“This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” — Daniel 5:26-28
God has unique ways of bringing an individual’s spiritual condition to his or her attention. In our text today, God used Daniel’s interpretation of the handwriting on the wall to impress King Belshazzar with the judgment awaiting him. In a less dramatic way but just as clearly, God captured the attention of Dwight, a minister in our organization, when he was a rebellious teenager who had turned away from his godly training. In contrast to Belshazzar, Dwight responded in time. He relates his experience this way:
“While growing up, my sister, brother, and I were taken to church regularly. Many times I felt God’s hand of conviction on my heart, but I stubbornly resisted. As I grew into my teens, I became more and more rebellious against God. I felt confident that I was completely in control of my plans, opinions, and desires and, as a result, I became quite unmoved by spiritual things. One day my sister asked me, ‘Aren’t you ever going to get saved?’ I remember laughing and brushing off her question with a wave as if it were ridiculous.
“After graduating from high school, I went into a trade and began making good money. I became caught up in fast cars and racing, and that course of action brought me to death’s door on numerous occasions. There were times I raced in town at 120 mph, and was in skids at 90 mph with the car going sideways and out of control.
“Thank God for His faithfulness! One evening I was home alone with my mother, who was ill, and found she could hardly breathe. Her eyes began to roll back into her head, and at that moment, God asked me, ‘Will you give Me your life?’ I knew that as soon as I said yes, my mom would be all right. At first I held out, but when I figured she was taking her last breath, in my heart I said, ‘Okay, Lord. If You don’t let her die here like this, I will give You my heart.’ Not one word was spoken, and yet she instantly opened her eyes and said, ‘I think I’m going to be all right.’ I knew that I had made a promise to God that would have to be kept.
“For a while, I still went on in my own stubborn way, but eventually I went down to an altar of prayer and surrendered my heart to God. A great calm and peace settled in my heart and along with it, there came a real change in my life. I rejoice that God called me and helped me to shed my rebellion. The best move I ever made was to give God a chance in my life.”
When we read the story of Belshazzar, it is not hard to imagine the terror he experienced when he saw the handwriting appear on the wall. One moment all was laughter and gaiety, and the next moment “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” (Daniel 5:6). Daniel’s message revealed that God had judged Belshazzar for his sins and rebellion, committed in spite of the fact that he knew what God had done for his forefather, Nebuchadnezzar. The king had ignored the lessons he should have learned from Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, and had even dared to use the sacred vessels from God’s Temple at his profane orgy. Now his time had run out, and he was weighed in the balances and found wanting. That very night, Belshazzar’s kingdom was overthrown and he was slain.
God is merciful, as Dwight and countless others have proved. However, if a person continues to reject God, there will come a time when a line is crossed and one’s eternal doom is forever established. Clearly the message for us is that anyone who has not yet turned to the Lord should do so while He is still calling. No one should wait until the door of mercy closes and judgment falls!
This portion of Daniel 5 describes Daniel’s interpretation of the handwriting on the wall, and the fulfillment of the doom it predicted.
Among other sinful actions, Belshazzar was guilty of the sacrilegious use of the gold and silver vessels previously stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem. As Daniel reminded him, Belshazzar knew how God had humbled his forefather, King Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 4:28-37). While Nebuchadnezzar had been bold and full of pride, after God humbled him, he was quick to acknowledge the power and sovereignty of God. Belshazzar ignored all that history, to his own detriment.
The writing on the wall consisted of only three words in Aramaic, a language understood by the Babylonians. Daniel gave a two-part explanation for each word. Mene meant “numbered” and referred to the fact God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and finished it. Tekel meant “weighed” and indicated that in God’s divine balance, the kingdom was found wanting. Pharsin meant “broken fragments” (the U at the beginning of the word is a prefix meaning “and”), revealing the final doom — that the kingdom would be divided into pieces and given to the Medes and Persians.
That very night, the united forces of the Medes and Persians overran Babylon. Tradition indicates the armies were able to enter by diverting the waters of the river that ran through the city, and then walking past the defenses through the dry channel. Other historians suggest that insurrectionists inside the city actually opened the city gates to give the invading armies access. Whatever method was used, the city fell with almost no resistance by its citizens. However, as Daniel had foretold, Belshazzar himself was slain.
II. The prophetic history of the Gentiles
D. The destruction of Belshazzar (the final doom of Gentile world power)
4. The interpretation of Daniel (5:17-29)
a. The humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar (5:17-21)
b. The arrogance of Belshazzar (5:22-24)
c. The interpretation of Daniel (5:25-28)
d. The reward of Daniel (5:29)
5. The destruction of Babylon (5:30-31)
Continued rebellion against God will ultimately bring judgment. However, while the door is still open, if individuals turn from their wickedness and defiance of God, they will find He is merciful.