Three Powerful Words

Daniel 5

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2018

Daniel 5 describes one of the most significant events in world history.  It describes the fall of Babylon to Medo-Persia.  Persia conquers ancient Babylon, which would be like Iran (modern Persia) conquering Iraq (modern Babylon). Babylon was one of the most powerful cities in the ancient world.  This was one of the biggest upsets in military history.

The chapter also contains a mystery and a riddle with a play on words.  A secret message is given to a pagan king.  In this chapter, another Babylonian king gets divine revelation.  God gave supernatural messages to a few Babylonian kings.  Nebuchadnezzar got it in the form of a dream, two dreams (one at the beginning and one at the end of his reign).

Belshazzar got it in the form of writing on the wall (divine graffiti) on the last day of his reign as king. One king was given a message while he was asleep.  The other was given the revelation while he was awake and in public.  God writes some graffiti on the wall.

Divine Graffiti Characteristics

1) It was SHORT

This message was not long. It consisted of only three words written in Aramaic.  There are four words in the text, but one is repeated.  The words are mene, mene, tekel, parsin.  The KJV has upharsin.  In Aramaic u just means “and”.  It is a conjunction.

2) It was SECRET

It seemed to be written in code.  Nobody knew what it meant.  None of the wise men of Babylon could interpret it.  It was a complete mystery.

3) It was NEGATIVE

When interpreted, everything about this message was negative.  One of the messages to Nebuchadnezzar contained some good news but this was all bad news for Belshazzar.  There was no good news.  There was no gospel in this message.


Even before it was interpreted, it was frightening.  The way the message was given was frightening.  Out of nowhere, a creepy hand comes out of the wall and starts writing a message.  It was like something straight out of a horror movie.  This terrified Belshazzar and it would probably terrify us.

5) It was DIVINE

It was written with the finger of God.  It was not a magic trick.  God was giving Belshazzar an important message.  God does not have a physical body but he can take on the form of a human body.  He wrote the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone with his finger.

We have all seen something that scared us.  We have all seen some scary movies.  This fear did not come from a horror movie.  It did not come from a haunted house.  It was not caused by a ghost or a demon.  God was the one who caused Belshazzar to become terrified.

Belshazzar was in the middle of a big party.  God came in and said that the party is over.  Belshazzar went from JOY to utter FEAR.  Belshazzar had an encounter with God and it frightened him.  Does God scare people?  Does God do this to people?

When many people have an encounter with God in the Bible, they are terrified.  Why?  The Bible says that God is a consuming fire, not a nice warm cozy fire but a blazing hot CONSUMING FIRE. You say, “That is the God of the OT.”  Hebrews says that OUR GOD is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

God spoke audibly to the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai.  He spoke in a loud voice.  The mountain began to shake.  There was lightning and thunder.  The people were absolutely terrified.  They thought they were going to die.  They all moved back.

When sinners stand before a holy God for judgment, they are terrified.  Why?  Hebrews says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).  It is absolutely terrifying and frightening.

This chapter describes the last day on earth for Belshazzar.  The day was October 12, 539 BC.  When the day is over, he is dead.  Have you ever thought what your last day on earth will be like?  This chapter gives us his last day.

Belshazzar is given a message of judgment to him personally and to his nation.  He is about to be dethroned.  He is about to die.  Babylon is about to lose its status as the number one power in the world.  They were the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statute dream.  The gold empire is going to be replaced by the silver empire.  God used Babylon to judge the Jews. Now it is time for them to be judged as a nation.

Liberal Criticism

This chapter has a strange miracle in it and it is not too surprising that it has received a lot of criticism from liberals.  For hundreds of years, critics used to mock this chapter, not just because of the supernatural element in the chapter.  They said that there is nobody in history known as Belshazzar or Darius the Mede.

They never existed.  The Bible must contain some errors.  There are plenty of ancient histories written on Babylon (e.g., Herodotus, Berosus) and none of them mention Belshazzar.  According to secular history, the one who conquered Babylon was not Darius the Mede; it was Cyrus.  All history confirms this fact.

Then, in 1854, archeologists discovered some documents with Belshazzar’s name on it.  They found some cuneiform tablets with the name Bel-Shar-utzer on it.  He is called the firstborn son of Nabonidus.  Then they changed their attack.  Daniel 5 begins with the words “King Belshazzar.”  They said that Belshazzar may have existed, but he was not king.  The last king was Nabonidus, not Belshazzar.  That is only partially true.

Nabonidus was the king but his oldest son Belshazzar served as co-regent in charge of Babylon.  Nabonidas was indeed the king but ten of the seventeen years he ruled, he lived outside of Babylon.  While he was gone, he put Belshazzar in charge.[1]  He was not the official king, but he was the de facto king.

Daniel 5 is completely historical.  Belshazzar promised to make Daniel third in the kingdom.  Why didn’t he promise to make him second?  He didn’t because he was second.  Nabonidus was first.  What does this chapter show?  It shows that you can trust the Bible.  It is completely historical.

Belshazzar Facts

As we come to Daniel 5, about a king named Belshazzar.  He has not been mentioned before in Daniel.  Who was Belshazzar?  What do we know about him.

1) He was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson.

Nebuchadnezzar is called his father three times in the chapter (Daniel 5:2, 11, 18) but Belshazzar was not his son.  The word in the original just means ancestor.  It doesn’t always mean father.

2) He lived many years later

Nebuchadnezzar is no longer king at this point in the book.  He died in 562 BC.  More than thirty years have passed between Daniel 4 and Daniel 5.  How do we know that?  Chapter five deals with events twenty-three years after King Nebuchadnezzar died and chapter four deals with events at least seven years before he died.

3) He ruled when his nation was in decline

When Nebuchadnezzar was king, the nation was at its peak.  After he died, the nation was characterized by political instability.   Nebuchadnezzar ruled the nation for forty-three years.  After he died, four kings ruled the country in the next twenty years.

After Nebuchadnezzar died, his son took over.  The Bible calls him Evil-Merodock (also called Amel-Marduk) but he only lasted two years before he was assassinated.  The one who assassinated him (Nergal-Sharezer) took over and reigned four years and then put his son Labashi-Marduk was put on the throne, but he only ruled for nine months before he was assassinated by a man called Nabonidus who was married to Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter.  Their oldest son was named Belshazzar.

Summary of the Chapter

Belshazzar throws a party.  He holds a banquet.  It is a state banquet.  It is a big banquet.  A thousand people are invited to this party.  Wine is served at this party.  Some preachers (usually Baptists) love this chapter because they use it to rail against alcohol.  They miss the whole point of the passage.

It is not wrong to have a feast.  It is not wrong to invite people over and throw a big party.  It is not wrong to drink wine.  Jesus turned water into wine.  God is not against parties.  There will be parties in heaven.  There will be banquets on earth when Jesus returns.  None of those things are condemned here.  What is the problem?  What sin did Belshazzar commit?

While Belshazzar was drinking his 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. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. (Daniel 5:2-3 NIV)

The Sins of Belshazzar


We see in Daniel 5:22-23 that pride was one of Belshazzar’s main sins. Daniel says, “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven.”

As his empire is crumbling, Belshazzar throws a party.  He is partying with the Persian army outside his walls.  He is overconfident.  He thought he was invincible.  He thought he was untouchable.  He had nothing to worry about.  He had tall thick walls.  He had plenty of food for twenty years stored up.  He had water from the Euphrates River.

Babylon was a fortress.  It was like the Titanic.  People used to think it was unsinkable.  They said that even God could not sink it, but pride comes before a fall. Many today have a false sense of security.  I talk to some atheists at work who think that they have absolutely nothing to worry about.  Everything is fine.  One day they will stand face to face with an infinitely holy God.


Belshazzar commits sacrilege to show that he is not intimidated by the God of the Jews any more than he is intimidated by the Persian troops outside.  Sacrilege means misuse of what is sacred.  During the party, the king decides that it is time to break out the fine china.  He wanted to drink from golden cups, so he took sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem and used them as beer mugs.  People do what Belshazzar did today. Sacred things are treated with disrespect.  They are mocked and ridiculed by society and popular culture.


As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:4 NIV)

Belshazzar does not just use these vessels to drink wine, he uses them to commit idolatry.  He uses them in a public celebration in honor of pagan deities.  He used them in a praise service to pagan deities

The Divine Response

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. (Daniel 5:5 ESV)

There are not too many parties where God shows up.  He shows up here.  He crashes the party. God shows up to this party.   It is interesting to me that archaeologists have discovered and excavated the very room where this banquet took place.  They found it in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.  It would have been big enough to accommodate this feast and it has a white plaster wall in it, just like Daniel says.

As soon as they begin drinking from the holy cups, the hand pops it of the wall and writes a message.  Belshazzar was terrified.  He was so scared that he turned white as a ghost.  He was so scared that he began to shake physically.  He knew the message came from God.  He knew it is was important and had idea it might be bad, but he did not know what it said, so he looks for answers.

The Search for Answers

He turned to the wrong place.  He called in the wise men and astrologers (Daniel 5:7) and they were completely useless but then a woman comes to the rescue.  She knew that he could interpret the writing.  We don’t know who she is.  She is unnamed, but she knew who to turn to.  An old woman came in who knew Daniel.  She was either Belshazzar’s mother (Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter) or Belshazzar’s grandmother (Nebuchadnezzar’s wife).

Daniel’s Interpretation

Daniel was called in.  Belshazzar offers him a reward if he can give him the interpretation (purple clothes, a gold chain and a promotion to third in the kingdom).  Daniel refuses the gifts.  He does not work for money.

Daniel is in his eighties at this point.  How do we know?  This chapter takes place in 539 BC.  Daniel was exiled in 605 BC.  That was sixty-six years earlier and he was exiled around the age of sixteen, which would make him 82.  We saw Daniel as a teenager and he is on fire for God. Now we see him as an octogenarian and he is just as strong in his faith.  He is just as bold.

He gives the interpretation but before he gives it, he preaches a little sermon (Daniel 5:19-23).  It is a strange sermon.  The sermon begins with a history lesson. He tells him that he did not learn the lessons of history.  He did not learn anything from what happened to his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar and how God judged him for his pride.  Nebuchadnezzar sinned out of ignorance.  Belshazzar’s sin was not.  Now it is time for Belshazzar to be judged.  We are told that very night he was slain (Daniel 5:30).

Xenophon says that when the Persians found him, he had a sword in his hand, but they completely overwhelmed him and killed him (VII.5. 30).  Daniel says that the words on the wall mean numbered, weighed and divided.  All are verbs in Aramaic (passive participles).  MENE means that your number is up! TEKEL means that you don’t measure up! PERES (sing of divided) means that your kingdom will be broken up!

The chapter ends with the statement. “and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.”  Who was Darius the Mede?  There are all kinds of theories, but he seems to be the one who was appointed by Cyrus to be the governor of Babylon.  He did not rule over Persia.  He was MADE KING over the Babylonians (Daniel 9:1).  He was the little king under the big king (Cyrus).  He is known in history as Gubaru in the Nabonidus Chronicle.  Critics say he never existed.   Secular history has never heard of a man named Darius the Mede.  He is not mentioned outside the Bible but the same critics also said that Belshazzar also never existed.

Lessons from Three Words

We do not have a writing on a wall to read.  God did not write a message on the wall to us.  He wrote a message in a book.  The Bible is our writing on the wall.  The unsaved can read it but not really understand it because they do not have the Holy Spirit.  Today, we want to look at how these three words which forever changed the life of Belshazzar apply to us today.  What do they mean to us?

1. MENE: Our days are numbered by God

The word mene shows that God is sovereign.  Our days are numbered and only God knows what that number is.  He is sovereign over how long we live.  He is sovereign over how long kings rule.  He is sovereign over who rules each country.

Why the spooky miracle in this chapter?  Why doesn’t the chapter simply read like a history book and describe the end of the Babylonians and the rise of the Persians as a world power?  God wanted to show in advance that He was sovereign.  He rules in the affairs of men.

Belteshazzar was appointed by God a certain amount of time on earth to rule and his time was up.  Daniel 5 describes Belshazzar’s last day on earth.  It describes his last supper.  He dies in the last verse of the chapter.  Our time is limited as well.  Our days are numbered.  One day, our time will be up.

God doesn’t tell us how much time we have.  Most of us live to be around seventy but some live longer and some live much shorter.  We need to be absolutely sure that we are saved.  We need to do whatever God has called us to do while we are here.  We need to live a life that pleases Him.  We need to live with a sense of purpose and urgency.

Time on earth is limited.  It is limited to people.  It is limited to nations.  It is limited to churches. One day God will say, “Time is up.”  How much time do we have left to live?  How much time do we have left as a nation to live?  Babylon was one of the greatest in the ancient world and it fell.  The empire of gold was replaced by the empire of silver in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  Babylon fell quickly.  It fell in one night.  It fell without a shot.  No battle even took place.

What happened to Babylon is a warning to every nation. Nations need to beware of OVERCONFIDENCE.  Babylon thought it could never fall.  It had high walls.  It had plenty of water.  It had enough food to last for twenty years.  Nations are not indestructible.  They are not invincible.  They can fall.  They can fall quickly.  America can fall.

2. TEKEL: Our actions are weighed by God

This chapter shows what Belshazzar thought of God and what God thought of Belshazzar.  Belshazzar mocked God.  He ridiculed God publicly.  He blasphemed God.  He had no respect and no reverence for God, like many people do today.  What did God think of Belshazzar?  He weighed in the balance and found wanting (Daniel 5:27).  He did not measure up.

The first word shows that God is sovereign.  The second word tekel shows that man is responsible.  We are responsible before God.  There is a weighting time.  God has some scales and He puts people in the balances to weigh and inspect them. Our days are not only numbered but weighed.  They are evaluated and assessed by God.  Our lives are being weighed.

That describes the whole human race.  We have all been weighed in the balance of heaven’s scales and found wanting.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God weighs people in the balance.  He weighs kings in the balance.  He weighs nations in the balance.  He weighs churches in the balance.  He weighs ministers in the balance.

You can’t escape the weighing time in God’s balances.  God used Babylon for a purpose.  God used them to judge the sin of Judah.  Now it’s time is up.  It is time for Babylon to be judged for its sins.

The sins of churches will also be weighed.  When Jesus walked among the seven churches in the Book of Revelation with eyes like a flame of fire.  He knows the works of each church (the group and the bad) and He examines them.  Some of them did not measure up.  He had some things against some of those churches.  He probably has some things against many churches today.

3. PEREZ: Our actions will be judged by God

Daniel 5:25 uses the word parsin.  That is the just the plural form of perez in Aramaic. To us it means that division is coming. There will be a future division on the last day.  Believers will be separate from believers.  Sheep will be separated from goats.  Judgment is coming.  Judgment is coming for everybody.  Unbelievers will be judged on the last day.

Believers will be judged as well.  The judgment will not determine our eternal destiny.  That was already decided at the moment of our salvation, but we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged.

[1] Nabonidus Cylinder, ii. 18-29

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