Daniel 5 Writing on the Wall
By: Ben Fronczek
I like it when I learn where certain sayings come from; like the saying ‘Writing on the wall’. This refers to, ‘A sign of imminent danger or doom.’ The origin of this saying comes from Daniel 5 which we will be looking at today. But first a little background information:
After King Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. his son Evil-Merodack, ruled over Babylonia for 2 years (562-560). In August 560, King Evil-Merodack was assassinated by General Neriglissar, who was the Kings own brother-in-law and Nebuchadnezzar’s son in law. General Neriglissar ruled as King for 4 years (560-556) and was succeeded by his son Labashi-Marduk in 556 who was only a boy. Because he was young and weak ruler Labashi-Marduk was murdered after reigning 9 months. Then Nabonidus became king. He was Nebuchadnezzar’s other son-in-law having married his other daughter. For commercial and military advances Nabonidus devoted spent a lot of time in North Arabia, and Edom which he conquered in 552 B.C. In his final 10 years he left his son Belshazzer in Babylon to rule it in his absence.
It was during this time when father and son ruled Babylon the Medo-Persian empire and military led by Cyrus was growing and finally marched toward Babylon. Cyrus and his army met Nabonidus and his army north of Babylon but Cyrus defeated Nabonidus. What was left of his army fled south leaving Babylon wide open to the Medo-Persians.
Inside the city Belshazzer did not seem to concerned about the army that surrounded Babylon. You see, he considered the city impregnable. There were a double set of walls that surrounded Babylon. It is said that the walls were over 300 feet high and eighty feet wide. The walls were so thick that 4 chariots could ride abreast on top of the walls which were also surrounded by deep moats. If one were to ride around the city outside the walls, he would travel about 60 miles. The wall had 250 guard towers and rooms for soldiers to sleep. It had 100 gates, all armored with brass. If an enemy soldier managed to get over the walls and moats he would have to cross a quarter mile of bare land before he could reach the city. There was enough food warehoused for a 20 year siege and farmland within the wall to raise more if needed. The Euphrates River also flowed under the wall to provide water.
So Belshazzer was not concerned. As a matter of fact while the Medo-Persian army lay outside, Belshazzer, in defiance arrogantly hosts a HUGE party which we will read about in Daniel 5.
Read Daniel 5:1-4 (Click on site to read)
It is said that Babylon had a banquet room that could hold up to 10,000 people. Here we read that Belshazzer threw a party for a thousand of his nobles. I am sure there were others at this feast including wives, friends, servants, musicians, and who knows how many other people.
And then Belshazzer makes a truly bad decision.
“He gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. “
The Text goes on to say that, as ‘The king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank wine from these sacred cups, they praised their gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.’
That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Read 5:5-30 (Click on site to read)
Now I want you to get a feel for what takes place here and what happens.
● Babylon is surrounded by a new enemy, the Medo-Persian army and the king’s son, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson now sits on the throne in Babylon and has no concerns what so ever other than turning up his nose to them and is partying like there’s nothing is going to happen.
● In arrogance and stupidity he does something that His grandfather Nebuchadnezzar did not even consider doing. He orders his servants to bring out the sacred cups that were used in the holy temple of God and uses them to drink wine out of and offer up toasts to their false deities.
● Then a hand appears out of nowhere, just a hand, probably a big hand floating up in the air in his banquet hall. At that point I’m sure everyone went silent; people stopped talking and laughing, the music stopped, dancers stood still as every eye watched to see what this hand would do. Then a finger etched some words into the plaster on the wall.
● This definitely got everyone’s attention, especially the king’s. The text says that
“His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.”
This guy was shaking in his boots and rightfully so. He wanted to know what all this meant so he calls for his enchanters, astrologers, and diviners and promises to reward the one who could give him some answers. But none of them could.
● Well the Queen mother (his grandmother, Nebuchadnezzar wife) comes on the scene and tells him about Daniel who is probably now semi-retired and now in his 80’s. Daniel came and so without mincing any words, he lets the king know what this was all about and what it meant.
He told him that even though his grandfather honored the God of Heaven, and had to learn it the hard way; in verses 22-24 Daniel says,
22 “But you, Belshazzar, his son,have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. 24 Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”
● And so Daniel lets him know that his reign was over and the kingdom was going to be handed over to the Medes and Persians. And we read that very night the prophecy was fulfilled, and the king was slain.
So maybe you are wondering how the Medes and Persians were able to take Babylon if it was so secure. The Greek Historian Herodotus lets us know what happened. Remember the I told you that the Babylonians had a good supply of water; they actually had a river entering the city under the walls. Well I guess while partying, Cyrus had his men upstream and they diverted most of the river away from Babylon. With the water only up to their knees, the army unexpectedly just walked right in. It is said that the army took the city so fast that the residents of Babylon did not even realize what had happened.
Lesson for us:
● Those who think they are totally secure are not by what THEY have or because of what THEY do. Like Belshazzar they are just fooling themselves. It does not matter how much money, or how much power you have, or what kind of security system you have, or how good your health insurance is, or how many guns you have…we are not in control, GOD IS. HE is the one we need to put our trust in. God is the One who can exalt you or take you down!
● Second, (THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT) Don’t dishonor or mess with that which is important to God. Belshazzar messed with cups that were only meant to be used in Holy service to Yahweh. They treated these things which were holy without respect. Over and over we read in Scripture that our God is a loving God, but we also read that He is a jealous God. He does not like being disrespected. He does not appreciate it when we out of arrogance use or misuse things which He considers important or holy as unholy. He does not like it when we imply that anything and anyone is more important than He is.
So how well do you treat the things of God? Want some examples: In the 10 commandment we are told:
● “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. (Exodos 20:3-5)
Don’t put anything in God’s place! God cares about who, what, and even how we worship.
● In the Commandments God also instructs not to even use His name in vain or as the Amplified Bible put it, [use His name, lightly or frivolously, in false affirmations or profanely]; We dishonor God if and when we do this.
● He also commands not to dishonor your mother and father, and not to kill or steal, or covet, or lie about another, or chase after another person’s spouse.
Why? People are precious to God. We are His children. Jesus told us to love others like He loved them and the church and was willing to die for them.
● Did you know that the way you act or conduct yourself around others can also dishonor God. Listen to what Paul wrote to the Romans in 2:2 concerning the hypocritical Jew, he wrote
“No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme (or speak evil about) the name of God because of you.”
What is he saying here? ‘People will mock God when they see you who claim to be a believer act selfishly, unthankful, lazy, divisive, unforgiving, mean or cruel and argumentative. When others see you acting like that as a “Christian”, they blaspheme the name of God because of you. You dishonor God and Christ. 1 Peter 2:12 states that we should be living such a way that other will praise and Glorify God; like Daniel did before Nebuchadnezzar.
● What about His word, Do you treat it with Honor and respect? The final warning in the book of Revelations is if anyone adds to it or takes away from His word they will be cursed and will not share in the tree of life in Heaven.
So I encourage you to honor GOD and honor and respect the things of God or that which is important to Him. Also make a commitment and point to put Him and His will first before all else. Also treat His people well with honor and respect. Treat His word and scripture with honor and respect as something holy and precious. And if you are a Christian, act like one.
If you do, like Daniel, you will not only bring Glory to God and maybe cause others to believe in His awesome greatness, you will be blessed and made more secure than one could ever be made by any human effort!