It was the 12th of October in the year 539 B.C. during the reign of the Babylonian monarch Belshazzar. And this king, well, he knew how to party, he liked to party, and so one night he organized a big party. In fact the chapter that tells his story begins with a party.
“Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.” (Daniel 5:1-2).
His lords, his wives, his concubines, not only drinking wine but drinking it from the sacred vessels that had been part of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem pillaged decades earlier by his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar.
Using the very vessels consecrated to the worship of the true God, they offered praise to the pagan gods of gold and silver. They mixed the elements of the worship of God with pagan practice. They combined truth with error. And it brought an immediate response from God. Amid all the sacrilege and revelry, an event occurred that brought all festivities to a halt.
“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.” (Daniel 5:5).
If you ever wondered where the phrase “the handwriting on the wall” originated from — here it is. No question, this was strange and shocking. And the king’s reaction to it says a lot.
“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.” (Daniel 5:6).
Does that not sound like a guilty conscience, or what? Belshazzar knew he’d been rude and defiant to God. So he was anxious and worried about what the writing meant. The king called for the wise men of Babylon to interpret the writing. He was so desperate for an interpretation, that Belshazzar promised whoever gave it to him would get a lot of rewards, including to be “third ruler in the kingdom” (Daniel 5:7).
However, none were able to. The queen, seeing the king’s consternation, then told him about Daniel, now an old man who had been in his grandfather’s court. She said that he, definitely, could interpret this writing for the king. So Daniel was called in and the king, after flattering him, offered him great rewards if he could help.
Daniel, however, cut to the chase, saying that he had no interest in any reward. After chiding Belshazzar for his arrogance, and for his blasphemy by partying with the sacred vessels, Daniel then interpreted the words, the writing on the wall, saying:
“And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:25-28).
Talk about direct, and to the point. And sure enough, just as predicted, Belshazzar’s reign ended that very night when the Medo-Persians overthrew the city. Mighty Babylon had fallen.
It was the defiling act of taking the vessels that were consecrated to the worship of the true God and mixing them with pagan worship that brought the wrath of God upon Belshazzar and Babylon. Ancient Babylon fell when it defied God by mixing the worship of God with paganism.
And let’s remember that everything in the book of Daniel, including the story of Belshazzar and the fall of Babylon, is focusing on last day events – our times. The Bible makes it very clear in the Book of Revelation, Daniel’s companion book, that there will be another Babylon at the time of the end.
The Babylon spoken of in Revelation is not the same as the Babylon of Daniel’s day. It became a heap of ruins. The Bible foretells the rise of another Babylon which will do the same to people who follow God as did ancient Babylon. Modern Babylon, according to the book of Revelation, is the final great oppressor of the people of God.
And like ancient Babylon, modern Babylon, will mix elements of the worship of God with pagan practice. There is nothing that brings down the anger of God more than an illicit relationship of truth and error. Babylon claims to worship God, but has mixed truth with error, paganism with Christianity. That can only invite the wrath of God.
We must be vividly aware that both Daniel and Revelation warn us against a false system of religion that mixes paganism with Christianity – and yet claims to worship God. In the last days, in our time, this false system of religion will try to force people to worship God falsely by mixing paganism and Christianity, just as ancient Babylon defied God by mixing elements of the worship of God with paganism.
How important it is that we be as faithful as Daniel, so that we are not corrupted by modern Babylon. How important it is that we remain loyal and true to the Bible. That’s our only safety.