corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Daniel 5



Verses 1-31

THE PERIOD OF Babylonian supremacy was comparatively brief, and the 'head of gold' had to give place to the 'breast and arms of silver.' As we begin to read chapter 5, we find ourselves transported to the last hours of that period. The great city was still marked by scenes of wealth and much voluptuous splendour.

Years ago, learned critics claimed that the Book of Daniel was largely legendary and written several centuries after the events it related. Belshazzar, they regarded as an imaginary figure, since they found no reference to him in extant records. Later, however, his name did appear on a clay tablet that was unearthed, so this assertion, like a great many more of their unbelieving assertions, was shattered as the archaeologists dug in these ancient ruins. It appears that in accordance with an ancient custom he was associated with his father in the kingship, and that his father being elsewhere at that time, he was virtually king in Babylon just as it fell before the rising power of Medo-Persia.

Whatever may have been the permanent effect upon Nebuchadnezzar of God's dealings with him, his successors displayed all the arrogant splendour of his earlier years. Belshazzar's name began with the name of Babylon's god; the gorgeous feast with a thousand of his lords, together with wives and concubines was typically heathenish. Inflamed by wine, he had the golden vessels, that had years before been taken from the temple in Jerusalem, brought before them. so that gloating over them, they might publicly dishonour Jehovah, and praise their many false gods of metals, of wood and of stone. He deliberately flung down the gauntlet before God, who at once accepted the challenge.

This, we believe, is always God's way. He does not act in judgment until the evil is fully manifested. It was so with the Amorite nations, as shown in Genesis 15:16. It was so with the kings and people in Jerusalem, as testified in 2 Chronicles 36:-11 - It will be so again in the sad history of Christendom, as predicted in Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24.

Thus it was in that great festive hall in Babylon, and in result we have one of the most dramatic scenes on record. No legion of angels appeared, no visible display of Divine power: just the fingers as of a man's hand were visible, writing four words on the 'plaister of the wall,' just, 'over against the candlestick,' where they were most visible. The proud king was reduced to a shivering mortal, and his lords astonished.

As we ponder this scene our thoughts turn in two directions. They travel back to Exodus, where we read of the law being given, written with 'the finger of God' upon tables of stone. It was fitting material for stone cannot be twisted or bent, though it can be broken. Here the finger of God is connected with demand upon guilty men. Then our thoughts travel on to John 8:1-59, where the guilty woman was brought by conceited Scribes and Pharisees to the Lord Jesus for condemnation. He did not condemn her: and why? Well, He gave an indication of the reason by stooping to write on the ground, and this He did twice, as if for emphasis. He stooped to write in the dust of the temple, for He had stooped from the heights of His glory, 'into the dust of death' (Psalms 22:15), so that the righteousness of God might be maintained and His love fully expressed. Here then we have not the finger of demand, but rather, as we may say, the finger of dust.

But now in Daniel we again have 'the finger of God,' and we find it to be the finger of doom, written on plaster, that easily crumbles. God manifested His presence by showing the tip of His fingers, and it scared the life out of Belshazzar. When the final hour of judgment arrives and 'the dead, small and great, stand before God' (Revelation 20:12), what will be their feelings? We are reminded of that word, 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Hebrews 10:31).

Once more the wise men of Babylon were called in, but only to display again incompetence and ignorance. We are told that there was nothing unusual about the four words. They were not words taken from some unknown, barbaric tongue, but, being on that occasion God's words, they were quite outside the understanding of these servants of the world and its false gods. The fact, stated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14, is strikingly illustrated. As 'natural' men they had no power of understanding the things God had written.

The whole scene was now transformed. Belshazzar had moved from profanity to prostration, and the whole company had descended from gaiety to gloom. Into this chaotic scene came 'the queen,' as stated in verse Daniel 5:10, and in the next verse she refers to Nebuchadnezzar as 'father' of Belshazzar. Not infrequently 'father' is used in Scripture for 'forefather,' and thus clearly it was here. She was evidently the queen-mother, and most likely a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, and consequently possessing a much clearer remembrance of God's dealings with her father, as well as of Daniel and his God-given understanding.

What is quite evident is that, years having passed, Daniel had dropped completely out of public notice. In court circles his name was so unknown that the queen had to give a full account of him and of his powers, though she still treated them as being 'the wisdom of the gods.' Daniel is lifted from his obscurity, brought before the king and promised great honours if he could interpret the words. The reason why he was promised the third place in the kingdom was evidently because Belshazzar himself was only the second. The first being his father, who was at that moment elsewhere.

Daniel's answer, recorded in verse Daniel 5:17, is very striking. Previously, as recorded at the end of Daniel 2:1-49, Daniel had accepted the honours placed upon him, now he treated them with disdain. The meaning of the four fateful words had evidently already penetrated to his heart, and he knew that Belshazzar was rejected of God, and his kingdom about to crash in ruin, so his proffered honours were worthless.

Before the interpretation of the words, God gave through Daniel the clearest indictment of the Babylonian empire, as summed up in Belshazzar. the existing head of it. The king was reminded of God's dealing with Nebuchadnezzar, which humbled him. Belshazzar had knowledge of this but had ignored it, and had exalted himself even more blatantly against 'the Lord of Heaven,' by bringing the golden vessels that had been in the temple, where once His presence had been manifested, and glorying over Him, in praising the demon powers that were represented by his idols. This brought things to a climax, and the first of the 'overturnings,' predicted in Ezekiel 21:27, was at hand.

By the writing on the wall a warning was given, though only a few hours were to elapse before the blow fell. The word, 'numbered' was twice written, as if it was a point to be emphasized. The God, who can number the stars, as well as the hairs on a human head, had observed and numbered the proud sins of the Babylonian empire. The word, 'weighed' showed that Belshazzar himself had been tested and condemned. By 'divided', the immediate overthrow of the empire was announced.

The warning produced no change in Belshazzar, for he invested Daniel with honours, as though his kingdom was to continue, and that in spite of Daniel having renounced them. He wore those honours for just a few brief hours, for that night the predicted judgment fell. Darius the Median took the city and the kingdom, and Belshazzar was slain.

Thus came to its end the first of the great empires that are to fill up the times of the Gentiles. It gives us, we judge, a sample of the way in which God has caused the others to be overthrown; though the fourth, the Roman, is to be revived, and its component parts brought together again. that it may decisively and finally be destroyed by the personal appearing of the Lord Jesus, since it was under the Roman that He was mocked and crucified. Then it is that man's great empires will all of them together, be blown into nothingness, 'like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors.' When the writer was young it looked as if there was to be a stable British 'empire,' for about a century ago the late Queen Victoria, of happy memory, had been proclaimed 'Empress of India.' A short century has proved that the term, 'empire,' was a misnomer, and the word has been dropped.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Daniel 5:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology