Daniel 5

The Writing on the Wall

1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.
2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father[a] had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.
3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them.
4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote.
6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers[b] and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”
8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant.
9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
10 The queen,[c] hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale!
11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.
12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”
13 So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah?
14 I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom.
15 The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it.
16 Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”
17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.
18 “Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.
19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled.
20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.
21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.
22 “But you, Belshazzar, his son,[d] have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.
23 Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.
24 Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.
25 “This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN
26 “Here is what these words mean: Mene[e] : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f] : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g] : Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians,[h] was slain,
31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.[i]

Daniel 5 Commentary

Chapter 5

Belshazzar's impious feast; the hand-writing on the wall. (1-9) Daniel is sent for to interpret it. (10-17) Daniel warns the king of his destruction. (18-31)

Verses 1-9 Belshazzar bade defiance to the judgments of God. Most historians consider that Cyrus then besieged Babylon. Security and sensuality are sad proofs of approaching ruin. That mirth is sinful indeed, which profanes sacred things; and what are many of the songs used at modern feasts better than the praises sung by the heathens to their gods! See how God struck terror upon Belshazzar and his lords. God's written word is enough to put the proudest, boldest sinner in a fright. What we see of God, the part of the hand that writes in the book of the creatures, and in the book of the Scriptures, should fill us with awful thoughts concerning that part which we do not see. If this be the finger of God, what is his arm when made bare? And what is He? The king's guilty conscience told him that he had no reason to expect any good news from heaven. God can, in a moment, make the heart of the stoutest sinner to tremble; and there needs no more than to let loose his own thoughts upon him; they will give him trouble enough. No bodily pain can equal the inward agony which sometimes seizes the sinner in the midst of mirth, carnal pleasures, and worldly pomp. Sometimes terrors cause a man to flee to Christ for pardon and peace; but many cry out for fear of wrath, who are not humbled for their sins, and who seek relief by lying vanities. The ignorance and uncertainty concerning the Holy Scriptures, shown by many who call themselves wise, only tend to drive sinners to despair, as the ignorance of these wise men did.

Verses 10-17 Daniel was forgotten at court; he lived privately, and was then ninety years of age. Many consult servants of God on curious questions, or to explain difficult subjects, but without asking the way of salvation, or the path of duty. Daniel slighted the offer of reward. He spoke to Belshazzar as to a condemned criminal. We should despise all the gifts and rewards this world can give, did we see, as we may by faith, its end hastening on; but let us do our duty in the world, and do it all the real service we can.

Verses 18-31 Daniel reads Belshazzar's doom. He had not taken warning by the judgments upon Nebuchadnezzar. And he had insulted God. Sinners are pleased with gods that neither see, nor hear, nor know; but they will be judged by One to whom all things are open. Daniel reads the sentence written on the wall. All this may well be applied to the doom of every sinner. At death, the sinner's days are numbered and finished; after death is the judgment, when he will be weighed in the balance, and found wanting; and after judgment the sinner will be cut asunder, and given as a prey to the devil and his angels. While these things were passing in the palace, it is considered that the army of Cyrus entered the city; and when Belshazzar was slain, a general submission followed. Soon will every impenitent sinner find the writing of God's word brought to pass upon him, whether he is weighed in the balance of the law as a self-righteous Pharisee, or in that of the gospel as a painted hypocrite.

Cross References 69

  • 1. ver 30; Daniel 7:1; Daniel 8:1
  • 2. S 1 Kings 3:15; Esther 1:3
  • 3. Jeremiah 50:35
  • 4. S Isaiah 21:5
  • 5. S 2 Kings 24:13; S 2 Chronicles 36:10; S Jeremiah 52:19
  • 6. S Esther 2:14
  • 7. S Esther 1:7; Daniel 1:2
  • 8. Judges 16:24
  • 9. S Esther 1:10; Psalms 135:15-18; Habakkuk 2:19; Revelation 9:20
  • 10. S Job 4:15
  • 11. S Daniel 4:5
  • 12. S Isaiah 7:2
  • 13. S Psalms 22:14; Ezekiel 7:17
  • 14. S Genesis 41:8
  • 15. S Isaiah 19:3
  • 16. Isaiah 44:25
  • 17. Jeremiah 50:35; Daniel 4:6-7
  • 18. S Genesis 41:42
  • 19. Esther 10:3
  • 20. Da 2:5-6,48; Daniel 6:2-3
  • 21. S Exodus 8:18
  • 22. S Daniel 2:10,27; S Daniel 4:18
  • 23. S Psalms 48:5; S Isaiah 21:4
  • 24. S Nehemiah 2:3; S Daniel 3:9
  • 25. S Genesis 41:38; Da 4:8-9,19
  • 26. ver 14; S Daniel 1:17
  • 27. S Daniel 2:22
  • 28. Daniel 2:47-48
  • 29. S Daniel 1:7
  • 30. S Numbers 12:8
  • 31. ver 14-16; Daniel 6:3
  • 32. S Ezekiel 28:3
  • 33. S Esther 2:5-6; Daniel 6:13
  • 34. S Genesis 41:38
  • 35. S Daniel 2:22
  • 36. S Daniel 4:18
  • 37. S Genesis 41:15
  • 38. S Genesis 41:42
  • 39. S Esther 5:3; S Daniel 2:6
  • 40. S 2 Kings 5:16
  • 41. S Jeremiah 28:14
  • 42. S Jeremiah 27:7; S Daniel 2:37-38; S Daniel 4:36
  • 43. Daniel 2:12-13; S Daniel 3:6
  • 44. S Daniel 4:22
  • 45. Daniel 4:30
  • 46. Jeremiah 43:10
  • 47. Jeremiah 13:18; S Daniel 4:31
  • 48. S Job 40:12; Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 31:10-11; Daniel 8:8
  • 49. S Ezekiel 17:24
  • 50. Da 4:16-17,35
  • 51. S Exodus 10:3; 2 Chronicles 33:23
  • 52. S Isaiah 14:13; S Jeremiah 50:29
  • 53. Jeremiah 44:9
  • 54. Psalms 115:4-8; Habakkuk 2:19; Revelation 9:20
  • 55. Job 12:10; Acts 17:28
  • 56. S Job 31:4; S Isaiah 13:11; Jeremiah 10:23; S Jeremiah 48:26
  • 57. Jeremiah 27:7
  • 58. Isaiah 13:6
  • 59. S Job 6:2
  • 60. Psalms 62:9
  • 61. Isaiah 13:17
  • 62. S Jeremiah 27:7; Jeremiah 50:41-43; Daniel 6:28
  • 63. S Genesis 41:42
  • 64. S Daniel 2:6
  • 65. S ver 1
  • 66. Jeremiah 50:35
  • 67. S Isaiah 21:9; S Jeremiah 51:31
  • 68. Jeremiah 50:41; Daniel 6:1; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1
  • 69. S Isaiah 13:3

Footnotes 9

  • [a]. Or "ancestor" ; or "predecessor" ; also in verses 11, 13 and 18
  • [b]. Or "Chaldeans" ; also in verse 11
  • [c]. Or "queen mother"
  • [d]. Or "descendant" ; or "successor"
  • [e]. "Mene" can mean "numbered" or "mina" (a unit of money).
  • [f]. "Tekel" can mean "weighed" or "shekel" .
  • [g]. "Peres" (the singular of "Parsin" ) can mean "divided" or "Persia" or "a half mina" or "a half shekel" .
  • [h]. Or "Chaldeans"
  • [i]. In Aramaic texts this verse (5:31) is numbered 6:1.

Chapter Summary


This chapter gives an account of a feast made by King Belshazzar, attended with drunkenness, idolatry, and profanation of the vessels taken out of the temple at Jerusalem, Da 5:1-4, and of the displeasure of God, signified by a handwriting on the wall, which terrified the king, and caused him to send in haste for the astrologers to read and interpret it, but they could not, Da 5:5-8, in this distress, which appeared in the countenances of him and his nobles, the queen mother advises him to send for Daniel, of whom she gives a great encomium, Da 5:9-12, upon which he was brought in to the king, and promised a great reward to read and interpret the writing; the reward he slighted, but promised to read and interpret the writing, Da 5:13-17 and after putting him in mind of what had befallen his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar, and charging him with pride, idolatry, and profanation of the vessels of the Lord, Da 5:18-23 reads and interprets the writing to him Da 5:24-28, when he had honour done him, and was preferred in the government, Da 5:29 and the chapter is concluded with an account of the immediate accomplishment of ancient prophecies, and of this handwriting, in the slaying of the king of Babylon, in the dissolution of the Babylonish monarchy, and the possession of it by Darius the Mede, Da 5:30,31.

Daniel 5 Commentaries