The gold goblet clattered at my feet – the wine still flowing from my pitcher. I followed the gaze of Belshazzar to the wall behind me.
I thought maybe I had forgotten to light a lamp or wash a window. There had been so many things to do, so many things to remember. The other servants and I had been preparing for this feast for weeks – even months – searching for the best in the kingdom for this night.
The king had invited the nobles and dignitaries from the all regions around to celebrate his great success as a ruler. The best meats were roasted. The ripest fruits gathered. The finest wines were stored in the cool cellars for this night. Every table was laden with the best the kingdom could offer. Even the gold and silver vessels which had been stolen from the temple in Judah were displayed as trophies of the king’s power.
My heart despaired at the sight of the holy vessels. “How long, O LORD God? How long will Your people be captives in a foreign land? How long until we return to Jerusalem?”
I looked at the wall and saw it. The laughter and noise of the room hushed. A hand – the spirit of a hand – was writing on the wall between the flickering lamps.
I could not move. I could not breathe.
Belshazzar grasped my arm as he crumpled to the floor – his eyes wide, his jaw slack, and his skin ashen white.
“Ashpenaz!” I called for the master servant. “The king needs help.”
As a litter carried the visibly shaken ruler away, he was still giving orders. “Call the astronomers! Call the soothsayers and all the best wise men of the kingdom! Find me someone who can tell what it means.”
I knew who would know.
The wise men and astronomers and soothsayers stared at the strange markings on the wall. They scratched their heads and tugged on their beards and whispered to each other, but they didn’t know what it said or what it meant.
I whispered to Ashpenaz, “I know who knows . . . Daniel.”
Ashpenaz nodded and whispered to the king. In a few moments, Daniel, the prophet who had been forgotten as the kingdom changed, was escorted to the palace. I hadn’t forgotten him – neither had Ashpenaz.
King Belshazzar was still ranting. “Can’t anyone tell me what it means? I will give him a scarlet robe and gold chain and a high position in the kingdom.”
Ashpenaz bowed close to the king’s ear and pointed to Daniel, standing quietly nearby.
The king looked up and motioned him closer. “I have heard of you from my father. You can make interpretations and remove all doubts. If you can read the writing, I will reward you greatly.”
Daniel lifted his chin. “I don’t want your rewards, O King. Give them to another. I only say what the LORD reveals to me. Your grandfather Nebuchadnezzar was made as low as the beasts of the field because of his pride, until he knew that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and appoints over it whomsoever He wills. You have not humbled yourself, but have lifted your heart in pride. You have taken the gold and silver of His holy temple and worshipped the gods of stone and brass. You have not glorified the God that gives you life and breath.
Here is the writing: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. God has numbered the kingdom. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom will be conquered and divided between the Medes and the Persians.”
Belshazzar ordered the robe and chain to be put on Daniel anyway and proclaimed an exalted position for him in his cabinet. While the sound of the Daniel’s footsteps echoed down the hall, Belshazzar stared at the strange markings. No one dared to speak. No one dared to move.
A shout rang out, “The enemy has breached the city!”
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