Daniel was still unknown to the new king of the land, Belshazzar, who was the joint ruler of Babylon from 553-539 BC. The events in this chapter are the accounts of his last day in office as he was assassinated seemingly out of the blue, but the writing was always on the wall.
Belshazzar was hosting a celebratory banquet for all his nobles when suddenly, he thought that drinking wine in one of the exploits of his kingdom would make for some great dinner party conversations. And so
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.Daniel 5:2
As they were drinking from the temple ornaments, everyone started praising their pagan gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and even stone. At that very moment, fingers from a human hand appeared before them and started writing something on the wall near a lampstand inside the Royal Palace.
Belshazzar was scared out of his mind as his face turned pale, his legs became weak and his knees started knocking. All the king’s men were dumbfounded and could not make sense of what the mysterious hand had inscribed on the walls of the Royal Palace.
The serving of wine in the holy vessels from the temple of God could have been the last straw but surely our God is not an erratic God who acts on impulses. God gave the Babylonian rulers ample time to learn from their past mistakes and when Belshazzar kept imagining himself to be in the driver seat, he was humbled by God. His arrogance and disregard for the God of Heaven was the reason for his upheaval from the throne. But the king could not understand and gave this declaration,
“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.”Daniel 5:7
Behind Every Scared Man...
On hearing that none of the nobles were able to interpret the meaning of what was written on the walls, the queen stepped in and reminded everyone about a forgotten man of God.
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.Daniel 5:11
The queen mentioned here could you be the mother of Belshazzar or one of the remaining wives of Nebuchadnezzar who had witnessed first-hand, how God used Daniel and kept delivering messages to Nebuchadnezzar.
So Daniel was brought before Belshazzar and offered the purple robe and power in return for the correct interpretation. He was promised to be made third in line after Belsahazzar and his father Nabonidus. Daniel reminded Belshazzar about his ancestor Nebuchadnezzar’s fate when he questioned God’s sovereignty.
The greatness and splendour of the Babylonian kings were given to them by God and when Nebuchadnezzar became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was stripped of his kingdoms and driven away to live the life of an animal. Even though Nebuchadnezzar later acknowledged the most high God as the one in control, Belshazzar, his descendant, did not humble himself even after knowing 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.Daniel 5:23
The words Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin written on the wall meant that God had numbered the days of Belshazzar as he did not give glory to God and his kingdom would soon be given to the Medes and the Persians.
Even though the scholars could have translated the texts Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin to mean numbered, numbered, weighed and divided, it was still God who sent the message and held the key to decipher it also. In the words of a humble man of God, do not all interpretations belong to God.
Daniel’s dreams of the four beasts and the ram and the goat helped him understand the will of God and when he read the writing on the wall, he could easily interpret God’s message. Unlike the first dream of the multi-metalled statue, we could see the process of how a prophet received a message from God which initially startled him, but later he could help translate it for the commoners. God can make the foolish wise and the wise foolish to accomplish His will and the meaning of his cryptic message remained hidden till Daniel was given the knowledge to interpret it.
We should never take credit for the works that God does through us as we are nothing without His Grace. Still, we see people accepting gifts on God’s behalf. Saul tried to fool God by claiming that his intentions were to use the spoils for the temple of God but he was being ruled by his own desire. Let us stop trying to fool God and let go of the spotlight and reflect it back on God.
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.Daniel 5:29
The king had given his word in the presence of thousands of his subjects and doing anything against it would make him look weak. Moreover, we all have this habit of not accepting God’s decisions and try to pacify God. He too was trying that by bribing the man of God and hoping that it was not too late for God to change his mind. Let us not wait for the eleventh hour to change our ways but bring our problems and addictions before God and ask Him to solve it.
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.Daniel 5:30-31
Daniel was perhaps used to being exalted by the king after each of his interpretations. Remember this Daniel is different from the Daniel of the earlier chapters. The Daniel that we saw interpreting the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar was optimistic and waiting for God to save his people from their bondage. But this Daniel has been battered by the reality of knowing the extent of God’s curse on Israel and is struggling with the interpretations of his own dreams.
We should always be on the lookout for our own pride and not let it rule over us. We are just empty vessels like the ones the king used to serve wine in. In isolation, those vessels have no value but when God started working, those mundane cutlery sets became the death of Belshazzar.
Similarly, we must realize that without God, we are nothing and whatever impact we have on the lives of the people around us is only because of His Grace on us. Let us not blindly accept the goodwill from this world but redirect the goodwill back to God and Him alone.