The Bible


Daniel 5 : The Writing on the Wall


1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:

19 And for the majesty that he gave 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.

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 in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.

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.

25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

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.



Belshazzar's Feast

By New Christian Bible Study Staff and William L. Worcester

Commentary - In-Depth

Whoever considers the extremity to which any evil leads can readily estimate the danger and the responsibility attached to it. The abuse of strong drink leads to delirium tremens, insanity, and death. The knowledge of that fact doubtless saves many from an injudicious use of it. The final outcome of a deeper evil - the love of pre-eminence - is laid bare in a startling light in this story. Not everyone can see it. In our lives, not nearly so much attention is directed to the indulgence of the spirit of self-will and its evil consequences as is given to the indulgence of intemperate habits and their consequences, although the ultimate result of the former is far more serious than that of the latter.

"‘Babylon' profanes all things of heaven and of the church." (Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms on Dan. 5:1-4) Acts prompted by a spirit of self-will, love of pre-eminence, or love of ruling, if not checked will profane and destroy everything heavenly in the soul. Everyone is capable of seeing from the Lord that this is true, even as Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall and trembled. That writing, which was "from heaven" (Apocalypse Explained 373), discloses the inner nature of the feast - what it means. Yet the king cannot tell what the words signify. He sees the words but can neither read nor understand them. Likewise the magi see them but can neither read nor interpret. Those steeped in evil possess rationality but cannot understand the truth from themselves. They have conscience and can be made conscious of the sad plight in which they are and even moved greatly by the fear of consequences. But it is impossible for them to discern the real outcome of evil - its fatal effects upon themselves -

without enlightenment from the Lord. A Daniel is needed to read and interpret the message from heaven.

Daniel prefaces his interpretation by a short address to the king. God gave Nebuchadnezzar his father a kingdom, and glory and honor. But when he became filled with pride, his kingdom was taken from him, and he suffered until he learned that God alone rules over humanity. "And thou, his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thy heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven," and profaned His holy name. Self-confidence in pursuing an evil course in life always deadens the conscience. History and experience may be interesting to read, but they have no word of warning or advice for self. History proves that no one learns anything from history. The writing on the wall is seen but not comprehended either in its letter or spirit. The Divine Word is likewise often read, and yet no more is seen than the literal expressions, because seen in natural light "which in itself is dead, and not in spiritual light, which in itself is living." The Divine Word with its message of life, however, is opened to people by the Lord Himself as they will to do the Divine Will. (Divine Providence 134) Through this enlightenment, "it is confirmed by those who are in the truths of the church, that it is contrary to the Word for them to exalt themselves above the Lord, for thus things holy are profaned." (Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms verses 10-24) The ultimate issue of pride proceeding from the love of rule is that it utterly destroys religion. (Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms verses 25-28; Apocalypse Explained 370; Doctrine of Life 1) "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it." To number signifies to determine the quality of the life. "Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting." "Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."


Daniel was taken captive to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim, about the year 606 or 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar was not then king of Babylon, but co-regent with his father Nabopolassar, and simply called king by anticipation. He assumed the full authority of the throne in 604 B.C. and reigned in Babylon till 561 B.C. He was succeeded by Evilmerodach, 561-559; Neriglassar, 558-555; Laborosoarchod (9 months), 555; and Nabunahid, 555-538, the year in which Cyrus took Babylon. The first four chapters in Daniel belong to the rein of Nebuchadnezzar. The fifth refers to Belshazzar as the king of Babylon and the son of Nebuchadnezzar. (Dan. 5:2, 11, 18) There is no mention in the monuments, or tablets, or clay cylinders, of Belshazzar as a king of Babylon. There are, however, several contract-tablets that establish the fact that Belshazzar (Bel-sara-usur "Bel protect the king") was the son of Nabonidus or Nabu-nahid. "As regards his [Belshazzar's] relationship to Nebuchadnezzar, it is possible that Nabu-nahid may have sought to strengthen his position by marrying a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, in which case the latter might be spoken of as Belshazzar's father (‘grandfather,' by Hebrew usage)."

The Babylonian Chronicle respecting this period gives us to understand that Nabonidus was not in Babylon when Cyrus was preparing to advance upon it. He appears to have been with the forces at Sippar or Sepharvaim. And it is recorded that when Cyrus overcame the enemy in battle at Opis, he had "some conflicts with the men of Akkad, and took Sippar on the 14th day of January without fighting. Nabonidus fled" (Chronicle). It may thus have been that while Nabonidus was in Akkad, Belshazzar was in Babylon and was there declared king by the people. In any case, Cyrus' leader, Ugbaru or Gobryas, took Babylon without resistance, according to all the chronologists on the night of the 11th of Marcheswan 538. According to Daniel, Belshazzar was king at least three years. (Dan. 8:1) This contradicts the generally accepted list of kings above given. It is only fair to state that no record has yet been found that establishes the kingship of Belshazzar, and the contract-tablets bearing dates continuously throughout the reign of Nabonidus to the conquest by Cyrus make no reference to any other king than Nabonidus.

This chapter then brings us down to the very close of the Babylonian empire. And what a terrible end! Drinking, feasting, and revelry, and the profanation of the holy vessels belonging to the temple of the Lord. A very few simple words are employed to describe this closing scene. Yet each stroke of the pen speaks volumes. Therein lies its power to appeal to so many different classes of minds and leave a definite impression. The feast, the handwriting on the wall, the terror-stricken king, the perplexed magi, the interpretation by Daniel, and the death of the king that night, furnish the never dying outlines of this picture.