The meaning of, and background to, the well-known expression "The writing is on the wall.

Well-Known Expressions

The writing is on the wall

Meaning:

Danger is imminent/doom is predicted

Background:

This expression originates from the Book of Daniel 5:1-31 which tells stories from the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

During a drunken feast, King Belshazzar of Babylon ordered that silver and golden goblets that had been removed from the Temple in Jerusalem by his father Nebuchadnezzar, be brought into the feast so that everyone could drink from them. As they drank their wine they "praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone."

No sooner had they done so than a disembodied hand appeared and wrote on the wall, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin". The shaken king called for all the usual enchanters, diviners and astrologers but none could fathom the meaning of the words despite being offered the position of third highest ruler in the kingdom if they could do so.

Eventually, the queen suggested the exiled Jew, Daniel, who Nebuchadnezzar had appointed as "chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners."

Daniel rejected all offers of rewards and warned the King of the folly of his arrogant blasphemy, and then translated the words as follows:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres (the singular of parsin): Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

At the King's command, Daniel was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Later that night Belshazzar was slain, and Darius the Mede became King.

(Quotations from the NIV Bible).

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Sailor Twain
by Mark Siegel

Published Mar. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.