The Handwriting on the Wall
by Beyond Today host Darris McNeely The party in the king’s palace in Babylon
ran late into the night. The food was abundant and the wine flowed freely. Drunkenness and
lack of judgment reigned. Out of nowhere the fingers of a man’s hand
appeared and began writing on the wall of the room. Intoxicated by the splendor of the
king’s palace, the lords and ladies present had no idea of the danger of the moment.
The king and all those present became so frightened they broke out in sweat and staggered at the
sight of a disembodied floating hand that was writing out a coded message on the plastered
wall. When finished, the words MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN stood in stark relief before the
eyes of the astonished guests. What was this strange message? What did it
mean for the king of Babylon? What does it mean for our world today?
A world in confusion Look around at today’s world. Are we big
enough or great enough to rise to the challenges of our time? Consider what is facing the nations.
The Middle East is aflame. Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Their goal will continue
in spite of a recent treaty promising that “Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively
peaceful” and that “Iran will under no circumstances seek, develop, or acquire nuclear
weapons.” This is the same nation whose leaders incite
its people to chant “death to Israel” and “death to America.” Its fundamentalist
Shiite Muslim leadership sponsors terrorism throughout the Middle East in Syria, Iraq
and Yemen. No leader in the Middle East believes this
recent agreement with Iran will lessen the tensions of the region. Clear-thinking leaders
believe Iran will continue plans to develop weapons of mass destruction—and when successful,
it will use them to further its apocalyptic mission. It is not a matter of if but when.
Europe is going through a very rough period. The European Union has faltered in its plan
to grow an ever-closer utopian union among the nations of Europe, a region that has seen
so much war and strife in the last century. The goal of peace through economic and social
cooperation has fallen on a critical moment with the economic instability of Greece. EU
leadership will be forced to correct this flaw—if not now, then at some point in the
future. We can gain great insight into what these
major world events mean by understanding the story of the handwriting on the wall. Just
as God was moving among the nations to rearrange the power structure 25 centuries ago, so He
is moving to accomplish His purpose in history among the nations today. There is a higher,
spiritual purpose behind today’s headlines. But are we—you and I—big enough people
to rise to the challenge of the day? Are we big enough to see the handwriting on the wall
of our times and listen to its meaning? We live in very serious times. We have to be
able to read the handwriting on the wall just like Daniel did on that night in Babylon so
long ago. The night the lights went out in Babylon
The biblical book of Daniel is a story of kingdoms at war during one of the most crucial
periods of world history. The prophet Daniel lived at a moment of great change and upheaval.
He was an intelligent young Jew taken captive to Babylon during one of Nebuchadnezzar’s
invasions. He found himself promoted to a key role in the court of the king of Babylon,
capital of the Chaldean Neo-Babylonian Empire that spread across the Middle East.
Daniel spent his adult life working in the courts of power of two kingdoms—the kingdom
of Babylon and later the kingdom of Persia. God gave Daniel the gift of understanding
to interpret dreams and prophecies and even the strangest of sights—the handwriting
of a floating hand that appeared in the banquet room of Belshazzar, the last Chaldean king
of Babylon. When we look at the events of that night we
witness God’s gift to this devout and righteous prophet, a man who stood before great kings
and testified of the glory and majesty of the God of heaven. Daniel’s example shows
us what kind of person it takes to rise to the challenge of great moments in history.
Here we see the power of the Spirit of God moving not only on the face of the earth,
directing the course of nations, but in the noble life of one who humbly seeks to do God’s
will. On that fateful night, a hand appeared from
nowhere and wrote on the wall of the king’s banquet room in front of hundreds of drunken
guests. When the king saw this, “his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked
together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him” (Daniel 5:6, New Living Translation).
He cried out: “Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed
in purple robes of royal honor and will have a gold chain placed around his neck. He will
become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!” (verse 7, NLT)—third because Belshazzar
was second, coregent with his father Nabonidus, who was away.
None of Belshazzar’s trusted counselors were able to interpret the handwriting on
the wall. Then in walked the queen—this being evidently
either his mother (wife of Nabonidus and daughter of Nebuchadnezzar) or his grandmother (the
widow of Nebuchadnezzar). She said to him: “There is a man in your kingdom who has
within him the spirit of the holy gods. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, this man was found
to have insight, understanding, and wisdom like that of the gods. Your predecessor, the
king—your predecessor King Nebuchadnezzar—made him chief over all the magicians, enchanters,
astrologers, and fortune-tellers of Babylon. “This man Daniel . . . has exceptional ability
and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles,
and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means”
(verses 11-12, NLT). Daniel interprets the vision
Daniel was called in. He was offered the great reward of honor, wealth and status for interpreting
the handwriting. What Belshazzar did not understand was that Daniel was not a man who could be
flattered or influenced by these symbols of power.
Daniel had stood before this king’s predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel had actually warned
that prior king—a powerful and temperamental dictator—that if he did not humble himself
before the God of heaven he would become like an ignorant beast of the field, reduced to
eating grass with the barest scraps of clothing on his body. This happened, and Belshazzar
knew it did. But Belshazzar had not learned the lesson.
Daniel told Belshazzar: “You have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these
cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines
have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood,
and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not
honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny!” (verse
23, NLT) Belshazzar was not big enough for the challenging
times of his day. That very night the armies of his enemies captured mighty Babylon. A
new empire replaced Babylon at the top of the nations. This was foretold by God through
the prophet Isaiah about 150 years earlier. Daniel was at this moment announcing to the
Babylonian king that the God of heaven was in charge of history and was setting a new
kingdom at the head of all the others. What did the handwriting on the wall say?
What should we learn from its message? And what is the message we need to take with us
today? We are living in a period of great change
in today’s world. Nations and power structures are realigning. Weaknesses are being exposed.
Cultural shifts are taking place that are shocking to many. Where is it leading, and
what does it mean? An ancient message for today’s world
In the night’s drunken revelry, Belshazzar had ordered the gold and silver vessels once
used for a holy purpose in God’s temple in Jerusalem brought into the room. These
cups and bowls were then used as props in a mockery and affront to God. There is a point
where God determines a culture has gone too far to allow it to go on.
When the hand appeared, it wrote the following words on the wall of the banquet room: MENE,
MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. Daniel turned to the king and gave the interpretation
of the inscription: “MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You
have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES [peres is the singular form
of upharsin]: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”
These words were a listing of weights and monetary units. God was numbering, weighing
and dividing out units of money in a graphic display of displeasure with the greatest empire
of the time. Babylon, the great city and kingdom, a fierce and violent nation, had been examined
by God and found unworthy of continuing. It was brought down and given to a new kingdom,
that of the Medes and Persians. Why was money used here as a symbol of examination
and judgment? It was appropriate. Babylon was a wealthy nation that traded across the
world of its day. Wealth and money had flowed into the city, making it the center of international
finance. Babylon was a city that saw money flow into it like great gushing streams of
water. The prophet Jeremiah described it as a city “abundant in treasure” (Jeremiah
51:13). The Babylonian Empire was finished as a world
power. Its influence would continue to flow through history and remains very much with
us today. But in this moment there was a change of power.
Even then the king did not understand. Belshazzar commanded Daniel be clothed with purple, the
symbol of royalty, and a chain of gold be put around his neck and to be proclaimed the
third ruler in the kingdom. It was an empty gesture by a king who was completely out of
touch with reality. That very night the king was killed, and the
Medo-Persian Empire took over. Babylon had been weighed and found wanting.
Can we read the handwriting on the wall for our times? Can we discern what is happening
among the nations of today’s world and see God’s hand moving through history? Nations
and regions of the world are in turmoil. Danger is on the horizon. The cultural shifts occurring
in America and other parts of the world should cause grave concern. Do we have what it takes
to stand up—to rise to the occasion and meet these challenges?
The handwriting is on the wall today In many ways, life is pretty good for most
in the Western world. Americans enjoy the highest standard of living ever known. The
poorest among us live like kings compared to people in other parts of the developing
world. And yet even in the midst of the world’s wealthiest period we have pockets of people
who lack the basics and suffer from poverty. The social and economic problems we face in
America and other nations are real in how they affect people’s lives.
We see racial strife erupting in the major cities of America, reflecting deep-seated
anger stemming from a social structure that is not balanced or in line with the values
of godly biblical teaching. There is a reason for this. We as a society
have cut ourselves off from God. We have not wanted to keep God and His laws in the center
of public life. There has been a steady erosion of biblical values and teachings for more
than 50 years. If you want to understand the reason behind
the major events of recent times, the breakdown in whole segments of society and the headlong
rush into a moral meltdown, look no further than three key events shaped by the United
States Supreme Court. America’s highest judicial body has issued landmark rulings
in three areas that reflect the country’s decline in the eyes of the God of heaven.
In the early 1960s the Supreme Court issued two rulings regarding prayer and Bible readings
in public schools. In the first, the justices ruled that official prayer had no place in
public education. A year later, the court declared school-sponsored Bible reading and
recitation of the Lord’s Prayer unconstitutional. While the decisions didn’t rule for or against
personal expressions of faith, they were part of a period of cultural change that continues
to this day. The court ruled on a matter of great spiritual importance for a nation blessed
with a unique place in the world—a place made possible by the God of heaven.
Then in 1973 the Supreme Court decided another significant landmark case, Roe v. Wade. This
case legalized abortion in all 50 states. It sanctioned the taking of an unborn life,
labeling murder a right guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
Since 1973 more than 50 million abortions have been legally performed in the United
States alone. When a government does not protect its unborn life, it deserves the judgment
of the God of life. That judgment is coming, and sooner than we might think!
The third of these rulings by the Supreme Court came in June 2015 with the legalization
of same-sex marriage. In this ruling the court made up a sweeping right that same-sex marriage
is guaranteed by the Constitution. Let’s be plain about this highly charged issue:
The United States Supreme Court has stepped beyond its temporal bounds into the spiritual
realm of defying the God who created man, woman and marriage.
The court decreed that the divine institution of marriage as defined in the Bible as a sacred
union between a man and woman—the only biblical definition of marriage—is superseded by
its human reasoning and judgment. Human law now sanctions as marriage a relationship that
God never intended—in fact, one that He in fact specifically forbids!
With these rulings America has crossed a line. We have gone from a ruling against prayer
and Bible reading in public schools to sanctioning the killing of the unborn to ruling against
the biblical definition of marriage. In a little more than 50 years these decisions
have taken us down a path of open public defiance of God in our most elemental parts of life.
We as a people grope blindly, trying to see our way forward, not knowing that we are poor
and blind and miserable and naked. And now we wait, wondering when God will act with
a fire of judgment upon us. Will you read the handwriting on the wall?
I wonder just where God might be in His evaluation of our world today. Does He see our state
of affairs and pause in thought, determining it is time to put a stop to this?
I don’t know when that might occur, but I do know that you and I must come to a place
and time in our lives when we must act to stand in opposition to sinful society, turning
toward God and changing our ways. Are we big enough for the challenge of our
times? For you and me, the challenge is to turn away from this world and begin to live
by the teachings of the world to come, the Kingdom of God. That in itself determines
whether we can face the challenges with the only power that makes a real difference—God’s
Spirit and the teachings of the Kingdom of God.
Daniel in his day at Babylon stood for the Kingdom of God in the midst of the raging
wars of the kingdoms of Babylon and Persia. For Daniel the choice was clear. God’s Kingdom—along
with the way he had known since a child—was the only right choice. The God he served was
the one true God who lives, unlike the gods of stone and wood and metal he saw in the
temples of Babylon. For Daniel, the collapse of his own nation
of Judah was done at the will and the hand of his God and served a greater purpose. The
gods of Babylon were empty and worthless, unable to hear or see and clearly unable to
prevent the demise of Babylon. The time is now for you to be like Daniel!
The time is now to read the handwriting on the wall of our time and seek to understand
the will of the God of heaven! The king and lords and ladies of Babylon were
not great enough for their time. Are you up to the challenges of our time? Too many tread
endless circles of mediocrity and accept shabby lies and fictions of today’s culture as
truth. The result is that we build our lives on shifting sands. When the winds of difficulty
blow, they may not stand. It is a sobering thought.
The time is now to take action. The time is now to see the handwriting on the wall and
rise to a higher calling and a higher way of life. The time is now to seek the God of
heaven and live! The handwriting is on the wall. Can you read
what it says and move to change your life? For more helpful content visit us online at