Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar. Sadly, he didn’t choose to follow God even despite all that his father had gone through. Rather, he indulged the pagan practices and deities of Babylon. He held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles. He ordered that the vessels of silver and gold that Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from Jerusalem be used to drink wine at his feast with his many wives and concubines. As they drank from the vessels from the temple of God, they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. They did not praise God, but they dishonored the temple and God Himself.
5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together. 7 The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me shall be clothed with purple and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.
As they were feasting and drinking and praising false gods, the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the wall. The king saw the back of the hand and was deeply frightened to the extent that his hips started to give out and his knees began to knock together. He, like his father before him before he repented, called upon the diviners, magicians, and sorcerers to try to read the inscription on the wall and explain its meaning. He offered a reward to whoever could do it, promising to clothe them in purple, to give them a necklace of gold, and to put them in a position of third in authority in the kingdom. But, as in the cases with Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, all of the “wise” men of Babylon could not read or interpret the writing. The king grew even more concerned and frightened, and his face became even paler. The nobles gathered around him were confused also and lacked wisdom to help.
10 The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners. 12 This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”
The queen heard about what was happening, and she offered the king an idea. She told him not to be alarmed or frightened because she knew of a man, Daniel, who she believed could interpret the writing. She didn’t credit Daniel’s God, but she, like Nebuchadnezzar had before his eyes were opened, credited the holy gods, lumping God in with a mixed bag of false gods. She rightly remembered that Daniel had interpreted many things rightly for Nebuchadnezzar when no one else could and that Nebuchadnezzar had appointed him chief of the “wise” men. She bragged about Daniel’s wisdom and insight while failing to recognize or acknowledge the power of His God. The queen also noted that Nebuchadnezzar had named him Belteshazzar, as if a Babylonian name gave him more credibility. She beckoned the king to summon him so that he could declare the interpretation.
13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. 15 Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16 But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.” 17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him.
Though Nebuchadnezzar had exalted Daniel, it seems as though Daniel had been more or less forgotten in Belshazzar’s kingdom. But the king now turned to Daniel for answers and promised him great rewards and honors if he was able to give the interpretation. However, Daniel was quick to say to the king that he was not interested in the rewards and gifts. Given that Belshazzar’s kingdom was just about to come to an end, receiving gifts and honor was really a moot point. More importantly, Daniel was interested in drawing attention to the God Who gives the insight and not in any passing earthly rewards. He said that he would, however, make the interpretation known.
18 O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. 19 Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated and whomever he wished he humbled. 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne and his glory was taken away from him. 21 He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.
Daniel immediately pointed Belshazzar to the Most High God, and he reminded him of how God had to humble his father Nebuchadnezzar because of how he was prideful in his heart. He reminded him of all the nasty details, of the insanity and of the behaving like an animal. But Nebuchadnezzar learned that God is the Most High God and that He is God over even the most powerful of men on the earth. He alone is the true sovereign, but Belshazzar didn’t believe this or follow God despite the power and wonder of his father’s testimony.
22 Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out.
Belshazzar did not humble his heart despite all that he knew from his father’s experiences, but he chose instead to exalt himself against the Lord of heaven. He blasphemed God by bringing out the vessels from His house and using them for pagan worship. He worshipped gods that do not see, hear, or understand, mere creations of man and figments of his imagination. He failed to worship the God in Whose hand was his very life and breath. He thought the kingdom was in his hands, but it was in the hand of God. He thought his life was in his hands, but it, too, was in the hands of God. Failing to glorify God and humble himself under the mighty hand of God resulted in God manifesting Himself through the hand writing on the wall.
25 “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENĒ, MENĒ, TEKĒL, UPHARSIN.’ 26 This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENĒ’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 ‘TEKĒL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 ‘PERĒS’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”
Daniel read the writing and then interpreted it. He said that God had numbered Belshazzar’s kingdom and put an end to it. He had been weighed on God’s holy scales of justice and found lacking. His kingdom thus had been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians, just as Daniel had prophesied to Nebuchadnezzar back in Daniel 2.
29 Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom. 30 That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. 31 So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.
In spite of Daniel saying he didn’t want the rewards or honor of a passing and pagan king, Belshazzar ordered Daniel to be given all that he had offered him. Even up to Belshazzar’s last day on earth, God gave him a clear opportunity to repent. Yet there is no indication in this passage that Belshazzar was moved by the divine warning or that he repented. However, that same night, the word of God came to pass. Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom as Babylon came to an end and the empire of the Medes and Persians took over. Darius was sixty-two at the time.