The Writing is on the Wall (Daniel 5)

Daniel 5 provides us with a lesson concerning the judgment of God and it foreshadows God’s coming judgment on “Babylon the Great” (Rev. 17-18). This chapter can be divided into two sections, Belshazzar’s feast (Dan. 5:1-12) and Belshazzar’s fall (Dan. 5:13-31).

Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his kingdom officials (Dan. 5:1). He then issues a command to bring the vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, so that he and the guests could drink their wine from them (Dan. 5:2-3). As they did this, they worshiped “the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone” (Dan. 5:4). These actions revealed a complete disregard for the God of Israel and displayed a life style consumed by sin.

In the midst of the party celebrations, there was a major interruption. The king saw the fingers of a man’s hand writing on the wall of the palace (Dan. 5:5). Belshazzar’s countenance changed from to being festive to being fearful (Dan. 5:6). He said to the wise men of Babylon that if they could read and interpret this writing, they would be promoted to the third ruler of Babylon (Dan. 5:7). However, not one of them was able to provide the meaning and Belshazzar was “greatly troubled” (Dan. 5:8-9). The queen mother provides Belshazzar with a solution. She reminds him of a spirit filled man in the kingdom named Daniel. She reminds Belshazzar that Nebuchadnezzar made him the chief of the wise men of Babylon (Dan. 5:11-12).

In this final section of the narrative, we read about the fall of Belshazzar. Daniel is brought before Belshazzar for an interview (Dan. 5:13-16). After asking hi about his origins (Dan. 5:13), Belshazzar tells Daniel what he knows about his reputation and then offers him the promotion of being the third ruler of Babylon if he makes known the interpretation (Dan. 5:14-16).

Daniel respectfully responds with some instructions (Dan. 5:17-24). He begins by declining the offer of promotion, yet commits to making known the interpretation (Dan. 5:17). Then he goes on to remind Belshazzar that it was God who gave Nebuchadnezzar his kingdom and fame (Dan. 5:18-19). But because of his pride, the Lord humbled him until he knew that the Lord rules over all (Dan. 5:20-21). Daniel then instructs Belshazzar, that he knew all this about Nebuchadnezzar, and did not humble himself (Dan. 5:22). Instead, “you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven” Daniel said (Dan. 5:23). It is for this reason, God wrote this message on the wall (Dan. 5:24).

After giving such a bold instruction Daniel provides the interpretation (Dan. 5:25-31). After reading the words aloud “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (Dan. 5:25), Daniel gave the meaning: “God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting…your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Dan. 5:26-28). In response to this, Belshazzar honoured Daniel and promoted him (Dan. 5:29), but that very night Belshazzar was killed. Darius the Mede received the kingdom – the silver chest and arms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:32, 39).

This chapter reminds us that God’s judgment is real. God judged Belshazzar because of his willful rejection of the one true God. The day is coming when all mankind will stand before the throne of God, and He will judge according to what they have done (Rev. 20:12). However, for those who have received forgiveness in Christ there is now no condemnation for them (Rom. 8:1).