Introduction: Chapter 5 of the book of Daniel has a very interesting
background. King Nebuchadnezzar died in 563 B.C. Chapter 5 takes
place about 25 years after his death. King Nabonidus is now on the
throne, but he shares his authority with his evil son, Belshazzar.
The Persians, lead by King Cyrus, attack the Babylon empire and
defeat the troops led by King Nabonidus. King Nabonidus moves the
main Babylonian army to Borsippa, and King Cyrus heads for the city
of Babylon and surrounds it. My guess is that before Cyrus got to
Babylon, a great number of officials fled to the city for protection.
Babylon was protected by a massive double wall and had a sufficient
food supply to last for 20 years. The setting for our study today is
that Vice-King Belshazzar is within the safety of the walls of
Babylon, King Cyrus and the Persians surround the city, and the main
army of Babylon is off licking its wounds. Let’s dive into Daniel 5!
- The Party
- Read Daniel 5:1. What was King Belshazzar thinking? The
city is surrounded with enemy troops and he throws a
party? (It could be several things. He might have felt
safe behind the walls of the city. He might have been a
weak, “party-boy” who thought, when in doubt, throw a
party. It might have been a strategy to encourage the
citizens of the city – no reason to worry, life will go on
as usual, we are safe inside.)
- Read Daniel 5:2-4. Nebuchadnezzar was, at best, the
grandfather of Belshazzar. The Bible calls him “father”
because it was the custom to call an ancestor “father.”
Consider that Jesus was called “the Son of David” and
David “the son of Abram.” Matthew 1:1. When we last saw
Nebuchadnezzar, he had been converted to the worship of
the true God of Heaven. What does Belshazzar show is his
attitude toward the true God of Heaven?
- Why would he have this attitude? If the true God of
Heaven were unknown or “not an issue,” why try to
insult Him? (Nebuchadnezzar had created this huge
kingdom and the beautiful city fortress of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the true God of
Heaven controls kings and kingdoms. ( Daniel 4:34-35)
The logical conclusion from this (based on the fact
the Persians are here) is that the true God does not
care for Belshazzar and is working against him.
Belshazzar, being the evil and arrogant man that he
is, decides that he will show God who is who by
having all guests drink out of the goblets of God’s
temple while praising other gods. Very defiant. Very
- Look at the list(v.4)of their gods for a moment. What
do you find curious about this list? (What a group of
simple gods! You would think they would at least
worship something like the sun, which looks and feels
powerful. But dead trees and rocks?)
- The Hand
- Read Daniel 5:5-6. Imagine seeing this yourself. Imagine
seeing this if you had never seen a movie before in your
- How is Mr. “defiant arrogance” doing now?
- Did God send “the fingers” because of the act of
drinking from the temple goblets?
- Don’t you wish God would do this kind of thing more
often? (Of course, not in your house.)
- Read Daniel 5:7-9. Why would the King make the person who
decrypted the message “third highest?” (Remember that King
Belshazzar and his father were jointly ruling the empire.
King Belshazzar was offering the position of authority
next to himself!)
- How many wanted to take a shot at winning this
reward? (Verse 8 says “all” the wise men showed up.)
- God obviously wrote the message in a way that was
difficult for the people to understand. Why would God
do that? (Some may think this is an argument for
studying from the KJV. I think God did this to
increase the mystery of the moment and underscore the
inadequacy of the king and his “wise men.”)
- Some very important fact is being communicated by
what is not said. Notice that (v.8) “all the king’s
wise men came in.” Has Daniel been demoted? (Yes.
Daniel no longer holds a position of responsibility.)
- How do you explain that God has been blessing
Daniel all these years, but now he has been
dropped from a place of honor and authority?
- Remember that Daniel was a very young man when
he was captured. According to my rough
calculations, Daniel was in his middle to late
50’s when Nebuchadnezzar died. How would you
like to lose your high, respected position and
slip into obscurity at that age?
- Read Daniel 5:10-12. What queen do you imagine this is
based on what she is saying? (I would guess this is the
grandmother – wife of Nebuchadnezzar.)
- Read Daniel 5:13. What is the first thing that Belshazzar
asks Daniel? (Were you a slave?)
- Was this intended to be a compliment?
- Does this reflect what the queen grandmother said
about Daniel? (She said nothing about Daniel being a
- What could the king have asked instead? (Were you for
many years the number one wise man in the kingdom?)
- What does this show us about Belshazzar? (He is just
arrogant and obnoxious.)
- Read Daniel 5:14-16. Here is Daniel’s ticket back to fame
and fortune! He can be ranked next in authority to
Belshazzar! Good times are here again.
- Read Daniel 5:17. What is going on? Why does Daniel turn
down this wonderful promotion? (I wish I could have been
there. My bet is that it had been a long time since
Belshazzar had anyone tell him, “You have nothing to give
me that I value.” This, from a former slave.)
- The Interpretation
- Read Daniel 5:18-21. I was a bit concerned when Daniel
said in verse 17 “I will read the writing for the king and
tell him what it means.” To whom does Daniel attribute the
- Why was King Nebuchadnezzar so successful? (God
blessed him. This is precisely what Belshazzar does
not want to hear at this moment.)
- Read Daniel 5:22-23. Could this kind of talk get Daniel
killed? (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the
Old and New Testaments, recites that historian Xenophon
recorded that Belshazzar killed one of his nobles “merely
because, in hunting, the noble struck down the game before
him.” He also records that Belshazzar emasculated one of
the court personnel simply because one of his concubines
said the man was handsome. Needless to say, people had
been killed by evil Belshazzar for a lot less than the
insults Daniel was throwing around right now.)
- Read Daniel 5:24-28. Do you recall how Daniel brought bad
news to Nebuchadnezzar? (Compare Daniel 4:19. Daniel
always tried to soften the bad news. He would give the
good news first.)
- Why doesn’t Daniel soften this news? (I think Daniel
has no respect for Belshazzar. This king is arrogant,
obnoxious and impious – and for no good reason.
Nebuchadnezzar really was a world conqueror. But,
Belshazzar has done nothing, gets drunk when danger
approaches and insults God.)
- Remember that we learned from Daniel 4:27-31 that
Nebuchadnezzar was given a chance to repent? He was
given a second chance. Why is Belshazzar not given a
similar opportunity? (Let’s re-read Daniel 5:22.
Belshazzar knew what was right. He knowingly defied
the great God of Heaven. My belief is that Daniel’s
attitude towards Belshazzar reflected God’s attitude
towards this king. He was just evil (“found wanting”)
and arrogant and the time for judgment had come.)
- Read Daniel 5:29. Belshazzar keeps his word. Why?
- What is missing from verse 29? (Every time Daniel
revealed God’s will to Nebuchadnezzar by interpreting
a dream, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the true God of
Heaven. Belshazzar does nothing of the kind.)
- Read Daniel 5:30. Judgment is executed against Belshazzar.
Would you want to be promoted to number three the very
same evening that number two is killed by invaders?
- Friend, if you have a hard, rebellious heart, the time to
turn to God is right now. God is not only a God who
pursues the wicked (as He did Nebuchadnezzar) to encourage
them to follow Him, but God is also a God of judgment for
those who continue to rebel. Why not repent today?
- Next week: An Ancient Death Decree.