"The writing's on the wall" We've probably heard this phrase before, but did you know it comes from the Bible? The story of the writing on the wall comes from the passage Daniel 5:5-31. In this passage of Scripture, the grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar, was throwing a big party and he commanded his servants to bring out the special goblets his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem’s Temple (Daniel 5:1-4).
King Belshazzar wanted to impress his guests with the sacred silver and gold goblets from his grandfather. After his guests had drunk the wine from the goblets, a floating hand appeared and wrote a message on the wall (Daniel 5:5). This event was extremely frightening for King Belshazzar to the point that his face went pale, and his knees were knocking together (Daniel 5:6).
He ordered for all of the astrologers, enchanters, and diviners to be placed before him in order for them to read the message that was written on the wall as the writing had been in a foreign language that the King could not read himself (Daniel 5:7-9).
Sadly, none of the astrologers, enchanters, diviners, wise men could read the writing. After learning that none of these trained, wise men could read the message, King Belshazzar was greatly perplexed and afraid.
The Queen comforted the King and told him that there was a man who could read the writing done on the wall because this man had helped his grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar, in the past (Daniel 5:10-12). The man’s name was Daniel. This is the same Daniel who is later thrown into the den of lions but is protected by God (Daniel 6:1-16).
Where Does 'The Writing's On the Wall' Come From?
Daniel is able to interpret the writing on the wall and he reads the inscription to be, “mene, mene, tekel, parsin” (Daniel 5:25). Mene, tekel, and parsin are all units of measurements.
Daniel translates this message to King Belshazzar, “Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26-28).
Thus, the writing on the wall foretold what was going to happen—God had numbered King Belshazzar’s reign and he was going to be slain that night, and King Belshazzar’s kingdom was going to be divided between the Medes and the Persians. Within the night, King Belshazzar was killed, and Darius a Mede became King (Daniel 5:30-31).
This is the clear interpretation and meaning of the writing on the wall. If this is the true statement of the writing of the article, then why do people use it out of context?
'The Writing Is on the Wall'
You have probably heard of the saying “the writing is on the wall.” This saying comes directly from the writing on the wall in Daniel 5. As you can rightly assume, when people say, “the writing is on the wall,” they are using this passage out of context.
When an individual makes the statement, “the writing is on the wall,” they are normally referring to the fact that the answer is quite easy or is in plain sight, usually about some inevitable end coming soon. However, the true writing on the wall was not clear to understand as Daniel had to interpret the writing.
The story of the writing on the wall is taken out of context due to the sad reality that many people are not well equipped in the scriptures. Many people tend to turn to old sayings or old wives’ tales rather than to look at the true Word of God.
As Christians, it is our responsibility to understand the Bible and help other people understand the Bible. When you hear somebody say, “the writing is on the wall,” you can help them understand how that saying is incorrect. The writing is not “on the wall.” The story of the writing on the wall was a specific event in history that will not be repeated.
It was not right for people to start the saying “the writing is on the wall” when they were clearly using it out of context. God’s Word must always be interpreted correctly, which means we cannot interpret passages the way we want them to be interpreted. We have to read the Bible as it is--the breathing Word of God.
What Does the Writing on the Wall Teach Us?
The writing on the wall was written specifically for King Belshazzar; however, believers can learn much from this story in the Bible. While we are not kings and queens over kingdoms, we can still learn biblical truths from this story.
In this passage, King Belshazzar misuses the sacred goblets that were instilled in the kingdom during his grandfather’s time. This can teach us to not misuse anything God has given us, whether that be spiritual gifts, momentary resources, and even our time. Whatever God has entrusted under our care, we need to care for it and treat it responsibly.
A second teaching we can learn from this story is that each of our days are numbered. Just like King Belshazzar, today could be our last day alive. We need to live every day in light of the fact that it could be our final day (Luke 12:16-21). A final lesson we can learn from this story is that we always need to be aware of our surroundings.
Rather than throwing a party for his special guests, King Belshazzar should have been protecting his kingdom from any threats. Similarly, we need to use our time wisely and be responsible Christians.
The next time you hear somebody declare “the writing is on the wall,” you can use it as a chance to teach the true meaning of this story to the person. It could even lead up to a gospel presentation if the person is an unbeliever.
If you have found yourself using this saying often, remind yourself of the true meaning of this passage in order to help you break the habit of using this biblical story out of context. God does not want us to use His Word out of context, which means it is our responsibility to study the Word to understand it in its rightful context including the story of the writing on the wall.
"The writing's on the wall." Belshazzar's actions could've been preventable. He chose to indulge when his kingdom needed to prepare for war, especially on the heels of his father and grandfather's death. People would've seen the death of Nebuchadnezzar as a weak spot for the kingdom and the best moment to strike. May we learn from Belshazzar's mistakes when we see "the writing's on the wall" and learn to exercise more humility and dignity in our most dire of situations. Then we won't have to fear like Belshazzar did.
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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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