In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. (Daniel 5:5-8)
Four Words On A Wall
The feast seemed to be going well. It was a grand affair for a thousand of the king’s nobles filled with wine, women, and merriment. Everything was going along so well; the king ordered the gold and silver vessels his predecessor had taken from the temple in Jerusalem to be brought and used for the debauchery. Quickly, the servants went to the storehouse, gathered all the Jewish vessels together, and brought them to the grand hall. His lords, wives, and concubines filled the vessels with wine and continued the drunken feast with great enthusiasm. As they lifted up the vessels of Jehovah, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. It was a time of extravagant feasting as the carnal spirits of ungodliness filled the hall.
In the same hour of the abomination of Belshazzar, the fingers of a man’s hand wrote upon the wall opposite the lampstand. The king saw part of the hand that wrote the words. His face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear, and his legs gave way beneath him. He demanded his astrologers, wise men, and soothsayers to declare the meaning of the words. The king promised a reward to any man who could tell the meaning of the words purple and gold and third place in the kingdom. All attempts to read the words failed, and the king was left without an answer.
Hearing what had happened, the Queen comes to the hall to find the king trembling with great fear. She assured him there was a man in the kingdom with whom the spirit of the Holy God was upon who could tell the meaning of the words. Daniel was called to tell the interpretation of the words “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,” meaning the king the Holy God whose vessels the king had defiled had numbered the days of his kingdom, and it was at an end. Further, the kingdom of Belshazzar would be given to the Medes and Persians because the king had been weighed in the balance and had not measured up to the grace of God. Daniel received the honor promised by Belshazzar, but that night Darius the Mede was already outside the city of Babylon. In the same night, the Medes entered the city and killed Belshazzar, just as the word of the Lord had said.
There is a contrast of worldly views found in the story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall. On one side is the carnal pursuits of the fleshly nature fulfilled in the debauchery of the feast. It was a feast filled with drunkenness, sexual immorality, lewdness, and blasphemy. None of those gathered had a thought of what tomorrow would bring. They lived for the moment. In the midst of their frivolity, a sign was given to remind them of who was in charge of the world. Ironically, all the wisdom of Babylon gathered in one room could make no sense of its meaning. The best and brightest of the kingdom were oblivious to interpreting and explaining the meaning of the words. Their passions were centered upon their self-indulgence. Trying to understand four words escaped them. They were doomed and did not know it.
Daniel is on the other side of the story. The words were not complicated or hard to understand, but the need was to see them from God’s mind. Belshazzar was king of Babylon, but the Holy God of Israel, whose vessels the king had defiled, was the Creator of the universe holding the king’s breath in His hand. God owned all the king’s ways, and the king did not glorify the true God. All the wisdom of Babylon or the world could not make sense of four words. The wisdom of man is useless in the face of the divine word. It took a humble servant of the Lord to explain the meaning of the words. Daniel showed an incredible amount of courage to tell the king – to his face – his kingdom was over, and he would die.
The world is filled with souls who go through life enjoying the sensual joys of fleshly indulgence with no care or concern for God. All the wisdom of humanity will never bring them true happiness, answer the more profound questions of the human equation, or promise anything of value. Like Babylon’s knowledge failed as it faced the word of God, desperate hearts seeking worth in themselves will fail. God’s word is not four words but the message of a graceful God found in the Bible. Only when men turn to the Creator and listen to His words can happiness in life be found. Who do you follow? The wise men of the world or the voice of God?