I. The Handwriting on the Wall (5:1-12)
A. The feast of Belshazzar (5:1-4).
1. The identity of Belshazzar (5:1a).
a) Until 1854 nothing was known of Belshazzar from ancient history, and many critics assumed Dan. 5:1 was an error, since the last king of Babylon was Nabonidus.
b) In 1854 texts were discovered which mentioned the son of Nabonidus, Belshazzar.
c) Nabonidus was devoted to a god called called Sin, and left Babylon to worship this god in the desert, leaving Belshazzar behind as crown prince.
2. The purpose of this great feast (5:1b) may have been to solidify the empire against the impending Persian invasion.
3. Belshazzar chose to call for the vessels taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar to use in this degenerate feast in honor of his gods – which were made of the same materials as the vessels! (5:2-4; cf. 1:2; Ezra 1:7; 6:5).
B. The writing (5:5-9).
1. Suddenly the fingers of a hand appeared, writing on the plastered walls of the palace (5:5; archaeology has verified the walls of Babylon were plastered).
2. The king was terrified by the vision, and called for the usual group of wise men (who have consistently failed throughout the book), offering the one who could read and interpret the writing the place of third ruler in the kingdom (5:6-7).
3. The wise men could not read the writing (perhaps because it was in Aramaic and contained only consonants – MN’ TQL PRS), and the king was terrified (5:8-9).
C. The king sends for Daniel (5:10-12).
1. The queen (probably the queen mother, since Belshazzar’s wives were already present according to 5:2), came into the hall and asks why the king is so upset (5:10).
2. She then reminds him of the wisdom that Daniel had displayed in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, and says that he should be summoned (5:11-12).
II. Your Days Are Numbered (5:13-31)
A. The king summoned Daniel (5:13-16).
1. There is a decided tone of disrespect in Belshazzar’s treatment of Daniel. He addresses him as an “exile” rather than a respected diplomat, which he had been for years (5:13), and he says that he has “heard” that Daniel has understanding (5:14), in contrast to Nebuchadnezzar who knew that Daniel had divine wisdom (see 4:9).
2. He explains that the other wise men have failed, and offers Daniel the reward of third place in the kingdom (5:15-16).
B. Daniel confronts Belshazzar (5:17-23).
1. There is a decided tone of disinterest in Daniel’s statement to Belshazzar. He basically tells him he can keep his reward (5:17).
2. Daniel then reviews his relationship with Nebuchadnezzar, and says that he had learned humility (especially after the events of Dan. 4), but that Belshazzar was not humble, which was indicated by his use of the temple vessels (5:18-23).
C. The interpretation (5:24-28).
1. Mene = sounds like the Aramaic for “numbered,” and means the days of the Babylonians are numbered (5:24-26).
2. Tekel = sounds like the Aramaic for “weighed,” and means the Babylonians have been weighed in the balances and found wanting (5:27).
3. Peres = singular of parsin, sounds like the Aramaic for “divided” and “Persia,” means the kingdom is to be divided and given to the Persians (5:28; cf. 8:1).
D. The aftermath (5:29-31).
1. True to his word, Belshazzar rewarded Daniel (5:29).
2. True to God’s word, that very night the Persians killed Belshazzar and Darius the Mede became king (5:30-31).
a) The Greek historian Xenophon said that “there was a festival in Babylon, in which all the Babylonians drank and revelled the whole night” when the Persians conquered Babylon.
b) The identity of Darius the Mede is a puzzle, since Cyrus was the king of Persia (Ezra 1:1). We will talk about his identity in a future lesson.