Daniel 5


This chapter records a series of events which occurred on the night in which the mighty Babylonian Empire fell to the Medes and Persians. In Chapter two Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom would be followed by a kingdom of silver.

We now see the fulfilment of this part of the prophecy. Daniel not only lived in the days of the Babylonian Empire but was to live on into the days of the Medo-Persian Empire.

We have some difficulty in tracing the succession of rulers after Nebuchadnezzar but the kingdom seems to have passed through a succession of weak men. It is believed that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.

“Father” in the text is used in this sense. It seems he was placed on the throne by his father who was the son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar. Regardless of the connections, Belshazzar was an evil king. The faith gained by Nebuchadnezzar in the latter part of his life was not passed on to Belshazzar.

‘King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So, they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.’ Daniel 5:1-4

This feast was typical of most pagan feasts. It was marked by much drinking and revelry. Belshazzar presided over this feast which included a thousand of his lords. The command to bring forth the sacred vessels that had been carried from the Temple in Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar was a deliberate act of sacrilege which brought insult to God.

It seems that Nebuchadnezzar may have had some respect for these vessels in that he had had them stored as trophies of victory. While on display, they were not used. Men under the influence of alcohol often do things they would not do when sober. Perhaps Belshazzar wished to make a display or do something unusually surprising.

Thus, they were brought out so that the king, his princes, wives and concubines might drink from them. As they revelled they praised their pagan gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone.

‘Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant.’ Daniel 5:5-8

Suddenly in the midst of their revelry there appeared part of a hand,  fingers, that part of the hand we employ when writing. These fingers began to write upon the wall. Suddenly the revelry was silenced shocking everyone into soberness. The king is no longer laughing and drinking. Now his knees begin shaking and knocking against each other. He is suddenly terrified and under great fear.

Not knowing the meaning of the writing, he “cries aloud” for the astrologers, soothsayers and wise men. In a panic, he wants an immediate interpretation. He offers an award to anyone who can read the strange writing and give an interpretation of it. The wise men now faced with a situation where they could not cheat or use deceit were a complete failure.

‘So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.’ Daniel 5:9-12

Their failure further troubles the king. Since no one can interpret he really is worried. At this moment, the queen, probably the queen’s mother since his wives were already in the banquet hall, enters. She says there is a man in his kingdom who could give the meaning. She remembered how Daniel had interpreted the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and how he was made chief of the wise men.

How is it that Belshazzar knew nothing of Daniel?

Perhaps he did know of him but refused to be guided by one who refused to worship or recognize the gods of Babylon. In Daniel 5:22 Daniel implies Belshazzar knew all about these things of the past. Since the death of Nebuchadnezzar Daniel probably had dropped into the background.

‘So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.’ Daniel 5:13-17

Daniel is called in and offered a third position in the empire. No doubt he was offered the same position he had occupied under Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel declined the gifts but offered to read and interpret the writing for the king. Daniel’s motivation was not earthly things but a desire to make known God’s will for man.

‘Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendour. Because of the high position, he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.’ Daniel 5:18-20

Daniel reminds the king that it was God who gave Nebuchadnezzar his kingdom and then disposed of him from the throne for a reason. Probably because of his pride and arrogance.

This was done so that he would know “that the most high God ruled in the kingdoms of men, and that he appoints over them whomsoever He will.”

‘He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes. “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore, he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.’ Daniel 5:21-24

Daniel becomes very plain-spoken now. He says that Belshazzar had not recognized this although he knew it. He had deliberately proceeded on a course of contempt for God. Belshazzar had acted in his previous conversation with Daniel that he did not know very much about him but only had heard some things.

He knew much more than he pretended. He also knew what had happened to his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. He had set himself up against and in the independence of “the God in who holds your breath in His hands and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”

As a result, of his defiance, this writing on the wall occurred.

‘This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN “Here is what these words mean: 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: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.’ Daniel 5:25-28

The writing was from God and its meaning was direct and clear-cut.


The meaning was that Belshazzar had been weighed in the balances of God’s justice and had been found wanting. Thus, his kingdom would be taken away from him and given to the Medes and Persians. It is believed that the writing was in ancient Hebrew characters.

It should be pointed out however that there have been many conjectures respecting the characters which were employed on this occasion. The main thing is that God made it possible for Daniel to know the meaning.

‘Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ Daniel 5:29

Though the interpretation was a fearful thing yet the king did not hesitate to fulfil his promises. Thus, he bestowed on Daniel all those things he promised if he were given the interpretation. He may have done this thinking this would appease Daniel’s God.

‘That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.’ Daniel 5:30-31

Sometime during the night, there was swift judgment. It seems that Daniel had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth until they were being fulfilled. Cyrus under the command of Darius the Mede diverted the waters of the Euphrates river which ran under the wall and through the city of Babylon. This left the channel dry for the army of Cyrus to move under the wall and inside the city during darkness.

It seems the great feast at the palace had attracted everyone’s attention thus the enemy was able to move into the city unnoticed. Sometime during the night, Belshazzar was killed. The great Babylonian Empire fell and was now in the hands of the Medes and Persians.

Who would ever have thought the mighty city of Babylon would fall in such an easy way. It seems there was very little resistance offered to the soldiers of Cyrus. Every great kingdom in history has fallen at one time or another.

No one dreamed they would do this. Man, often boasts of his power and greatness not realizing how limited and small he is. God rules this world and he can dispose of kingdoms as quickly as overnight.


The UK can brag about her power and strength but when she forgets that our real strength is in God. then we too shall fall as a nation. Our strength has always been in recognition of the one true God and that “In God We Trust,” as the Americans say.

Our greatness has been in our morality and not any military might. If we lose our morals we will lose our nation. Few seem to understand where our true greatness lies. There are those who would try to remove the very things that have made us great.

As Christians, our trust and faith are in God and His Son, Jesus. We love our country and are very proud of it. But we will not be led down the road of immorality and disrespect for God.

We are all citizens of the kingdom of God which will never fall and cannot be destroyed.

Go To Daniel 6