Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him.
The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him. He said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed in purple robes of royal honor and will have a gold chain placed around his neck. He will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!”
But when all the king’s wise men had come in, none of them could read the writing or tell him what it meant.
Belshazzar served as co-regent with his father Nabonidus. Thus, Nabonidus was the first ruler and his son Belshazzar was the second. The person who could read the writing would be given third place, which was the highest position and honor that Belshazzar could offer.
The four words written in the wall in Aramaic are Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin (5:25), meaning “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” This means that the days of the Babylonian reign were numbered, the kingdom had been weighed on the balance and did not measure up, and that its riches and power would be divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
Although the writing on the wall contained only four words in Aramaic, a language understood by Babylonians (Daniel 2:4), the people could not determine its prophetic significance. God gave Daniel alone the ability to interpret the message of doom to Babylon. We should thank God for prophets like Daniel and read his words with the certainty that they are God-given expressions.