IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




The Writing on the Wall

Date: Sep. 24, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Daniel 5:1-31

Key Verse: Daniel 5:30-31

“That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.”

I would like to start off today with a story. Now, this happened about five years ago. My daughter was about a year and a half old and my father-in-law was watching her during the daytime while I was at work and Viola was at school. Now, I want for you to know, that my father-in-law tended to work second- and third-shift. So, he was working at night time and watching my daughter during the day. It was a lot of hard work and we really appreciate what he did for us. I want to put that out there first. Well, working all night and watching a toddler all day is exhausting. There was one time that my father-in-law was trying to put Ella down for a nap and that would give him a good time to rest, too. In order to help my daughter fall asleep, he would often lie down next to her, but there was this one time where, while lying down with my daughter, my father-in-law fell asleep before she did. After her guardian fell asleep, little Ella decided to get up, leave the bed and have some fun. She took a crayon. I think it was an orange or red in color and wrote down the hallway. There was a large crayon mark about 10 to 20 feet going down the hallway. She wrote all over that wall and my mother-in-law was upset. In today’s passage, there is also some writing on the wall and it is the origin of the phrase “the writing on the wall”. However, the meaning of that phrase does not refer to a toddler writing on the wall with a crayon. When you see the writing on the wall, it means that you see the end coming and it is a pretty ominous end, at that. In this passage, we will see the writing on the wall and come to know what it means to us.

Our passage starts out, “King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.” (1) The first big thing that you might notice is that the passage says King Belshazzar. This is not Daniel, who was also called Belteshazzar, but one of Nebuchadnezzar’s successors. This passage actually takes place about thirty years after the events of chapter 4. By the time this passage takes place, Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for nearly 23 years. The events we see here take place on October 12, 539 BC. To give you a little context, Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC and was succeeded by Amel-Marduk who ruled until 560 BC. In 556, Nabonidus became king. He wasn’t of the royal line, but he wormed his way in. However, he wasn’t a very direct ruler. He spent most of his time in Tema in Arabia which was 500 miles south of Babylon for religious reasons. When Nabonidus wasn’t in Babylon, his son Belshazzar ruled in his stead. He was a coregent, but for all intents and purposes, Belshazzar was king in Babylon. He essentially ruled most of the time.

The first verse speaks of a great banquet that Belshazzar held for his nobles. It was a great banquet for a thousand guests. Such great banquets were commonplace in the region, but, here, the timing seems a little strange. You see, at the time of the feast, Babylon was surrounded by the Persians. The city was under siege. Now the city was heavily fortified with enormous walls. Like Bob mentioned last week, the walls were wide enough for a four-horse chariot to turn around on the top of the wall. The city was stocked with food to last a very long time and the Euphrates River ran right through the city, so water was also plentiful. They could withstand a siege for a long time. The Persians arrived at Babylon because just a few days prior to this passage, the Babylonians suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Persians and Nabonidus fled from the battle. With that defeat, the Persians made their way to Babylon. This makes it a really weird time to have a feast.

There are a few ideas as to why Belshazzar held the feast. One reason is that Belshazzar wanted to have a morale booster for his people. They were just defeated in battle, but the walls of Babylon were nearly impenetrable. They were safe. Another reason could be that since Nabonidus fled after defeat, Belshazzar was moving to make himself the true king and this was a feast in his honor. The third idea was that the feast was in honor of a regular festival. It was autumn and this feast could have been in honor of the harvest. Belshazzar could have held the feast to give a sense of normalcy in tumultuous times. At any rate, the banquet was big deal. There were a thousand nobles invited and they feasted. Customarily, the king ate separately from his guests, but when it was time for the wine, the king joined them. You see, the king wanted to be a part of the revelry. The wine began to flow, and as is the case most of the time, when the wine flows, the bad ideas flow along with it.

As the passage says, “While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” (2-4) Belshazzar wanted to use the gold and silver goblets that were taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem. These were articles that were dedicated to the use in the temple, but Belshazzar wanted to use them for his party. Although, Nebuchadnezzar took them as part of the plunder, the Babylonians had enough respect for the religions of the conquered people not to desecrate holy items. This would be especially true of any item that dealt with God. You might remember that just two chapters ago, Nebuchadnezzar declared that anyone who disrespected God would be killed pretty brutally. Nebuchadnezzar had respect for God and after the events of chapter 4, he may have come to believe in God. Belshazzar, however, had no compulsion. Alcohol is sometimes referred to as liquid courage as it reduced inhibitions. The wine in this party revealed Belshazzar’s heart, his distain and his sense of privilege and entitlement. He took the goblets and drank from them, and, while doing so, Belshazzar praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. Belshazzar denied the living God and praised idols, which are just statues. It was an insult to God on multiple levels.

While the insult was happening, something stopped Belshazzar in his tracks. “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.” (5-6) As Belshazzar was blaspheming God, a hand appeared and began to write on the wall. It must have been a bit freaky to see this hand floating and writing. I wonder if the guests thought they were seeing things, curious as to what was in the wine. The hand wrote on the wall in full view of everybody. The passage says that it wrote near the lampstand, meaning in the light. It was not something that only Belshazzar could see. It was visible to everyone. When he saw the hand, Belshazzar had a sense of dread. He became pale and frightened. He knew that his blasphemy did not go unnoticed and he was scared, so scared that his knees were knocking. It seems a little comical, but Belshazzar’s fear was real. His fear was compounded by the fact that the writing was mysterious and he couldn’t figure it out.

So, the king gathered up his wise men to tell him what it all meant. “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.’” (7) Belshazzar gave the wise men a bit of incentive because he was so afraid. He wanted to make them like another king, with the purple robe and gold chain. These signified royalty, which he showed by also offering the one who revealed this mystery the third highest office in the land. Being the third highest ruler is an interesting offer and an odd one, too. Why third highest? Well, remember that Belshazzar is only the second highest ruler since Nabonidus is technically the real king and Belshazzar is only a coregent serving in the king’s stead. Belshazzar also wouldn’t give someone equal footing to his own rule. That meant the third highest ruler was the best he could offer.

The wise men liked this offer and they all came to try to figure out the writing. “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.” (8-9) None of the wise men could figure out what the words meant and the nobles who were there were baffled. This mystery caused the king to become even more terrified and pale. He thought that his posse would be able to clear things up for him, but they couldn’t. This wasn’t something that his bros could solve, Belshazzar needed special help.

It was around this time that the queen heard all that was happening. “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.’” (10-12) Now, this queen probably isn’t Belshazzar’s wife since the passage already mentioned that his wives were with him during the party. It is most likely his mother and wife of Nabonidus. The queen went into the party and reminded Belshazzar about Daniel, who served Nebuchadnezzar by revealing all sorts of mysteries. Nebuchadnezzar appointed him chief of the magicians, but Daniel was probably out of the public eyes since his death. At this time, Daniel would have been nearly eighty years old.

So, Daniel came in and Belshazzar laid out the problem. There was this writing on the wall that none of his wise men could figure out. The king reiterated his reward for a successful interpretation. But Daniel didn’t want anything to do with the reward. “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.’” (17) Daniel had little need for a purple robe or gold chain and he didn’t want to be the third highest ruler. He had a position of power and he was dismissed upon Nebuchadnezzar’s death. None of those things meant anything. They were like chaff in the wind and not worth having.

Daniel began, “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.” (18-21) Daniel began with reminding Belshazzar of what Nebuchadnezzar went through. As we heard in the last passage, Nebuchadnezzar was powerful, but he became proud of his accomplishments and did not acknowledge God’s hand in his life. When that happened, the king has driven mad and began to act like a cow until he acknowledged the Lords supremacy. Nebuchadnezzar learned that God was in charge of everything and he shared it with everyone in the letter that became chapter 4.

Daniel continued, “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.” (22-23) Belshazzar should have known these things. He must have seen and heard about Nebuchadnezzar’s story, but he didn’t learn from it. Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling by the hands of God was so that everyone would know about the power of God. He had the power to depose even the mightiest of kings, but Belshazzar didn’t listen and took the pride a step further. In his pride, Belshazzar became an enemy of God. He chose to insult God by drinking of the goblets of the temple and praising the statues. He did not honor God who holds the king’s life in his hands. So the words on the wall were meant as judgement against the king.

The words were “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin”. These words were in Aramaic, which makes it a little surprising that none of the wise men could understand it. However, it was not the words themselves that the wise men could not interpret, but their meaning. The words, when directly translated, said “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided” and when you read that, it doesn’t make any sense on its own. The words didn’t need translation, they needed context and that is what Daniel brought. “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.” (26-28) The words pronounced judgement on Belshazzar. God has numbered the days of his reign and brought it to an end. The Persians were at the wall and they were going to get in. Belshazzar was weighed on the scales and found wanting. Belshazzar was not righteous and any good he had done could not tip the scales. He had been found lacking and the Persians would come and take everything away.

Belshazzar made good with his promise. He put a purple robe and gold chain on Daniel and made him the third highest ruler in the kingdom, but it was all for nothing. That night Belshazzar was slain and the Medes and Persians took over the city. History shows that there was no battle for Babylon. The city was invaded without fighting. There are some ideas as to how it happened, but I want to just tell of one. The city had great walls, but the Euphrates River ran right down the middle of it. The wall went right over the river. One way the city might have been invaded was that the Persians diverted the river and walked into the city under the wall. There are reports that when the Persians entered the city, the Babylonians cheered. They welcomed their arrival. Belshazzar and Nabonidus were not very popular rulers and the empire had gone into decline since the death of Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, when Belshazzar was killed it is not known who did it. It could have been one of his own people or it could have been the Persians. At any rate, the writing was on the wall and Belshazzar’s end was at hand.

Now, that sounds like an interesting story, but what does that have to do with you? What does it have to do with me? None of here are kings and I don’t think anyone here is blatantly blaspheming God. Now, I might be wrong in that, but I like to think the best in you. What does this have to do with us? Tekel means weighed and it meant in this passage that Belshazzar was weighed on the scales and found wanting. Belshazzar was not living up to God’s standards and honestly, who here lives up to God’s standards. God has high standards and living up to them does not mean doing the bare minimum. Living up to God’s standards means being just like God. Remember, we were created in God’s image and no less than perfection is demanded of us. In light of this, we too are found wanting. Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23) No matter how good we are, we do not hold a candle to God. Even as a species, we’ve created probes to unlock the mysteries of the universe. The Cassini probe which has been exploring the Saturn system since 2004 ended its mission by flying into Saturn on September 15. That is an amazing feat, but God created Saturn and its mysteries. Even such a feat pales in comparison to what God has done. We constantly fall short of God’s glory. We constantly turn away from God. We might not be outright blasphemers of God, but we have done our fair share of sin.

I don’t know how many times I have let my frustration come out in anger. I have forgotten God’s grace. I call myself a Christian, but I defile that name when I explode in rage. That is falling short of God’s glory. God is so gracious to us and I display none of that. Also, when I am complacent and my heart is hard towards others, I am found wanting. God is generous and is always giving, but I rarely seem to be. My heart is tugged to be generous, but by actions are merely complacent. By calling myself a Christian, but not living a life that shows the fruit of his grace, I am blaspheming his holy name. I am not a good representative of who he is, but there is still hope. The writing is not on the wall for me.

The passage from Romans is, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24) The writing is not on the wall for us because we are not saved based on our actions. We are freely justified by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. I am not saved because I am kind and generous, I am saved because Jesus died for me. There was writing on the wall for me. It wasn’t the same as Belshazzar’s writing, but my judgement was at hand because of my sins, but Jesus took that punishment for me. Right there on the wall are the words of your judgement. You are found wanting, but the blood of Christ covers a multitude of sins. Jesus’ blood covers those words and brings you peace with God. Jesus is found worthy and he steps on the scales that are weighing us. He balances us out and gives us a new life in God.

The writing on the wall was meant for us, just like it was meant for Belshazzar. We have blasphemed God in our lives, but unlike Belshazzar, we have Jesus. Jesus took the writing on the wall for us. He took the punishment that was due us because we just keep walking away from God in so many ways, but Jesus brings us back to him. We never have to read that writing because Jesus’ blood covers it up. All we have to do is accept what Jesus has done for us because we are justified freely because of what he has done. If we don’t accept it, then the writing is on the wall and it is not a toddler’s scribble.

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