Daniel, Chapter 5 

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

Lorraine Day, M.D.

“The name Belshazzar means Bel-defend-the-king.  If the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, after all God’s dealings with him (Nebuchadnezzar), is seeking the protection of Bel (Satan), and not God, he also must be taught, and all the world with him, that there is only one Authority in heaven and on earth, and He not only gives the kingdom to whom He will, but takes it away from those who are no longer in tune with His purpose.”  Concordant Studies in the Book of Daniel, p131

“On October 12, 539 B.C., Belshazzar, king of Babylon, staged a banquet to which he invited a thousand civic leaders with their wives and mistresses. (1) Wine flowed, spirits rose, and realities became blurred.

“The realities were grim.

“In the twenty-three years since the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon had fallen a long way from its golden age.

“Nebuchadnezzar had been succeeded by a series of incompetent rulers.  His son, Evil-Merodach (see Jeremiah 52:31), hadn’t amounted to much and had been assassinated by his brother-in-law after only two years on the throne.  The brother-in-law had died four years later, leaving a minor son.  Conspirators had then assassinated the boy king and appointed one of themselves, Nabonidus as his successor.

(Note:  It’s good to know that in that era, just as today, NO “conspiracies” are going on – at least that’s what the government tells us!)

“Six years later, King Nabonidus had transferred his headquarters from Babylon to the distant oasis of Tema in Arabia.  He had ‘entrusted the kingship to his son,’ Belshazzar (2), and devoted himself avidly to the worship of the moon god, Sin, instead of to the Babylonian patron god, Marduk.

“In choosing to worship Sin, Nabonidus had been influenced by his mother, or grandmother, a high priestess of that deity.  This amazing woman lived to the exceptional age of 107!  At 104 she is reported to have said, in a cuneiform inscription, ‘My eyesight was keen, my hearing excellent. . . food and drink agreed with me.’(3)

“For ten years Nabonidus had failed—by reason of his absence—to celebrate the popular New Year’s Festival in Babylon.  Further, during his reign he had required even high-class Babylonians to work for the state in labor gangs.  At the same time financial recession had led to a general state of disrepair at the capital.  Nabonidus had become highly unpopular.

“Meanwhile, Cyrus the Great, the Persian king, had begun his astonishing rise.  He had taken over the kingdom of Media and added Lydia in the far west.  Nabonidus, evidently alarmed at the buildup of Persian power, had returned from Tema to Babylon in 540.  In a bid for popularity at the capital, he had celebrated the New Year’s Festival in fine style and collected gods and goddesses from several outlying cities.  But he hadn’t been able to refrain from arguing theology with the leading priests, and anyway it was too late to restore his popular support.

“When he met the forces of Cyrus at Opis, 115 miles north of Babylon, his own people there had rebelled against him.  On October 10, 539 B.C., Nabonidus had surrendered 50 miles north of Babylon, without a fight and fled south to Borsippa.  Meantime, a military detachment led by Darius the Mede had proceeded rapidly south and arrived at the walls of Babylon.

“These, then, were the grim realities attending Belshazzar’s feast: the empire virtually lost, Nabonidus in hiding, the enemy at the gates.

“But why worry?  The walls of Babylon were tall and stout.  Its storehouses bulged with food.  The Euphrates flowed with water.  Any enemy would give up a blockade long before the city surrendered.  Babylon was undefeatable.

“Just as the Titanic was unsinkable.”  Maxwell, Mervyn, God Cares, pp 76,77.


1.     The precise date of the entry of Darius into Babylon is given in the Nabonidus Chronicle as “the 16th day,” that is, of the month Tishri.  See James B. Pritchard ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 306.  That this date, within a maximum error of one day, is the equivalent of October 12, 539 B.C., is shown in Richard A.

Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.-A.D. 75 (Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1956), p. 29.  The dates in Parker and Dubberstein commence at midnight, in harmony with modern usage, but in Babylon in Bible times the day was conceived as commencing at sunset.  If Darius entered the city before midnight on the 16th of Tishri, he entered on what we would today call October 11.

2.     The Verse Account of Nabonidus (British Museum tablet 38,299)
as trans. In Pritchard, Texts, p 313.

3.     The Stele of Nabonidus, erected in memory of his (grand?) mother, in Pritchard, Texts, p. 312.

2 Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his forefather 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 bronze, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote opposite the lampstand upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

“As the wine took effect, Belshazzar blasphemously ordered his butlers to bring out the sacred utensils which Nebuchadnezzar had removed from the temple in Jerusalem long years before.  And while the banqueters drank toasts to their idols out of cups dedicated to the Lord, a mysterious hand began to trace flaming letters on the plaster—the famous ‘handwriting on the wall.’” Ibid. p 77

6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosed, and his knees knocked on against another.

“Wild with fear, shaking like a reed, Belshazzar struggled to clear his brain and focus his eyes.  The message was menacing—but what was it?

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 tell me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 

“His voice sounded hollow, strange even to himself, as he yelled for someone to summon the wise men.”  Ibid. p 77

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 perplexed.

The wise men all failed.  Here again, just as in the previous story of the interpretation of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel, Chapter 2, all the other wise men were brought in first.  They had no wisdom because they were not connected with the true God.  So Daniel, as the follower of the true God, appears much more enlightened against the backdrop of failure of ALL the other “wise men.”

10 Then the queen, in view of the declarations of the king and his lords came into the banquet house; and the queen spake and said, O king, live forever; let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:

11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God; and in the days of thy forefather light and understanding and wisdom; like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy forefather, the king; I say, thy forefather, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;

12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and solving riddles, and explaining enigmas, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar.  Now, let Daniel be called, and he will declare the interpretation.

Since Belshazzar’s wives were already at the feast, it seems likely the “queen” spoken of in verse 10 is actually the Queen Mother, a highly respected personage in that era.

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 forefather, brought out from Judah?

14 I have even heard of thee, that the Spirit of God is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.

Here, Belshazzar, as did his forefather, Nebuchadnezzar, acknowledges that Daniel receives his wisdom from the true God.

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 declare the interpretation of the thing:

The “wisdom” of “man” must fail.  God, speaking through Daniel, will succeed.

16 And I have heard of thee that you can give interpretations, and explain enigmas; now if you can read the writing, and can make known to me the interpretation thereof, you shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Belshazzar is called the king in this Chapter.  Why would he give Daniel the “third” place in the kingdom?  Why not the second, next to Belshazzar?

Belshazzar was not the first in the kingdom.  As stated above, Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus, was king but he was “out of town on business.”  Belshazzar was co-regent, so he could offer Daniel the “third” place in the kingdom.

By this time, Daniel is in his 80’s yet he is strong and vigorous (see Daniel 10:8 – literal translation).  His presence is a remarkable contrast to the drunken king and his inebriated princes, concubines and wives.

17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another: yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

When Daniel came into the king’s presence, he omitted the usual greeting, “O king, live forever (for the eon).”  Daniel knew that the king had only moments to live.  And even if Daniel had been inclined to take the gifts of the king, Daniel knew that the Babylonian kingdom would be conquered by morning.

18   O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar, your forefather, a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor.

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 became proud, and his spirit 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 donkeys, and they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he recognized that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that He appoints over it whomsoever He will.

“In front of the assembled guests and leaders of the nation, Daniel reminded the king of the judgment that had fallen on Nebuchadnezzar on account of his pride; how his mind had become like that of an animal until he confessed that the most high God rules in the kingdom of men.”  Ibid. p 77

22   And you, his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this;

23   But you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of the temple before you, and you, and your lords, your wives, and your concubines, have drunk wine in them; and you have praised the gods of silver, and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, that see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in Whose hand your breath is, and for Whom are all your paths, Him you do not honor.

Belshazzar should have known better.  Everyone in the kingdom was aware of what had happened to his forefather, Nebuchadnezzar, when he became filled with pride.

24   Then was the part of this hand sent from Him; and this writing was written.

Notice that this is one of only TWO places in the Bible where God wrote the passages with His own finger.  The other is the Ten Commandments in Exodus, Chapter 20. 

God, Himself, writes when the message is most important:  a) He wrote the Ten Commandments, the rules on which He runs the entire universe both NOW and FOREVER!  They were NOT “done away with” at the Cross.  b) Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians, and the “Babylon” of the End Times, The New World Order coming upon us now, WILL fall, right before Jesus comes again!

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

26   This is the interpretation of each word: MENE; God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it.

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

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

“In Aramaic ‘Mene’ means ‘counted’ or ‘numbered.’  ‘Tekel’ means ‘weighed.’  ‘Parsin’ is the plural for ‘Peres,’ which in the singular means “divided” but in the plural is also the spelling for ‘Persians.’”)

29   Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with purple, 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.

It’s amazing that after having been given this horrifying news, Belshazzar still remains true to his word, gives Daniel the gifts and proclaims him third in the kingdom.

30   In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.


“The river Euphrates normally flowed low in October.  Two ancient historians, Herodotus and Xenophon, both inform us that on the night of this fatal feast the enemy lowered the water further by temporarily diverting it.  Soldiers waded through the knee-high stream, discovered the river gates still open, gained access to the streets, and slew the unsuspecting guards.”  Ibid 78

31   And Darius the Mede took the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

“The older historians had much difficulty in reconciling this part of Daniel with secular history.   The early Greek records do not mention Belshazzar.  Later, inscriptions on clay tablets were found that contained his name and made it clear that he shared the throne of his father, and was his representative in the capital.  Nabonidus, his father, was already a fugitive, having fled to Borsippa after the defeat of his army.  His life was spared.  Belshazzar, however, because of his brazen profanation of the sacred vessels is not spared. . . The mighty walls of Babylon, and all his gods, could not save Belshazzar from his doom.”  Concordant Studies in the Book of Daniel, p 145

“The fall of Babylon is of great importance to our understanding of the overall message of Daniel and Revelation.  Two aspects in particular demand our attention: (1) The fall of symbolic Babylon is one of the leading themes in the book of Revelation.  It is associated there with soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecies strikingly parallel to prophecies about the fall of literal Babylon.  (2) The perfect fulfillment of the prophecies about the fall of literal Babylon helps confirm our confidence in the prophecies about the imminent fall of symbolic Babylon.”

Maxwell, Mervyn, God Cares, p 81

Here are the Parallels:

  Ancient, literal Babylon  
Symbolic Babylon
“You who dwell by many waters.”
Jeremiah 51:13 
“Seated upon many waters.
Revelation 17:1
“A golden cup in the Lord’s hand.” 
Jeremiah 51:7
Holds “a golden cup.”
Revelation 17:4
“Babylon has fallen.”
Jeremiah 51:8
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon.”
Revelation 14:8
“I shall be mistress forever. . .
I shall not sit as a widow.”
Isaiah 47:7,8   
“A queen I sit, I am no widow.
Revelation 18:7
“Go out of the midst of her, my People
Jeremiah 51:45
“Come out of her, my people.
Revelation 18:4
At her fall “the heavens and the Earth. . .
shall sing for joy.” 
Jeremiah 51:48 
At her fall, “heavens. . . saints
And apostles and prophets”
Revelation 18:20
 As a stone, “shall Babylon sink, and
Rise no more.”
Jeremiah 51:64
“Like a great millstone (thrown)
. . . into the sea . . . so shall
Babylon . . . be thrown down.”
Revelation 18:21                


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