The Writing on the Wall

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Daniel 5, Psalm 110-111

Idiomatic Origins

My friend Kathleen and I love to uncover the origin of idioms. This summer, we researched why it would be unfair for someone to “have their cake and eat it, too” [1] and why it would be a big deal to “now lie in” a made bed [2]. Currently, we’re working on why “peas and carrots” go together and why someone would leave “a needle in a haystack” [3]. Today, we are able to discover why “the writing on the wall” foretells of doom or misfortune.

Prideful Forgetfulness

During the Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, God had already shown His sovereignty by enabling Daniel to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, sparing the witnesses from the furnace, and causing Nebuchadnezzar to confess God’s sovereignty. Yet, here, Nebuchadnezzar is dead and his son Belshazzar is enthroned.

Belshazzar seems to have learned nothing about God from his father. He has forgotten about Daniel and his dream interpretations. He has disregarded his royal responsibilities as he throws a feast of debauchery while the city is under siege. Moreover, he has publicly and deliberately blasphemied God as he uses the holy vessels from the temple for drunkenness.

Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided

Immediately, the fingers of a disembodied human hand write on the palace’s wall. Belshazzar’s “face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together” [4]. Yet, no one can interpret the writing on the wall.

Again, God gives insight to Daniel. First, he reminds Belshazzar of his father’s detestable pride that caused him to be driven away from humanity until he recognized God’s sovereignty. Second, Daniel charges him with knowingly following in his father’s footsteps.

Finally, he interprets the written words [5], which read, “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided” – “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it … you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient … your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” [6]. That same night, the king was slain and Darius the Mede received the kingdom.


Lord, May we never presume on your grace and patience. Just because you are gracious in showing mercy to our parents or to us does not mean that we can fool around with you or our sin. Let us read the writing on the wall, as you make us humble, softhearted and teachable – not presumptuous, arrogant or forgetful. Amen.


[1]  The reason that the phrase, “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” bothered us was because we wondered, “Who doesn’t have a cake and want to eat it?” Thankfully, my dad – along with many other online experts, knew the answer. Apparently, in the English language, “have” used to mean the same thing as “eat.” Thus, the phrase means that you can’t eat a cake that you’ve already eaten.  |  [2]  The reason that the phrase, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” bothered us was because we wondered, “Who doesn’t lie in a made bed?” Although we don’t mind lying in made beds, we realized that most people prefer lying in unmade beds rather than messing up their made beds. Thus, the phrase means that, since you’re the one who got yourself into the situation (i.e., made the bed), you now have to live it in (i.e., lie in it).  |  [3]  If you have any leads, please let us know. Personally, I’m wondering why “peas and carrots”? Who thinks those go well together anyway – the English? As for the needle in the haystack, I’m wondering who ventures among haystacks with needles – knitters in the Fall?  |  [4]  Daniel 4:6 NASB  |  [5]  Technically, the words are the Aramaic names of measures of currency.  |  [6]  Daniel 5:25-28 NASB


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 174 other followers

%d bloggers like this: