God’s Judgment of the Proud – Daniel 5:1-31

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

September 18, 2011

God’s Judgment of the Proud

Daniel 5:1-31


James 4:6 states, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” However, the strength of God’s opposition will vary from person to person. In our previous study of Daniel 4 we traced God’s opposition to King Nebuchadnezzar eventually culminating in God making him insane for a period of time. King Nebuchadnezzar continued to dwell in the fields and eat like the cattle until he recognized that the Most High God is the rule over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. When that happened Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returned to him and he “blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom [endures] from generation to generation. 35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And [among] the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ (Daniel 5:34-35). (See: The Rule of the Most High God)

God opposed Nebuchadnezzar because of his pride, yet at the same time we have also seen that God was merciful to Nebuchadnezzar for the Lord gave to him a witness of the truth and the true God in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.(See: The Character of Godly Teens and Faith in the Midst of the Fire)   In addition, though God made Nebuchadnezzar insane, He did not kill him and He even preserved the Babylonian kingdom for him.

God’s grace and mercy are continually extended to the proud and the unrighteous because He is also patient and longsuffering. That kindness should cause people to repent (Romans 2:4), but most people just take it for granted and continue to store up for themselves His wrath which will eventually come upon them.

This morning we are going to see God’s judgment of another proud man. In this case we are only told the end of the story with only a small window into God’s previous patience with him. This is a story that is important historically because it documents the end of the

Babylonian empire. It is important theologically because it documents the fulfillment of the prophecies that Babylon would fall and be succeeded by the Medo-Persian empire. It is also an important warning to the unrighteous that they should not presume upon God’s patience and longsuffering. It will eventually come to an end, but that end could happen very suddenly even in a moment of time that was thought to be safe and secure.

Belshazzar’s FeastDaniel 5:1-4

5:1 (NASB) Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem, in order that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which [was] in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

Let me begin with some background on Belshazzar and the circumstances in which this feast was being held.

This event occurs in October, 539 B.C., so it has been about 66 years since the fall of Jerusalem and Daniel was taken into captivity. It is 25 years or so after Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and restoration and 23 years since Nebuchadnezzar death in 562 B.C. There has been a succession of several kings over the Babylonian empire.

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded in 562 B.C. by his son, Armel-Marduk who reigns for two years. He is called Evil-Merodach in 2 Kings 25:27 and is noted in that passage for releasing Jehoiachin from prison and giving him a place at the king’s table. In 560 B.C.

Evil-merodach is assassinated by Nergal-Sharezar, also called Neriglisar who dies just four years later. His son, Labushi-Marduk, also called Laborosoarchod is a child when he takes the throne in 556 B.C. He only reigned nine months when he was beaten to death and Nabonidus was appointed to the throne in 556 B.C. Nabonidus is not a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar himself, but it appears that he had married into the family. Belshazzar is referred to as the son of Nabonidus in the Berosus account, but here in Daniel we are told that his father was Nebuchadnezzar. There are a couple of possibilities to explain this. Belshazzar could have been the son of Nebuchadnezzar whose mother later married Nabonidus after Nebuchadnezzar’s death and Belshazzar was adopted into Nabonidus’ family. It is also possible that Nabonidus had married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar so that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. The term “father” in Aramaic refers to a lineal descendant and so could refer to a grandfather as well as a father.

Nabonidus took an army north in 553 B.C. to put down a rebellion and made Belshazzar is co-regent over Babylon proper. In addition, Nabonidus built a royal palace in Tema in the Arabian peninsula and reigned from there while leaving Belshazzar to reign over the province of Babylon itself. It was during these years that Daniel had the visions recorded in chapters 7 and 8. The vision of the four beasts occurred in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign and the vision of the goat and the ram occurred in the third year of his reign.

The Babylonian empire had been declining for some years and just prior to the events of Daniel 5 the Medo-Persian army had come south to wage war. Nabonidus had come back to Babylon to lead its army, but he was defeated and fled to Borsippa. The Medo-Persian army then surrounded and laid siege to the city. That is the situation when Belshazzar holds this feast.

The Babylonians were not that concerned about the siege because Babylon had been built as a fortress city. A study of the ruins of Babylon reveal that its outer walls were about 17 miles in circumference and very thick so that multiple chariots could travel them. Such thick walls could easily withstand any attempt to batter them down with the weapons available at that time. The walls also had a system of high towers from which arrows and spears could be rained down on attackers. There was then a system of inner walls with a water moat between them. The Euphrates river actually flowed through the middle of Babylon, but it was bordered by walls on each side to prevent any attack from the river. The Babylonians had also prepared for siege by laying up vast quantities of supplies which could last them for many years. The feast that Belshazzar was holding is an expression of their attitude.

Verse 1 states that it was “a great feast for a thousand of his nobles.” The size of the feast is appropriately described as “great.” Ancient literature describes feasts of similar size or even larger being given
by great kings, so the size of this feast is not that amazing. What is amazing is that Belshazzar is holding a feast of such proportions while the city is surrounded by the Medo-Persian army. They had a great confidence in their ability to withstand the siege. Their military defeats had not removed their pride and arrogance.

Verses 1 and 2 both reference that Belshazzar was drinking indicating that what he did next was under the influence of the wine. Consumption of alcohol commonly results in people making poor decisions that would have been avoided if they were sober. In this case, the king orders that the gold and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem were to be brought in and used for the continuing drinking binge. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and sliver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

While we are not told the specific reasons for the feast, these verses reveal there was a religious aspect to it. The praise given to these various gods would have been for what they believed they had done in the past. Part of this would also be invoking the continued intervention of these gods in their current situation. This praise would also bolster their own courage in the midst of the siege by reminding them of the great victories they had in the past. This would be the reason for getting the gold and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. The sacrilege of drinking wine from them while praising their various gods was a reminder of that victory and a declaration that their gods were greater than the God of the Jews. I think it is reasonable to assume that they did something similar with any other captured religious items from any of the other peoples they had conquered.

What a perplexing situation. The enemy has already defeated their army and has laid their city under siege. Even if the city of Babylon could hold out for years, its empire had already been conquered and there was no relief force anywhere that could lift the siege. It should have been a time for humility, instead the king proudly throws a great feast which has descended into drunken revelry in praise of their gods. If they had not been so drunk they might have recognized the foolishness of attributing their victories of the past to gods that had now let them be defeated and their city surrounded by the enemy. They were having a good time until there was a supernatural intervention which sobered the king very quickly.

The Hand Writing on the WallDaniel 5:5-9

5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together. 7 The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me will be clothed with purple, and [have] a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third [ruler] in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew [even] paler, and his nobles were perplexed.

In the ruins of the king’s palace in Babylon there is a large throne room 173 feet long and 56 feet wide with a niche midway opposite the entrance. This would be a logical place for the king to be seated if the room was used for such a banquet. The wall in the niche was covered with white plaster, an excellent surface for writing in a location that would be noticed. Whether this was the location of this event or it occurred somewhere else, a hand suddenly appearing out of nothing and writing on the wall in a place well illuminated by the lampstand would gain people’s attention very quickly.

Belshazzar was completely unnerved by this supernatural scene. The description is progressive of his body’s reaction to this shocking sight. His face grew pale as the initial shock released adrenalin which constricted the blood vessels in his extremities and raised his blood pressure. In this fight or flight mechanism the mind races trying to comprehend and react to what is occurring. As the hand continued to write on the wall, Belshazzar’s adrenalin was expended resulting in a bottoming out of energy available resulting in the hips going slack and the knees knocking together. It is a wonder that he did not completely collapse.

He immediately wants to understand the meaning of what is written and offers great honor and position to any of the wise men that could interpret it. Remember that purple was the color of royalty and the extremely wealthy because the dye for it, which was produced from the Murex whelk (sea snail), was worth more than its weight in gold. To be clothed in purple and given a gold necklace would be extremely prestigious. Authority as the third in the kingdom would obviously be a position of high power. If Belshazzar still considered himself to be co-regent with his father, Nabonidus, who has fled to Borsippa, then this was the greatest authority he could offer and only one step below his own

Once again the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners come in to give an interpretation of something divine and once again they fail. They could not do it for Nebuchadnezzar and the next generation of wise men could not do it for Belshazzar. Their failure and the perplexity of his nobles only increases the king’s fear.

The Queen’s AdviceDaniel 5:10-12

At this point either the commotion attracted the queen’s attention or someone went and got her. This was not one of Belshazzar’s wives for they were already present (vs. 2). This would be who we would call the queen mother. She is most likely the widow or daughter of Nebuchadnezzar that had married Nabonidus. She is very knowledgeable of the events that occurred in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.

10 The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11 “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans, [and] diviners. 12 “[This was] because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned, and he will declare the interpretation.”

The queen gives a customary greeting to king Belshazzar and seeks to calm his fear by reminding him there was someone in his kingdom that could interpret the writing. She recounts Daniel’s multiple qualifications that resulted in Nebuchadnezzar appointing him as the chief of all the wise men. She pointed out his illumination, insight and wisdom that demonstrated he had a spirit of the gods in him. She also pointed out his excellent spirit, unusual knowledge and understanding along with the ability to interpret dreams, solve riddles, and explain enigmas. Daniel would have been at least 80 years old by this time and so had not been with the wise men when they were called earlier. The queen confidently asserts Daniel would declare the interpretation and should be called.

The King’s ResponseDaniel 5:13-16

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 “Now I have heard about you that a
spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. 15 “Just now the wise men [and] the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16 “But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and [wear] a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third [ruler] in the kingdom.”

The king begins by making sure he is talking to the correct man. He repeats what the queen had said about Daniel and then explains the problem. The wise men could not interpret the inscription and he was told Daniel would be able to do so. He then offers him the same honors and position if he would interpret the writings for him.

Daniel’s Rebuke of the King Daniel 5:17-24

Daniel’s response is a stern rebuke.

17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him. 18 “O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory, and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. 19 “And because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations, and [men of every] language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed, and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated, and whomever he wished he humbled. 20 “But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne, and [his] glory was taken away from him. 21 “He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like [that of] beasts, and his dwelling place [was] with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind, and [that] He sets over it whomever He wishes. 22 “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified. 24 “Then the hand was sent from Him, and this inscription was written out.

Daniel response is a straightforward censure of the king. Daniel begins by rejecting the king’s offer of rewards. Daniel is not the least bit interested in them. Daniel is aware that these honors and position of power would be short lived anyway. That is actually true of any of the things offered by the world for they will all pass away – 1 John 2:17. More importantly, by rejecting the king’s offer, Daniel makes it clear that his interpretation will be without prejudice of any kind.

Daniel then assures the king that he will interpret the writing, but rebukes the king for his pride and arrogance in not learning from what God had done to Nebuchadnezzar. It was the Most High God that had established and exalted Nebuchadnezzar, and it was the Most High God that had humbled him with insanity until he exalted God.

Daniel reprimands Belshazzar for exalting himself against the Lord of heaven and his sacrilegious treatment of the vessels from the Lord’s temple. Belshazzar and those at the feast had given praise to gods that cannot see, hear or know, yet they refused to glorify the God

that sustained their lives. Daniel points out the hand was sent by God. He then gives the interpretation.

Sadly, there are so many that are like Belshazzar. They have seen what God has done in the life of others, yet they refuse to learn the lessons played out before them. God is patient and longsuffering with them, yet they still refuse to repent taking for granted God’s kindness. They worship what is false and reject what is true. At some point God will call them to account, and that day had come for Belshazzar.

Daniel’s Interpretation Daniel 5:25-28

25 “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’” From verse 15 it appears the wise men were also able to read these words, but they could not figure out what they meant. Daniel reads the words which translated would be “numbered, numbered, weighed and divided.”

Daniel then explains their meaning. 26 “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’– God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 “‘TEKEL’– you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 “‘PERES’– your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

The word upharsin has the prefix “u” which is the conjunction “and” joined to the plural form of peres. There may also be a play on words here since peres could also be a reference to the Persians that were laying siege to Babylon.

The King’s ResponseDaniel 5:29

29 Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and [put] a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he [now] had authority as the third [ruler] in the kingdom.

While the king does show some integrity in keeping his word anyway and clothing Daniel with purple, putting the gold necklace on him and proclaiming him to have the third position in the kingdom, there is no indication of any repentance. In pride and arrogance Belshazzar had dishonored the God of Israel, yet His last official act was to honor a Jewish captive by whom God revealed His judgment against the king and Babylon along with him.

The Fulfillment of the ProphecyDaniel 5:30-31

30 That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. 31 So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.

The capture of Babylon is intriguing and was due as much to their pride as it was to Medo-Persian ingenuity. I mentioned before that the Euphrates river ran through the middle of Babylon. The river itself as well as walls on either side of it would prevent an attack from it as long as the walls were sufficiently manned. King Cyrus was laying siege to Babylon with the majority of the troops camped near where the river entered the city. They were given orders to attack when the river became fordable. He then took a portion of his troops north to an area where he was able to dig a canal that diverted the river flow into a swampy area that then became a lake. The night of Belshazzar’s feast the river was diverted, the level dropped and the Medo-Persian army marched down the river bed and under the outerwall. If the Babylonians had simply been keeping watch and closed the gates of the inner walls that opened to the river, they could have destroyed them between those walls. But they were having a festival instead of watching. Those near the entrance were captured by surprise while those in the center of the city were dancing. By the time they learned of the invasion it was too late.

Isaiah 13:17-22; 21:1-10 and Jeremiah 51:33-58 all record the prophecies that Babylon would fall on such a night. Jeremiah 51:57-58 states, “And I will make drunk Her princes and wise men, Her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men. And they shall sleep a perpetual sleep And not awake,”says the King, Whose name [is] the Lord of hosts. 58 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, And her high gates shall be burned with fire; The people will labor in vain, And the nations, because of the fire; And they shall be weary.”

After getting into Babylon, a contingent of soldiers made their way to the palace. The noise outside the palace raised Belshazzar’s curiosity and he ordered some men to investigate. When they opened the gates to see what was going on, some of the Medo-Persian soldiers rushed through and headed to the banquet hall where they found and killed Belshazzar and many of the Babylonian officials. The city fell quickly the night of the sixteenth of Tishri (October 11 or 12), 539 B.C.

Daniel concludes with the transfer between kingdoms. Belshazzar the Chaldean king was dead and with him the Babylonian empire. It was followed by the Medo-Persian empire. Darius the Mede received the kingdom ruling over the area of Babylon when he was 62 years old. We will discuss his identity further next week.


1) God keeps His promises. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the head of gold was now replaced by the arms and torso of silver. The prophesied future had become history.

2) Don’t presume on God’s wonderful attributes including His longsuffering patience. A time will come when His other attributes including justice and wrath will be demonstrated in His judgment of those who continue in their sin and rejection of Him.

If you have not yet turned from your sin to the savior, then do not delay any longer. The Lord’s mercy and grace are abundant and free, but you do not know if you will have tomorrow.

3) Follow the example of Daniel. Stay firm in the truth and do not be enticed by the things of this world. If you are humble and seek first the Lord’s righteousness and His kingdom, He will take care of your needs and exalt you at the proper time (Matthew 6:16-34; 1 Peter 5:6).


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Count how many times Belshazzar is mentioned. Discuss with your parents why he ended in such failure.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How did God oppose Nebuchadnezzar because of his pride? How did God show patience and mercy to Nebuchadnezzar? Daniel 5:1 states that “Belshazzar the king held a great feast. . .” Who is this man and when did this feast occur? How is Nebuchadnezzar his “father”? What is the military situation for Babylon at the time of this feast? How was Babylon prepared to withstand a siege? What is the purpose of this feast? What is the significance of them getting the vessels taken from the Temple of the Lord and using them for drinking cups while praising their gods? What was Belshazzar’s reaction to seeing the hand writing on the wall? Why were the wise men unable to interpret the writing? Who was the “queen” and what was her advice? What is the king’s initial response to Daniel? Why does Daniel refuse the king’s offer of honor and position for interpreting the writing? How does Daniel magnify the Most High God to Belshazzar while also strongly rebuking him? What should have been Belshazzar’s reaction to the events that occurred in the life of Nebuchadnezzar? What was his actual course of life? How have you seen God work in the life of others? What effect has that had on your life? What is the significance of the interpretation of the writing? What was the king’s response to the interpretation? What should have been his response? How did it come about that Belshazzar was slain that very night? What is the significance of the text ending with Darius the Mede receiving the kingdom? What do we learn from Daniel 5? What lesson(s) from this historical event can you apply to your life?


Sermon Notes – 9/18/2011 –

God’s Judgment of the Proud – Daniel 5:1-31


God opposed Nebuchadnezzar because of his __________, yet He also was patient and merciful to him

Daniel 5 is important historically, _________________ and practically

Belshazzar’s FeastDaniel 5:1-4

It has been _____ years since Daniel was taken into captivity and 23 years since Nebuchadnezzars’ death

The succession of kings: Nebuchadnezzar Evil-Merodach (____ B.C.) Nerigal-Sharezar (560 B.C.)

Labushi-Marduk (556 B.C.) Nabonidus (________ B.C.) Belshazzar co-regent (________ B.C.)

Nabonidus fled to Borsippa after being __________by the Medo-Persians who then laid siege to Babylon

Babylon was built and supplied to be able to withstand a ________ for many years

Belshazzar gives a great _________ though Babylon was under siege

At the king’s order the vessels from the Lord’s temple were used for drinking in _________of their gods

The sacrilege was to increase their ________as they remembered past victories over foreign nations/gods

Babylon was under siege, but instead being ______________ they were arrogantly having a festival

The Hand Writing on the WallDaniel 5:5-9

Belshazzar was completely ______________ by this supernatural scene

He offered great honor and position to the wise man that could ____________the writing, but none could

The Queen’s AdviceDaniel 5:10-12

The queen mother was likely a widow or daughter of Nebuchadnezzar that had ____________Nabonidus

She recounts Daniel’s multiple qualifications and _________________ including explaining enigmas

Daniel was at least _______ years old and so was not with the other wise men and had to be summoned

The King’s ResponseDaniel 5:13-16

The king explains the problem to Daniel and offers him the same _______________

Daniel’s Rebuke of the King Daniel 5:17-24

Daniel ______________ the king’s offer – his interpretation would not be prejudiced by them

Daniel censures the King for his _________to learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s example and his blasphemy

Daniel’s Interpretation Daniel 5:25-28

    MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN = numbered, numbered, ____________ and divided

The King’s ResponseDaniel 5:29

Belshazzar does for Daniel what he promised, but there is no indication of ______________

He had dishonored the God of Israel, but his last official act is to honor __________ that served that God

The Fulfillment of the ProphecyDaniel 5:30-31

King Cyrus laid siege to Babylon, but also sent troops to divert the Euphrates ____________

The night of Belshazzar’s feast, the river was diverted and the _____________entered without hindrance

Isaiah 13:17-22; 21:1-10 and Jeremiah 51:33-58 are prophecies that Babylon wo
uld _____on such a night

Daniel 5 concludes with the end of the Babylonian kingdom and the _______of the Medo-Persian empire


1) God keeps His _______________

2) Don’t ____________ on God’s patience

3) Follow the example of _______________

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