Daniel Chapter 5 - Handwriting on the Wall

NOTE: Answers are provided for only some of the questions. Many questions are primarily to stimulate discussion and there are no right or wrong answers.

1. In the first four chapters, we have read about King Nebuchadnezzar. Now, King Belshazzar appears, Who is he? What does his name mean?

In verse 13 and 18, Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as Belshazzar’s father, although the Aramaic term could also mean that Belshazzar was the grandson or descendant or even successor of Nebuchadnezzar. Actually, 66 years have passed since Chapter 1 and Nebuchadnezzar died after reigning for 43 years. Since his death, there were four other rulers, the current one being Nabonidus. Actually, Belshazar is Nabonidus’ son and he is currently serving as co-regent with his father. The name means, “Bel, protect the king.” (Remember, Daniel’s new name, Beltshazzar means “Bel, protect his life.”) Bel is another name for Marduk, one of the Babylonian gods.

2. How do you think that God would have regarded using the gold goblets taken from the temple in Jerusalem for drinking wine at a drunken orgy at which other gods were praised? (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

You almost have to be surprised that God didn’t strike everyone dead. After all, when Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant, he was immediately struck dead.

3. In Verse 7, Belshazzar promises to make whoever interprets the writing on the wall the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Who were the first two?

As we’ve discussed, Belshazzar was co-reigning with his father, Nabonidus, so Nabonidus was the highest ruler; Belshazzar was second, and the person who interpreted the writing on the wall would be number 3.

4. The writing on the wall was only three words in Aramaic (see Verse 25). Why do you suppose the king’s wise men (or anyone else at the banquet) were unable to determine what they meant? (Job 32:8-9)

The pagan wise men were ignorant of God’s wisdom, no matter how great the reward.

5. Who was the queen who appeared in Verse 10?

Since Belshazzar’s wives were with him at the banquet, it was probably the wife of Nabonidus or one of his predecessors, possibly even Nebuchadnezzar’s wife. This makes the most sense since she would have known about Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams from many years before.

6. What does Daniel’s rejection of flattery and rewards (verse 17) say about the authenticity of the man and his message? How would you respond if you were in a similar situation?

Clearly, Daniel is not doing this for the rewards. He already had a high position under Nebuchadnezzar, although he is now quite old and with four other rulers having been in power, it may well be that he has retired from active service.

7. How would you interpret the following words on a wall:
        DOLLAR       DOLLAR       PENNY       QUARTER

8. What does the handwriting on the wall mean? How is this prophecy fulfilled? Does this also fulfill one of Daniel’s earlier prophecies? (Dan 2:36-39)

The interpretation is actually a pun on the words. The words represent three coins: MENE (or mina), TEKEL (or shekel, which is one sixtieth of a mina), and PARSIN (which means two half minas). Daniel’s interpretation changes the nouns to verbs so that MENE becomes “numbered,” TEKEL becomes “weighed,” and PARSIN becomes “divided.” Hence, the interpretation in Verses 26-28.

The prophecy is fulfilled that same night when Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

9. What contemporary examples come to mind of people mocking God by demeaning sacred things as Belshazzar did with the temple goblets?

Religious ikons become household decorations or works of art. In Christmas mangers, the holy family is joined by snowmen and reindeer.

10. Then and now, does it seem that God is quick or slow to judge such sacrilegious behavior? (Psalm 90:4, Habakkuk 2:3, Luke 12:20)

Despite the fact that Belshazzar and the rich man in Jesus’ parable were judged immediately, in general God tends to be quite patient. Indeed sometimes God seems to let things go on today without judging at all. But if we believe the words in Habakkuk, we can be confident that eventually God will judge everyone.

11. What would you do if you were offered a position of power as a way to buy your vote or predetermine your thinking? Does this happen today?

12. Why do people often fail, as Belshazzarr did, to learn from the past?

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