Daniel 5:1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.
We do not know the reason for the banquet, but Daniel was not invited. He was about eighty years old at this time, and not as well known before. Nebuchadnezzar had died, and Babylon was at war; but Belshazzar wanted a party, so he invited a thousand guests. He did not know his city would fall that night, and that he would be dead by morning.
Daniel 5:2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.
This was an act of defiance against the God of Israel. The gold and silver goblets had been used in God’s temple, and were taken to Babylon when Jerusalem fell. In his drunken pride, Belshazzar used them for his party. And as they drank from the holy vessels, they praised their pagan gods. This was a fatal mistake.
I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols (Isaiah 42:8), said God elsewhere. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall (Daniel 5:5). The hand appeared to be human, but represented the hand of God. This was not a vision seen by one, but a divine manifestation seen by all.
Few details are provided, but we can imagine large letters that everyone could read. There may have been a crackling sound as the plaster crumbled beneath the press. Since the hand appeared at a moment of high blasphemy, the message would not be good.
Daniel 5:5b-6 The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
The king had good reason to be afraid. He was bold in his blasphemy, but was about to meet the one whom he had blasphemed. Whoever blasphemes God without fear should expect to be afraid at the hour of death.
Daniel 5:7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers 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.
Belshazzar was a co-ruler with his father, so the highest position he could offer was the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Despite the incentives, however, none of the wise men could understand the message. Then Daniel was brought before the king and offered the same rewards. 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 (Daniel 5:17), he said.
Then Daniel recounted Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion story and rebuked the king. But you, Belshazzar . . . have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 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 (Daniel 5:22-23).
Belshazzar knew about God from his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, so his guilt was compounded. Like many before and since, he dismissed the knowledge of God, and had to face the consequences: mene, mene, tekel, parsin (Daniel 5:25), was the writing on the wall.
Then Daniel explained the meaning. Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:26-28). Indeed, that very night, Babylon fell to the Medo-Persians, and Belshazzar was slain.
Belshazzar should have kept the faith of his grandfather, but chose the way of his peers. It was fun for a while, but the writing on the wall appeared, and the party came to an end. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31), says Hebrews.
Belshazzar is a tragic figure because he disregarded the knowledge of God. The testimony of his grandfather, along with his own conscience, should have brought him to God and kept him there. But Belshazzar preferred the pleasure of sin and the approval of his peers. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16:26), said Jesus.
Reflection and Review
Why do some children reject the faith of their Christian parents?
Why is Belshazzar a tragic figure?
Why is it better to have God than to have the whole world?