Many of the cultural expressions we use today find their origin in the Bible but, in fact, are misunderstood or diminished by the void of historical context. Take for instance, the expression in the title, “handwriting on the wall.” It has long been understood as “a premonition, portent, or clear indication, especially of a future disaster.” Unfortunately, as God is being maliciously and intentionally removed from our country and culture, there are other meanings lost in the phrase void of its Divine influence.
Belshazzar had taken over from his very humbled but successful father, Nebuchadnezzar, as king of Babylon. As with many who inherit their position without having to work for it, he was an arrogant party animal. At “a great feast for a thousand of his lords” (Daniel 5:1), he was literally stunned as “fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote” (v. 5) a cryptic message on the wall. The vision so troubled him that “his knees knocked against each other” and, in a panic, he called his magicians and soothsayers to translate the message. Only Daniel was able to give him the bad news: he was “found wanting” and his kingdom was history (vs. 25-28).
The reasons for the sign are the key to understanding the message. Daniel reminded King Belshazzar of all the divine events that had humbled his father. Therefore, Belshazzar should have acted accordingly; he did not. Daniel’s condemnation was punctuated by the fact that: [LESSON 1] he should have seen it coming! “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this” (v. 22).
Belshazzar is just one of the many humbling, awe-inspiring and motivating examples with which God has blessed us. Although we know all this, some still go about life as though there is no tomorrow, no accountability and… no God. Yet, another lesson lost in this historic phrase is: [LESSON 2] when a person finally sees the handwriting on the wall, it is too late. “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain” (v. 30).
Life is full of distractions that consume our existence. Many an aged person has looked back on a life spent vainly pursuing perishable things only to recognize too late that the important things in life are not in “things” but in our relationship with God. Therefore, “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord” (James 4:10) and “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) before you see handwriting on the wall.