From time to time, people sit around and try to think of all the expressions taken from one of our literary classics that are still in common use. Shakespeare is good for this, and it is often surprising how many turns of phrase come from those immortal plays of his. Things like “into thin air” or “in broad daylight” are all due to Shakespeare’s novel ways of expressing an idea. This is also true of Sacred Scripture, and on this Wednesday we have a classic example of it. We have all heard the expression “we saw the handwriting on the wall,” meaning that we were able to foretell the future by the present in terms of finances, politics, health, the weather, and so forth.
On this Wednesday, because it is the last Wednesday of our church year, we have that ominous incident from the book of the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament. The pagan king Belshazzar of Babylon had enslaved the Hebrew people and brought many of them into captivity in his country where they could not enjoy political freedom or religious liberty. One night, the irreverent king ordered his servants to bring out the sacred vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to be used at a banquet. This was totally sacrilegious —to put these objects destined for divine worship to completely secular use. While the king and his court were thus engaged, a hand appeared writing on the wall of the dining hall—writing words that the king and his court could not understand. The young Jewish prophet Daniel was sent for; he had a reputation of being able to interpret this kind of thing. He read the three words on the wall: MENE, TEKEL, PERES. And he went on to interpret them: because of the wickedness of the king and his irreverent behavior, his kingdom would be put to an end, the king himself had been weighed on the scales of justice and found wanting, and his kingdom would be divided between his enemies, the Medes and the Persians. To this day, we speak of “the handwriting on the wall” foretelling fearful consequences because of human sinfulness.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.