They were fingers of a human hand. And they wrote on the wall. There was nothing of note on the wall before, and then suddenly there were words: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.” That is Aramaic for something like this: “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided.”
That is what would happen to the Babylonian kingdom and the rule of King Belshazzar. Its days had been numbered. The king’s life had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. And the kingdom was about to be divided up among the Medes and the Persians.
We have to keep in mind the blasphemy that proceeded this stern word of judgment – as well as the follow-through at the end of the chapter. King Belshazzar called for the sacred vessels from the old temple in Jerusalem, which had been sacked and destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. King Belshazzar called for those vessels to be brought out for a party he was holding with his fellow leaders and with his wives and concubines. Those sacred golden cups were holy to God, and they were being used in unholy ways.
King Belshazzar did not recognize the holiness of God. This is Romans 1:18-23 played out in full. Read it carefully.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
King Belshazzar knew God. The events of the life of King Nebuchadnezzar were known to him. The fact Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and ate grass like an ox was available information. It was no secret. And neither was the fact Nebuchadnezzar finally recognized “the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.”
Daniel looked at King Belshazzar and said, “You knew all this …”
For although King Belshazzar knew God, he didn’t honor God or give thanks to him. Instead, his foolish heart was darkened. And he became a fool and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. He took those cups of gold from the temple in Jerusalem – those very real symbols of the glory of the immortal God – and he used them like ordinary cups for wine. And he celebrated false gods – gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
What was known about God was plain to King Belshazzar. God had shown it to him. God’s invisible attributes were clear. God’s eternal power and divine nature were evident. But King Belshazzar didn’t give God glory. Instead, he exchanged the truth of God for a lie. He took the cups, and he defiled them.
And in the midst of this blasphemy, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven.
Today, when we say, “The handwriting is on the wall,” we mean the end is near. Things are as good as over.
The words were written by the fingers of a human hand. As Christians, we may think here of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God and humanity were one in him.
And God is a writer of words. The finger of God wrote on the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Exodus 31:18). So we know God writes. He is the God of the Word. And on that wall opposite the lampstand – near where the bread of the Presence would have been in the temple in Jerusalem – the finger of God wrote again. This time, the fingers were on a human hand.
The wrath of God was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men: “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.”
A selfish king who thought he had it all was about to lose his life and his kingdom. You almost can hear Jesus speaking in this passage, telling the story about the rich fool – the one who tore down his barns to build bigger ones so he could eat, drink, and be merry. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'” (Luke 12:20).
Jesus was fully human and fully God. The words Jesus spoke were the words of God. And so were the words Jesus wrote. In Christ, God still is a writer of words. You remember the story of the adulterous woman. The scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone her, but Jesus knelt and wrote with his finger on the ground (John 8:6). I wonder whether he thought then about King Belshazzar, who tried to lift himself up over God. Maybe Jesus wrote on the ground, “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” The scribes and Pharisees dropped their rocks and left. Whatever Jesus wrote, the scribes and Pharisees wanted no part of it. And the woman was given grace – and “from now on, sin no more.”
In the incarnation, the Son of God is fully human. He senses our weakness and the way in which we are tempted to sin. He knows which way we would fall if left on our own. And in the incarnation, the Son of God is fully divine. He has the power to help us. And he has the power to judge.
King Belshazzar was judged. He was found wanting.
There is a warning here for us and the rest of humanity. On our own, we would be weighed in the balances, too. “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” Our days are numbered. Our sins will be weighed. Our little kingdoms will be divided.
Without Christ, we are lost. But the same hand that warns us of judgment was nailed to the cross on our behalf. Jesus took all of that judgment on himself. His own days came to an end. He gathered up all the sin of ours that leaves us wanting. And he hung there on the cross, his garments divided into the hands of others.
The gospel fills the Bible. And the Most High God is with us. The bread of life fills us up.