.’ There’s a point beyond which the patience of God will not go. There’s a line drawn among nations and among individuals and in families and in communities.

Job said, They that plow iniquity and sow wickedness reap the same.” (Job 4:8)

Keep on plowing your iniquity, keep on sowing your wickedness. You’re going to someday reap it.

Hosea said, For they have sown to the wind and they shall reap a whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7)

Jeremiah said, “They have sown wheat, but they shall reap thorns.” (Jeremiah 12:13)

And so in the middle of this banquet, Belshazzar is dancing with a beautiful, sexy young girl. And all of a sudden everyone is quiet. You can hear a pin drop. His face turns white.

The Bible says he begins to tremble, because over on the wall an armless hand starts writing. And everyone sat there trembling, wondering what this was, what strange thing this was.

And Belshazzar tried to read it. He couldn’t read the message. So he said, let’s call the astrologers and the soothsayers and the Chaldeans. Let’s call the magicians. Let’s call all the people that can read this type of thing.

And they came in. And that’s where we’re turning today. We’re turning to the occult. We’re turning to the astrologers. ‘Oh, please tell us what the future is going to hold. What do you see in the stars? What do you see in the palm of my hand? Is it good or bad? Was I born under a good star or bad star? What is my sign in our moment of crisis?’

We are turning to the same people that Belshazzar did, but just as in his day, they couldn’t read it. Because, you see, God is doing a work in our world that they don’t know anything about.

Habakkuk said, “Lord, please tell me what You’re doing.”

And God said, “No, I’m not going to tell you, Habakkuk. Because if I told you what I was doing, you wouldn’t believe it.”

If God today told us what He’s doing in the world, we wouldn’t believe it. Don’t you think God’s given up and God’s abdicated and God’s left the throne? He hasn’t. He’s still on the throne. And those of us that know Him put our trust in Him and Him alone.

I don’t put my trust in Washington. I don’t put my trust in the United Nations. I don’t put my trust in myself. I don’t put trust in my money. I put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. When all the rest of it fails and crumbles and shatters, He’ll be there, and we have an assurance of the future to come.

They couldn’t read it. Belshazzar was even more afraid. The writing was getting lighter all the time and more brilliant. People were frightened.

And his mother heard about it. And his mother, incidentally, was not at the party. But she came in and she said, “Son, what is this I hear about a strange writing?”

And he pointed over to the wall.

She said, “I know a man that can read that writing.” His name is Daniel. He’s a great prophet. He helped your grandfather interpret dreams. He was prime minister under your grandfather. He’s been living in sort of semi-retirement. Perhaps you don’t know him.

You notice Daniel wasn’t at the party either. That wasn’t Daniel’s crowd. The Bible says, ‘Be ye separate from the world’, saith the Lord, ‘and touch not the unclean thing.’ (2 Corinthians 6:17)

Friendship with the world is enmity with God. We are to live a separated life from the evils of the world. Now we’re to live in the world. We can’t help that. Jesus moved with publicans and sinners, and He was criticized for it. We can’t withdraw from the world, but we’re not to participate in the evils of the world.

Daniel was not at the party, but they sent for him. And he came in, and Belshazzar said, “Daniel, you see that writing? If you’ll read that writing, I’ll make you the third ruler in the empire. I’ll put a gold chain of authority around your neck, and I’ll put royal robes on you, and you’ll be a member of the royal family next to me.”

Daniel looked at the writing, and he recognized it immediately. That was his Father’s handwriting. That was God the Father’s handwriting. And he had studied God and lived with God all these years. And he knew that that was God’s writing.

He said, “Belshazzar, I can read the writing, but keep your gifts. I don’t want them. Give your gifts to somebody else. You see, Belshazzar, O king, you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven, and they have brought the vessels of God’s holy house before thee, and you and your lords and your wives and your concubines have drunk wine in them. And God is offended. And thou hast praised the gods of gold and silver and brass and iron and wood and stone that see not and hear not and know not, and the God in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified. Yes, Belshazzar, I’ll read it.”

Notice one thing: Daniel does not charge Belshazzar with drunkenness, though he was drunk. He doesn’t charge him with immorality, though he was immoral. He doesn’t charge him with sacrilege, though he was profaned. He doesn’t charge him with lasciviousness, though there was evidence all around.

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But he charged him with this: “The God in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.” (Daniel 5:23)

God had given Belshazzar everything he had, even the ability to laugh. His food, his drink, his power, his riches, everything had come from God. But he hadn’t thanked the Lord for it.

Daniel said, all right, here’s the writing: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

This is the interpretation: ‘MENE; God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it.’ Belshazzar, you’re finished. Your last day has been spent on this earth.

TEKEL; you have been weighed in the balances of God and found wanting.

PERES; thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.’

And while they were in the banquet unknown, unknown to the Babylonians, the great Euphrates river was being changed in its course. And the Medo-Persian army slipped under on the dry river-bed. And that night, Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians. Belshazzar was killed.

Daniel remained, and became prime minister in the next empire. Both empires respected him for his wisdom and his faith and his purpose and his Godliness.

Is God writing on the wall of America tonight?


Have we gone that far? The word MENE also means remembered. God remembers. God remembers our sins. God sees our pornography. He sees our obscene films, and He sees these new films that are coming out making fun of Jesus Christ. He sees our lying and our cheating and our corruption that goes all the way through our society.

He sees it all. And the Scripture says, “Be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23)

But He remembers something else too. It’s not too late. God remembers to forget.

When any group of people, any nation, will repent of their sins and turn to the Lord, He’ll forgive their sins and heal the land. That’s the promise of the Lord. And that happened to Nineveh.

Nineveh had the handwriting on the wall. Jonah preached repentance, and the people from the king all the way down repented of their sins. And God spared Nineveh.

If we in America will repent of our sins and turn to the Lord, God will spare us. If we don’t, the judgments will continue.

And I’m saying the judgments will continue because we’re under judgment right now. The events of this past year and the events of this present hour would indicate to me that we’re already experiencing judgment upon judgment upon judgment that will continue unless we turn to God.

We are dealing with the living God, and our God is a consuming fire, the Scripture says.

But that’s true in your life as a person, as an individual. God knows your sins. You can’t hide them from Him. There’s no use trying to cover up. You see, the first big cover-up in history was Adam and Eve. They tried to cover their sins with fig leaves.

Every man that’s ever committed a sin has tried to cover it up. But we cannot cover from the X-ray eyes of God. He sees, He knows, and He’s going to judge us.

You say? ‘Well, Billy, I’m feeling fine. I haven’t been judged yet.’

Ah, yes, but that day of judgment is yet to come. There’s going to be a future day of judgment when everything you’ve ever done and everything you’ve ever said and everything you’ve ever thought is going to be brought to light. And God has His computers and He has His cameras and He has it all stacked away, and it’ll all be brought out, even the thought processes of your mind.

Secondly, he says, “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.”

The Scripture says, thou dost weigh the paths of the just. The Lord says, “by the Lord actions are weighed, all the ways of a man are clear in his own eyes, but the Lord weigheth the spirits.’

The nation, the world tonight is being weighed. You are being weighed in the balances of God. Our sins are great in the eyes of the Lord, and we are being weighed in His balances.

And many thinking leaders believe that the handwriting is already on the wall and the judgment is already beginning to take place. But God weighs us as individuals.

What’s He going to weigh us by? What’s on the other side of the scales?

You see, here’s the scales. Here’s you. And here’s what God weighs you by.

First, He’ll weigh you by the Ten Commandments. How do you stand up with the Ten Commandments?

‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.’

‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’

‘Thou shalt not steal.’

‘Thou shalt not lie.’

‘Thou shalt not murder.’

All of these are taken into Ten Commandments. And the Bible says if we offend in one point, we are guilty of all. If you’ve broken one commandment one time in your life, it’s the same as breaking all of them.

Well, you say, well, of course I’ve broken at least one or two of them. Well, then you’re guilty of all. And that’s the reason the Bible says we’re all guilty.

That’s the reason Jesus said, ‘you that are without sin, pick up the first stone and throw it at this woman taken in adultery.’

None of these religious leaders could do it because we all have sinned.

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and all are under the judgment of God.’

Then not only are we going to be weighed by the Ten Commandments, but we’re going to be weighed by the law of love.

Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments, said Jesus, hang all the law and all the teaching of the prophets.’

It’s all summed up in love. Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul? And do you love your neighbor?

Now your neighbor means anybody that’s in need. Jesus taught that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, anyone who’s in need. You love that neighbor as much as you love yourself. That’s what Jesus said. We are going to be weighed by that law.

Thirdly, we are going to be weighed by the person of Jesus Christ.

The Bible says in Psalm 89, ‘for who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?’

Isaiah said, ‘to whom shall be likened Me, and make Me equal, and compare Me that they should be like Me?’ (Isaiah 46:5)

God says, ‘Be ye holy, for so I am holy. (1 Peter 1:16)

If you don’t…

Now, Jesus Christ was the only righteous and the only holy Man that ever lived. We call some people in India holy man, but Jesus was the only truly holy Man of history.

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And if we don’t live like Jesus and live as good as Jesus is, then we come short of God’s requirement and God’s expectation.

Well, you say, Billy, who in the world can live like Jesus? Nobody. That’s the reason you all have to say, ‘I’m a sinner.’

God is going to weigh us by Christ; He’s going to weigh us by the Ten Commandments; He’s going to weigh us by the law of love, but He’s also going to weigh you by your works, those sins of omission that you weren’t even conscious of.

In Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus reminds us, ‘For I was a hungred and you gave Me no meat. I was thirsty, you didn’t give Me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in. I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me. I was sick and in prison and you never came and visited Me.’

But the people will say, ‘Lord, where did we see You naked and sick and in prison and thirsty? (Matthew 25:37)

Then He answered them this way: “inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.”

Now that strikes every person in this arena, and we come short. And then Jesus pronounced judgment. He said, ‘those that are guilty of the sin of omission and these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous unto life eternal.’

You say? Well, Billy, I’m sort of devastated. How can any of us weigh up?

We can’t. Jesus said in Revelation 3, ‘I know your works, that you’re neither hot nor cold. I would that you were hot or cold. So then, because you’re Lukewarm, I’m going to spew you out of My mouth’, He said.

Listen, there’re going to be a lot of people that are going to miss heaven that you think are going to be there.

And then fifthly, He’s going to weigh us by our opportunities, by our opportunities.

To whom much is given, much shall be required,” (Luke 12:48) He said.

Think of living in America with all of its advantages. A church on almost every corner, a Bible in almost every hotel room, millions of Bibles available, the Gospel by radio and television.

Think of living here. He’s going to judge us by the opportunities we had. Think of the Christian literature that’s available at bookstores and we don’t take advantage of it. To whom much is given, much is required.

You say, ‘Well, Billy, even on that score I can’t make it.’

No, but the glory of this whole thing is that there is a gospel, and the gospel is good news to people like you who are sitting there saying, well, I’m guilty.

The good news is that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the cross to die for you, and God took those sins of yours and those failures of yours and laid them on Christ. He became sin for us.

Now, He said, the just and the righteous are going to get to heaven. How am I going to get a justness and a righteousness of my own when I don’t have any? I’m a sinner. I don’t weigh enough to get to heaven.

But on the cross, Christ provided a justness for me. He provided a righteousness for me that I didn’t have. And I am acceptable tonight, by God. Not because I’ve been good or because I’ve read the Bible or because I’ve preached to crowds of people.

I’m acceptable because of Christ. I am accepted into the Beloved because of Him.

And that’s your privilege at this moment. You can appropriate what Christ did on the cross to you right now, and you can leave here weighing enough to get to heaven, weighing enough to have your sins forgiven, weighing enough to live a new life.

‘Thou art weighed in the balances of God and found wanting.’

Are you found wanting?

The last word here is UPHARSIN: divided.

Thy kingdom is divided. God said, Belshazzar, I’m taking your kingdom away from you.

You’re finished. Judgment is come. It’s too late.

Is God going to say that to you? Judgment has come. It’s too late.

I know people that know that and accept that and believe that and just go on merrily dancing their way to hell. They’re like the mouse that’s been caught in the trap that’s still nibbling at the cheese after being caught.

You’re still nibbling at the devil’s bait and you’re already dead as far as eternity is concerned.

I believe this crusade has been held at the right time and in the providence of God at the right moment in the history of many of your lives; people have prayed for you. People have worked, people have given to make this possible.

And now this is your moment with God to receive Him into your heart, to make sure that you weigh enough. No, I won’t be at the judgment.

‘There is, therefore, now no judgment to them that are in Christ Jesus.’

I won’t see you there. The judgment that I deserved was taken by Jesus Christ at the cross, and I accepted what He did, even though it looked foolish and looked a little bit ridiculous for me to come forward that night and say yes to Jesus Christ in front of all those people. I did it.

And I’m going to ask you in just a moment to get up out of your seat and come forward and stand in front of this platform and say, by coming, I want Christ in my heart. I want to ask you tonight you’re not sure. You may be one of the finest members of one of the great churches of Missouri or Illinois, but you are not sure that you’re ready to meet God. And you want to be sure. You want to be certain.

I’m going to ask you in just a moment to get up out of your seat and come and make sure and make certain of your relationship with Christ. If you’re with friends or relatives, they’ll wait. Or if you’ve come in a bus, they’ll wait.

But you come. You say, well, why do I have to come? That’s the thing I don’t understand.

Every person that Jesus called in the New Testament, He called publicly.

He said, “if you’re not willing to acknowledge Me before men, I’ll not acknowledge you before My Father, which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)

There’s something about coming forward and standing here that settles it and seals it in your heart. It has a spiritual impact. It has a Biblical foundation. It has a psychological impact.

And after you’ve come, I’m going to say a word to you and have a prayer with you and give you some literature, and you can go back and join your friends.

But don’t you let this afternoon pass until you’ve said yes to Jesus Christ, because, you see, you may never have another moment like this. This may be the last moment that you’ll ever have. And now is the moment, you get up and come with hundreds of people that have come this past week, even thousands, you come and join them and say, today, I want Christ to forgive my sins. I want to know I’m going to heaven. I want to weigh enough when I have to be weighed in the great scales of God at the great judgment.

For Further Reading:

Billy Graham’s 1957 Sermon at Yankee Stadium (Transcript)

Derek Prince Sermon: The Two Banquets (Transcript)

R.C. Sproul Sermon: Christ Crucified (Transcript)

Thy Kingdom Come: Derek Prince (Full Transcript)

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