A Commentary on Daniel Chapter 5

Handwriting on the Wall

539 B.C.


A Royal State Affair was planned. Invitations were sent out. The banquet was in full swing. Music, dancing, show girls, drinking—the whole gala affair. So, they brought out the consecrated vessels that they had obtained when they looted the temple at Jerusalem. Belshazzars impieties had gone too far, suddenly there is a mysterious writing on the wall of the palace. All it took to scare the daylights out of the king was a finger writing on the wall. All it took was four words. All of this was written in the secret language employed only in the king’s court. Daniel interpreted it to mean that Belshazzar’s time was up and that the Meads and Persians would prevail. Before the sun comes up the king is lying in a pool of blood and Babylon had passed into the hands of the Meads and the Persians.


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

It has been 25 years since the last episode was written regarding the Nebuchadnezzars. Belshazzar was only acting as king, because his father Nabonadius was actual king but was conducting war in another part of the country. A new king has come to the throne and his name is Belshazzar, he was called King but in reality was regent king, (temporally serving as king while his father is engaged in war.) He planned a royal state affair and invited a thousand guests. The most important and influential people in the kingdom were invited. No laborer, no peasant, no ordinary citizen was invited; just the rich and famous received an invitation.

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.

Among other problems Belshazzar was a heavy drinker. They engaged in reveling, effeminate orgies, no other king had carried his impieties to such length. He wanted to mock the god of the Jews, so he order that the sacred vessels of the temple be brought and they would drink their wine, that had been offered to their idol gods, out of them.

All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem. Ezra 1:11

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.

So, the waiters were summoned to go over to the trophy house and bring over the golden vessels that had been taken in war and not only display them but to desecrate them.

4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

They not only profaned God’s sacred vessels but they engaged in worshipping idols. It started out to be a royal banquet and turned out to be a religious service to the god’s of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone.

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

The party is in full swing, music, dancing, fun, when suddenly there is a strange occurrence. A man’s hand is writing on the wall. The message is etched into the plaster. The guests probably thought that what was occurring was planned and was just some type of magic. But the king knew better. It scarred the daylights out of him. He was frightened out of his wits. He knew that this was of God and so he wanted to find the meaning to the writing. In his consternation he began to tremor and shake, he was awe-stricken.

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.

The look on his face told the tale. He couldn’t hide the quivering and shaking. It was as though a reign of terror had struck the palace, the dread and alarm was written all over his body, his knees began to buckle under him, the word horror-stricken was on his brow, he was lurid and alarmed, so frightful and terrifying was the whole episode that he needed the help and support of his advisors, so he sent for the wise men to help explain the whole affair.

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.

The king had showed defiance to God, yet all God had to do was lift up his finger against the king and he is filled with fear and his strength departed and his knees knocked. His face turned ashy pale, his abdominal portion of his body began to quiver, and his knees pounded each other, he has never been so scared in his life. He calls for the magi to come and interpret the handwriting. Since it happened in the palace it surely must pertain to him. It was customary for heathen kings to call for the soothsayers He is going to use the Babylonian religious quacks to tell him what the message says and what it means. The fact that he promises a huge reward shows that he attached great meaning to the message that he knows has appeared on the wall by a mysterious hand. You will note that he promises the one who solves the riddle to be third ruler in the kingdom. His father Nabonadius was actual king but was conducting war in another part of the country and left his son Belshazzar in charge of the kingdom, so he could only offer the interpreter to be 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.

God had fixed it so they could not read it and therefore they could not make up an interpretation to it. If they had been able to read it they would have conjured up some counterfeit, catch penny meaning to the phrase on the wall.

9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

The king ‘s apprehension has grown worse by the minute. His most trusted wise men are bamboozled. The king’s countenance has changed, his blood pressure has shot up, he not only is scarred but he is losing patience with the “so called wise men.” He senses that they are unable to even weave a cobweb of make-believe. Even his lords are astonied. It’s spreading like an infection through the highest of rank. What had happened to the king was contagious and was spreading like a plague.

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:

Probably the queen’s mother. (Emeritus). She still held the title of Queen. This strange occurrence has spread like gangrene in the blood stream. The queen has heard of the “hand writing”. Perhaps she can remember someone who can solve the equation.

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;

The queen remembers when her husband (which was his grand father) had a dream (The tree of chapter four, which had occurred more than twenty five years previous) that a man by the name of Daniel (Belteshazzar) was possessed with wisdom of the gods and could probably solve the mystery.

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.

The queen says why not let him be called. Grand-ma’s advice is taken and so the man who is reputed to have surpassing knowledge, understanding, interpreting of dreams, showing of hard sentences, and dissolving doubts, declaring of riddles, solving, enigmas, loosing of knots, reversing spells, and solving problems was sent for.

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?

So you are one of the prisoners that my grandfather brought out of Judah mom has told me that you can unravel difficult situations.

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.

My grandma says that you are exceeding wise, and that you have a “spirit of the gods” that light and knowledge radiates though you.

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:

The king tells Daniel that the wise men, the astrologers, had been baffled, that they had make an effort to decipher it but could not. The diviners (those who can talk to the dead) they could not read the writing or make known the meaning. The king lets Daniel know that they are at “wits end” So far he has drawn a blank and would he or could he help!

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.

The king tells Daniel that word has reached his palace that he could supply the answer to the handwriting. If, so then he would be made 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.

Daniel is not in the business of interpreting dreams and solving problems just for money. He will not be influenced by money. You can give the reward to someone else, however I will tell you the answer.

18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:

When Daniel uses the word father he is referring to his ancestry. (We are the children of Abraham) certainly refers to the ancestry. From the time that Daniel had arrived in Babylon there has been four different kings. Daniel further wants the king to know that the God of Heaven had set up this dynasty, and that any glory, or honor, God had bestowed upon him.

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.

Daniel tells him that God had made the Nebuchadnezzars so great that the whole world was under their control, that all nations were under the dread of the kings, that the kings had killed who they wanted to, imprisoned whom they desired, exalted whom they pleased and degraded and put down any that opposed them.

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:

Daniel is not going to interpret this dream without first rebuking the king for his sinful conduct. When his father had hardened his heart, became haughty and stubborn, and filled with arrogance that God had deposed him from the throne and sent him out to pasture.

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.

He is here reminding this king what God had done to his grandfather, when for seven years he lived like an animal and ate like an animal.

22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;

Like father, like son. Even though the son knew what God had done, he had let it go in one ear and out the other.

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:

The culmination of his sins had reached it apex. His spiritual altimeter should have warned him but he never looked at the instrument panel of his life. Not only had he not humbled his heart, but also he had reached the summit against God by defiling the temple vessels. This night he had gone to the extreme, this haughty, arrogant and pompous disdain of sacred vessels had infuriated God on high.

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

So the God of Heaven sent him a personal note informing him that the period of grace was expired and he was calling his hand.

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

The wise men were unable to read or interpret the note on the wall. So Daniel begins by first pronouncing the words. Mene is a Chaldee word and is a past participle of mena, numbered. Tekel is another Chaldee word meaning to balance, Upharsin, Another Chaldee word meaning to split up.

MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN Numbered Numbered balance Weighed Divided When these words are placed together the sense is not understood. When we consider them in their abstract form the communication becomes enigmatic and the interpretation would not be likely.

26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

According to Daniel the Kingdom of Babylon had reached it allotted days. Their number was up. The empire was to end.

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

I will describe an old time balance (we had one on the farm) it consisted of a beam with a center point this was a neutral point on which the beam pivoted. A weight was placed on one end and the object to be weighed on the opposite end. Daniel tells the king that he has been subjected to the balance beam and that he was “ lighter than a feather”. He didn’t weigh any more than a bag full of wind. God had weighed this kingdom on the balance of character and they lacked in all departments.

28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. Peres and upharsin are from the same original word.

The word means to split, and that was fitting her because the kingdom that was to take over the Babylonian empire was split between 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.

The king did not renege on his promise, however the ruler ship was short lived.

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

At the age of sixty-two Darius the Mede took the kingdom.

31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

The Bible only uses two verses to describe the fall of the Kingdom of Gold. Historians take pages after pages to describe how it happened. Here I will give a brief description of the way it happened. While Belshazzar is completing his promise to give Daniel a scarlet robe and chain of gold, and promote him to third ruler in the kingdom, the army of Cyrus was busy diverting the river from its channel and marching their elite forces for a late night invasion of the city. The prophet Isaiah had prophesied that a gate on the levy would be left open. This was the only way they could get into the city. Sometime after midnight the Persians entered the city and made their way to the Palace. With swords drawn and the party in full swing and nobody armed they made their way straight to the table of the King and slew him. And in accordance with the word of God the King was killed and the kingdom passed into the hands of the Medes and Persians.