Daniel 5:13-31; 2 Peter 2:11-22; Psalms 119:105-112; Proverbs 26:13-16
OT: “Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts and give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription for the king and make the interpretation known to him… But you his successor, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of the heavens. The vessels from his house were brought to you, and as you and your nobles, wives, and concubines drank wine from them, you praised the gods made of silver and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or understand. But you have not glorified the God who holds your life-breath in his hand and who controls the whole course of your life. Therefore, he sent the hand, and this writing was inscribed. This is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the message: ‘Mene’ means that God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. ‘Tekel’ means that you have been weighed on the balance and found deficient. ‘Peres’ means that your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Then Belshazzar gave an order, and they clothed Daniel in purple, placed a gold chain around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was killed, and Darius the Mede received the kingdom at the age of sixty-two.” (Daniel 5:17, 22-31 CSB)
This is the story that the phrase “the handwriting on the wall” comes from. The phrase has come to mean that some misfortune is impending. In the story, Belshazzar threw a banquet during which he got very drunk. Then he had the unfortunate idea of gathering the holy implements from the Jewish temple and use them in his raucous and overtly pagan celebration. As Belshazzar’s friends, wives and concubines drank from the holy vessels, a mysterious hand appeared and wrote four words on the wall. Belshazzar became terrified and called for the mediums and diviners to interpret what had just happened. When no one could make sense of the writing, Daniel, who had apparently fallen out of favor, was brought in.
In this story, Belshazzar is referred to as the king. In actuality, he was not the official king of Babylon. If we take a look at who Belshazzar was, we can get more insight into what actually went on. Belshazzar was the son and crown prince of Nabonidus, and was most likely a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Nabonidus wasn’t actually Nebuchadnezzar’s heir to the throne. That was King Labashi-Marduk. Nabonidus, with help from Belshazzar, instigated a coup which overthrew Labashi-Marduk and put Nabonidus in power. There is a good chance that Daniel fell out of favor when Labashi-Marduk was removed from power. Belshazzar’s illegitimate claim to the throne may be one of the reasons for Daniel’s low regard for the regent. The reason why Belshazzar offered Daniel the 3rd highest position was probably because Belshazzar occupied the 2nd highest position just below his father Nabonidus.
Of course, like any foolish person, Belshazzar held himself in high regard and thought much too highly of himself. His wanton disregard and disrespect for the things of God was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Nebuchadnezzar had been an arrogant man, and God humiliated him. Belshazzar knew of his grandfather’s humbling experience, yet chose to lift himself above the God of gods just the same. So depraved was Belshazzar, that Daniel wanted nothing to do with him or his rewards. Daniel agreed to interpret the message, not out of respect for Belshazzar, but to make sure that Belshazzar got and understood the message.
The message from God to Belshazzar was that his days were numbered. He had been weighed and found wanting, and the kingdom that he claimed and aspired to inherit would be taken from him and given to the Persians. As Jesus taught in the gospels, “he who has, more will be given – but the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Belshazzar was severely deficient on many levels, and what he had was taken away. Daniel, on the other hand, was extremely faithful and he would be sustained through the transition of power and given more.
Psalms: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. I have solemnly sworn to keep your righteous judgments. I am severely afflicted; Lord, give me life according to your word. Lord, please accept my freewill offerings of praise, and teach me your judgments. My life is constantly in danger, yet I do not forget your instruction. The wicked have set a trap for me, but I have not wandered from your precepts. I have your decrees as a heritage forever; indeed, they are the joy of my heart. I am resolved to obey your statutes to the very end.” (Psalms 119:105-112 CSB)
The psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 was nothing like Belshazzar. Instead of arrogantly disregarding and disrespecting the Lord God, the writer of Psalm 119 humbled himself completely under the mighty hand of God and submitted himself fully to the Lord’s word, will and ways. It was by the Lord’s word that the psalmist was able to see where his next step should be taken (lamp for his feet) as well as the long-term destination of his life (light on his path). Though the psalmist suffered afflictions, experienced danger, and dealt with threats; he knew that as he remained committed and submitted to the Lord, what he had would not be taken from him. Unlike Belshazzar, whose life was snuffed out, the psalmist would thrive in life and have an enduring heritage. When you are walking in faith with the Lord God, submitted to His word, will and ways, the “writing on the wall” contains a much different message.
Prayer: Lord, I thank You that when I live my life submitted completely to You in faith, the “writing on the wall” for my life is not impending misfortune, but sure hope and blessing. You resist the proud, but give grace to the humble. I, like the writer of Psalm 119, choose to make Your word, will and ways the lamp for my feet and the light for my path. By Your grace, as I humble myself before you in faith, make my life a steadfast and consistent display of Your glory and not a flash-in-the-pan life of folly. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.