The city of Babylon had been surrounded by the army of Cyrus. Babylon was considered to be impregnable, with enough food to last twenty years. Belshazzar, king of Babylon, held a drunken feast in defiance of the siege. In the midst of his debauchery, Belshazzar had the sacred vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the temple in Jerusalem brought to the feast, and he drank his favorite alcoholic beverages out of them, declaring the god of gold and silver. Suddenly, a mysterious supernatural hand emerged and wrote on the wall. The music stopped. In a moment of instant sobriety, the king’s knees began to knock together. Daniel was summoned to interpret the handwriting on the wall.
Daniel came in and gave a history lesson, a theology lesson, and a reading lesson in one chapter. First, Daniel recounted how God had humbled Nebuchadnezzar for seven years as a beast. Then he gave a theology lesson on accountability, stating, “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven” (Daniel 5:22, 23a). Finally, Daniel gave the king a reading lesson by interpreting the handwriting on the wall, predicting the fall of Babylon. That very night, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.
The words of Daniel to Belshazzar—“although you knew all this”—ring as a warning to those living in the end of time. It is not how much you know; it’s what you do with what you know. Belshazzar had been given much light. He had been given a front-row seat to witness Nebuchadnezzar humbled by heaven as well as converted to the God of heaven.
The lesson of Daniel 5 is a lesson of accountability. “Belshazzar’s example stands out as a beacon to admonish us of what we ought never to do—ignore or make light of the truths we have received from Scripture” (Hardinge, Jesus Is My Judge, 74).
At the end of time, unprecedented light will be given to mankind. Revelation 18 reveals that the whole earth will be lit with the glory of God. Everyone will be given a chance to make an intelligent decision. God is going to reveal Himself to the world with unprecedented light and truth. However, “to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). With much light comes much responsibility. The example of Belshazzar is a warning to those who squander and even openly defy the privileges of light that have been given to them.