Day 3      Daniel 5 ... Like Father, Like Son

A miracle may make someone sit up and take notice, but it surely does not guarantee long-term change. Despite Nebuchadnezzar's new-found enthusiasm for the God of the Hebrews, in time he apparently forgot all about his religious zeal. Not until a fit of insanity drove him to eat grass like an ox did an alarm sound in his memory (chapter 4).

The king's son Belshazzar, who had grown up in the midst of the flurry of miracles, had an even shorter memory. Chapter 5 introduces the new king at a state orgy as he boozes it up with a thousand nobles and assorted women. They were carousing in a kind of "hurricane party" to show their disdain over reports of enemy armies advancing on the capital. The party even included a religious element, after a fashion: They worshipped idols, and used sacred relics stolen from the temple in Jerusalem to hold their wine.

Belshazzar's raucous party provided the setting for a scene straight out of a horror film: human fingers, eerily disconnected from any hand, wrote a message on the wall. The king trembled and turned pale, but it took the queen to remember the supernatural gifts of an old Jewish prophet. Daniel hadn't interpreted the dream anyway, after delivering an impromptu sermon.

That night, Daniel got another high-ranking appointment to the government of a tyrant. But the job didn't last long. The same night, Babylon fell victim to a sneak attack, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

A phrase has come down from this story - "That's the handwriting on the wall" - to signify a final warning just before the end. The prophets of Israel and Judah had tried to interpret God's "handwriting" for their countrymen, with little success, and God had used Babylon to punish them. Now Babylon, having ignored the warnings of a spiritual giant like Daniel, was itself due for punishment. They had ignored handwriting on the wall long enough.

Point to Ponder: What "handwriting on the wall" might our society be ignoring?