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“Turn out the lights, the party is over!” The jig is up. World powers can bask in their false confidence and take security in their wealth and power. But when God decides to render judgment that is the end of the story. Here Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, is brought to his knees in abject terror as the divine inscription on the lamplit wall in his indulgent feast spells out the divine indictment: “Numbered, Weighed and Rejected.” The king had failed to learn the key lesson from Nebuchadnezzar before him:

“the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind,

and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.”

The lesson of God’s sovereign rule leaves no room for the pride and arrogance of human leaders.

Bruce Hurt: Daniel 5 is the source of several sayings that are popular in the secular culture:

(1) “the handwriting is on the wall” speaking of impending disaster that is so obvious only a fool could not see it coming and

(2) A similar expression stating that “your days are numbered.”

(3) The description of one in great fear as “his knees are knocking”! (As someone once said “If your knees are knocking, kneel on them!”)



A. (:1) Indulgent Celebration

“Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.”

Reminds one of the characterization of the days of Noah just before the flood; everyone is eating and drinking and indulging their fleshly appetites while mocking God; oblivious to the imminent judgment of the Flood; Belshazzar had a great sense of false security behind the walls of his great city of Babylon

MacArthur: These events occurred in 539 B.C., over two decades after Nebuchadnezzar’s death.

Wiersbe: This feast was a microcosm of the world system and focused on “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). . . Belshazzar knew that the army of the Medes and Persians was encamped outside the city, but he was indifferent to the danger that they posed. After all, the city was surrounded by a complex series of walls, some of them over 300 feet high, and there were numerous defense towers on the walls. Could any army break through the fortified bronze gates?

Bruce Hurt: Security and sensuality are often harbingers of approaching ruin. The Medo-Persian army was outside of Babylon and possibly had either captured Nabonidus or at least had cut him off from returning to the city. Belshazzar, ruling in his father’s place, and knowing of the threat to the city but feeling secure behind its great walls, had the hubris to hold a great feast and drink wine offering praise to Babylon’s so called “gods”.

B. (:2-3) Irreverent Consumption

1. (:2) Supreme Arrogance

“When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, in order that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.”

MacArthur: The celebration was designed to boost morale and break the feelings of doom, because at this very time, armies of Medo-Persia (cf. v. 30) had Babylon helplessly under siege.

2. (:3) Sacrilegious Abomination

“Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.”

C. (:4) Idolatrous Carousing

“They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.”


A. (:5-6) Divine Authorship of Indictment

1. (:5) The Writing of the Hand

“Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing.”

2. (:6) The Reaction of the King

“Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together.”

B. (:7-9) Desperate Attempt at Interpretation

1. (:7) Reward Offered

“The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me will be clothed with purple, and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.’”

Walvoord: The astrologers were actually the magicians, the Chaldeans were a broad class of scholars and learned men in the lore of the Babylonians, and the soothsayers corresponded more closely to the modern concept of astrologers, although they may have also practiced sorcery.

2. (:8) Remains a Mystery

“Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king.”

3. (:9) Reaction of the King

“Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.”

Walvoord: Belshazzar’s predicament is another illustration of the insecurity and powerlessness of the rulers of this world when confronted by the power and wisdom of God. How God holds in derision the rulers of the world who take counsel against Him (Ps 2:1-4)! Like Nebuchadnezzar before him, Belshazzar was soon to experience divine judgment but without the happy ending.

Wiersbe: The ignorance of the wise men made the king even more terrified, and his lords were perplexed and confused and could offer him no help. The time had come when political authority, wealth, power, and human wisdom could do nothing to solve the problem. Once again, the Lord had exposed he ignorance of the world and the futility of human power to discover and explain the mind and will of God.


A. (:10-12) Daniel Recommended by the Queen

1. (:10) Intervention by the Queen

“The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, ‘O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale.’”

2. (:11-12a) Introduction of Daniel with Impressive Credentials

“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans, and diviners. This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar.”

3. (:12b) Instructions to Summon Daniel with the Expectation of Illumination

“Let Daniel now be summoned, and he will declare the interpretation.”

B. (:13-16) Daniel Summoned and Incentivized for Interpreting the Dream

1. (:13-14) Daniel Summoned and Praised for His Stellar Reputation

“Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, ‘Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you.’”

2. (:15) Daniel Contrasted with the Failure of the Babylonian Soothsayers

“Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message.”

3. (:16) Daniel Incentivized

a. His Reputation

“But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems.”

b. His Reward

“Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.”

Walvoord: Too often the world, like Belshazzar, is not willing to seek the wisdom of God until its own bankruptcy becomes evident. Then help is sought too late, as in the case of Belshazzar, and the cumulative sin and unbelief which precipitated the crisis in the first place becomes the occasion of downfall.


A. (:17) Right Interpretation Not Conditioned on Reward

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Keep your gifts for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him.’”

Rich Cathers: Ministry is free. Jesus told His disciples: (Mt 10:8KJV) “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” I think this goes beyond whether or not you get “paid” for ministry or for helping others. Why do you help others? Do you expect to get something in return? Sometimes we can find ourselves serving others to gain “respect”. And then when someone doesn’t show us any “respect”, we act surprised and think about quitting.

B. (:18-19) Royal Dominion Conditioned on Divine Favor and Delegated Authority

“O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory, and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. And because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations, and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed, and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated, and whomever he wished he humbled.”

C. (:20-21) Repentance Conditioned on Humiliating Judgment

1. (:20a) Heart Attitude to Be Judged = Pride and Arrogance

“But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly,”

2. (:20b-21a) Punishment to Be Experienced

a. Deposed From the Royal Throne

“he was deposed from his royal throne, and his glory was taken away from him.”

b. Driven Away From Mankind to Live Like an Animal

“He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys.”

c. Degraded to a State of Abject Humiliation

“He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven,”

3. (:22b) Lesson to Be Learned = Key to Repentance

“until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind, and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.”

D. (:22-23) Repetition of the Sins of Your Father

1. (:22-23a) Pride and Arrogance

“Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven;”

2. (:23b) Profane and Irreverent Sacrilege and Fleshly Indulgence

“and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them;”

3. (:23c) Praise of Impotent Idols Instead of Glorifying the Life-Giving God

“and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand.

But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.”

Bruce Hurt: Notice the three charges by Daniel:

(1) He had not humbled his heart even though he knew about God and His good works through the life of Nebuchadnezzar. (Da 5:22).

(2) He deliberately mocked God by desecrating God’s holy vessels… this was sin that reflected willful defiance and not ignorance!

(3) He worshiped idols.

“If God held Belshazzar responsible, my friend, for the ray of light which shone across his pathway, what will He say to men living in the blaze of light which illuminates the world today? Every unconverted man in this country has more light than Belshazzar had.” (Talbot)

E. (:24-28) Record of God’s Written Indictment

1. (:24-25) The Inscription

“Then the hand was sent from Him, and this inscription was written out. 25 Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’”

MacArthur: Upharsin is the plural of Peres, possibly emphasizing the parts in the division. The “U” prefix has the idea of the English “and.”

2. (:26-28) The Interpretation

“This is the interpretation of the message:”

a. (:26) Numbered

“’MENE ‘– God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.”

b. (:27) Weighed

“‘TEKEL ‘– you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient”

c. (:28) Rejected

“‘PERES ‘– your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

Wiersbe: Peres carried a double meaning: “divided” and “Persia.” Babylon would be divided between the Medes and the Persians whose armies were at the gates of the city that very night.


A. (:29) Elevation of Daniel

“Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.”

Walvoord: The drama of the writing on the wall and its interpretation is now brought to its fulfillment as Belshazzar keeps his promises. Daniel is clothed with scarlet, a chain of gold put about his neck, and a proclamation issued that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. All of these honors, however, were short-lived and useless, as Daniel well knew, and typical of the honors of this world. In its rise to power the Babylonian Empire had conquered Jerusalem, taken its inhabitants into captivity, looted its beautiful temple, and completely destroyed the city. Yet this empire was to have as its last official act the honoring of one of these captives who by divine revelation predicted not only the downfall of Babylon but the course of the times of the Gentiles until the Son of man should come from heaven. Man may have the first word, but God will have the last word.

B. (:30) Execution of Belshazzar

“That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain.”

C. (:31) Exaltation of Darius the Mede

“So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.”