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At that time

and because of the lampstand,

the fingers of a man’s hand came forth and wrote

on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace and the king saw the palm of the hand that wrote.


At a very key moment while they were doing these things, and specifically because they were misusing the lampstand from God’s temple in Jerusalem, some small agents of power which seemed normal but could not be normal appeared unexpectedly and communicated in an irreversible manner on the place where the king’s victories were depicted. The king clearly saw that it was the  disappearing, flat part of a hand which disperses things and understood this came from a powerful entity.

Why Was the Lampstand Singled Out?

According to BDB, the preposition used to describe the lampstand usually meant “before or because of.” From TWOT we learn that it means “something in front of” and comes from a verb which means “to receive.” When you receive something, you are (usually) facing the person giving it to you; they are in front of you. Also, if the idea of “behind, nearby or opposite” were intended, there are prepositions in Aramaic that communicate those things (Daniel 2:4 through the end of chapter 7 were written in Aramaic, which is a cousin language to Hebrew). Therefore I reject the attempts by various scholars to make it sound like it is talking about the writing being done on the wall “behind” the lampstand; that would make the preposition mean the opposite from what it actually means. Others say it was on the wall “opposite” the lampstand. That makes no sense because it was a very large hall. As long as one keeps thinking in terms of physical location this choice of words is perplexing because the original says the “fingers of a man’s hand wrote in front of the lampstand, or because of the lampstand.” From the perspective of the king or any other viewer, the writing was happening behind the lampstand with the lampstand between them and the wall. But the text says it wrote, “in front of the lampstand or because of the lampstand.”

However, if we stop thinking about physical locations and take the other common meaning of the word, which was “because of,” this phrase makes perfect sense. The hand came and wrote on the wall “because of” what they had done with the lampstand. Remember that the author used the same word (before or because of) earlier in the story indicating that the king drank in front of the nobles, so as to lead them more quickly into heavy drinking, and he also did so because of his nobles, i.e. because they were freaking out with fear. In this case the meaning “because of” fits, while that of “before” does not.

The lampstand did not burn candles, it burned oil, olive oil. Oil always represented God’s Spirit. Any dishonoring of the lampstand was seen as a dishonoring of God’s Spirit. The disrespect to the mixing bowls and sprinkling bowls would pale in comparison to any kind of disrespect to the lampstand.

So what did they do to the lampstand?

Most people think Belshazzar used the lampstand as – get ready for this – a lampstand! They say that large halls like that were often lacking in light. However, I think the lighting situation was decided before the feast began, and they were used to making do with what we would consider poor lighting.

I see a far more meaningful possibility. They had been drinking right? They were purposefully defiling articles from the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, right? The lampstand was made to hold a liquid (oil) in seven small cups shaped like almond flowers, right? What would stop an arrogant, drunken king who was bent on proving the weakness of a certain god from pouring wine into one of the almond-blossom cups of that god’s lampstand and tipping the lampstand so he could drink from it? If there were no response, wouldn’t that be the greatest proof of all that the god of the Jews had no power with which to respond to even the most blatant defilement?

Indeed it seemed to be a confirmation of that very thing, until God responded.

What Was the Significance of the Fingers or the Palm of the Hand?

In many cultures of ancient times, the hand was usually a symbol for agency. It was the means by which someone accomplished something. Therefore it was a sign of strength in action.

We should not get hung up on the fact that at first the king saw one thing and then he saw something different. Instead we should see that in each case it was only part of the hand. The use of “fingers” and “the palm” work together to convey a shared message and then “the palm” also communicates a separate truth.

By having just part of a hand (the fingers or the palm) visible as it wrote, God was sending the message that He only needed a small part of His power to overthrow king Belshazzar and prove that the gods Bel and Nebo were powerless. This would remind any Jew of the other time that God’s finger wrote on something – it was God’s finger that wrote the summary of the Former Covenant on two stone tablets. It would also remind them of the plague of gnats and the response of Pharaoh’s magicians: “this is the finger of God” (Ex 8:19). In Egypt there were (and still are) images of Pharaoh carved in many places with his arm raised up and a whip in his hand. It communicated, “Don’t mess with Pharaoh; he has a strong arm and he is not afraid to use it. If you oppose him, he will come down on you hard.” But his own magicians recognized that even the “finger of God” was more powerful than Pharaoh’s arm. God does not need to show us all His power; a small portion of it will do.

The root word from which the word “palm” comes is a word meaning first of all “to disappear or disperse,” then by implication “something flat which could disperse things,” e.g. the flat part of the hand, i.e. the palm of the hand. The question is not “What did he see?” but rather “What did it mean?” The use of the word “palm” emphasized the fact that God was “dispersing” or sending a message. If a truly powerful God sends a message, you should heed it and take action accordingly – in this case repentance.

The Plaster of the Wall of the King's Palace

Many royal palaces of ancient times had walls that were covered with either smooth plaster that could be painted on, or with alabaster stone that could be carved in bas relief, or both. These paintings and carvings were depictions of the exploits and conquests of the king whose palace they adorned.

It appears that “the finger of God” wrote the message that demonstrated His power right over top of something that tried to make this king and his father look unconquerable. In doing so it surely must have blasted away or burned away what was there before it, making it possible to easily read what had been written by God’s finger. Once again the statement about it being written on plaster was not about the physical characteristics of the surface (e.g. smoothness or color), but rather the significance of the surface. The location of the message shouted, “You think you are powerful, but everyone will soon know the truth.”

Was this the same palace and the same banquet hall that King Nebuchadnezzar had used? We don’t know. If so, it is likely that some of the depictions on the walls had been updated to show the exploits of Nabuna’id and Belshazzar. Were all of Nebuchadnezzar’s exploits replaced? We don’t know. If Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem had been replaced, my guess is that God chose to blast away and write on the part of the wall that depicted Belshazzar’s greatest exploit. If the fall of Jerusalem was still on one of the walls, I would expect that God’s finger would destroy and write on the part of the wall that had told of that victory by the Babylonians. Remember that the preposition used in the text seems to express the idea of “because” – (“because of the lampstand”), therefore God could have chosen to write on any part of the wall that He wanted to change.

Back then the written word was much less common than it is today. Something written down had a sense of permanence, and something engraved or inscribed on stone was more permanent than writing it on papyrus or leather. All the kings of ancient times thought that their exploits could not be taken away from them; carving them in stone or painting them on a wall made those exploits seem irrevocable. King Belshazzar never dreamed that one of the exploits on the wall of his banquet hall could be removed and replaced without his permission.