Previous Verse


Then the brightness of the king’s face changed, his thoughts terrified him so that the joints of his hips were loosened, and his knees knocked this one against that one.


Then his face went white and the realization of what had just happened terrified him so much that he could hardly stand because he was swaying so much, and his knees knocked together violently.

Belshazzar's Terror and the Expert's Confusion

Belshazzar was terrified because God had responded. However, he also wanted to know the meaning of the message written on the wall. Notice that, in the biblical narrative, we are not yet given the words of the message, that will come later. So as usual, the king called for his enchanters, astrologers and diviners so they could tell him what the message meant. He promised them special honor including the authority of the third-highest ruler in the kingdom. Why the third highest? Belshazzar and his father, Nabonidus, shared the kingship as co-regents so this new administer would be the next in line after the two of them. But it was a hollow promise. Many present that night wondered how many more hours this kingdom would last.

But the expert interpreters of dreams and riddles did not have a clue about how to interpret this one. Various times when God sent a message to a monarch, He baffled those who were supposed to be good at interpreting such messages.

The fact that the expert interpreters were baffled is amazing and points to God’s direct intervention. We are talking about a culture in which people were accustomed to telling the king what they thought he wanted to hear. They were not beyond making something up in order to keep the king happy. And the king usually liked to be flattered.

Here is an example: If the king wanted to go to war, he would call a priest to come and “read” the liver of a sheep. They would slaughter the sheep, cut open the liver, and the priest would pretend to see things in that liver and then tell the king what he saw. If he told the king that the liver said not to go to war, the king would have another liver read the next day to see if the message had changed, and the next day and the next. The priest knew that the king really wanted to go to war so he would eventually give the king what he wanted – the promise that the gods would be with him and grant him success. But when the true God, the creator of the universe sent them a message, they could not even make something up. In this case the experts were incapable of inventing some interpretation that might calm the king even temporarily.

The fact that all his experts could not discern the meaning of the message troubled him even more because maybe, just maybe, this god of the Jews is different than the gods of any other religion.

The queen had heard the astonished cries of those in attendance and she came into the banquet hall to see what was going on (5:10). I find it interesting that the queen was not present, although the king’s other wives and the concubines were present. I think there is a possibility that she was a secret worshipper of the Jewish God, or at least she had been impressed by Daniel and respected him. It seems to me that she wanted nothing to do with what she knew would go on that night during this feast.

She reminded the king that there was a man in his kingdom who had the gifts of wisdom and insight and had been appointed chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. She said that Daniel was known to be able to interpret dreams, show [the solution of] riddles and open up difficulties. She was confident that the king would receive the interpretation of the writing on the wall if he called for Daniel.

Notice that Daniel was referred to twice by the queen using his Hebrew name, Daniel, which means EL (GOD) IS MY JUDGE, although she did mention that Nebuchadnezzar called him by a Chaldean name (5:10-12). In this way the story continues to remind us that Daniel always kept in mind that God was his judge and therefore he should obey only God.

When Daniel was called in, he took the opportunity to remind them of Nebuchadnezzar’s lack of humility and how God had taught him humility by making him like an animal (5:18-21).  In the end, Nebuchadnezzar had acknowledged the God of Israel. But Nebuchadnezzar’s imitator, Belshazzar, was not humble at all and Daniel called him out for showing great disrespect for the God of Israel (5:22-24). So God sent a message warning the king of impending doom. I believe that whenever we see such warnings, they are demonstrations of God’s mercy and grace because, by telling him what would come, he was granting the king one last chance to repent. Even though the message was presented in statements that sound like absolutes, the fact that it was a warning implies the chance to repent.

Why Does the Text Say that Nebuchadnezzar Was the Father of Belshazzar?

The narrator of the event says Nebuchadnezzar was the father of Belshazzar; Daniel and the queen say the same thing and even Belshazzar makes the same claim. But the best extrabiblical evidence we have indicates that Belshazzar was not even related to Nebuchadnezzar.

So, can we reconcile the two?

Yes, I think we can. In this case I think the Bible is simply trying to communicate something other than historical facts. In general I think we should not be quick to discount the biblical record. It has been proven over and over again to be the oldest, most extensive, most accurate record of ancient history in that part of the world available to us. But in this case, it seems to me that the use of the word “father” is intended to communicate something different than what we usually think of when we hear that word. Therefore both views can be right at the same time.

I think the idea being communicated by the word “father” is that of “predecessor.” The word “father” also means “grandfather or ancestor,” which are similar to “predecessor.” A father was intended to teach his son a trade and how to live in society. The son was often considered to be a replica or continuation of his father. Belshazzar, the king, was saying in verse 13 that his predecessor had brought back the captives from Israel, and he likewise, was a powerful ruler and mighty military leader capable of taking many people captive. It is likely that King Belshazzar had been speaking of Nebuchadnezzar as his father for years in an attempt to get out from under the dark shadow of his actual father. Daniel and the queen used the connection to Nebuchadnezzar in order to make a very different point; they were both highlighting the fact that Belshazzar was arrogant like Nebuchadnezzar had been. It was hoped that their use of the comparison to Nebuchadnezzar would remind the king that he needed to repent as his predecessor had done.

I believe the spiritual lesson being taught was more important than historical accuracy and the connection between the two was spiritual, not familial. Daniel made clear that Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall was a direct consequence of having become too proud (5:20) and that his humiliation lasted “until he acknowledged that the most high God rules over the kingdoms of men” (5:21). Belshazzar should have taken notice.