Babylon was surrounded by Medo-Persian troops, yet the palace rocked as King Belshazzar hosted a riotous banquet for more than a thousand. Believing the city was impregnable and the food supply plenteous, he partied on, ignoring the gravity of the siege.
In the middle of the bash, Belshazzar ordered that the gold and silver vessels, looted from the Israelite Temple in Jerusalem, be used to serve his guests wine.
This was doubtless a premeditated act of defiance against Jehovah, the living God, because the prophet Daniel had predicted Babylon’s fall to Medo-Persia 11 years earlier (Dan. 8:20). However, Jehovah (ʏʜᴡʏ) is not to be trifled with. He will endure much, but eventually He metes out judgment.
As Belshazzar drank, he and the crowd arrogantly used the Temple vessels to toast “the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone” (5:4).
Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand materialized out of thin air and began writing on the plaster of the wall behind Belshazzar: ”MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (v. 25). You can almost hear the fading echoes of laughter and boisterous talk as this dramatic, supernatural event unfolded. Fear contorted Belshazzar’s face. Scripture says his knees knocked visibly against each other (v. 6).
Moments later, he grilled the wise men, astrologers, and soothsayers in a desperate attempt to understand the enigmatic message. As coregent under Nabonidus, Belshazzar promised royal robes, a gold chain, and the position of third ruler of the kingdom to anyone who could interpret the message. No one could.
Urged by the queen mother, he summoned Daniel. She counseled Belshazzar,
There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father [or ancestor], light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father— your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers (v. 11).
Unimpressed by the reward, Daniel castigated Belshazzar for his pride and arrogance and his refusal to learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s mistakes.
Then he read and interpreted the cryptic message aloud.
MENE: “God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it” (v. 26).
TEKEL: “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (v. 27). Belshazzar’s defiance toward God tipped the scale, proving him unfit to rule.
PERES: “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (v. 28).
Bible scholar John Walvoord noted, “A pun may be intended on this third word. Having been interpreted to mean ‘divided,’ it is also understood as a reference to the Aramaic word for Persian, thereby hinting a Persian victory over Babylon.”1 Charles Ryrie says PERES is the singular of UPHARSIN and the U means “and.”2
But Belshazzar still did not repent. Instead, he ordered a purple robe and gold chain for Daniel and proclaimed him third ruler of the kingdom (v. 29). Belshazzar thought he could defy God with impunity; he was wrong. That night he was killed as the Medo-Persian army swept through the capital of Babylon, just as Daniel had prophesied. And the great Babylonian Empire was no more.
- John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 128.
- Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, NKJV (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 1347, n Daniel 5:28.