The Writing of a Disembodied Hand
1-4King Belshazzar held a great feast for his one thousand nobles. The wine flowed freely. Belshazzar, heady with the wine, ordered that the gold and silver chalices his father Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from God’s Temple of Jerusalem be brought in so that he and his nobles, his wives and concubines, could drink from them. When the gold and silver chalices were brought in, the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines, drank wine from them. They drank the wine and drunkenly praised their gods made of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
5-7At that very moment, the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the lamp-illumined, whitewashed wall of the palace. When the king saw the disembodied hand writing away, he went white as a ghost, scared out of his wits. His legs went limp and his knees knocked. He yelled out for the enchanters, the fortunetellers, and the diviners to come. He told these Babylonian magi, “Anyone who can read this writing on the wall and tell me what it means will be famous and rich—purple robe, the great gold chain—and be third-in-command in the kingdom.”
8-9One after the other they tried, but could make no sense of it. They could neither read what was written nor interpret it to the king. So now the king was really frightened. All the blood drained from his face. The nobles were in a panic.
10-12The queen heard of the hysteria among the king and his nobles and came to the banquet hall. She said, “Long live the king! Don’t be upset. Don’t sit around looking like ghosts. There is a man in your kingdom who is full of the divine Holy Spirit. During your father’s time he was well known for his intellectual brilliance and spiritual wisdom. He was so good that your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him the head of all the magicians, enchanters, fortunetellers, and diviners. There was no one quite like him. He could do anything—interpret dreams, solve mysteries, explain puzzles. His name is Daniel, but he was renamed Belteshazzar by the king. Have Daniel called in. He’ll tell you what is going on here.”
13-16So Daniel was called in. The king asked him, “Are you the Daniel who was one of the Jewish exiles my father brought here from Judah? I’ve heard about you—that you’re full of the Holy Spirit, that you’ve got a brilliant mind, that you are incredibly wise. The wise men and enchanters were brought in here to read this writing on the wall and interpret it for me. They couldn’t figure it out—not a word, not a syllable. But I’ve heard that you interpret dreams and solve mysteries. So—if you can read the writing and interpret it for me, you’ll be rich and famous—a purple robe, the great gold chain around your neck—and third-in-command in the kingdom.”
17Daniel answered the king, “You can keep your gifts, or give them to someone else. But I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.
18-21“Listen, O king! The High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar a great kingdom and a glorious reputation. Because God made him so famous, people from everywhere, whatever their race, color, and creed, were totally intimidated by him. He killed or spared people on whim. He promoted or humiliated people capriciously. He developed a big head and a hard spirit. Then God knocked him off his high horse and stripped him of his fame. He was thrown out of human company, lost his mind, and lived like a wild animal. He ate grass like an ox and was soaked by heaven’s dew until he learned his lesson: that the High God rules human kingdoms and puts anyone he wants in charge.
22-23“You are his son and have known all this, yet you’re as arrogant as he ever was. Look at you, setting yourself up in competition against the Master of heaven! You had the sacred chalices from his Temple brought into your drunken party so that you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines, could drink from them. You used the sacred chalices to toast your gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone—blind, deaf, and imbecile gods. But you treat with contempt the living God who holds your entire life from birth to death in his hand.
24-26“God sent the hand that wrote on the wall, and this is what is written: mene, teqel, and peres. This is what the words mean:
“Mene: God has numbered the days of your rule and they don’t add up.
27“Teqel: You have been weighed on the scales and you don’t weigh much.
28“Peres: Your kingdom has been divided up and handed over to the Medes and Persians.”
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29Belshazzar did what he had promised. He robed Daniel in purple, draped the great gold chain around his neck, and promoted him to third-in-charge in the kingdom.
30-31That same night the Babylonian king Belshazzar was murdered. Darius the Mede was sixty-two years old when he succeeded him as king.