The Handwriting on the Wall

Bible Book: Daniel  5
Subject: Judgment; Worldliness; Worship, Idol
Series: Living Right When Life Seems Wrong

The Handwriting on the Wall

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor,
Sermon 6 in a series of 9 Sermons entitled: Living Right When Life Seems Wrong

Daniel, Chapter 5

By the time we arrive at Daniel chapter 5 we discover that many years have passed since Daniel was taken captive and carried away to Babylon. Daniel had been taken captive when he was a mere lad, a teenager, but by chapter 5 he is well into his seventies. Nebuchadnezzar has long since been dead and the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, whose name is Belshazzar, is on the throne. At this point Daniel had lost favor with the court, or at least for the most part he was being ignored. Belshazzar was a pagan, polytheistic monarch and has little interest in the old Jew named Daniel.

We enter the story at a critical juncture in Babylonian history. Babylon had been in decline and at the point we begin to read the city of Babylon was shut up tight and had been under siege by their enemies for many months. The great walls of the city had thus far kept the inhabitants safe and given Belshazzar a false sense of security. He was so secure that he prepared a vast banquet for his Lords and Noblemen, and for their wives and concubines. That is the context as we enter the story.

Now let me tell you that this story is very important. It shows us the danger of forgetting God and reveals to us the damage of seeking to live outside God’s will as an individual, a family or a nation. It declares to us the hopelessness of those who trust in the material, human, physical walls of life for protection, and the riches and the pleasures of life for security. Let’s look at three important segments of this incident.

I. The Party Is On

Daniel 5:1-4

Belshazzar threw a mammoth party, brought out the wine and dancing girls, and gathered them in the great hall. Archeologists have unearthed the banquet hall of Babylon and they tell us that it was large enough to feed 5,000 people at a single, expansively long table. The room is said to have contained 4,000 columns. It was enormous beyond anything we can imagine. In such an atmosphere of riches, power and pleasure, Belshazzar felt secure and happy.

A. The Desire of the World

Let's note first that God has given all of us human desires, such as the desire for love, adulation, significance, sexual gratification, material possessions, and many others. These desires, when placed within the context of God’s will, are perfectly natural and wonderful; however, when taken outside God’s will, these desires become our undoing. They can cause us to dethrone God from our hearts and attempt to take that throne for ourselves. Belshazzar was just such a man. He represents the world running after fulfillment outside the blessing and direction of Almighty God. The world thinks that serving God will spoil their fun, when in reality one will never know true joy until he or she has yielded all desire to God's will and plan.

B. The Disrespect of the World

Note also the disrespect that Belshazzar has for holy things. During this huge party he called for the vessels which had been used in the Temple worship in Jerusalem. His grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken these vessels when he raided the city of Jerusalem many years before, but Nebuchadnezzar had never profaned or violated these holy vessels in such evil and base activities. Belshazzar sent for the vessels and drank wine from them. You can see from this  that the world is not content to simply reject God, they want to mock Him.

We are living in a day of unprecedented disrespect for life, for God and all things holy. That is why children are carrying guns to school and shooting each other. That is why gangs run rampant on our streets, often carjacking in the middle of the day without fear. We have removed teaching respect for divine creation and allowed our system to teach that humans are mere animals, so why are we surprised when they act like what we have told them they are. If we teach a child that he or she is the off-spring of animals, why are we surprised when they act like animals.

Disrespect is seen in almost every area of life today, and it is as bad among adults as it is among people of any age. There is an indignant disrespect for authority across the full spectrum of society in our day. There is a contempt among many for sacred places and holy things. This is a dangerous attitude and will lead to judgment from God, the ruin of our homes and the downfall of our once free nation. In fact, we can clearly see that this is already occurring.

C. The Deities of the World

Note the gods of the king. He had the audience drink wine in honor of the gods of gold, silver, wood, and stone. We can see in our times that many are bowing down to false gods. People are worshipping the physical and cursing the divine. They worship the creature instead of the Creator.

Food was a part of ancient feasts in pagan cities and thus the king lays out a great feast in the name of his idol gods. Orgies took place in the name of those ancient gods as well, while music and perfume filled the air. Then, the ancient pagan people began to worship their false gods in full throat. They had gods for wine, gods for sex, gods of money, and gods for all their human pleasures. Up until this moment, they were have having a wonderful, pagan and unholy celebration.

Then, however, we note ...

II. A Person is Omitted

Daniel 5:5-24

There is a person missing from the party described in our text today. No one recognized that he was not there until something very strange happened. Right in the midst of the debauchery, the fingers of a hand appeared and began to write something on the wall. Fear filled the people, the music stopped and everyone fell silent as a hand began to write on the wall. One can only imagine the fright that gripped the king and all those in that giant hall.

Can you imagine if right here in this worship service a hand would appear out of nowhere and begin to write something on the wall! Some of you would faint, others would weep and everyone of us would fall victim to great fear and dread. Imagine how much greater the fear in that ungodly setting in Babylon.

The king sought to calm the situation and sent for his wise men, likely assuring the crowd that his diviners could surely explain this strange phenomenon. When the wisemen of Babylon arrived they lacked any ability to interpret the words on the wall or explain how a hand appeared in the midst of the party. But just then the queen remembered a man who had been omitted from the gathering - she remembered Daniel.

We do not know if Daniel was invited to the festivities when the invitations first went out to all the noblemen, but he probably was invited. He was well known, even if he was not particularly popular at the time. Nevertheless, he was not present. At the suggestion of the queen, the king sent for him to come to the banquet hall.

I thank God for Daniel. Here is a man who gives us an example of how we are to live as believers in times such as the ones we see in this passage of scripture. Look at three very important qualities that Daniel had on that fateful night.

A. See his Consistency

The queen remembered Daniel and told the king that he should call upon Daniel to interpret the writing. She said, "O king, live forever.” Ah, but the king’s life was nearly at its end. The king was not going to live forever, in fact he wasn't going to live through that very night. He was a few heartbeats from meeting God, and he was totally unprepared to do so. It is a sad thing to face death without a Savior - without the knowledge of the gracious and loving God.

Did you note what the queen said about Daniel? She said that the Spirit of God was upon him. When you are filled with the Spirit, others know it. Even the lost saw that this man, Daniel, was filled with the Spirit of God. Even as the years passed, Daniel had remained consistent for the Lord. He did not wane in his zeal nor his commitment slacken in the least. He was the same as the day when he first stood for God as a young captive in Babylon all those years before.

Daniel was a man of enthusiasm for the Lord till his dying day! God is looking for some consistent people who are not hot one day and cold the next. How deparately we need people like Daniel in our own day and time.

B. See His Commitment

Daniel was not at the party, and that is likely because he refused to attend such an event. He was committed to God and was at home on the night of the grand party rather than comprising himself by attending the wicked gathering. What marvelous conviction Daniel had. In the eyes of the king and his cohorts you can be sure they took offense when someone refused the invitation of the king to an important event. Yet, Daniel dared not defile himself at any age, and surely he would not do so age seventy-five. He was the same man for God as he was at seventeen years of age. He had a commitment that was deeply rooted in his heart and that was far more important to him that the acceptance of a godless, pagan society.

C. See His Courage

Daniel was old, yet his courage had not waned, so when the king offered Daniel gifts if he would interpret the message on the wall, Daniel told the king to keep his gifts - give them to another was Daniel’s reply. Daniel told the king that he was willing to give him the message without payment. Daniel was not going to be in debt to a lost world, espeically since he knew that God owned it all anyway. Niether was Daniel fearful of upsetting or angering the king with his response. Daniel was not arrogant in his faith, but he was steadfast. We can be true to God without being hateful on the one hand or condescending on the other. The fact was that Daniel was seeking to please God and not men - he was simply being obedient to God.

Daniel informed the king that he had failed to learn the lessons of history, and that he should have listened to the message revealed in the experiences of his grandfather.

Let me ask today, have we learned the lessons about God cleared seen the past? Listen people, we need to turn back to God. Every nation that has collapsed has done so from within, and you can be sure that America will be no different.

Daniel told the king that he was guilty of blasphemy, something from which the gods of Babylon were helpless to deliver him. It was not easy for Daniel to tell the king the truth. He knew his life was on the line when he shared these truths with the vile and evil king. At any moment the king could have called for the guards to slay Daniel. Yet, Daniel stood tall, squared his shoulders and told it just like it was. This is a need in our day. We need to take a stand for the Lord and for what is right regardless of the consequences.

Now we come to the saddest part of this story. Look at the fact that ...

III. The Party is Over

Daniel 5:25-31

As we noted, the king was drinking from the holy vessels of God when he saw a hand writing on the wall. The king began to tremble but none of his wisemen could read or interpret the message. Daniel came into the room and he read the writing for the king.

Daniel 5:25-28 describes what was written.

  • "Mene, Mene" - which means "numbered, numbered." That meant that the king’s days were numbered.
  • "Tekel" means "weighed." Belshazzar had been weighed in the balances of God and found wanting.
  • "Upharsin" which means "divided. The kingdom of the king was to be divided and given to others.

The river Euphrates ran into the city of Babylon through a tunnel, and while the party was going on, the enemy Darius and his soldiers found a dried riverbed and diverted the Euphrates into it. Then, they marched into the city by going through the dried up water tunnel that led under the city. They caught the Babylonians totally unprepared for battle. The king was killed and the Medes and Persians took Babylon captive.

Listen to God's Word - "Be sure your sin will find you out." You can be sure that a day of judgment is coming. Let me tell you four things about the judgment of God against sin, against a sinful person, against a sinful society.

A. It is Sure

One-hundred and twenty-five years before the day Darius overtook Babylon, Isaiah had written about this coming judgment. Just as God prophesied it, it came to pass.

Noah preached while building the Ark. He preached 120 years but no one wanted to hear his message. Then the rains came. The fact that the judgment would take place was absolutely, categorically, and emphatically certain.

Just as sure as past judgments have come, the judgment spoken of often in the Bible will come. It will happen as God has pronounced it. We need to be aware that the stories of the Bible are all preparatory to the great coming Day of Judgment before us.

B. It is Sudden

God gives many warnings but when judgment comes, it is SUDDEN. One moment there was a party that night in Babylon and the next moment there was a judgment – that is exactly how the end will come.

How swiftly judgment appears. The Bible records, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow for you know not what a day may bring forth.” Jesus said that judgment would come “like a thief in the night.”

C. It is Severe

The Judgment was severe. Judgment is never gentle. God is compassionate but His judgments are bitter when they arrive. You must choose whether you will be on the side of grace or on the side of condemnation, for when God's judgment comes, it is too late to change one's mind.

D. It is Sad

The judgment of God upon a nation or a person is sad, indeed. It is so unnecessary. God gives ample time for repentance and faith to be expressed. When we read the story of the fall of Babylon, it is so sad. We think of all the potential that was lost when Belshazzar and his kingdom was judged. We think of his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, who no doubt prayed for his grandson from the time he was born. We think of all the good that Belshazzar could have done. Just think of the people he could have blessed. All that was lost because he chose to turn his back on God. How sad!

We see this story played everyday. Great potential is wasted in the cesspool of sin. Great integrity and character is thrown into the sea of rejection, when faith was available that could have thrown sin into the sea of forgetfulness. Opportunity was lost. The poet said,

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: "It might have been!"[i]


Historians link the fall of Babylon to the political bungling or to the greatness of the Persian military under Darius. When we read Daniel, we note a different reason for the fall of Babylon. Daniel shows us what really happened. The nation was overcome by enemies, but it was not simply the enemy Darius that defeated Babylon. The real enemies of Babylon were pride, self-importance, pleasure, and the blasphemy of God.

No nation, and no individual, can long stand who embraces the enemies of the human soul. Profaning God, debasing holy things and worshipping idols led to the downfall of Belshazzar and Babylon. Make no mistake, the crowd loved the parties that Belshazzar provided. They applauded him. The populace followed the earthly king rather than the heavenly King, and their fate was fixed. We see this today. Wicked people are praised and righteous people are mocked. The godless win awards while the righteous are treated with total disdain. I will tell you without fear of contradiction, judgment is near! When a people act in this way, when they embrace the godless and promote them as their heroes, their fate is sealed. Dear people, when ungodly leaders are exalted, whether in politics, entertainment or the financial world, judgment is coming like an unseen tsunami to sweep away that empire.

“That night they slew him on his father’s throne,

The deed unnoticed and the hand unknown.

Crownless and sceptreless Belshazzar lay,

A robe of purple round a form of gray.”[ii]

Ed Cole tells this story: "One night a ship's captain saw what looked like the light of another ship heading toward him. He had the signalman blink to the other ship: 'Change your course ten degrees south.'

The reply came back, 'Change your course ten degrees north.'

“The ship's captain answered, 'I am a captain. Change your course south.' To which the reply was, 'I am a seaman first class. Change your course north.'

"This infuriated the captain, so he signaled back, 'I say change your course south. I'm on a battleship!' The reply came back, 'And I say change your course north. I'm in a lighthouse.'[iii]

God will not change course - He is the Lighthouse. However, you and I can change our course and embrace God's love and grace. God does not command us in order to harm us - He directs us in order to save us. Turn to Him in repentance and faith today. Jesus died to give you eternal life, and He will save those who turn to Him!

It is important for every person to know that none of us will have our lives measured on the scales of what is popular, or on the scales of human understanding, or on the scales of what someone else has done. Every person will be weighed and measured on God's scales - scales of perfection! On those scales, we are all found wanting - all fall short - all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. We can only be made right with God through the grace of God and never by our own works. Trust God's gift - Jesus Christ - and find the eternal victory that only Christ can provide.


[i]John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Muller”

[ii]Sir Edward Arnold, “The Feast of Belshazzar”

[iii]Edwin Louis Cole, Strong Men in Tough Times (South Lake, TX: 1993), pp. 26-27