The Writing on the Wall – Daniel 5

More than twenty years after King Nebuchadnezzar had been restored to his throne in Babylon, the king was now dead, and new leadership was in place.  The king’s “son” (actually a grandson) Belshazzar was now reigning as co-regent and presiding over the governance of the palace.  He liked lavish drinking parties, and no expense was spared in the revelry.

1 Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.  Daniel 5:1 (NASB)

A party atmosphere permeated the city and its officials.  But outside city walls, a danger lies in wait.  Darius the Mede, a sub-king of King Cyrus who had unified Medo-Persia, had his armies encamped there. He was looking for a way to breech Babylon’s defenses to add to their list of conquests.  The festive crowd in the party either did not know or were in such an inebriated state that they did not care about the imminent threat just outside city walls.

The young co-regent added to his troubles by taunting Almighty God, desecrating holy articles that had been plundered years earlier from the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem.

While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines could drink out of them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank out of them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.  Daniel 5:2-4 (NASB)

Nebuchadnezzar had had a change of heart, developing a sincere faith in God in the years since he had stolen the articles.  God forgave him for his ignorant act.  But faith in and respect for the Lord was not passed along to Belshazzar – quite the opposite.  And tonight, all hell would break loose in Babylon, beginning with an uninvited guest at the party.

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. Then the king’s face became pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints loosened and his knees began knocking together.  Daniel 5:5-6 (NASB)

Have you ever been so frightened that you realized your knees were actually knocking together?  I have.  The appearance of this frightful, disembodied hand that began to write had this same effect on the young co-regent.  Whatever or whoever this was and whatever it was writing on the wall was as perplexing as it was terrifying.  No one could comprehend the words’ meaning.

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even more pale, and his nobles were perplexed.  Daniel 5:8-9 (NASB)

Finally, a queen in the palace remembered about the prophet Daniel, who had previously been able to decipher such divine mysteries.

11 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 soothsayer priests, sorcerers, Chaldeans, and diviners. 12 This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of riddles, 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 (NASB)

The writing was now on the wall for Babylon and its failed leadership.  It was about to be judged by God for the pain and hardship it had inflicted on His people.  Daniel would be brought in to explain all to Belshazzar and his court.

23 … the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Daniel 5:23b (NKJV)


This account reminds us that when we fail to give God glory for what He has done for us, even giving us the breath of life in our lungs, we are not being very pleasing to Him. 

If, like Belshazzar, we add sacrilegious behavior and taunt the Lord, we are putting ourselves in a dangerous position.  But God will forgive even this if we come to our senses, turn away from evil behavior, and humbly seek His face.

Father, forgive us for all the times we did not give honor to You.  Help us to acknowledge You in all our ways so that You may intercede to make our paths straight.  We turn to the cross for forgiveness and a new life in Christ.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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