This chapter begins with the party of the century thrown by the King of Babylon and demonstrates that God can bring judgment suddenly when we think everything is fine in our lives. As will seen, this is the night that the Babylonian Empire would fall to the Persians, October 12, 539 B.C.
In the first 4 chapters of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was the king ruling over Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon became the greatest empire ever known to man. But after his death in 562 B.C., the empire began to unravel.
The rulers during this period of decline were Evil-Merodach who succeeded his father Nebuchadnezzar but was assassinated after ruling two years (562–560 B.C.). His assassin and successor was his brother-in-law Nergal-sar-ezer, Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law. Nergal-sar-ezer ruled only four years (560–556 B.C.). He is mentioned as one of the high-ranking officials who were present when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. He was one of the officials placed in charge of looking after the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:3,13).
Lebashi-Marduk, a son of Nergal-sar-ezer, succeeded his father. But after ruling for only two months (May–June, 556 B.C.), he was assassinated and succeeded by Nabonidus who ruled for 17 years (556–539 B.C.). Most scholars believe that Nabonidus married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and that he was the father of Belshazzar. Belshazzar was the king ruling at the time of Babylon’s fall to the Persians. Evidently, Nabonidus appointed his son to rule as coregent over Babylon while he ruled over the empire from Haran (where Abraham came with his father after leaving Ur) or Tema, in Arabia, which was about 500 miles from Babylon.
Historians say that Nabonidus spent most of his 17-year rule in Haran. So, in his absence his son ruled in Babylon. Belshazzar co-ruled with his father Nabonidus from 553–539 B.C. Scripture refers to him as the son of Nebuchadnezzar, but he was actually his grandson. In ancient times, the word father is often used to refer to male ancestors regardless of the generation. The events here give us the well-known phrase, “the handwriting on the wall”, which speaks of eminent judgment. Although most people know nothing about Belshazzar’s feast, many are familiar with the phrase.
Daniel 5:1 The purpose of the event described here is to once again be reminded of what Miriam, the mother of Yeshua said when the Lord chose her to be the vessel to bring Him into the world: Luke 1:52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. God is sovereign over all things and this chapter chronicles the transition of Babylon to the Persians. The change begins when Belshazzar hosted a huge banquet for the nobles of Babylon. Over a thousand of the king’s princes and their wives and concubines attended the banquet. Rulers were known for hosting lavish banquets to display the wealth, power, and glory of their kingdoms. The king held this feast while the Persian army, was camped outside the city gates laying siege to Babylon. The leaders of Babylon must have felt the city was impregnable because of its massive walls, towers, and bronze gates. The city appeared to be totally self-sustaining, since the Euphrates River ran through the city to provide water, and there was enough food and supplies stored up to last many years. Belshazzar apparently planned this banquet to stir up the morale of his people to face the daily assault of the Persians against the walls and gates of the city.
Daniel 5:2-4 The king and his guests began to party. With wine flowing freely the party quickly degenerated. At some point the king thought of a way to show the superiority of Babylon’s gods over those of other nations. He ordered his servants to bring in the gold and silver cups that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. By drinking from these trophies of war, the nobles would be encouraged that their gods had always made Babylon victorious over other nations in the face of the Persian siege of the city.
But Belshazzar failed to consider that these were the sacred vessels of the Lord, the living and true God. They were holy, set apart for the use of the worship and service to the God of Israel. They were profaning the Name of God as they toasted their false gods from sacred cups dedicated to the Lord. This serves as a reminder of what is written in Proverbs 6:15 therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. Isaiah also had prophesied two hundred years earlier about Babylon’s fate: Isaiah 47:10-11.
You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.” But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing.
Daniel 5:4-6 In the same moment that they began to use the vessels to drink wine in praise of their gods, which were sacred for worship of the one true God, the sentence was pronounced. True and false worship do not mix and can have sudden consequences. Suddenly the fingers of a hand appeared on the wall where the king was sitting and began writing just four words, the first two of them identical (Daniel 5:25). Then the hand vanished, leaving only the letters on the wall.
This had an immediate effect on Belshazzar. It struck so much fear into him that it caused his knees to knock together and brought him to instant sobriety. Looking at the prophecy of Isaiah 21:2-5, we see the same event described by him. He likens Belshazzar’s experience to a woman that is in labor. The night of his pleasure was turned into fear.
Daniel 5:7-9 The king called immediately for his astrologers, his new age advisors. Experts in reading the stars and signs of the supernatural. He ordered them to interpret the message. The kings’ astrologers came up with nothing in spite of the promise of great rewards if they could interpret the words: royal garments, a gold chain, and a top position in the government. Belshazzar could offer nothing higher than the third highest rank in the government, since he served under his father, Nabonidus.
Once again, as in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, even the most learned of the wise men were unable to understand the meaning. All his hope and confidence in his wise men vanished, which caused him to be even more troubled.
Daniel 5:10 No word is given why Daniel was not included among those the king called. Perhaps he was retired, he was in his 80‘s at this time. Apparently, Belshazzar did not know him or think to call on him. But the king’s mother, who was probably a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, thought of Daniel as soon as she heard about what had happened in the banquet hall. Although she had not been present the shock of the events brought her to the scene. So, she advised the king with her recommendation and urged him to stop worrying.
Daniel 5:11-12 The queen mother told Belshazzar that Daniel would be able to interpret the writing. Apparently, she had not considered the possibility that the writing containing bad news. She told her son or grandson that Daniel has the spirit of the holy gods” which was how Nebuchadnezzar’s appraised him years before (Daniel 4:8). Nebuchadnezzar had acknowledged that Daniel’s counsel was far superior to all the rest of his wise men and he had placed him in charge of all his “magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.” Like no one else in the realm, Daniel could unravel mysteries and solve enigmas (Daniel 5:12) this is why she believed firmly that he was the right one for the king to turn to.
It is surprising that Belshazzar seemed to know nothing at all about Daniel. After all, Daniel had held one of the highest offices in Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Furthermore, Belshazzar knew about his grandfather’s dream and insanity as well as his recovery and return to the throne (Daniel 5:22). Perhaps his ignorance was since Daniel had not played a major role at the court since the death of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel had been “retired” for over 20 years now and was somewhere around 80 years old. We know this because these events took place on the same night that Babylon fell, which was in 539 B.C. (Daniel 5:30-31), and Daniel was exiled to Babylon as a young man in 605 B.C. Daniel 5:13-16 Belshazzar summoned Daniel to interpret the handwriting (Daniel 5:13-16).
As soon as Daniel appeared, the king asked him to identify himself. Once Daniel’s identity was confirmed, the king told him what the Queen Mother had said, that the spirit of the gods was in Daniel, giving him special insight, understanding, and wisdom. Then the king informed Daniel that the wise men had already failed to read and explain the handwriting. If Daniel could read and interpret the handwriting, he would receive the rewards that had been offered to his helpless advisers.
The handwriting on the wall is a picture of the fear and helplessness we often experience when we face a crisis. Far too often we walk through life failing to truly believe in God and His Word. We do what we want when we want. But when a crisis hits us, such as disease, financial difficulty, a family problem, natural disaster, or accident, we feel terrified and completely hopeless. So fear and a sense of helplessness grip our hearts. Scripture describes such a state of mind time and again: “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them” (Revelation 9:6). Even Moses expressed this in Numbers 11:15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness;” Job too expressed this attitude in Job 3:20-22 and we see this in the writings of Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:1-2) as well as the nation of Israel in (Isaiah 49:14). Daniel 5:17-21 With great courage Daniel explained the meaning of the handwriting. Courage was needed because the message was God’s judgment on the king and the nation.
Their fate was sealed. Daniel first off refused the reward offered by the king, but was willing to interpret the handwriting. Daniel’s heart would not be swayed or controlled by greed. He wanted the king to know that his ministry could not be bought. He was the servant of God who had been called to help people, not to fleece them like the shepherds of Israel described in Ezekiel 34. Daniel reminded the king that he failed to follow the example of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar.
The Lord had made Nebuchadnezzar so great that all people feared him. He held absolute authority over the entire empire, authority over life and death, honor and disgrace. He had the authority to execute those he wanted to kill and to spare those he wanted to live. Nebuchadnezzar though became arrogant and proud, exalting himself as all-powerful. He failed to acknowledge the Lord as the source of his ability and authority; he also failed to serve the people in mercy and compassion and to execute justice throughout the empire entrusted to him. As a result, the Lord humbled Nebuchadnezzar by removing him from the throne and stripping him of his glory. He was struck with insanity and lived outdoors like an animal. He remained insane until he humbled himself and acknowledged the Lord’s sovereignty, that the Lord controls the nations and affairs of all people.
Daniel 5:22-23 Daniel rebuked the king. Belshazzar was guilty before the Lord. Although Belshazzar had known about his grandfather’s experiences, he had refused to follow in his father’s footsteps of repentance. He was guilty of five offenses:
- He was guilty of pride, refusing to humble himself before the Lord. And with the example of his grandfather to follow, he was therefore without excuse.
- He was guilty of being hard-hearted and defiant toward the Lord.
- He was guilty of blasphemy and of profaning the Name and things of God. In a spirit of arrogance and worldliness, he and his guests had taken the sacred vessels of the Lord and drank wine from them while toasting the false gods of Babylon.
- He and his guests were guilty of idolatry, of worshiping the false gods whom they were toasting.
- He was guilty of failing to honor the Lord who holds in His hands the life and destiny of all.
Belshazzar and his nobles may have been some of the most powerful leaders on earth in that day, but in the eyes of the Lord they were mere men who were failing Him who had appointed them to lead the nation. Which serves as a reminder to us that God is not a respecter of persons about their position in life. He judges the wealthy and the poor on the same scale of justice and righteousness.
Daniel 5:24-28 – The message on the wall was only four Hebrew words: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARES. The word Mene means numbered, counted, measured. God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s reign and that number was up. The Lord determines when a nation rises and when it falls. He has numbered our days. The fact that the word Mene was written twice emphasizes the certainty that Belshazzar’s days were at an end. His end was an absolute certainty. The word Tekel means weighed. Belshazzar had been weighed and found wanting. He had been weighed against the righteousness of God and found to be unacceptable before Him. The king had ignored the Lord and His commands and had chosen instead to live a fleshly, prideful life that put idols before God. He had chosen to defy the Lord. When weighed in the Lord’s balance, the king came up short, utterly lacking in righteousness and morality.
The word Peres means divided. Belshazzar’s kingdom was to be divided between the Medes and Persians. The king thought that Babylon was secure because of its massive walls, stores of food, and endless supply of water from the river that ran through the city. But the Persian army diverted the Euphrates, and while the king and his guests were partying, the enemy was sneaking its army under the wall at the site of the dry riverbed. Daniel’s interpretation of the handwriting was not a warning to the King but an announcement of judgment. The king had gone too far in his sinful behavior and was beyond the point of repentance.
Daniel 5:29-31 In most cases, a king would order the execution of an advisor who pronounced such judgment. But surprisingly, Belshazzar gave Daniel the reward he had promised and had Daniel proclaimed to the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Perhaps he did this out of conviction from God’s Spirit. Apparently, Belshazzar was fearful about harming Daniel. That night Belshazzar was killed by the Persian army and replaced as ruler by Darius the Mede. Other Scriptures refer to Cyrus as the conqueror of Babylon (Daniel 1:21;6:28;10:1;2 Chronicles 36:22-23;Isaiah 44:28;45:1).
Some think that Darius the Mede refers to Gubaru, a high-ranking military commander in the Persian army. Ancient Persian records state that after the conquest of Babylon, Cyrus appointed Gubaru to rule over the city and district. He may have done this until he had time to establish a permanent government for the huge empire he conquered. It was the custom for rulers in ancient history to assume a new name when they took the throne. This suggests that Gubaru took the name Darius when he began to oversee Babylon for King Cyrus.
Other scholars believe that Darius is King Cyrus himself. They think that the name “Darius” may simply be a throne name, a title such as “Pharaoh” in Egypt or “Caesar” in Rome. “Darius” may have been another name for King Cyrus. Or perhaps Cyrus chose to use the name “Darius” as his throne name in Babylon. Ancient rulers often used different names in different parts of their empires, names that were familiar and accepted by the people conquered. Some commentators also say that the word “and” in Daniel 6:28 should be translated even. If so, then what that verse is saying is that Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, “even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”
These events should cause us to be mindful of the day coming when every one of us will see God’s “handwriting on the wall.” On that day, we will stand before the Lord to face His judgment. That day may not be far off for some of us. Some of us may be looking at death right now and not know it. After death comes the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27). We should all ask ourselves the question, “When God weighs me in the balance, will I be found wanting?” The only people who can measure up to God’s standard are those who have placed their faith in Yeshua. Any who have not trusted Yeshua for their salvation and justification will be found lacking and deficient and rejected by the Lord 1 Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? Psalm 73:17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.