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Book of Daniel - Handwriting On The Wall

Updated on October 7, 2011

Chapter 5 - Handwriting On The Wall

The incident of handwriting on the wall happened in the year 539 BC in the royal palace of Babylon.More than 20 years had passed since the episode of Daniel 4 and Daniel was now about 80 years old. And the king who ruled in Babylon was no longer Nebuchadnezzar, but Belshazzar.

Some historians believe that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, his father Nabonidus married Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter. His father Nabonidus was the king of the Babylon Empire, but co-reigned with him and Belshazzar was put in charge of the capital city of Babylon.

The similarities between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar:

  1. Both were proud and arrogant
  2. Both had a supernatural revelation. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, Belshazzar had a vision
  3. Both couldn’t understand what it meant, and both called on Daniel to give the interpretation

The difference is that the 2 kings responded to the revelation differently, and as a result they had different endings.

The Feast of Belshazzar

According to secular history, the date is October 12, 539 BC. King Belshazzar invited 1000 nobles to celebrate with him along with his wives and concubines. The party got off to a great start with free flow of food and wine, everyone’s spirit was high.

The atmosphere inside the city was joyous and celebrative, but the same cannot be said about the atmosphere outside the city wall because their enemy, the mighty army of the Medes and Persians, was closing in on the city; there was great tension in the air!

Just a couple of days earlier, the army of the Medes and Persians had defeated the Babylonian army some 50 miles from Babylon. Belshazzar must have known that an attack on the city would soon come. So, why did he throw a party at a time such as this?

There could be several possibilities:

Perhaps he wanted to unite the leaders of his empire, and to boost their morale before the great battle

Or, may be he knew that they were going to lose the battle, so he thought, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

But a third possibility, which seems most possible is that King Belshazzar was completely indifferent to the impeding danger. After all, the city of Babylon was protected by a complex series of double walls all around the city, which varied from 80 to 300 feet high. It had over 250 watchtowers and 100 fortified bronze gates. Moreover, the city contained a 20-year stockpile of food and supplies; it had ample supply of water as the Euphrates River flowed right through the city. To Belshazzar, Babylon was unconquerable!

As the party went on, all of a sudden, probably under the effect of alcohol, Belshazzar ordered his servants to bring in the gold and silver goblets that his forefather Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem some 50 years earlier (Dan 1:2). These were special vessels, holy unto the Lord, set apart for the worship of God in the Temple. But on that night Belshazzar instructed that the goblets be used for his drinking party.

The Arrogance of Belshazzar

King Belshazzar was proud and arrogant. He had no respect for anyone, not even God. In his arrogance, he committed the sin of blasphemy. Blasphemy is the act of dishonouring God through speech or actions; and Belshazzar did both.

King Belshazzar made a direct, blatant, public attack on God by using the holy objects to drink wine. He mocked God by desecrating the things associated with the worship of God. But God is not to be mocked. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7)

Not only that, Belshazzar also used the holy goblets to toast and praise his false gods, “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dan 5:4), that is idolatry. The Babylonians worshipped multiple gods. And in Belshazzar’s mind, the God of Israel was much less powerful, subservient to the Babylonian gods, after all, it was the Babylonian gods who gave the Babylonians victory over Israel and their God!

But the God of Israel, Yahweh, will not be made subservient to any other gods. He says, “For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Ps 96:4-5).He will not share His glory with another! To do so is idolatry!

The arrogance, blasphemy and idolatry of Belshazzar can be found in abundance in our culture today.

We have touched on pride and arrogance in Chapter 4, but what about blasphemy? It is a commonplace nowadays to hear and see people dishonouring God through speech and actions. Some people curse, mock and attack God's name fearlessly. We see that in movies, TV shows, music and other media, they swear and make jokes in Jesus’ name shamelessly.

Today there are no sacred goblets, but when people deface or fire-bomb a church, when they deface and desecrate the Holy Bibles, when they treat the Cross of Jesus with disrespect, they commit the sin of blasphemy. These blasphemous acts have happened right here in Malaysia not too long ago.

Today, there are no holy goblets but we are the holy vessels of God bought by the blood of Christ, and we must use our bodies only for holy, not blasphemous purpose.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter, “Flee sexual immorality… Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you… Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Cor 6:18-20).

Do you love, care and respect your body?

Do you also treat all other fellow men and women the same way, for we are all created in the image of God?

As for idolatry, there are plenty of idols here around us, just like the days of Babylon. For us Christians, we may not bow down to physical idols, but there is a more subtle form of idolatry. While we worship God on Sunday, but the rest of the week, we may worship the god of money, the god of career, the god of sports, or the god of pleasure.

Just when all the guests were having a great time in this drunken party; suddenly, God crashed into the party in a most dramatic fashion.

The Handwriting on the Wall - Daniel 5:5-9

Suddenly, without warning, a disembodied hand began to write on the plaster wall in the banquet hall. No body, no face, just some fingers writing on the wall. It wasn’t just the king who saw things, everyone saw the same thing. The whole party stopped, the room turned dead silence. The king’s face turned pale and he almost collapsed.

And then suddenly, the fingers disappeared. But the words remained. Four words in Aramaic, but what did they mean?

King Belshazzar called for all the wise men and offered great rewards to anyone who could figure out the meaning of those words. He promised to make that person the third highest ruler in the kingdom after his father and him. But no one could solve the puzzle, no one knew what to do!

At this point, the queen came into the scene. Historians believe she was not Belshazzar’s wife but his mother, the queen mother. She entered the hall and as she looked at the handwriting, a name came to her mind, and she said, “Call for Daniel!” So the king called for Daniel and he came.

Daniel, once a teenage exile, now an old man, entered the banquet hall. All his life he had served in the court of the king of Babylon faithfully, and he never once compromised his godly values and convictions. Interestingly, Daniel wasn’t invited to the party in the first place; who would invite a godly man to a drinking party, he would be such a killjoy! But now he was needed!

Never underestimate the power of a godly life. We never know our influence until a crisis comes. As a Christian, you may be overlooked or possibly ridiculed and misunderstood. You may not be invited to every party. Do not despair. You will get the call when trouble comes. When it happens, be bold to speak the truth in love.

Belshazzar called for Daniel, and offered him the same deal. Daniel wasn’t interested, but he gladly explained the meaning of the mysterious handwriting on the wall. He began by giving Belshazzar a history lesson.

The Interpretation of the Writing - Daniel 5:18-24

Daniel reminded Belshazzar of what had happened to his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, when he became arrogant and proud. His point was this: “But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this” (Dan 5:22).

Daniel was saying, “You should have known better. You should have learned from the past that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. But you chose to ignore all that. Not only you didn’t humble yourself and repent, you attacked and defied God!”He then moved on to explain the meaning of the handwriting.

Judgment Declared - Daniel 5:25-28

Daniel’s explanation to Belshazzar was short and to the point. God has numbered the days of your reign, and the time is up. Your reign is over and your life will soon end. God has weighed your life on the scales and you come short, you do not measure up. Your kingdom is about to be broken up, divided and given to the Medes and Persians

The king must have sobered up by now and he ordered the purple robe to the placed on Daniel along with the gold chains, and made him the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

And then the story comes to an abrupt end.

Judgment Delivered- Daniel 5:30-31

That very night, the army of the Medes and Persians under General Darius launched a surprise attack on the city of Babylon. They conquered it and killed King Belshazzar.

According to the historians, the army of the Medes and Persians managed to divert the Euphrates River into a nearby lake. When the river dried up, the army was able to walk into the city under the city wall using the muddy riverbed. There was no resistance by the Babylonian army. King Belshazzar was killed and the Babylonian Empire came to an end that very night.

What is the difference between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar? Both were arrogant and proud. The difference is that Nebuchadnezzar repented and was radically changed by God; Belshazzar refused to repent, and was judged and slain.

The Ways of God

We can learn some important lessons about the ways of God.

God fulfills His every Word. We can be sure that every word of the Lord will come to pass, sooner or later. Whatever God says, whether it’s written in the Bible or Him speaking into our hearts, every prophecy and promise will come to pass.

God acts without delay. Some people like to believe that God will never punish them, or if punishment comes, it is far off in the distant future that they have plenty of time to repent and turn to God. This is a dangerous and even deadly attitude.

Belshazzar didn’t get a second chance, his time was up. God said, “Enough is enough!” He blasphemed and mocked God publicly, so God judged him publicly.

No one knows when that time is coming. Do not take God’s warning lightly. God is gracious and patient, but if we persist in rejecting Him, when the time comes for God to act, there is no delay.

God weighs every human heart. Here is a message for all of us- Christians and non-Christians alike: God weighs every human heart.

The question is: How would we fare? Would we be up to standard, or would we be found wanting?

Everyone will be weighed on the scales and if our sins are not covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, we will be found wanting. We can only be saved by the blood of Christ and not by our good deeds. Every one of us must repent of our sins and receive God’s forgiveness.

And for Christians, God will also weigh our deeds:

  1. If God weighs your zeal for lost souls, do you think you will be up to standard?
  2. If God weighs your actions, your availability and obedience, will you be up to mark?
  3. If God weighs your financial contributions to His kingdom, will you be found wanting?

How about us as a church? Are we obeying the leading of God, are we serving the lost, the lonely, the last and the least? If God weighs us, will we be found wanting?

Belshazzar knew what he was supposed to do, but failed to do so, he had no excuse. We too have no excuse, we are responsible for the way we live our lives. Someday, we will have to account for every resource we’ve been blessed with- time, talent, money & opportunity, as well as every Word, message or truth we’ve received from God. God will judge us according to what we have done with what we have received. To whom much is given, much is required (Lk 12:48).


If God were to write a message for you on your dining room wall, if He were to send you a message on Facebook or Twitter, what would the message say? Is there something that you need to repent and make right with God? And would you respond to what God is telling you today?

Let’s learn from Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. Let’s not ignore and disregard God’s warning, but let’s heed His warning and submit to His will, and we will receive God’s forgiveness, blessing and favour, and He will change us to be the men and women that He is pleased with.


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