Bible Study: Daniel 5 – Writing on the wall

The book of Daniel is one of the most prophetic books in the old testament. It has been sealed until the time of the end. Undoubtedly, now is the time of the end. Therefore, let us not be hypocrites without discerning this time and let us unseal the book of Daniel.

(Dan 12:4) “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”

(Luke 12:56) “Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how [is it] you do not discern this time?

The fifth chapter of Daniel is about the overthrow of Belshazzar and Cyrus receiving the kingdom. The entire chapter happened on a single day. Based on historical accounts it happened around October 539 BC. It is important to note that Daniel is around 80 years of age. In this blog we had to go a bit deeper into historical records to clear up all doubts that could arise.

Feast of Belshazzar

(Dan 5:1-3) Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his 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. 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. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.

Belshazzar made a great feast and drank wine from the vessels from the temple of Jerusalem which belongs to God. Moreover, they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.

Writing on the wall

(Dan 5:5-7) 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. 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. The king cried 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.

While the king was drinking from the vessels that belong to the temple at Jerusalem, in the same hour, the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace. The king was troubled and offers the following to anyone who can read and interpret.
  • Clothed with purple
  • Chain of gold
  • Third ruler in the kingdom
Clothed in purple refers to luxury as we read in gospels.

(Luke 16:19) “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.

Gold chain is a symbol of honor as we read in the Joseph account.

(Gen 41:42) Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.

But why did he offer as the third ruler? why not second?  Based on historical accounts, Belshazzar is the son of the king ruling along with the king. Hence, when his father, the king was not in the city, the younger king ruled since he is the second ruler in the kingdom. Being the second ruler, the highest post he can offer is the third ruler in the kingdom.

Daniel was called

(Dan 5:8) Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished. 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. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father–your father the king–made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”

How is that the queen is aware of Daniel while the king Belshazzar isn’t? The reason is because, Belshazzar is the younger king, the son of the king who is taking care of the kingdom in his father’s absence being the second ruler in the kingdom. This is common in those days when the king goes to war, the second ruler takes care of the kingdom. Hence, when the Bible refers to queen here, she is the queen and the mother of Belshazzar and she may have been in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Some scholars suggest the queen referred here Nitocris, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, which makes her very familiar with Daniel and how God worked through him. So, she asks Belshazzar to call Daniel for interpretation.

Interpretation of the Writing

(Dan 5:13-28) Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing. And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and 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. 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. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 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. 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. 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 knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses. But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of 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. Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written. And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Firstly, what we notice is the way Daniel ditches the gifts for something God reveals. “Let your gifts be for yourself and give your rewards to another“. God need people like Daniel who don’t use His gifts for personal gain. 
Secondly, Daniel preaches to the king and mentions his wrong doing and sin. He even mentions the wrongdoings of Nebuchadnezzar and preached to him what he did. We understand this because, Daniel said “have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this“.
Finally, Daniel tells the truth of the king’s own death to himself and did not hide it or speak in a politically correct way.
Most of today’s church pastors go behind material and personal gains using God, do not preach about sin, suffering and tribulations, and speak in a politically correct way to make sure Scripture does not offend them. These pastors must learn from Daniel for not going after personal gains, to be bold before anyone for His sake and rebuke sin directly.

(Dan 5:29) 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.

Daniel was clothed with purple, being put a chain of gold around his neck, he was declared as the third ruler in the kingdom.

Fulfillment

(Dan 5:30) That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.

The very night when Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall, Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans was slain. 

Cyrus or Darius?

(Dan 5:31) And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

The kingdom of Belshazzar was divided and given to Darius the Mede being 62 years old. However, there is one small problem to solve. According to historical records, the king who actually attacked Babylon where Belshazzar is slain is Cyrus and not Darius and it was Cyrus who is 62 years old when he attacked Babylon. This is a scribal error. We can see a similar error elsewhere as well.

For example,

  • (Dan 11:1) And I in the first year of Cyrus stood to strengthen and confirm him. – LXXE (Septuagint – heavily quoted by Disciples and Apostles in NT, translated into Greek 300 years before Christ.
  • (Dan 11:1) “Also in the first year of Darius the Mede, I, even I, stood up to confirm and strengthen him.) – NKJV (Masoretic Text).

The above verses in Daniel 11:1 clearly indicates there were two copies with one copy with which Septuagint was translated had Cyrus and the other copy had Darius the Mede. Although Darius the Mede eventually received the kingdom 17 years later, here in Daniel 5:31, it is referring to Cyrus and not Darius the Mede and the mistake here is a scribal error. I do believe all scripture is inspired by God and very accurate. However, we must also understand that the scribes who copy them manually aren’t perfect and could have scribal errors just like the Wicked Bible print of King James Version 1631.

(Dan 1:21) Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.

The first chapter also confirms that Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus which is 539 BC when he attacked and became king of Babylon.