Today: [Daniel 05] The Handwriting on the Wall. In chapter 5 of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s son takes the throne in his father’s place. He holds a celebration and drinks wine from the sacred cups of the temple of Solomon. As a result, the hand of an angel appears and writes a riddle of judgment against the king and his empire falls in one night’s time. A sobering end to all kingdoms who defy and seek to exclude from their hearts the living God.
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[Dan 5:1-31 KJV] 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. 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. 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. 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.
In Daniel 5 we are introduced to Belshazzar, the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar. We do not know what year of Belshazzar’s reign when the events of this chapter take place but it is safe to assume it is not long after he newly takes the throne. Whatever the case may be the new king makes a great feast with a 1000 of his lords, and as part of the celebration he commands the wine of this feast to be served from the sacred vessels that his father Nebuchadnezzar had pilfered from Solomon’s temple. The vessels are brought out and the wine is served, and as they partake the king and his lords and princes extol the names of their pagan gods in an act of blasphemy against the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
We might ask why the king would even think of bringing these artifacts out of his treasury. Judah was a very small kingdom in the great empire of Babylon. The conquest of Judah was very minimal, so there was no great battle to commemorate or lengthy siege to recall as a piece of glorious history. Yet, in view of the events of the last three chapters, we might understand Belshazzar’s motivation. On three occasions, Belshazzar would have seen his father humiliated before the God of the Hebrews, when the dream of the image was interpreted, when Daniel’s friends were unsuccessfully thrown into the fiery furnace, and when his father ate grass like a wild animal for seven years after the last and final dream Daniel interpreted for him. Nebuchadnezzar is dead. Belshazzar is making a statement that he will not humble himself to Daniel’s God as his father did before him.
As the king is thus celebrating, he suddenly sees a disembodied hand come out of nothing and begin to write upon the wall near to where the king sits. He cannot decipher the writing, but it strikes terror into his pagan heart. History is repeating itself whether the new king wants it to or not. He calls the soothsayers and wise men to interpret the writing, but predictably, they are unable. You will notice that by now Daniel is in reputation for such things, but Belshazzar resists calling Daniel, but relies instead upon the priests of his own pagan beliefs. After the king’s men cannot read the writing, his fear mounts up even more within his heart until his queen speaks up about a man named Daniel who may be able to help.
Now, it is very unlikely that Belshazzar did not know who Daniel was. Daniel and his three companions are seated very high up in the administration of the king, and have been lauded and praised for many years for their wisdom and their exploits. When the queen brings up Daniel’s wisdom and knowledge of such things to her husband, it is the last thing he wants to hear, yet reluctantly he sends for Daniel and commands him to come before him.
When Daniel appears before the king, you will see by his words in v. 13 that he does not acknowledge the one, true God. Instead he suggests that Daniel has wisdom because the spirit of the “gods” plural is in him, giving rise to Daniel’s deep wisdom in such matters as is before the king at the time of the writing upon the wall. The king isn’t unaware of Daniel’s faith, he is very aware of it. His words are calculated to pressure Daniel and seduce him into not disparaging the pagan beliefs of the great company of lords round about, by emphasizing it was not “gods” plural but only the one and true living God who would reveal what the writing on the wall meant. To further impugn the integrity of Daniel, the king offers great reward and financial remuneration if Daniel will reveal the riddle.
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. 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.
In verse 17 Daniel with great and regal bearing, disregards the king’s bribes, promising to read the writing to the king and make known to him the cryptic message for him and his lords gathered round about. In preparing to solve the riddle, Daniel prefaces his efforts with a reminder to Belshazzar of his father’s arrogance and pride that was humbled when he was driven out of his own court to feed like an oxen for 7 seasons until he learned not to blaspheme. Belshazzar didn’t need to be reminded. He would have known very clearly of this period of years, but as Daniel continues, the point is that Belshazzar has lifted himself up in opposition to heaven, just like his father. They have drunk from the sacred vessels of the temple of Solomon and refused to glorify or honor the God of the Hebrews. For this reason, Daniel declares, the disembodied hand of an angel was sent to writ upon the wall the doom of Belshazzar’s kingdom.
In v. 25 Daniel reads the writing to the king “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”. What does this mean? The interpretation is given:
Mene: God has tallied the number of the days of Belshazzar’s rule, and declared an end.
Tekel: Belshazzar himself has been weighed in the scales of divine justice and come up short.
Peres (Upharsin): Belshazzar’s kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.
This is the fulfillment of the dream of the king about the great image and its shoulders of silver. The silver shoulders of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream were depicting the takeover of Babylon by the Medes and the Persians. The king is astonished. He has no words of reply to Daniel. In silence, he rewards Daniel and retires to his quarters to die that very night as the Medes and the Persians come in to the capital and seize Babylon as a world empire in a single night.
What is the lesson of Daniel 5? God is not mocked. When leaders of nations, of mere individuals dare to exclude God from their lives, there is only misfortune left to them. God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, but neither will He shield a life from consequences when a person excises all honor to God from their hearts. Leaders rise and leaders fall but the overarching truth is that it is God Himself who rules among men and not they themselves.
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