handwriting on the wall; writing on the wall

a clear indication of future trouble
—When the national economy began to have problems, Julie saw the handwriting on the wall and decided not to ask for a raise.

After the death of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar ruled over Babylon. He held a banquet and wanted his guests to drink from the golden cups that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem when he conquered Judah. He ordered his servants to bring them to him.

So they brought the gold and silver vessels that had been confiscated from the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, together with his wives and concubines, drank from them. As they drank wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

At that very moment the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the royal palace wall, opposite the lampstand. The king was watching the back of the hand that was writing. Then all the color drained from the king’s face and he became alarmed. The joints of his hips gave way, and his knees began knocking together. (Daniel 5:3-6)

When none of the king’s wise men could interpret the “handwriting on the wall,” the king’s wife told him to call the Israelite Daniel, who had been taken captive from Israel. Daniel told the king what the writing said—“mene, mene, teqel, pharsin”—as well as its meaning. Each of these Aramaic words represents a unit of money, and they also sound like words meaning (in order) “numbered,” “weighed,” and “divided.” Daniel gave this interpretation:

As for mene—God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end. As for teqel—you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking. As for peres—your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:26-28)

The king rewarded Daniel by making him the third-highest ruler in Babylon, but their new relationship didn’t last long. The same night he received the message, Belshazzar was killed. Darius the Mede then took over the throne, and Babylon became part of the Persian Empire.

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