Photo credit to Keith Patschka.
“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.’” (Daniel 5;17)
Today I’m thinking about seeing the writing on the wall. The problem is that most of us can see the writing on the wall but we have no idea what it means. There it is, right in front of us plain as day, but we are clueless to it’s impact for us. Sometimes we’re just as clueless as Belshazzar.
Belshazzar was king of Babylon. His reign followed that of Nebuchadnezzar. He’s also frequently referred to here as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. That’s a constant implication that he should have been more alert and have responded differently in his ruling than he chose to, considering the things that Nebuchadnezzar had learned about God before him. But let’s look back at the immediate story.
Let’s set the stage. It’s the beginning of the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. He calls a great feast with hordes of important people and lots of wine drinking. That can be a normal thing for kings. But then he decided that wasn’t enough. His pride got the better of him and he called for the sacred golden and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Those he would use to drink his wine and thank the the gods of his choosing. It was a way to mock God and say that He was no god. So they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, and of iron, of wood, and of stone —all those idols made by men’s hands and imaginations, and mocked the God of creation who created their very hands and the intimate workings of their bodies that were able to sustain them and enable them to even appreciate the taste of the wine they were mocking Him with.
I’m wondering if Belshazzar was aware of what Daniel knew, that the 70 year reign of Babylon was coming to a close? I mean, after all, he was surrounded with all these counselors who would be aware of prophecies about the kingdom. Daniel himself was the chief of the chief of counselors. But Belshazzar was a human being like us, and sometimes we choose to ignore the truth and choose, instead, what we want to believe. But you can only ignore the truth for so long. See, lies are like idols. They are not real and have no weight when push comes to shove. But truth, it always comes through in it’s time. Truth will always make itself known. You can’t hold it back. Especially when it’s God’s truth.
And that’s what happens. God shows up. It’s pretty terrifying. These fingers of a human hand appeared. It was just the fingers; not the rest of the body. And it was big enough for everyone to see. Now that’s a party stopper! And these fingers write on the plaster of the wall of the palace. The king is watching and his color changes, and he’s thinking, “Holy mackerel, what in the world?!” He was terrified, his legs forgot how to hold him up, and his knees clattered together. He called for the Chaldeans, the wise men to come in and interpret the writing but not a single one could. He even promised to cloth the one in scarlet and with a gold chain and make him third ruler. It didn’t matter. Everyone could see the writing on the wall but not one knew what it meant.
Belshazzar’s face was probably white as snow. His leaders were just as perplexed. It seems that the queen was the only one with a little understanding as to how to find the answer. I wonder if that was because her heart might have contemplated differently about the gods and things she had seen and learned about Daniel’s God? I don’t know, but of all the advisors she was the only one with the advice that would lead to the answer. “There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers…”(Daniel 5:11) “ He is alive still and can show you the answer.”Why? Why can Daniel do this?
The queen actually lists 6 qualities or evidences of Daniel’s ability. Let’s look at them. The first was an excellent spirit. That didn’t just mean he had a great personality. That word for spirit is the same word, ruach, used for when God breathed His spirit into the first man Adam. This excellent spirit is the spirit of God Himself inside of Daniel that is over and above all spirits. This is the Only Spirit who is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20) The Holy Spirit of God Himself imparted wisdom and knowledge from above and of below to Daniel because that’s where Daniel sought his wisdom.
This Spirit of God imparted to Daniel that second quality of being able to rightly divine knowledge, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, and reason. I think it corresponds to how we relate our thoughts to the things around us like science and the things we’re conscious of. Maybe this is the practical and scientific application of what we know. And this most intelligent man above all others in the kingdom, retained his intelligence while retaining and promoting his personal belief in God in the midst of all he knew and in the midst of a foreign culture who didn’t know or want to acknowledge his God. Yet that knowledge and application of the inter-relatedness and power of his God in all of men’s affairs, was what led him to the top and brought him before the king of a whole nation as the only one with the answer.
When we as speakers of English see the words wisdom and knowledge and understanding, we think on the same terms. But these are different words in Hebrew and Chaldean and retain separate identities of meaning. Daniel had understanding, soklthanu, intelligence and understanding. How is that different? It’s from sekal which means to consider. So maybe truly understanding the writing on the wall around us only comes when we truly consider things God’s way. This is where we sit down and take the time to look at something closely, and set our minds or our eyes to it with attention. But I think this isn’t just looking at things and sitting down with them and thinking closely about them. That could bring us into a multitude of conclusions, each his own. But this is considering, sitting down with God, and thinking with Him, close by His side, and setting our thoughts to Yours, Lord. This is the kind of considering that led Daniel to be able to read the writing on the wall.
God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. That was evidenced by the time he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But Daniel could also figure out the solutions to hard riddles or enigmas that others could not solve. No matter how concealed by obscure language, Danielle had the ability to figure out the hidden meaning. Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” How do you find out something concealed by God? Do you seek it through false idols? Or do you go to the God who knows the answers? Daniel knew who to go to and God blessed him with the knowledge he sought from Him.
The last characteristic is that he could unravel riddles. The root of that is about freeing what has been captured. The King James Version says “dissolving of doubts.” Can you hear that? Some of our thinking and understanding and confusion over answers can cause us to be bound, to be knotted up. They can cause us to feel like Belshazzar. And we can be trapped and bound by those thoughts and feelings, feelings like guilt, pride, fear, insufficiency, worthlessness, superiority, anger, hurt, whatever. Or we can be set free by knowing the One who is the Truth, like Daniel knew Him. After all, Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19) This was the God of the Old Testament, the Isaiah 61 God, identifying Himself to the world in Jesus. This is the same God that Daniel worshiped and the same God who calls us to worship Him today.
So here is this woman, who seems to refer to Daniel more by his Hebrew name than his Chaldean name. And maybe that’s because she realized that Bel or Nebo weren’t gods who saved but Daniel’s God was. And you know, Daniel could care less about the scarlet robe or golden necklace or being third in the kingdom. Daniel just cared about God being made known. And he interpreted the writing. But before that, he reminded Belshazzar about the things he had forgotten or overlooked or chosen to ignore. Because Belshazzar should have remembered and acted upon those memories. Belshazzar should have remembered how all of Nebuchadnezzar’s power was given by the Most High God. He should have remembered what happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride and his spirit hardened to God, how he lived like a beast all those years until he remembered and knew that God rules the kingdom of man.
But Belshazzar was not like the queen. He had disregarded it all and lifted himself up against God. “Mene, mene, tekel, and upharsin.” Therefore, God had numbered his days and brought an end to his kingdom. He was weighed in the balance and found lacking. His kingdom would be divided and given to Medes and Persians just as had been foretold by Daniel according to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. And that very night, it came to pass. What did the purple robe, gold necklace, and third place in the kingdom mean to Daniel then? Nothing. It’s all emptiness if God isn’t in the heart of it. It was the end of Belshazzar and what a sad, empty end. But it was not the end for Daniel. The new ruler, Darius, noticed something about him and, get this, made him one of the three high officials. Belshazzar’s appointment didn’t matter. But God’s appointment does.
I want to be able to read the writing on the wall. I want my life to be totally guided by considering You and Your ways, Lord, all the days of my life. I want people to see something different in me that causes them to seek my two cents, my counsel on things. I don’t want it because they see me, but I want them to see something that leads them to You and to Your council. I want to be like a Daniel in this world today of so many gods. I want to live in Your wisdom, and knowledge, and blessing, and presence, and counsel. If kings won’t act like kings, I will. I’m not afraid to search Your ways and Your answers out, O Lord. So teach me to understand all that You are writing on the walls and floors and sky and people around me.