Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Daniel 5

Verses 1-31



I. The feast (Dan ). It was—

(3.) Idolatrous; celebrated with songs of praise to their gods of gold, silver, brass, and iron, wood and stone, the feast itself being possibly in honour of the tutelary deity of the city, as the supposed author of their fancied prosperity, and the successful competitor of Jehovah, to whom Nebuchadnezzar had shown so much partiality.

(4.) profane; the king, not satisfied with praising the gods of his own country, must insult and defy the God of the Jews by sending for the golden vessels of the Temple, which, nearly seventy years before, Nebuchadnezzar had brought from Jerusalem; and then, with his riotous guests, drinking out of them to the honour of his gods, as if he would again triumph over Jehovah whom Bel had conquered, like the Philistines when they placed the ark in the temple of Dagon.

II. The handwriting (Dan ). It was—

(1.) Sudden; in the midst of the mirth and revelry of the feast.

(2.) Mysterious; a hand seen tracing characters high up on the wall, without any one appearing to guide it.

(4.) Alarming; all naturally seized with fear, but more especially the king, for whom it was intended, and whose eyes it now opened at once to his guilt and danger.

(5.) Perplexing; no solution of its meaning obtainable through the usual channels, in fulfilment of Isa ; while there is felt an inward certainty that the writing must have a meaning. The handwriting on the wall a picture of the many denunciations against impenitent sinners written by the same divine finger in the Word of God; with this difference, that while that handwriting was obscure and unintelligible till Daniel interpreted it, the denunciations in the Bible are clear as written with a sunbeam, and so plain that a child may understand them.

III. The reproof (Dan ). Daniel, sent for by the king at the queen's suggestion, before interpreting the writing, addresses to the king a solemn reproof. That reproof an example of uncompromising faithfulness,

(1.) Reminds him of an admonitory fact in the history of his great ancestor, Nebuchadnezzar (Dan ).

(2.) Points him to his own sin in disregarding that solemn monition (Dan ).

(3.) Charges him directly with pride, impious defiance of the God of heaven, sacrilegious profanity, and honouring with his praise dumb idols, instead of the God in whose hand his breath was, and whose were all his ways (Dan ).

(4.) After thus faithfully convicting him of his misdeeds "in the presence of all the wealth, rank, beauty, and power of his kingdom," he declares that the writing on the wall proclaims to him the righteous judgment of God which now overtook him, and of which it was sent as a solemn precursor, announcing at once his guilt and his impending doom.

Among the thoughts suggested by the narrative are the following:—

1. The short-lived nature of unhallowed pleasure. "As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool" (Ecc ). Belshazzar and his nobles had given themselves up to pleasure, heedless of warning and danger. Their godless revelry had reached its height when king and princes are summoned to their account.

2. The certainty of divine retribution. Belshazzar's life one of licentiousness and immorality. Despising the lesson taught by the case of his grandfather, and trusting in his fortifications, lofty walls, and brazen gates, he expected to sin on with impunity. But the judgment of hardened offenders "lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (2Pe ).

3. The suddenness with which punishment often overtakes the wicked. Here it was in the midst of festivity and mirth. The sacred vessels of the Temple were still in their hands, and the God defying praises of Bel on their lips, when judgment falls upon the profane rioters. The king, his princes, and his people, thought themselves secure, and laughed at the besiegers, when destruction burst upon the doomed city. "When they shall say, Peace and safety! then sudden destruction cometh upon them." "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and so that day come upon you unawares" (1Th ; Luk 21:34).

5. The aggravated guilt of unheeded warnings. Belshazzar's special guilt that he lived a life of sin, with the case of Nebuchadnezzar before his eyes. "Thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this." "He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy" (Pro ). Unheeded warnings and neglected calls both hasten the stroke of judgment and make it heavier when it comes.

6. The sin of not glorifying God. The sin charged upon Belshazzar, as the sum and essence of his-guilt, that the God in whose hand his breath was and whose were all his ways, he had not glorified. The sin that robs God of His right and proclaims man a rebel against his Maker. "The Lord hath made all things for Himself." All creatures to glorify God according to their several natures and capacities, because He has created all things, and for His "pleasure they are and were created." The universal sin. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." "When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God." The sin especially marked by God. Herod Agrippa eaten up of worms because he "gave not God the glory." Yet few consider it a sin at all.

7. The stupidity of the human heart. Belshazzar's riotous feast at the very time when the city and country were in imminent peril. With such an enemy as Cyrus at his gates and in possession of great part of the country, a fast would have been more becoming than a feast. Men often most heedless when in greatest danger. "In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth; and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isa ).

8. The destiny of men and nations in the hand of God. The days of Babylon and Babylon's king were numbered. So the days of each State and of each individual in that State. "The number of his months is with Thee." The hairs of our head are numbered, much more the days of your life. Yet man, as a free agent and a rational creature, generally responsible for the preservation of his own life and the life of others. The effect of sin to shorten the existence both of States and individuals. "The bloody and deceitful man shall not live out half his days." On the other hand, prayer added fifteen years to Hezekiah's life, and repentance saved Nineveh from an impending and threatened destruction.

9. The beneficial influence of woman. A woman's presence and voice powerful amid the terror and consternation of Belshazzar's banquet-hall. The aged queen the only one able to give counsel to the terrified and bewildered king. Presence of mind and perception of what is needed in times of perplexity and peril often found in woman. "The adaptation of woman to promote the comfort of life is a gracious provision of God; and the disposition to soothe anxiety, to alleviate suffering, to shield or aid in danger, is alike certain to operate and honourable to display."—Cox.

10. The crime of wantonly profaning sacred things. This the acme of Belshazzar's guilt. Men not unfrequently tempted, especially amid festivity and mirth, to commit this sin. God's Word and ordinances sometimes profanely made to contribute to that mirth. "When the facts and the expressions of the Bible, its sublime, its pure, and its holy truths, are used, as they not uufrequently are, to point a pun, add edge to a jest or keenness to a sarcasm, to excite a laugh or to provoke a sneer, you have God's vessels desecrated to an unhallowed and profane end. Never try to construct jests from the Bible."—Cumming.

12. The condition of unconverted men in general. That condition exhibited in the case of Belshazzar, as described in the writing on the wall,—


2. Found wanting. Universally true ever since man fell. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." A fact universally admitted, even by the heathen. That man is a sinner as true as that he is mortal, and the latter simply because he is the former. Man not merely a sinful creature but a fallen one. "God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions." Man's fall from a state of innocence a universal tradition. His character, when left to himself, notoriously not love but selfishness. "Mind number one" man's rule of action; not "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," which is the law of God. Instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, He is not in all our thoughts, and we do not desire to have Him there. The language of the natural heart, "Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways." Dislike to a just and holy God, disregard of His will, and independence of His authority, the characteristics of fallen man in respect to his Maker. His nature corrupt, and no more the transcript of his Creator. Sin the character of his inner and outer life. His whole life oue continued shortcoming. Found wanting at every moment. The same true of every action, word, thought, and feeling, so far as they are the product of his own unrenewed nature. Even when the will may be to do what is right, the performance is wanting. Found wanting in all the relations of life, as parent and child, master and servant, ruler and ruled. A continuance in all the requirements of the law, day and night, all life through, in thought, word, and action, necessary to make him weight. Yet he continues in none, not even for an hour or a minute of his life. Hence the penalty of death incurred daily and hourly. "The soul that sinneth it shall die." "The wages of sin—all and any sin—is death.". "Guilty before God," the charge against every child of man; "guilty of death," his sentence.

3. Our only hope. Hope of acceptance with God from ourselves or any works of our own impossible. Every such attempt to gain acceptance only a further shortcoming. No action, word, thought, feeling, put into the scale, but is itself short weight. No more hope from our neighbour than from ourselves. Each in the same predicament. Every man must bear his own burden. Yet man's case not hopeless. Hope not found in himself but in another. That other is Jesus Christ, "our hope." The hope provided by the Creator Himself. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help found." "He hath laid help on one that is mighty." He who was the "hope of Israel "is the hope of a guilty world. The glad tidings from heaven—"There is born unto you a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life." "This is the name by which He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." God in our nature, the Eternal Word made flesh, He is provided as our surety and substitute, the just one taking the place of the unjust. God's "Righteous Servant," fulfilling all righteousness, that, accepting and trusting in Him, His righteousness might be reckoned to us, and we might be accepted in Him. "He hath made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2Co ). To those who accept of Him, and so are in him, He is of God made righteousness as well as sanctification and redemption. Made one with Him, through acceptance of Him and trust in Him, His perfect obedience is ours, and is thrown into the scale as our own. "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one many are made righteous." Christ's works, not our own, make us full weight; His, and at the same time ours by virtue of union with Him. His righteousness, not our own, the garment for the marriage feast. The sin and ruin of the Jews that they rejected this robe of righteousness. "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom 10:3). Reader, what have you to weigh against God's law? Christ's works or your own? If the former, as evinced by a new heart and life, you are accepted; if the latter, still "found wanting." Lose no time in accepting Christ as your righteousness. You may even yet have His works put into the empty scale as your own. But soon it will be too late. Accept in time, or you are undone.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Daniel 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.