The Writing on The Wall

The scene in Daniel 5 is one of festivity and celebration. King Belshazzar makes a sudden and unanticipated appearance into the narrative. We do not know anything about him prior to his sudden appearance, but he springs into action. His character is revealed through his actions and speeches and he throws a huge banquet for a thousand of his nobles. The focus then shifts to the holy vessels Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Belshazzar orders his servants to bring them out in order that they might praise their idols and drink to incapacitation. No shortage of blasphemy and idolatry is present. It is as if he spits in the eyes of God. Just as suddenly as Belshazzar is introduced, so too we observe a disembodied hand writing a message on the wall. The reader who is faithful has no doubt who is behind the writing, but Belshazzar has no clue. His reaction is severe fright and in extreme distress he seems to have lost control of basic bodily functions. The hand is a reference to God in which His actions are frequently described metaphorically such as the writing of the 10 commandments or the creation of the heavens. 

To be sure, the hand writing on the wall is not some drunken hallucination by Belshazzar, but it is in fact God’s manifestation of judgment against the wicked and sinful king. The writing on the wall ready: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UHPHARSIN. Daniel, through the help of God interpreted it as follows: 


Daniel was rushed onto the scene to make heads or tails of the enigmatic writing on the wall and interprets the writing like he has done before (Daniel 2 and 4) not because of any power of his own, but because of God. The interpretation was: God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it (5:26). We do not know how long Belshazzar has been ruling. In fact, commonly attested historical accounts suggest he was the son of Nabonidus who the actual king at the time was. But he was away, and so Belshazzar took the reins for a bit. Imagine you have to go away to attend to important matters and you leave your son or next of kin in charge and on his watch, everything comes crumbling down. Emphasis is placed on the word MENE twice for dramatic, fearful and absolute purposes (5:25).


The interpretation was: You have been weighed on scales and found deficient (5:27). Belshazzar is found lacking, wanting, deficient. He just has not measured up to God’s standards. To say someone or something is deficient implies they do not have enough quality or an ingredient of some kind. Belshazzar was deficient in giving God glory. He was lacking in recognizing God’s sovereignty and power. He committed blasphemy (5:2-3, 23) and idolatry (5:4, 23) and essentially spat in the face of the Almighty. He failed to humble himself (5:22-23) like his father Nebuchadnezzar. 


The interpretation was: Your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians (5:28). Because Belshazzar failed to learn from Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is divided, and his temporary reign comes to a tragic end. He has failed to recognize God and give Him the glory and thus God gives the kingdom to another whom He has chosen. Belshazzar died because of his failure to learn and God demonstrates He is the one in control (Dan. 4:25-26).

This entire narrative in Daniel 5, is based largely on Belshazzar’s failure to learn from his own mistakes and the mistakes of Nebuchadnezzar. Today, we have been given gems in terms of the number of opportunities we have to learn from the errors and mistakes of others and ourselves (Rom. 15:4). Belshazzar had Nebuchadnezzar, but he failed to learn. We have them both and many more (1 Cor. 10:6-11). Do we dare to reject these opportunities?

 If we fail to learn from our errors and the mistakes of others, we will fall prey to God’s great judgment: our days as children in His kingdom will be numbered (Matt. 3:10; 7:19; Rev. 2:5). The day will come when we have to meet God’s measurement. We will be weighed on His scales. Will we take advantage of these lessons or will we be found deficient? 

We have no excuse. The world today is far better informed than in the days of Belshazzar. We have been warned and given clear instructions as to how to have a proper relationship with God. We must ensure that we are consuming our daily vitamins and supplements (2 Pet. 1:5-11) otherwise we will be found severely deficient and lacking. They are readily accessible at the fingertips. These vitamins and supplements help us to build strong spiritual muscles and it gives the spirit life by which we can indeed bear good fruit (Jn. 15:8).

After we are weighed, if it be we are found unworthy, God will remove what we have and give it to someone else (Matt. 13:12; 21:41-43; 25:24-30). We must recognize God is in control and we must serve in humility giving Him all the glory (2 Thess. 1:10-12; 1 Pet. 4:11). God gives us more than enough opportunities to see His light and to obey His will, so we can avoid everlasting death (Mk. 16:16). God has written on the wall, given us the interpretation and now the rest is up to us. Do you need to make changes today? Will you choose to learn the lessons God has given us?