2421.) Daniel 5

The Writing on the Wall. digital art by Ted Larson.

The Writing on the Wall. digital art by Ted Larson.

Daniel 5   (NRSV)

Daniel 5 is the transition from the head of gold to the chest of silver as revealed to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. The last Babylonian king has his moment and then descends into the ages of obscurity.

Daniel, by divine providence, is there to record the events, to witness the fulfillment of the dream he interpreted in chapter 2, and to watch the transfer of one empire to another.

–Fred Butler (and all further comments in blue)

Belshazzar’s Feast



Jean Sibelius’ incidental music for “Belsazars Gästabud” (“Belshazzar’s Feast”) was composed for a play of the same name which was written by Sibelius’ friend Hjalmar Procopé. The play is based upon King Belshazzar of the Old Testament book of Daniel, focusing specifically on the fifth chapter of Daniel. The first movement of the suite, Orientalisk Marsch (“Oriental Procession”), and the second, Solitude, are presented  HERE  as performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra led by Pietari Inkinen.  If you wants to hear the rest of it — the third movement of the suite, Nocturne (“Night Music”), and the fourth, Khadras dans (“Khadra’s Dance”), are presented  HERE.


King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.

When we come to Daniel 5, Nebuchadnezzar is no longer the king of Babylon. How did it pass from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar? The ancient historian Berosus gives us the following order of events:

  • Nebuchadnezzar died after a 43-year reign
  • His son, Evil-Merodach (described in 2 Kings 25:27-30 and Jeremiah 52:31-34) ruled for only two years when he was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglassar, because his rule was arbitrary and licentious.
  • Neriglassar (mentioned as Nergalsharezer in Jeremiah 39:3, 13) ruled for four years until he died a natural death.
  • His son, Laborosoarchod, only a child and of diminished mental capacity, ruled for only nine months when he was beaten to death by a gang of conspirators.
  • The conspirators appointed Nabonidus, one of their gang, to be king. He ruled until Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon.

–David Guzik (and all further comments in red)

For many years skeptics and mockers ridiculed this section of Daniel. Belshazzar could not be a king in Babylon, it was argued, because there was no record anywhere naming him as a royal official, let alone the last king of Babylon. Everyone knows it was Nabonidus.

But that changed in 1861 when a cuneiform tablet was found at Ur that contained the name “Bel Shazur.” Then in 1882, the “Nabonidus cylinder” was uncovered. (Note:  it is now on display at the British Museum.) It chronicled how the crown prince, one named Bel Shazur, was regarded as king because he was left in control of the army of Babylon from 549-545 B.C. while Nabonidus established a new military in Tema located in north east Arabia. By 1924 it was well established that Belshazzar had been appointed king over the city of Babylon by his father.

Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

sac·ri·lege  (skr-lj)
Desecration, profanation, misuse, or theft of something sacred.

The Writing on the Wall

Rembrandt — “Belshazzar’s Feast”

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand.

The lampstand would be shining with lit candles, so the mysterious characters would be best seen near it. Perhaps this was one of the lampstands taken from the temple of Jerusalem, the nearness of the writing to it intimating that the rebuke was directed against the sacrilege. 

The king was watching the hand as it wrote.

This, of course, is where we get the proverbial phrase the writing on the wall.

Then the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners; and the king said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom.”

He calls out to his wise men “with strength” as the text states, which means he is screaming for them. There is writing on the wall. He can read it, but he obviously can’t understand what it means. Belshazzar promises them great reward even to the point of making the one who can interpret the writing third highest ruler (which implies Nabonidus is the first and he is the second).

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed.

10 The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall.

This queen is hard to identify with certainty. Probably it was Belshazzar’s mother, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.

The queen said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”

Interesting that the queen refers to Daniel by his Hebrew, rather than his Babylonian, name. Does it indicate respect for Daniel?

The Writing on the Wall Interpreted

Dan5 mene

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, “So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and tell me its interpretation, but they were not able to give the interpretation of the matter. 16 But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom.”

Daniel shows no fear! He reminds Belshazzar of what he (Belshazzar) knows and then castigates him for not recognizing God’s truth which has been right in front of him.

17 Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. 18 O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. 19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honored those he wanted to honor, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. 21 He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will. 22 And you, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! 23 You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.

“So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed.
25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. 26 This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; 28 peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

· God had Belshazzar’s number, and it fell short.

· God weighed Belshazzar, and he came up light.

· God would therefore divide Belshazzar’s kingdom to the Medes and the Persians.

29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made concerning him that he should rank third in the kingdom.

30 That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus relates that the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon by diverting the flow of the Euphrates into a nearby swamp. This lowered the level of the river so his troops marched through the water and under the river-gates. They still would not have been able to enter had not the bronze gates of the inner walls been left inexplicably unlocked. This was exactly what God predicted in Isaiah 44:28-45:7 and Jeremiah 51:57-58. God opened the gates of the city of Babylon for Cyrus, and put it in writing 200 years before it happened.

  • “In October 539 bc, Cyrus advanced into lower Mesopotamia and, leaving Babylon till last, conquered and occupied the surrounding territory. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Nabonidus of Babylon deserted his city, leaving it in the charge of his son Belshazzar . . . the taking of Babylon was as bloodless and effortless as Daniel 5 implies.” (J. Alec Motyer, in his commentary on Isaiah)
  • “Empires do not stand by human might, man-made machines and missiles. There is not a wall high enough nor thick enough to prevent a nation from falling when God pronounces that nation’s doom.” (Mark L. Strauss)

Dan5 new-yorker-cartoon_________________________

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)   New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Images courtesy of:
Larson.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/dan5-writing-wall.jpg
Nabonidus Cylinder.   http://www.bible.ca/psychiatry/psychiatry-mental-illness-bible-nebuchadnezzar-god-struck-insanity-sin-pride-nabonidus-cylinder-elshazzar-585bc-dan5.jpg
Rembrandt, Belshazzar’s feast.    http://www.bookwormroom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Belshazzars-Feast.jpg
Handwriting on the wall.   https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-studies/bible-book-studies-book-of-daniel/get-the-message/
Warren Miller cartoon, from The New Yorker.    http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-473-488-90/60/6058/LB6D100Z/posters/warren-miller-mene-mene-tekel-upharsin-what-kind-of-cookie-is-this-new-yorker-cartoon.jpg

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