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One figure from the Bible that has become a common reference is the "handwriting on the wall.”  This idiom is invoked when a person becomes aware of an imminent, unfortunate event.  For example, someone may describe an unpopular politician who knows he is likely to lose an election by saying, "He can see the handwriting on the wall.”  Most people understand the meaning of this phrase because of its common use, but it is unlikely in this age of high Biblical illiteracy that many know the true origin.

This figure comes from Daniel chapter 5, where the Scripture records the sudden fall of the Babylonian empire.  On this occasion, Belshazzar, who was serving as king of Babylon, had a great feast for his nobles.  As they celebrated, history tells us that Babylon was surrounded by the Medo-Persian army.  Undaunted, Belshazzar along with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines, drank wine from the vessels of the temple that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem years before.  They "praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (v. 4) and thus defiled the holy vessels.  Suddenly, Belshazzar saw the fingers of a man’s hand writing an inscription on the wall.  The king was terrified, and when his conjurers and wise men could not interpret the message, he became even more frightened.  Then, at the suggestion of the queen, Belshazzar called for God’s servant Daniel to explain the inscription.

The ominous message written on the wall and interpreted by Daniel was "MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN.”  Daniel explained each part of this message, and none of it was good news for Belshazzar.  MENE meant "to number,” which indicated that Belshazzar’s kingdom was numbered and his time had come to an end.  TEKEL meant "to weigh,” which meant that Belshazzar had been weighed, and there was not enough moral worth in him to balance the scales.  UPHARSIN was the plural of PERES, which meant "to divide.”  Belshazzar’s kingdom was to be divided between the Medes and the Persians.  Very quickly, Daniel’s interpretation came to pass, for "that same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain,” and "Darius the Mede received the kingdom” (vv. 30-31).

Does this message have a meaning for us today?  The first part of the inscription – MENE – applies to us all because our days are numbered.  If the Lord does not return first, then there will come a time when every one of us will die (Heb. 9:27).  A wise person understands this and takes into account the lessons of Psalm 90:10, 12 – "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away…So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

The next part of the message is TEKEL, and it invokes the idea of being weighed on a scale.  Will you balance the scales, or will you be found lacking?  Each of us is being measured right now for the judgment, "for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Cor. 5:10).  While we cannot be saved by our own works, we will be judged by them (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:1-11; Rev.20:12).

The last part of the inscription is UPHARSIN or PERES, and it indicates that there is a division coming.  Indeed, there will be a separation at the judgment between the saved and the lost (Matt. 25:31-46; 2Thess. 1:6-10).  The Lord described the day in which He will come in His glory, saying, "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left” (Matt. 25:32-33).  Will you be gathered with the sheep or the goats?  Once that division is made and the "great chasm fixed” (Luke 16:26), none will be able to cross over.

Do you get the message?  For Belshazzar, it was too late to save himself and his kingdom when he saw the inscription written on the wall.  He died in the same night, and his kingdom went to the Medes and Persians.  For those of us living today, the message of God’s word still says in a sense, "MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN.”  In other words, our days are numbered, our lives are being weighed, and a great division is coming.  Thankfully, it is not too late for us to get ready for that great division, the judgment day, for as long as we are alive, we can respond to the gospel message.  Therefore, let us heed the word of God, for "God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Stacey E. Durham



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