These small group studies of Daniel contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Daniel 5 Verse by Verse Bible Study – Commentary and Small Groups Questions – The Hand on the Wall

Outline

I. The wild feast (1-4)
II. The handwriting on the wall (5-9)
III. The queen recommends Daniel (10-12)
IV. The king asks Daniel to interpret the writing (13-16)
V. Daniel preaches to the king (17-24)
VI. Daniel interprets the writing and is rewarded (25-29)
VII. The Babylonian kingdom falls (30-31)

I. The wild feast (1-4)

Discussion Questions

• What kind of feast do you think this was? What would have likely been going on there?
• What was going on outside the Babylonian walls at the time of this feast? (The Persians were sieging the city.)
• Why was Belshazzar feasting while the city was under attack?
• What is Belshazzar doing in verses 2-3?
• What attitude can you see from Belshazzar in these verses?
• Why do you think he specifically brought out the vessels from the Jewish temple to desecrate?

Cross-References

2 Kings 24:13-14 – [Nebuchadnezzar] carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths.

Isaiah 42:8 – I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. There were armies outside the city – The Medio-Persian army encircled the city, laying siege to it. While their enemies were invading, Belshazzar seemed oblivious, with little care for the goings on outside the city walls. Babylon was famous for its massive and seemingly impregnable walls. It was said to have twenty years of food and a water supply.

Thus the feast was likely partly due to Belshazzar’s arrogance in thinking that they were invincible. At the same time, it may have been used to boost morale and defy the Persians.

Belshazzar would have better served by supervising the city defenses. But we see in him much of the same pride of Nebuchadnezzar.

2. Who is Belshazzar? – For a long time, skeptics dismissed the Biblical account listing Belshazzar as king in Babylon as unreliable since all other historical records stated Nabonidus was king. Not one single other record mentioned Belshazzar. Critics had found their ammunition to attack the Bible.

And the book of Daniel had a target on its back even more than other books in the Bible. In this book, Daniel made several prophecies about world events in astonishing detail. And they came true. Critics therefore had good reason to try to undermine the Biblical date of the authorship of Daniel and make it much later. If they could cast doubt on Daniel’s credibility, they could explain away these prophecies as coming after the fact.

Their line of attack was simple. Daniel wrote his book much later and was unfamiliar with the actual history of the time. When Daniel wrote that Belshazzar was king, he made a critical mistake and exposed his prophecies as a fraud.

But Daniel’s account (the only one with Belshazzar) was verified through archaeology, and their attacks against the Bible were thwarted. The Bible was once again shown to be reliable history.

Two important artifacts were discovered in 1854, the Nabonidus cylinder and tablet. These verified the Biblical account. One of these artifacts records Nabonidus’ prayer to a moon good. In this record, he prays for “Belshazzar, the eldest son, my offspring.”

Nabonidus Cylinder

On the other, it is recorded that Nabonidus left Babylon for a decade and left his son as “the crown prince” and “entrusted the kingship” to “his oldest (son) the firstborn.” Thus he would not have been in Babylon at the time of the Persian invasion.

Nabonidus Cylinder 2

It is no wonder that Belshazzar could only make Daniel “third highest” (Daniel 5:16) in the kingdom after Nabonidus and himself! If Daniel had been written hundreds of years later (as critics claim), it is doubtful he would have known about this mysterious historical figure. Daniel was historically accurate because he was there. His prophecies were predictions of the future inspired by God.

Application – Skeptics will always seek to attack the veracity of God’s word. When one attack fails, they will go on to the next. It is a never-ending cycle. The Bible outlasts every one of these attacks. Time and time again, archaeology has confirmed various Biblical accounts.

There will always be things in the Bible that cannot be proven through other historical records or archaeology since these events occurred thousands of years ago. However, our faith need not be shaken when doubts are raised about Scripture. It has proven itself to be reliable.

It may be that in our lifetimes more evidence will be uncovered that repels these attacks. Or it may be that certain things remain unknown. Since the Bible has proven reliable, we can have faith in it even in areas where there is no immediate answer.

To put it another way, you do not need to verify every word of your friend from another source in order to trust your friend. If your friend has shown himself to be truthful over time, that is enough to take “his word for it” rather than demanding video evidence that he actually went to MacDonalds for lunch yesterday.

2. Belshazzar defied the true God – Although Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar had been an influence, he showed that he wanted no part of this “Hebrew” God. It wasn’t enough for him to ignore God through his lifestyle and actions. He specifically called for the vessels from Solomon’s temple so he could desecrate them publicly to show his contempt for the Lord. This was a calculated and planned ritual symbolic of his defiance of God. It was a foolish thing.

It’s like a kid who is dared to light firecrackers on somebody’s porch. All the kids nervously watch, wondering if he can do it. Finally, he does it and runs away, and all of them laugh at the joke together until the house owner comes and catches them.

Belshazzar was arrogant. While he should have been concerned with his city’s defenses (and prayed to God for help!), he instead threw a party with the express purpose of taunting God!

3. These vessels were eventually returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7-11).

4. Instead of praising the true God, they substituted idols –

People are spiritual and religious by nature. No one worships nothing. If someone doesn’t worship the true God, they will worship something else, maybe money, maybe self, maybe a pagan religion, maybe strength or power, but they will most definitely worship something.

Romans 1:21-23 – Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

People substitute idols in place of God because they don’t want God’s authority. They want to be free and independent to do whatever they like without anyone telling them what to do. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want a god to comfort, protect, and bless them, but they don’t want a god they have to obey.

II. The handwriting on the wall (5-9)

Discussion Questions

• Whose fingers do you think this was?
• Why was the king so scared?
• What similarities can you see in his response and
• Nebuchadnezzar’s response earlier to similar situations?
• Who did he turn to for help?

Cross-References

Job 20:5 – That the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment?

Proverbs 29:1 – He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Luke 12:19-20 – And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Suddenly (Daniel 5:5 NASB)- Suddenly, at the height of Belshazzar’s pride and defiance, God sent His judgment. Defiance of God never ends well. Just when the king thought everything was going great, he was surprised. God intervened. It often appears that the wicked will go unpunished and get away with their evil, and they sometimes do for a while. But eventually, often suddenly, God’s judgment will fall and it will be too late to avoid it.

Psalms 73:17 – Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their (the wicked) end.

In the book of Psalms, Asaph questions why the wicked seem to prosper. It confused him why they could defy God and get richer and more prosperous. The answer Asaph received was simple. In verse 17 he says, “then I perceived their end.” He goes on to say, “you set them in slippery places. You cast them down to destruction. They are destroyed in a moment… utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakens.”

Eventually, sooner or later, the wicked will receive justice for the wrongs they have done. They will not take their riches with them after death. One day each person will face God as the judge and have to give an account for everything he has done. The security that their riches seem to provide is short-lived. It is not real security at all.

While their lives seem smooth and easy, destruction comes upon them in a moment. Asaph’s description reminds us of Jesus’ parable about the rich fool, who did not know that he was about to die and that everything so carefully stored up would avail him nothing. Money is but for a moment. A life built on things of this world is on a slippery slope. Only a life built on the rock of Christ is safe and sound.

Belshazzar’s life and his reign would suddenly end because of his pride.

Application – Do not be jealous of the wicked, their lives, or what they own! They and all they own will perish in the end!

2. The handwriting on the wall – The fingers of a human hand appeared and started writing on the wall. Belshazzar’s bluster was gone. The miracle absolutely terrified him, draining the blood from his face and inducing his limbs to shake.

From his reaction, we can see that the bravado shown earlier was just a front to hide his insecurities and fear. Deep inside, I believe he knew God was real.

In like manner, the bluster of the loudest atheists is an attempt to bury the truth they know to be true; they are created by God.

3. The king turned to the ineffective diviners and wise men – Prince Belshazzar had likely heard the stories of God’s miracles in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. But he didn’t humble himself or seek after God. Neither did he search for Daniel who had helped his grandfather so many times.

Instead, he went to the Babylonian wise men, who once again were unable to help.

Application – Make sure to turn to the right source for wisdom. If you go to this world, you will get worldly wisdom. If you go to the Lord, you will get heavenly wisdom.

3. He offered great promises of reward (5:7) – This was the system they dealt with. People did favors for the king because they wanted rewards or were afraid of punishment. Threats of punishment or promises of compensation are the tools used by the world. Even this didn’t help as the wise men were puzzled.

They “could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation.”

The world’s wisdom is blind when it comes to the things of God.

1 Corinthians 2:14 – The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

III. The queen suggests Daniel (10-12)

Discussion Questions

• Who might this queen have been?
• Why do you think Belshazzar did not know about Daniel?
• How old was Daniel when all of this happened?
• Why do you think Daniel was no longer around the palace scene?

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The queen recommends Daniel –

Many years have passed since the events of Daniel 1-4. It appears that his position is much less prominent than in the past. However, a queen knows about Daniel and recommends him to the king.

The queen may have been a young wife of Nebuchadnezzar or his daughter.

Daniel 5:11-12 – There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

2. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t Belshazzar’s direct father – Here, “father” is a term for ancestor and is often used that way in Scripture. Nebuchadnezzar would have been Belshazzar’s grandfather.

3. It seems that when Belshazzar’s administration took over, Daniel wasn’t a significant part of it. Belshazzar probably purged Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom of the positive influences for the Most High, such as Daniel. Considering his public antagonism for the LORD, he probably reversed the decrees Nebuchadnezzar had made promoting the worship of the Most High. His attitude shows defiance of the Lord. And in this atmosphere, Daniel would not have been welcome. Another possibility is that Daniel himself largely withdrew from the active affairs of government because of his age or the evil policies of Belshazzar.

5. Daniel’s influence profoundly impacted many people, including the queen. He had been very visible and influential as a witness of God for a long time. We see that here there is some fruit of that.

IV. The king asks Daniel to interpret the writing (13-16)

Discussion Question

• Why would Daniel be made the “third ruler”?

1. Belshazzar uses rewards to try to motivate Daniel – This was a window into his heart. To him, wealth and luxury were all-important. So it is natural to him that others would be motivated by the same things.

2. The king offers Daniel the third-highest ranking in the kingdom. That was the highest possible position available behind Nabonidus and Belshazzar.

3. Daniel was the last choice, not the first choice.

V. Daniel preaches to the king (17-24)

Discussion Questions

• Why would Daniel not take the gifts?
• Can you think of anyone else in the Bible that would not take gifts?
• Should we take gifts from evil people?
• What did Daniel do before interpreting the writing?
• What story did he tell Belshazzar and what was his main point?
• What can we see about Daniel’s attitude in front of Belshazzar?
• What can we learn from this?
• Do you think it is a coincidence the hand appeared right at the climax of the king’s pride and defiance of the Lord? Why do you think it happened then?

Cross-References

Proverbs 17:27 – Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

Luke 18:14 – I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Proverbs 16:5 – Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.

Isaiah 26:10 – If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the Lord.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Let your gifts be for yourself – Daniel, like Abraham before, refused to take the gifts. His refusal demonstrated that materials and rewards were not important to him. He wasn’t like the others. Daniel wasn’t motivated by the things that motivated others. His concern was truth, righteousness, and accurately conveying God’s messages.

2. Daniel took the opportunity to preach – At this point, Daniel was likely around eighty-five years old. He was an old man and had been away from the king’s court for a long time. The scene around him was wild revelry. The ruler before him was unstable and unhinged. Belshazzar held the Lord in outright contempt. It was a dangerous situation and one wrong word could condemn Daniel to the king’s fury.

But Daniel wasn’t fazed. Instead of cowering, he took advantage of this grand opportunity to preach to the king and, by extension, the entire court.

Imagine that get called into a chaotic bar scene where the leader of your country awaits a word with you. Would you start sharing the gospel then and there?

That is what Daniel did.

2 Timothy 4:2 – Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Reflect – Was this in season or out of season to preach the word?

Application – Be bold. Like Daniel, we should always look for opportunities to speak the truth from God into others’ lives. No stage is too big (or too small). Preach the word in season and out of season.

3. Daniel reviewed the history of God’s work in Nebuchadnezzar’s life-

After an oral review of the lessons God taught to the Babylonians through the life of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel’s preaching centers directly on Belshazzar before him. The highlight is found in verses 22-23.

Daniel 5:22-23 – And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.

Wow. Talk about boldness! Daniel holds no punches. To paraphrase this message, Daniel tells the ruler, “You are prideful and rebellious!”

For over seventy years, Daniel was faithful to serve as God’s messenger. He did so in a dark and dangerous place with little care for his own life. And through it all, God protected him.

Reflect – Have you ever been in a high-pressure situation like Daniel with an opportunity to witness? How did you react?

VI. Daniel interprets the writing and is rewarded (25-29)

Discussion Questions

• How is this similar to the judgment every person will go through?
• What prophesy/prophecies did this fulfill?

Cross-References

Job 31:6 – Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!

Jeremiah 25:13, 44, 50, 51, 52,57, Isaiah 13, 47, Habakkuk 2:5-19 – A list of prophecies against Babylon.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The writing on the wall said, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.” –

This is how Daniel interpreted the meaning:

A. God has numbered the days of your kingdom.

B. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

C. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Simply put, Belshazzar and his kingdom would be punished because they were prideful and didn’t trust the Lord.

Reflect – How would your life hold up if it was weighed by the Lord’s divine scales?

Application – We too, would be found wanting. No one can live up to God’s standards. No one can pass the test. Our only hope is to humble ourselves and come to Christ at the cross. His righteousness imputed to us can fill up what we are lacking. Then when God weighs us, Jesus’ righteousness will be weighed on our behalf. Instead of thinking you are good enough, be humble and admit you are not.

2. This time Daniel doesn’t seem sorry or upset as he was when he found out Nebuchadnezzar would be punished (Daniel 4:19). He doesn’t have the same close relationship with Belshazzar that he had with his grandfather.

3. The punishment was sent when Belshazzar’s pride reached a climax.

Proverbs 16:18 – Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

4. Every kingdom in the history of the world has been found wanting – None of them have been perfect, and most have degenerated into being very evil and corrupt.

The only kingdom that will never be found wanting is Christ’s kingdom, which will be a permanent one.

Application – Don’t place your faith in your country or political leaders. These are all lacking in God’s sight.

5. Sometimes if you don’t want gifts, God will see to it that you still get them – Daniel did not want the gifts. He did not serve for the rewards. They were frivolous and unnecessary for him. And yet he still received the gifts as well as a promotion.

Application – Material reward should never be our primary motivation. Trust in God’s provision. If you seek His kingdom and righteousness first, He will provide all the things you need.

VII. The Babylonian kingdom falls (30-31)

Discussion Questions

• How did the city of Babylon finally fall?
• What does this teach us about God and man?

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. History tells us the city fell through a brilliant military strategy of diverting the Euphrates so that they could go into the city under the walls. In most places, the walls were impregnable. But in one spot, the Euphrates flowed under the wall.

By lowering the water level, the Persian and Mede armies could go into the city under the fortifications instead of forcing their way through.

Persian accounts say that the city then surrendered without a fight. But ancient accounts are not in complete agreement on this detail.

2. The miraculous “one-day” defeat of the impregnable city was brought about by God.

3. Babylon fell as fast as it rose up –

God had used it to accomplish His purposes. Now its task of punishing Israel was done, and it would be punished in turn.

In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet is confused. He doesn’t understand why God would use a wicked nation to judge Israel.

God’s answer was that after He used Babylon to accomplish His purposes, they too would be judged for their sin. The rise and fall of Babylon (and all other kingdoms) reminds us of God’s sovereignty. He is bringing His plan for the world to completion. And His kingdom is the only one that will endure forever.

4. The king died the same night.

Application – This chapter is a reminder that the things of the world are temporary. Those who put their trust in things, whether their power, money, or own intelligence, will be disappointed. All of the things we see around us will fade away.

Isaiah 40:8 – The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Study Daniel 6
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