Daniel Chapter 5

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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.


Nebuchadnezzar reigned 43 years as king of Babylon. Under his rule Babylon had become the dominant world power. He had given to Babylon the lion-like characteristics described in Daniel 7:4. But after Nebuchadnezzar's death the kingdom was ruled by a series of weaker kings, and its prophetic description changed, as Daniel 7:4 indicates.

The Seven Kings of Babylon:
  1. Nabopolassar (625-605 B.C.)
  2. Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.)
  3. Amel-Marduk (562-560 B.C.)
  4. Neriglissar (560-556 B.C.)
  5. Labashi-Marduk (556 B.C.)
  6. Nabonidus (556-539 B.C.)
  7. Belshazzar (553-539 B.C.)

See Nabopolassar's family tree.

As was noted in the Introduction to Daniel, the chapters do not fall in exact chronological order. Chapters 7 and 8 preceded chapters 5 and 6 chronologically.

Daniel received his first major vision (recorded in Daniel chapter 7) in 553 B.C., the first year of Belshazzar's reign (7:1). Daniel was about 70 years old at that time. Two years later, in 551 B.C., Daniel received his second vision (Daniel 8:1).

Meanwhile, important events had taken place in the kingdoms of Media and Persia. When Cyaxares, king of the Medes (whom we learned about in chapter one) died, his son Astyages took the Median throne. Astyages gave his daughter in marriage to Cambyses I, king of Persia. Their son was Cyrus II of Persia (also known as Cyrus the Great).

In 553 B.C. Cyrus rose up against Astyages, bringing the Median kingdom under Persian rule. In 547 B.C. he conquered the kingdom of Lydia, thus becoming the most powerful ruler of his time, controlling Persia, Asia Minor, and all the territories north of Mesopotamia.

With that background we come to the fifth chapter of Daniel.


In 556 B.C. Nabonidus had become king of Babylon. Three years later he turned over the kingship of Babylon to his son Belshazzar, went to the oasis of Tema in Arabia, and devoted himself to the worship of the moon god, Sin. So from 553 B.C. on, Belshazzar was the acting king in Babylon.

As Cyrus continued to gain world power, it became evident to Nabonidus that Cyrus would soon march against Babylon. So in the year 540 B.C. Nabonidus returned from Tema, hoping to defend his kingdom from the Persians. Chapter 5 of Daniel took place in 539 B.C. Belshazzar was positioned in the city of Babylon to hold the capital, while Nabonidus, his father, marched his troops north to meet Cyrus. On October 10, 539 B.C. Nabonidus surrendered and fled from Cyrus. Two days later, October 12, 539 B.C., the Persian armies overthrew the city of Babylon. It is the happenings of that fateful night which Daniel chapter 5 describes.


Daniel chapter 5 is the inside story of the fall of ancient Babylon. It is revealed to be an act of divine judgment against a kingdom which defied the sovereignty of God.

Belshazzar the king made a great feast and invited a thousand of his lords. At this feast the king demonstrated his defiance against God by drinking to his gods with the vessels of God's house which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem.

In the middle of the party a mysterious hand appeared, the fingers of which wrote three simple messages on the plaster of the palace wall.

Terrified, Belshazzar recognized it as a statement of divine judgment, but could not read the writing or understand its interpretation.

At the suggestion of the queen mother, Daniel was called to the palace to interpret the message for the king. The message, simply put, was that Belshazzar's kingdom had come to an end.


Verse 1        Text

"Belshazzar the king"

For many years Bible critics pointed to the Biblical mention of Belshazzar as an evidence against the authenticity of the book of Daniel. All available records at that time indicated that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon, and no mention was made of Belshazzar. But archaeology has since that time confirmed the accuracy of the Bible. We now know that from the third year of Nabonidus' reign, his son, Belshazzar, reigned as a co-regent with him. For over a decade Belshazzar actively ran the kingdom while Nabonidus was away in Tema.

In 1861 the first cuneiform tablet was published mentioning Belshazzar by name as the oldest son of Nabonidus. (H. Fox Talbot, "Translation of Some Assyrian Inscriptions," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 18 (1861):195.)

In 1882, the Nabonidus Chronicle was published, which showed that for several years Nabonidus was in Tema while his son, the princes, and the troops were in Babylon. (Documented in Raymond Philip Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar. Yale University Press, 1929, p. 103.)

Then, in 1924, the Verse Account of Nabonidus became available, which clearly states that when Nabonidus left Babylon, he "entrusted the kingship" to his oldest son. (British Museum tablet 38,299; translated in James B. Prichard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955. p. 313.)

Verse 2        Text

"His father Nebuchadnezzar"

In Biblical times, any male ancestor was called "father" (John 8:39). Grandfathers were often called "father" (2 Samuel 9:6, 7). Belshazzar's mother was the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, so Nebuchadnezzar was actually Belshazzar's grandfather.

Verse 4        Text

"The gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone"

False worship, characteristic of ancient Babylon, is the essence of the modern, spiritual Babylon described in the book of Revelation.

With the substitution of wood for clay, the elements listed here are the same as those found in the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2. What reason do you think there might be for that?

Verse 5        Text

"In the same hour"

This time factor in the judgment upon ancient Babylon is to be seen again in the fall of modern, spiritual Babylon. "Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come." Revelation 18:10.

Verse 6        Text

"The joints of his loins were loosed"

This detail was prophesied by Isaiah two centuries earlier. In Isaiah 45:1 God's prediction is recorded, "I will loose the loins of kings."

Many prophecies were fulfilled in the conquest of Babylon. In texts such as Jeremiah 50:1-3, 9, 38, 41; Jeremiah 51:8, 11, 28, 36, 48; and Isaiah 44:27 - 45:1, the following specifics were foretold:

  1. Babylon would be conquered by nations from the north
  2. It would be conquered by the Medes
  3. Waters would be dried up
  4. The conqueror's name would be Cyrus
  5. The king's loins would be loosed
  6. Gates would be open and not shut

Each of these details proved true in the events of that fateful night.

Belshazzar felt secure in his well-fortified city. Around him were two sets of double walls. From the inside, the inner set consisted of a 12-foot thick wall, a moat, and then a 22-foot thick wall. The outer set consisted of a wall 24 feet thick, a moat, and then a wall 26 feet thick. Towers were situated every 55 yards along the wall, with a total of 250 towers. Inside the city the Babylonians had a 20-year supply of food, and the river flowed under the walls, right through the middle of the city.

The Greek historian Herodotus has given us the details of how the city was conquered. The Medo-Persian armies diverted the Euphrates River, thus drying up the waters. Then, through the river bed, they marched under the walls into the city (The Histories, I:189-192).

Yet, because of the walls which lined the river inside the city, they still would not have had access to the palace, except that the large river access gates were for some mysterious reason open to the invading armies that night.

The fall of ancient Babylon provides a historical illustration of the final collapse of modern, spiritual Babylon. That event is described in Revelation 16:12. "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." See comments on Revelation 16:12.

Verse 7        Text

"The third ruler in the kingdom"

Nabonidus was the first ruler. Belshazzar was the second. The one who could read the writing would be the third.

Verse 11        Text

"In whom is the spirit of the holy gods"

The LXX reads, "In whom is the Spirit of God."

"Nebuchadnezzar thy father" See on verse 2.

Verse 14        Text

"The spirit of the gods"

The LXX reads, "The Spirit of God."

Verse 16        Text

"The third ruler in the kingdom"

See on verse 7.

Verse 17        Text

"Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another"

Daniel was not motivated by desire for gain. He could neither be flattered nor bribed nor intimidated. Whether he was honored with high position or cast into the den of lions, he remained steadfastly committed to what was right. It made no difference to Daniel whether the Babylonians or the Persians ruled the world. He knew that above them all God reigned supreme. Therefore he would not become involved in political contests. This night, Belshazzar sat on the throne. The next day, Darius would occupy that position. But through it all, Daniel humbly and faithfully performed his duty.

Verse 18        Text

"Nebuchadnezzar thy father"

See on verse 2.

Verse 23        Text

"The gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone"

If these elements are suggestive of the kingdoms represented in the image of chapter 2, placing the silver first was appropriate here, because at that very moment, as Daniel spoke, the silver kingdom of Medo-Persia was overtaking the golden empire of Babylon.

Verses 25-28        Text

"Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin"

Mene means "numbered."
Compare the repetition of this word with Isaiah 21:9 and Revelation 14:8, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen." The reason for repetition is stated in Genesis 41:32, "And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass."

Tekel means "weighed." For the significance of this statement, please see below under "The Timing of Babylon's Fall."

Upharsin. Compare this word in verse 25 with Peres in verse 28. They are two forms of the same word. Peres is the singular form, and means "divided." Upharsin, the plural form of Peres, is also the word for "Persians." In his interpretation (verse 28), Daniel brought out this double meaning.

The Timing of Babylon's Fall

  1. According to William H. Shea (The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: Daniel 1-7, p. 89), the final Persian assault on Babylon began on the night of the 15th of the Hebrew month of Tishri, and was completed by the morning of the 16th. On the night of the 15th of a lunar month, a full moon would have been shining. Thus, Nabonidus' favorite god, Sin, the moon god, was at his fullest strength. Babylon's fall on this date would impress upon the Babylonians the superiority of Jehovah, who had predicted the overthrow of Babylon, over their heathen gods.
  2. The actual verb tense used in verse 27 is, "You have been weighed in the balances." The annual Day of Atonement had occurred just five days earlier on the 10th of Tishri. The Day of Atonement was recognized by the Jews as a day of judgment. Each year on that day divine judgment was pronounced. "God, seated on His throne to judge the world . . . openeth the Book of Records; it is read, every man's signature being found therein. The great trumpet is sounded; a still, small voice is heard; the angels shudder, saying, this is the day of judgment. . . . On the Day of Atonement it is sealed who shall live and who are to die" (The Jewish Encyclopedia). Perhaps that year, 539 B.C., on the Day of Atonement, in the heavenly courtroom, judgment was pronounced on Babylon, and five days later the sentence went forth, "You have been weighed in the balances, and art found wanting."
  3. The 15th day of Tishri was the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as the Feast of Ingathering, or the Feast of Harvest. For Israel, this feast was both commemorative of their wilderness wanderings and prophetic. On the first day of this feast, in 539 B.C., ancient Babylon fell. So, when modern Spiritual Babylon "shall come to his end, and none shall help him" (Daniel 11;45), God's people will begin their celebration of that feast's great antitype, the final ingathering of earth's harvest.

Verse 30        Text

"Belshazzar . . . slain"

The Greek historian Xenophon (Cyropaedia VII, V, 24-32) explains why Belshazzar's life was taken that night. On a hunting trip, Nabonidus had earlier killed the son of Gobryas, the Persian general who on this night now entered Babylon. In retaliation, Gobryas now killed the son of Nabonidus.

Verse 31        Text

"Darius the Median"

For the identity of Darius the Mede, see the setting of chapter 6.