Sabbath School Lesson 15 – Handwriting on the Wall
Sabbath, April 14, 2018
“How were those punished who in olden time made light of what God had chosen as sacred to Himself? Belshazzar and his thousand lords profaned the golden vessels of Jehovah and praised the idols of Babylon. But the God whom they defied was a witness of the unholy scene. In the midst of their sacrilegious mirth a bloodless hand was seen tracing mysterious characters upon the palace wall. Filled with terror, king and courtiers heard their doom pronounced by the servant of the Most High.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 244.
Sacrilegious revelry and its consequences
1. What great event did Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, organize? What was honored and worshipped when he and the people drank wine from the sacred vessels of God’s temple?
Daniel 5:1-4 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. 2Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 3Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 4They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
“God ascribes the wickedness of Babylon to her gluttony and drunkenness.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 162.
“I cannot now consider this history further, but I ask you in every city, in every town, in every household, I ask every individual, to study the lesson of this scripture, bearing in mind the words of inspiration, ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ Here is presented the only election that is brought to view in the word of God. It is those who take heed lest they fall that will be accepted at last. There can be no presumption more fatal than that which leads men to venture upon a course of self-pleasing. In view of this solemn warning from God, should not fathers and mothers take heed? Should they not faithfully point out to the youth the dangers that are constantly arising to lead them away from God? Many allow the youth to attend parties of pleasure, thinking that amusement is essential for health and happiness; but what dangers are in that path! The more the desire for pleasure is gratified, the more it is cultivated and the stronger it becomes. The life experience is largely made up of self-gratification in amusement. God bids us to beware. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ ” –Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 103.
2. What suddenly appeared on the wall of the banquet hall? How did the king and his lords react to this?
Daniel 5:5-9 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. 7The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 8Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. 9Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
“A Watcher, who was unrecognized, but whose presence was a power of condemnation, looked on this scene of profanation. Soon the unseen and uninvited Guest made His presence felt. At the moment when the sacrilegious revelry was at its height, a bloodless hand came forth, and wrote words of doom on the wall of the banqueting hall. Burning words followed the movements of the hand. ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,’ was written in letters of flame. Few were the characters traced by that hand on the wall facing the king, but they showed that the power of God was there.
“Belshazzar was afraid. His conscience was awakened. The fear and suspicion that always follow the course of the guilty seized him. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror. Alarm seized the great men of the kingdom. Their blasphemous disrespect of sacred things was changed in a moment. A frantic terror overcame all self-control….
“In vain the king tried to read the burning letters. He had found a power too strong for him. He could not read the writing.” –The Youth’s Instructor, May 19, 1898.
Wise counsel from the queen
3. Whom did the queen suggest should be called when the Babylonian magicians and counselors were unable to read the burning letters? What beautiful testimony did she give of Daniel?
Daniel 5:10-12 Now the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: 11There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; 12Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
“Daniel loved, feared, and obeyed God. Yet he did not flee away from the world to avoid its corrupting influence. In the providence of God he was to be in the world yet not of the world. With all the temptations and fascinations of court life surrounding him, he stood in the integrity of his soul, firm as a rock in his adherence to principle. He made God his strength and was not forsaken of Him in his time of greatest need.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, pp. 569, 570.
4. Before that great assembly, what did King Belshazzar say to Daniel? What promise did the king make to the prophet if he would read the mysterious writing and explain its meaning?
Daniel 5:13-16 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? 14I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. 15And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing: 16And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
“Those who know Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour have the privilege of being educated and trained in a higher school than that of men, and of being tutored under higher wisdom than that of finite beings. They may come under the tutorship of the greatest Teacher the world ever knew, and partake of the same knowledge that He gave to Daniel. Those who are humble in heart, those who feel their need of higher wisdom and do not rely upon their own finite judgment, but search earnestly to know the will of God, may draw from the Source of all knowledge, and obtain grace, prudence, discretion, and judgment. They will realize the fulfillment of the assurance of God’s Word: ‘The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.’ Psalm 119:130.” –That I May Know Him, p. 126.
Spiritual lessons from the past
5. Was Daniel impressed by the king’s promises and proposed gifts? Referring to King Nebuchadnezzar, of what did Daniel remind the king? Who rules in the kingdoms of men?
Daniel 5:17-21 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 19And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. 20But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: 21And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
“Before that terror-stricken throng, Daniel, unmoved by the promises of the king, stood in the quiet dignity of a servant of the Most High, not to speak words of flattery, but to interpret a message of doom. [Daniel 5:15 quoted.]
“The prophet first reminded Belshazzar of matters with which he was familiar, but which had not taught him the lesson of humility that might have saved him. He spoke of Nebuchadnezzar’s sin and fall, and of the Lord’s dealings with him–the dominion and glory bestowed upon him, the divine judgment for his pride, and his subsequent acknowledgment of the power and mercy of the God of Israel; and then in bold and emphatic words he rebuked Belshazzar for his great wickedness. He held the king’s sin up before him, showing him the lessons he might have learned but did not. Belshazzar had not read aright the experience of his grandfather, nor heeded the warning of events so significant to himself. The opportunity of knowing and obeying the true God had been given him, but had not been taken to heart, and he was about to reap the consequence of his rebellion.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 529.
6. Had Belshazzar learned anything from the lessons the Lord had given to his grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar? What was the purpose of the handwriting on the wall?
Daniel 5:22-24 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 23But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: 24Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
“I have been shown what man is without a knowledge of the will of God. Crimes and iniquity fill up the measure of his life. But when the Spirit of God reveals to him the full meaning of the law, what a change takes place in his heart! Like Belshazzar, he reads intelligently the handwriting of the Almighty, and conviction takes possession of his soul. The thunders of God’s word startle him from his lethargy, and he calls for mercy in the name of Jesus. And to that humble plea God always listens with a willing ear. He never turns the penitent away comfortless.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 14.
Conclusion of the banquet and the king’s life
7. What made it possible for Daniel to read and interpret the mysterious handwriting? How would we feel if we saw the Lord announce and execute a similar judgment on a friend or relative?
Daniel 5:25-31 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 28PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. 29Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 30In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 31And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
“While still in the festal hall, surrounded by those whose doom has been sealed, the king is informed by a messenger that ‘his city is taken’ by the enemy against whose devices he had felt so secure; ‘that the passages are stopped,… and the men of war are affrighted.’ Verses 31, 32. Even while he and his nobles were drinking from the sacred vessels of Jehovah, and praising their gods of silver and of gold, the Medes and the Persians, having turned the Euphrates out of its channel, were marching into the heart of the unguarded city. The army of Cyrus now stood under the walls of the palace; the city was filled with the soldiers of the enemy, ‘as with caterpillars’ (verse 14); and their triumphant shouts could be heard above the despairing cries of the astonished revelers.
“ ‘In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain,’ and an alien monarch sat upon the throne.
“Clearly had the Hebrew prophets spoken concerning the manner in which Babylon should fall. As in vision God had revealed to them the events of the future, they had exclaimed: ‘How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! how is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!’ ‘How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken! how is Babylon become a desolation among the nations!’ ‘At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations.’ ” –Prophets and Kings, pp. 531, 532.
For additional study
“The church cannot measure herself by the world nor by the opinion of men nor by what she once was. Her faith and her position in the world as they now are must be compared with what they would have been if her course had been continually onward and upward. The church will be weighed in the balances of the sanctuary. If her moral character and spiritual state do not correspond with the benefits and blessings God has conferred upon her, she will be found wanting. The light has been shining clear and definite upon her pathway, and the light of 1882 [date of writing] calls her to an account. If her talents are unimproved, if her fruit is not perfect before God, if her light has become darkness, she is indeed found wanting. The knowledge of our state as God views it, seems to be hidden from us. We see, but perceive not; we hear, but do not understand; and we rest as unconcerned as if the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, rested upon our sanctuary. We profess to know God, and to believe the truth, but in works deny Him. Our deeds are directly adverse to the principles of truth and righteousness, by which we profess to be governed.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 83, 84.