Daniel 5:1-31 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What does this passage emphasize that Belshazzar and his guests were doing at the banquet? See Daniel 5:1 (printed below)

Belshazzar the king gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. (Daniel 5:1)

Verse 1 speaks of a great feast that was held in the high courts of Babylon: Belshazzar the king made a banquet for one thousand of his lords. In this passage the king’s drinking of wine is especially emphasized as being the trigger that unleashes the awful wickedness that follows. When one comes under the influence of intoxicating drink the outward restraints and controls are relaxed and the latent sinfulness of the human heart surfaces to express itself (note Ephesians 5:18a).

2. What order does Belshazzar give (see verse 2 printed below?) Contrast Belshazzar’s action with what his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had done. See Daniel 1:2 (printed below)

While Belshazzar was drinking wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines, might drink from them. (Daniel 5:1)

…the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, along with some of the vessels from the temple of God. He carried them to the land of Shinar to the temple of his god, and he put the vessels in the treasure house of his god. (Daniel 1:2)

As he tastes the wine, Belshazzar commands that the gold and sliver drinking goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem be brought to the banquet (verse 2). His intention is that he and his royal guests might drink from these sacred cups and goblets (verse 2b). As one commentator remarks, here was “a deed that was unparalleled in the records of antiquity” (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel, p.215). Foreign gods were venerated; even though their peoples and their lands may have been conquered, the gods themselves were still revered. Note: Nebuchadnezzar’s act described in Daniel 1:2 was an act of venerating the things of the Lord.

3. Why do you suppose Belshazzar selected the sacred goblets that belonged to the Lord? Why not those of some pagan deity?

Why did Belshazzar select the vessels of the Lord? Why not those of some pagan deity? Was he openly defying God because of, and in spite of, what the Lord had done to his father, Nebuchadnezzar (note Daniel’s testimony to Belshazzar recorded in verses 18-21). Furthermore, with his moral restraints having been “liberated” by the wine, Belshazzar is expressing the innate defiance of God that dwells deep within the human heart (note Romans 8:7). There was also a demonic element present: Belshazzar, though responsible for his evil deed, is being used by the devil to give vent to the devil’s own defiant hatred of God.

4. When he is called upon to interpret the handwriting on the wall, what does Daniel say to Belshazzar? See Daniel 5:18-23 (printed below)

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father the kingdom and the greatness and the glory and the majesty. (19) Because of the greatness he gave him, all the peoples, nations, and men of every language feared him and trembled before him. He killed whomever he desired, and he kept alive whomever he desired. He promoted whomever he desired, and he demoted whomever he desired. (20) But when his heart became arrogant and his spirit was hardened, so that he behaved in a proud manner, he was deposed from his royal throne and they took his glory from him. (21) He was driven away from men and his mind became like that of the beasts. He lived with the wild donkeys, he was given grass to eat like the cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men and that he sets over it whomever he desires. (22) Yet you, his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. (23) On the contrary, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines, drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, gods that cannot see or hear and do not have intelligence. But the God who holds your life in his hands and who governs all your ways, you have not glorified. (Daniel 5:18-23)

When he is called upon to interpret the handwriting on the wall, Daniel reminds Belshazzar of God’s dealings with his father, Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord gloriously blessed Nebuchadnezzar with the great empire of Babylon and even gave him God-like dominion (verses 18-19). But the Lord greatly humbled Nebuchadnezzar for his pride (verses 20-21). Then the Lord graciously restored Nebuchadnezzar when he humbled himself before God (verse 21b). Daniel then proceeds to rebuke Belshazzar for his insolent and arrogant behavior (verses 22-23). He charges that Belshazzar knew all that had happened to his father when his father’s heart was lifted up in pride, but Belshazzar refused to learn from his father’s experience. On the contrary, Belshazzar has intentionally done worse than his father.

5. After Daniel has interpreted the handwriting on the wall, what does Belshazzar do? See Daniel 5:29 (printed below) But what does he fail to do?

Then, at Belshazzar’s command, they clothed Daniel in purple and placed a gold chain around his neck, and he was proclaimed to be the third highest ruler in the kingdom. (Daniel 5:29)

At Belshazzar’s command, Daniel is now made the third ruler in the kingdom Why? Was Belshazzar hoping to appease God by honoring God’s servant? Was Belshzzar hoping to impress God by keeping his promise? (Note the promise he made to Daniel recorded in verse 16.) Whatever his motivation, there was no true repentance; and there is no further extension of mercy. Verse 30 informs us that in that same night—within hours of the announcement—Belshazzar was killed and the empire of Babylon was divided up by the Medes and the Persians.