The Finger on the Wall
During the brief reign of Belshazzar, the kingdom of Babylon and its regent were weighed on a heavenly balance and came up short. The testimony to that end, offered in the fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel, highlights that even the most powerful people on the earth are still accountable to their Creator. The challenge presented by the account we must all render before God has been relegated for most to some far off and final judgment. The reality is that we face judgment all the time in our lives. There are countless moments when we find ourselves hanging in the balance. We must face the consequences of our choices, our actions, and the impact those actions have had on others.
Belshazzar's comeuppance is dramatic and impactful because of its supernatural quality and its immediate impact. He sins, he is judged, the judgment is delivered with interpretation and he is killed that same night. Such a fabled end for this storied and short-reigned sovereign!
The temptation might be to hear/observe this story and offer the appropriate, grimacing "tsk" that most of us summon when the "bad guy" winds up "getting it" in "the end."
There is more to the story than that, be assured.
The hand that appears and scratches words into the wall of the king's chamber is, according to Daniel, sent from God's Presence to deliver a message. The commentators note that the words "mene, tekel and parsin" are likely from the rhyming sing song call of a money changer in a marketplace. Those words proclaim the activity of weighing, valuing and dividing a thing according to its worth in exchange for something of equitable value. Does this king "measure up" to a standard that, apparently, is of heavenly origin...not earthly?
Belshazzar is presumably the king of the known world. His power over his subjects is absolute. His revelry with the vessels taken from conquered peoples is the final straw of callousness that results in his devaluation, rejection and dismissal (death). He does not retire from the world's stage. He is ejected from it with terse finality.
This is a humbling that is even more profound than the one his father suffered. Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and the control of his fate because of his hubris. Belshazzar lost the empire.
It shouldn't take a hand scribing words into a wall to remind us of the humbling we all must face in our lives. We have before us the opportunity to embrace the humility that we are heirs of systems that are designed to maintain inequities. We have the chance to repent and honor that trophies of subjection are not signs of victory, but rather tools to push down the defeated again and again. If someone is deprived of dignity, if a people is deprived of freedom and honor, then our humbling must be prompt and sure. It has to be oriented on lifting up the one who has been held back or pushed down.
All that has to happen not just before the other, but also before God.
I am reminded again and again by the truth that my own actions have caused pain and suffering for others. I have failed daily to keep the glory of the light and love of God shining forth from people around me in focus. I have walked with pride, vainglory and hypocrisy instead of choosing humility, honor of other and truth as my standards. I am not unique. We all have a lot of work to do to surrender the hubris in our lives and embrace the humbling hand of a God who sees, notes and weighs our choices against the divine standards of mercy, justice and faith.
So, today, take some time to look with new eyes at the trophies around you. Remember that every victory in this life comes with the defeat of another. How might we, humbled before God, release the pride that drives someone else down in order to lift that other up?
When the singsong "Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin" begins to echo in the marketplaces of our lives....we will heed the call to weigh out the full portions of grace and love we have been afforded in this life to the honor and glory of our Creator...and the work of that Creator's hand?