The party in the king’s palace in Babylon ran late into the night. The food was abundant and the wine flowed freely. Drunkenness and lack of judgment reigned.
Out of nowhere the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the wall of the room. Intoxicated by the splendor of the king’s palace, the lords and ladies present had no idea of the danger of the moment.
Look around at today’s world. Are we big enough or great enough to rise to the challenges of our time?
The king and all those present became so frightened they broke out in sweat and staggered at the sight of a disembodied floating hand that was writing out a coded message on the plastered wall. When finished, the words mene mene tekel upharsin stood in stark relief before the eyes of the astonished guests.
What was this strange message? What did it mean for the king of Babylon? What does it mean for our world today?
A world in confusion
Look around at today’s world. Are we big enough or great enough to rise to the challenges of our time? Consider what is facing the nations.
The Middle East is aflame. Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Their goal will continue in spite of a recent treaty promising that “Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful” and that “Iran will under no circumstances seek, develop, or acquire nuclear weapons.”
This is the same nation whose leaders incite its people to chant “death to Israel” and “death to America.” Its fundamentalist Shiite Muslim leadership sponsors terrorism throughout the Middle East in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
No leader in the Middle East believes this recent agreement with Iran will lessen the tensions of the region. Clear-thinking leaders believe Iran will continue plans to develop weapons of mass destruction—and when successful, it will use them to further its apocalyptic mission. It is not a matter of if but when.
Europe is going through a very rough period. The European Union has faltered in its plan to grow an ever-closer utopian union among the nations of Europe, a region that has seen so much war and strife in the last century. The goal of peace through economic and social cooperation has fallen on a critical moment with the economic instability of Greece. EU leadership will be forced to correct this flaw—if not now, then at some point in the future.
We can gain great insight into what these major world events mean by understanding the story of the handwriting on the wall. Just as God was moving among the nations to rearrange the power structure 25 centuries ago, so He is moving to accomplish His purpose in history among the nations today. There is a higher, spiritual purpose behind today’s headlines.
But are we—you and I—big enough people to rise to the challenge of the day? Are we big enough to see the handwriting on the wall of our times and listen to its meaning? We live in very serious times. We have to be able to read the handwriting on the wall just like Daniel did on that night in Babylon so long ago.
The night the lights went out in Babylon
The biblical book of Daniel is a story of kingdoms at war during one of the most crucial periods of world history. The prophet Daniel lived at a moment of great change and upheaval. He was an intelligent young Jew taken captive to Babylon during one of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasions. He found himself promoted to a key role in the court of the king of Babylon, capital of the Chaldean Neo-Babylonian Empire that spread across the Middle East.
Daniel spent his adult life working in the courts of power of two kingdoms—the kingdom of Babylon and later the kingdom of Persia. God gave Daniel the gift of understanding to interpret dreams and prophecies and even the strangest of sights—the handwriting of a floating hand that appeared in the banquet room of Belshazzar, the last Chaldean king of Babylon.
When we look at the events of that night we witness God’s gift to this devout and righteous prophet, a man who stood before great kings and testified of the glory and majesty of the God of heaven. Daniel’s example shows us what kind of person it takes to rise to the challenge of great moments in history. Here we see the power of the Spirit of God moving not only on the face of the earth, directing the course of nations, but in the noble life of one who humbly seeks to do God’s will.
On that fateful night, a hand appeared from nowhere and wrote on the wall of the king’s banquet room in front of hundreds of drunken guests. When the king saw this, “his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him” (Daniel 5:6 Daniel 5:6Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation).
He cried out: “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!” (Daniel 5:7 Daniel 5:7The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spoke, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
American King James Version×, NLT)—third because Belshazzar was second, coregent with his father Nabonidus, who was away.
None of Belshazzar’s trusted counselors were able to interpret the handwriting on the wall.
Then in walked the queen—this being evidently either his mother (wife of Nabonidus and daughter of Nebuchadnezzar) or his grandmother (the widow of Nebuchadnezzar). She said to him: “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.
“This man Daniel … 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” (Daniel 5:11-12 Daniel 5:11-12 11 There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
12 For as much as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
American King James Version×, NLT).
Daniel interprets the vision
Daniel was called in. He was offered the great reward of honor, wealth and status for interpreting the handwriting. What Belshazzar did not understand was that Daniel was not a man who could be flattered or influenced by these symbols of power.
Daniel had stood before this king’s predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel had actually warned that prior king—a powerful and temperamental dictator—that if he did not humble himself before the God of heaven he would become like an ignorant beast of the field, reduced to eating grass with the barest scraps of clothing on his body. This happened, and Belshazzar knew it did. But Belshazzar had not learned the lesson.
Daniel told Belshazzar: “You have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny!” (Daniel 5:23 Daniel 5:23But have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before you, and you, and your lords, your wives, and your concubines, have drunk wine in them; and you have praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways, have you not glorified:
American King James Version×, NLT)
Belshazzar was not big enough for the challenging times of his day. That very night the armies of his enemies captured mighty Babylon. A new empire replaced Babylon at the top of the nations. This was foretold by God through the prophet Isaiah about 150 years earlier. Daniel was at this moment announcing to the Babylonian king that the God of heaven was in charge of history and was setting a new kingdom at the head of all the others.
What did the handwriting on the wall say? What should we learn from its message? And what is the message we need to take with us today?
We are living in a period of great change in today’s world. Nations and power structures are realigning. Weaknesses are being exposed. Cultural shifts are taking place that are shocking to many. Where is it leading, and what does it mean?
An ancient message for today’s world
In the night’s drunken revelry, Belshazzar had ordered the gold and silver vessels once used for a holy purpose in God’s temple in Jerusalem brought into the room. These cups and bowls were then used as props in a mockery and affront to God. There is a point where God determines a culture has gone too far to allow it to go on.
When the hand appeared, it wrote the following words on the wall of the banquet room: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
Daniel turned to the king and gave the interpretation of the inscription: “MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES [ peres is the singular form of upharsin ]: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”
These words were a listing of weights and monetary units. God was numbering, weighing and dividing out units of money in a graphic display of displeasure with the greatest empire of the time. Babylon, the great city and kingdom, a fierce and violent nation, had been examined by God and found unworthy of continuing. It was brought down and given to a new kingdom, that of the Medes and Persians.
Why was money used here as a symbol of examination and judgment? It was appropriate. Babylon was a wealthy nation that traded across the world of its day. Wealth and money had flowed into the city, making it the center of international finance. Babylon was a city that saw money flow into it like great gushing streams of water. The prophet Jeremiah described it as a city “abundant in treasure” (Jeremiah 51:13 Jeremiah 51:13O you that dwell on many waters, abundant in treasures, your end is come, and the measure of your covetousness.
American King James Version×).
The Babylonian Empire was finished as a world power. Its influence would continue to flow through history and remains very much with us today. But in this moment there was a change of power.
Even then the king did not understand. Belshazzar commanded Daniel be clothed with purple, the symbol of royalty, and a chain of gold be put around his neck and to be proclaimed the third ruler in the kingdom. It was an empty gesture by a king who was completely out of touch with reality.
That very night the king was killed, and the Medo-Persian Empire took over. Babylon had been weighed and found wanting.
Can we read the handwriting on the wall for our times? Can we discern what is happening among the nations of today’s world and see God’s hand moving through history? Nations and regions of the world are in turmoil. Danger is on the horizon. The cultural shifts occurring in America and other parts of the world should cause grave concern. Do we have what it takes to stand up—to rise to the occasion and meet these challenges?
The handwriting is on the wall today
In many ways, life is pretty good for most in the Western world. Americans enjoy the highest standard of living ever known. The poorest among us live like kings compared to people in other parts of the developing world. And yet even in the midst of the world’s wealthiest period we have pockets of people who lack the basics and suffer from poverty. The social and economic problems we face in America and other nations are real in how they affect people’s lives.
We see racial strife erupting in the major cities of America, reflecting deep-seated anger stemming from a social structure that is not balanced or in line with the values of godly biblical teaching.
There is a reason for this. We as a society have cut ourselves off from God. We have not wanted to keep God and His laws in the center of public life. There has been a steady erosion of biblical values and teachings for more than 50 years.
If you want to understand the reason behind the major events of recent times, the breakdown in whole segments of society and the headlong rush into a moral meltdown, look no further than three key events shaped by the United States Supreme Court. America’s highest judicial body has issued landmark rulings in three areas that reflect the country’s decline in the eyes of the God of heaven.
In the early 1960s the Supreme Court issued two rulings regarding prayer and Bible readings in public schools. In the first, the justices ruled that official prayer had no place in public education. A year later, the court declared school-sponsored Bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer unconstitutional.
While the decisions didn’t rule for or against personal expressions of faith, they were part of a period of cultural change that continues to this day. The court ruled on a matter of great spiritual importance for a nation blessed with a unique place in the world—a place made possible by the God of heaven.
Then in 1973 the Supreme Court decided another significant landmark case, Roe v. Wade. This case legalized abortion in all 50 states. It sanctioned the taking of an unborn life, labeling murder a right guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
Since 1973 more than 50 million abortions have been legally performed in the United States alone. When a government does not protect its unborn life, it deserves the judgment of the God of life. That judgment is coming, and sooner than we might think!
The third of these rulings by the Supreme Court came in June 2015 with the legalization of same-sex marriage. In this ruling the court made up a sweeping right that same-sex marriage is guaranteed by the Constitution. Let’s be plain about this highly charged issue: The United States Supreme Court has stepped beyond its temporal bounds into the spiritual realm of defying the God who created man, woman and marriage.
The court decreed that the divine institution of marriage as defined in the Bible as a sacred union between a man and woman—the only biblical definition of marriage—is superseded by its human reasoning and judgment. Human law now sanctions as marriage a relationship that God never intended—in fact, one that He in fact specifically forbids!
With these rulings America has crossed a line. We have gone from a ruling against prayer and Bible reading in public schools to sanctioning the killing of the unborn to ruling against the biblical definition of marriage. In a little more than 50 years these decisions have taken us down a path of open public defiance of God in our most elemental parts of life.
We as a people grope blindly, trying to see our way forward, not knowing that we are poor and blind and miserable and naked. And now we wait, wondering when God will act with a fire of judgment upon us.
Will you read the handwriting on the wall?
I wonder just where God might be in His evaluation of our world today. Does He see our state of affairs and pause in thought, determining it is time to put a stop to this?
I don’t know when that might occur, but I do know that you and I must come to a place and time in our lives when we must act to stand in opposition to sinful society, turning toward God and changing our ways.
Are we big enough for the challenge of our times? For you and me, the challenge is to turn away from this world and begin to live by the teachings of the world to come, the Kingdom of God. That in itself determines whether we can face the challenges with the only power that makes a real difference—God’s Spirit and the teachings of the Kingdom of God.
Daniel in his day at Babylon stood for the Kingdom of God in the midst of the raging wars of the kingdoms of Babylon and Persia. For Daniel the choice was clear. God’s Kingdom—along with the way he had known since a child—was the only right choice. The God he served was the one true God who lives, unlike the gods of stone and wood and metal he saw in the temples of Babylon.
For Daniel, the collapse of his own nation of Judah was done at the will and the hand of his God and served a greater purpose. The gods of Babylon were empty and worthless, unable to hear or see and clearly unable to prevent the demise of Babylon.
The time is now for you to be like Daniel! The time is now to read the handwriting on the wall of our time and seek to understand the will of the God of heaven!
The king and lords and ladies of Babylon were not great enough for their time. Are you up to the challenges of our time? Too many tread endless circles of mediocrity and accept shabby lies and fictions of today’s culture as truth. The result is that we build our lives on shifting sands. When the winds of difficulty blow, they may not stand. It is a sobering thought.
The time is now to take action. The time is now to see the handwriting on the wall and rise to a higher calling and a higher way of life. The time is now to seek the God of heaven and live!
The handwriting is on the wall. Can you read what it says and move to change your life?