That time came when the king lifted the goblet 56 margin.* let filled with sparkling wine. His hand grew stiff, for on the opposite wall, over against the lights, was a bloodless hand, writing words of an unknown language. The wine cup fell to the floor; the king’s countenance grew pale; he trembled violently, and his knees smote together until the gorgeous girdle of his loins loosened and fell aside. The loud laughter ceased, and the music died away. Terror-stricken, a thousand guests looked from the face of the king to the writing on the wall.
The Chaldean astrologers and soothsayers were called, but the writing was meaningless to them. They who taught all earthly languages failed to recognize the language of heaven. The four strange characters remained as at first seen, emblazoned in letters of fire on the wall.
For days the siege of Babylon had been on. The gates were closed and her walls were considered impregnable, while within the city were provisions for twenty years. But, however strong she might seem, God had said, “Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from me shall spoilers come unto her” ().
The strongest strongholds which man can build are crushed like a dying leaf when the hand of God is laid upon them. But this was a lesson which the rulers of Babylon had not yet learned. The father of iniquity, who was urging these rulers forward into deeper sin, had not yet owned the weakness of his cause. Heaven and unfallen worlds watched the progress of affairs in this great city, for it was the battleground of the two mighty forces of good and evil. Christ and Satan here contended. 57 margin.* Angels, unseen by human eyes, as when they gathered the animals into the ark before the flood, had mustered forces against Babylon. God was using men who knew Him not as God, but who were true to principle and wished to do the right. To Cyrus, the leader of the Persian army, which was now outside the city walls, God had said that He held his hand to make him strong. Before you “I will loose the loins of kings.” I will open those two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut; “I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut in sunder the bars of iron” (, ).
While Belshazzar and his lords drank and feasted, the army of Cyrus was lowering the waters in the bed of the Euphrates, preparatory to entering the city.
As the Chaldeans were unable to read the writing on the wall, the king’s terror increased. He knew that this was a rebuke of his sacrilegious feast, and yet he could not learn the exact meaning. Then the queen mother remembered Daniel, who had “the spirit of the holy gods” () and who had been made master of the wise men in the days of Nebuchadnezzar as the result of interpreting the king’s dream.
Daniel, the prophet of God, was called to the banquet room. As he came before Belshazzar, the monarch promised to make him third ruler in the kingdom if he would interpret the writing. The prophet, with the quiet dignity of a servant of the Most High God, stood before the gorgeous, terror-stricken throng that bore evidence of intemperate feasting and wicked revelry.
The strongest strongholds which man can build are crushed like a dying leaf when the hand of God is laid upon them.
In Israel, children were named under the inspiration 58 margin.* of the Spirit, and the name was an expression of character. When God changed a name, as in the case of Abraham, Jacob, or Peter, it was because of a change of character in the individual. True to the name given him by his mother, Daniel—God’s judge—again appears to vindicate the truth. Nebuchadnezzar had called him Belteshazzar, in honor of the Babylonian god Bel, but to the last this Hebrew, who knew the Lord, remained true to his God-given name, as shown in the twelfth verse of this chapter. He did not speak with flattering words, as the professedly wise men of the kingdom had done, but he spoke the truth of God. It was a moment of intensity, for there was but a single hour in which to make known the future. Daniel was now an old man, but he sternly disclaimed all desire for rewards or honor, and proceeded to review the history of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Lord’s dealings with that ruler—his dominion and glory, his punishment for pride of heart, and his subsequent acknowledgment of the mercy and power of the God who created the heavens and the earth. He rebuked Belshazzar for his departure from true principles, and for his great wickedness and pride.
“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 the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (, ). Straightforward and strong were the words of Daniel. Belshazzar had trodden on sacred ground; he had laid unholy hands on holy things; he had severed the ties which bind heaven and earth together; and there was no 59 margin.* way for that life-giving Spirit of God to reach him or his followers. Day by day his breath had been given him, a symbol of the spiritual breath, but he praised and thanked the gods of wood and stone. His every motion had been by virtue of the power of the God of heaven, but he had prostituted that power to an unholy cause. “Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written” (Verse 24). What he could not see written in his own breath and muscles, what he could not read in his own heartbeats, God wrote in mystic characters on the palace wall, over against the candlestick.
The people waited with bated breath as Daniel turned to the writing on the wall, and read the message traced by the angel hand. The hand had been withdrawn, but four terrible words remained. The prophet announced their meaning to be: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin: . . . God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it: . . . Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting: . . . Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Verses 25–28).—The Story of Daniel the Prophet, pp. 68–73.
* In these marginal citations, SNH outlines many other Bible references that bring additional light to the story.