King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
“Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
Daniel 5:1-9, 13-31
What would we do if we knew that our days were numbered? In Daniel 5, we see a picture of one of our options. King Belshazzar, likely aware of the imminent threat of an invading empire, throws a party for a thousand of his most important friends (Daniel 5:1). The feast is a display of Belshazzar’s glorious lifestyle of wealth, power, food, drink, and sex. Some would applaud Belshazzar. He’s “living life to the fullest” and “going out with a bang”. He’s following the adage: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” When we know that our days are numbered, we tend to grasp for all the glory we can get.
The problem is, the glories of this world are only shadow glories. The real, substantial glory is the glory of God. He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Because we have a glorious and generous Creator, there is a measure of glory in wealth, power, food, drink, and sex. But when we chase and possess His good gifts without giving thanks and worshiping Him, we run from the Light and live in the shadows. The significance that we find in shadow glories seems so solid...until we see the writing on the wall (Daniel 5:5-6). Like Belshazzar, in a moment we go from feeling powerful with friends reveling in pleasure…to feeling powerless with knees knocking in fear. We don’t understand what’s happening; we can’t read the writing on the wall. But whatever it means, we know it’s not good.
There is a message for us in Daniel’s interpretation of the writing on the wall. The first word God wrote on the wall was MENE, which means, “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end” (Daniel 5:26). What if we knew that our days were numbered? The Lord tells us in His word that they are (Psalm 139:16). It was true for Belshazzar, and it’s true for us. We’re foolish to think that we can go on forever chasing shadow glories and ignoring the God “to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). This jarring revelation is also an invitation to trust in the One who offers us life beyond the fleeting pleasures of this world. In His presence is fullness of joy, and at the right hand of the King of Kings are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Has the Lord given us eyes to see that the glories of this world cannot compare with the glory of Christ? If we have time to read these words, the Lord has given us time to turn away from our sin and to turn to Christ.
The second word God wrote on the wall was TEKEL, which means, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). Like Belshazzar, we want a life that feels significant and weighty. But without God, our significance is insignificant, our weight is weightless. Placed on the scales opposite the weight of His glory, we are light as a feather. In the balances, we go up (Psalm 62:9). We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Has the Lord opened our eyes to the horror of our sin so that we can see the glory of our Savior? Only in Him are we not found wanting. No, in Christ we are justified and adopted; buried, raised, and glorified; graced and loved beyond our wildest dreams. In Him we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Instead of stealing His glory, now we revel in it and share it with others. The world is always inviting us to a feast of stolen glory. Church, is our life together inviting the world to the real Feast?