Dan 5: Belshazzar's feast: (1) Belshazzar's dishonoring of
Yahweh (vv 1-4); (2) God's revelation to Belshazzar (vv 5-9); (3) The queen's
counsel (vv 10-12); (4) Belshazzar's request of Daniel (vv 13-16); (5) Daniel's
rebuke of Belshazzar (vv 17-24); (6) Daniel's interpretation of the writing (vv
25-28); (7) Daniel's rise and Belshazzar's fall (vv 29-31).
The events of this ch occurred about 66 years after those in
Dan 1 and approx 36 years after those in Dan 4. Daniel would now have been in
Dan 5: "It had been the great centre of the universe for over
70 years. It was home to some of the most incredible architecture seen in the
world to that time, it was lined with famous streets such as the processional,
great edifices dedicated to the worship of multitudes of pagan deities were
everywhere to be found. It housed the beautiful summer palace, and the hanging
gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world. An enormous wall surrounded it
all. This was the city of Babylon.
"No one could ever have imagined that this city would fall;
and yet, the great Creator had this city and its people marked out for
destruction even before it had gained the ascendancy on the world political
"So confident was Belshazzar in his impregnable position
behind the walls of Babylon, that the presence of Cyrus the conquering Persian
outside caused him no alarm. So unperturbed was Belshazzar in fact, that he felt
quite justified in organizing an enormous drunken feast! He knew not that, very
soon, the writing would be on the wall.
"Cyrus found a way into Babylon. The great river Euphrates
which coursed through the centre of Babylon was diverted, and the water level of
the river began to sink.
"The citizens (and certainly the nobility) of Babylon did not
notice what was happening to the river, but rather, kept on with their drunken
revelry. They were unaware of the signs of the times. Meanwhile, Cyrus was
assembling his troops to march under the wall! The writing on the wall appeared!
King Belshazzer was suddenly sober! His face was deathly white: 'Mene Mene tekel
upharsin!' Thou art weighed in the balances, Belshazzar, and found wanting! Your
kingdom is finished, and so are you!
"Not long after, Persian troops entered into the great hall,
and Belshazzar was killed. Babylon had fallen. The Great God in the heavens who
sets up whomsoever He will had handed the empire to Cyrus.
"It was a black night for Babylon. The world rejoiced at the
coming of their Saviour. Cyrus had kind policies, unlike the Babylonian
oppressor. Many returned to their homes. A new era began.
"In our day, 'Belshazzar's feast' still rocks on. Fornication,
drunkenness, blasphemy and materialism are the hallmarks of this age. The
writing is on the wall! And a great king waits in the wings. The water level is
sinking. When Cyrus entered Babylon, he was surrounded by his bodyguard, his
elite troops. They were a band of fierce fighting men, world famous for their
loyalty, skill and bravery. Cyrus called them: his Immortals!
"When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to rid this world of
Babylon, as he soon will, he will have with him those appointed to aid him to do
so. They will be the immortals. The Saints. Us? Yes, if we heed the lesson, read
the writing on the wall, and follow the example of Daniel, remaining separate
from Babylon's black night of revelry.
" 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us
therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in
chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord
Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts
thereof' (Rom 13:12-14)" (JW).
"The symbolism of the 6th and 7th vials is based upon the
historical conquest of Babylon by Cyrus and his army (significantly, the elite
of the Persian army was given the title of The Immortals because when one was
slain in battle, his place was instantly filled by another). The River Euphrates
ran under the protective walls of the city and through its centre, and its
fortifications were considered to be of such strength as to defy the might of
any conqueror (Dan 4:30). However, Cyrus diverted the water of the river which
dried up the channel that flowed through the city, and along the dry bed his
forces were led to dramatically occupy and overthrow it. The fall of Babylon was
unexpected, and its citizens were engaged in 'a night of pleasure' which,
however, turned into fear" (Eur).
BELSHAZZAR: "For a long time there were two points of
view about this. Some said: 'History knows nothing of King Belshazzar...
Therefore the writers of the Bible must have been writing fiction, not history.'
Others said: 'Not so fast. History isn't complete yet. New facts may come to
light one day that will show the Bible was right after all'... Now we can see
the wisdom of the second approach. All these names appear in the history books
"Belshazzar is described by the Bible as the last king of
Babylon, who was slain by the Persians when they captured the city. But the
ancient historians Berosus, Megasthenes, and Herodotus agreed that the last king
of Babylon was called Nabonidus (or something like it). No historian ever
mentioned Belshazzar. Something was wrong, somewhere.
"In 1882 the explanation came to light. The archaeologist TG
Pinches told the world of the discovery of what is called the Nabonidus
Chronicle. This recorded on baked clay that Nabonidus had a son Bel-shar-usur
(Belshazzar to his pals). Moreover, it made it clear that Nabonidus had a habit
of saying to Belshazzar, 'I'm off to the wars for a while, son. Just you run the
kingdom till I get back.' Nabonidus was unlucky. The clay tablets tell us that
the last time he did this Belshazzar lost his kingdom for him to the Persians,
just as the Book of Daniel said. The Persian conquerors arrested Nabonidus as
soon as he returned home" (GT ch 18).
"At the time that Dan 5 begins, Nabonidus was with his army
out in the country, either hoping to stop Persian invasion or else anxious not
to get shut up in an indefensible city. So his son Belshazzar was acting king in
Babylon and inclined to enjoy the opportunities that were now his! Legal
documents of the 12th and 13th years of Nabonidus mention Belshazzar as
KING BELSHAZZAR GAVE A GREAT BANQUET FOR A THOUSAND OF HIS
NOBLES: "Banquets the size described in this verse also drew the attack of
critics. Yet the ancient historian Ktesias wrote that Persian kings frequently
dined daily with 15,000 people (cf Est 1)" (Leupold).
HE GAVE ORDERS TO BRING IN THE GOLD AND SILVER GOBLETS THAT
NEBUCHADNEZZAR HIS FATHER HAD TAKEN FROM THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM: "It was
probably the anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem in Zedekiah's reign (so
says the Talmud), which sparked off the idea of indulging in some good
anti-Semitic gloating at a special celebration. All the glorious holy vessels,
the seven branched candlestick included, were brought out, and the great
concourse of lords and 'ladies' settled down to a self-congratulatory orgy of
hard drinking" (WDan).
HIS FATHER: The NIV mg has "ancestor, or predecessor;
also in vv 11,13, and 18". Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar's grandfather rather
than his father, but the original language commonly used "father" in the sense
of ancestor. "Neither in Hebrew, nor in Chaldee, is there any word for
'grandfather,' 'grandson.' Forefathers are called 'fathers' or 'fathers'
fathers.' But a single grandfather, or forefather, is never called 'father's
father' but always 'father' only" (Pusey).
SO THEY BROUGHT IN THE GOLDEN GOBLETS THAT HAD BEEN TAKEN
FROM THE TEMPLE OF GOD IN JERUSALEM, SO THAT THE KING AND HIS NOBLES, HIS WIVES
AND HIS CONCUBINES MIGHT DRINK FROM THEM: Evidently the vessels taken from
the Jerusalem temple had been stored as trophies of war and not used previously
(cp Dan 1:2). Their presence in the warehouses of Babylon was sufficient
humiliation of Yahweh who in the minds of the Babylonians could not prevent
their theft. However using these vessels in praise of Babylon's gods was even
more sacrilegious than just possessing them.
"Have you noticed how in recent years the world has stepped
into the 'sanctuary' of faith and laid its ruthless hands on some of the things
we hold most sacred? Our day has seen this impious sacrilege carried into many
other realms, as well. Is God unmindful of this? Will He not visit for such
Cp also Obad 1:16: "Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all
the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they
had never been." Here the sacrilege is committed by Edom, and occurs on the holy
mount of the LORD itself -- but it also involves drinking from the sacred
vessels of the LORD!
THE PLASTER OF THE WALL: "In the ruins of
Nebuchadnezzar's palace archeologists have uncovered a large throne room 56 ft
wide and 173 ft long which probably was the scene of this banquet. Midway in the
long wall opposite the entrance there was a niche in front of which the king may
well have been seated. Interestingly, the wall behind the niche was covered with
white plaster as described by Daniel, which would make an excellent background
for such a writing" (Walvoord).
This verse describes the hand of God in the writing on the
wall, but it also describes the hand of God in the history of Babylon and of
Israel. To Belshazzar the "hand of God" was a bizarre and frightening thing (v
6). To the believer, seeing "the hand of God" in history should be a constant
HIS FACE TURNED PALE AND HE WAS SO FRIGHTENED THAT HIS
KNEES KNOCKED TOGETHER AND HIS LEGS GAVE WAY: "Knowing the power of the
Babylonian kings, Belshazzar must have seen many men stand in fear and trembling
before him. Now it was his turn to tremble. In that torch-lit banquet hall, the
revelry had reached its peak, doubtlessly with loud boasting and toasting,
laughter and celebration. Likely, the king was the life of the party. Perhaps he
was closest to the sudden emerging of the mysterious hand in the light of the
"One might have thought the king was having a heart attack.
Barely able to stand, his face was ashen and seized with terror. The raucous
laughter turned to deafening silence with all eyes on the king. The king's eyes
were fixed upon the hand as it wrote. As a sense of foreboding and panic fell on
the crowd, all eyes turned to the mysterious writing on the wall. The king's
actions alarmed all who were present.
"One can only imagine the scene. Already affected by too much
wine, the king's terror robbed his legs of all strength. The lower part of his
body seems to have lost control. Crying aloud in fear, his speech probably
slurred, the king immediately summoned his wise men to the banquet hall"
HIS LEGS GAVE WAY: More literally, as the AV: "the
joints of his loins were loosed" -- he lost control of his bowels!
CLOTHED IN PURPLE: Sym royal authority: cp Est
HE WILL BE MADE THE THIRD HIGHEST RULER IN THE KINGDOM:
Because Nabonidus (Nebuchadnezzar's father) was still the "first", and
Belshazzar (ruling as regent in his father's absence) was "second".
THEY COULD NOT READ THE WRITING OR TELL THE KING WHAT IT
MEANT: Part of their difficulty was probably due to the inscription being in
THE QUEEN, HEARING THE VOICES OF THE KING AND HIS NOBLES,
CAME INTO THE BANQUET HALL: "Normally we would identify the queen as
Belshazzar's wife. However, there are a number of reasons to prefer the view
that she was really the queen mother or perhaps even the surviving wife of
Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar's wives had been participating in this banquet (v 2),
but this woman now entered it apparently for the first time. She also spoke to
the king more as a mother than as a wife. Moreover she spoke as one who had
personal acquaintance with Daniel's earlier interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's
second dream (cf Dan 4:8,9,18) [and possibly with Daniel's God also!]. Probably
this woman was Belshazzar's mother and the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. The queen
mother was often a significant figure who exerted considerable influence in
ancient courts (cf 1Ki 15:13; 2Ki 11:1-3; 24:12; Jer 13:18). This woman
proceeded to do for Belshazzar what Arioch had done for Nebuchadnezzar, namely
bring Daniel to the king's attention (cf Dan 2:25)" (Const).
THERE IS A MAN IN YOUR KINGDOM...: As before, Daniel
had not accompanied the other wise men whom the king had summoned (Dan 4:6-8).
The reason for this is unclear, but the effect in the event and in the narrative
is that it sets Daniel off as unique. Clearly Belshazzar did not know Daniel
personally. Perhaps Daniel had left public service.
The Spirit of God: in Daniel (Dan 5:11); in Joseph (Gen
41:38); clothed Gideon (Jdg 6:34); clothed Amasai (1Ch 12:18); clothed Zechariah
(2Ch 24:20); came upon Balaam (Num 24:2); came upon Saul (1Sa 10:10).
ARE YOU DANIEL, ONE OF THE EXILES MY FATHER THE KING
BROUGHT FROM JUDAH?: "The king had heard of Daniel by reputation even though
he had not met him before. He recognized him as a person whose extraordinary
ability came from some divine source (cf Dan 4:8,18). Perhaps it was because
Daniel was a Jew that Belshazzar did not employ him in his administration.
However, now the king was quite willing to give even this Jewish exile all the
honors that he had formerly promised his wise men. Here was a worshiper of the
God that Belshazzar had been dishonoring in his banquet but who now might
ironically prove superior to the Chaldeans. The king's willingness to reward a
Jewish exile shows how desperately Belshazzar wanted to learn the meaning of the
enigmatic message on the wall.
"As in the previous instances in Dan 2 and Dan 4, the wisdom
of the world is demonstrated to be totally unable to solve its major problems
and to understand either the present or the future. Daniel as the prophet of God
is the channel through which divine revelation would come, and Belshazzar in his
extremity was willing to listen.
" 'Too often the world, like Belshazzar, is not willing to
seek the wisdom of God until its own bankruptcy becomes evident. Then help is
sought too late, as in the case of Belshazzar, and the cumulative sin and
unbelief which precipitated the crisis in the first place becomes the occasion
of downfall' (Walvoord)" (Const).
THE THIRD HIGHEST RULER IN THE KINGDOM: Because
Nabonidus (Nebuchadnezzar's father) was still the "first", and Belshazzar
(ruling as regent in his father's absence) was "second".
YOU MAY KEEP YOUR GIFTS FOR YOURSELF: "Some gift!"...
if it could be so easily taken away from you by the hand of God (Dan
Vv 18-23: Daniel reminded Belshazzar, and undoubtedly everyone
else in the room, of the lesson in humility that God had taught his forefather,
Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4). The Most High God had given his grandfather his
authority and had taught him that he was under His greater sovereignty.
Nebuchadnezzar's pride had led him to behave arrogantly, as Belshazzar was doing
by drinking from the sacred vessels of Yahweh, this Most High God. Even though
Belshazzar knew all about this (v 22) he had not humbled his heart before the
Lord of heaven and glorified Him. Therefore the God who held Belshazzar's life
and his ways in HIS hand had sent THE hand to write the inscription on the
"God is displeased with the wickedness of men now as He was
then. He is not an indifferent spectator of the ways of nations, though He would
appear so in this time of long-kept silence... Babylon was weighed in the
balances and found wanting, and therefore the kingdom was divided and given to
the Medes and Persians (Dan 5:27,28). This was done by events with which,
apparently, God had nothing to do, namely, the successful enterprise of Darius
and Cyrus. So now national disasters do not come without divine intention and
manipulation. A threatening army gathered on the frontiers of a country may be
the hand of God for the visitation of justice" (WP 134).
Four handwritings: Upon the stone (Exo 20:2); upon the wall
(Dan 5:24); upon the ground (John 8:6); and upon the cross (John
MENE... GOD HAS NUMBERED THE DAYS OF YOUR REIGN AND BROUGHT
IT TO AN END: "Mene" sig "numbered." Daniel understood this word to signify
that the number of years that God had prescribed for the Neo-Babylonian Empire
had expired. Its repetition probably stressed the certainty of this point (cp
idea, Gen 41:32).
TEKEL... YOU HAVE BEEN WEIGHED ON THE SCALES AND FOUND
WANTING: "Tekel" (cognate with the Heb "shekel") means "weighed." God had
weighed Belshazzar and had found him deficient; he was not the ruler that he
should have been because of his flagrant refusal to acknowledge the Most High
God's sovereignty (v 22).
PERES... YOUR KINGDOM IS DIVIDED AND GIVEN TO THE MEDES AND
PERSIANS: "Peres" (the singular of "Parsin", or "Upharsin" -- "AND Parsin")
has two meanings: it can mean either "divided" (as in a half-shekel) or
"Persia". This obviously relates to the division of Belshazzar's kingdom into
two parts, one part for the Medes and the other for the Persians.
"The word was deliberately used to suggest 'Persians'; but it
is closely associated with a familiar Hebrew word for 'broken down' or 'break
in', which is precisely what was to happen that night" (WDan).
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: "In its rise to power the Babylonian Empire had
conquered Jerusalem, taken its inhabitants into captivity, looted its beautiful
temple, and completely destroyed the city. Yet this empire was to have as its
last official act the honoring of one of these captives who by divine revelation
predicted not only the downfall of Babylon but the course of the times of the
Gentiles until the Son of man should come from heaven. Man may have the first
word, but God will have the last word" (Walvoord).
There was so little time left for Belshazzar (v 30), and yet
he spent his last hours bestowing empty honors on Daniel (who didn't want them
in the first place)! How tragic to be preoccupied with purple clothing, a gold
necklace, and the promotion of men, rather than with eternal destiny. In a few
moments of time, all the king's wealth and power was swept away, into utter
Vv 30,31: "The invading Medes and Persians, led by Ugbaru,
commander of the Persian army, would have already taken the surrounding
countryside, and everyone in the city would have known of their intentions.
However, Babylon had not fallen to an invading army for 1,000 years because of
its strong fortifications. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus,
Babylon was about 14 miles square with a double wall system enclosing a moat
between the two walls. The outer wall was 87 feet thick, wide enough for four
chariots to drive abreast on. It was 350 feet high with 100 gates, plus hundreds
more towers reaching another 100 feet above the walls.
"Belshazzar's confidence in the security of his capital is
evident in his banqueting and getting drunk while his enemy was at his door. His
name, which means 'Bel [also known as Marduk] has protected the king', may have
increased his sense of invulnerability. Herodotus also mentioned that a festival
was underway in Babylon when the city fell" (Const).
Herodotus pictured Babylon's fall as follows: "Hereupon the
Persians who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the river-side, entered
the stream, which had now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man's thigh, and
thus got into the town. Had the Babylonians been appraised of what Cyrus was
about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the
Persians to enter the city, but would have destroyed them utterly; for they
would have made fast all the street-gates which gave upon the river, and
mounting upon the walls along both sides of the stream, would so have caught the
enemy as it were in a trap. But, as it was, the Persians came upon them by
surprise and took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants
of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare), long after the outer
portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they
were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and revelling until they learnt
the capture but too certainly."
"The downfall of Babylon is in type the downfall of the
unbelieving world [cp Rev 17; 18]. In many respects, modern civilization is much
like ancient Babylon, resplendent with its monuments of architectural triumph,
as secure as human hands and ingenuity could make it, and yet defenseless
against the judgment of God at the proper hour. Contemporary civilization is
similar to ancient Babylon in that it has much to foster human pride but little
to provide human security. Much as Babylon fell on the sixteenth day of Tishri
(Oct 11 or 12) 539 BC, as indicated in the Nabonidus Chronicle, so the world
will be overtaken by disaster when the day of the Lord comes (1Th 5:1-3 [cp also
Psa 2:4-6; Rev 19:15,16]). The disaster of the world, however, does not overtake
the child of God; Daniel survives the purge and emerges triumphant as one of the
presidents of the new kingdom in Dan 6" (Walvoord).
DARIUS THE MEDE: Who is this man? "Archer suggested
that 'Darius' may have been a title of honor in the Persian Empire as 'Caesar'
was in the Roman Empire or, I might add, 'Pharaoh' was in Egypt. If this was so,
'Darius' could refer to another man known in history by another name or names.
The most likely possibility seems to me to have been Cyrus. This would account
most naturally for the fact that Daniel referred to Darius as 'king' in Dan 6.
Furthermore it would have been very unusual for a subordinate of Cyrus to divide
the whole empire into 120 satrapies (Dan 6:1). Darius was probably called 'the
Mede' because he was of Median descent (Dan 9:1).
"Another possibility is that Darius is another name for Gubaru
(Gobryas), a ruler of Babylon under Cyrus. This would distinguish Gubaru from
Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium and Persian commander who led the assault against
"A third view is that Ugbaru and Gubaru are different
spellings of the same man's name" (Const).
"Although Daniel has long since been vindicated in his
references to Belshazzar, his other classic 'mistake' has not yet been cleared
up. He refers to another king, Darius the Mede, and nobody yet knows who this
is. Some scholars think that this is another name for a governor called Gobryas,
or Gubaru. Others think it was an alternative name for Cyrus, the Persian king.
Nobody really knows. But in view of what has happened in the past it would take
a brave man to say that Daniel definitely blundered. One more shovelful of
earth, and the final answer to the problem may appear tomorrow" (GT ch