“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” by J Numan


I recently heard a sermon by Rev M Retief on Daniel 5 which is very pertinent to the time in which we live. Daniel 5 describes the fall of Babylon, a fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy:

“’Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation.’” (Jer. 25: 12).

Daniel had been praying for the fulfilment of this prophecy because it would mean the deliverance of Judah after 70 years in exile and their freedom to return to Jerusalem and the land of Israel.

Of course, the prophecy was fulfilled, but it came suddenly, unexpectedly and catastrophically for the unbelieving Babylonians. It came when the king and a thousand of his greatest men were partying—eating and drinking and having a great feast with their women.

God’s people had reason to rejoice at Babylon’s fall, just as Israel rejoiced over God’s judgement upon Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. When God judges the ungodly, His church rejoices and praises God for His righteous judgements. Through it the LORD redeems His people from their oppressors.  “Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice because of Your judgments, O LORD” (Ps. 97: 8).

Thus what is recorded in Daniel 5 has great relevance for us. Babylon’s fall foreshadows the fall of the kingdoms of this world, of which we read in Revelation. Hence, although we very much lament and fight to prevent the lawlessness accompanying the God-denying secularisation of society, we derive comfort from knowing that it foreshadows the Day of Judgement and the eternal, glorious Paradise of God for all those whom Christ has purchased with His precious blood.

The Fall of Babylon

The catalyst for Babylon’s fall was its blasphemy. We read that Belshazzar and his nobles were drinking wine.   And then…

“While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.   Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines drank from them.   They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.”

It’s interesting to note the repeated references to wine because, as Rev Retief points out, Revelation also speaks about the wine of Babylon and calls it the wine of her fornication:

“Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. 14: 8).

“…Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Rev. 17: 1, 2).

This reference to nations having become drunk with the wine of Babylon’s fornication is an expression, says Rev Retief, “used to describe her spiritual harlotry and spiritual drunkenness”.  The frequent references in Daniel 5 to drinking wine, which in those days was usually accompanied by licentiousness (well documented in history books), “becomes a picture of the spiritual state of this world”.

Belshazzar’s cardinal sin was his command to take the holy vessels used in God’s temple in Jerusalem and then allow the party to drink from them. This was the height of arrogance and blasphemy. Apparently it was customary for heathens to respect the vessels and other objects relating to the gods of other nations. How much the more should they not respect the objects from the temple of the One who had revealed Himself in Babylon as the almighty, living God!  Thus, says Rev Retief, for Belshazzar to “bring the holy vessels from God’s temple, from Yahweh’s sanctuary, into their drinking party and to drink from it, was to demonstrate openly their contempt for this God.   It was mocking and challenging the God of Israel.  It was a public act of insult against the living God.   In this way they profaned the very vessels that were sanctified for God’s service only.”

At the same time they praised their own idols – worthless, inanimate objects of minerals, wood and stone. It was a deliberate act of arrogant, rebellious contempt for Israel’s God and of praise for their worthless idols. As Daniel said to Belshazzar before all his guests:

“…you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven.   They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them.   And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”

As a consequence of this blatant blasphemy against God, in that very hour, “the fingers of a man’s hand appeared….” God could not let this open blasphemy and contempt go unpunished and therefore pronounced judgement.

This event, says Rev Retief, must be see in the context of the whole book of Daniel.

“We see two kingdoms standing over against each other: the kingdom of God over against the kingdoms of this world; Jerusalem over against Babylon.

At first it seems as if Jerusalem has suffered defeat before this world empire.   But already in chapter 1 we see God at work.   There in the midst of Babylon He preserves for Himself a faithful remnant – a young man and a few of his friends who refuse to defile themselves with the food of Babylon. And thus the kingdom of God is making progress in the manner of leaven that slowly rises up.

Chapter 2 reveals that Babylon and all the kingdoms of this world will come to a fall, but that the God of heaven will establish His kingdom forever.

In chapter 3 the faithful are tested by persecution in the fiery furnace, but God reveals His power and protects His servants in the midst of the fire.   Again Nebuchadnezzar suffers defeat before this almighty God who executes His word as He has spoken.

In chapter 4 God removed the mighty emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, from his throne and made him eat grass like an ox, until Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.

The power and the kingdom belong to God alone, and He will give it to whomever He chooses.”

As Daniel tells Belshazzar: you knew all these things, and how God humbled your father because of his pride, and yet you elevate your idols above Him and even denigrate and blaspheme Him. So now God will bring judgement upon you and your empire.

God’s Judgement Announced

When Belshazzar saw the hand writing on the wall “the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other”.

One moment people can be full of pride and pretend God doesn’t exist whilst the next, in the face of a small ‘act of God’, they become a pitiful bundle of fear – knees knocking, body trembling all over, face pale with fright. Belshazzar’s loud cry resounds for the experts to explain it all. But Babylon’s wise men— astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers—couldn’t even read the writing, much less interpret it.

Today we have our experts—the scientists, philosophers, economists, and experts in every field of human endeavour. But when they ignore God and His Word they demonstrate contempt for Him who both created and upholds the universe. A righteous God does not let such contempt go unpunished.

Finally Daniel, “a captive from Judah”, is brought in. Before explaining the meaning he fearlessly and faithfully confronts Belshazzar with his sins and the uselessness of his idols. He reminds him how his father was forced to acknowledge God’s sovereign rule.

“But you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this.”

Daniel then reads and interprets the writing: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Mene – God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it.

Tekel – you have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.

Peres – your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

Rev Retief points out that this description of Babylon’s fall is given to us as a picture of the final fall of Babylon when our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the clouds of heaven.

The Fulfilment of Prophecy

We see how Daniel’s prophecy immediately comes into effect: “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.   And Darius, the Mede, received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old” (Dan. 5:30, 31).

The prophecies in Isaiah 13 and Revelation 19 show that the fall of Babylon in Daniel’s days foreshadowed what would take place at the end of time at the great Judgement Day. On that day our own exile in this world will come to an end and the eternal perfected kingdom, which belongs to God and to His Christ and to His saints forever, will be manifest in all its glory!

Rev Retief says from what happened in Daniel 5 “we are able to draw conclusions for our own day”. He points to Revelation 13 where we read that the beast that rises out of the sea represents the kingdoms and governments of this world; the ungodly world powers of this world.   And what does this beast, this world power do?

“…he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.   Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven” (Rev. 13: 5, 6).

The reference to 42 months symbolically refers to the whole New Testament era. We should not be surprised therefore when those in government and in positions of secular influence blaspheme God in our time. It has been foretold.  As Rev Retief says:

“Daniel 5 becomes a model, a replica, of what will happen in the latter days – the days in which we are living… It has become characteristic of the decadent world culture of our day – the decadent and God-dishonouring culture of Babylon.

Let us mention a few examples.   The evolution theory which is now being integrated in the syllabus of many public schools – is that not open blasphemy against God?

And when honour and praise is given to “Mother Earth” and to the power of “Nature” – is that not praising idols of wood and stone? When God’s law is aggressively scrapped from the law books of governments – is that not open rebellion against the God of heaven? When the Lord’s Prayer is banned from schools, when God’s Name is despised in Parliament, when busses drive through the city of London with slogans that God is dead, and when His name is blasphemed in almost every film and movie – is that not the same spirit of Babylon as described here in Daniel 5?

Yes, we have almost become used to it!    It has become normal for the great men of our day to deny and to defy God.   The blasphemy of Babylon is integrated in every aspect of education, entertainment, lawgiving, art, culture; in every sphere of society.  It is the world in which we are living.    A world ripe for judgment! Since Daniel 5 the time has only become fuller and riper, for the blasphemy of Babylon is daily increasing.”

Now one may despair at the secular, God denying, culture of our days, in which God is held in contempt and openly blasphemed. But know this: the more society rebels against Christ, His law and His church, the nearer the day of judgement approaches for those who deny Him and, at the same time, the day of redemption for those who love, trust and obey Him.

This is a comfort for us, says Rev Retief; but it’s also a warning: “Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18: 4). In other words, says Rev Retief, don’t allow that godless culture to influence you, but walk humbly and faithfully before almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, and give Him honour and glory.   It is He who holds our breath in His hand and who owns all our ways.

For today’s Babylon, too, the writing is on the wall; its days are numbered. As our Lord Jesus said:

“…when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21: 28).

Yes, there is glorious redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ – for those who repent and believe; for those who fear and honour God here and now in the midst of Babylon.


Rev M Retief is minister of religion in the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.