The Handwriting in DANIEL 5

You’ve heard the phrase “the handwriting is on the wall.” This comes from the Bible, specifically in the Book of DANIEL chapter 5. What’s going on here?

Daniel1When something is inevitable or seemingly about to happen, one may use that popular phrase that “the handwriting is on the wall.”

The story of its inception comes directly from Chapter 5 in the Book of DANIEL. It’s actually a pretty incredible set of circumstances that happen one evening at a palace party hosted on the very last night of Babylonian King Belshazzar’s reign of power. This climatic evening is in the midst of the well-documented Fall of Babylon in 539 BC by the invading Medo-Persian Empire led by the Persian King Cyrus II (The Great) and one named Darius I the Mede.1

Belshazzar’s Feast and Defamation of God
King Nebuchadnezzar II ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 BC when he died. He was followed by 3 rulers until 556 BC when Nebonius ascended to the throne and put his own son, Belshazzar, over Babylon as co-ruler when he retired to Arabia.2

By 539 BC the Babylonian Empire was under assault by the Medo-Persian Empire now camped outside its city walls. Belshazzar apparently thought he had little to worry about. While the Euphrates River flowed through the city, it was walled on both sides to keep the enemies from using it to attack the city. The walls of Babylon were about seventeen miles in circumference and so seemed secure enough.3

In this context, King Belshazzar decides to entertain 1,000 guests in his palace. In a blasphemous move, he chooses to profane God by drinking from the vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple:

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father 4 had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them…. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:1-4)

The Handwriting on the Wall Appears
The true adage that God is not mocked plays out directly in front of Belshazzar and his guests:

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. (Daniel 5:5-6)

Belshazzar is terrified and summons his astrologers to interpret the words on the wall. They could not:

The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. (Daniel 5:7-9)

The Queen Mother Remembers Daniel
It has been 60 years since Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream (see Chapter 2). Daniel is now close to 80 years old. Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, now the Queen Mother (see Footnote 4) tells her grandson that she remembers a “man in your kingdom…”:

The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.” (Daniel 5:10-12)

So Belshazzar does call for Daniel and promises him great riches to interpret the writing on the wall:

So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom….Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:11-16)

Daniel Announces God’s Judgment
Daniel wants nothing to do with any of this king’s rewards. He gets right to the fateful interpretation:

Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means. (Daniel 5:17)

Daniel begins by telling Belshazzar that the Most High God put Nebuchadnezzar in power, took him down, and raised him back up until he acknowledged God as sovereign:

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes. (Daniel 5:18-21)

Then Daniel declares a stunning judgment on King Belshazzar:

“But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin

“Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:22-28)

While Daniel was rewarded by Belshazzar and proclaimed third highest ruler in the kingdom (behind Nebonius and Belshazzar), history and the Bible records that Belshazzar was killed that very night in 539 BC and the Babylonian Empire fell to the Medo-Persian Empire.5

Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two. (Daniel 5:29-30)

Do you believe “the handwriting on the wall?” 

“Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” – Daniel 5:26-28

1 Fall of Babylon, in

2 Archaeological Study Bible, Zondervan, 2005, Note: Daniel 5:1-2, p. 1392

3 The Handwriting on the Wall, by Gordon Dickson, December 30, 2020, in Proclaim and Defend,

4 Harper Study Bible, RSV, Zondervan, 1962, Note: Daniel 5:11, p. 1303, Belshazzar was the son of Nebonius. It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s grandfather on his mother’s side. The terms “father” and “son” do not bear the same exact connotation in Hebrew that they do in Western languages. Jesus was termed the “son of David.

5 Harper Study Bible, RSV, Zondervan, 1962, Note: Daniel 5:30, p. 1305, At least two ancient historians (Xenophon and Herodotus) have recorded the fall of Babylon. Under the cover of night, the Euphrates river running under the city walls, was diverted from its normal channel by the Medo-Persian invaders….While the leaders amused themselves in a drunken carousal, two Babylonian deserters led the conquering hosts into the city by the dry bed of the river. The defending garrison found itself attacked from within the city itself and was helpless to withstand the invaders. Belshazzar himself was slain that same night as the Persian troops raged through the city.

Categories: Abundant Living, Books of the Bible, Calling, Devotion, Discipleship, End Times, Evidence, Evil, Faith, Fathering, Forgiveness, Israel, Jesus, Marketplace, Old Testament, People, Prayer, Prophecy, Purpose

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