Summary: This sermon from Daniel chapter 5 deals with the story of King Belshazzar and the handwriting on the wall.

DANIEL ch. 5, Lost in Translation

CHCC: October 14, 2012

Belshazzar by Johnny Cash:


Today we’re looking at one of the most interesting stories in the Old Testament. We have a Ruler of the greatest Kingdom of that day holding a huge banquet that is interrupted by the fingers of a human hand writing on the wall. No one in the hall could interpret the words, but they knew it had to be bad news.

I found out my son-in-law, PJ Condit, is preaching a sermon series on Daniel at the same time we are --- great minds think alike! He found some funny slides that show the problems that come when the meaning gets lost in translation:

4 slides (mistranslated English signs in foreign countries)

Now, back to King Belshazzar --- Let’s review the events that led up to the Writing on the Wall. The first 4 chapters of Daniel talked about Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. For many years Daniel served as head of the King’s advisory --- a position of great power, second only to the King himself. By the time chapter 5 opens, things had changed.

Daniel was probably in his early 80’s by this time. King Nebuchadnezzar had died several years before. Several different sons fought over the throne until eventually Nebonidus, killed off enough of his brothers and became King. He appointed HIS son, Belshazzar as co-regent in charge of the great city of Babylon.

Things were not going well in Babylon. The Medes and Persians were threatening to attack. King Nebonidus believed the gods had withdrawn protection from Babylon, so he was travelling the country, rebuilding temples to the pagan gods. While his father was travelling around, King Belshazzar decided to throw a big party in honor of the pagan gods. It was a REALLY big party! Archaeologists have uncovered a banquet hall that could hold as many as 10,000 people. Probably every important person in Babylon was in the hall that night.

Then King Belshazzar called for the sacred golden cups that had been stolen from the Jewish Temple years before. This was a very intentional act --- meant to show that respect for Jehovah was officially over in Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar had proclaimed that Jehovah was the most powerful God --- but from now on Babylon would go back to worshiping idols.

You can picture Belshazzar standing up and shouting out a toast to the Babylonian gods when suddenly he stops mid sentence … his legs give out and he falls back onto his seat with his eyes glued to the wall where a hand is writing an ominous message: MENE MENE TEKEL PEREZ. (Upharsin) No one in the room can translate the words, but they all know it can’t be good.

Belshazzar called in all his magicians and wise men, but no one could translate for him. Then finally, the Queen told him about Daniel. This was probably Queen Nitocris – the widow of Nebuchadnezzar and grandmother of Belshazzar. She remembered Daniel well --- but evidently Belshazzar had never heard of him.

Here is a summary of Daniel’s translation of the writing on the wall:



1. MENE MENE – God is watching

Daniel translated: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Daniel 5:26

The word MENE is repeated twice for emphasis. God has numbered and numbered your days. Belshazzar may have been ignoring God --- but God was not ignoring Belshazzar.

All this time, God’s people must have felt like God wasn’t watching. By this time they had been held captive in a pagan land for over 60 years. To all appearances it looked like evil was winning and God was absent. Probably a lot of God’s people gave up on God during those years … but never Daniel.

The King had promised Daniel: “If you can tell me the meaning of this writing, you’ll get a purple robe, a gold chain and you’ll be the 3rd highest ruler in the kingdom.” But Daniel had no interest in the rewards Belshazzar THOUGHT he could give. Daniel simply said, “You can keep your rewards, but I WILL give you God’s message.”

Daniel is so impressive in this story! Even though he’s an old man --- around 80 years old --- he stands firm in his faith --- as steady as he was when he went into Babylonian exile as a teenager.

• He stood before the King then, refusing to compromise His faith with the King’s food.

• He stood before the King again as a young adult and interpreted the dream of the statue. After that Daniel was appointed as head of the King’s advisers.

• Daniel stood before the King again in his early 60’s and interpreted a dream of a huge tree. This time the message was bad news for the King. But in the end, King Nebuchadnezzar declared that Daniel’s God was the one true and all-powerful God.

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