Daniel 5

“The writing is on the wall”

Meaning:there are clear signs that something unpleasant or unwelcome is going to happen; a warning that something will quickly come to an end.


Daniel 5:1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords

“Nebuchadnezzar’s reign ended with his death in 562 B.C., roughly one year after his sanity returned and he regained the throne.  From that point on the seat of the kingdom became very unstable.  His son and heir Evil-Merodach (Amel-Marduk), ascended to the throne and ruled for two years.  Keil says that ‘[he] reigned badly’ and therefore was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglissar, in 560 B.C.  Neriglissar reigned four years and then died, seemingly of natural causes. His young son, Labashi-Marduk, was placed on the throne and ruled for a mere two months before being murdered by a band of conspirators ‘because he gave many proofs of a bad character.’ Included in the conspiring band was Nabonidus, a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar.  He was also believed to be partly of Assyrian descent through his mother…

“After obtaining the crown, Nabonidus did not like the duties of monarch, nor was he a very good king.  Historians described him as ‘a person who was altogether unfit to occupy [the throne].’  As a partial Assyrian, he was resented by the Chaldean aristocracy and not favored by some of the military.  He became very unpopular with the powerful Marduk priesthood by favoring Sin, the moon god rather than Bel-Marduk.  His attempt to consolidate the differing religions in the temple of Marduk… proved to be a serious misstep with the Marduk priesthood.  Their disfavor forced him to leave the throne in Babylon… His removal from Babylon forced him to place his son, Belshazzar—a capable soldier—as the vice regent over the empire.  ‘This continued for at least five years—from the seventh through eleventh year of Nabonidus’s reign—and probably longer.’

“Belshazzar governed over all of the Babylonian provinces.  ‘Although, technically, Belshazzar occupied a position of authority subordinate to that of Nabonidus, actually, he seems to have had nearly all the prerogatives of monarch.’ He would have been the official through which Daniel and the Jews petitioned all of their government business.  Therefore, referring to Belshazzar as the king in a Jewish document (the Book of Daniel) was an appropriate application of the title.

“Babylonian society was much like Rome during its pinnacle of power and prosperity. It was a metropolitan city lush with money, commerce, paganism, tradition and ceremony and of course pride for the gods and their country.  Self-absorption, pleasure-seeking and entertainment were dominant characteristics of the opulent culture, especially with the elite class.  Among Belshazzar’s chief responsibilities was keeping the people contented, especially the religious priesthood and the aristocracy. As the regent-king, he underwrote the most important royal celebrations and was happy to host them as the presiding authority.”  (G. Erik Brandt, The Book of Daniel: Writings and Prophecies, 113-115)

Daniel 5:3 they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God

At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the gold and silver vessels had been dedicated to God.  They were His and were to be used only for sacred Temple ordinances.  Belshazzar should have had the decency to ask God if he could borrow them for the night.  Little did he know that the kingdom of Babylon would become the symbol for the very seat of Satan’s power, the great whore whose influence spans the many waters and all four corners of the earth.  His profane use of sanctified temple vessels would offend God and bring upon him an immediate punishment, and his destruction would become a type for the destruction of Satan kingdom.

gold and silver vessels

Daniel 5:4 they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, and of brass

The motto, “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,” applied to Belshazzar’s feast, except that some of the lords were probably were killed even before the morning came.

James E. Talmage

Ancient history, you say, yes but is it not applicable to conditions in the world today? Men are praising the gods of silver and of gold and of all the other valuable commodities that make up wealth, and the God in whose hand their breath is and whose are all their ways they will not recognize. Do you wonder that wickedness and crime have increased to terrifying proportions under those conditions? The prophets of old foresaw it. They spoke of the days of wickedness and vengeance immediately precedent to the second coming of the Lord, which I reiterate, for it has been spoken before, is near at hand. (Conference Report, October 1930, Second Day—Morning Meeting 72)

Daniel 5:6 the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote… upon the plaister of the wall

Spencer W. Kimball

For thousands of years our omniscient Heavenly Father… has been trying to get his children to listen… but they were blind of eyes and dull of ears. They were not connected to the power line.

Handwritten messages of warning have come. Wicked Belshazzar, with lords and ladies in ugly debauchery, drank wines from golden vessels stolen from holy temples, and while drunkenness and sensual indulgences were at their height,

. . . came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

   Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. (Daniel 5:5-6.)

This was a message from another world, and Daniel interpreted the solemn warning. On another continent Aminadi ". . . interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God." (Alma 10:2.) Another message, written by the Lord on two sets of stone tables, came from Mount Sinai: ". . . And he wrote upon the tables the words of the Covenant, the ten commandments." (Exodus 34:28.) (Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 54)

Daniel 5:6 his countenance changed and his thoughts troubled him

“It was not usual for kings to eat and drink before their subjects, but here all dignity was lost in sensual hilarity; and in the midst of these orgies, it would seem as a climax to his folly, he adds impiety by ordering his servants to fetch out of his treasure house the holy vessels of gold and silver which had been dedicated to the Lord in the temple, and which Nebuchadnezzar had seized when he took Jerusalem and had placed them where they were, but had always held them sacred, never allowing them to be used for any purpose whatever; but the wine-heated king had lost all reverence for his grandfather or Jehovah; he seemed madly rushing on to his destruction. These holy vessels were brought forth, and he and his lords ‘drank wine in them.’  ‘This was the ultimatum of human daring, the divine vengeance showed itself on the spot.’ In the same hour came forth a hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the hand that wrote, his eyes followed the tracing of the mystic words, he beheld the black characters frowning down upon him from the palace wall, he saw the consternation of the men, and heard the shrieks of women; he could not read their meaning, but his conscience was sore alarmed, his courage failed him, his bravado and his daring way broke down, ‘his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him.’ The audacious and defiant king is horror struck and unmanned before that hand-writing on the wall, not a syllable of which can be read. His horror-stricken cry is: Bring in the astrologers, that they may read this writing upon the wall! The highest honors of the kingdom to the man who will tell me what it means; he shall be clothed in purple, with a chain of gold, and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”  (Hannah T. King, Contributor, vol. 5 (October 1883-September 1884), Vol. V. March, 1884. No. 6. 217.)

Daniel 5:7 bring in the astrologers

Meanwhile, while Belshazzar is summoning the astrologers and palm readers, the Persian army is breaching the walls of Babylon.  Greek historians described Babylon as an impenetrable city, with walls so tall and broad that chariot races were held on top of them.  Cyrus’ general devised a cunning plan.  The walls were built over the river which ran through the city.  Upstream, the Persians dug canals which allowed them to divert the water and lower its level so they could enter the city through the river bed in the middle of the night.  Once under the walls, they headed for the palace, eventually taking the city without a fight.  Most likely, the soldiers were already on their way to the palace when the omen occurred.  The writing was on the wall for Belshazzar, and the enemy was within the gates.  There was nothing that the Chaldean astrologers could do.  Belshazzar’s fate was written on the wall, not in the stars.

Daniel 5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods

Enter Daniel, our hero.  Apparently, with all the political instability between the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, the legend of Daniel had faded.  He was no longer serving on the king’s court.  While he was long gone, his memory was not and the queen uttered a profound statement, “There is a man in thy kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.” 

We live in a blessed time when the Holy Spirit of God has been poured out upon the earth in great measure.  There should be a man in every kingdom in whom is the Spirit of God.  There should be a man or woman in every country, in every stake, in every ward, in every home in whom is the Spirit of God.  Certainly, Daniel excelled in the gift of the Spirit which interprets dreams.  In our day, he could have made a living as a dream reading psychotherapist but God preferred him to be an example to the Jews in Babylonian exile.  But the privilege of receiving and understanding revelation—whether messages written on the wall or written in our hearts with the soft pen of the still small voice—the spirit of the holy gods lives in our hearts to bless us every day.  One of those messages is, “Get out of Babylon!”

Daniel 5:17 Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another

This is a great moment!  Daniel has been here before.  He knows the routine.  He has no interest in anything that Belshazzar can give him.   So he tells him to keep his money and power, his fortune and fame.   What good are money and power to a true servant of God?  Can the doomed king give Daniel wisdom from God?  Can he give him personal integrity or spiritual purity?  Can he give him eternal life?  These are the things that were important to Daniel.  Belshazzar had nothing Daniel wanted. 

We should strive to have the same integrity as Daniel.  The wise of the world don’t want to win the lottery, nor do they seek to be President.  They seek to please God and build his kingdom.

Daniel 5:18 the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom

Four times in this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as Belshazzar’s father.  He wasn’t.  Belshazzar may have wished to claim a lineage through Nebuchadnezzar to legitimize his place on the throne but he was not his son.  He was the son of Nabonidus who was still technically the ruler of Babylon, having placed Belshazzar in charge in the capitol while he was away.

writing on the wall

Daniel 5:25 this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN

“Daniel proceeded to decipher the writings on the wall and provide an explanation for the message given.  As mentioned, most scholars believe that the message was written in the Hebrew form of Aramaic, which would be familiar to Daniel, but less familiar to the Chaldeans.  The original message properly interpreted translates to: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPERES, the U being he conjunction “and.” The writing in true Aramaic would also contract or omit all vowels from each word… To interpret the code, Daniel simply applied the vowel E and the required spacing to divide the letters into words, so that the inscription read as follows:


“In English, the interpretation of the message would read:


“Having thus properly separated the code, its interpretation still required spiritual insight in order to understand and the meaning of the message.  The background had been given by Daniel, now the message would come.” (G. Erik Brandt, The Book of Daniel: Writings and Prophecies, 127-128)

Daniel 5:27 Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting

Boyd K. Packer

Our transgressions are all added to our account, and one day if it is not properly settled, each of us, like Belshazzar of Babylon, will be weighed in the balance and found wanting. (That All May Be Edified [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 321)

Daniel 5:31 Darius the Median took the kingdom

Here, we find another error with the text of Daniel 5.  It wasn’t Darius the Median but Cyrus the Great who took the kingdom.  The misnomer reminds us that Daniel has been frequently altered by subsequent hands.  Cyrus described his conquest in his own words in the Cyrus Cylinder.  Part of the translated cuneiform text indicates that Cyrus felt called of God.

cyrus cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder


Cyrus Cylinder Translation

In all lands everywhere he [God] searched; he looked through them and sought a righteous prince after his own heart, whom he took by the hand. He called Cyrus, king of Anshan, by name; he appointed him to lordship over the whole world… the great lord, looked joyously on the caring for his people, on his pious works and his righteous heart.

To his city, Babylon, he caused him to go; he made him take the road to Babylon, going as a friend and companion at his side. His numerous troops, in unknown numbers, like the waters of a river, marched armed at his side. Without battle and conflict, he permitted him to enter Babylon. He spared his city, Babylon, a calamity.

Nabonidus, the king, who did not fear him, he delivered into his hand. All the people of Babylon, Sumer, and Akkad, princes and governors, fell down before him and kissed his feet. They rejoiced in his sovereignty; their faces shone.

The lord, who by his power brings the dead to life, who amid destruction and injury had protected them, they joyously blessed him, honoring his name. (https://sites.ualberta.ca/~egarvin/assets/the-cyrus-cylinder.pdf)

Wilford Woodruff

Cyrus was named by the Lord before he was born, through the mouth of the prophet (see Isa. 45:1-4); and when the time came, as King Belshazzar and his princes were feasting and drinking wine out of the cups that had been brought from the temple at Jerusalem, he took possession of the city and carried off the treasures. The army of Cyrus turned the river out of its course and walked in under the walls of the city. Belshazzar was taken prisoner and slain, and the city went into the hands of people they were not looking for. What did Cyrus do when he took the city of Babylon? He took the riches—cattle, horses and property—there was in that city and offered them as a sacrifice to the great God. This is the course that a heathen king took; and we understand, from history, that Cyrus pursued this course all his life. Whenever he took a city he went and offered sacrifice to the great God, the God of heaven. You may trace this through the whole history of the world until the present hour and you will find that that God who sits enthroned on high has governed and controlled all these things. He will do the same today. That same God has set His hand to fulfill the volume of revelations contained in these records of divine truth, which portray the winding-up scene of the work and Kingdom of God in the last dispensation and fulness of times. (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 2, April 6, 1890)