7.26 Daniel -- The Writing on the Wall
There is a break of many decades and four kings between Nebuchadnezzar and the start of chapter 5. We have jumped ahead to 539 B.C. Daniel had been in exile for 65 years, and was at least in his late seventies. Already, the Babylonian empire was crumbling. The Medo-Persian armies of Cyrus were closing in on the capital. Nabonidus was now on the throne, but frequently away on military campaigns, so his son Belshazzar served as co-regent.
Belshazzar appears in a wholly negative light -- he threw one last party, in the spirit of Isaiah 22:12-13:
"Let us eat and drink," you say, "for tomorrow we die!"
To make the feast more memorable, the king sent for the goblets plundered from the Temple long ago. Belshazzar wanted to drink from them: a show of arrogance, the desire to profane holy things. All at once -- "immediately and suddenly" (Dan 5:5, Amplified) -- a disembodied hand appeared, writing on the wall. The wise men were called in, but no one could interpret the four words on the wall. Eventually, Daniel arrived. Daniel started right off with a sermon, telling Belshazzar that "the Most High God" had humbled the pride of Nebuchandezzar:
"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" (Dan 5:21).
But Belshazzar, though he knew all this, had not humbled his own heart. Then Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall. The inscription was not a warning, there was no opportunity to repent. The Lord pronounced judgment:
"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" (Dan 5:26-28).
This sentence was carried out that very night -- Belshazzar was killed, though we are not told who the assassin was. It was not only the end of his dynasty, but of the Babylonian empire. Darius (actually Cyrus the Persian) assumed control of the government.
The meaning of this event is a variant of the "Nebuchadnezzar eats grass" story: God punishes human arrogance, God determines who rules the nations. We might feel that this message is getting a bit repetitive by now, however, there are certainly many modern political leaders who haven’t yet learned the lesson.