Art Toombs Ministries

Online Bible Commentary

The Writing on the Wall
Daniel 5:5 In the same hour the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6 Then the king's countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other. 7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, "Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom." 8 Now all the king's wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished. 10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall. The queen spoke, saying, "O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father--your father the king--made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. 12 Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation." (NKJV)

 

The date is October 12, 539 B.C. It is evening in Babylonia and King Belshazzar has called for a big celebration and worship of their idols. Babylonia has just suffered a big military loss at the hands of the Persians and the king thought a morale booster was needed. So, the king and his subjects are crowded into the throne room of the palace which accommodates a thousand people, and the wine is flowing. 

Suddenly, “the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace” (v. 5). Excavations of the throne room showed that the walls were covered with white gypsum plaster. Naturally, the king was troubled and shaken by this bizarre event (v. 6). 

The king called for his so-called “wise men”, “the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers” (v. 7a). These were men who were like the clergy for the gods the Babylonians worshiped. The king decreed that "Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom" (v. 7b). The position of third ruler would be one of great prestige, just under Nabonidus, Belshazzar’s father and co-regent, and Belshazzar, himself. 

But the gods of the wise men failed them, and they were unable to read and interpret the writing on the wall (v. 8). The king was “greatly troubled” and his lords were “astonished” (v. 9). “The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall” and offered words of comfort to Daniel (v. 10). Previously, the text stated that all of Belshazzar’s wives and concubines were gathered in the throne room, so “the queen” mentioned here had to be the wife of the co-regent, Nabonidus. 

The queen then remembers Daniel from the days of her father Nebuchadnezzar and tells the king “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father--your father the king--made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers” (v. 11). 

The queen continued to praise and offer Daniel as the solution to the king’s troubled heart by stating: “Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation" (v. 12). In my next commentary the evening will continue with the calling of Daniel to come before the king. 

The saying ‘the writing on the wall”, like many other common sayings, came from the Bible, specifically this passage. Wikipedia states “‘the writing on the wall’ is an idiomatic expression that suggests a portent of doom or misfortune, based on the story of Belshazzar's feast in the book of Daniel.” 

Sometimes we see “the writing on the wall.” We see that doom or misfortune is heading our way. This doom or misfortune is often a consequence of some action we took, or did not take. There are often consequences for the things we do, or don’t do. 

So, how can we avoid seeing “the writing on the wall?” Well, we can’t always. But we can avoid many of the wrong paths on the road of life by reading and studying the Bible. The Bible is our roadmap for life. It can help us to avoid doom or misfortune. When we read and obey the Bible, our ride along life’s highway becomes a much smoother and blessed ride.