“Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him.” Daniel 5:5-6
If the scene can be reconstructed, it is probable that the banquet was illuminated by torches which not only produced smoke but the light only partially illuminated the great hall. As the writing according to Daniel was written “over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace,” it may have appeared in an area of greater illumination than the rest of the room and thus also have attracted more attention. The effect upon the king and his associates was immediate. According to Daniel, his countenance changed, that is, changed color and became pale. His thin courage, bolstered by wine drunk from vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had plundered and were seemingly a symbol of the power of the gods of Babylon, now deserted him. He was instead filled with terror to the point that “His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him.” In his excitement, he no longer could sit down but hardly had the strength to stand.
It wasn’t what was written on the wall that terrified Belshazzar. The king had no idea what the writing meant. Rather, it was the extraordinary sight of the fingers of a disembodied hand hovering in the air and writing words in giant letters—probably inscribing them over illustrated accounts of Babylon’s conquests and achievements. Imagine yourself in Belshazzar’s situation: in a drunken crowd of thousands, surrounded by a decibel level off the charts, with your head swimming and your body out of control. Suddenly, shrieks and pointed fingers cause the drunken horde to fall silent as a giant hand moves across the illuminated wall. Belshazzar was filled with fear. It was fear of the unknown as well as the fear of the living God. “Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 2:29) Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power.” (Jeremiah 42:11)