Daniel 5

Listen to Daniel 5

The Handwriting on the Wall

1 1King Belshazzar 2made a great feast for a thousand of his 3lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.
2 4Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that 5the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father[a] had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.
3 Then they brought in 6the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.
4 They drank wine and 7praised the 8gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5 9Immediately 10the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw 11the hand as it wrote.
6 12Then the king's color changed, 13and his thoughts alarmed him; 14his limbs gave way, and 15his knees knocked together.
7 16The king called loudly to bring in 17the enchanters, the 18Chaldeans, and 19the astrologers. The king declared[b] to the wise men of Babylon, 20"Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and 21shall be the third ruler in the kingdom."
8 Then all the king's wise men came in, but 22they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation.
9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly 23alarmed, and his 24color changed, and his 25lords were perplexed.
10 The queen,[c] because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, 26"O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you 27or your color change.
11 There is a man in your kingdom 28in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.[d] In the days of your father, 29light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father--your father the king--30made him chief of the magicians, 31enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers,
12 32because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and 33understanding 34to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and 35solve problems were found in this Daniel, 36whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation."

Daniel Interprets the Handwriting

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, "You are that Daniel, one of 37the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah.
14 I have heard of you that 38the spirit of the gods[e] is in you, and that 39light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.
15 Now 40the wise men, the 41enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but 42they could not show the interpretation of the matter.
16 43But I have heard that you can give interpretations and 44solve problems. 45Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, 46you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and 47shall be the third ruler in the kingdom."
17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, 48"Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation.
18 O king, the 49Most High God 50gave 51Nebuchadnezzar your father 52kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.
19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, 53all peoples, nations, and languages 54trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled.
20 But 55when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, 56he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.
21 57He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, 58until he knew that the 59Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.
22 And you his son,[f]60Belshazzar, 61have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,
23 but you have lifted up yourself against 62the Lord of heaven. And 63the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. 64And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, 65but the God in whose hand is your breath, and 66whose are all your ways, 67you have not honored.
24 "Then from his presence 68the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed.
25 And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.
26 This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered[g] the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;
27 TEKEL, 69you have been weighed[h] in the balances and found wanting;
28 PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to 70the Medes and 71Persians."[i]
29 Then 72Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel 73was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30 74That very night 75Belshazzar the 76Chaldean king was killed.
31 [j] And 77Darius 78the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

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 78

Footnotes 10

  • [a]. Or predecessor; also verses 11, 13, 18
  • [b]. Aramaic answered and said; also verse 10
  • [c]. Or queen mother; twice in this verse
  • [d]. Or Spirit of the holy God
  • [e]. Or Spirit of God
  • [f]. Or successor
  • [g]. Mene sounds like the Aramaic for numbered
  • [h]. Tekel sounds like the Aramaic for weighed
  • [i]. Peres (the singular of Parsin) sounds like the Aramaic for divided and for Persia
  • [j]. Ch 6:1 in Aramaic

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

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.