Home > Uncategorized > Daniel 5: Belshazzar, the wall, handwriting

Daniel 5: Belshazzar, the wall, handwriting

I actually read this passage of Scripture on Sunday, but Mondays tend to be hectic at work with little time to get other things done. Reading this chapter makes me think of how contradictory our culture has become. The Bible is often very taboo among many, but yet we often hear the phrase “handwriting on the wall.” Well, that phrase comes from the fifth chapter of Daniel.

Daniel 5 introduces us to Belshazzar (whose Babylonian name means “Bel, protect the king”) as the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar. Many skeptics, no doubt, will jump on this and say “Ah HA! I knew it! This is a contradiction! Belshazzar was actually the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar!”

That’s probably true about Bel being Nebie’s grandson, but we also notice how in the New Testament Jesus (and others) often referred to Himself as the “Son of David”. The term “son” in Biblical literature can also mean descendant. It would be like me saying I’m the “son” of Paul Zowie (my grandfather), the son of Sebastian Zahnweh (my great-grandfather and Paul’s father) or the “son” of George Goade (my maternal grandfather).

My understanding is that Belshazzar was actually a viceroy and was the actual son of Nabonius (who was the biological son of Nebuchadnezzar). But since King Nabonius was in Tema, Arabia, Belshazzar in his absence acted as king over Babylon.

And, yes, Belshazzar loved to party. His parties were no doubt debaucheries that would’ve made Caligula jealous. As I read the passage, I got this distinct impression that whereas Nebuchadnezzar was a man who tried to never let his guard down, Belshazzar seemed to love to party too much.

Belshazzar then ordered the golden vessels brought from God’s Temple in Israel to be used in a toast to various gods. As he drank, he saw large fingers writing a strange language on the wall. From his knees shaking together, we gather he was terrified.

“Yikes!” he probably said in Chaldean. “I must’ve really angered one of the gods!”

Some, no doubt, will dismiss this as a product of alcohol impairment, but the passage is clear that others saw it also, including servers who were most likely not inebriated.

As usual, none of the intellectuals could interpret it despite Bel’s offer of being the third in command of the kingdom.

Finally, the queen (whom I think was either Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, or daughter), then stepped forward and told Bel about the seasoned old prophet who could understand the ways of the “gods”. Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for 23 years, and it’s amazing of how soon people forgot about what had happened to him and how he acknowledged the true God during his trip to Humble Haven. Despite the reputation Daniel had, once again he’s not called upon until everyone else fails miserably.

Bel then promises Daniel that he’ll give him fancy clothes, fancy bling and the title of third highest ruler in the kingdom if he interprets the writing on the wall. Ever the modest one, Daniel tells the king to keep his gifts–presumably because Dan knows those honors and titles will soon be worthless. Daniel then reminds Bel of what Nebuchadnezzar had gone through and how soon Bel’d forgotten about that. Not only had he hardened his heart, he’d also desecrated the sacred drinking vessels.

With that: Daniel tells Bel the writing means “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”.


While the words were probably in Hebrew, some believe the top-to-bottom script is what confused Belshazzar’s “scholars”.

Mene refers to the Babylonian kingdom being numbered and finished; Tekel refers to Belshazzar having been weighed in the balances and having been found wanting; Peres (a different form of Upharsin) meaning that Bel’s kingdom would be divided amongst the Medes and Persians.

Daniel is bestowed with a scarlet robe, a gold chain around his neck and is made third ruler, and Belshazzar dies later that night when the invasion begins. Whether Belshazzar believed Daniel and repented or whether he chose to succomb to the inevitable is anyone’s guess.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since 1981 and counts the handwriting on the wall as one Biblical even he would’ve loved to have witnessed firsthand. Post comments or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

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