24 “Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. 25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; 28 Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Daniel 5:24-28 ESV
Around 30 years have passed by between the closing of chapter 4 of Daniel and the opening of chapter 5. During these 30 thirty years a lot has changed for Daniel much like they have in our lifetime. King Nebuchadnezzar has died. His infant grandson took his place which precipitated Nabonidus to seize the throne. Nabonidus along with his son Belshazzar ruled together as father-son co-regents. When Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the father of Belshazzar this doesn’t mean biological father. It means Belshazzar was cut-from-the-same-cloth politically as Nebuchadnezzar. By way of analogy, it would be like a contemporary president claiming that his presidency is in the fashion or in the same vein as a president George Washington.
During this time, God has been forgotten, wiped out of the memory of the Babylonian cultural elites; Daniel had been relegated to the sidelines. Chapter 4 ends with Daniel in effect being Prime Minister and chief of the Wise Men, and chapter 5 opens with Daniel disappearing from the minds of all the government elites. During this time Babylon has devolved into absolute debauchery and godlessness. The holy items taken from the Temple of Jerusalem were stolen 50 years earlier in 586 BC, and are now being used in a banquet to mock God, an expression of arrogance and desecration and idolatry.
In vv 5-6 this king who was on the top of the world is suddenly cut down to size. He quickly sobers up when he sees the hand writing on the wall from the finger of God. The message inscribed cannot be deciphered by the wise men. At this time Daniel has been forgotten, but the king’s mother remembers Daniel. Vv 10-12 says:
The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
This is when Daniel is summoned by the king to interpret the cryptic inscription. The king offers him gold and silver along with being third in command of Babylon behind the king and his father the coregent. Daniel denies the offer. Then he interprets the inscription by telling the king these three things: first, the number of days for his kingdom has come to an end; second, the king has been weighed on the scales of justice and has come up short; and third, that his kingdom will be divided by the Medes and the Persian— all coming true that night. The Medes and Persians under the leadership of Darius had taken the city of Babylon, and Belshazzar was assassinated that very night.
Our nation is very much like Babylon in the days of Belshazzar. Our nation and culture have forgotten and forsaken God. The Bible is discarded from the public square and from much of our political community, including government. God has blessed this nation and has showered this country with affluence and prestige. And our nation has been a blessing to this world by setting the example of self-government under God as well as spreading the gospel to the rest of the world. But now we have ignored God, and we mock Him and His commands. Like Belshazzar, our cities and people are drunk with debauchery and self-confidence and pride. We boast that we are a great nation, that nothing can or will destroy us. And like Daniel, we Christians (including the church) are marginalized, consigned to the sidelines of post-Christendom. But like Daniel let us take heart. Daniel was faithful when he was on the top of cultural influence, and when he was at the bottom of cultural influence. You may be laboring at your job in obscurity because you won’t follow the culture like Daniel, but that doesn’t mean you are not being used by God and won’t be used by God as God may one day take you from the sidelines back to the center stage of influence. But either way God is using you greatly where He has placed you in His providence. Beloved, Romans 1:18-21 tells us that the “handwriting on the wall” is upon the nations of this world. We are, as the apostle John said, in the last hour (in our case minutes) before our Lord and Savior comes back again to bring final judgment on this world. Since this is the case, let us take heart, knowing that we too are being used to speak the gospel truth to power and lead by example. You may think that your voice and actions do not matter, but beloved they do; they matter eternally because they have eternal consequences!