Imagine a party – plenty of wine drinking and unlimited alcohol, music and sensuality. A raucous good time! Everyone feels buzzed and happy; laughter and merriment permeate the atmosphere. They drink and joke around until a disembodied hand begins writing on the palace wall. Screams rip the smiles from faces as they stare horrified at the supernatural event unfolding before their eyes. It’s not a movie or tv show. This really happened.
Ok, so it was a long time ago. The Handwriting on the Wall is a phrase recalling the Old Testament story of Daniel, coming straight from Daniel chapter 5 of the Bible. While a king was holding the Jews captive in the foreign land of Babylon during sixth century b.c., a mysterious hand appeared, writing on the wall of the king’s palace. The king called upon Daniel, who interpreted it to mean that God intended the king and his kingdom to fall. The king was slain that very night.
Figuratively, the expression means that some misfortune is impending: “His firing came as no surprise; he’d seen the handwriting on the wall months before.” It literally means that bad things are coming.
Let’s look closer at what actually took place, remembering this is not a fiction story, rather an actual event. These were real people, not made up characters. The setting was Babylon, a real city where sin was rampant. It wasn’t merely a party, rather a drunken scene of sensuality (the women present were not their wives) where acts of religious sacrilege occurred. See, King Belshazzar knew the significance of the Temple chalices. He knew the gold and silver implements were set apart (sanctified) as holy vessels of God to be used in worship of Yahweh (YVWH) alone. For Catholics, it’d be like using the gold communion chalice to drink beer from. NOT!
But this ancient King mocked God, using these holy chalices to drink wine, as if they were modern-day red solo cups that we use for beer. King Belshazzar profaned God by mocking Him and worshipping his own pagan deities. It makes me shudder to think of God’s reaction to the mocking gestures.
God’s reaction was to send a disembodied hand and have it write Aramaic words upon the palace wall. This spooky, supernatural event sobered everyone up! It wasn’t the words themselves that terrified the King because he did not know what they meant. The event itself terrified the King. His face drained of color, his knees knocked and his thoughts troubled him, Daniel chapter 5 explains. I’d say so!!
What happened next? The King calls for an interpretation. Dr. David Jeremiah explains in his book, The Handwriting On the Wall that one of the significant points of this event was that Daniel’s reputation was known to King B from years before. Daniel, age 84 at this time, had been imprisoned as a captive for fourteen years so he’d been around the palace awhile.
“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. … your father the king – made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel … now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation,” (Daniel 5:11-12).
What an honorable reputation to have! Daniel knew his role was to speak for his God.
He refused the gifts offered as payment for the interpretation and plainly laid out the truth, courageously … using a forthright manner. No politically correct spin, no flattery or charm. It was a time for explaining impending judgment to this King. It was a sober conversation, indeed.
Daniel states three things: First, he charges the King with premeditated sin, telling him that he was not ignorant of behavior that God expected because his grandfather taught him the right way. Daniel told Belshazzar that he did not learn from his grandfather. Secondly, the King was guilty of sacrilege in misusing the sanctified implements of worship and thirdly – the King was guilty of pagan worship.
Next, Daniel interprets the meaning of the inscription. “Mene mene Tekel Upharsll” means you have been numbered, weighed and found wanting … you have been measured, weighed and found to come short. In other words, God was evaluating the King’s life and it was not good. King Belshazzar was slain that very night and his kingdom given to the Medes and Persians.
Despite all the sword wielding, stabbing and killing going on around him … Daniel walked right out of that palace without a scratch of harm to become a leader in the Persian kingdom. NOT a scratch!
Main Takeaways: This story represents a major theme of Daniel, that God has authority over every earthly ruler and kingdom, and He is the only one worthy of our worship. No one is innocent before God, but He freely offers forgiveness to those who humble themselves before His goodness and power. God protects his people when they are divinely placed in dangerous and violent situations. God was not finished with Daniel at age 84 and he is not finished with you or I, either! Daniel was not concerned with fame or monetary payment. His primary focus was to accurately speak the truth about God when asked to do so. Finally, we must realize we are NOT to neglect scriptural passages explaining God’s wrath and judgment. We need to know WHAT angers God so that we can avoid it. Mocking Him is a major issue with God.
I love this story because it tells me that God directly intervenes in human affairs through supernatural means as well as through servant messengers like Daniel who displayed the strength of character and courage to speak the truth. It depicts the immediate judgment for sinful behavior, even today. Yet there is divine protection when we walk in obedience to God.
Here is a great 4 minute video telling this story using super graphics.