The Writing on the Wall

August 3, 2012 - 5:00 am

“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.” — Daniel 5:5–6

Belshazzar, the last Babylonian king, was having a feast when he saw a vision that shook him to his core. A human hand came out of nowhere and left a message on his wall. No one could figure out what the words meant, so they called on Daniel to interpret them.

Daniel explained that “mene, mene, tekel, parsin” — literally “numbered, numbered, weighed, Persians” — meant that because of King Belshazzar’s many sins, his days were numbered and that his kingdom was about to be given over to the Persians. Tradition teaches that it didn’t take long for Daniel’s prediction to come true. That very night, the Persians broke into the palace and killed King Belshazzar and everyone in attendance at the feast.

Isn’t that a little unfair? Couldn’t Belshazzar have had some time to repent? One minute he sees the writing on the wall, and the next, its message comes true!

As Daniel interpreted the words written on Belshazzar’s wall, he reminded Belshazzar of what had happened to his father, King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel recalled how Nebuchadnezzar had become arrogant and was punished by God until he repented and recognized God’s supremacy. But Belshazzar had learned nothing from Nebuchadnezzar’s life and had become even more arrogant than his father.

In fact, just before the infamous writing had appeared on the wall, Belshazzar had been drinking from cups and vessels stolen from God’s Temple! He should have known better. As Daniel told him, “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this” (Daniel 5:22).

Nebuchadnezzar’s life had been Belshazzar’s warning. The writing on the wall had been there the whole time; he just refused to see it. So no, it was not unfair that Belshazzar wasn’t given any time to repent after the message had finally been written in black and white. God had given him a lifetime to repent, and now his time was up.

Years later, King Cyrus would make history when he urged the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple. Tradition teaches that Cyrus had learned from Belshazzar’s experience and understood that his kingship hinged upon his respect for God. Unlike Belshazzar, Cyrus had learned to read the writing on the wall. He got the message and let it dictate his life.

It is said that those who ignore the past are bound to repeat it. I would add that those who read and acknowledge God’s messages can write a new future.


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