The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on Daniel Chapter 5


In Daniel chapter 5, we find King Belshazzar hosting a great feast for a thousand of his nobles. In his drunkenness, he commits an act of great arrogance and blasphemy by commanding that the gold and silver vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem be brought so that he, his nobles, wives, and concubines could drink from them. This act was a direct affront to the God of Israel.

That very night, Belshazzar was judged. A hand appeared and wrote an inscription on the wall which no one, not even the king’s wise men, could interpret. The queen advised Belshazzar to call for Daniel, who gave the interpretation that God had numbered Belshazzar’s days and brought his kingdom to an end. That very night, King Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

This chapter provides valuable lessons for us today on the themes of pride, idolatry, judgment, and the sovereignty of God. As we study this passage, may our hearts be humbled and may we repent of any pride or idolatry. Let’s worship the Most High God who holds all our destinies in His hand.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Pride and arrogance often precede a fall
  • Idolatry and false worship bring judgment
  • No one can escape the judgment of God
  • God is sovereign over all earthly kingdoms and leaders
  • God upholds His holiness and defends His honor
  • Repentance is the only proper response when confronted by God
The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on Daniel Chapter 5


I. Belshazzar’s Feast and Sacrilege (5:1-4)

Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:1-4 NKJV)

King Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon who conquered Jerusalem. Belshazzar ruled Babylon as co-regent while his father was away fighting wars. In an act of foolish pride, he throws a lavish party for his nobles and brings out the sacred vessels looted from God’s temple in Jerusalem so that his nobles and wives can drink from them. This was an act of utter disregard for the God of Israel who had humbled Nebuchadnezzar before.

Drinking from the temple vessels signified Belshazzar’s belief that his gods were stronger than the God of Israel. The text says they drank wine and “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” Belshazzar was engaging in idolatry and directly challenging the Most High God through this sacrilegious display. His pride will soon be met with swift judgment.

II. The Handwriting on the Wall (5:5-9)

In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished. (Daniel 5:5-9 NKJV)

In the midst of Belshazzar’s brazen party, suddenly a hand appears supernaturally and begins writing on the wall. Terrified, the king’s hip joints shake loose and his knees knock together. None of his astrologers or wise men can interpret the writing, which causes the king even greater anxiety.

This strange writing was God’s clear message that Babylon’s days were numbered and judgment was imminent. Belshazzar’s learned men had no wisdom from God to discern the meaning of the message. Worldly wisdom always proves insufficient in the face of divine judgment.

III. Daniel Interprets the Writing (5:10-28)

The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall. The queen spoke, saying, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.” (Daniel 5:10-12 NKJV)

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing. And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:13-16 NKJV)

Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses. (Daniel 5:17-21 NKJV)

“But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written. (Daniel 5:22-24 NKJV)

“And this is the inscription that was written:


This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:25-28 NKJV)

At the queen’s urging, Belshazzar calls for Daniel, acknowledging that he has “the Spirit of the Holy God” in him and superior wisdom and insight compared to Babylon’s wise men.

Daniel boldly confronts the king and recounts how God gave Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom but punished him for his pride until he acknowledged God’s sovereignty. In contrast, Belshazzar refused to humble himself and even exalted himself against the Lord of Heaven by profaning the temple vessels.

Daniel interprets the inscription on the wall, which essentially communicates that God has numbered Belshazzar’s days as king, weighed him on the scales and found him lacking, and will divide and give his kingdom to the Medes and Persians. This is a pronouncement of imminent judgment on Belshazzar’s kingdom.

IV. The Judgment Executed (5:29-31)

Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old. (Daniel 5:29-31 NKJV)

Even after Daniel’s sobering interpretation, Belshazzar carries on with rewarding him as promised. But God’s judgment comes swiftly. That very night, Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom. Judgment had arrived, just as the handwriting said it would.


Daniel chapter 5 provides a sobering reminder that God actively defends His holiness and judges human pride and defiance. Belshazzar’s sacrilege against the vessels of the temple filled up the measure of God’s wrath against him. Let us learn from this account and give God the honor, worship, and reverence that He deserves. He holds our lives and destiny in His hands. Rather than pridefully provoking the Lord to anger, we must bow in humility and repentance before Him. What a stark contrast between Belshazzar’s defiant feast and the feast Daniel will enjoy in God’s presence for all eternity (Dan. 12:2-3, 13)!

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