Belshazzar was a young Babylonian king who was filled with pride. Even though God had showed the Babylonian kings, like Nebuchadnezzar, that they should be humble before the Most High God, Belshazzar did not take to heart the lessons God had showed his predecessors. Daniel 5 reveals how he made a feast, praising the false “gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone” (Daniel 5:4). It was “the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem” that he used in this drunken feast of idolatry (Daniel 5:3). Daniel 5:22 says, “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this.”
Because Belshazzar got drunk, he continued down a path of doing things he knew he shouldn’t. Intoxication loosens the willpower God has given us to restrict ourselves from moral transgressions and brings out the animal part of man, causing the baser instincts to hold sway. Drinking leads to doing things we will soon regret. Who has woe and sorrow? Those who seek wine (Proverbs 23:29-35).
To sober Belshazzar up to the consequences of his actions, God made a hand appear and write a message on the wall in the midst of this feast (Daniel 5:5). Belshazzar was so afraid his knees knocked and he asked for someone to come and interpret the message (Daniel 5:6-7).
Daniel was finally brought in to interpret the message of God. Belshazzar offered Daniel gifts if he would interpret the message, but Daniel esteemed the blessing of God greater than the gifts of a king and said, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another…” (Daniel 5:16-17). How great it would be if all of us could be like Daniel; if we could only get covetousness out of our hearts and have our sole desire to be to please God by properly interpreting and applying His message.
The writing on the wall was, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (Daniel 5:25). What do these words mean?
Mene, mene: God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.
Tekel: you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.
Upharsin: your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.
Nothing could have been further from the mind of Belshazzar than an overthrow of his kingdom by the Medes and the Persians. Belshazzar ruled in a city that was surrounded by two enormous walls. The inner wall was 21 feet thick and 300 feet high. Chariots could ride around on the top of it. But little did he know that Darius and the Medes had spent months outside the walls, digging. The Babylonians, thinking they were secure, ignored the enemy and got drunk at their feasts. God’s message brought Belshazzar to grips with reality. The very night of the handwriting on the wall, in 537 B.C., Darius (under Cyrus the Persian) took Babylon by diverting the riverbed and going under the city gates. They killed Belshazzar.
Belshazzar knew that he should have been giving respect to the Most High God, instead he decided to live it up and enjoy pleasure, but before his night of frivolity was over he was weighed on God’s scales and put to death. When the world wishes to live for the moment, we must be seriously minded to live for that eternal day that awaits those obedient to God. “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” 1 Thessalonians 5:8.