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Daniel: Chapter 5


Throughout the book of Daniel is the recurring theme of Godís sovereignty over nations and man. The first two chapters of Daniel were focused on Godís will over the nations. Chapters three and four demonstrate Godís will and fulfillment of his word upon individuals, through the person of King Nebuchadnezzar.  In Daniel 4, we see how God humbled King Nebuchadnezzar, who then turned to acknowledge God.  Daniel 5 serves to contrast the previous chapter by the rejection and mocking by King Belshazzar and all those in attendance against God.  In spite of the warnings delivered to the Babylonian royalty by Daniel, they utterly ignored the warning of impending judgment.  Compare this to the situation today with the impending rapture of the church and the warning to Christians to be ready, and the warnings about the coming seven years of tribulation.  In Ezekiel, the words of God are stated concerning the judgment that everyone will be judged individually, though He desires that they would decide on righteousness and live, Ezekiel 18:25-32.  

We are all responsible for our own actions.  We do not inherit the judgment of God, as God explained in Ezekiel 18:19-20.  In the first four chapters of Daniel we saw the progression of spiritual growth in King Nebuchadnezzar as he came to a saving faith in God, evidenced in Daniel 4:34-35.  Unfortunately, the faith and newfound relationship with God by the king was not passed down, inherited, or accepted by his grandson, Belshazzar.  The grandson not only suffered death for his sins, but lost the rule his father had enjoyed.  Several kings step up to the throne of Babylon after the death of King Nebuchadnezzar, though scripture does not elaborate on them. It might be instructive to see the timeline between Kings' Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar to illustrate another fulfillment of scripture recorded in Jeremiah 27:5-7.  God was specific that the rule by King Nebuchadnezzar would only extend through his grandson, who was Belshazzar.  The table on the late Babylonian kings below provides the list of kings to show the literal fulfillment of this prophesy. Though the throne cycled between a son, son-in-laws, and two grandsons of King Nebuchadnezzar, it never extended beyond the third generation of Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 5 also focuses on the shift of power in the world scene. This is a fulfillment of the revelation the Lord gave to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. This is illustrated through the transition from the head of gold to the arms and chest of silver, or from kingdom of Babylon to the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.  In other books of the Bible, we also see the righteous judgment of God, both on the personal, kingdom, and worldwide levels.

This last evening for King Belshazzar and the kingdom of Babylon, was a drunken orgy. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this event and the downfall of Babylon many years earlier, before King Nebuchadnezzar had finally destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, Jeremiah 51:1-5.  One of the most important aspects in understanding the word of God is that His word never comes back to him without fulfilling His intention. Israel had received many promises from God, and some are yet to be fulfilled during the millennial reign of Christ.  Though the Lord has judged his people Israel severely through history, He has never forgotten them, nor His promises to them, as He stated to Moses, Exodus 3:6-10.  

God has always been faithful to His word, and to his people Israel. One of the important promises God gave to them, through Abraham, was the association of the children of Israel to the land of Canaan, Genesis 15:12-21.  Since that time the Lord had judged the children of Israel on two occassions and taken them from their land of promise.  A remnant will be preserved to return at the conclusion of the days of judgment, which is the beginning of the Lord's millennial reign. Initially, the children of Israel left Egypt and returned to the land of Canaan for the first time as a nation.  However, after years of falling into idolatry, and ignoring numerous warnings by Godís messengers, they were thrown out of their land and subjected to servitude to the Babylonians.  Under Godís judgment, the children of Israel could not return to their land until after the 70th year of captivity under the Babylonians.  The number of years in servitude was associated with the number of years that the children of Israel did not celebrate the sabbatical years while they occupied the land of Israel. After the 70th year, the children of Israel returned to their land and rebuilt the temple, for God gave the desire to King Cyrus of Persia to allow this to occur.  In our time, the Jews continue to return to their land after they had been driven out of the land of Israel following the destruction of Jerusalem by the great Roman general Titus in 70 A.D, and after almost two millennia had elapsed.  Israel had rejected Jesus as their messiah, but today they are returning to their land and they will never be removed from the land of promise again.  In Daniel 5, the violent transition of kingdoms from the Babylonians to the Medes and Persians is seen, as was described by Jeremiah and other prophets of God, Jeremiah 51:11-12Jeremiah 51:28-32, Jeremiah 51:55-58.

King Belshazzar never learned from his grandfatherís experiences. He proudly exhibited the possessions that he inherited from his grandfather King Nebuchadnezzar.  King Belshazzarís pride exceeded his grandfatherís pride, by mocking God. He directed his servants to take out all the gold and silver vessels removed from the Jewish temple for the guests and him to drink from.  The king had no regard to the sanctity of the things of God, but viewed them merely as things to show his superiority over the God of Israel and the Jewish captives.  This was more than a drunk man making meaningless noise.  It was a blatant and open rebellion against God.  As soon as they began to drink from the vessels and praise their gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone, God manifested his judgment on them with the hand writing on the wall, Daniel 5:5-6.   For the sinner, who does not have a right relationship with God, the reaction of King Belshazzar at the sight of the hand writing a message on the wall is demonstrative of a lost state and a sinnerís reaction to Godís presence.  In contrast, the saints of God have an advocate with the Father through Jesus Christ, who is our high priest and has taken care of all our sins, Hebrews 4:14-16.  For Christians, we have the confidence of our right relationship with God through the work done by Christ on the cross. Anyone who approaches God with a broken and contrite heart can have a right relationship with God through faith in the work that Christ has done in their place.  One only needs to accept Christ in their life for a new regenerative life and heart toward God.  As a result, those who have accepted in faith the gift of God, will appear before him, and worship Him before his throne, similar to what is written of concerning the 24 elders who fall down in worship as seen in Revelation 4:10-11.  

For King Belshazzar and his company, there is no hope, only fear of impending judgment.  They were so blinded by their sin and sinful state that they never recognized the danger they were in, even with such a dramatic warning of this impending event. The handwriting on the wall is well known inside and outside of Christian and Jewish circles.  However, sometimes the event itself overshadows the reasons for it.  King Belshazzarís own words in Daniel 5:13-16 indicates that he was familiar with the reputation of Daniel, and what he did for his grandfather.  He had knowledge of his grandfatherís change in behavior that caused him to live like a beast of the field for seven seasons.  He knew, or understood, that his grandfatherís pride caused him to suffer for a long time, until he recognized God who establishes and tears down thrones.  King Belshazzar had this knowledge, but he elected to discard it and follow his own will and desires, rather than Godís will for his life and kingdom.

Daniel interpreted the writing about the coming judgment to the drunk King Belshazzar and to the others attending this orgy, Daniel 5:22-28.  The tragedy for King Belshazzar and his kingdom was that he understood and acknowledged the correctness of the words delivered by Daniel but the kingís heart towards God did not change.  In Daniel 5:29, the king proclaimed that Daniel now had authority as the third ruler of Babylon, short lived (in hours), as it was.  Daniel wanted none of this.  As with the Apostle Paul, Daniel was a witness to the Gentiles, and neither man used their position for personal gain or to further themselves.  They responded as faithful ambassadors of God, spreading His word as it had been revealed to them.  Though King Belshazzar understood what was told him, he failed to act, and so lost his kingdom, and his life. Are you ready?

Outline of this chapter

Verses Topic
1-4 The scene of debauchery
5-6 The finger of the Lord
7-9 Calling the world's elite for their council
10-12 The queen suggests calling for Daniel
13-16 Daniel offered to be Babylon's third ruler
17-21 Daniel provides a historical perspective
22-24 The charge against King Belshazzar
25-29 Daniel provides the interpretation
30 The immediate fulfillment of the prophecy

The scene of debauchery     Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:1, is a scene of great debauchery. A thousand of the city's elite were engaged in a drunken orgy. At that same time, Babylon was under siege by the Medes and Persians, which is noted later in this chapter. What is displayed by the actions of the king and his people is what Paul wrote about in 1Thessalonians 5:1-4, where people will be living in a sense of false security, but then shall sudden destruction fall upon them.

In Daniel 5:2-4, King Belshazzar during his drinking binge, ordered to have the utensils for drinking that were consecrated for the worship of God, Daniel 1:2, 2Chronicles 36:9-10, and be brought in to be used to celebrate the godís of Babylonian.  King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered on two occasions that the God of the Jews was to be respected Daniel  3:29 and Daniel 4:34-47.

The following table is a short summary of the relationship between Israel and Babylon during the years of King Nebuchadnezzar's invasion, Israel's captivity, and of Babylon.

Babylonian King

Jewish King

King's Age

Length of Rule


King Nebuchadnezzar

King Jehoiakim
2Chronicles 36:4-8


11 years Taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar after his first conquest, and Daniel taken to Babylon

King Jehoiachin
2Chronicles 36:9-10


3 months & 10 days Taken to Babylon
King Zedekiah


11 years Taken to Babylon,
valuables removed,
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed
King Amel-Marduk
King Jehoiakim
2Kings 25:27-30


Length of captivity almost 38 years Evil-Marduk releases King Jehoiachin from prison and sits him at the king's table

The finger of the Lord    Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:5-6, in the midst of this drunken scene, and without advance fanfare, unexpectedly a visible hand with human attributes was seen writing on the plaster wall. The king sobered up very quickly as can be seen by his response:

  • His face grew pale
  • His knees knocked
  • His legs gave way

There is no doubt that was not a visual aberration, or a drunken imagination, a very real event occurred that the king recognized. Unlike the Babylonian gods being celebrated, our God performs miracles and is alive as seen in Psalms 115:3-8, Exodus 8:19, Exodus 31:18, and Luke 11:20.

Calling the world's elite for their council    Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:7-9, King Belshazzar called all the wise men of Babylon, except Daniel, to read and interpret the words on the wall, with the expectation of riches, honor and being promoted to the third co-regent of the land. This is approximately the same circumstances as what King Nebuchadnezzar experienced, and how he reacted in finding answers to his dilemma, Daniel 2 and Daniel 4. Daniel was still available for the king's use in matters of the state during the reign of King Belshazzar as seen in Daniel 7:1 and Daniel 8:1.  As has been observed on several occasions already in this book, none of the wise men summoned before King Belshazzar could provide the council and answers to the king, as they were just as puzzled as he was.  Their confusion and lack of understanding is completely understandable, for the things of the Lord, such as the handwriting on the wall, is something that is spiritually discerned.  If one is not born again in Christ then there is no awaking within that person for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths of the Lord, 1Corinthians 2:14-16, Philippians 1:9-11, and James 1:5-6.

The queen suggests calling for Daniel     Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:10-12, the queen, who is not fully identified, assures the king that Daniel is the man who has been blessed with the skills needed. She rehearses the past associations between King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel to separate him from all of the other wise men who had just appeared before the king Belshazzar and failed in their task the king assigned them. This entire episode recorded in this chapter is a witness against King Belshazzar as he should have heeded the warnings of his grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar. He should have been very familiar with the intervention of the Lord during King Nebuchadnezzar's lifetime to give insight in revealing the God of Israel to him, for the protection of the Jews, and how He had humbled the king, Daniel 4. So finally, Daniel is called to appear before King Belshazzar to give the meaning of the writing that has perplexed everyone who were present to see the sight.

Daniel offered to be Babylon's third ruler     Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:13-16, King Belshazzar extends the customary formalities to Daniel, and acknowledgment that the spirit of the gods have given him insight, intelligence, and outstanding wisdom. This salutation to Daniel only exposes the great ignorance of King Belshazzar as to who the true and living Lord is. Just as his grandfather's early years in his reign, King Belshazzar confuses the gods that he worships with the God of Israel.  In recognition of the difficult task set before Daniel as evidenced by the other wise men and enchanters who were unable to read the writing on the wall nor could they interpret it, Daniel is offered great gifts and position as the 3rd co-regent over the empire of Babylon if he is able to do what the others could not do.

Why is Daniel offered to be the third ruler of Babylon?  The king at that time was King Nabonidus, and because he was elsewhere in the kingdom, he made his son co-regent, King Belshazzar.  As a result, for a few hours, Daniel was made the third co-regent of Babylon.  It is instructive to consider the prophesy of Jeremiah 27:7, which states that all nations would serve the king of Babylon, and his son, and grandson.  Once Israel was taken captive, there would only be three generations in power as king over the Babylonian empire before its fall.  This is summarized in the following table, beginning with King Nebuchadnezzar, and ending with King Belshazzar.

Date (B.C.)

Babylonian King

Relation to
King Nebuchadnezzar


605-562 Nebuchadnezzar


He was the head of gold in the multi-metallic image dream
562-560 Amel-Marduk


Murdered by his brother-in-law
560-556 Neriglissar


Ruled four years
556 Labashi-Marduk


Ruled two months


Son-in-law and

Nabonidus's son

Daniel provides a historical perspective    Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:17-21, Daniel refuses the kingís offers.  He observes and testifies to the greatness that King Nebuchadnezzar became, a complete ruler, answerable to no man.  He was that gold head in the multi-metallic image in Daniel 2:37-38. Daniel then rehearses the events chronicled in Daniel 4.  After the kingís heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his throne and glory to live with the animals, but all was restored when he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone He wishes.

The charge against King Belshazzar    Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:22-24, Daniel contrasts King Belshazzar against his grandfather, and provides a short list of all the issues that separate the two kings.  King Belshazzar did not learn from the experiences of his grandfather.  Instead he set himself against the Lord. He took the goblets from the temple of the Lord and used them to drink wine from them and praised gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood and stone.  He did not honor God who holds in His hands the king's life and all his ways.  Daniel concluded his remarks to the king by stating that the hand was sent to write the inscription.  Despite all of this, Daniel's response was respectful to the office of the king that he reported to, just as Paul wrote to the church as to its conduct in the world, Romans 13:1-5 and Titus 2:8.

Daniel provides the interpretation    Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:25-29,  Daniel provides the interpretation of the writing on the wall that the other wise men could not.  It was not that they could not understand the words, but without the Holy Spirit being present to provide the will of the Father, mankind can only stumble in applying man's understanding to God's Word.  This entire episode brings into sharp contrast the difference between the worldly man, lost in their own judgments and understandings against those born anew in Jesus Christ.  Just as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus contrasting the lost state that they had been in against the new life that they had in Christ through the Word of God, that they put on the new man in true righteousness and holiness, Ephesians 4:17-24.  

In context of God's will, these were words of judgment against the king and the Babylonian kingdom.  That very evening, the Lord was going to end the kingdom of Babylon, and has given it to the Medes and Persians.  This is completely consistent with the metallic image that King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed in Daniel 2.  That very night the transition between one kingdom to the next would be complete, Daniel 2:36-39a.  This brings up another important point to raise.  There are many other scriptures that spoke of when this event would occur relative to the exile of the Jews out of the land of Israel to the land of Babylon in captivity.  However, there were no fixed dates to measure.  The end of the Babylonian kingdom was relative to an event, Jeremiah 25:9-12.  The same is true concerning the prophecies concerning the beginning of the seven years of tribulation and all the succeeding events that follow.  There is no fixed date given for the commencement of that time, only the length of time that will expire from one event to the next, and the duration of the events.  However, with the rapture of the church, no date is given, we are to be ready for the Lord's imminent return in the clouds, to hear his voice like a trumpet calling up His church, the bride of Christ unto himself, Titus 2:11-12, 1Thessalonians 4:13-18, Romans 5:8-9, Ephesians 5:30-32.

Upon hearing all that Daniel spoke concerning the handwriting on the wall, he awarded Daniel with all the gifts that he had promised, and promoted him to the rank of third ruler of Babylon. This was a very short reign that would be measured in hours offered to Daniel, and he wanted none of it. One can only wonder why the King Belshazzar did not ask Daniel to intercede with the Lord on his behalf or respond in some other fashion that would demonstrate his understanding of the gravity of the situation that he was faced with, particularly with the very enemies the writing spoke of were just outside the walls of the city of Babylon.  Since Daniel had brought up to the king's attention his problem with pride, it would not take much imagination to see the king's refusal to accept the meaning of the words of warning and rely on the city's walls for protection.  How often through history, in today's world and in our own lives have we rehearsed this very scenario, but with different props and backgrounds.

The immediate fulfillment of the prophecy    Chapter Outline     Top

In Daniel 5:30-31, is the record how that in the same night King Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the Babylonian kingdom around October 12, 539 B.C.  The current findings of peoples and places at that time is that Darius was Gubaru, an officer in the army of Cyrus.  He was made ruler of Babylon, much like the division between Belshazzar and his father Nabonidus, who were co-rulers of Babylon. This is why King Belshazzar offered Daniel the third ruler position if he could help the king understand the meanings of the words written on the wall.  The Darius in Daniel 5:31 is not to be confused with Darius I who ruled 522-486 B.C. in Ezra 1, Ezra 5, and Ezra 6.  

This is a sad commentary of the state of man outside of any relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and how the Lord's word stands firm, despite any of man's attempts to change it, Psalms 33:10.  There are many other things to learn from all of these events when viewing the judgments of God relative to Israel and Babylon.  The main reason for raising the Babylonians against Israel was because of lawlessness, perverted judgment of men, and idolatry, Habakkuk 1:1-5, Jeremiah 25:3-11.  There are several references given on why there was judgment upon Babylon, Jeremiah 50:11, Jeremiah 50:28, and Jeremiah 50:33-34.  There is also future judgments concerning the rebuilt city of Babylon, and its religious influence on the world, Revelation 17, and its commercial enterprise, Revelation 18.  There are several other references on God's judgment upon Babylon:

With all of this warning to Babylon, which was written before the fall of Babylon, it still went unheeded by the kings of Babylon.  But these are examples for us today and on how we treat the prophetic passages relative to our time.  Do we lend a deaf ear to them, or do we heed them:

The prophetic passages concerning the rise and victory of the Medes and Persians over Babylon are also given in several passages in the Bible:

Copyright (c) 2001, 2005, 2008, 2014, J.E. Huntley.  All rights reserved.
last edited August 2014