A theme found throughout Scripture is that God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. Nebuchadnezzar is stronger than anyone else, and he knows it. He willingly accepts credit for all that has happened in his life, so God moves decisively to show how insignificant Nebuchadnezzar truly is. It takes little to reduce him to an animal-like state, a wild man living at the margins of humanity, his power and prestige eroded overnight. If one of the greatest kings in history degenerates so completely, what can be done to common folks? Seven years of living as an animal go by, however, and he comes to his senses. He recognizes the truth of who he is and who God is. That realization is his salvation.
5 1-2 A few decades later, the king, Belshazzar, held a state banquet and invited a thousand of his officials.
The regent stands in for the king and performs his duties while King Nabonidus spends 10 years campaigning abroad, that is, fighting to expand the kingdom. In this case, the regent is Nabonidus’ son Belshazzar.
As he was tasting the wine, he ordered servants to bring in the gold and silver vessels his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the temple in Jerusalem many years earlier. He wanted his officials to join him, his wives, and his concubines in drinking a royal toast from them. 3 A little later his servants returned carrying in the gold[a] vessels that had been taken from the temple, the house of the one True God in Jerusalem. The king, his officials, his wives, and his concubines began to drink from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they offered praise to their idols crafted in gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5 Suddenly the fingers of a hand—a human hand—appeared and began to write on the plaster of one of the palace walls lit by a nearby lampstand. The king stood transfixed, watching the hand as it wrote. 6 Then his face changed. He grew pale and began to feel sick. His thoughts frightened him: what was this strange vision? His legs felt weak and wobbly. His knees knocked together. 7 The king cried out to his servants, ordering them to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldean wise men, and the diviners.
Belshazzar (to Babylon’s wise men): A great reward awaits the first person who can read this writing and tell me what it means. He will be clothed in purple, wear a gold chain around his neck, and ascend in rank and privilege to be the third-highest-ranking ruler in the kingdom.
8 All the king’s purported wise men came forward to examine the wall, but no one could read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 When it became clear that none of his sages could help him, King Belshazzar became even more frightened. His face grew even paler, and his officials were dumbfounded.
10 Belshazzar’s mother, the queen, overheard some of the discussions between the king and his noble guests, so she entered the banquet hall.
Queen: Long live the king! Don’t let this strange incident frighten you or let your face grow pale. 11 Need I remind you that there is a gifted man in your kingdom who possesses the spirit of the holy gods. Years ago, in the time of your predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar, he was discovered to have insight, understanding, and wisdom like that of the gods. That is why King Nebuchadnezzar put him in charge of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldean astrologers, and diviners in his kingdom. 12 This man Daniel, whom King Nebuchadnezzar named Belteshazzar, has special abilities, knowledge, and wisdom; he is able to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve problems no one else can. Why don’t you call for Daniel? He will tell you what the writing means.
13-14 With no other options, Belshazzar gave the order, and Daniel was brought before him.
Belshazzar (to Daniel): Are you that Daniel I’ve heard so much about, one of the exiles brought here from Judah by my predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar? I have been told that you possess the spirit of the holy gods—that you have insight, understanding, and exceptional wisdom. 15 Before you arrived, I had the wise men and enchanters brought before me to see if they could read this writing on the wall and tell me what it means, and not one of them was able to tell me. 16 But it has been reported to me directly that you can offer accurate interpretations and solve problems no one else can. Now I will offer you what I offered the others: if you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple, wear a gold chain around your neck, and ascend in rank and privilege to be the third-highest-ranking ruler in the kingdom.
Daniel: 17 Keep the gifts for yourself, or else award them to another. That is up to you. Still, I will agree to read the writing on the wall and tell you what it means.
18 O king, the Most High God gave sovereignty, greatness, honor, and splendor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. 19 God made him so great and powerful that all peoples, regardless of their heritage, nationality, or language, trembled in fear before him. He did as he pleased: executing or sparing, honoring or shaming anyone as he wished. 20 But there came a point when his heart was so proud and his spirit so haughty that he acted arrogantly; he lost his royal throne and was stripped of his royal honors. 21 He was driven away from all that is human, and he took on the base instincts of an animal; he lived in the company of wild donkeys and bent over to eat grass like the oxen; every night the dew of heaven fell heavy on his body and made him wet until he learned his lesson and acknowledged that the Most High God is the true sovereign over all earthly kingdoms, and He grants authority to anyone He wishes.
22 But even though you knew all this, you, Belshazzar, his descendant, have followed in his ways and not lived humbly. 23 On the contrary, you have risen up against the true Lord of heaven. By demanding that the sacred vessels from His temple be brought before you and having you, your officials, your wives, and your concubines drink from them, you have issued a challenge you cannot win. You have made toasts and offered praise to the idols crafted in silver and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—idols which cannot see you, hear you, or know anything at all. And you have failed to honor in all you do the one True God who holds the breath of life in the palm of His hand and makes possible all your days. 24 He is the one who sent this hand and inscribed this message on the wall, 25 and this is what the inscription says: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.”
The cryptic word play is short and sweet. MENE, MENE; TEKEL; PARSIN: Numbered, numbered (your days); weighed (deficiently); divided (your empire).
26 Here is what these words mean: MENE: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed on the scales and found defective; 28 PERES: Your kingdom has been divided and handed over to the Medes and Persians.”
29 True to his word, Belshazzar gave the order and Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and the king proclaimed that he ascend in rank and privilege to be the third-highest-ranking ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night, under the cloak of darkness, Belshazzar, the Chaldean king of Babylonia, was killed. 31 Then Darius the Mede, in his 62nd year, gained control of the kingdom.
- 5:3 Other manuscripts add, “and silver.”