Belshazzar threw a party. He invited one thousand guests, all lords, plus his wives (plural; one wonders how many), and concubines (the harem got in on it, too).
We usually understand this scene as “Belshazzar’s Feast,” but the Bible doesn’t mention a morsel of food, rather the emphasis was on the drink. Belshazzar had already drunk some, and he ordered the golden and silver vessels, that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem, to be brought into the halls, so they could drink from them. These vessels had been dedicated to God. Read what these guests did with them: the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone (Daniel 5:3b-4). This was idolatry! This was an insult to God!
All of a sudden, their drinking party stops.
On the wall . . . fingers writing . . . .
The king shakes visibly. He calls for his astrologers and soothsayers. He promises a reward to the man who can read the writing and interpret it. The astrologers and soothsayers come, but they can’t read the writing on the wall.
The king is not happy.
The queen (which one?) had been in another room, but she goes in to where the king is, and she greets him in the customary way, “O King, live for ever.” (She had no idea of the prophetic irony.) Then, she tells Belshazzar about Daniel, in whom is found an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences . . . . The king sends for Daniel and tells him he will reward him if he can read and interpret the writing on the wall.
This is Daniel’s response: Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
Daniel then recounts the history of Belshazzar’s father, Nebuchadnezzar, how God had worked in his life, giving him majesty, glory and honor. That God had seen Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and taken away the kingdom until the day he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
Daniel pulls no punches. He tells King Belshazzar, And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. 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 5:22-24, 26-28)
This wasn’t exactly a positive message for Belshazzar! But, he honors Daniel and makes Daniel the third man in his kingdom—a kingdom that lasts, at the most, a few hours.
That very night, the Medes invaded, killed Belshazzar, and Darius became the new king.
Daniel’s prophecy came true. The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified. . . . God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. (5:23b, 26b) God judged the king, who knew about God from his father but chose to honor false gods instead. What a sad end!
As usual, God has some practical lessons for us in this story. We aren’t kings with a thousand lords, but we can learn from Belshazzar’s shortcomings and Daniel’s reliance on God. Here are some of the lessons from Daniel, chapter 5:
- Only God deserves honor. Any recognition of anything else is idolatry.
- God communicates to everyone, even the wicked.
- Daniel spoke God’s Word and God’s meaning, even though he knew it wouldn’t be popular. So should we.
- Make sure we’re not found wanting when we’re weighed in God’s balance. Make sure we’re trusting in Jesus alone for our salvation. Be sure we’re living for Him.
- God rewards a faithful servant. Daniel lived on, while the kings he served under came and went. God rewards faithfulness.