King Belshazzar's Banquet
1One evening, King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his highest officials, and he drank wine with them. 2He got drunk and ordered his servants to bring in the gold and silver cups his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Belshazzar wanted the cups, so that he and all his wives and officials could drink from them.
3-4 When the gold cups were brought in, everyone at the banquet drank from them and praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5Suddenly a human hand was seen writing on the plaster wall of the palace. The hand was just behind the lampstand, and the king could see it writing. 6He was so frightened that his face turned pale, his knees started shaking, and his legs became weak.
7The king called in his advisors, who claimed they could talk with the spirits of the dead and understand the meanings found in the stars. He told them, “The man who can read this writing and tell me what it means will become the third most powerful man in my kingdom. He will wear robes of royal purple and a gold chain around his neck.”
8All of King Belshazzar's highest officials came in, but not one of them could read the writing or tell what it meant, 9and they were completely puzzled. Now the king was more afraid than ever before, and his face turned white as a ghost.
10When the queen heard the king and his officials talking, she came in and said:
Your Majesty, I hope you live forever! Don't be afraid or look so pale. 11In your kingdom there is a man who has been given special powers by the holy gods. When your father Nebuchadnezzar was king, this man was known to be as smart, intelligent, and wise as the gods themselves. Your father put him in charge of all who claimed they could talk with the spirits or understand the meanings in the stars or tell about the future. 12He also changed the man's name from Daniel to Belteshazzar. Not only is he wise and intelligent, but he can explain dreams and riddles and solve difficult problems. Send for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.
13When Daniel was brought in, the king said:
So you are Daniel, one of the captives my father brought back from Judah! 14I was told that the gods have given you special powers and that you are intelligent and very wise. 15Neither my advisors nor the men who talk with the spirits of the dead could read this writing or tell me what it means. 16But I have been told that you understand everything and that you can solve difficult problems. Now then, if you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will become the third most powerful man in my kingdom. You will wear royal purple robes and have a gold chain around your neck.
Your Majesty, I will read the writing and tell you what it means. But you may keep your gifts or give them to someone else. 18Sir, the Most High God made your father a great and powerful man and brought him much honor and glory. 19God did such great things for him that people of all nations and races shook with fear.
Your father had the power of life or death over everyone, and he could honor or ruin anyone he chose. 20But when he became proud and stubborn, his glorious kingdom was taken from him. 21His mind became like that of an animal, and he was forced to stay away from people and live with wild donkeys. Your father ate grass like an ox, and he slept outside where his body was soaked with dew. He was forced to do this until he learned that the Most High God rules all kingdoms on earth and chooses their kings.
22King Belshazzar, you knew all of this, but you still refused to honor the Lord who rules from heaven. 23Instead, you turned against him and ordered the cups from his temple to be brought here, so that you and your wives and officials could drink wine from them. You praised idols made of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, even though they cannot see or hear or think. You refused to worship the God who gives you breath and controls everything you do. 24That's why he sent the hand to write this message on the wall.
25-28The words written there are mene, which means “numbered,” tekel, which means “weighed,” and parsin, which means “divided.” God has numbered the days of your kingdom and has brought it to an end. He has weighed you on his balance scales, and you fall short of what it takes to be king. So God has divided your kingdom between the Medes and the Persians.
29Belshazzar gave a command for Daniel to be made the third most powerful man in his kingdom and to be given a purple robe and a gold chain.
30That same night, the king was killed. 31Then Darius the Mede, who was 62 years old, took over his kingdom.
It all went wrong when they had too much to drink. When self-control goes, watch out for what follows. They couldn’t help showing off, not just in a display of wealth but in a challenge to the God who had so humbled Nebuchadnezzar. “Do your worst,” Belshazzar seemed to say. God rose to the challenge. The “writing on the wall” has become part of our English language. What doom there was that night! Sources outside the Bible describe how Persian engineers diverted the river Euphrates and gained access to Babylon.
A few hours before reality struck, the king was reduced to a pathetic spectacle – and so were the guests. He sought to save face and cover what he felt. It was left to the queen, his mother, to remember their history and point him to Daniel, who had been left out in the cold. Belshazzar tried to retain control but his rewards had little impact on Daniel, whose value system was quite different.
Daniel was ever the prophet. God had given a warning once and Nebuchadnezzar had taken his second chance. Belshazzar knew the story and its truth but he had shut his mind to it as being inconvenient to his plans. Now it was too late.
The writing is spelled out, not just in words but in meaning. The meaning is stark – judgment – judgment at once. There is no future. The kingdom has come to an end. The last rites are being pronounced. The king seeks to have the last word, but the time for words is over. The kingdom passes that night from the Babylonians to Darius the Mede. This is one of the most solemn chapters in the Bible and its message should sober all who try to take God lightly.
Father, help me pay attention to your Word. Help me remember what you have done in the past, both as it is written in your Word, and as I have known it in my life. When you speak to me, may I listen, and understand, and obey. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.