Summary: Pride and blasphemy mean to continue in sin, and to do as one pleases, leaving God out of certain areas of our lives.

The Writing on the Wall

Mar 18, 2012 Dan 5


There is a fairly common English idiom, you’ve probably heard: the writing is on the wall. It is a portent of doom or misfortune (Wikipedia) – something bad is going to happen; you should be able to see it coming because the writing is on the wall. The expression comes from today’s story.

Let me set the stage. It is at least 20yrs later than the previous chapter, where King Nebuchadnezzar commits the sin of pride and ends up going mentally ill and living like a wild animal. As we saw last week, he was restored from that but now he has died, and a new King is on the throne. But it is not going well – the Babylonian empire is crumbling, and the Persians are just outside the city ready to attack. Daniel is around 80 years old, and had probably been living quietly in the city for the past 20 years or so as political power has shifted around. And just as an aside, if you enjoy reading history this is a fascinating chapter to dig into and try to really figure out who is who and how it all fits together with historic accounts from outside of Scripture.

There is one other piece you need as background to really understand the story. Kings of this time were comfortable acknowledging the existence of all kinds of different gods. And most of those gods were attached to different nations, and the stronger gods were the ones whose armies won the battles. The armies would then seize religious artifacts as symbols of their victory over the other gods, but they would generally still have some respect and even superstition towards those objects, as they still were attached to supposedly real supernatural beings, who could still wreak some minor havoc if they were overly insulted. A King would have to be pretty drunk to get brazen enough to directly insult another nation’s god.

Dan 5 (NLT):

1 Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. 3 So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

5 Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, 6 and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him.

7 The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him. He said to these wise men of Babylon, Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed in purple robes of royal honor and will have a gold chain placed around his neck. He will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!

8 But when all the king’s wise men had come in, none of them could read the writing or tell him what it meant. 9 So the king grew even more alarmed, and his face turned pale. His nobles, too, were shaken.

10 But when the queen mother heard what was happening, she hurried to the banquet hall. She said to Belshazzar, Long live the king! Don’t be so pale and frightened. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, this man was found to have insight, understanding, and wisdom like that of the gods. Your predecessor, the king—your predecessor King Nebuchadnezzar—made him chief over all the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers of Babylon. 12 This man Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.

13 So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king asked him, Are you Daniel, one of the exiles brought from Judah by my predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar? 14 I have heard that you have the spirit of the gods within you and that you are filled with insight, understanding, and wisdom. 15 My wise men and enchanters have tried to read the words on the wall and tell me their meaning, but they cannot do it. 16 I am told that you can give interpretations and solve difficult problems. If you can read these words and tell me their meaning, you will be clothed in purple robes of royal honor, and you will have a gold chain placed around your neck. You will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

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