Mene, Tekel, Parsin
Chapter 4 of Daniel taught us that the repentant—those who turn from their sinfulness and turn to the Lord—the repentant reap the rewards of grace, no matter what’s in their past.
Daniel chapter 5 teaches us that the rebellious and unrepentant reap the consequences of wrath, no matter how secure their present might be.
Two equally evil kings demonstrate two equally important messages:
God’s complete pardon for the humble
God’s certain judgment for the proud
Daniel 4 made clear that God can and will, in His sovereignty, show mercy to the worst of people, rescuing even Nebuchadnezzar.
On the flip side of the coin, Daniel 5 teaches that God reveals His judgment on the unrepentant, no matter who they are.
It’s not an easy message. Who wants to hear about judgment? Who wants to talk about judgment? It’s not the best part of my job, but it’s a crucial part of my job. And it’s absolutely required of us if we’re going to be faithful to the gospel.
Bryan Chapell asks: “If sin has no consequence, if evil has no check, if justice never comes, than what good is God? Of what benefit is His grace?”
If grace is amazing (and it is), then it must rescue us from something.
If grace is amazing (and it is), then it must rescue us from something—and that something is highlighted in this passage by three words: Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.
“Mene” means numbered out.
“Tekel” stands for weighed and found wanting.
“Parsin” (or the singular “Peres”) warns of being divided and cast down.
Though secure in the world, those who are unrepentant before God will ultimately be identified, weighed, and judged. Mene, Tekel, Parsin.
Daniel 5 tells the story of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar has died; the kingdom has been passed around a little; about 30 years has passed from the time of Nebuchadnezzar until now.
Belshazzar was a powerful man, mostly because of the kingdom he inherited. Babylon had dominated the ancient world for dozens of years. At the time of Daniel 5, sitting outside the walls of Belshazzar’s capital, a foreign army challenged the king’s dominion. But Belshazzar paid almost no attention; he didn’t have to. He and his kingdom were secure.
The invading army (the Persians) had been kept at bay outside the city gates for two and a half years! Not two and a half weeks, not two and a half months, two and a half years!
Talk about absolute security. There’s a full-fledged army outside of your city, trying to break-in, trying to make it inside, trying, trying, trying for more than 900 days without any success. That’s incredible.
It makes sense: the walls of Babylon were as much as 350 feet high, 87 feet wide, and impossibly strong; food was grown within the city walls; the river Euphrates flowed right through the middle of the city, supplying all the water they’d need for people, livestock, crops.
Babylon couldn’t be touched, couldn’t be starved into submission. Belshazzar was secure. So secure in fact, so confident he was of his safety, that just to add insult to injury to the army who had been trying to invade for over 2 years, Belshazzar throws a party!
“You don’t worry us even a little! You go ahead and keep trying; we’re going to have a party. Good luck on your attempted seige.”
“Have fun storming the castle! You think it’ll work!?! It would take a miracle.”
King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
It’s one thing to thumb your nose at an enemy army; it’s one thing to mock the invaders at your gate, but it’s another thing altogether to mock God. This is exactly what Belshazzar does—silly, silly, Belshazzar.
The wine at Belshazzar’s party is not the problem. The supposed drunkenness is a problem, but it’s not the problem. The problem with the banquet, the problem with the party is not the party itself, but where it led.
The problem is Belshazzar’s attitude toward God.
Belshazzar believed “that this God, whose gold and silver goblets he was abusing and whose name he was insulting, had now in Babylon, no reality or power. Belshazzar had counted out the Most High.” - Dale Ralph Davis
This is the stuff of Romans 1. King Belshazzar and his nobles, his wives, concubines, and all his friends are committing an all-to-common and the all-serious sin: idolatry.
This is Belshazzar thumbing his nose at God in the worst way.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Belshazzar and his friends are worshipping, but notice what they’re worshipping: the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
This is absurd! There’s a theological word for this: whackadoodle. This is the dumbest sort behavior. Instead of worshipping the Living God, the God Most High, the God who saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, Belshazzar is worshipping man-made statues of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone?!?! You’ve got to be kidding me!
Exchanging the glory of the Immortal God for images made to look like men and birds and animals and reptiles.
Those gods—the gods of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone—they’re no more worthy of praise than your knee replacement.
We think: how silly, how pointless it is, Belshazzar, his 1,000 nobles, and his harem worshipping the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
And yet, if we take a close look at our lives, we worship paper (though we call it money), we worship wood and stone (though we call it a house), we worship cloth (though we know it as the American flag), we worship metal and glass and plastic (smartphones, tablets, computers), we worship people and position and status.
How silly. How pointless. How futile. How insulting to the One who deserves our undivided worship!
—>It’s no wonder what happens next. Belshazzar has taken the temple objects of the One and Only God, the One who hates idolatry, and uses them as props in his pagan party.
If Belshazzar was drunk on his wine, the Most High God granted him almost instant sobriety:
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
Ha! Talk about freaky! Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall!
Only God could do something like that! What an awesome display of power. A disembodied hand, just a hand, floating there in midair writing something on the wall. That would get your attention, I’m guessing.
The same hand, the same fingers that inscribed the covenant law on the two stone tablets at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 31:18) here writes something much more sinister.
The hand writing on the wall terrified Belshazzar, and rightly so. His face turned pale and was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
Some people think this language means Belshazzar lost control of his bodily functions; that, at the sight of this, he wet his pants. There’s a little bit of humor in this, to be sure. But this much is clear: no matter how secure Belshazzar was in his little world, before the Most High God, everything is laid bare:
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Belshazzar does just Nebuchadnezzar had done before him; at a moment of sheer terror, at a moment he couldn’t understand, Belshazzar calls his wise men to interpret this ominous sign:
The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
Stuck without any among him to tell the king what the writing meant, there was someone who remembered Daniel and what he could do (or better yet, what Daniel’s God could do); there was one—the queen mother—who remembered that Daniel had (v. 12) a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems.
The queen mother commends Daniel to the king, so Daniel was brought before Belshazzar, and was asked to read the writing and reveal what it means. In exchange for this service, the king told Daniel that he would be (v. 16) clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and would be made the third highest ruler in Babylon.
Daniel tells the king to keep his reward (v. 17), and to listen to the meaning of the writing. But before Daniel gets to the point, he gives king Belshazzar a history lesson and a theology lesson:
“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes. “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.
Daniel gives Belshazzar a lesson in theology—the study of the One True God. Daniel tells Belshazzar some things he needs to know about the Most High .
Notice the word Daniel uses in verses 18-19:
v. 18 - the Most High gave Nebuchadnezzar kingship and greatness and glory and majesty
v. 19 - because of the greatness He gave him
This is one of those very significant points: everything that Nebuchadnezzar had, and everything Belshazzar has by way of power and influence and position, were given by God. It’s a reminder that God is sovereign over the affairs of men and even kings. It’s God who holds Belshazzar’s life in His hand.
This is true for Nebuchadnezzar. This is true for Belshazzar. And this is true for you and for me.
And then Daniel gives Belshazzar a little history lesson—history from the recent past, history of his own predecessor (Nebuchadnezzar).
It’s basically just a recap of Daniel 4: Nebuchadnezzar was incredibly powerful, he became incredibly prideful, and the Lord brought him down, humbling him completely.
But Belshazzar seems to have forgotten the moral of the story: God and not Nebuchadnezzar, God and not Belshazzar, God and not Barrett rules the world. God rules the world, keeping things in ordered existence, for His namesake and His glory.
How quickly we forget! How dangerous, how scary it is when we fail to remember the past, our own past, and the past of those who have gone before us.
Shouldn’t Belshazzar remember what happened to the king immediately preceding him, the king right before him? Even if Belshazzar wasn’t alive or around at the time Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by the Lord Most High, Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling was well-known, well-documented: Nebuchadnezzar sent a letter (4:1) to all peoples, nations, and languages that live throughout the earth.
We must remember, lest we forget.
Daniel confronts Belshazzar, telling him (v. 22) You knew all this, but...
For Belshazzar to know all of this, to know everything that happened, to understand that the thing to do in light of all this was to humble himself before he was humbled by the Lord—But you, Belshazzar…you knew all this.
Humility was shown in great measure to Nebuchadnezzar: he was stripped of his glory like a tree stripped of all its leaves.
And now, even worse than Belshazzar not humbling his heart, Daniel makes it clear that he’s intentionally done the opposite (v. 23):
You have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven…you praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone…you did not honor the God who holds in His hand your life and all your ways.
Belshazzar has lifted himself up against the Lord; used vessels of the Lord’s house for profane purposes; praised idols—blind, dumb, deaf idols; ignored the God who gave him life, the God who held his life in his hand, the God who knew Belshazzar and everything about him.
Belshazzar had not humbled himself, had not honored the Lord of heaven. These are two colossal mistakes, two enormous problems with very real and very immediate consequences.
—>Remember that enemy army at the wall of Babylon? After all that time, two and a half years of attempting to break into the city, the Persians diverted the course of the River Euphrates and funneled troops under the city’s walls through the drained river bed. Once they make it into the city, they conquer it. Party over.
The point? Though secure in the world, those who are unrepentant before God will ultimately be identified, weighed, and judged.
God is not mocked. (Galatians 6:7)
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18)
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
Because Belshazzar has behaved and believed the way he has, Daniel tells him:
Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.
It was the Lord, showing His existence and His sovereignty, making it clear that He, and He alone, reigns all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present.
And now, finally, Daniel gets to the meaning of the inscription:
“This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN “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.”
This is written in Aramaic (Daniel 2-Daniel 7) is written in Aramaic. Aramaic, like Hebrew, is usually written without vowels, so this very short inscription and its meaning is unclear to Belshazzar and his wise men.
Daniel read and interpreted the writing: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.
These words form a sequence of weights: mina, shekel, to a half-shekel.
Belshazzar, directed by the Lord, read these as verbs (different vowels attached to the Aramaic consonants). And doing this, the sequence changes from mina, shekel, half-shekel, to: numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided.
The Lord had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and brought it to an end because he had been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
The repetition of numbered probably means this will happen rather quickly, as in “Your days are numbered, and by numbered, I mean numbered.”
Belshazzar was secure in the world, but sinful before God, and judged. Though secure in the world, those who are unrepentant before God will ultimately be identified, weighed, and judged.
This is true for us, too. Understand: the book of Daniel wasn’t written and preserved for Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar or the Babylonian’s to read. This was written down for us. There’s something here for us, and I believe it’s this:
Mene, Tekel, and Parsin
Our days are numbered. There is an end to our time on earth. We don’t know when our time here is up, but the Sovereign of the Universe does. We don’t have time to waste, living however we please, living as if there are no consequences to our sin and rebellion.
Our days are numbered and we will be weighed. We will be weighed, but not on a bathroom scale. We will be weighed, but not to see whether our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. We will be weighed to see if we measure up to God’s standard of righteousness.
And God’s standard is perfection.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
God’s standard is perfection. Try as you might, try with everything you have within you, you will never measure up. Hear me: you will never measure up. On your own you will be measured and found wanting.
But, here’s the Good News:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
On your own, you will be measured and found wanting. It won’t even be close.
But God gave Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement; God gave Jesus as our propitiation—the offering that turns away God’s wrath. God did this, at just the right time, so He would show Himself as Just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
God makes us right through Jesus. This is amazing grace, because it saves us from the penalty of sin: the wrath of God, death, and separation from Him.
In Christ, and only in Christ, can we measure up. When we are in Him—when we know Him and belong to Him—we measure up perfectly because He measures up perfectly.
Our days are numbered, we will be weighed (either on our own or with Jesus), and we will be judged.
If we humble ourselves and repent (turn away from our sin and turn to the Lord, turn to Jesus), we will, like Nebuchadnezzar find life after this life, life after our numbered days are up; we will find forgiveness and experience eternal life here and now.
If we, like Belshazzar, are unrepentant; if we hold onto our sin, our pride, our idols, our sinful lifestyles, we will face certain judgment. If we refuse to humble ourselves and bow before Jesus Christ, if we don’t give our lives to Him, we will find ourselves exactly where we deserve: separated from God, forever experiencing judgment and torment.
Mene, Tekel, and Parsin…numbered, weighed, and judged.
Belshazzar, the unrepentant king, met his end quickly, just as the handwriting on the wall made clear.
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.
Belshazzar was killed that night. God’s judgment is swift and it is certain.
What really haunts us here is that little phrase that very night. It suggests that Belshazzar joins the ranks of King Saul and Judas Iscariot in sharing the hopeless darkness outside of God’s truth.
Like king Belshazzar, maybe you’ve heard stories from your friends and relatives about God’s power and God’s grace. And maybe you’ve not put much stock in it.
Since you haven’t experienced that power and grace personally, it’s easy for you to discount it and dismiss it.
If so, if that’s you, then today is the day for you to learn from Belshazzar what a dangerous situation you’re in: the Lord Most High could demand from you this night your very life. The handwriting is on the wall.
We must not think that this account is merely about Belshazzar; it’s about Independent Christians and Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals who have attitudes like Belshazzar and who have never listened to the testimony of Belshazzar’s predecessor: those who walk in pride, He is able to humble.
God’s warnings are proof of God’s love. If He did not care, He would not warn. We are to read this warning as an expression of God’s care for us. Though secure in the world, those who are unrepentant before God will ultimately be identified, weighed, and judged.
Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.