In Shakespeare’s Henry V, people doubted young Henry’s ability to rule after his father passed away. Whereas his father had been revered and loved, the son was known for carousing with less than regal company. The son, though, revealed that his irresponsibility was just an act to lower the expectations that the elite would set for him—Henry planned to surprise his detractors and display true leadership when the time was right.
If that was King Belshazzar’s plan, he miscalculated. He showed up in the Bible just long enough to have his doom foretold and executed. He bore no evidence that the faith of King Nebuchadnezzar had been passed down through the generations. Daniel doesn’t record the transition from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar, but most historians agree that eventually Nabonidus was on the throne. His duties took him away from Babylon, leaving Belshazzar his son to rule in his absence. Belshazzar himself is hardly a scratch on the tablets of Babylonian history, and the writing on the wall explained why. Belshazzar desecrated the temple articles (v. 3). He worshiped false gods (v. 4). He was scared half to death by a mysterious writing hand (v. 6). When he begins calling out for his wise men to decipher the writing, you might feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu. Clearly, Daniel was not in the business of self-promotion, because he always ended up being the last wise man to be asked to interpret anything.
Not surprisingly, the wise men had yet to lay claim to competence, and Daniel was once again summoned to save the day. It’s no shock that Daniel was not in attendance at the drunken feast, but the fact that the king had to be informed of Daniel’s existence testifies to the king’s outlandish folly. Daniel’s proficiency in wisdom must have been known and celebrated throughout the land, no matter how long it had been since his interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. Finally, the acting king was seeking his counsel and offering him the highest position of leadership he had the authority to give. But Daniel was about to inform him that his authority would soon run out.