Have you ever walked through a building famed for being haunted? If you have, can you remember the sense of trepidation as you moved? One of the buildings on my college campus was heavily rumored to house the ghost of the Cherokee wife to Texas hero General Sam Houston. One night I was working with a group of students to clean up after an event, and two of us were instructed to carry tables up the elevator into storage. When we arrived at the elevator it dinged and opened, almost as though it was awaiting our arrival and didn’t want us to unhandle our load to push the button. The really weird part was when the elevator did it again to go down – ding, no button. Just the mere suggestion of the paranormal had me scared to death. I couldn’t hear any suggestion that the elevator might have had an electrical surge of some sort.
FAILURE OF MAN
I can hardly imagine the fear of seeing a disembodied hand, writing on a wall in front of me. If you’ve been spooked before, then you might understand the fear King Belshazzar is recorded to have had. He was scared sober. Setting the stage for that evening, it is helpful to note that the entire city of Babylon was also likely celebrating and feasting, carousing and drinking, as was the king. The Medes and Persians were outside the walls, probably known to the king, but he wasn’t worried. The city was impenetrable.
According to Herodotus, a Greek historian, the city was surrounded by at least two rows of formidable walls over 300 feet high and 80 feet thick and were anchored about 35 feet below ground. Archeological excavations dispute some of his exact findings, but nonetheless, these walls were huge. The people weren’t worried. In fact, if the enemy laid siege to the city, there was enough supply within the walls that the people could withstand it for at least 20 years.
So the party continued, and apparently the watchmen never noticed the enemy infiltrating the city through the water canals. Cyrus had diverted the flow of the Euphrates, lowering the water, allowing access inside the walls. The Persians mixed and mingled with the Babylonians until it was time to strike. This leads us into chapter five of Daniel.
The writing on the wall appeared shortly after Belshazzar brought up the holy articles from the Temple at Jerusalem to be used in praise to his pagan gods. A deliberate blow to the sanctity and sovereignty of God. This kind of mockery hardly ever turns out good, and Belshazzar was no exception. Yet again, Daniel was brought to interpret the message when the other magicians failed to do so. The inscription contained common Aramaic terms for currency, but terribly out of context, so know one understood. Daniel explained.
This is the message that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is what these words mean:
Mene means “numbered” – God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.
Tekel means “weighed” – you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.
Parsin means “divided” – your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:25-28 NLT)
The enemy could have already been at the door of the palace by this point, because the king was killed that night and the city entirely overrun.
THE REAL MEANING
I could easily make this a message about the dangers of a life without the one, true God, and it would be worthy. I could make it about pride, but that might as well be a repeat from last week. I could also talk about what happens when nations and their leaders refuse to honor and follow God, and it would be timely. But I want to talk about something that’s not exactly obvious.
I see a picture of Christ embedded in this passage of scripture. In fact, Messiah is all through the book of Daniel. Not coincidence. As I mentioned in the very first lesson, Israel was taken into the pattern of captivity once again (reminiscent of Egypt), exiled into Babylon. This time it will lead them not only into the Wilderness of Preparation and then the Promised Land, but into the ultimate Promised Land made manifest in the promised Messiah. So why wouldn’t pictures of Christ be dropped continuously throughout their time of captivity? God is laying it out so that all will see and receive Messiah, the ultimate solution to captivity.
Starting with the first word in the mysterious inscription, I see foreshadowing. Mene – meaning “numbered” – referred to Belshazzar and the fact that the days of his reign were numbered. His days, our days, all the days are numbered. God is in control over everything in this world. Even the hairs on our head are numbered. (Mt 10:30) Nothing escapes God.
When Jesus ministered here on Earth he mentioned several times that his own days were numbered. One day Mary, one of the followers of Jesus, poured an expensive perfume on Jesus and she was criticized for the waste. Jesus responded.
Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me. You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:6-7 NLT emphasis added)
Jesus also talked about the days until his final return, that they were numbered as well. We don’t know the exact day and time of his return, but you can be sure it is numbered!
When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way it will be when the Son of man comes…You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Matthew 24:37-44 NLT)
Doesn’t that description sound a lot like the last night of Belshazzar’s reign? There truly is nothing new under the sun.
Tekel – meaning “measured” – demonstrates God as judge and assessor. Only he can truly judge a man’s heart and he found Belshazzar to be wanting, incomplete. If we sneak a peek into chapter six where we find Daniel in the lion’s den, he says something very interesting. The next morning Daniel is found alive and he says,
My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths’ so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. (Daniel 6:22 NLT)
Daniel was measured and found innocent, complete. Even when his adversaries tried to find fault in him, he measured up. The contrast here between Daniel and Belshazzar is a picture and foreshadowing of Christ. Christ was also measured and found complete, perfect and blameless, despite his adversaries’ attempts to trap him.
Jesus says that when he returns, the world will be measured. To illustrate he tells the parable of the loaned money where a man gives money to each of his three servants according to their abilities. He leaves town and by the time he returns the first two servants are able to demonstrate the profits made from their investments. The third did nothing with the money and instead buried it with no profit. The man was angry and judged the servant.
You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it. (Matthew 25:26-27 NLT)
When Belshazzar is measured, it stands as a sign of Christ and the fate of the world. We will all be measured. Only those in Christ will be found complete.
Parsin – meaning “divided” – represents the outcome for Belshazzar’s judgment. His kingdom would be divided, taken from him, and given to another. As you might guess, there’s foreshadowing here too on a number of levels.
First, Christ, himself was physically broken and divided when he was crucified. He was divided from God, separated from the Father’s presence, in hell for three days. His clothes were also literally divided.
Second, like Belshazzar’s kingdom, Jesus tells the religious leaders that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to another. He quotes the Psalms that they would have no doubt known intimately.
“The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.”
I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on. (Matthew 21:42b-44 NLT)
Can you see the concept of division throughout this statement?
Third, we see holy divided from unholy. In the parable of the loaned money that I referenced earlier, once the three servants were measured they were then divided.
Then he ordered, “Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:28-30 NLT)
Divided. In the parable of the bridesmaids, five were ready with extra oil to fill their lamps, waiting for their master to return. Five were foolish and did not have enough. When the master arrived in the middle of the night, the five foolish maids had to go in search of oil and in that time the doors to the banquet were closed and they could not enter. Measured and divided. This illustrates what will happen when Jesus returns again. The nations will be judged and divided.
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32 NLT)
SO WHAT, NOW WHAT?
If we were to end the story here, without the benefit of the rest of the Book of Daniel, as well as all the New Covenant writings, this could be a pretty bleak look at the future. Sure there will be a sizeable group of people who will reject Jesus and find themselves separated. This is truth. There’s no way around it, and it certainly is upsetting. But God does not end his story with division. No way. It ends with reunion for all who follow him.
Beginning with the crucifixion, when Jesus was divided and separated from God, he didn’t remain in hell. It says that after three days, he took captivity captive and reunited with the Father. (Eph 4:8-9) Even though the Kingdom of God was taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. The Kingdom will not be complete until Israel unites with the Church. (Rom 11:25-27) When Jesus said, “Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone if falls on,” (Mt 21:44), he is referring to himself, and is exactly like the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter two when it crushes the statue. The image in the dream doesn’t end with the statue laying in pieces. It ends with the rock, growing into a mountain that covers the world. It’s a picture of reunification for all the redeemed.
The unity of which I speak comes from and through Christ. It is not man made. Why didn’t the statue come back together in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to symbolize reunification? Because the statue symbolizes the period of Man, corruptible and temporal. The rock that turns into a mountain however, symbolizes the end of the age of man, (or the period of the Gentiles (Lk 21:24)) and the dawn of the Kingdom, the period of Christ, incorruptible and eternal.
BE ALERT BE READY
It’s easy to worry about the sin and general corrosion of the world around us. But I don’t see any scripture to validate worry. Why worry when it is exactly the brokenness and division that has always been displayed and prophesied throughout time? Jesus didn’t say be worried and scared, he said to be alert and ready.
I guarantee that was Daniel’s approach to life in Babylon. Although he may have thought a time or two, “I’m too old for this!” it wasn’t what defined his life. We will see soon enough in chapter six, that even as a spry 83 year old, Daniel was open to connecting to the new government, the new generation, the new ways of the Persians, all for the glory of God.
So don’t worry about the evil we see in the generation coming of age. Evil will surround us and grow. It’s the way of it. But this evil is not an equal counterpart to God. God wields evil for his purpose even as he uses holiness. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus said,
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” (John 12:27-28 NLT)
God was glorified through an epic act of evil, the killing of God’s son, because Satan was cast out and reunification accomplished. Two pagan kings in Daniel sang praises to God multiple times. Even now, God will use us and all that surrounds to bring glory to his name. God will do so again.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11 NLT)
I hope you’re just as excited as I to keep moving forward into purpose!