Study 6 THE HANDWRITING ON THE WALL
STUDIES IN THE LIFE OF DANIEL
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Daniel 5:1-31)
One of the most graphic pictures of life that could possibly be drawn is brought before us in this fifth chapter of Daniel, where it describes the passing of a great Empire and the downfall of the head of gold (Daniel 2:32,37,38). The scene is the city of Babylon, founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:9-10), which was the most magnificent and luxurious city in the ancient world. It was surrounded by an impregnable fortress 15 miles square, the wall of which was 87ft thick and 350ft high. On these walls, which were surrounded by a 35ft moat, were 250 watchtowers, and many of the over-one-million inhabitants lived in beautifully designed and ornamented houses. In Isaiah 44:27 – 45:2, and in Jeremiah chapter 27 and 51:28-32, we read the prediction of the rise and overthrow of this fabulous city, and in Daniel 5 we read of its downfall and the end of Babylon rule. While the king was holding a feast, Darius and his invading armies, who had diverted the course of the river Euphrates, swarmed up the muddy bank beneath the walls of the city and into the city itself. There are four prominent people in the chapter before us. Notice to begin with:
1. WHAT WE ARE TOLD ABOUT THE KING
From verses 1-4 we find that the king was Belshazzar, the great-grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. He made a feast and invited his lords and their wives and a great number of concubines, and this soon became a drunken orgy, a dissolute extravagant riot of passion, madness and bewilderment; also, as verses 2 and 3 show us, it was an occasion of blatant blasphemy and sacrilege, when the sacred vessels of the Lord were brought out and used. Verses 3 and 4 speak of impiety, intemperance and immorality – the sins which are so rife today when many have no time for God; they defy Him and live for the things of the world – look up Psalm 7:11. God is jealous of His honour, especially when holy things are profaned; thus we read of His punishment in connection with the Ark of the Covenant at Beth Shemesh (1 Samuel 6:19); of His anger when Uzzah touched the Ark (2 Samuel 6:6-7); of His judgment when Saul offered a burnt offering (1 Samuel 13:9-14) and of His displeasure when Uzziah offered incense (2 Chronicles 26:16-19). Thus it was that when the proceedings at the feast were at their height – suddenly God stepped in! Read verses 5-6…7-8…and verse 9! What a solemn thing it is when God speaks to a man, whether he be king or commoner! Now notice:
2. WHAT WE ARE TOLD ABOUT THE QUEEN
We get this in verses 10-12. She was the Queen Mother, the widow of Nebuchadnezzar, and two things are worthy of note:
- The power and the influence of this woman. We do not know much about her, except that she was not at the feast and that she had previously witnessed the power of God. She may have been a believer. She knew Daniel and she was not afraid to speak of this man who was known for his piety. What an influence such queen mothers can exert upon the nation, and what a great influence the tens of thousands of spiritual queen mothers in the church can bring to bear upon the kingdom of God!
- The power and the influence of Daniel. See the first seven words in verse 11. How great it is to have such men available to the Lord and ready to do His will – men who are holy, dedicated and courageous, as Daniel was! – look at verse 12.
3. WHAT WE ARE TOLD ABOUT DANIEL
We must remember that at this period Daniel was over 80 years of age and that nearly 70 years had passed since his capture and deportation from Jerusalem to Babylon. Verses 13-16 speak of the king’s enquiry, his explanation and his enticement, and verse 17 tells of Daniel’s bold refusal. Then, in verses 18-24, we have what we may call Daniel’s sermon to the king, marked by a forthright telling forth of God’s message against the background of His dealing with men and nations. What courage he had! – look at verses 22 and 23, and compare Proverbs 28:1 and see his explanation of the writing on the wall (verse 24). In verses 25-28 we have his interpretation of the writing, the words of which were: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN”, which translated literally were: “NUMBERED, NUMBERED, WEIGHED, DIVIDED”. He showed the king that the word Mene indicated that God had numbered Belshazzar’s kingdom and had finished it; Tekel meant that Belshazzar was weighed on the scales and found wanting; Peres indicated that the kingdom was to be divided between the Medes and the Persians. Belshazzar awoke to the terrible truth that while he had been living in sin God had been weighing up his life; he had been found wanting, and his doom was sealed. Surprisingly, when Daniel had finished his pronouncement the king wanted to honour God’s servant – verse 29. But it was too late. Belshazzar’s fate was sealed, for notice:
4. WHAT WE ARE TOLD ABOUT THE LORD
Verses 30-31 make very solemn reading. Everything happened just as God said it would. His predictions and His prophecies were literally fulfilled, as they always are. Notice a sequence of truth about the Lord in this chapter:
- In verse 3, His name is blasphemed – compare Galatians 6:7-8.
- In verse 5, His hand is revealed – compare Luke 12:16-21.
- In verse 11, His witness is identified – compare Acts 14:17.
- In verse 18, His sovereignty is declared – compare Daniel 4:3.
- In verses 22-23, His justice is vindicated – Romans 1:18.
- In verse 24, His ultimatum is announced – compare Proverbs 29:1.
What a solemn chapter this is! In conclusion, let us compare and contrast the two men: the one clothed with kingly robes which only covered a worthless heart; the other drawn from a life of simplicity and solitude, ready to act for God in public as he loved to speak to God in private; the former looking back upon a wasted life, and the latter reviewing his past with no sting of regret and no scars to mar his testimony. We must all take our stand with one of these men, either with Belshazzar or with Daniel – look up Job 9:4.