Handwriting on the Wall

belshazzars feast

The book of Daniel is a historical account of the faithful Jews who lived in captivity in Babylon. The focus is, of course, on Daniel, but the story also contains colorful people such as Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Belshazzar and Darius (always fun names to pronounce). The scene painted in this masterpiece is of a banquet Belshazzar, Regent of Babylon, gave for his nobles. At this banquet, he blasphemously served wine in the sacred vessels one of his predecessors had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rembrandt shows the moment when a divine hand appeared and wrote on the wall a phrase only Daniel could decipher. This is where we get the saying, “the handwriting on the wall.” When transliterated, the inscription reads MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.” That very night Belshazzar was slain and Darius, the Mede, took over.

One golden thread that runs through the book of Daniel is the reminder that God is sovereign. In the midst of so much bad, God showed Daniel and his friends that he was still in control. May we, too, remember that God is in control, directing the forces of nature, the destiny nations, and the care of his people. A comforting reminder in today’s toxic environment.

So, if you are stressed out because of the events in the world today, remember this: God is sovereign. He was in control in Babylon and he has been moving in history, controlling the destinies of people ever since. And he is here now. Despite the news reports, we can be confident—God is in control. God was alive when this world began, he lives now and he’ll be living years from now—when every other military force will be long gone. There is not a single head of state or leader in the world who will be here in 50 years. They will all pass—but God will not.

And since he is in charge, there is never a crisis of authority. There is no falling apart at the seams. God is never at his wit’s end. He is never surprised by an outcome. He is the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the executive branch and even if we don’t give him authority over our lives, he has it whether we like it or not; and whether we understand it or not.

Being Human connection: No, we don’t always comprehend how or why things happen, but that is not our job. Our job is to be faithful to goodness, even when it feels like what is wrong is winning.  We can show grace; watch our words; resist the urge to sort, divide, categorize or exclude; repent of our own prejudices; and practice forgiveness.

Featured image: Rembrandt, “Belshazzar’s Feast,” circa 1636

“Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.”
-Daniel 5:5-6