The Handwriting on the Wall
5 King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.
The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
Daniel Interprets the Handwriting
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
“Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: 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.”
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
Daniel 5 Commentary
by Hank Workman
A new king is in town. Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, has taken the throne. Historical documents differ on if he reigned for 17 years or 3 but the one fact remains, he has no clue who Daniel is.
Politically, Babylon was under attack. King Cyrus of Persia, who has been growing in power set his sights on Babylon and assembled a great army to take it. Darius of Mede had also set his sights on Babylon. It was a fight to the finish as to who would capture it first. Battles had been fought, lives had been lost, but the great city of Babylon was felt to be secured. With the Euphrates River banked up against it, Belshazzar felt as though his fortress was secure. Historical documents relate they could survive for 20 years alone with simply the supplies they had stockpiled.
In celebration and pride, Belshazzar threw a party for a thousand of his nobles. The wine flowed freely, the food lavish, the entertainment well worth the distraction of what lay outside the city walls. As the evening unfolded, the king decided to have all the golden and silver vessels taken years before from the raid of the Jerusalem Temple brought from storage for all at this gathering to drink from. Filled to the brim, the cups were toasted, the accomplishments of the kingdom reveled in, as they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze and other metals and wood.
Then… God crashed the party.
A hand appeared and began writing on the wall. The index finger breaking through the plaster spelled out 4 words. Absolutely terrified the king called all his conjurers and diviners to interpret what was written. No one had seen or knew of such language. The queen having heard of what took place entered the hall and what she suggested spoke to the character of a man from the past, whom the king knew nothing of.
“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners. This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”Daniel 5:11-12
There are two thoughts that resonate here. The first is the king was so filled with himself he had never consulted Daniel in the past. Even though his reputation had gone before him as a man of God, one who had incredible wisdom and discernment, throughout his reign Daniel was all but forgotten.
The second is Daniel’s reputation was solid. Whatever amount of time had lapsed as the torch had been passed from father to son in leadership, he had remained consistent. His life of integrity marked him. Even though his position under King Nebuchadnezzar had been sidelined, he had placed his position in God rather than man’s approval or title. It’s safe to say, he had quietly continued to live his life throughout this time on the things that mattered.
Shuffled before the king, Daniel spoke boldly. He praised his father’s leadership and humbleness before the God of gods. He confronted the leadership of this current king in lack of humility and pride marking his life and decisions. As they had brought the vessels from the Temple to drink from, they mocked God as they gloried in themselves rather than Him. The 4 words written stated:
“God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. You have been put on the scales and found deficient. Your kingdom is about to be divided and given to his enemies.”
Ironically, the king received these words but it was too late. Unbeknownst to him, a watercourse had dried up and Darius the Mede, led his army through the tunnel and overtook the city. Belshazzar was brutally murdered before sunrise.
There’s a saying, “The handwriting is on the wall.” What’s astonishing is the phrase according to Dictionary.com hearkens back to this specific event. It is used in situations where there’s a clear indication or premonition of things to come due to one’s failure or indifference.
There are 2 challenges to mull over. The first is once again to consider the life of Daniel. Throughout the missing years of his presence with this new king, so to speak, he lived consistently. His reputation never tarnished. There are seasons for each of us where life changes, things are hard, the future unknown. Are we being consistent in our walk and relationship with Jesus despite the current? What is the reputation we hold among others? The second is to simply consider the handwriting on the wall. If we were put on a scale and weighed, would we be found wanting, would our life be in the balance as we’ve either lived for Him or for ourselves?
We have but one life. How well is our faith and trust in the God of gods translating?
Daniel 5 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
“Though you knew all this…”
It’s a frightening statement. Consider the fact that Belshazzar didn’t grow up in a “Christian home.” His father, King Nebuchadnezzar, had humbled himself to the Lord at one time and Belshazzar knew this. However, he still followed the arrogant, selfish behavior which had been modeled before him for so long.
Some people would say Daniel’s response was harsh. Scripture tells us that every human being will be held accountable regardless of their upbringing because the reality of sin and the reality of God are built into humanity from the beginning.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.Romans 1:20-23 ESV
He surely had witnessed or heard about the story of the fiery furnace. There is no doubt he knew that his father became mad and grazed among cattle for seven years. You would think this would be enough to turn a heart… but it wasn’t. God still required Belshazzar to respond. We read that he had to be told (or reminded) who Daniel was. This is what we do, right? We get so caught up in our own world that we forget about what really matters in life. We lose focus and make God into an amenity instead of our Lord.
The goodness of God was not meant to be experienced through another person’s life. He is not like a credit card that pays for our debts whenever we decide to pull him out of our wallet. God wants all or nothing… no compromising. We cannot be satisfied with living a lifestyle on our terms and still receive the benefits of knowing Christ. He calls us to so much more than that.