Handwriting on the Wall
By Dr. Mike Murphy
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN
I can only imagine what it must of been like that night so many years ago for Daniel to see these words. The thoughts that must have come to his mind as he read those words. And the reality of what speaking those words to the king must have told him.
Belshazzar had grown up in the palace, and probably thought he had seen it all. But nothing could have prepared him for what he saw that night. Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, the long ruling king of Babylon. His father, Nabonidus, had married the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, Nitorcris. Nabonidus used this marriage to gain great power over the kingdom, but was not respected by the people. As he sat in rule over Babylon, his arrogance showed. Nabonidus built statues of another god, and ordered the people to worship that god. He proclaimed the moon god, a god who had the name Sin, as the top deity of the land. This did not set well with the people, and soon their anger began to boil over. Nabonidus was forced to flee the palace in fear of his life, and placed his son, Belshazzar on the throne as he left. But Belshazzar’s reign would be short, by most historical accounts, it was less than two years.
Belshazzar was much like his father. History records him as brash, impulsive, and arrogant. Historians wrote of him acting much more like a spoiled child than leading as a king. Cyrus, the future king of Persia, would refer to Belshazzar as a coward with evil intent. Belshazzar’s name meant, “may Bel protect the king”. Bel was a term referring to the lordship of many gods, and was often used as a collective or pantheon title for all the gods. But Belshazzar would learn that night, none of his gods could save him from what the Lord God had proclaimed to him.
On that night, Belshazzar held a great feast for a thousand of Babylon’s top people. As they gathered for the feast in the palace, outside the walls of Babylon a different “feast” was brewing. The Medes and the Persian had surrounded the city, and laid siege to it. They were looking for a way to take down the powerful defenses of the city. But Belshazzar was not worried, the city of Babylon was considered impenetrable, and held supplies that could last the city for years. Babylon was a city like no other, magnificent in every way. Conservative accounts describe the walls of the city as being over eighty feet thick and over two hundred and fifty feet tall. The outer walls were filled with guard stations, each towering another one hundred feet above the walls. Getting in the city was just as much of a problem as getting to its’ walls. A system of inner and outer moats and walls secured the city, and the enormous bronze doors of the inner city could not be moved. The Babylonians considered the city nothing short of a fortress, a fortress that relieved them of all fears from those who stood outside of its’ walls.
As the wine flowed that night, they looked to their own pleasure as an escape of the reality that laid just outside of their walls. With each filling of their cups, their denial became more embolden. And with each drink, the arrogance of Belshazzar became greater. “Who could possibly think themselves greater than Babylon?” The question must have been asked that night. As the question was asked, the king looked to put his arrogance on display. He ordered the gold, the silver, and the vessels they had taken years before while plundering the Temple in Jerusalem. An invasion of the land that had also placed many of the Jews under the captivity of the Babylonian people. They drank from the Temple vessels, mocking the God of Israel, proclaiming greater the gods whose names they did not even know. They desecrated the Temple articles, in a blasphemous attempt to relive their glory days, replaying in their minds a day when Babylon was the world’s conqueror. Trying to forget the current day in which they were waiting to be conquered. Belshazzar had forgotten the power the Lord God had shown his grandfather, humbling him, and bringing him to his knees. Belshazzar’s arrogance drove him, and his foolishness blinded him.
As those in the palace relished in their past glory, the Lord God suddenly shook them back into reality. As all watched, a human hand appeared, writing four words on the wall for all to see. MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. As mysteriously as the hand appeared, it would soon again disappear. But the words it wrote remand for all to see. The king sent for his wisest men, so they could tell him what these words meant. But as each read it, each failed. Not one of his “wise men” of Babylon could interpret a single word.
Hearing the commotion, the queen came into the banquet hall. Most believe this queen to be Belshazzar’s mother, Nitocris, and she remembered back to a man who her father had trusted, who had often brought wisdom to him. She had Belshazzar bring a man to the hall who had the vision of a prophet, and the wisdom of the Lord’s Word. She had her son summon forth a man named Daniel.
As Daniel entered the hall, the king offered to him the same he had offered to all others. Any man who could read the writing, would be placed in a great position of power. But Daniel refused the king’s offer. He know the kingdom was not his to give, and the title was no greater than the man who was giving it. But Daniel was led by God to interpret for the king the words he saw written before him. As Daniel looked at each word he explained them. MENE, MENE. God had numbered the days of Belshazzar and the Babylonian kingdom. TEKEL. Belshazzar was weighed in the balances, and his faith and actions were found to be light. UPHARSIN. The Babylonian kingdom would be divided, handed over to the Medes and the Persians. Daniel basically told Belshazzar, he did not do the things as king the Lord God had called his grandfather to do, and because he mocked God, and would not turn to Him, the Lord was about to take his kingdom from him.
That very night, Belshazzar would see the words that the Lord God wrote before him come true. Little did Belshazzar know, but Cyrus, the king of Persia, had already devised a plan to conquer the city. He had a trench dug to divert the Euphrates into a nearby swamp, drying up the river from flowing into the city. This lowered the water levels so his troops could march through the river gates. And as we read the writings of Herodotus, Berosus, Xenophon, and other historians, we see that the great bronze door to the inner city was left open that night, allowing Cyrus and his army full access to the palace as they entered the city. That very night, Belshazzar would see his kingdom fall and his life come to an end.
We have often read the story, and the phrase “the handwriting on the wall” is one that is known the world over. But as we look at this story, two important points are so often overlooked. Two points that carry a lot of weight, and each of us, and this country, should be paying close attention to today.
First, what happened that night did not come as a complete surprise, at least not to those who listened to the Lord, and who followed His Word. Over two hundreds years earlier, the Lord told Isaiah of that night. He told Isaiah of a man named Cyrus whom He would bring to power, and whom He would work through so His will could be fulfilled (Isaiah 44:28-45:7). The Lord gave Isaiah specifics of that night. He told Isaiah He would open the gates for Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), and He would shatter the bronze doors that would restrict him (Isaiah 45:2). Over a hundred years before that night, the Lord told Jeremiah that the leaders of the city would be drinking that night, and death would suddenly come on them (Jeremiah 51:57). And He told Jeremiah that the city walls would be broken and the city would be set ablaze (Jeremiah 51:58). What happened that night should not surprise us, because the Lord, before hand, gave us all we would ever need to know about that night.
History is filled with many of these same examples. The Lord does not leave us blind, but gives us all the sight we need to see what the days before us hold, and what is needed of us each day. The problem has never been in the warning, the problem has come when we choose to ignore that warning. When we choose to ignore what the Lord has shown us, so we can look on what this world would have us see. The Lord has always given us the answer before we even knew the question. The problem is, we choose to ignore the answer because this world does not like Who the answer is coming from.
We need to look no farther than the Dark Ages to find the perfect example of this. The Dark Ages covered a period of roughly six hundred years between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. This time in history received its’ name because of the lack of intellectual and cultural advancements that man experienced during this time. Historians will tell you that whole centuries were lost that could have seen mankind far more advanced today. But when we look at this period closely, we soon realize that man was not absent of the knowledge, we just ignored the wisdom that God had already given us.
If man had simply taken the time to listen closely to the Lord, centuries of advancement would have been know to us centuries ago. Long before man knew and understood germs and the dangers they bring to our everyday lives, God gave Moses the bases of sanitation (Leviticus 11 and 15). Long before man claimed to discover bacteria, God showed man how to treat it, by removing the oxygen from it (Leviticus 13:52). Centuries before we knew how to treat disease, the first antiseptic was given. Hyssop Oil is an antibacterial and is still used in creating it today (Numbers 19:18, Psalm 51:7). Long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, when men were afraid of falling off the edge of a flat earth, God had already explained to Isaiah that the earth was round (Isaiah 40:22). He explained in Job the principles of direction, that all direction is centered around a northern pull, thus a compass will always point north (Job 26:7). He taught man the first and second laws of thermodynamics in Hebrews 1. The hydrologic cycle, of how rainfall is evaporated and then turned again into rain, was given by God centuries before man claimed to discover it (Job 36:27-28).
This is but a short list of the vast amount of examples that could be given. How many disease that we face each day could have already been cured if we simply took the time to listen to the wisdom that God has already given us? How advanced would technology be if we had simply applied the knowledge that God has already shared with us? How would each of our lives be changed today if we had listened closely to what God had said to each of us yesterday? My point is this, God does not leave us ignorant (Romans 11:25). Just like that night with Belshazzar, our ignorance does not come from God not sharing His wisdom with us, but from our own foolishness in not accepting and following that wisdom. Belshazzar saw firsthand how the Lord had moved in the life of his grandfather. But Belshazzar chose to ignore all that God had shown him, all the wisdom that God had for him. Just like Belshazzar, our lives and our world are the same today. We ignore the proven wisdom the Lord has given us, so we can follow the foolishness this world has to offer us. Out of one side of our mouth, we deny all God has shown and provided us. Then out of the other side of the same mouth, we mockingly question out loud where God is. We ignore God until the hand starts to write on the wall, failing to understand, that same hand has been writing words of wisdom to us for years. The word of God is sure. As sure handed in this world today as it was in that palace so many years ago.
Second, look closely at what Belshazzar does with the wisdom of God that Daniel shares with him. What do we see him do? One word, nothing! His own interaction with Daniel shows that he believed what was said, but he chose to do nothing with the warning and the reality that the Lord gave him. We watch as a king decided to party while the kingdom around him crumbled. And a king who fails to repent when the day of judgement is staring him directly in the face. Although the remaining minutes of his life were short, what Belshazzar did, or did not do, with those moments speaks volumes. Facing the reality of what his eternal future would soon hold, Belshazzar chose to spend his last minutes in the pleasure he had sought in this world. At no minute of his life does Belshazzar’s arrogance shine brighter than in those moments between Daniel speaking to him, and Cyrus and his soldiers entering the hall of the palace. Belshazzar placed his faith in what the world had told him about his walls, instead of falling to his knees and placing his future in the hand of the One who had just written on his wall. Way too late Belshazzar would learn, there is not a wall thick enough or high enough that the Lord cannot instantly bring down.
Belshazzar placed his faith in this world, not in our Lord. Even in his last moments, he rejected and resisted the grace that God had for him. His actions reflect so many of those we see today, they are blinded by the sin that drives their lives. No warning can often be given that is loud enough or strong enough for them to see and hear the truth. They choose to follow the lie, because they think the lie expects nothing from them, asks nothing of them. But what they do not understand, is the wall that the lie has built around them. Not allowing the truth to reach them and for His healing hand to touch them (John 12:40). No matter how large the hand writes, they cannot see over the wall the lie has placed around them to read the words.
As we look at this country today, we see a nation that greatly resembles Babylon. We see leaders that reflect the arrogance of Belshazzar. Leaders that find comfort in the walls of the lie, refusing to look beyond those walls at the truth. With each newscast we see, and each headline we read, we see the imaging forming of a hand. A hand that is starting to write on the walls of the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the White House today. With each movement of the hand the words are forming, the message is being given. We see the words of the warning coming into clear focus before us. But as we watch the faces of many of our leaders, and of the people of this nation, we soon see the blank stares. Stares that read the words, but ignore the warning. Stares that drive them to arrogance, not to their knees. Stares who are blinded by their own foolishness. Stares that lead them to worship a god called “Sin”. Stares that no longer seek the truth that is found in repentance, because they take pleasure in the lie that surrounds them. Stares that take comfort in the walls and doors of the palace, ignoring the enemy that is building outside. Stares that ignore the destruction and death that awaits while reaching to fill their cups with a little more wine.
Wake up America. Wake up from this lie that now has a hold on you. Fall to your knees before the clock strikes, and the doors begin to burst open. Look closely at the words He is proclaiming to you, the message He has always given you. Take into heart each of the words. Look on the hand again of the only One who has ever truly loved you. The only One who has ever found true purpose in you. His hand is writing America. The love, grace, truth, and mercy that is found in each word of His warning has always been handwritten.
Praying God’s Word will find their way off the wall and into your heart.