4. Humbling the Proud (Daniel 4-5)

Audio (33:51)

The next stories from Daniel's ministry occur some years later than the incident of the fiery furnace. In this lesson we are combining two stories, since they both deal with arrogance and humbling. One takes place during Nebuchadnezzar's reign. The second takes place years later during the reign of a successor -- Belshazzar.

A. Nebuchadnezzar's Mental Illness (Daniel 4)

William Blake, 'Nebuchadnezzar' (1795), monotype with watercolor, 43 x 53 cm., Tate Britain, London.
William Blake, 'Nebuchadnezzar' (1795), monotype with watercolor, 43 x 53 cm., Tate Britain, London.

Nebuchadnezzar's mental illness took place twelve months after the king had a dream that Daniel interpreted. Apparently, it followed the extensive building enterprise that had engaged the king for some time (4:30), though we're not sure of the date. The Babylonian Chronicles end with the eleventh year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign (594 BC), and only resume briefly at the reign of a successor. The form is as a kind of open letter of confession.

Baldwin observes the poetic nature of the phrasing and notes that "the work of a skilled writer has gone into the text."[134] Kings and high government officials don't usually write their own speeches and documents, but amend and approve what their servants and speech-writers have written for them.

There is no contemporary corroboration of Nebuchadnezzar's mental illness outside the Bible. But this shouldn't surprise us. It isn't the kind of thing that chroniclers would say to build national pride.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream (4:1-10a)

The letter begins with an introduction.

"1  King Nebuchadnezzar, To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly! 2  It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
3  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.

4  I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented[135] and prosperous.[136]
5  I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in my bed, the images[137] and visions[138] that passed through my mind terrified me. 6  So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. 7  When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me." (4:1-7)

Others can't interpret the dream, so Daniel is summoned.

"8  Finally, Daniel came into my presence[139] and I told him the dream[140]. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy[141] gods is in him.) 9  I said, 'Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. 10  These are the visions I saw while lying in my bed:'" (4:8-10a)

The Vigorous Tree Is Stripped (4:10b-17)

What follows is Nebuchadnezzar's account of his dream.

"10b I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11  The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12  Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

13  In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger[142], a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14  He called in a loud voice:

'Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15  But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. Let him be drenched[143] with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16  Let his mind be changed[144] from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.

17 The decision[145] is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict,[146] so that the living may know[147] that the Most High is sovereign[148] over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest[149] of men.'" (4:10b-17)

Daniel Hesitates to Interpret the Dream (4:18-20)

"18  'This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.'

19  Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.' Belteshazzar answered, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!'" (4:18-19)

Once Daniel hears the dream and God reveals to him its meaning, he is concerned with what to do. He is "greatly perplexed"[150] and "terrified."[151] Those who bring bad news to an absolute monarch often suffer "kill-the-messenger" consequences. Daniel is also concerned because he may have become fond of the king, and wonders what will happen to the kingdom -- and to his own fortunes -- when the king is incapacitated.

The king must have noticed Daniel's shock, so he reassures him and encourages him to tell the interpretation of the dream.

Q1. (Daniel 4:10-20) Is Daniel actually afraid to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream? Why? Why are we afraid to say the hard things that must be said to help our brothers and sisters? What can we do about it?

You Are the Tree (4:20-26)

Daniel begins:

"20  The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21  with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air -- 22  you, O king, are that tree!

You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth." (4:20-22)

The first part, that the king is like a giant tree that creates an ecosystem of nourishment to the whole earth, is a kind way to begin. We see hints of this symbolism in Ezekiel's prophecy concerning Assyria (Ezekiel 31:3) and Jesus' Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32).

Daniel has interpreted the meaning of the tree. Now he interprets the angel's message.

"23  You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, 'Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.'

24  This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree[152] the Most High has issued against[153] my lord the king: 25  You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven.

Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26  The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven[154] rules." (4:23-26)

The tree (the king) will be cut down, will be humbled. He will live a solitary life out-of-doors for "seven times" (4:25, 32). Whether these are years or months or an indefinite time (seven is the symbolic number of completeness in the Bible), we're not told. Verse 36 begins simply, "At the end of that time...."

Nebuchadnezzar's sin is his pride -- his pride towards all others and especially towards God. He doesn't "acknowledge"[155] or understand and accept that "the Most High is sovereign," not himself. He probably believes that he is king because of his own personal qualities of greatness, while the truth is that God is the one who lifts people up and puts them down, who "gives [the kingdoms of men] to anyone he wishes" (4:25b).

Q2. (Daniel 4:23-26) What does it mean to "acknowledge that Heaven rules"? In what ways is this hard for a king? In what ways is this hard for us? How do we sometimes deny by our actions that God is in charge of all?

Daniel's Counsel (4:27)

Daniel is not only the king's chief interpreter. He is also his counselor, his advisor. And so he takes courage to exhort the king to repent.

"Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice[156]: Renounce[157] your sins by doing what is right[158], and your wickedness by being kind[159] to the oppressed[160]. It may be that then your prosperity[161] will continue.[162]" (4:27)

"Renounce" (NIV) is probably better "break off" (ESV, KJV). Repentance and renunciation are primarily verbal, at least initially. But the king must do more than offer verbal assurances, he must stop sinning and begin doing what is right, in particular, by being kind to the poor and needy, who were often forgotten in the ancient Near East. Daniel suggests that if the king will repent and humble himself and acknowledge the sovereignty of God, then God may relent in his punishment. Since our God is a merciful God, his decrees are sometimes conditional upon our response (for example, 1 Kings 21:29; Joel 2:14; Zephaniah 2:2-3).

Q3. (Daniel 4:27)  What must Nebuchadnezzar do to demonstrate that he renounces and repents of his sins? What must you do to demonstrate that you repent of your sins? For us, what does it mean to be kind to the poor? That was certainly within Nebuchadnezzar's ability to accomplish. Is it within your ability? In what way can God's decrees be conditional?

The Dream's Fulfillment (4:28-33; 5:18-21)

But Nebuchadnezzar does not change his ways. He is still obsessed with pride in himself and his achievements (4:30). God gives him twelve months to repent, and then the hammer falls.

"28  All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29  Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30  he said, 'Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?'

31  The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, 'This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32  You will be driven away[163] from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.'

33  Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." (4:28-33)

Daniel reminds Belshazzar of this incident in chapter 5, that we'll study later in this lesson. It was well known in Babylon what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel sharply warns Belshazzar:

18  "O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19  Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20  But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21  He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes." (5:18-21)

Nebuchadnezzar's experience causes us to reflect on the overweening pride that consumes him. See how it is described both in 4:30 and 5:19-20.

  • Pride in his achievements -- the self-made man complex. "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" (4:30)
  • Pride in his terrible power, that everyone feared him, and didn't dare to challenge him (5:19a). This isolated him from truth, and made him more vulnerable to believe that whatever he thought was right.
  • Pride in his absolute authority to condemn and execute, to promote, and to humble at his own whim (5:19b).

  • Pride that hardens his heart (5:20a). Pride distorts our perception of reality.

God has had to humble me on a number of occasions. I've struggled with pride all my life. Pride has a way of inflating our own sense of worth, believing we are better than other people, blinding us to correction and truth, and hardening our hearts both towards God and people. Pride might be considered the original temptation that Satan threw at Eve, that she might be like God and able to disobey even God's express command with impunity (Genesis 3:1-6). God warns his people against arrogance in the Pentateuch:

"Do not say to yourself, 'My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

Satan tempts Jesus with pride in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Pride is characteristic of the world system we live in:

"For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world." (1 John 2:16)

There is a good kind of pride that is self-confidence born of experience. We try to encourage that in our children. Confidence allows children to walk, to run, to climb trees, and to try new things. That is good. That is the way God made it to be. But pride out of control is a terrible thing that hurts others and becomes hard towards God.

Nebuchadnezzar learns that kings are not great in themselves with some so-called "divine right of kings." Rather they can be "the lowliest of men" (4:17).

Q4. (Daniel 4:30; 5:18-21) How does pride show itself in Nebuchadnezzar's life? In what ways does it show up in your life? Pride is tricky. How can pride mask itself with humility?

Nebuchadnezzar Acknowledges God (4:34-35)

"34  At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised[164] the Most High; I honored[165] and glorified[166] him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35  All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" (4:34-35)

After the time of humbling, Nebuchadnezzar is blessed with a new perspective on himself and a new appreciation of God, whom he calls "the Most High." He has probably been influenced by Daniel to come to some of these insights.

Previously, Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to almost be a god, but now he learns things about God.

  1. God is eternal. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that God himself is eternal (4:34a).
  2. God's kingdom never ends. God's kingdom is eternal as well (4:34b), not one that must be maintained by constant warfare and protected from every threat.
  3. God cannot be compared with human beings. Nebuchadnezzar thought of himself as great; now he acknowledges that human beings are "as nothing" compared with God (4:35a).
  4. God is sovereign. As Daniel related to Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar has killed, humbled, or promoted whomever he pleases (5:19). Now he acknowledges that God "does as He pleases" (4:35b).
  5. God is the "King of heaven" (4:37). Yahweh is not just a god among gods, he is the God of gods, he is King of kings, he is King of heaven.
  6. God is accountable to none. As an absolute monarch, Nebuchadnezzar has felt he didn't need to answer to anyone, but now he discovers that he has to answer to God's humbling. Only God has no need for accountability (4:35c). God doesn't have to explain himself to us when we are angry at what we perceive he has done. As God said to Job:

"'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!' Then Job answered the LORD: 'I am unworthy -- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer -- twice, but I will say no more.'" (Job 40:2-5)

Q5. (Daniel 4:34-35) What does Nebuchadnezzar's confession tell us about God? Have you ever given a public testimony of what you have learned about God through your trials? What might your testimony sound like?

Nebuchadnezzar's Sanity Restored (4:36-37)

Nebuchadnezzar was exceedingly blessed. Most kings who are mentally ill and out of the palace for any length of time would have been overthrown by an ambitious royal relative or general. But Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom is restored to him.

"At the same time that my sanity was restored[167], my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.

37  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble." (4:36-37)

Nebuchadnezzar has learned well that "the King of heaven" is able to humble "those who walk in pride."

B. The Handwriting on the Wall (Daniel 5)

Rembrandt, 'Belshazzar's Feast' (1635), oil on canvas, 66 x 82 in, National Gallery, London.
Rembrandt, 'Belshazzar's Feast' (1635), oil on canvas, 66 x 82 in, National Gallery, London.

If the incident of Nebuchadnezzar's mental illness took place half-way through his reign, then we must move forward 45 to 50 years until the close of the reign of Nabonidus (556-539 BC), last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Since Nabonidus was away from the capital for much of his reign, from about 553 to 539 BC his son Belshazzar reigned in Babylon as co-regent, acting as supreme king, except perhaps in a few areas.

By this time, Daniel is an old man, perhaps 80 years old (if he had been 15 when exiled from Jerusalem in 605 BC). He is retired, and as we'll see from 5:10-12, Daniel's service has been forgotten by most.

The Growing Persian Threat

King Belshazzar, on the other hand is younger and arrogant, having served as co-regent with his father for the past 14 years or so.

The year is 539 BC, and though Babylon might feel secure, it is not. All around the Neo-Babylonian empire, cities are falling to the mighty armies of the Medes and Persians.

Cyrus II ("the Great"), king of Persia began as a vassal of his grandfather, the king of the huge empire of the Medes, which stretched from Asia Minor to the Indus River. But in 553 BC Cyrus rebelled. He won a decisive victory over his grandfather in 550 BC, and became king himself of the mighty Medo-Persian Empire -- which he continued to expand.

Though the Medes had once allied with the Babylonians to bring down the Assyrian Empire (616 BC), now the Medes and the Persians turned their armies against Babylonia. In 539 BC, Cyrus invaded Babylonia. In June, the city of Opis (Baghdad) fell, and within days Sippar surrendered. King Nabonidus fled to Babylon and went into hiding. Medo-Persian troops were moving toward the capital at Babylon. Yet Belshazzar, who is charged with the defense of Babylon, is throwing a party for a thousand of his friends in his palace. Maybe he feels there is no use defending against the advancing Persian army -- or maybe he is just foolish.

Drinking from the Temple Goblets (5:1-4)

"1  King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2  While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3  So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4  As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone." (5:1-4)

Belshazzar (whose name may contain the god "Bel," Hebrew Baal) is irreverent. He takes the holy vessels looted from the Jerusalem temple decades before, and serves wine to his guests in them. As they drink they are praising false gods! The true God has had enough!

The Handwriting on the Wall (5:5-6)

The laughter and merriment are hushed as a hand begins to write on the wall.

"5  Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6  His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way." (5:5-6)

No One Can Interpret the Writing (5:7-9)

"7  The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.' 8  Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9  So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled." (5:7-9)

The king calls for someone to interpret the words, but none is able. He is second in the kingdom (co-regent), after his father, the king. So he offers a reward to whoever can read the words to be third highest ruler in the kingdom.

Daniel Is Summoned (5:10-16)

But the queen -- or perhaps queen mother, who is from a previous generation -- remembers Daniel, and tells the king about Daniel's abilities.

"10  The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. 'O king, live forever!' she said. 'Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! 11  There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father -- your father the king, I say -- appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12  This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.'" (5:10-12)

So Daniel is summoned before the king. He enters the hall slowly, because he is very old.

"13  So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, 'Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? 14  I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. 15  The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. 16  Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.'" (5:13-16)

Daniel Answers Belshazzar (5:17)

Daniel showed deference to Nebuchadnezzar, but none to Belshazzar.

"Then Daniel answered the king, 'You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.'" (5:17)

To refuse the king's gifts -- even before performing the required service -- is clearly an insult. Daniel is an old man and doesn't care. He despises Belshazzar for desecrating the golden goblets from Yahweh's house. And he knows that by the next day any reward he is given will be meaningless.

Daniel Recalls Nebuchadnezzar's Humiliation (5:18-21)

Daniel begins to remind Belshazzar of the story of how God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, which we studied earlier in this lesson (Daniel 4). Of course, Nebuchadnezzar is not Belshazzar's biological father. Nor is he a biological ancestor, but he is a greatly renowned royal predecessor who sat upon the throne of Babylon not so long previous to Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar is "father" in that sense.

You, Belshazzar, Have Not Humbled Yourself (5:22-24)

Daniel the Prophet rebukes the king for his pride and sacrilege.

"22  But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23  Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. 24  Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription." (5:22-24)

Daniel speaks with courage as Yahweh's prophet no matter what the personal consequence to him may be.

Belshazzar, and Nebuchadnezzar before him, had been irreverent towards God in the way that they handled the holy things of God. Though Christian churches do not have the same standard of holiness as the Wilderness Tabernacle or the Jerusalem Temple, nevertheless, they and all their furnishings have been dedicated to God. The money donated has been given to God. The Lord's Table and elements have been dedicated to God. We must show a proper attitude towards the things of God, not legalistically but with respect.

Belshazzar's problem is the same as Nebuchadnezzar's -- pride. And he will be humbled! I wonder how many of us need to be humbled from our selfish pride that resists God?

Notice Daniel's description of "the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways" (5:24).[168] We owe God our lives, but so often we resist him in the arrogant belief that we think we can act more wisely than God. How foolish!

Q6. (Daniel 5:22-24) In the New Testament, Jesus doesn't present God as legalistic, but as holy -- "hallowed be thy name." We are to be God-fearers. How do Christians commonly act irreverently in ways that would offend God? How have you changed your ways to conform to God's holiness?

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin (5:25-28)

After this rebuke, Daniel interprets the inscription for the king.

"25  This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN 26  'This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 27  Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 28  Peres: Your kingdom is divided[169] and given to the Medes and Persians.'" (5:25-28)

Daniel's interpretation includes word plays on these Aramaic words. Mene is probably a word play on mānâ , 'to number.'[170] Tekel is from teqal, "to weigh."[171] Parsin (perēs) is probably a word play on a Persian word.[172] The words can be interpreted as a mina, a shekel, and a half-shekel, thought it's difficult to make sense out of that.

The point is: Belshazzar has been judged and God is ending his kingdom and giving it to the Medes and the Persians.

Babylon Falls to the Medes and Persians (5:29-31)

Belshazzar makes good on his promise, but it is an empty gesture.

"29  Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. 30  That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31  and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two." (5:29-31)

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a full year to repent. But Belshazzar has only a few hours before the judgment is carried out.

Darius the Mede is probably the person Cyrus put in charge of the Persian province of Babylon. We'll discuss the historicity of Darius in Appendix 3. The Case for a Sixth Century Dating of Daniel.

Lessons for Disciples

Daniel: Faithful Discipleship in a Foreign Land, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in book formats: paperback, Kindle, PDF

We can learn a number of lessons from Daniel 4 and 5.

  1. We must live our lives with the constant knowledge that God rules, not we (4:23-26).
  2. Repentance for sin needs to be demonstrable, not with just our lips (4:27).
  3. Disciples are to be kind to the poor (4:27).
  4. Pride in our achievements can easily blind us to God's enabling power (4:30; Deuteronomy 8:17-18; 1 John 2:16).
  5. Pride can harden our heart towards God and others, and distort our perception of reality (5:20a).
  6. From Nebuchadnezzar's confession we learn that God is eternal (4:34a), his kingdom never ends (4:34b). He is incomparable (4:35a), sovereign (4:35b), the King of Heaven (4:37), and accountable to none (4:35c).
  7. We must be careful not to be irreverent in our speech and our actions, and how we act towards those things we have dedicated to God (5:22-24).
  8. God's judgment may be delayed with time for repentance (4:29), or it may fall immediately without further warning (5:30). We are wise to repent quickly.


Father, teach us to humble ourselves from our selfish pride and repent before you. Have mercy on us in our personal arrogance towards you. In Jesus' name, filled with grace, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue." (Daniel 4:27, NIV)

"Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble." (Daniel 4:37, NIV)

"You did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways." (Daniel 5:23b, NIV)

"This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." (Daniel 5:26-28a)


[134] Baldwin, Daniel, p. 107.

[135] "Contented" (NIV), "at ease" (NRSV, ESV), "at rest" (KJV) is the adjective shelēh, "at ease" (BDB).

[136] "Prosperous/prospering" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "flourishing" (KJV) is raʿanan, "prosperous, flourishing" (Holladay, p. 421).

[137] "Images" (NIV), "fantasies" (NRSV), "fancies" (ESV), "thoughts" (KJV) is harhōr, "dream-fantasies" (Holladay, p. 404), "image, mental picture" (TWOT #2700).

[138] "Visions" is ḥezû, "vision" (as mode of revelation) (BDB), from ḥazâ, "to see."

[139] "Into my presence" (NIV), "before me" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is qodām, a spatial preposition, "before, in front of" the king (Holladay, p. 419, 1).

[140] "Dream" is hēlem, "dream," here dream as a vehicle of revelation (BDB).

[141] "Holy" is qaddîsh, "holy," used of gods (4:8-9, 18, 23; 5:11), angels (4:13, 17, 23), and saints, God's "holy ones" (7:18, 21, 22, 25, 27) -- employing the verse structure of the English Bible.

[142] "Messenger" (NIV), "watcher" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is the noun ʿîr, "awake, wakeful one, watcher," that is, "angel" (BDB; Holladay, p. 416).

[143] "Drenched" (NIV), "bathed" (NRSV), "be wet" (ESV, KJV) is ṣebaʿ, "dip, wet," related to Hebrew ṣābaʿ, "to dye" (TWOT #2954; BDB).

[144] "Changed" is the Peal stem of shenâ, "change, transform" (Holladay, p. 423).

[145] "Decision" (NIV), "sentence" (NRSV, ESV), "matter" (KJV) is pitgām, "command, word, affair" (BDB), Persian loanword, "decree" (Holladay, p. 418, 2).

[146] "Verdict" (NIV), "decision" (NRSV, ESV), "demand" (KJV) is sheʾēlâ, "affair" (weakened from "question, inquiry"; BDB); "question" (Holladay, p. 422).

[147] "Acknowledge" (NIV), "have learned" (NRSV), "know" (ESV, KJV),  in verses 17, 25, 26, and 32 is the Peal stem of yedaʿ, "know," here probably, "understand" (Holladay, p. 407).

[148] "Is sovereign" (NIV, NRSV), "rules" (ESV, KJV) is shallîṭ, "having, exercising, mastery" (BDB 1a). The Arabic form gives rise to the title "sultan." (TWOT #3034b).

[149] "Lowliest" is shepal, "low in station," from shāpēl, "be low" (BDB).

[150] "Perplexed" (NIV), "distressed" (NRSV), "dismayed" (ESV), "astonied" (KJV) is the verb shemam in the Itpoel stem: "be appalled" (BDB), "stiffen with fright" (Holladay, p. 423).

[151] "Terrified" (NIV, NRSV), "alarmed" (ESV, KJV) is the Pael stem of behal, "alarm, dismay" (BDB), "frighten" (Holladay, p. 399), found twice in verse 19.

[152] "Decree" is gezerâ, "decree," from gezar, "cut, determine" (BDB).

[153] "Issued against" (NIV), "come upon" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is the Peal stem of meṭâ, "reach, attain," here, "come upon, befall" (BDB, 2).

[154] Here "Heaven" is used as a substitute for "God," as is common among the Jews, who tried to avoid using the name of God lest they break the commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain (Exodus 20:7). You see this especially in Matthew's Gospel.

[155] "Acknowledge" (NIV), "have learned" (NRSV), "know" (ESV, KJV),  in verses 17, 25, 26, and 32 is the Peal stem of the very common verb yedaʿ, "know," here probably, "understand" (Holladay, p. 407).

[156] "Advice" (NIV), "counsel" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is melak, "counsel, advice" (BDB).

[157] "Renounce" (NIV), "atone for" (NRSV), "break off" (ESV, KJV) is the Peal stem of peraq, "tear away, break off" (BDB), "unloose, abolish" (Holladay, p. 418).

[158] "What is right" (NIV), "righteousness" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is ṣidqâ, "right doing, righteousness" (BDB, TWOT #2957), "right action, beneficence" (Holladay, p. 418). This is the only instance in Biblical Aramaic of this common Hebrew root.

[159] "Being kind" (NIV), is the Peal stem of ḥanan, "show favor" (BDB), "show mercy" (Holladay, p. 406).

[160] "The oppressed" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "poor" (KJV) is ʿanēh, "poor, needy" (BDB), "miserable" (Holladay, p. 417).

[161] "Prosperity" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "tranquility" (KJV) is shelēwâ, "ease, prosperity" (BDB), "prosperity, fortune" (Holladay, p. 423).

[162] "Continue" (NIV), "be prolonged" (NRSV), "be a lengthening" (ESV, KJV) is ʾarkâ, "lengthening, prolonging" (BDB), "length(ening), prolongation" (Holladay, p. 398).

[163] "Driven away" (NIV), "be driven" (NRSV, ESV), "drive" (KJV) in verses 25, 32, and 33 is the Peal stem of ṭerad, "chase away" (BDB), "drive away" (Holladay, p. 407). It is used in the passive in 4:33 and 5:21.

[164] "Praised" (NIV), "blessed" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is berak, "kneel, bless" (BDB).

[165] "Honored" (NIV), "praised" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is shebaḥ, "laud, praise" (BDB).

[166] "Glorified" (NIV), "honored" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is hadar, "glorify" (BDB).

[167] "Sanity was restored" (NIV), "reason returned" (NRSV, ESV), "understanding/reason returned" (KJV) in verses 34 and 36. The noun is mandaʿ, "understanding" (Holladay, p. 412), also at 5:12. The verb is the Peal stem of tûb, "restore, return" (BDB).

[168] Similar thoughts are found in Job 12:10; Acts 17:25, 28; Job 31;4; Psalm 139:3; Proverbs 20:24; Jeremiah 10:23; Hebrews 4:13.

[169] "Divided" is perēs, "break in two, divide" (TWOT #2945).

[170] Mene (menēʾ) is maneh or mina, an amount of money. Usually fifty shekels made a mina. This is probably a word play on mānâ 'to number.' (TWOT #2835).

[171] Tekel (teqēl) is shekel, from teqal, "to weigh" (TWOT #3063).

[172] Parsin (perēs) is probably half-mina (KB, half-shekel). The word is probably used as a word play in Daniel 5:25, in the handwriting on the wall, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." The words can be taken to mean a mine, a shekel, and a half mine (or half shekel). This makes little sense and Daniel interpreted it as the verbs number, weigh, and divide. The last verb may have a double word play in its similarity to Persia, which was about to conquer Belshazzar. The word upharsin is the conjunction "and" plus the plural of peres (TWOT #2945a).

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