Slowly he wandered through the banqueting hall. The smell of spilt wine mingled with the pervasive smell of spilt blood. Food scraps: half-eaten meat, broken loaves, gnawed bones, fruit turning brown where it had been bitten into and left. Although it was still early morning, the flies were already finding their ways in through the nooks and crannies and the maze of doorways. Any other morning the slaves and the higher servants who commanded them would be hard at work – cleaning, scrubbing, tidying, perfuming, so that within a very short space of time all the detritus, all the signs of decay would be swept away and rendered invisible. But not this morning, this morning was different.
It was ugly, stomach-churningly ugly, but so was the evil he had seen day after day in this place: the folly, the arrogance, the petty cruelties, the lust and greed that were so unrestrained that they raged through the palace like unchecked forces of destruction. They had turned away from the revelation of the True God, so vividly shown in the life of the king’s father and made for themselves gods in their own image: powerless mockeries of truth. He prayed as he walked, and felt no shame for the tears that blurred his vision. How could this breaking of a nation, this destruction of an empire overnight not remind him of his beloved Jerusalem? And the longer he lived, the more deeply he learned the holiness and love of God, the more acutely he felt the horror of what men reduced themselves to in the pursuit of their own depravity.
Reluctantly he kept walking through the room, shaking his head as he remembered how different it had been last night, when the ornately dressed crowd, the elite of the Babylonian court had sprawled there in their wild feasting, blasphemously desecrating the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar before them had taken from the Temple. Then, as a hand appeared from nowhere, their drunken levity was suddenly startled into terror. He looked at the wall alongside the lamp stand. Was it his imagination, the imposition of a vivid memory, or could those letters still be faintly traced on the plaster: mene, mene, tekel, parsin? He shuddered at the memory. The drunken king had sat right there, shaking with fear. This king, whose arrogance had flounced in the face of Almighty God, was now reduced to a shivering, broken wreck at the sight of four words written on a wall.
And it was a terrible message: The days of his reign had been numbered and brought to an end, he had been weighed in the balances and found wanting, and his kingdom would be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. They had insisted on loading Daniel with tawdry gifts he had no desire for, they were the useless baubles of those who had no more understanding of the truth than brute beasts. But Belshazzar and his cronies were gone now, swept away in the slaughter of a single night.
It was a heavy burden to be a prophet of the Most High God, to watch the rise and fall of nations and the bitterness of the judgements men bring upon themselves. But how much more terrible, he reflected, would it be to walk blindly through the glory of this world and to never know that submission to a Holy God, which so many baulked at, was simply the doorway into Love Unimaginable, where the broken were mended and cherished forever?