Belshazzar's Last Meal

539 BC

Caution: History Repeats Itself
The Conversion of Nebuchadnezzar
Belshazzar’s Feast 
Audio clip on Forum Class on Daniel 5

Highlights of Jewish History
When a Nation Dies
Daniel to Malachi Forum Class
Daniel Notes I

Daniel Chapter 5

Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his [a] father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 

3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.

5 In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster 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 changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other. 

7 The king cried [b] aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers.

The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” 

8 Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation.

9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were [c] astonished.

10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall. The queen spoke, saying, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your [d] father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your [e] father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. 12 Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and [f] explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”

The Writing on the Wall Explained

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel [g] who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my [h]father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard of you, that the [i] Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, t hat they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing. 16 And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and [j] explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

17 Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your [k] father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 19 And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. 20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. 21 Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he [l] knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.

22 “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. 23 And you have [m] lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of [n] His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 Then the [o]fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.

25 “And this is the inscription that was written:


26 This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”[s

29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.


Belshazzar’s Fall


30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. 


31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.



  • Background Notes

    The events recorded in Daniel 1-4 pertained to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who expanded and united the Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. after ruling 43 years. The ensuing years of Babylonian history till its overthrow by Cyrus in 539 B.C. were marked by progressive deterioration, intrigue, and murder. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Evil Merodach who ruled for two years (562-560 B.C., 2 Kings 25:27-30; Jeremiah 52:31-34). Evil-Merodach was murdered in August 560 by Neriglissar, Nebuchadnezzar's son-in-law and Evil-Merodach's own brother-in-law. Neriglissar then ruled four years (560-556 B.C.). He is the Nergal-Sharezer mentioned in Jeremiah 39;3, 13. At his death, he was succeeded by his young son Labashi-Marduk, who ruled only two months (May and June 556) before he was assassinated and succeeded by Nabonidus, who reigned 17 years (556-539 B.C.).

    Nabonidus did much to restore the glory that had belonged to Babylon under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Nabonidus' mother was the high priestess of the moon god at Haran. Perhaps because of her influence, he had great interest in restoring and expanding the Babylonian religion and did much to restore abandoned temples. He was absent from Babylon for 10 of his 17 years, from 554 through 545. In Haran he restored the temple of the moon god Sin, and then he attacked Edom and conquered parts of Arabia where he then lived for some time.

    Belshazzar was Nabonidus' eldest son and was appointed by his father as his co-regent. (Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as Belshazzar's father [Dan. 5:2, 11, 13, 18; cf. v. 22] in the sense that he was his ancestor or predecessor.) This co regency explains why Belshazzar was called king (v. 1) and why he exercised kingly authority even though Nabonidus actually held the throne.

    5:1. Babylon was being besieged by the Persian army, led by Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, while Belshazzar, inside the city, was giving a great banquet for 1,000 of his nobles. Belshazzar's name means "Bel (another name for the god Marduk) has protected the king." Perhaps the banquet was given to show Belshazzar's contempt for the Persians and to allay his people's fears. Archaeologists have excavated a large hall in Babylon 55 feet wide and 165 feet long that had plastered walls. Such a room would have been sufficient to house a gathering of this size. Belshazzar considered his city secure from assault because of its massive walls. Within the city were supplies that would sustain it for 20 years. Therefore the king felt he had little cause for concern.

    5:2-4. The banquet itself showed Belshazzar's contempt for the power of men. Then, to show his contempt for the power of the true God, he ordered that the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem (cf. 1:1-2) be brought to the banquet hall so the assembled revelers might drink from them. In drinking, the people honored the gods of Babylon--idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Nabonidus, Belshazzar's father, had attempted to strengthen the Babylonian religion. In keeping with that, this act by his son may have been an attempt to undo the influence of Nebuchadnezzar' s honoring the God of Israel (4:34-35). The polygamous king's wives and concubines were there too.

    2. THE REVELATION TO THE KING (5:5-12) Suddenly the hilarity of the revelry gave way to hushed fear. Near one of the lampstands that illuminated the banquet hall, fingers of a human hand were seen writing on the plastered wall. The terrified king (cf. 4:5) watched as the hand wrote a message. The king had evidently arisen from the chair in which he had been seated to lead the festivities and stood to watch. He became so frightened that his legs gave way and he fell to the floor [lit: "his loins were loosed"]. As was the custom (cf. 2:2; 4:6-7) Belshazzar summoned the wise men, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners (cf. comments on 1:17) and promised to reward whoever would interpret the meaning of this strange phenomenon. The reward was great. The interpreter would be clothed in purple (cf. Mordecai's purple robe, Es. 8:15), that is. he would be given royal authority. Also he would receive a gold chain (cf. Gen. 41:42), which no doubt had great monetary value. And he would be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Since Nabonidus was king and Belshazzar his co-regent, the highest office to be conferred was that of the third highest ruler. The king's offer shows the extremity of his fear.

    5:8-12. The wise men were unable to read or interpret the writing on the wall. This fact produced even greater fear in the king. Their inability to interpret the message made it even more ominous. Then all the guests who like the king had seen the writing on the wall were thrown into utter confusion (his nobles were baffled). The sound of confusion in the banquet hall came to the ears of the queen. Evidently she was not a wife of Belshazzar for his wives were with him in the hall (v. 2-3). She was the king's mother, or perhaps even his grandmother. Her familiarity with both Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel seems to suggest that she was the king's grandmother. She evidently had previous contact with Daniel, a man who, she said, has the spirit of the holy gods (cf. 4:8-9, 18; 5:14). She knew of his insight, intelligence. wisdom (v. 11), knowledge, understanding and ability to interpret dreams (v. 12). So she counseled Belshazzar to summon Daniel and let him interpret the writing on the plaster.

    3. THE REQUEST OF THE KING (5:13-16) Following the queen's suggestion, Belshazzar had Daniel brought in before him. The king seemingly belittled Daniel, referring to him as one of the exiles from Judah. He was from the same land whose God Belshazzar was holding in contempt! The king told Daniel what he had heard from the queen about Daniel's ability to do what the wise men and enchanters were unable to do. He promised Daniel the same rich rewards he had promised the wise men (v. 16; cf. v. 7) if Daniel could read the writing on the wall and interpret it. Though written in Aramaic, it was difficult to read, perhaps because it was in an unusual script.

    I. THE REPLY BY DANIEL (5:17-28). In his reply Daniel summarized God's dealing with Belshazzar's predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. He related lessons that Nebuchadnezzar had learned from God's dealings with him. God is sovereign and rules over nations and appoints kings according to His own will; Nebuchadnezzar was brought to his position of power in the Babylonian Empire by divine appointment. (The Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty. His authority was widely recognized (by peoples and nations and men of every language; cf. 3:4, 7; 4:1; 6:25; 7:14), and his decrees were unchangeable (5:19).

    5:20-21. When Nebuchadnezzar failed to recognize that the power was God's and not his own, he became arrogant and proud (cf. 4:30). God then humbled him and stripped him of his throne while he lived like an animal with the wild donkeys. Through this discipline Nebuchadnezzar came to recognize the greatness of God's authority (4:34-35). Though the facts of Nebuchadnezzar's seven-year insanity may have been hidden from the populace, they were known by the royal family (cf. 5:22).

    b. The pride of Belshazzar (5:22-24) Belshazzar knew what his predecessor had experienced, and should have learned from it. However, Belshazzar had not done so; in fact he had openly challenged the Lord of heaven (cf. "the King of heaven," 4:37) by drinking from the goblets taken from the temple in Jerusalem (5:2-3) and by praising man-made gods (v. 4). They have no life, but by contrast the true God not only has life, but held Belshazzar's life in His hand. Perhaps Daniel intended an interesting wordplay by adding that God, who held Belshazzar's life in His hand, sent a hand to write him a message. Belshazzar, knowing about God, failed to honor Him.

    c. The judgment by God (5:25-28) As God had Judged Nebuchadnezzar's pride by removing him from the throne, so He would judge Belshazzar's pride by taking the kingdom from him and giving it to another people. This judgment was written in the words that appeared on the plaster. First Daniel read the inscription which the wise men were unable to read. It was brief, containing only three words with the first word repeated. MENE is an Aramaic noun referring to a weight of 50 shekels (a mina, equal to 1.25 pounds). It is from the verb menah, "to number, to reckon." TEKEL is a noun referring to a shekel (2/5 of an ounce). It is from the verb teqal, "to weigh." PARSIN is a noun meaning a half-mina (25 shekels, or about 2/3 of a pound). It is from the verb peras, "to break in two, to divide." The word on the wall was actually Uparsin, which means "and Parsin."

    Even if the wise men could have read the words (which they couldn't), they could not have interpreted them for they had no point of reference as to what had been numbered, weighed, and divided.

    5:26-27. Then Daniel proceeded to interpret the meaning of these words. He explained that MENE meant that God had numbered (menah) the duration of the days of Belshazzar's kingdom and was about to bring it to an end. TEKEL meant that Belshazzar had been evaluated by God, weighed (teqiltah, from teqal) in a balance and had been found wanting, that is, he was too light. A balance was the normal device used in weighing payments. A payment was to meet a certain standard so if it did not meet that standard, it was rejected as unacceptable. Belshazzar's moral and spiritual character did not measure up to the standard of God's righteousness so he was rejected. "By Him [God] deeds are weighed" (1 Samuel 2:3).

    5:28. In interpreting the third word Daniel changed the plural parsin (v. 25) to the singular PERES. Belshazzar's kingdom was to be broken up (divided) and given to the Medes and Persians. Apparently Daniel intended a play on words for a change in the vowels in peres gives the word "Persian" (Paras). Thus the message was that because of the moral and spiritual degradation of the king and his kingdom, God would terminate the Babylonian Empire and give it to the Medes and Persians.

    5. THE REVELATION FULFILLED (5:29-31) One might have expected Belshazzar's wrath to fall on Daniel because of the message he brought. But instead the king, faithful to his word (cf. v16), rewarded Daniel. However, Daniel's enjoyment of those honors and the position to which he had been promoted was short-lived for that very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

    The city had been under assault by Cyrus. In anticipation of a long siege the city had stored supplies to last for 20 years. The Euphrates River ran through the city from north to south, so the residents had an ample water supply. Belshazzar had a false sense of security, because the Persian army, led by Ugbaru, was outside Babylon's city walls. Their army was divided; part was stationed where the river entered the city at the north and the other part was positioned where the river exited from the city at the south. The army diverted the water north of the city by digging a canal from the river to a nearby lake.

    With the water diverted, its level receded and the soldiers were able to enter the city by going under the sluice gate. Since the walls were unguarded the Persians, once inside the city, were able to conquer it without a fight. Significantly the defeat of Babylon fulfilled not only the prophecy Daniel made earlier that same night (5:28) but also a prophecy by Isaiah (lsa. 47). The overthrow of Babylon took place the night of the 16th of Tishri (October 12, 539 B.C.).

    Isaiah 47: "Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; Sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no more be called Tender and delicate. 2 Take the millstones and grind meal. Remove your veil, Take off the skirt, Uncover the thigh, Pass through the rivers. 3 Your nakedness shall be uncovered, Yes, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance, And I will not arbitrate with a man." 4 As for our Redeemer, the LORD of hosts is His name, The Holy One of Israel. 5 "Sit in silence, and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; For you shall no longer be called The Lady of Kingdoms. 6 I was angry with My people; I have profaned My inheritance, And given them into your hand. You showed them no mercy; On the elderly you laid your yoke very heavily. 7 And you said, 'I shall be a lady forever,' So that you did not take these things to heart, Nor remember the latter end of them. 8 "Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, Who dwell securely, Who say in your heart, 'I am, and there is no one else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, Nor shall I know the loss of children'; 9 But these two things shall come to you In a moment, in one day: The loss of children, and widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness Because of the multitude of your sorceries, For the great abundance of your enchantments. 10 "For you have trusted in your wickedness; You have said, 'No one sees me'; Your wisdom and your knowledge have warped you; And you have said in your heart, 'I am, and there is no one else besides me.' 11 Therefore evil shall come upon you; You shall not know from where it arises. And trouble shall fall upon you; You will not be able to put it off. And desolation shall come upon you suddenly, Which you shall not know. 12 "Stand now with your enchantments And the multitude of your sorceries, In which you have labored from your youth-- Perhaps you will be able to profit, Perhaps you will prevail. 13 You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, And the monthly prognosticators Stand up and save you From what shall come upon you. 14 Behold, they shall be as stubble, The fire shall burn them; They shall not deliver themselves From the power of the flame; It shall not be a coal to be warmed by, Nor a fire to sit before! 15 Thus shall they be to you With whom you have labored, Your merchants from your youth; They shall wander each one to his quarter. No one shall save you."

    The rule of the Medes and Persians was the second phase of the Times of the Gentiles (the silver chest and arms of the image in Daniel 2). The events in chapter 5 illustrate that God is sovereign and moves according to His predetermined plans. Those events also anticipate the final overthrow of all Gentile world powers that rebel against God and are characterized by moral and spiritual corruption. Such a judgment, anticipated in Psalm 2:4-6 and Revelation 19:15-16, will be fulfilled at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ to this earth.

    The edict of Darius (chap. 6) 1. THE PROMINENCE OF DANIEL (6:1-3) Critics have long questioned the historicity of Daniel. They challenge Daniel's reference to the accession of Darius (vv. 1, 28; 9:1; called Darius the Mede in 5:31) because there is no historical evidence outside the Bible for his reign. However, several explanations are possible:

    (1) Darius may have been another name for Cyrus. Daniel 6:28 may be translated, "So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, even the reign of Cyrus the Persian." It was common for ancient rulers to use different names in various parts of their realms. Thus Darius may have been a localized name for Cyrus. (This is the view of D.J. Wiseman, "Some Historical Problems in the Book of Daniel, in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, pp. 12-14.)

    (2) A second explanation is that Darius was appointed by Cyrus to rule over Babylon, a comparatively small portion of the vast Medo-Persian Empire. According to Daniel 9:1 Darius "was made ruler over the Babylonian Kingdom." This suggests that he ruled by appointment, rather than by conquest and thus would have been subordinate to Cyrus, who appointed him. The historical situation leading to this appointment, based on the Nabonidus Chronicle, was that Babylon was conquered by Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, who entered the city of Babylon the night of Belshazzar's feast. After Ugbaru conquered Babylon on October 12, 539 B.C., Cyrus entered the conquered city on October 29 of that same year. Ugbaru was then appointed by Cyrus to rule on his behalf in Babylon. Eight days after Cyrus' arrival (Nov. 6) Ugbaru died. If Darius the Mede is another name for Ugbaru, as is entirely possible, the problem is solved. Since Darius was 62 years old when he took over Babylon (5:31), his death a few weeks later would not be unusual. According to this view (presented by William H. Shea, "Darius the Mede: An Update," Andrews University Seminary Studies 20. Autumn 1982, pp. 229-47), Gubaru is another spelling for Ugbaru, with the name Gobryas being a Greek form of the same name and appearing in Xenophon's Cyropaedia 4. 6. 19; 7. 5. 7-34.

    (3) A third explanation is that Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, conquered Babylon, and that Gubaru, alias Darius, was the man Cyrus appointed to rule over Babylon. (This is the view of John C. Whitcomb, Jr., Darius the Mede. Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1974.)

    (4) Still others suggest Darius the Mede should be identified with Cambyses, Cyrus' son, who ruled Persia 530522 B.C. (This view is held by Charles Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishing Co., 1977, pp. 142-55.) Any of these four views may be correct, but perhaps the second one is preferable. 6:1b-3. One of Darius' first responsibilities was to reorganize the newly conquered kingdom of Babylon. He appointed 120 satraps (cf. 3:2) to rule over the kingdom of Babylon, and put them under three administrators, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were responsible to the three administrators (perhaps 40 satraps to each administrator) so that the king was greatly aided in his administrative responsibilities. Daniel was an exceptional administrator, partly because of his extensive experience under Nebuchadnezzar (2:48) for about 39 years. So the king planned to make Daniel responsible for the administration of the entire kingdom. This of course created friction between Daniel and the other administrators and 120 satraps.

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