Study Guide

Book of Daniel Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Drinking the Kool-Aid

  • Fast forward to the future: a new Babylonian ruler, King Belshazzar, is partying with a bunch of revelers like it's 1999.
  • Things start to get out of hand when Belshazzar demands the sacred vessels his father (in historical reality, his grandfather) Nebuchadnezzar stole from the temple in Jerusalem—so that he, his wives, and his concubines can all drink out of them. They go ahead and do this, all while praising their Babylonian deities who are associated with the elements of nature.
  • Midway through this blasphemous chug-a-thon, a magical human hand appears in the air and starts writing something on the wall. When Belshazzar sees this, he turns pale, his limbs grow weak, his knees knock together. He has a classic freak out.
  • When the hand has finished writing and vanished, Belshazzar calls in the Babylonian wise men, enchanters, and fortune tellers—but they're unable to decode the message. This causes Belshazzar to be even more perturbed.

Queen Knows Best

  • Finally, the queen recommends Daniel. She knows that he's smart, wise, and "endowed with a spirit from the holy gods." She states that Nebuchadnezzar found him extremely useful on multiple occasions. Belshazzar takes her advice.
  • Daniel enters and Belshazzar elaborately beseeches him and asks if he can help, promising a reward.

Measure Up

  • Dan answers by saying that Belshazzar should save his promises and rewards for somebody else. He then launches into a little moral and historical lesson, explaining that "the Most High God" gave Nebuchadnezzar power and greatness, which allowed him to do whatever he wanted as king. But God proved to Nebuchadnezzar that only God was really in charge, by making him live in the wild with the animals for seven years and forcing Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge God. Yet, says Daniel, Belshazzar failed to learn the same lesson and become humble. Plus, he defiled the sacred Temple vessels. Belshazzar and his revelers also paid homage to gods of the natural elements, which says Daniel "do not see or hear or know," instead of worshipping the true God.
  • Finally, having made his point, Daniel turns to interpret the writing on the wall. It's a set of Hebrew words for different weight measurement: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.
  • Mene, says Daniel, means that God has numbered the days of Belshazzar's kingdom and is now bringing it to an end. Tekel means that Belshazzar has personally failed the test of measuring up as a worthy and humble ruler. And Peres (the singular form of Parsin) means that his kingdom will fall and be divided by the Medes and the Persians.
  • Even though Daniel said Belshazzar shouldn't waste time awarding him, he awards him anyway—making him third in the kingdom.
  • In short order, the next sentence informs us that Belshazzar was killed later that night, and "Darius the Mede" took over the city.