God communicates with us in many ways. King Nebuchadnezzar received messages in dreams. (See Daniel 2, Daniel 4.) His son Belshazzar received a more dramatic message in a way that he could not ignore. As he hosted a drunken feast and disrespectfully drank from the cups which had been used for sacred ordinances in the temple at Jerusalem, he suddenly saw fingers writing on the wall (Daniel 5:5). The fingers wrote the following words: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (מנא מנא תקל ופרסין) (Daniel 5:25), which means, “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, and Divided.” (See Daniel 5:25, Literal Standard Version and Young’s Literal Translation). Daniel explained to the king the meaning of these words: God had evaluated his performance as king and found it to be unacceptable: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” His kingdom would be divided and given to the Persian Empire. (See Daniel 5:26-28.)
There is a fragment of a similar story in the Book of Mormon. When Amulek begins speaking to his fellow-citizens in the city of Ammonihah, one way he introduces himself is as the descendant of a man who had a similar experience to Daniel:
I am the son of Giddonah, who was the son of Ishmael, who was a descendant of Aminadi; and it was that same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God.Alma 9:2
He then tells us that Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, and that’s all we hear about the story. Clearly, Amulek believes that his audience is familiar with the story and his connection with it gives him some credibility. But we are left wondering about key details, such as why God wrote a message, what the message said, and why it had to be interpreted.
Still, there are clear lessons to be learned from both of these experiences:
- God will sometimes communicate with us in dramatic ways to get our attention.
- God’s messages are not always easy to understand. They may need to be interpreted by someone who receives additional revelation.
- We are all accountable to God for our actions, particularly when we hold a leadership role and make decisions that affect other people.
Willam Walton’s cantata Belshazzar’s Feast tells the story in a compelling way. In the following segment, baritone soloist Jonathan Lemalu sings portions of Daniel 5:5, 25, 27, and 30. You may want to read along as you listen to that segment (from 24:38 to 26:45):
Today, I will strive to be aware of messages which God is delivering to me. I will ask Him for the ability not only to recognize messages from Him but also to interpret them correctly.