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Belshazzar Sees Mysterious Handwriting on a Wall

King Belshazzar[a] prepared a great banquet[b] for 1,000 of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in front of[c] them all.[d] While under the influence[e] of the wine, Belshazzar issued an order to bring in the gold and silver vessels—the ones that Nebuchadnezzar his father[f] had confiscated[g] from the temple in Jerusalem—so that the king and his nobles, together with his wives and his concubines, could drink from them.[h] So they brought the gold and silver[i] vessels that had been confiscated from the temple, the house of God[j] in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, together with his wives and concubines, drank from them. As they drank wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

At that very moment the fingers of a human hand appeared[k] and wrote on the plaster of the royal palace wall, opposite the lampstand.[l] The king was watching the back[m] of the hand that was writing. Then all the color drained from the king’s face[n] and he became alarmed.[o] The joints of his hips gave way,[p] and his knees began knocking together. The king called out loudly[q] to summon[r] the astrologers, wise men, and diviners. The king proclaimed[s] to the wise men of Babylon that anyone who could read this inscription and disclose its interpretation would be clothed in purple[t] and have a golden collar[u] placed on his neck and be third ruler in the kingdom.

So all the king’s wise men came in, but they were unable to read the writing or to make known its[v] interpretation to the king. Then King Belshazzar was very terrified, and he was visibly shaken.[w] His nobles were completely dumbfounded.

10 Due to the noise[x] caused by the king and his nobles, the queen mother[y] then entered the banquet room. She[z] said, “O king, live forever! Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be shaken! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, he proved to have[aa] insight, discernment, and wisdom like that[ab] of the gods.[ac] King Nebuchadnezzar your father appointed him chief of the magicians, astrologers, wise men, and diviners.[ad] 12 Thus there was found in this man Daniel, whom the king renamed Belteshazzar, an extraordinary spirit, knowledge, and skill to interpret[ae] dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems.[af] Now summon[ag] Daniel, and he will disclose the interpretation.”

13 So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard about you, how there is a spirit of the gods in you, and how you have[ah] insight, discernment, and extraordinary wisdom. 15 Now the wise men and[ai] astrologers were brought before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation. But they were unable to disclose the interpretation of the message. 16 However, I have heard[aj] that you are able to provide interpretations and to solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, you will wear purple and have a golden collar around your neck and be third[ak] ruler in the kingdom.”

Daniel Interprets the Handwriting on the Wall

17 But Daniel replied to the king, “Keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else. However, I will read the writing for the king and make known its[al] interpretation. 18 As for you, O king, the most high God bestowed on your father Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom, greatness, honor, and majesty.[am] 19 Due to the greatness that he bestowed on him, all peoples, nations, and language groups were trembling with fear[an] before him. He killed whom he wished, he spared[ao] whom he wished, he exalted whom he wished, and he brought low whom he wished. 20 And when his mind[ap] became arrogant[aq] and his spirit filled with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and his honor was removed from him. 21 He was driven from human society; his mind[ar] was changed to that of an animal. He lived[as] with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until he came to understand that the most high God rules over human kingdoms, and he appoints over them whomever he wishes.

22 “But you, his son[at] Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself,[au] although you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. You brought before you the vessels from his temple, and you and your nobles, together with your wives and concubines, drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods[av] that cannot see or hear or comprehend. But you have not glorified the God who has in his control[aw] your very breath and all your ways! 24 Therefore the palm of a hand was sent from him, and this writing was inscribed.

25 “This is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene,[ax] teqel, and pharsin.[ay] 26 This is the interpretation of the words:[az] As for Mene[ba]—God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end. 27 As for Teqel—you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking. 28 As for Peres[bb]—your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

29 Then, on Belshazzar’s orders,[bc] Daniel was clothed in purple, a golden collar was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed third ruler in the kingdom. 30 And that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king,[bd] was killed.[be] 31 (6:1)[bf] So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom when he was about sixty-two years old.


  1. Daniel 5:1 sn As is clear from the extra-biblical records, it was actually Nabonidus (ca. 556-539 b.c.) who was king of Babylon at this time. However, Nabonidus spent long periods of time at Teima, and during those times Belshazzar his son was de facto king of Babylon. This arrangement may help to explain why later in this chapter Belshazzar promises that the successful interpreter of the handwriting on the wall will be made third ruler in the kingdom. If Belshazzar was in effect second ruler in the kingdom, this would be the highest honor he could grant.
  2. Daniel 5:1 sn This scene of a Babylonian banquet calls to mind a similar grandiose event recorded in Esth 1:3-8. Persian kings were also renowned in the ancient Near Eastern world for their lavish banquets.
  3. Daniel 5:1 sn The king probably sat at an elevated head table.
  4. Daniel 5:1 tn Aram “the thousand.”
  5. Daniel 5:2 tn Or perhaps, “when he had tasted” (cf. NASB) in the sense of officially initiating the commencement of the banquet. The translation above seems preferable, however, given the clear evidence of inebriation in the context (cf. also CEV “he got drunk and ordered”).
  6. Daniel 5:2 tn Or “ancestor”; or “predecessor” (also in vv. 11, 13, 18). The Aramaic word translated “father” can on occasion denote these other relationships. Concerning the difficulty in tracing the lineage of Belshazzar, whose actual father was Nabonidus, back to Nebuchadnezzar, J. Goldingay, Daniel (WBC), 108, argues that, “The two chief points in neo-Babylonian history are the empire’s rise under Nebuchadnezzar and its fall under Nabonidus/Belshazzar, so that ‘Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar’ summarizes and reflects the general historical facts of the period.”
  7. Daniel 5:2 tn Or “taken.”
  8. Daniel 5:2 sn Making use of sacred temple vessels for an occasion of reveling and drunkenness such as this would have been a religious affront of shocking proportions to the Jewish captives.
  9. Daniel 5:3 tc The present translation reads וְכַסְפָּא (vekhaspaʾ, “and the silver”) with Theodotion and the Vulgate; cf. v. 2. The form was probably accidentally dropped from the Aramaic text by homoioteleuton.
  10. Daniel 5:3 tn Aram “the temple of the house of God.” The phrase seems rather awkward. The Vulgate lacks “of the house of God,” while Theodotion and the Syriac lack “of the house.”
  11. Daniel 5:5 tn Aram “came forth.”
  12. Daniel 5:5 sn The mention of the lampstand in this context is of interest because it suggests that the writing was in clear view.
  13. Daniel 5:5 tn While Aramaic פַּס (pas) can mean the palm of the hand, here it seems to be the back of the hand that is intended.
  14. Daniel 5:6 tn Aram “[the king’s] brightness changed for him.”
  15. Daniel 5:6 tn Aram “his thoughts were alarming him.”
  16. Daniel 5:6 tn Aram “his loins went slack.”
  17. Daniel 5:7 tn Aram “in strength.”
  18. Daniel 5:7 tn Aram “cause to enter.”
  19. Daniel 5:7 tn Aram “answered and said.”
  20. Daniel 5:7 sn Purple was a color associated with royalty in the ancient world.
  21. Daniel 5:7 tn The term translated “golden collar” here probably refers to something more substantial than merely a gold chain (cf. NIV, NCV, NRSV, NLT) or necklace (cf. NASB).
  22. Daniel 5:8 tc Read וּפִשְׁרֵהּ (ufishreh, “and its interpretation”) with the Qere rather than וּפִשְׁרָא (ufishraʾ, “and the interpretation”) of the Kethib.
  23. Daniel 5:9 tn Aram “his visage altered upon him,” as also in v. 10.
  24. Daniel 5:10 tn Aram “words of the king.”
  25. Daniel 5:10 tn Aram “the queen” (so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). In the following discourse this woman is able to recall things about Daniel that go back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar, things that Belshazzar does not seem to recollect. It is likely that she was the wife not of Belshazzar but of Nabonidus or perhaps even Nebuchadnezzar. In that case, “queen” here means “queen mother” (cf. NCV “the king’s mother”).
  26. Daniel 5:10 tn Aram “The queen.” The translation has used the pronoun “she” instead because repetition of the noun here would be redundant in terms of English style.
  27. Daniel 5:11 tn Aram “[there were] discovered to be in him.”
  28. Daniel 5:11 tn Aram “wisdom like the wisdom.” This would be redundant in terms of English style.
  29. Daniel 5:11 tc Theodotion lacks the phrase “and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods.”
  30. Daniel 5:11 tc The MT includes a redundant reference to “your father the king” at the end of v. 11. None of the attempts to explain this phrase as original are very convincing. The present translation deletes the phrase, following Theodotion and the Syriac.
  31. Daniel 5:12 tc The translation reads מִפְשַׁר (mifshar) rather than the MT מְפַשַּׁר (mefashar) and later in the verse reads וּמִשְׁרֵא (umishreʾ) rather than the MT וּמְשָׁרֵא (umeshareʾ). The Masoretes have understood these Aramaic forms to be participles, but they are more likely to be vocalized as infinitives. As such, they have an epexegetical function in the syntax of their clause.
  32. Daniel 5:12 tn Aram “to loose knots.”
  33. Daniel 5:12 tn Aram “let [Daniel] be summoned.”
  34. Daniel 5:14 tn Aram “there has been found in you.”
  35. Daniel 5:15 tn The Aramaic text does not have “and.” The term “astrologers” is either an appositive for “wise men” (cf. KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV), or the construction is to be understood as asyndetic (so the translation above).
  36. Daniel 5:16 tn The Aramaic text has also the words “about you.”
  37. Daniel 5:16 tn Or perhaps “one of three rulers,” in the sense of becoming part of a triumvir; so also in v. 29.
  38. Daniel 5:17 tn Or “the.”
  39. Daniel 5:18 tn Or “royal greatness and majestic honor,” if the four terms are understood as a double hendiadys.
  40. Daniel 5:19 tn Aram “were trembling and fearing.” This can be treated as a hendiadys, “were trembling with fear.”
  41. Daniel 5:19 tn Aram “let live.” This Aramaic form is the aphel participle of חַיָה (khayah, “to live”). Theodotion and the Vulgate mistakenly take the form to be from מְחָא (mekhaʾ, “to smite”).
  42. Daniel 5:20 tn Aram “heart.”
  43. Daniel 5:20 sn The point of describing Nebuchadnezzar as arrogant is that he had usurped divine prerogatives, and because of his immense arrogance God had dealt decisively with him.
  44. Daniel 5:21 tn Aram “heart.”
  45. Daniel 5:21 tn Aram “his dwelling.”
  46. Daniel 5:22 tn Or “descendant”; or “successor.”
  47. Daniel 5:22 tn Aram “your heart.”
  48. Daniel 5:23 tn Aram “which.”
  49. Daniel 5:23 tn Aram “in whose hand [are].”
  50. Daniel 5:25 tc The Greek version of Theodotion lacks the repetition of מְנֵא (meneʾ, cf. NAB).
  51. Daniel 5:25 tc The Aramaic word is plural. Theodotion has the singular (cf. NAB “PERES”).
  52. Daniel 5:26 tn Or “word”; or “event.” See HALOT 1915 s.v. מִלָּה.
  53. Daniel 5:26 tn The Aramaic term מְנֵא (meneʾ) is a noun referring to a measure of weight. The linkage here to the verb “to number” (Aram. מְנָה, menah) is a case of paronomasia rather than strict etymology. So also with תְּקֵל (teqel) and פַרְסִין (farsin). In the latter case there is an obvious wordplay with the name “Persian.”
  54. Daniel 5:28 sn Peres (פְּרֵס) is the singular form of פַרְסִין (farsin) in v. 25.
  55. Daniel 5:29 tn Aram “Belshazzar spoke.”
  56. Daniel 5:30 tn Aram “king of the Chaldeans.”
  57. Daniel 5:30 sn The year was 539 b.c. At this time Daniel would have been approximately eighty-one years old. The relevant extra-biblical records describing the fall of Babylon include portions of Herodotus, Xenophon, Berossus (cited in Josephus), the Cyrus Cylinder, and the Babylonian Chronicle.
  58. Daniel 5:31 sn Beginning with 5:31, the verse numbers through 6:28 in the English Bible differ from the verse numbers in the Aramaic text (BHS), with 5:31 ET = 6:1 AT, 6:1 ET = 6:2 AT, 6:2 ET = 6:3 AT, 6:3 ET = 6:4 AT, etc., through 6:28 ET = 6:29 AT. Beginning with 7:1 the verse numbers in the English Bible and the Aramaic text are again the same.