Pride is a deadly sin. It causes people to focus on their own abilities and achievements. Persistent pride dismisses the need for God or confession and repentance and ultimately leads to eternal judgment. Pride is especially tempting for those who wield great power.
Babylon’s Last Meal
As we begin our study today, the white space between the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 represents a span of thirty years. Daniel is around eighty-five years old now as chapter 5 begins.
There is a new king in Babylon, and his name is Belshazzar. Belshazzar’s father was King Nabonidus. We know from historical accounts that King Nabonidus did not like staying in Babylon all that much, so he built a palace in Arabia and named his son, Belshazzar, co-regent and placed him on the throne in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar is also referred to as the father of Belshazzar, which was typical in that culture. They would often refer to a biological predecessor as their father, much like the Jewish patriarchs referred to Abraham as their father. So, in this family tree is King Nebuchadnezzar, followed by, his son-in-law, Nabonidus, and then Nabonidus’s son, Belshazzar.
Chapter 5 sweeps us into a lavish banquet room where a feast is taking place. The king and all the important officials gathered there have no idea this is going to be their last meal. The opening verses describe the scene:
King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. Belshazzar . . . commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. (verses 1-2)
We do not need to sanitize this scene. This is a drunken orgy combined with blasphemy against God. It is evident that Belshazzar does not share his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar’s faith in Daniel’s God.
In fact, his actions here seem to be a deliberate rejection of Daniel’s prophecy back in chapter 2, which predicted Babylon’s defeat. Apparently, in Belshazzar’s mind, Babylon will never fall—even though the armies of the Medes and Persians are at this very moment surrounding the city.
And from his perspective, he has good reason to feel confident. Historical records tell us the city’s outer wall was eighty feet thick. They could ride their chariots up there. Inside that wall was a second wall fortified with towers. The Euphrates River flowed under its walls and through the city, providing fresh water and fish for food. Huge iron gates sank down into the riverbed where the river ran under the city walls. Babylon was considered indestructible. So, the king is throwing a party even while the city is under siege!
But suddenly the laughter and reveling is interrupted by a shocking sight:
The fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace . . . And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s . . . thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. (verses 5-6)
This is obviously supernatural, and he immediately calls for Babylon’s wise men and speaks to them in verse 7:
“Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
But as always, these men cannot provide an answer.
Just then the queen enters the banquet room. This is actually the queen mother—that is, the mother of Belshazzar and the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. I personally believe from what she says here she is a true believer in the God of Israel.
She says in verse 11, “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.” You can translate this Aramaic term, elah, as a singular with a capital G for God, which is the way I think it should be translated: “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy God.”
She describes Daniel in verse 12:
“[He has] an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems . . . Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
The king agrees and basically calls Daniel out of retirement and offers him the same deal—royal clothing, a gold chain, and a nice office.
Daniel turns it all down—besides, he knows it’s not going to do much good after dinner! He proceeds to remind the king and all the nobility gathered here of Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion to the true God of heaven:
“But when [Nebuchadnezzar’s] heart was lifted up . . . so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast . . . until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.” (verses 20-21)
Now Daniel courageously points his finger at Belshazzar and speaks to him here in verses 22-23:
“You . . . Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. . . . And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone . . . but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.”
And with that, Daniel proceeds to explain the words written on the wall. These words in verse 25 are Aramaic. “Mene,” which is repeated, means “number”; “Tekel” means “weigh”; and “Parsin” means “divide.” So, the rough meaning is, “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.”
Daniel then provides the interpretation:
“God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end . . . you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting . . . your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (verses 26-28)
“Remember those armies out there that have your city surrounded, Belshazzar?”
Does Belshazzar take Daniel seriously? Well, he gives Daniel the robe and the chain and the front office, but there is no sign of repentance or even acknowledgment of Daniel’s message.
Tragically, the text simply tells us, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom” (verses 30-31).
According to some ancient sources, the Medes and Persians diverted the Euphrates River through an old channel, lowering the water level of the river so that it was waist deep. Under cover of darkness, the army simply waded through the river, under the city walls, and under those iron gates that were supposed to be lowered down to the riverbed. But guess what—the Babylonians in their overconfidence had not even bothered to lower them into the river. These soldiers surprised the city, killed the king, and conquered Babylon in a matter of hours.
Let me draw from this event three timeless truths for today. First, God’s rule may be invisible, but He still rules. Proud kings come and go, but it is God who continues to lead the nations of this world toward His ultimate plan and purpose.
Second, God’s judgments might be delayed, but He still judges. The handwriting was on the wall—literally! Judgment was coming, but the king did not want to stop his little party; he did not want to give up his sin to the very end.
Third, God’s offer might be ignored, but His offer still stands. If Belshazzar had only listened.
What about you? Do you believe in the Lord of the heavens and the earth? Is He your Savior and Lord today? I encourage you today to accept the handwriting of God in His Word. Call upon the name of the Lord, and you shall be saved. But let me warn you. You never know—time might be running out. Your next meal could be your last. Right now, call upon the Lord in faith, and you will be saved—forever.
 Renald E. Showers, The Most High God: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Friends of Israel, 1982), 49-50.