Daniel 5 - Outline of Daniel (MENU page)
I. Daniel's Chronicles of his Times under Gentile Kings (ch. 1-6)
C. Belshazzar's foolishness, Babylon's fall (5:1-31)
1. Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords,
and drank wine before the thousand.
Belshazzar the king...- His name means "Bel protect the king."
Critics doubted the existence of a king of Babylon by this name, until clay cylinders were discovered bearing his name as "Belshazzar son of Nabonidus." These twin "Nabonidus Cylinders" are inscribed with a proclamation of Nabonidus' devotion to the moon god, Sin (and other deities), and a prayer that his son would show similar devotion. The cylinders, which were discovered in Babylon in 1881 AD, are now housed in museums in London and Berlin.
The succession of Babylon's kings was as follows:
  • Nebuchadnezzar {meaning "Nebo protect the crown"}, reigned 605-562 BC.
  • Evil-Merodach {or, Amel-Marduk, "Man of Marduk"}, son of Nebuchadnezzar (mentioned in 2Kin 25:27). His brief reign (c. 561 BC) was cut short, when he was murdered by his successor:
  • Nergal-Sharezer {"Nergal protect the king"}, son-in-law to Nebuchadnezzar, reigned c. 560-556 BC.
  • Labashi-Marduk, young son of Nergal-Sharezer, who reigned a few months before being murdered by his successor:
  • Nabonidus {"Nebo is praised"}, who is commonly considered to be the last king of the Babylonian empire, reigned c. 556-539 BC.
         Nabonidus married Nitocris, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, and the former wife of Nergal-Sharezer. Her son, Belshazzar, was co-regent with Nabonidus (c. 553-539 BC). It is not certain whether Nergal-Sharezer or Nabonidus was Belshazzar's father, but in either case, Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar (through his daughter), in fulfillment of Jer 27:6,7.
         Belshazzar ruled in the city of Babylon, during Nabonidus' frequent absences, in pursuit of military, economic, and religious goals (he built temples to pagan gods in several cities). At the time of Belshazzar's feast, Babylon was under siege by the army of the Medes. Meanwhile, Nabonidus was waging an unsuccessful defense against the advancing Median and Persian forces elsewhere in the kingdom.
         Belshazzar's co-regency with Nabonidus explains the offered reward of appointment as "third ruler" (vs. 7,16,29). Nabonidus was first in authority. Belshazzar was second. The honoree would become the third in the line of authority and succession.
...made a great feast... and drank wine...- Why would the king proclaim a feast with the city under siege?
  • Overconfidence - He considered the city impregnable. The city's walls were 300 feet tall and wide enough at the top for four chariots to pass side by side. The city's storehouses contained sufficient grain to sustain the population for several years. An inexhaustible supply of water flowed through the city via a canal from the Euphrates River.
  • Morale building - The king's party, making light of the enemy armies, may have been intended to encourage worried citizens with the security of their defenses.
2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels
which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem;
that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem;
and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
4 They drank wine,
and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand,
and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace:
and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
Belshazzar's foolishness -
Not only did Belshazzar make light of the enemy, he also made light of the God of Israel.
The vessels of the temple in Jerusalem had already been defiled by their storage in an idolatrous temple (Dan 1:2), but to that defilement, the king added fleshly debauchery and blatant disregard for the Most High God, the King of Heaven, whom Nebuchadnezzar had come to fear, late in his life (Dan 4:34-37). Belshazzar, in his revelry, rendered dishonor upon the living and true God, while he praised {ie., lauded, adored} his idols, the works of mans' hands (Psa 115:4-8; 135:15-18). [Note also that the idols were made of six materials. Six is the number of man.] The living God was quick to answer the insult.
in the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote...-
The handwriting on the wall was God's sentence against the king.
In contrast to His dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, God gave no dream, nor gracious revelation of Himself to Belshazzar. He who searches the heart (Jer 17:10) knew Belshazzar's arrogance, and that he would never humble himself in repentence. Therefore, He does not move to draw him, but only to announce his judgment. (In a similar way, when Jesus wrote on the ground, in Joh 8:1-11, the effect of his writing was the condemnation of sin.)
6 Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him,
so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers.
[And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon,
Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet,
and [have] a chain of gold about his neck,
and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
8 Then came in all the king's wise [men]:
but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him,
and his lords were astonied.
then the king's countenance {lit., brightness, splendour} was changed...-
His face went pale. His partying demeanor suddenly became somber.
...his thoughts troubled {ie., terrified, alarmed, frightened} him...-
as evidenced by his body language, and by his loud cry {ie., powerfully shouted command} to summon his counsellors:
...the astrologers {necromancers}, the Chaldeans {the elders of Chaldea},
...the soothsayers {lit., those who cut or divide (eg., to obtain discernment through the reading of animal entrails)}...-
These were the experts who had previously been proven unsatisfactory in Nebuchadnezzar's search for truth.
Whosoever shall read... shall be clothed with scarlet... a chain of gold... the third ruler...-
Belshazzar's desperate desire to understand the writing is seen in the rewards he offers:
  • Royal honor - Scarlet {ie., purple} robes were the clothing of royalty.
  • Riches - A chain {necklace} of gold, more than a piece of expensive jewelry, was a token of access to the king's treasure.
  • Rulership - The third ruler would hold substantial political power (see note at v.1).
    (cp. These three points with Joseph's elevation to power, Gen 41:41-43)
... but they could not read the writing... then was king Belshazzar greatly {exceedingly} troubled...
...and his lords astonied {cut, pierced as with an arrow}.-
The drunken king and his party guests were suddenly sobered by the unexpected and unintelligible message from God. The king's counsellors were inwardly torn by the powerful effect of fear upon the king.
(cp. The effect of God's Word upon other unbelieving religious experts, when they were confronted with its truth. Acts 5:33; 7:54)
10. [Now] the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house:
[and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever:
let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods;
and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him;
whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king,
[I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers;
12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding,
interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts,
were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar:
now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.
the queen...- The identity of the queen is uncertain.
This may have been Nebuchadnezzar's wife (Belshazzar's grandmother), or, more likely, this was Nebuchadnezzar's daughter, Nitocris (Belshazzar's mother).
Her lack of involvement in Belshazzar's feast, and also her clear understanding of God's dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, suggest that she also had come to fear the living God.
...Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, the father...-
In OT times, it was common to use the term 'father' to mean 'grandfather' or 'ancestor.' Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar's grandfather. The queen repeats the term for emphasis. Nebuchadnezzar had come to know and respect the God of Daniel. Belshazzar's recent conduct was not befitting a son of Nebuchadnezzar.
there is a man... in whom is the spirit of the holy gods...-
The queen reminds Belshazzar of Daniel, describing:
  • Daniel's character (in whom is...):
    • the spirit of the holy gods {or, the Spirit of the Holy God}. This expression is used 3x in the previous chapter (4:8,9,18. See the Book Notes at Dan 4:8).
    • light {illumination, insight}
    • understanding {insight gained through thoughtful contemplation}
  • Daniel's honor and position (under Nebuchadnezzar):
    • master of the magicians...
  • Daniel's skill (because of the excellent {extraordinary} spirit, knowledge {discernment} and understanding in him):
    • interpreting dreams (Dan ch. 2 and 4)
    • showing hard sentences {ie., puzzles, riddles}
    • dissolving doubts {lit., loosening knots, resolving difficulties}
now let Daniel be called...
13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king.
[And] the king spake and said unto Daniel,
[Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah,
whom the king my father brought out of Jewry
{lit., Judah}?
14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods [is] in thee,
and [that] light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
15 And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me,
that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof:
but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:
16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts:
now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof,
thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck,
and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
art thou that Daniel... ? - Belshazzar interrogates Daniel concerning his identity and skills.
Although Daniel had been "master of the magicians..." under Nebuchadnezzar, he had apparently lost his prominent position with the subsequent changes in rulers.
I have heard... that the spirit of the gods is in thee...- Belshazzar omits the word "holy" (cp. v.11).
He does not discern that Daniel serves the Holy God who is separate from the many false gods of Babylon.
if thou canst read... and make known... the interpretation...-
The king's reward, to "whosoever" would interpret the writing, is offered now to Daniel, who had been absent at the king's previous statement (in v. 7).
17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king,
Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another;
yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
Let thy gifts be to thyself... - Daniel spurns the king's rewards.
This insult might have been dealt with harshly, if the king had not been so distraught. Though his reply suggests contempt toward the king, Daniel remains faithful to fulfill the king's request, and bold to tell him the truth. He begins by reviewing the history and testimony of Nebuchadnezzar, of which Belshazzar was already aware (v.22)
18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom {a realm of kingly authority},
and majesty
{greatness}, and glory {esteem}, and honour:
19 And for the majesty that he gave him
{ie., on account of the greatness given to him},
all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him:
whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive;
and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
Nebuchadnezzar's power was absolute. Yet, he had no power except that which God had given to him.
20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride,
he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
21 And he was driven from the sons of men;
and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling [was] with the wild asses:
they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven;
till he knew that the most high God ruled
{has full authority} in the kingdom of men {the realm of men's authority},
and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
Nebuchadnezzar's pride was broken by his humbling, until he understood that the God of heaven exercises absolute power in the affairs of men (4:34-37).
22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart,
though thou knewest all this;
23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven;
and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee,
and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them;
and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone,
which see not, nor hear, nor know:
and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
...thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this...-
Belshazzar's profane use of that which had been holy unto the LORD was symptomatic of his heart attitude. His actions were a purposeful mockery of the God of Israel, the God whom Nebuchadnezzar had come to know. This God, from whose hands Belshazzar had received his kingdom, held absolute power over the king's life and plans.
     Belshazzar knew the truth, and yet, he had rejected it.
Belshazzar foreshadows the antichrist in his willful disregard and debasing of the truth (cp. 2The 2:9-12).
...then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
Though Belshazzar had defied God, God graciously sent him this personal message. He is given a brief opportunity to repent. Yet, though trembling with fear, he refuses to turn to God. (cp. The opportunity which Judas refused. Mat 26:50)
25 And this [is] the writing that was written,
26 This [is] the interpretation of the thing:
MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
Mene...- The word means "Number." cp. Psa 90:12
God keeps a full accounting of men's lives (Ecc 12:14; Jer 32:19). The repetition of the word indicates completion "...numbered... and finished." The accounting was being brought to an end, the account was about to be closed.
27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
Tekel...- The word means "Weight."
To be "weighed in the balances" is to be compared against a standard.
To be "found wanting" is to be found deficient or to fall short of the standard. cp. Rom 3:19-23
28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
Upharsin... Peres...- These are two forms of the same word, meaning "Division" or "Dividing."
God was about to "change the times" (Dan 2:21). The division between the head of gold (representing the Babylonian empire) and the arms of silver (representing the Medo-Persian empire) was about to be crossed (Dan 2:37-39).
This marks the beginning of the decline and division of gentile dominion. Just as the kingdom had been taken away from Israel, because of their wickedness, so, successive gentile empires would fall and rise, until Christ returns to rule the world in righteousness (Eze 21:25-27).
29 Then commanded Belshazzar,
and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck,
and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.
In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain...-
According to secular history: unknown to Belshazzar, the army of the Medes, led by a general named Gobyras, had diverted the water from the canal which flowed through the city. With the channel made passable to foot soldiers, his army quickly entered the city to surprise and overcome its defenders.
- - This marks the fall of historic Babylon to the Medes and Persians, as prophesied in Isa 13:1-22 and 21:1-10 (Also see the Book Notes at Jeremiah 50:21-46).
- - The fall of historic Babylon foreshadows the fall of the final form of gentile world dominion, which is referred to as "Babylon the Great" in Rev 18:1-8. As Belshazzar's judgment was executed "in that night," the judgment of the antichrist will also come upon him suddenly and without remedy (Rev 19:19,20).

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