The Handwriting Is Still on the Wall

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"Bring out the golden vessels that our great King Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem. Even the mighty God, Yahweh, could not withstand the power of the unconquerable Babylonians. Where is the great God of the Jews now?

"Let it be known tonight that I, King Belshazzar, am invincible and that I will do as I please even to the point of drinking out of the very gold and silver cups and bowls reserved for the so-called great God of the Jews, Yahweh!

"Long live the mighty gods of Babylon-praise be unto them!" (Daniel 5:1-4 Daniel 5:1-4 [1] Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. [2] Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. [3] Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. [4] They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
American King James Version×
, paraphrased).

King Belshazzar, then vice regent of the whole of Babylon and king of the city of Babylon, was already drunk, his face flushed, his eyes glazed as he gulped down another immense goblet of dark-red wine. He nearly choked on his last gasping effort to gulp down the entire contents before servants hastily brought the special temple vessels to him.

As he struggled to gain his royal composure, servants quickly passed these sacred vessels to the monarch and his retinue, who clumsily thrust their newly acquired drinking vessels before the wine-pourer, loudly demanding them to "fill it up to the brim and let it run over the sides."

All as one raised their containers to the king, and together they mocked the God of the Jews while praising their gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone. It was a night to end all nights as far as they were concerned.

An impregnable city?

Although the Babylonians were aware of the Medo-Persian threat outside their magnificent and unassailable city, they knew beyond a doubt that no army could penetrate their fortress walls. They were secure in the knowledge that their walls had not been "stormed by invaders in over a thousand years" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 70).

The historian Herodotus reported his account of that fateful night when King Cyrus's army actually invaded and conquered the city of Babylon. He wrote: "A battle was fought at a short distance from the city, in which the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian king, whereupon they withdrew within their defences. Here they shut themselves up, and made light of his siege, having laid in a store of provisions for many years in preparation against this attack..." (The Persian Wars, Book I, Sect. 190, 191).

It appeared ludicrous to the Babylonians for anyone to dare lay siege against their impregnable fortifications. After all, according to Herodotus the city measured 120 stadia square (roughly square 14 miles) and boasted a wall 50 royal cubits (about 90 feet) wide and 200 royal cubits (approximately 300 feet) high.

From the top of the battlements, the Babylonians insulted and jeered at Cyrus and his armies. One even mocked them: "Why do you sit there, Persians? Why don't you go back to your homes? Till mules foal you will not take our city." This arrogant boast was typical of the Babylonian attitude about their superior fortifications.

However, the night was not yet over. Cyrus's clever military strategist, a General Ugbaru, had a plan that would change the course of history, thereby fulfilling the prophecies and plan of Almighty God.

Noting that the Euphrates River ran through gates right into the heart of the city, the general "diverted the waters of the Euphrates to an old channel dug by a previous ruler,... suddenly reducing the water level well below the river-gates" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 70).

The water was lowered to thigh depth and the Persian attackers waded under the giant gates and clambered up the riverbank walls before the Babylonian guards knew what had happened. But, before this took place, God had warned Belshazzar of his demise.

Handwriting on the wall

Shouting, laughing, sometimes cursing, Belshazzar continued to make sport of the Jews and their hapless God. "Fill my cup again," he demanded.

As he began to swill another goblet of the finest kingly wine, though he was wholly incapable of enjoying it, the Babylonian regent noticed something unusual in his peripheral vision. It looked like a man's hand, but it was not attached to an arm and body of a human being.

As the hand began slowly and deliberately to approach the far wall near a lamp stand, the king began to sputter and choke, spewing wine from the sides of his mouth. Suddenly the fingers of the apparently human hand began to write on the wall. As the hand wrote, the king's face turned ashen, his blood-streaked eyes widened and his knees began to knock together (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×
).

Immediately the revelry quieted to a deafening silence. The shocked musicians lowered and dropped their instruments. Dancing girls froze in their tracks. Stunned waiters stopped and stared. All, as one, gazed transfixed at the words being written on the wall. The stage was now set for the one true God to intervene directly in the affairs of puny mankind, specifically in King Belshazzar's life and the downfall of the mighty Babylonian kingdom.

Belshazzar couldn't interpret the words written on the wall, much less the impossibility of a disembodied hand writing them. "I demand to know what these words mean," blurted the king. "Who can tell me what this writing signifies? I will clothe the man in purple and place a gold chain around his neck and make him third ruler in my kingdom if he can explain what these words mean" (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×
).

This was a frightening moment for King Belshazzar, so he commanded the presence of his wise men to decipher the meaning of the words on the far wall. Since the wise men could not read the writing, they couldn't tell the king what it meant. This apparently sobered the king even more. He grew even more pale and became more terrified than before. He was without a clue as to what he should do.

Daniel summoned

However, the queen mother, aware of the sudden tumult, entered the great hall to address the king (Daniel 5:10 Daniel 5:10Now the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: and the queen spoke and said, O king, live for ever: let not your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance be changed:
American King James Version×
).

She attempted to calm Belshazzar, claiming she knew of a man who could both read and interpret the handwriting on the wall. "His name is Daniel, and your grandfather Nebuchadnezzar made him chief over all the wise men of Babylon because he could understand and interpret dreams," she said (Daniel 5:11 Daniel 5:11There 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;
American King James Version×
, paraphrased). (Although most translations call Nebuchadnezzar his "father," he was actually his grandfather. The Aramaic term used actually means "ancestor" or "predecessor.")

The king immediately had Daniel brought before him. Although scholars differ as to Daniel's age in 539 B.C., he was probably at least 80 years old. Apparently he was in semiretirement since he wasn't present with the other so-called wise men, and the king had not remembered his name nor his previous accomplishments under his grandfather's reign.

In any event, elderly Daniel stood before the king, ostensibly to allay his fears. The same promises were made to Daniel that had been made to the wise men or anyone who could interpret the handwriting on the wall. Daniel was not impressed, answering "Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation" (Daniel 5:17 Daniel 5:17Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
American King James Version×
).

The news on the wall was not good news. Daniel diplomatically rebuked the ruler and pronounced the prophetic and disastrous warning etched into the wall. This was the message he read and interpreted: "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN," which is to say, "Mene: God has numbered your kingdom and finished it; Tekel: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; Peres [the singular form of Upharsin]: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:25-28 Daniel 5:25-28 [25] And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. [26] This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it. [27] TEKEL; You are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting. [28] PERES; Your kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
American King James Version×
).

Remarkably, immediately after Daniel pronounced this curse on the king and Babylon, the king kept his word and made Daniel third in command in the kingdom. Belshazzar might have momentarily considered killing Daniel for declaring such a curse, especially before his entire court. However, another thought might have overcome his first impulse: If he rewarded Daniel, maybe Daniel's God would have mercy on him.

There was, as well, the thought that the king had given his word in front of his own entourage and the partygoers. Whatever the motivation, God continued to honor his servant Daniel for his unwavering faithfulness.

Daniel's elevation to this powerful position of rulership did not end with Belshazzar's demise. King Cyrus (also known as King Darius) placed Daniel as the president over the princes of his Persian kingdom once he controlled all of Babylon (Daniel 6:1-3 Daniel 6:1-3 [1] It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; [2] And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts to them, and the king should have no damage. [3] Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
American King James Version×
).

Pride precedes a fall

Daniel forthrightly reminded Belshazzar of things he remembered. He told the well-known story of how God had humbled his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar by making him forage in the royal pasture with the animals for seven long years (Daniel 5:18-21 Daniel 5:18-21 [18] O you king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor: [19] And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. [20] But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: [21] And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appoints over it whomsoever he will.
American King James Version×
). "But you his son [grandson], Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this" (verse 22, emphases mine throughout).

Daniel continued admonishing the king, telling him he had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven. Specifically, Daniel cited that Belshazzar had the arrogance to drink wine from God's vessels (verse 23). Further, he noted the king had praised his own inanimate gods while engaging in such blasphemous acts.

At this point, Daniel shows the reality of God's greatness: "And the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified" (verse 23). King Belshazzar actually experienced the irony of having his obituary read to him by a captive slave.

Belshazzar had not learned the lesson his grandfather was forced to learn: that God is in charge and whatever He wills will be done. He had not learned that God requires mankind to honor Him through humility and obedience (Daniel 4:30-37 Daniel 4:30-37 [30] The king spoke, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? [31] While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from you. [32] And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make you to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will. [33] The same hour was the thing fulfilled on Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. [34] And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: [35] And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say to him, What do you? [36] At the same time my reason returned to me; and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and brightness returned to me; and my counsellors and my lords sought to me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. [37] Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
American King James Version×
).

The king could not have been unaware of his grandfather's seven-year demise. Though years had passed, such a remarkable act would still have been common knowledge among the populace. Belshazzar was family. As he grew up, he would have been cautioned not to let happen to him what befell his grandfather. This incident has great historical import. Yet it has far greater prophetic implications for us.

That handwriting's meaning

Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation prophetically interprets for us Daniel's account. Three components comprise the fulfillment of that ancient type: (1) a king, (2) an end-time Babylon and (3) God.

Since God hasn't gone anywhere and is still omnipotent and omniscient, the third component requires no explanation. But where is the end-time Babylon, if there is such a thing?

Although characterized as a "great city" in Revelation 18, the end-time Babylon is not just a city-state as ancient Babylon was. God reveals that this Babylon is characterized both by its religious and political power (Revelation 17). Its economic power is so great that rulers and merchants will "weep and mourn" at its downfall (Revelation 18:9-19 Revelation 18:9-19 [9] And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall mourn her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, [10] Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is your judgment come. [11] And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buys their merchandise any more: [12] The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, [13] And cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. [14] And the fruits that your soul lusted after are departed from you, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from you, and you shall find them no more at all. [15] The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, [16] And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! [17] For in one hour so great riches is come to nothing. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, [18] And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like to this great city! [19] And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
American King James Version×
).

This great Babylon is a system and way of life so far-reaching that it encompasses many of the peoples and nations of the earth (Revelation 18:3 Revelation 18:3For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
American King James Version×
). And it has a sinister foundation, for it traffics in the "bodies and souls of men" (Revelation 18:13 Revelation 18:13And cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
American King James Version×
).

A king also will arise who will ally himself with other rulers and the end-time Babylonian system and rule as if he were a god. This is the prophesied "beast" of Revelation 13. It is significant that this mighty end-time king is identified as the beast, recalling that the first king of Babylon was also reduced to the state of a beast (Daniel 4:32-33 Daniel 4:32-33 [32] And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make you to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will. [33] The same hour was the thing fulfilled on Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.
American King James Version×
).

The book of Revelation describes all the ingredients of the prophetic fulfillment of Daniel's physical antecedent. The bestial king of Revelation will follow the same foolish pride and arrogance of Belshazzar, and his final act is to fight and defy Jesus Christ at His return (Revelation 19:19-20 Revelation 19:19-20 [19] And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. [20] And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
American King James Version×
). Belshazzar failed the test, and so will the beast in the end time. What about us?

Will we heed the handwriting?

You should be aware that you can understand the handwriting on the wall. Daniel showed how this is done: "There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets" (Daniel 2:28 Daniel 2:28But there is a God in heaven that reveals secrets, and makes known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head on your bed, are these;
American King James Version×
).

However, to simply acknowledge this is not the total answer. For a person to understand God's great plan of salvation, humility must be a top priority. The apostle Paul explains this, telling us that the wisdom of God is a mystery hidden to the world at large, understood only by those to whom God chooses to reveal it (1 Corinthians 2:7-10 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 [7] But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world to our glory: [8] Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. [9] But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. [10] But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
American King James Version×
; Matthew 13:13-17 Matthew 13:13-17 [13] Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. [14] And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which said, By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive: [15] For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. [16] But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. [17] For truly I say to you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them.
American King James Version×
).

Humility, then, allows the great God above to teach us His great plan for us. Human beings can learn from God if they humble themselves before His almighty hand (Daniel 5:22 Daniel 5:22And you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this;
American King James Version×
).

We are coming to a time in history that will be the lull before the storm. Various governments and religions will combine and make pronouncements of peace and safety throughout the world. To the ordinary person, a millennial peace will appear to be on the horizon.

But woe to the person who accepts that ploy. For "that peace" will disappear in a heartbeat when the beast and false prophet begin to exercise their military might (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 [1] But of the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need that I write to you. [2] For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. [3] For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes on them, as travail on a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
American King James Version×
; Luke 21:20 Luke 21:20And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
American King James Version×
). Many will perish (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 [21] For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. [22] And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
). But the person who truly knows God and understands His handwriting on the prophetic wall will be protected and saved (Luke 21:18-19 Luke 21:18-19 [18] But there shall not an hair of your head perish. [19] In your patience possess you your souls.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 3:8-10 Revelation 3:8-10 [8] I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name. [9] Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. [10] Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
American King James Version×
).

God doesn't forget

God does not forget. What He has promised, that He will perform. At the very time of the end, when God pours out His seventh plague, mighty Babylon will come to its final end. "Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath" (Revelation 16:19 Revelation 16:19And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
American King James Version×
).

It is remarkable to see God use the same language that characterized ancient Babylon's destruction. Belshazzar drank wine from holy vessels that were dedicated to God alone. That was his undoing. At the final curtain, the beast, false prophet and modern Babylon will "drink of the wine of God's fierce wrath." What irony. What perfect justice.

God gives us a choice. We can either follow the proud way of King Belshazzar, avoid humbling ourselves before Almighty God and remain blinded to the handwriting on the wall, or we can be like Daniel, who possessed an "excellent Spirit."

God has promised and given that same excellent Spirit to Jesus Christ's disciples who obey Him (Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version×
). The Holy Spirit is that excellent Spirit, which not only reveals to us the glory of and honor due Jesus Christ, but it leads us into God's complete truth (John 16:13 John 16:13However, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
American King James Version×
).

This, of course, includes the understanding, teaching and preaching of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19 2 Peter 1:19We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 2:10 1 Corinthians 2:10But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
American King James Version×
, 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 [12] Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. [13] Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
American King James Version×
). Whatever road you and I may choose, one thing is absolutely certain: The handwriting is still on the wall. GN

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