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Handwriting on the Wall
Scripture: Daniel 5:1-31; Colossians 2:13-14
Track 5 of 12 in the Daniel: A Life Without Compromise series
Running time: 1 hour, 01 minute, 13 seconds.
Chapter 5 opens with Belshazzar throwing a feast possibly in honor of one of his gods. He invites 1,000 of his leaders to the feast. The setting is 538 BC (23 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar). We dont have any record of Daniel during this period of time but he is still captive in Babylon.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Handwriting on The Wall

Have you ever heard of the saying, “The handwriting is on the wall”? What does it mean? That saying comes from the scriptures we are going to study today. Last week we studied a mostly forgotten event that takes place in chapter 4 where Nebuchadnezzar speaks of his glory and God decides to let Nebuchadnezzar know that it is God who gives the glory. Nebuchadnezzar is struck down with a rare form of insanity called in modern terminology, boanthropy. This condition is when a person believes and acts as though he is an ox. It even causes physical, animal like, changes in the person.

Chapter 4 ends with Nebuchadnezzar recovering from the disorder and giving God all the glory for His greatness. His sanity is restored and his kingdom is returned to him. It must have been a bad situation to have the king living and acting like an ox. Other nations must have had a fun time laughing at him. But Chapter 4 ends with his throne being returned to him. The last words of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel have him praising and exalting the name of God as the one true God.

Nebuchadnezzar dies 1 year after his recovery from his sickness. He dies in 561 BC. His son, Evil-merodach succeeds him. He is murdered by Nebuchadnezzar son-in-law, Neriglissar. The son of Evil-merodach then becomes king and reigns less than one year. It is recorded in scripture that he was an imbecile. Nabonidus, another son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar who married the widow of Neriglissar becomes king. Nabonidus spent much of his time away from his kingdom seeking other conquests so he leaves in charge his son Belshazzar to run the kingdom. Belshazzar is the rule on the throne when the Persian general besieged the royal city. He is also the ruler on the throne at the opening of Chapter 5.

Can anyone tell me who founded Babylon? The great city was founded by Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah (Gen 10:8-10). Surviving a series of conflicts, it became one of the most magnificent cities in the known world. One of the 7 great wonders of the world was located there, the hanging gardens. The kingdom of Babylon was great and magnificent. But all that was about to change. As predicted in the dream by Nebuchadnezzar another kingdom was going to come in and no longer would the head of gold remain.

Daniel 5:1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.

Chapter 5 opens with Belshazzar throwing a feast possibly in honor of one of his gods. He invites 1,000 of his leaders to the feast. The setting is 538 BC (23 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar). We don’t have any record of Daniel during this period of time but he is still captive in Babylon. But we do know from this chapter that Daniel has been preserved and protected during this period of time. Daniel is no longer a young man. He is now an aging prophet. He is not present at the banquet. This could indicate that he is no longer held in high favor of the king since Nebuchadnezzar is no longer king.

From the description of the feast, it is not a party a man of God would want to attend. It is a night of wine, women and song. Historians tell us that feasts of this nature often would end up as sexual orgies, drunkenness, idolatry and base sensuality.

At the same time as this feast, Cyrus the Persian and his army were outside the gates of the city planning their strategy to besiege the city. Belshazzar certainly knew this. But why would he be throwing a party with all of his leaders rather than planning to defend his kingdom? The descriptions of Babylon from history tell us it was almost impossible to overtake the city due to its size and height of its walls (350 ft) and the huge moat that was dug around the city. There were also 250 watchtowers stationed on the walls. The walls surrounded the city that covered 15 square miles. Most likely, Belshazzar wasn’t concerned about the Persians getting into the city. He felt protected.

Daniel 5:2-4 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, 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. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

We learn a lot from these scriptures what kind of man Belshazzar was. What does it tell us about his understanding of king Nebuchadnezzar? What does it say about his respect for Daniel and his God? Did Belshazzar have the same understanding of Daniel’s God that Nebuchadnezzar had?

Very little is written of Belshazzar. He didn’t do much that was of any worth to record. The one thing he is well known for is his stupidity. He is a Biblical example of a man who is totally without God in his life. When a man gets to that stage in life, he will not think twice about doing evil and reckless things. This also shows the dangers of alcohol. When a person is drunk, he can and will do anything, usually evil and foolish.

Daniel 5:5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote.

At the height of the iniquity of Belshazzar, God has enough and in full view of all who are attending the feast, displays a strange phenomenon. A finger of a man appears and writes a strange set of words on the plaster of the wall.

Describe for me what you think they did when they saw this finger writing?

This finger is not new. This finger had written before in the Bible. Where has the fingers of God been at work in other parts of the Bible? The same finger had spelled out the doom of another mighty leader who dared to defy God. When the Lord sent the 10 plaques to Egypt, the magicians admitted to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). Not long after that, God gave to Moses the two tables of testimony, His holy law, written with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). It was the same finger that cast out demons (Luke 11:20), that wrote on the ground to expose the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees (John 8:1-9).

The same finger wrote the following words, Isaiah 42:8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.

Belshazzar was about to learn the truth the hard way. Even though he was drunk, the handwriting struck terror to his heart. The party was to be a time of fun and celebration. The handwriting on the wall spelled doom for him.

Daniel 5:6-9 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way. The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers£ and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

This was God’s way of sobering a man up quickly. Do you think he knows what it says even though he can’t interpret the text? Then what causes the fear in him? Why does Belshazzar call for the astrologers and soothsayers? Why does he think they can interpret the handwriting when they had failed before? What had he learned from the experience of Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 5:10-11 The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “O king, live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods.

At this point in the narrative, the queen shows up. She is not the wife of Belshazzar. Most likely she is the widow of Nebuchadnezzar. She was not invited to the feast. It was not said why she was not invited but one can guess why. Many think She was not invited because she knew of her husband’s conversion and might have felt the same way about Jehovah. She probably would not have approved of the feast especially the part about drinking from the sacred vessels from the temple of God.

The queen tells Belshazzar about Daniel. So Daniel is brought in. He is no longer a young man. Many scholars estimate that Daniel is between 80-90 years old. There is no record on how and where Daniel spent those intervening years. It is possible that at the death of Nebuchadnezzar he was removed from his position of office and retired to private life.

Daniel 5:13, 16-17 So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.

Scripture many times can give us interesting contrasts to think about. Imagine the scene in the room when Daniel arrives. Describe what your minds eye sees.

How would Belshazzar look and how would he be acting?
How would the queen look and what would she be thinking?
How would Daniel look and what would he be thinking?

Daniel 5:18-24 O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. “But you his son O Belshazzar, 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. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

Why was Daniel not interested in receiving any of the honors and riches offered to him for interpreting the handwriting? It was due to his character and he also knew what the handwriting said and he knew Belshazzar was going to die within 24 hours. The rewards were going to be temporary.

Daniel gives Belshazzar a history lesson. What mistake did Belshazzar not learn from history?

In a way, Daniel was telling Belshazzar that his sins were greater than his father Nebuchadnezzar What did he do that was worse than Nebuchadnezzar It sounds to me that he was doing the same thing. What was worse? Belshazzar knew better. He knew what happened to Nebuchadnezzar and yet he did it anyway.

How serious are the sins of a Christian? Don’t we know better? Then why do we sin? How are we like Belshazzar?

Daniel 5:25-31 This is the inscription that was written:

“This is what these words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

There is a last night for every nation and there is a last night for every person. Every nation and every person is held accountable to God. There is a handwriting against every man but our Lord Jesus Christ has made salvation possible for every man.

Col 2:13-14 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

And now, all who have put their trust in him are saved from the awful night of eternal banishment from the presence of God. I find it interesting that Belshazzar did give to Daniel the honor and rewards he promised even though he knew things were over. Maybe he didn’t really believe Daniel or that his kingdom might be spared, but I doubt that. At any rate, that was Babylon’s last night. The kingdom of the head of gold had passed to that of the arms and the breast of silver.