The Handwriting on the Wall
1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Another title for this chapter could be The World’s Wildest Party, hosted by playboy millionaire Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, and number two in command in Babylon. It was a drunken orgy where the women were in abundance and the wine flowed like water-a graphic example of Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. With one small correction: They would not die tomorrow; they would be attacked, defeated, and murdered that very night by stealthy troops already assembled deep beneath the city.
Before we slip into the celebration to see what was really going on, let’s look at the man Belshazzar. Who was he? What were his credentials? It’s important to note that for many years, liberal interpreters of Holy Writ pleaded their case that there was no such person at all. Scholar Ferdinand Hitzack, in 1850, said that no one by the name of Belshazzar had ever existed, and therefore the Book of Daniel was a farce.
However, just four years later, J. G. Taylor was on an archeological dig in southern Iraq where he dug up artifacts that contained sixty lines of cuneiform-a system of writing used for a number of ancient Near Eastern languages from c. 3000 B.C. until the first century A.D. Primarily a Mesopotamian system, cuneiform was inscribed on clay, stone, metal, and other hard materials. This was a key discovery for Taylor and the Christian world, because one of those sixty lines of cuneiform prayed for the health of Nabonidus, and his son Belshazzar.
In 1924, Sidney Smith did some excavating of his own in the region and he, too, unearthed an artifact that stated Nabonidus gave the kingship to his son Belshazzar. Again, liberal Bible scholars do not have a position at all. In fact, those who wish to appear foolish need only to suggest that the Bible has errors in content, history, or personnel. The answers may not be immediately observable, but the truth will always emerge, even as it did in the case of Belshazzar, whom some say was a phantom.
Nabonidus was a great military warrior, always away on a mission to add territory and subjects to his mighty Babylon, and always returning with the booty and spoils of the conquered. In his absence, Babylon was left in the control of his son, Belshazzar. And when the cat’s away, we know what the mice do: They play and play and play-as if there were no tomorrow.
And that’s where we pick up our story-and perhaps the wildest party ever held in Babylon. This was no little soiree in a small drawing room with a few guests. The hall for the festivities was enormous-176 feet long and 56 feet wide. Some of the dinners held in that room had as many as ten thousand guests, with the largest banquet in history having an invitation list of 69,800 people. That’s a lot of folks, and I’m sure that much of the celebration had to be celebrated outdoors. This is the enormous physical environment of chapter five. Big party. Big spenders. Big orgy. Big trouble!
The problems started when young Belshazzar made the mistake of using the holy vessels that his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar stole from the temple in Jerusalem. As far as we know, Nebuchadnezzar committed no sacrilege with these hallowed temple vessels-to his credit. But Belshazzar? He could not have cared less. He wanted to drink, and he didn’t care into what kind of cup his servants poured the brew. Imagine the scene: Young Belshazzar is in charge of the affairs of state, but tonight he figures it’s time to have a party. He goes over the guest list, and probably says, Well, with Dad out of the country on another campaign, this is my night to howl.
And howl he did, starting by desecrating the Jewish temple vessels-goblets that told the story of God’s redemption through blood.
Hebrews 9:22 Without shedding of blood is no remission (of sins).
The Jews also believed that blood makes an atonement for sins
Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
These were holy utensils, not everyday cups and saucers. But Belshazzar ordered them to be filled with booze of all descriptions, much to the delight of his pagan friends who drank, laughed, and danced the night away. But no party lasts forever, and this one would be especially short-lived. Belshazzar would pay dearly for his sacrilege.
Booze was about to become a problem for the young ruler. Have you noticed in the age in which you and I live, that liquor is no less a problem? More than half of all our automobile accidents are alcohol-related. Booze has destroyed more families than anyone can imagine. Drinking has ruined careers, crippled relationships, and left otherwise sane people mentally incompetent. The warnings about alcohol have been in the Bible for thousands of years, and I think it’s important to quote a few verses to indicate what God thinks about the issue.
What God Says about Strong Drink
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Proverbs 23:29 reads,
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
That’s why Proverbs 31 commands:Look not on the wine when it is red.
Juice was called wine. The writer of Proverbs said that when the wine turns red and ferments, don’t look at it!
It’s also the message of Proverbs 23:20 Be not among winebibbers (drinkers).
Habakkuk 2:15 Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also.
The judgment of God is upon those who drink, upon those who get drunk, and equally, upon those who serve strong drink to others to get them intoxicated.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
These state that no drunkard can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he repents of this sin and turns to God.
Well, with that fusillade of verses on what God thinks about wine and strong drink, we note that Belshazzar was not only inebriated as he sat there on his elevated platform, surrounded by his many concubines who encouraged all-night drinking bouts with the guests, but he also added sacrilege to indignity by drinking his kingly brew out of precious vessels of redemption-goblets and temple-ware that represented eternal salvation. To top it off, he and his guests drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Daniel 5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
During this orgy, God was watching the scene from the portals of heaven, and He was not pleased.
5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
6 Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
8 Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
What would you have done if you'd come to the king's palace for a night of revelry and debauchery and all of a sudden God crashed your party? I have a feeling that most of the guests were so blitzed that they may have thought they were seeing things. Some probably thought, This is cool.., look. . . a handwriting on the wall. This Belshazzar guy really knows how to promote magical entertainment. Wow, we didn't know we were going to have a night of illusions to accompany the wine.
But Belshazzar had not arranged this particular distraction, and, apparently, he had enough of his wits about him to call the party to an unceremonious halt as the disembodied hand appeared and began writing a message on the plaster wall. The message was clearly written-a warning of the judgment to come because of the desecration of the temple utensils designed to honor Yahweh, the God of heaven.
The King James version says that his knees smote one against another in5:6. That means Belshazzar was so scared that his knees were knocking. The party was now history, and Belshazzar probably wasn't the only one who wished it had ended an hour earlier. The passage says he was pale. I imagine that you and I would have turned a strong shade of white also.
So once again, the wise men were summoned. This time, not to interpret a dream, but to attempt to analyze this disembodied hand writing on the wall. I imagine the sorcerers and magicians may have said among themselves, Belshazzar's drunk again and is only hallucinating. However, as the soothsayers entered the dining hall, they were stumped because the handwritten message was inscribed indelibly on the wall. Furthermore, they didn't know how to interpret what they were seeing. That's when panic set in, that is, until the queen mother, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar stepped forward and reminded Belshazzar about a man named Daniel in the kingdom who was pretty good at figuring out this sort of thing.
The Queen Mother Remembers Daniel
10 Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.
The queen mother is basically saying, You'd better listen to Daniel because your grandfather really lifted him up, respected him, and used him on more than one occasion to handle situations like this. She knew that Daniel had the spirit of the holy gods in and upon him and because of it had the answers. Daniel was around seventeen years old when he was first brought to Babylon from Jerusalem, and now he was approaching his mid-eighties.
During this entire time in captivity he kept the power of the Holy Spirit on him-and the queen mother knew it. How did Daniel keep this power upon him during his years of service in Babylon? By spending time in God's precious Book. Daniel knew the Scriptures, and remained profoundly touched by God's Word in the pagan land to which he had been brought so many years earlier. Later,
Peter would write in 1 Peter 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
That was Daniel's secret then, and it is the source of our strength today as we move swiftly to the end of the age and to the final unsealing of the end-time mysteries. Daniel lived on his knees before God, and when one lives like that-from teenage years to becoming a senior citizen-that person will be such a Spirit-filled being that even the enemies of God will sit up and take notice. Daniel understood the secret of life, and therefore, whenever called on to speak God's truth to a perverse generation of Babylonians, he was ready with a fitting-and correct-word from God. Is Daniel your model today?
Daniel Comes before Belshazzar
13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
15 And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:
16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
By now, I'm sure the party had come to a screeching halt- and I would think more than a few of the guests had sobered up rather quickly. Who wouldn't-a disembodied hand writing on a plaster wall has that effect on party animals. They probably called him killjoy Daniel. But this senior citizen was just as sharp and alert as the day he was spirited away from Jerusalem to Babylon with the other Jewish captives. He knew who he was and Whose he was. He could not have cared less about the king's offer of a purple robe and a gold chain. What value were such temporal rewards to him?
As modern Christians, it seems that we often get confused on this issue. We all like to be rewarded for the good things we do, often asking, How much am I going to get for doing this? Who's going to notice me if I do this good deed? But this is not the way of Christ.
Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
This is the spirit we must maintain during this end-time hour, but it is not the present spirit of Christendom. If one were to study any Bible concordance on adultery, fornication, or licentiousness, and then look up the word covetousness-he would discover that immorality and materialism run neck and neck. They are that close in God's sight. God hates the sin of loving money and an obsession with material possessions as much as He hates the sin of immorality.
Daniel Admonishes the Young Ruler
17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;
23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
Now, after waiting for Belshazzar to stop talking-probably babbling out of sheer nervousness-Daniel begins to speak. I can see him in my mind's eye: strong, erect, courageous, with all of Belshazzar's guests wondering what on earth is happening. This was supposed to be a fun evening at the palace. But instead, it had become sermon time, and Daniel took advantage of his captive audience by talking about his relationship with Belshazzar's grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. He was giving Belshazzar a refresher course in the life of the former king. He pulled no punches. There was no revisionist history here. Daniel told it like it was, and his poignant message was:
Nebuchadnezzar genuinely learned his lesson when one day he called on the only true God for mercy. But you, young man, have not yet gotten up to speed, and you're going to pay big time for throwing this wild orgy and for desecrating the sacred utensils set apart for temple worship. This was the sermon to an unhumbled heart, addressed to a man who was drinking out of God-honoring vessels to gods that could neither see nor hear. That's what idolatry was all about then, and that's what worshipping other gods is about today.
God Versus the gods
King David said in Psalm 115:4-8,
4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.
5 They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
6 They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
7 They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
8 They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.
Daniel is saying the same thing to Belshazzar: Look, it's just a piece of wood covered with some metal. You made it with your hands. It can't see, hear, talk, move. . . and yet you worship it. Won't you learn from the example of your grandfather Nebuchadnezzar? He paid a terrible price, eating grass like an animal and wandering around insane. But even after knowing this story, you still remain unconvinced of God's power. Because of your unbelief, you took the vessels from God's house and made a mockery of the utensils representing redemption.
Shame on You, Belshazzar!
I'd call that an earful, and Belshazzar had little choice but to sit there and listen patiently to Daniel's lecture. But the prophet wasn't finished with his scolding. He concluded by saying that the young ruler, too, would pay a dreadful price for his wicked, reprehensible deeds, because God promises to bring every work into judgment.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Daniel Interprets the Handwriting
25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
Take another snapshot of the occasion.
The party revelers have slowed down. No more dancing or drinking at the moment. The orchestra has played its last tune, and the cavernous hall is now silent as Belshazzar and his guests wait for Daniel's interpretation of the words written on the wall by a disembodied hand, words which in Aramaic appeared as Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
The reason for repeating the word Mene-your days are numbered-is that the Medes and the Persians were, at that very moment, waiting to make their move into the city to subdue it, so there was a Mene for each one-one for the Medes, and one for the Persians. They were already assembling beneath the city walls, gathering for the attack, just as God predicted the event on a plaster wall for all at the party to see.
Then Daniel turned to the word Tekel-meaning you are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting. Belshazzar was lacking in everything: in morals, in integrity, and in the fear of God. He had done nothing to honor or glorify the one true God. Here, God engages in the kind of irony He so often has used in the Book of Daniel by changing the word Upharsin to Peres-just a few vowels away from the word Persia. He said that not only will the kingdom of Belshazzar be divided, but right at this moment, one of those enemies-Persia-was but a spear's throw away.
While the foolish young ruler and his irreverent guests had been drinking themselves into oblivion, the predicted ones were almost in the hall, weapons poised to murder the brash young ruler.