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Daniel 5 study

Daniel Chapter 5
5:1 ¶ Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar II had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
5:5 ¶ In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
5:6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
5:7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. [And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
5:8 Then came in all the king’s wise [men]: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
5:9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
5:10 ¶ [Now] the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar II thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers;
5:12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
5:13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
5:14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods [is] in thee, and [that] light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
5:15 And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing:
5:16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
5:17 ¶ Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
5:18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar II thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
5:19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
5:20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
5:21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling [was] with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
5:22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;
5:23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
5:24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
5:25 ¶ And this [is] the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
5:26 This [is] the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
5:27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
5:28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
5:29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
5:30 ¶ In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
5:31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.
Who’s Who
Cyrus II the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, was born to Cambyses I, King of Anshan, and Mandane, daughter of Astyages, King of Media.
Cyrus II the Great married Cassandane [also known as Cassandana and Cassandrane]. She was some 19-27 years younger than Cyrus and was an Achaemenian and the daughter of Pharnaspes. Cyrus and Cassandane had two sons, Cambyses II and Bardiya along with three daughters, Atossa, Artystone, and Roxane. Cassandane died early aged 35-43 years old.
Pharnaspes, better known as Cyaxares II was the last king of the Median empire. He was also the Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel, whose father was Ahasuerus, and who assumed rule over the Neo-Babylonian Empire after the fall of Babylon to a Medo-Persian force (Daniel 5:31) for about two years until he died.
Cyaxares’ father, called “Astyages” by the Greek historians, took the throne name “Ahasuerus” (= Xerxes). [The Hebrew ‘Ahasuerus’ descends from the Persian name for Xerxes.]
Mandane and Cyaxares II were children of Astyages who married Aryania of Lydia.
Astyages and Amytis were children of Cyaxares I, king of Media.
Amytis married Nebuchadnezzar II [king of Babylon], who was a child of the king of Babylon and founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nabopolassar and Shuadamqa of Babylon.
Amytis and Nebuchadnezzar II had 9 children: Kassaya, Innin-etirat, Ba’u-asitu, Marduk-nadin-ahi, Eanna-sarra-usur, Amel-Marduk, Marduk-sum-usur, Musezib-Marduk, and Nitocris.
Nabonidus, king of Babylon, married Nitocris, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II.
Belshazzar, co-regent king of Babylon with Nabonidus, was born to Nabonidus and Nitocris of Babylon.
As Cyrus II the Great’s mother was Mandane whose brother was Cyaxares II, there is a nephew / uncle relationship between Cyrus and Cyaxares [later called Darius the Mede]. Furthermore, as Cyrus then married Cyaxares’ daughter, Cassandane, a second ancestral link is formed by this first cousin marriage.
Gubaru [Gobryas] – One of Cyrus II the Great’s generals, whose son had been murdered by Belshazzar.
Gadatas – a man castrated by Belshazzar, who then became one of Cyrus II the Great’s generals.
Both of these joined Cyrus’ army to “settle a score” with Belshazzar.
Xenophon, Cyropaedia [re: Cyrus weds the daughter of Cyaxares]
[8.5.17] Cyrus Visits Cyaxares in Media. As they continued their march and came near to Media, Cyrus turned aside to visit Cyaxares. And when they had exchanged greetings, the first thing Cyrus told Cyaxares was that a palace had been selected for him in Babylon, and official headquarters, so that he might occupy a residence of his own whenever he came there; and then he also gave him many splendid presents.
[8.5.18] Cyaxares Offers Daughter in Marriage and Media as Dowry. Cyaxares accepted them and then introduced to him his daughter, who brought him a golden crown and bracelets and a necklace and the most beautiful Median robe that could be found.
[8.5.19] As the princess placed the crown on Cyrus’s head, Cyaxares said, “And the maiden herself, my own daughter, I offer you as well, Cyrus, to be your wife. Your father married my father’s daughter, whose son you are. This is she whom you used often to pet when you came to visit us when you were a boy. And whenever anybody asked her whom she was going to marry, she would say ‘Cyrus.’ And with her I offer you all Media as a dowry, for I have no legitimate male issue.
[8.5.20] Thus he spoke, and Cyrus answered: “Well, Cyaxares, I heartily approve of your family and your daughter and your gifts. And I desire, with the approval of my father and mother, to accept your offer.” Thus Cyrus answered; but still he made the young lady presents of everything that he thought would please Cyaxares as well as herself. And when he had done so, he proceeded on his way to Persia.
[8.5.21] Cyrus Arrives at Persia. And when, as he continued his journey, he came to the boundaries of Persia, he left the main body of his army there, while he went on with his friends to the capital; and he took along animals enough for all the Persians to sacrifice and make a feast, and brought with him such gifts as were appropriate for his father and mother and his friends besides and such as were suitable for the authorities and the elders and all the peers. And he gave presents also to all the Persians, men and women, such as even to this day the great king bestows whenever he comes to Persia.
[8.5.22] Then Cambyses assembled the Persian elders and the highest of the chief magistrates; he called in Cyrus also and then addressed them as follows: “Toward you, my Persian friends, I cherish, as is natural, feelings of good-will, for I am your king; and no less toward you, Cyrus, for you are my son. It is right, therefore, that I should declare frankly to you what I think I recognize to be for the good of both.
[8.5.23] “In the past you advanced the fortunes of Cyrus by giving him an army and placing him in command of it. And at its head Cyrus has with the help of the gods given you, Persians, a good report among all men and made you honoured throughout all Asia. Of those who went with him on his campaigns he has enriched the most deserving and to the commoners he has given wages and support; and by establishing a Persian cavalry force he has made the Persians masters also of the plains.
[8.5.24] “If, therefore, you continue to be of the same mind also in the future, you will be the cause of much good to each other. But, Cyrus, if you on your part become puffed up by your present successes and attempt to govern the Persians as you do those other nations, with a view to self-aggrandizement, or if you, fellow-citizens, become jealous of his power and attempt to depose him from his sovereignty, be sure that you will hinder one another from receiving much good.
[8.5.25] “And that this may not befall you, but the good, it seems best to me for you to perform a common sacrifice and to make a covenant, first calling the gods to witness. You, Cyrus, on your part, must covenant that if any one sets hostile foot in Persia or attempts to subvert the Persian constitution, you will come to her aid with all your strength; and you, Persians, on your part, are to covenant that if any one attempts to put an end to Cyrus’s sovereignty or if any one of his subjects attempts to revolt, you will come to your own rescue as well as Cyrus’ in whatsoever way he may call upon you.
[8.5.26] “As long as I live, the Persian throne continues to be mine own. But when I am dead, it will, of course, pass to Cyrus if he survives me. And as often as he comes to Persia, it should be a sacred custom with you that he sacrifice on your behalf even as I do now. And when he is away, it might be well for you, I think, that that one of our family who seems to you the most worthy should perform that sacred office.”
[8.5.27] When Cambyses had finished speaking, Cyrus and the Persian magistrates accepted his proposal. And as they then covenanted, with the gods as their witnesses, so the Persians and their king still continue to this day to act toward one another. And when this had all been completed, Cyrus took his departure.
[8.5.28] Cyrus Weds. When, on his way back, he came to Media, Cyrus wedded the daughter of Cyaxares, for he had obtained the consent of his father and mother. And to this day people still tell of her wonderful beauty. (But some historians say that he married his mother’s sister. But that maid must certainly have been a very old maid.) And when he was married he at once departed with his bride for Babylon.
Daniel 5
1 Belshazzar’s impious feast. 5 A handwriting, unknown to the magicians, troubleth the king. 10 At the commendation of the queen Daniel is brought. 17 He, reproving the king of pride and idolatry, 25 readeth and interpreteth the writing. 30 The monarchy is translated to the Medes.
Daniel 5
Chapter 4 left us with Nebuchadnezzar II praising the God of heaven for making known to him that He was “able to abase” any who walked “in pride” (Daniel 4:37).
Nebuchadnezzar II immediate successor was his son Amel-Marduk [1], (called Evil-Merodach in 2 Kings 25:27; also Jeremiah 52:31) who reigned only 2 years from 562 to 560 BC. During that brief period he is noted for having released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison after being incarcerated for 37 years.
• [1] Amel-Marduk (died 560 BC), called Evil-Merodach in the Hebrew Bible, was the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.
Allegedly because Amel-Marduk tried to modify is father’s policies, he was murdered in 560 BC by his brother-in-law Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar), who succeeded him.
Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar)’s reign lasted less than 4 years from August 560 BC – April 556 BC after which he died of natural causes.
Consequently, Nergal-Sharezer (Neriglissar)’s son, Labishi-Marduk, was placed on the throne when only a boy. Not surprisingly, however, he was found unfit to rule and was murdered in a conspiracy only nine months after his inauguration.
Then, Nabonidus, also spelled Nabu-Na?id, and also known as Baltasar, was chosen as the new king. Things seemed to settle down a bit because he ruled 17 years from 556 BC to 539 BC. But, only 3 years after ascending the throne, he turned over the rule of the city of Babylon to his son Belshazzar in 553 BC even though he was only 15 years old! [2]
• [2] Manuscript Releases Volume 10 page 307.
For 14 years, Nabonidus remained away from the city, but: “In the year 539 540 BC Nabonidus returned from Tayma, hoping to defend his kingdom from the Persians who were planning to advance on Babylon. In 539 BC Belshazzar was positioned in the city of Babylon to hold the capital, while Nabonidus, marched his troops north to meet Cyrus II the Great. On October 10, 539 BC Nabonidus surrendered and fled from Cyrus II the Great. 2 days later, October 12, 539 BC, the Persian armies overthrew the city of Babylon”.
Tayma or Tema, Teman, Tyeman is a large oasis with a long history of settlement, located in north-western Saudi Arabia.
Some question the veracity of this event. The absence of the name of Belshazzar on the monuments was long regarded as an argument against the genuineness of the Book of Daniel. In 1854 AD Sir Henry Rawlinson found an inscription of Nabonidus which referred to his eldest son. Quite recently, however, the side of a ravine undermined by heavy rains fell at Hillah, a suburb of Babylon. A number of huge, coarse earthenware vases were laid bare. These were filled with tablets, the receipts and contracts of a firm of Babylonian bankers, which showed that Belshazzar had a household, with secretaries and stewards. One was dated in the third year of the king Marduk-sar-uzur. As Marduk-sar-uzar was another name for Baal, this Marduk-sar-uzur was found to be the Belshazzar of Scripture.
So, there is abundant evidence for the genuineness of the scenario that Belshazzar’s reign as co-regent in Babylon actually lasted some 14 years from 553 to 539 BC. Belshazzar was 29 years old when he died at the time the Persians overthrew the city of Babylon.
With power being jockeyed from one incompetent ruler to the next after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II whom the scripture identifies as “the terrible of the nations” (Ezekiel 28:7; 30:10, 11; 31:12; 32:12), the nation itself suffered the inevitable results of inward corruption ending in complete dissolution under the hand of its enemies only 23 years after the death of its leading monarch.
The writing on the wall
A disturbing message from God.
Of Belshazzar, the closing scene of whose reign is described in this Chapter, little more is known than is recorded here. He is mentioned by Daniel as the last king of the Chaldees, under whom Babylon was taken by the Medes and Persians.
The accounts which we have of this king are very meagre, and yet, meagre as they are, they are by no means uniform, and it is difficult to reconcile them.
In his reign it was that the walls of the city of Babylon were curiously built with burnt brick and bitumen; but when he was come to the seventeenth year of his reign, Cyrus II the Great came out of Persia with a great army, and having already conquered the rest of Asia, he came hastily to Babylonia. When perceived he was coming to attack him, he met him with his forces, and joining battle with him, was beaten, and fled away with a few of his troops with him, and was shut up in the city of Borsippus. Hereupon Cyrus II the Great took Babylon, and gave orders that the outer walls of the city should be demolished, because the city had proved very troublesome to him, and cost him a great deal of pains to take it. He then marched away to Borsippus to besiege ; but as Nabonidus did not sustain the siege, but delivered himself into his hands, he was at first kindly used by Cyrus II the Great, who gave him Carmania as a place for him to inhabit in, but sent him out of Babylonia. Accordingly, spent the rest of his time in that country, and there died.
Borsippa lies about 11 miles [18 km.] south-west of the ancient city of Babylon. It is a Sumero-Akkadian city and was built on either side of river Euphrates.
Belshazzar was the grandson by his mother of Nebuchadnezzar II, but little is known of the king or kings whose reign intervened between that of Nebuchadnezzar II and Belshazzar.
The Chapter comprises a record of the series of events that occurred in Babylon on the night in which it was taken by the Medes and Persians. The scene may be supposed to open in the early evening, at a time when a festival would probably be celebrated, and to continue through a considerable part of the night. It is not known precisely at what time the city was taken, yet it may be supposed that Cyrus II the Great was making his approaches while the revel was going on in the palace, and that even while Daniel was interpreting the handwriting on the wall, he was conducting his armies along the channel of the river, and through the open gate on the banks of the river, toward the palace. The order of the events referred to is as follows:
• (1) the feast given by Belshazzar in his palace, Daniel 5:1-4;
• (2) the mysterious appearance of the part of the hand on the wall, Daniel 5:5;
• (3) the summoning of the soothsayers to interpret the handwriting, and their inability to do it, Daniel 5:6-9;
• (4) the entrance of the queen into the banqueting-hall on account of the trouble of the king, and her reference to Daniel as one qualified to interpret the vision, Daniel 5:10-12;
• (5) the summoning of Daniel by the king, and his address to him, Daniel 5:13-16;
• (6) the answer of Daniel, declining any rewards for his service, and his solemn address to the king, reminding him of what had occurred to Nebuchadnezzar II, and of the fact that he had forgotten the lessons which the Divine dealings with Nebuchadnezzar II were adapted to teach, and that his own heart had been lifted up with pride, and that his conduct had been eminently wicked, Daniel 5:17-23;
• (7) the interpretation of the words by Daniel, Daniel 5:24-28;
• (8) the order to clothe Daniel in a manner appropriate to one of high rank, and the appointment to the third office in the kingdom, Daniel 5:29; and
• (9) the taking of the city, and the death of Belshazzar, Daniel 5:30-31.
Belshazzar’s feast
Belshazzar came to power 9 years after Nebuchadnezzar II died. 562 BC to 553 BC.
The events of this Chapter 5 (539 BC) occurred 66 years after those in Chapter 1 (605 BC), and about 44 or 43 years after those in Chapter 4 (583 BC or 582 BC). Daniel received the revelation in Chapter 7 in the first year of Belshazzar (553 BC, Daniel 7:1), and the revelation in Chapter 8 in Belshazzar’s third year (551 BC, Daniel 8:1). Thus Chapter 5 follows Chapters 7 and 8 chronologically by 14 and 12 years respectively. For Chapter 5 Daniel would be 84 (623 BC – 539 BC).
Persian Kings during the Exilic Period (70 years: 606 BC – 536 BC) and Post-exilic Period (535BC – 400 BC: Ezra to Malachi / Nehemiah).
King – – – – – – – – – – Reign – – – – – Scripture
Cyrus I – – – – – – – – 600-580 BC
Cambyses I – – – – – – 580-559 BC
Cyrus II the Great – – – – 559-530 BC – – – Ezra 1:1; Ezra 4:5; Daniel 5:31 to Daniel 6:28; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1
Cambyses II – – – – – – 530-522 BC
Smerdis – – – – – – – – – 522 BC
Darius I – – – – – – – – 522-486 BC – – – Ezra 5-6; Haggai; Zechariah
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) – – – 486-464 BC – – – Ezra 4:6; Esther
Artaxerxes I (Artashasta) – 464-424 BC – – – Ezra 4:7-23; Chapters 7-10; Nehemiah; Malachi
Xerxes II – – – – – – – – 424 BC
Darius II – – – – – – – – 424-404 BC – – – Nehemiah 12:22
Artaxerxes II – – – – – – 404-358 BC
Chapter 5 illustrates the involvement of king and kingdom in one destiny. Belshazzar’s blatant disrespect for the Most High God was all of a piece with the national character, indeed with our human condition, as it is depicted in Psalms 90. Though human days are numbered (Daniel 5:10), few number them for themselves and ’get a heart of wisdom’ (Daniel 5:12). Belshazzar in this Chapter presents a vivid picture of the fool, the practising atheist, who at the end can only brazen it out with the help of alcohol which blots out the stark reality.
Chapter Contents
Belshazzar’s impious feast; the hand-writing on the wall. (1-9) Daniel is sent for to interpret it. (10-17) Daniel warns the king of his destruction. (18-31)
Lessons from Daniel 5
In Chapter 5 the last Babylonian king appears: Belshazzar. In the past, critics had considered the Book of Daniel to be historically unreliable. At that time not a single historian nor other material was known to mention Belshazzar. Then the cylinder of Cyrus II the Great and a number of clay tablets appeared and confirmed that Belshazzar had lived. He was co-regent with his father Nabonidus. While Nabonidus stayed outside the city of Babylon, Belshazzar was ruling in Babylon, and it is with Belshazzar that Daniel came in contact. So the Book of Daniel is reliable. The Babylonian kings after Nebuchadnezzar II were Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach), Nergal-Sharezer (Neriglissar), Labashi-Marduk, Nabonidus, and Belshazzar.
As this Chapter opens, we see a great banquet hall with a thousand guests. The “thousand” is no exaggeration. Kings in the ancient world were known for their lavish banquets.
Throughout the Chapter, Nebuchadnezzar II is called the father of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:2, 11, 13, 18, 22), referring to the fact that his mother, Nitocris, was Nebuchadnezzar II’s daughter. The word father in the Semitic languages can refer to any ancestor or predecessor, not only to the immediate parent. Mephibosheth is called the son of Saul (2 Samuel 19:24), whereas he was really the son of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:6). Christ was called the Son of David (Matthew 9:27), not because David was His immediate human father but because He was from the lineage of David (Luke 2:4).
Announcement of the king’s coming judgment begins by a mysterious hand writing on the wall of the banquet hall. Crying aloud, the king summons the wise men of Babylon. Their inability to fulfil his instructions only adds to his frustration. When his ability to interpret such matters is made known to the king, Daniel enters the scene.
It was in Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel that king Nebuchadnezzar II had a distressing dream, which he demanded that his wise men reveal and interpret; they could not do so. Daniel revealed the dream and its meaning to king Nebuchadnezzar II, and in so doing spared the lives of the wise men. In Chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar II had yet another dream. Once again, the king first sought the meaning from the other wise men of Babylon. When all others failed to explain the king’s dream, Daniel revealed its meaning and called on the king to repent, so that the threatened outcome might be delayed or prevented.
Another king now sits on the throne in Babylon. His name is Belshazzar, and Nebuchadnezzar II was his “father”.
Recent archaeological findings have named Belshazzar and identified him as the son of Nabonidus. Belshazzar shared a co-regency with his father, especially in his father’s absence from Babylon. This would explain why Belshazzar offered the man who could interpret the writing on the wall the position of third ruler of the kingdom (Daniel 5:16).
44 years have passed since the events of Chapter 4 and 66 years since Chapter 1. Now advanced in years, Daniel is a senior statesman in Babylon. He has outlasted a number of kings and in his time Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean kings of Babylon, will be killed and Babylon will pass from Chaldean rule to rule by Darius the Mede.
In Chapters 1-4, we have an account of the life of Nebuchadnezzar II, the first Babylonian king to rule over the captive Jews. The account looks at several events in the life of this great king, which eventually bring him to his knees in worship and praise of the God of Israel. Daniel then passes over several kings, giving us this brief account of the last day in the reign of Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean kings.
The death of Belshazzar at the hand of Gubaru is a partial fulfilment of the prophecy revealed to king Nebuchadnezzar II by his dream in Chapter 2. There, Daniel informed Nebuchadnezzar II that his kingdom was the first of 4 kingdoms to precede the coming of Messiah. His was the kingdom of gold, to be followed by a lesser kingdom of silver (Daniel 2:39). The kingdom of silver is introduced in Daniel 5, when Cyrus II the Great captures Babylon, and Belshazzar is put to death. The Medo-Persian kingdom is born, fulfilling the first part of the prophecy revealed through Daniel.
Ichabod! Why call this Chapter ‘Ichabod’? Well, do you remember the events from a dark period in Israel’s history, when the Philistines battled against Israel and took the Ark of the Covenant? This is recorded in 1 Samuel 4:1-22. You may recall how Eli’s daughter in law gave birth to a baby and called her new born son ‘Ichabod’. It means ‘no glory’, for she said ‘The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken’ It was a sad time. Well, Daniel Chapter 5 is also about the departure of glory. Not from Israel, but from the greatest worldwide kingdom at that time – the Babylonian empire. And it is interesting to note some of the factors that led to the fall of Babylon because it has some very valid lessons for our age as well.
The order that Daniel received the divine revelations differs from the order of events as presented within successive Chapters of Daniel. In the 44 or 43 year period between Chapters 4 and 5, Daniel received additional revelation as recorded in Chapters 7 (the sequence of Gentile kingdoms represented as rapacious beasts) and 8 (the identities of the 2nd and 3rd kingdoms as Medo-Persian and Greece) [3]. In combination with the revelation given in Chapter 2 (Daniel 2:32, 39), Daniel would know the kingdom of Medo-Persia was to follow the fall of Babylon (Daniel 7:5; 8:3-7, 20-21). This information undoubtedly contributed to his ability to interpret the handwriting on the wall.
• [3] In the 44 or 43 years which elapsed between Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, the further revelations given to Daniel in Chapters 7 and 8 occurred. Chapter 7 was revealed to Daniel ‘in the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon’ (Daniel 7:1) and the vision of the ram and he-goat in Chapter 8 occurred ‘in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar’ (Daniel 8:1). The information embodied in these 2 visions, insofar as Daniel understood it, therefore was known to Daniel before the event of Chapter 5 which chronologically came after Chapters 7 and 8. Daniel received the revelation in Chapter 7 in the first year of Belshazzar (553 BC, 7:1) and the revelation in Chapter 8 in Belshazzar’s third year (551 BC, 8:1). Thus Chapter 5 follows Chapters 7 and 8 chronologically by 14 and 12 years respectively.
Besides the revelation that God had provided directly to Daniel, he was an avid student of Scripture and studied the writings of the contemporary prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:1). In addition, Daniel was undoubtedly acquainted with the predictions concerning Babylon and Medo-Persia made by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Isaiah.
As this Chapter opens, Daniel would have already known:
The kingdom of Medo-Persia would overthrow Babylon (Isaiah 13:1, 17; 21:2, 9; 45:1; Jeremiah 50:9; Jeremiah 51:11, 28-31; Daniel 2:32, 39; 7:5; 8:3-8, 20-21) [4].
• [4] Isaiah, in that wonderful prophecy of the destruction of Babylon, a prophecy acknowledged even by unbelievers to have been prior to the event, assigns to Persia the first place, and to Media, the second; Go up, O Elam; besiege, O Media.
Isaiah 21:2 A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.
Cyrus II the Great would initiate the Jew’s release from Babylon and the temple’s reconstruction in Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:27-28; 45:1-5). This, in turn, implies Cyrus II the Great would gain ascendancy over Babylon—the nation holding the Jews captive.
The overthrow of Babylon would enable Jews to return to Israel (Jeremiah 50:4-5, 8, 19, 28; 51:45).
The reign of Babylon would end with Nebuchadnezzar II’s grandson (Jeremiah 27:6-7).
The 70 years of servitude were nearing fulfilment (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10) [5].
• [5] 2 Chronicles 36:21 and Danel 9:24 were not yet written.
It was during this same 44 or 43 year period [between Chapters 4 and 5] that Daniel received the revelations that are recorded in Daniel 7 and 8. Daniel knows them by the time he comes into the throne room here in Daniel 5, he is fully aware of that background. So when he comes in he has a pretty good idea what these revelations are going to be, whether or not God revealed anything special to him or not, he already knew pretty much what was going to happen just from his study of the Scripture.
A little before our Chapter opens, Cyrus II the Great, king of Persia, had entered into an alliance with Cyaxares II, his aged uncle; and the combined kingdoms had subdued various nations to the north and south. They now determined to annex the fast-decaying Babylonian empire to their dominions. In this, Cyrus II the Great was evidently the leading spirit, though while Cyaxares lived he was given precedence.
The armies of the Medes and Persians were encamped outside [Babylon’s] walls. But Belshazzar felt secure, for the drawbridges had been drawn up, the brazen gates barred, and Belshazzar knew that the walls of the city were impregnable; and he was confident that his soldiers from their position on the lofty walls would be able to destroy any who should attempt to batter down the gates. The city also was provisioned for several years’ siege, and with the tillable ground within the city walls its capture could be postponed indefinitely.
The nonchalant attitude and arrogance of Belshazzar while under siege is similar to Nebuchadnezzar II upon constructing the image of gold. The comparison appears intentional by the use of a similar phrase opening the respective Chapters (Daniel 3:1 and Daniel 5:1):
There is also a similarity between the beginning of this Chapter and the beginning of Chapter 3. Chapter 5 begins, “Belshazzar the king made a feast ”. Similarly, Chapter 3 begins, “Nebuchadnezzar II the king made an image”. There is even a similarity in the sound between these two [Aramaic] phrases. Also, there is a contrast between the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar II that reaches its greatest height, and the Babylon of Belshazzar that meets its end.
The events are utilized in a religious setting; the message becomes a prophetic legend, The distinctive and original element in the Chapter is the actual omen and its interpretation (Daniel 5:25-28), around which a narrative context has been constructed, using remembered historical facts such as the regency of Belshazzar, the forms of court-conflict tale and prophetic legend, the technique of midrash [an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to thebiblical
text], and some of the characteristic structural, verbal, and theological features that appear elsewhere in the Daniel events. Of the kings in Daniel, Belshazzar might with most plausibility be viewed as a cipher for the sacrilegious Antiochus Epiphanes.
The critics are blind to the numerous indications throughout the Book, especially in this Chapter, that the writer of Daniel must have been a contemporary of the events he records.
Belshazzar – Daniel knew of Belshazzar, knowledge that was lost by the Maccabean era. Annals in the Greek language ranging from about the beginning of the third century BC to the first century BC are absolutely silent concerning Belshazzar and the prominence which he had during the last reign of the Neo-Babylonian empire. The total information found in all available chronologically-fixed documents later than the cuneiform texts of the sixth century BC and prior to the writings of Josephus of the first century AD could not have provided the necessary material for the historical framework of Chapter 5 of Daniel. In a second century book, the name ‘Nabonidus’ probably would have been inserted rather than the then-forgotten ‘Belshazzar.’ How did the author come to possess such exact knowledge? The most logical explanation is that Daniel 5 contains a first-hand report by one who lived through the events.
Co-regency – The offered reward of becoming “third ruler in the kingdom” (Daniel 5:8) posed a difficulty not understood in the Maccabean era down to the modern era. Beginning in the 1860’s, Babylonian sources came to light that named Belshazzar as the son of Nabonidus. They also stated that Belshazzar was made co-regent over Babylon. These texts vindicated the historical nature of Daniel’s account. Furthermore, since these texts had been buried and forgotten and all memory of Belshazzar had been lost to history outside of the Bible and works dependent on it, they furnished proof positive that Daniel must have been a contemporary who lived during the events recorded in the Chapter. Since writers in later centuries, including writers during the Maccabean era, would have had no knowledge of Belshazzar based on the forgotten Babylonian texts, Daniel 5 could not have been composed in later centuries, disproving the long-held critical view that Daniel was written during the Maccabean era.
Prior to the 1860’s, the only historical record of Belshazzar (Baltasar of the LXX and OG) was the biblical text and sources derived from it [6]. The Chaldean historian Berosus, living about 250 years after the events of Daniel, knows nothing of Belshazzar [7]. Neither do the Greek historians Herodotus or Xenophon [8] — whose account of Babylonian kings and events during the city’s fall differ from Berosus.
• [6] E.g., Josephus: “When Evil-Merodach was dead, after a reign of 18 years, Neglissar his son took the government, and retained it 40 years, and then ended his life; and after him the succession in the kingdom came to his son Labosordacus, who continued in it in all but 9 months; and when he was dead, it came to Baltasar, who by the Babylonians was called Naboandelus: (against him did Cyrus II the Great, the king of Persia and the king of Media, make war; and when he was besieged in Babylon, there happened a wonderful and prodigious vision”. — Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 10.231-232. “Now after a little while, both himself and the city were taken by Cyrus II the Great, the king of Persia, who fought against him; for it was Baltasar, under whom Babylon was taken, when he had reigned seventeen years”. — Ibid., 10.247.
• [7] Berosus, a heathen historian, who lived about 250 years after Daniel, in his list of the kings of Babylon, omits the name of Belshazzar, and gives the name of Nabonnaid (Nabonidus) as the last king of Babylon.
• [8] Xenophon does not name Belshazzar, but in a passage where Gobryas relates the murder of his son by the last king of Babylon, a distinction is made between a ruler and his son, both of whom are said to be kings: “This present king . . . the old king, the father of the present ruler, . . . the man who is now king . . ”. This may refer to the co-regency of Belshazzar and Nabonidus. “Although Xenophon does not name either Nabonidus or Belshazzar, he refers to ‘the king who then was, the father of the one who now is’ . . . not only recognizing the existence of a son of Nabonidus, but also calling this son ‘king’ in agreement with the Book of Daniel.
Absence of Nabonidus – The classical sources available concur that such a feast was held in Babylon on the night of its fall. Regardless of whether or not the banquet was held to celebrate Belshazzar’s accession, Chapter 5 of Daniel reveals a very precise knowledge of which ruler was present and which ruler was not present in the palace that night. Daniel locates Belshazzar there and implies that Nabonidus was absent from the palace or city at that time, by not mentioning him. The Nabonidus Chronicle confirms this implication by noting that Nabonidus had fled from Sippar just two days earlier and had not yet returned to Babylon by the time it fell to the Persians. However, the record in Daniel 5 also recognizes by its reference to ‘third ruler’ that Nabonidus was still alive, even though not present in Babylon. Thus, this Chapter in Daniel reveals a very precise knowledge of the circumstances in Babylon on the night of October 12, 539 BC.
Belshazzar the king
Belshazzar’s name may represent an appeal to the God Bel (Marduk [9]) to guard [10] or protect the king: “Bel protect the king”, although other meanings have been suggested. The link between the king’s name and his god, Bel, is significant in view of the disdain Belshazzar exhibits for the God of Israel. The termination of Belshazzar’s life (and kingdom) that night demonstrates the superiority of the God of Israel over Belshazzar’s god.
• [9] Belshazzar’s name means ‘Bel (another name for the god Marduk) has protected the king’.
• [10] The name means ‘Bel guard the king’.
Belshazzar’s name occurs in a number of contract tablets and letters datable to the first 14 years of Nabonidus’ reign. These comment on his business dealings with certain prominent banking houses or “families”, most notably those of Nur-Sin and Egibi. In addition, they document Belshazzar’s rise to power prior to Nabonidus’ 11th year and outline some of his official duties as co-regent after 545 BC. He appears to have had ample authority to give orders to temple officials in Uruk and Sippar and could even lease out temple land. His name disappears from the contract tablets in Nabonidus’ thirteenth year; it has been suggested that this coincides with Nabonidus’ return to Babylonia from Tema. Belshazzar commanded Babylonian troops in the vicinity of Sippar when Cyrus II the Great of Persia conquered Anatolia (545 BC).
More than 36 ancient texts have been found attesting to Belshazzar’s historicity. Yet this evidence did not silence the critics who then complained the records fail to state the specific title of “king” was formally conferred upon Belshazzar [11].  However, a fair assessment of the records indicates Belshazzar acted as king [12].
• [11] Inscriptions discovered in the 19th century prove that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, not of Nebuchadnezzar II. Belshazzar was in command in Babylon while his father, Nabonidus, was absent in Tema.
• [12] There are 6 lines of proof, representing cross-sections of Babylonian society, which show that Belshazzar was associated with Nabonidus in the administration of affairs during the closing reign of the Neo-Babylonian empire.
• 1. Belshazzar Associated with Nabonidus in a Prayer
• 2. Belshazzar Associated with Nabonidus in Oaths
• 3. Belshazzar Associated with Nabonidus in an Astrological Report
• 4. Belshazzar Associated with Nabonidus in the Salutation of a Letter
• 5. Belshazzar Associated with Nabonidus in the Delivery of Royal Tribute, and
• 6. Belshazzar Placed on an Equality with Nabonidus in the Title of an Official.
As Nabonidus’ eldest son [13], Belshazzar was appointed co-regent [14] and directed the affairs of the city of Babylon in his father’s 13 year absence [15]. In a similar way to how Cambyses would be called “king of Babylon” under Cyrus II the Great [16], Belshazzar may have been “king”: his co-regency may have been limited geographically to the city and surrounding districts rather than the entire empire [17]. Oaths invoking the name of Nabonidus include the name of “Belshazzar the king’s son”. Offerings made by Belshazzar are described as being from “the king”.
• [13] In the first year of Nabonidus, Belshazzar had a house of his own in Babylon.
• [14] Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ eldest son and was appointed by his father as his co-regent.
• [15] Nabonidus (Nabunahid) ‘had associated with him in the government his son Belshazzar or Bel-shar-usur, the grandson of the great Nebuchadnezzar II,’ and ‘in his father’s absence Belshazzar took the direction of affairs within the city’
• [16] Cambyses was called ‘king of Babylon’ while his father, Cyrus II the Great, still lived.
• [17] The title ‘King Belshazzar’ by no means implies that he was king of the empire of Babylon but at least the king of Babylonia, the district, and perhaps of a few adjoining districts. The Hebrew and the Aramaic do not have a word for ‘emperor,’ who is over kings. One word, ‘king,’ covers all such and similar relationships; and to this day kings function under other kings, especially when their father happens to be monarch over several countries”.
Belshazzar was indeed treated and regarded as king. The main points are these:
• 1. The Persian Verse Account states that Nabonidus “entrusted the kingship” to Belshazzar.
• 2. Several documents from Nabonidus’ reign indicate that Belshazzar was entitled to royal prerogatives, including the same tribute received by his father and the power to settle religious disputes. He was also served by a subordinate official who had a title usually reserved for an officer of the king and by a special messenger with a title similar to the messenger of the king.
• 3. Some documents treat Nabonidus and Belshazzar together as lords of the land. These include an astrologer’s report in Nabonidus seventh year that claims that the stars show favor toward Nabonidus, the king, his (the astrologer’s) lord, and Belshazzar, son of the king, his (the astrologer’s) lord.
• 4. Some documents state that oaths were sworn by the decrees of Nabonidus the king and Belshazzar, son of the king. Similar documents dating as early as Hammurapi (1792-1750 BC) demonstrate that oaths were always sworn by the gods and the king. Therefore, those who swore oaths by Nabonidus and Belshazzar must have considered both of them to be king.
Belshazzar’s authority as king would have been strengthened due to the absence of Nabonidus, who had been captured for some months prior to the events described in this Chapter.
Cuneiform allusions to Belshazzar have thrown so much light upon the role which he played that his place in history stands clearly revealed. There are many texts which indicate that Belshazzar almost equalled Nabonidus in position and prestige. Dual rulership during most of the last Neo-Babylonian reign is an established fact.
Having established Belshazzar as co-regent, Nabonidus departed to Tema. His departure from Babylon may have been for military reasons [18], for reasons of age or health [19], or due to his growing unpopularity in Babylon [20] because of his preference for the worship of the moon god Sin, of whom his father was a priest, and to whom he was dedicated [21], instead of the patron God of Babylon, Bel (Marduk) [22].
• [18] Nabonidus did not proceed to Tema upon a peaceful mission. That he subdued the city by force of arms is indicated by definite cuneiform statements. The military power of Babylon accompanied him.
• [19] How are we to explain this course of conduct on the part of Nabonidus? It may be that it was due to some extent to his age. If we supposed him to have been born in 615 BC, he would be 59 years old at his accession, 66 in the seventh year of his reign, and 76 at the time of the capture of Babylon. Thus his age, taken along with his antiquarian tastes, would account for his not taking any active part in public affairs, at least in military matters, during the last 17 years of his reign. During the last 17 years of his life, [Nabonidus] spent most of his time in Tema, an important Edomite or North Arabian capital (possibly for reasons of health), and left the central administration to the charge of his son Belshazzar in Babylon itself—the situation still obtaining during this final year of the Chaldean Empire, 539 BC.
• [20] Nabonidus had brought the gods from various temples in the land to the city of Babylon, a move which seems not to have been received with favor.
• [21] Nabonidus’ mother, Adad-guppi, was a prominent priestess in Haran in northern Mesopotamia. Modern scholarship has found indications that Adad-guppi dedicated her son to the moon-god Sin. Her religious influence could explain Nabonidus’ dependency on the priesthood of Haran and the supremacy he gave to the moon-god Sin during his reign.
• [22] He [Nabonidus] proved to be singularly unpopular in Babylon because of his devotion to the god Sin instead of the patron god of Babylon, Marduk (also called Bel). In response to this unpopularity, Nabonidus installed his son Belshazzar as co-regent and voluntarily exiled himself to Tema in the Arabian Desert for 17 years.
Nabonidus was known to be a loyal follower of the moon god Sin and this put him at odds with the powerful priests of Marduk in Babylon. Nabonidus came up with innovative religious practices, which increased the opposition to him by the priests of Babylon. This apparently was part of the reason for his residing much of the time away from Babylon.
Nabonidus was also intent on restoring the temple of the god Sin in Harran [23] whom he considered the king of all gods.
• [23] The historical setting for the demise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and thus for our narrative, starts with Nabu-naid’s accession. He was the son of Nabu-balutsu-iqbi, a priest of Sin, the moon god, but himself appears to have been a military man. Nabu-naid was obsessed with restoring Babylon’s pagan pantheon, and particularly the temple to Sin in Harran. Nabonidus’ religious affections are mentioned in the tomb inscription of his mother: “Nabonidus, the only son whom I [his mother] bore, performed indeed all the forgotten rites of Sin, Ningal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna, he completed the rebuilding of the temple Ehulhul, led Sin, Ningal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna in procession from Babylon (Shuanna), his royal city, installed (them again) in gladness and happiness into Harran, the seat which pleases them”.
Belshazzar’s subsequent actions in praise of the various gods of Babylon at the feast recorded in this Chapter may have been meant to gain favor in Babylon by distancing himself from the his father’s religious views. See Daniel 5:2.
Babylonian Rule from Nebuchadnezzar’s Reign
Name
Relation
Reign
Event at Termination
605-562 BC
Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar, Nabuchodonosor)
Son of Nabopolassar
43 years
Death by illness
562-560 BC
Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach 2Kings 25:27; Jeremiah 52:31)
Son of Nebuchadnezzar
2 years
Murdered by brother-in-law (Neriglissar)
560-556 BC
Neriglissar (Neglissar, Nergal-shar-u?ur)
Son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar
3 years 8 months
Natural causes
556 BC
Labashi-Marduk (Laborosoarchod, Labosordacus)
Son of Neriglissar
A month or two
Murdered by conspirators led by Nabonidus
556-539 BC
Nabonidus (Nabunaid)
Son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar by marriage
17 years
Babylon falls to Medo-Persia (Daniel 5:31)
553-539 BC (co-regent)
Belshazzar (Baltasar)
Grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabonidus.
14 years
Babylon falls to Medo-Persia (Daniel 5:31)
5:1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
Belshazzar – ‘Bel, protect the king!’ – 1st born son of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
The king – Recuperating from an illness in Lebanon, just before setting out on a campaign against Tema in western Arabia, Nabonidus entrusted the kingship to his eldest son. This was in the 3rd year – if regnal year, then winter of 553 BC / 552 BC Belshazzar, as co-ruler, then controlled the affairs of Babylonia while his father resided in Tema for 17 years.
A great feast – The feast took place on the night Babylon fell to Cyrus II the Great’s forces. The feast occurred just after the fall of Sippar and only a few days after the lost battle at Opis.
Babylon was accustomed to drinking / revelling all night long during this festival – perhaps, one of those that monachs gave for their courtiers.
Other known festivals:
King Ashurnasirpal II – feast to open new palace – fed, wined and housed 69,574 people for 10 days.
Persian kings – fed 15,000 people every day.
Alexander the Great – 10,000 guests took part at his wedding feast.
Esther 1:3-12 describes a similar feast.
Belshazzar felt recklessly secure in his capital, protected by strong walls and a canal system which could flood the surrounding country if attacked.
Before the thousand – usually the king ate in a separate hall – only on exceptional occasions did he eat with his guests.
Belshazzar. The Babylonian name means “Bel, protect the king!” Belshazzar was the first-born son of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
The king. When Nabonidus was in Lebanon recuperating from an illness, just before setting out on a campaign against Tema in western Arabia, he summoned his eldest son (Belshazzar), and “entrusted the kingship to him”. This was in “the third year”. If this was the third regnal year, it was in the winter of 553 BC / 552 BC. From that time on Belshazzar controlled the affairs of Babylonia as his father’s co-ruler, while Nabonidus resided in Tema for 17 years. According to the “Verse Account of Nabonidus”, Belshazzar held the “kingship”. Daniel therefore made no mistake when he called Belshazzar “king”, though critics formerly declared that Daniel here erred.
A great feast. From verses 28 and 30 it can be concluded that the feast took place during the night that Babylon fell to Cyrus II the Great’s forces. It is inexplicable that Belshazzar should have made a feast immediately after the fall of Sippar, and only a few days after the lost battle at Opis. Apparently, he felt recklessly secure in his capital, protected by strong walls and a system of canals which could, in case of danger, put the surrounding country under water and so make it difficult for an invader to reach the city (see PK 523).
It is a well-known fact that it was common for ancient monarchs to give feasts for their courtiers. A stele discovered recently at Nimrud, the ancient Calah, makes mention of the fact that King Ashurnasirpal II made a great festival at the opening of a new palace. He is stated to have fed, wined, and housed 69,574 people for 10 days. The Greek historian Ctesias states that the Persian kings fed 15,000 people every day, and that Alexander the Great had 10,000 guests take part in his wedding feast. A similar feast is also described in Esther 1:3–12.
Before the thousand. That a certain emphasis is placed on the fact that Belshazzar drank before his guests, seems to indicate that the same court custom existed at Babylon as at the Persian court, where the king usually ate in a separate hall, and only on exceptional occasions, with his guests. The feast of Belshazzar seems to have been such an occasion.
(1) Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
So, here we are in Belshazzar’s fourteenth year of reign. Even though the Persians were laying siege outside the walls of the city, the king could think of nothing better to do than throw a party! He had complete confidence in the city’s brick walls that were 56 miles (90 kilometres) long, 320 feet (97 metres) high, 80 feet (24 metres) thick with another wall 75 feet behind the first wall, and the wall extended 35 feet below ground. The wall was guarded by 250 towers that were 450 feet high [9]. It is said enough food was within the city to last 20 years.
So, who could blame the king for feeling confident? Well, confidence might be alright, but negligence is never excusable even under the best of circumstance and disaster is inevitable when negligence is coupled with the effects of alcohol.
This message has several lessons to teach, one being that of a king, who like his grandfather was also steeped in heathenism, crowned with glory and magnificence, but whose character and behavior was quite unlike that of king Nebuchadnezzar II.
Belshazzar was only 15 years old when his father, Nabonidus, made him co-regent with himself in 553 BC.  Since Nebuchadnezzar II died in 562 BC, his grandson was 6 years old when Nebuchadnezzar II died.
Nebuchadnezzar II died in 562 BC, about 12 or 13 years after he recovered from his insanity, (c. 575 BC – 574 BC), which lasted 7 years starting 1 year after his dream. Belshazzar was born in 569 BC – 568? BC, 14 years after the heavenly verdict (Daniel 4:31) fell upon his grandfather. As Belshazzar grew up, and with the humiliating details that fell upon his grandfather becoming clear to him, there was no excuse for ignoring the lessons that Nebuchadnezzar II had “gained at the cost of untold suffering and humiliation” [24].
• [24] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 523.
So, even though he knew “of his grandfather’s banishment, by the decree of God, from the society of men; and was familiar with Nebuchadnezzar II’s conversion and miraculous restoration” [25], it appears to have made little or no impression on his mind. Perhaps, thinking about the murder of his friend Labishi by the conspirators who engineered his death, he may have concluded in order to survive one does well to be popular with “his lords”, and what better way to do that then throw parties and festivities every so often.
• [25] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 522.
If there were any words of caution or reminders of “the lessons that he should never have forgotten” [26], those bold enough to suggest such things probably found themselves sent to remote sections of the empire. Daniel may have been one of them .
• [26] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 523.
After Nebuchadnezzar II died in 562 BC, his son Amel-Marduk took the throne then was murdered 2 years later in 560 BC. This would bring Belshazzar to his eighth year of life.  Then, he was 12 years old when Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar) died naturally in 556 BC. Neriglissar’s son, Labishi-Marduk was placed on the throne but murdered very soon afterwards (he reigned from April – May/June 556 BC). Then the conspirators who killed Labishi-Marduk chose Nabonidus, Belshazzar’s father, to be king.
For 14 years (553 BC – 539 BC), things seemed to be going well for Belshazzar; he was co-regent with his father, Nabonidus, and given control of at least the city of Babylon. With all his happy and contented couturiers surrounding him, testimony to his generosity and love of “fun” [27], his worries about meeting the same fate as Labishi seemed foolish at this point in time. In fact he never had it so good, or so he thought.
• [27] Others, believe he may have bankrupted the country, levied huge tax burdens on the citizenry, was scheming, treacherous self centered even to the point of murdering his brother, giving the dark side of Belshazzar’s character and behaviour. Nevertheless, even without those negative details, it is clear that his character and behaviour depicts a person who chose to disbelieve what God plainly and unmistakingly revealed to another (his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar II) and that God holds him responsible.
Made a great feast – On what occasion this feast was made is not stated, but is was not improbably an annual festival in honor of some of the Babylonian deities.
To a thousand of his lords – The word thousand here is doubtless used as a general term to denote a very large number. It is not improbable, however, that this full number was assembled on such an occasion.
And drank wine before the thousand – As he was the lord of the feast, and as all that occurred pertained primarily to him, the design is undoubtedly to describe his conduct, and to show the effect which the drinking of wine had on him. He drank it in the most public manner, setting an example to his lords, and evidently drinking it to great excess.
(1) Belshazzar hosted this banquet on the night the city of Babylon fell (Daniel 5:30-31). The invading Medes and Persians, led by Ugbaru, commander of the Persian army, had already taken the surrounding countryside, and many people in the city would have known of their intentions. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Babylon occupied about 14 square miles with a double wall system enclosing a moat between the 2 walls. The outer wall was 80 feet (24 metres) thick. It was 320 feet (97 metres) high with 100 gates, plus 250 guard towers that reached another 130 feet (40 metres) 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.
Belshazzar’s Blasphemous Banquet
Daniel 5:1 ¶ Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar II had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
1,000 of the king’s nobles were invited, along with their wives or other women. The king was responsible for what happened, and too much wine seems to have contributed to his poor judgment. A false sense of pride and self-sufficiency dominated the dinner party. The king remembered the expensive vessels which Nebuchadnezzar II, his grandfather, had taken when he defeated and captured Jerusalem. How much more impressive the evening would be if they drank their wine from the gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem.
And so the vessels were brought in. The wine continued to flow freely, and toasts began to be offered. That these pagans were engaged in a kind of drinking bout with the sacred temple vessels was bad enough, but the ultimate blasphemy was toasting the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone.
God has a limit to how far He will allow men to go in their sin. In His longsuffering and mercy, God may allow men to continue in their sin for a time. But there is a time for judgment. The king and his Babylonian dinner guests crossed the line that fateful night in the banquet hall of Babylon. Judgment day had come, and the writing on the wall announced its arrival.
(1) The events recorded in this Chapter 5 can be dated to the fall of Babylon to Medo-Persia in 539 BC. About 44 or 43 years have transpired since Nebuchadnezzar II’s madness recorded in Daniel 4.1. Nebuchadnezzar II is no longer king of Babylon, having died 23 years earlier [28].
• [28] Nebuchadnezzar II died in 562 BC; this event is taking place in 539 BC, that’s a difference of 23 years.
Following the death of Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylonian rule was characterized by mismanagement, instability, and intrigue [29], moving through 4 successive administrations over a period of only 23 years, culminating in the co-regency of Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
• [29] After the death of Nebuchadnezzar II in 562 BC, a drastic deterioration of the qualities of the kingdom occurred under the rule of his son Evil-Merodach, two usurpers of the throne [Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar) and Nabonidus], and finally his daughter’s son Belshazzar”.
Made a great feast
According to the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon [30], when the feast was being held, the armies of Cyrus II the Great were laying siege to the city:
• [30] Concerning the historicity of this feast, both the Greek historians, Herodotus and Xenophon, testified that a banquet was in progress on the night Babylon fell. The date would have been October 12, 539 BC, about 44 or 43 years after the events of Chapter 4.
Herodotus attributes the feast to a holiday and indicates the celebrants were aware the city was under siege.
It seems to have been an anniversary feast; since, according to Xenophon and Herodotus, Cyrus II the Great knew of it before hand; either on account of the king’s birthday, or in honour to his gods, particularly Shach [Sheshach], which was called the Sachaenan feast Jeremiah 51:41; which seems most likely, since these were praised at this time.
Since the city had stored provisions for many years, they continued with the celebration, confident Babylon could not be taken [31].
• [31] These claims seem difficult to reconcile with other sources. Isaiah’s account of the fate of the city (Isaiah 13) is very similarly worded to the account by Sargon II of Assyria of his sack of the place. . . . Sennacherib sacked the city in 689 BC and removed the sacred status. . . . In the subsequent war of 652-648 BC Babylon was severely damaged by fire. When Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC) took Babylon in 729 BC he gave it the status of an independent kingdom united to Assyria only by a personal union. . . . The Chaldean Merodach-Baladan proclaimed an independent kingdom on Shalmaneser’s death, but Sargon II (722-705 BC) overthrew him in 710 BC; and, . . . made it his residence for the years 710, 709, and 708 BC. . . On his death Merodach-Baladan returned and Babylon became a center of resistance, allowing Sennacherib no other alternative but to destroy the city in 689 BC. Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) rebuilt the city and toward the end of his life he divided his kingdom between his two sons, making Shamash-shumukin his heir in Babylon and Ashurbanipal in Assyria. The latter had to besiege and reconquer Babylon, when Shamash-shum-ukin tried to establish the independence of southern Mesopotamia. Babylonia’s great metropolis succumbed 5 times to foreign invasion during a period of about 2 centuries, extending from the latter part of Assyrian overlordship to the fourth Persian king. When Sennacherib captured it in 689 BC, he devastated much of its area. Ashurbanipal caused the city to surrender in 648 BC. Cyrus II the Great added it to his kingdom in 539 BC. Darius I subdued the rebellious capital in 521 BC. Xerxes I turned much of it into ruins during 483 BC – 481 BC.
It was hard for the Babylonians to believe that even the Medes and the Persians who had surrounded their beloved city could possibly breach the fortifications or exhaust their supplies which were intended to be ample for a siege of many years.
The enemy [Babylonians] upon the wall laughed his [Cyrus II the Great’s] siege-works to scorn, in the belief that they had provisions enough for more than 20 years.
Like Israel and her One True God, the nations of the ancient Near East attributed success (or failure) in warfare to the power (or weakness) of their deity relative to the god of the enemy (Exodus 12:12; 18:11; 32:1, 23; 2 Samuel 7:23; 2 Kings 18:34-36). Consider the words of the Rabshakeh to Hezekiah on behalf of Sennacherib, king of Assyria:
2 Kings 18:34 Where [are] the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where [are] the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? 2 Kings 18:35 Who [are] they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?
Belshazzar may have used the occasion of the feast to demonstrate his allegiance to the gods of Babylon, praising them in return for their continued protection during the siege.
Nabonidus was known to be a loyal follower of the moon god Sin and this put him at odds with the powerful priests of Marduk in Babylon. Nabonidus came up with innovative religious practices, which increased the opposition to him by the priests of Babylon. This apparently was part of the reason for his residing much of the time away from Babylon. It is likely that this [the feast] was to demonstrate to the priests and to the gods of Babylon that the king was a loyal follower of them. Belshazzar was not like his father who had too much loyalty to the foreign moon god Sin; and Belshazzar certainly was not like Nebuchadnezzar II who had apostatized from Bel, Marduk and the rest to worship the God of Israel.
Belshazzar probably knew about Jehovah’s prophecy concerning Medo-Persia’s conquest of Babylon. In light of these historical factors, it seems rather obvious that Belshazzar decided to desecrate the sacred vessels of Jehovah for one major reason — to show his utter contempt for the God of Israel and His prophecy concerning the fall of Babylon. The king was so confident of Babylon’s defenses that he decided to challenge this God.
Scripture would seem to imply otherwise: Nebuchadnezzar II only called for the vessels of the Jewish God after having been influenced by wine — this does not seem to have been the original intent of the feast [32]. See Daniel 5:2.
• [32] Perhaps Belshazzar had this idea in the back of his mind and the wine brought it into action. But it seems uncertain that he would have called for the temple vessels if he had not become intoxicated.
Other possible reasons for the feast include the celebration of the king’s birthday, like Pharaoh (Genesis 40:20) or Herod (Mark 6:21). Or perhaps, like King Ahasuerus, Belshazzar intended to exhibit his kingdom’s riches and the temple vessels were the first of various riches to be displayed (Esther 1:2-3, 7). The LXX suggests the feast commemorated the beginning of the king’s rule. Another possibility, having previously served as co-regent with his father Nabonidus, on the night of the events recorded in Daniel 5, Belshazzar took upon himself the kingship upon hearing of the defeat and flight of Nabonidus.
The references to Belshazzar as king in Chapter 5 are very direct and explicit. Aside from the fact that he is referred to as king 17 times in this Chapter, the most important consideration of all is that he was addressed with the title of king in direct discourse by both the queen mother-in-law and Daniel. The evidence of this Chapter is, therefore, that by the time the events recorded in this Chapter occurred, Belshazzar was king of Babylon. Belshazzar must have become a full and official king sometime during that interval, according to the evidence from Chapter 5.
The question is: How and precisely when did this occur? There are two possible answers, and the first and more direct of them, is that Nabonidus installed Belshazzar as king before the former set out with the army to meet Cyrus II the Great’s forces at the Tigris. This would have been a reasonable occasion for the dedication. Nabonidus may well have had a premonition of his defeat when he left the capital to fight against the invaders. As a precaution against the possibility that he might not return, Nabonidus could have installed Belshazzar as full king and co-regent with him before he led his troops into the field.
The second is this: The news of Cyrus II the Great’s victory over Nabonidus at Opis before his conquest of Sippar had probably reached Babylon before the capital itself fell on the night of the 16th of Tishri. What was Belshazzar’s reaction to such news? The defence of the heartland of Babylonia was now his responsibility. In order to insure the greatest cooperation possible from his troops and the population of Babylon in general, it was incumbent upon Belshazzar to command them from as great a position of strength and authority as possible. With his father’s meeting defeat and fleeing before the enemy, the most direct course of action open to him to insure his acquisition of such power and authority was to occupy the throne of Babylon himself. In view of the turn of political and military events, it would have been logical for Belshazzar to have proclaimed himself king at this moment.
Thus, there are two possible explanations of how Belshazzar became king by the time of the events described in the fifth Chapter of Daniel if Nabonidus had not installed him as official king and co-regent when leaving for Tema. Either Nabonidus installed Belshazzar as king before he went out to battle with Cyrus II the Great, or Belshazzar installed himself as king after he received the news of his father’s defeat and flight. While the former explanation might seem more likely on general grounds, the latter fits the Nabonidus Chronicle dates and the distances involved, and it also provides an explanation for the special banquet on the very night of Babylon’s fall.
The Throne Room
The feast took place in a large hall, possibly the throne hall of the Babylonian kings excavated by Koldewey beginning in 1899 and partially restored in 1968 [33].
• [33] A wider doorway gave access to a third court (66 by 55 m., 218 by 180 ft.); to its south lay the Throne Room, the external wall of which was decorated in blue glazed bricks bearing white and yellow palmettes, pillars with a dado of rosettes and lions. This large hall (52 by 17 m., 170 by 57 ft., partially restored in 1968) could have been that used for state occasions, such as Belshazzar’s feast for a thousand persons (Daniel 5).
To the south lies the largest chamber of the Citadel, the throne-room of the Babylonian kings. It is so clearly marked out for this purpose that no reasonable doubt can be felt as to its having been used as their principal audience chamber. If any one should desire to localise the scene of Belshazzar’s eventful banquet, he can surely place it with complete accuracy in this immense room. It is 17 metres broad and 52 metres long. The walls on the longest side are 6 metres thick, considerably in excess of those at the ends, and could have supported a barrel-vault roof. Immediately opposite the main door in the back wall there is a doubly recessed niche in which doubtless the throne stood, so that the king could be visible to those who stood in the court. Like the east gate, the walls of these chambers were washed over with white gypsum.
A thousand of his lords
It was not unusual for kings to hold elaborate feasts (Esther 1:3). The larger the feast, the more magnificent and rich the king [34]. Ptolemy Dionysius hosted 1,000 soldiers from Pompey’s army while Alexander the Great invited 10,000 to a wedding feast [35]. A Persian monarch is reported to have provided daily food for 15,000 in the royal household [36]. The Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II entertained nearly 70,000 during the dedication of his capital [37]. Pliny records that the whole army of Xerxes, over 780,000 men, were entertained at a feast [38].
• [34] The invitation to a thousand officers of state corresponds to the magnificence of Oriental kings. According to Ctesias , 15,000 men dined daily from the table of the Persian king (cf. Esther 1:4).
• [35] Alexander the Great invited 10,000 to a wedding feast; and that Ptolemy Dionysius supported a thousand soldiers of the army of Pompey the Great from his kitchen.
• [36] Such is not unusual when we recognize that Persian and Babylonian courts were proverbially large establishments. The historian Ktesias confirms that the Persian monarch provided food for 15,000 persons daily in his royal menage.
• [37] The Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II entertained 69,574 guests at the dedication of his new capital city of Calah (Nimrud) in 879 BC.
• [38] And Pliny reports of one Pythius Bythinus, who entertained the whole army of Xerxes with a feast, even 788,000 men.
Drank wine before the thousand
The king sat on an elevated platform where he dined in view of the assembled multitude. The king drank wine “in front” of them.
This does not probably mean that he “vied with them in drinking”, but that he “drank in their presence, while seated at a separate table”, — as was the custom of the Persian kings on the occasion of their great banquets.
The Persian king generally dined in a separate hall, his magnates in another; but that on festal occasions he dined sitting at a separate table opposite his guests.
1-2. In the 23 years since the death of Nebuchadnezzar II, a series of incompetent rulers had brought Babylon to the edge of ruin. The Medo-Persian army under Cyrus II the Great was attacking from the north. The king of Babylon, Nabonidus, left his son Belshazzar in charge of the kingdom and went out to do battle. 2 days before Belshazzar’s feast, at Opis, the Babylonians suffered a disastrous defeat. Then at Sippar, Nabonidus surrendered the battlefield without a fight and fled. Meanwhile, one of Cyrus II the Great’s generals, Gubaru [Gobryas], rushed his forces to the walls of Babylon and laid siege to the city. But the city was well situated to handle a siege. Its walls were tall and strong. Its storehouses bulged with food. And the Euphrates river brought water right through the middle of the city.
(1-4) Belshazzar’s great, blasphemous feast.
Daniel 5:1 ¶ Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. 5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar II had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Belshazzar the king: When we come to Daniel 5, Nebuchadnezzar II is no longer the king of Babylon. How did it pass from Nebuchadnezzar II to Belshazzar? The ancient historian Berosus gives us the following order of events:
• Nebuchadnezzar II died after a 43 year reign.
• His son, Evil-Merodach (described in 2 Kings 25:27-30 and Jeremiah 52:31-34) ruled for only 2 years when he was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglassar, because his rule was arbitrary and licentious.
• Neriglassar (mentioned as Nergalsharezer in Jeremiah 39:3, 13) ruled for 4 years until he died a natural death.
• His son, Laborosoarchod, only a child and of diminished mental capacity, ruled for 1 or 2 months before he was beaten to death by a gang of conspirators.
• The conspirators appointed Nabonidus, one of their gang, to be king. He ruled until Cyrus II the Great the Persian conquered Babylon.
Belshazzar the king: For a long time, historians and archaeologists knew that Nabonidus was said to be the last king of Babylon, not Belshazzar (who was Nabonidus’ eldest son). The solution to this so-called discrepancy was apparent when evidence was uncovered indicating not only Belshazzar’s association with Nabonidus on the throne, but also demonstrating that during the last part of his reign Nabonidus lived in Arabia and left the conduct of the Kingdom of Babylon to his eldest son Belshazzar.
• There was no additional mention of Belshazzar, the eldest son and co-regent with Nabonidus, until the Nabonidus Cylinder was discovered in this century. It is now displayed in the British Museum.
• According to Babylonian records, Belshazzar became co-regent in the third year of Nabonidus’ reign (553 BC) and continued in that capacity till the fall of Babylon (539 BC).
• It is most likely that at the time of Daniel 5, Nabonidus had gone out to fight the Medo-Persian army and had been already captured. Those armies now surrounded Babylon, and were looking for a way into the strongly defended city.
Made a great feast to a thousand of his lords: Belshazzar was not afraid of the siege surrounding the city. He was confident because of Babylon’s impressive defenses and his vast supplies.
Conservative calculations set the dimensions of the ancient city of Babylon like this:
• The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that “Babylon surpasses in wonder any city in the known world” and specifically praised the walls which he said were 56 miles (90 kilometres) long, 80 feet (24 metres) thick, and 320 feet (97 metres) high.
• The city gates were made of bronze.
• A system of inner and outer walls and moats made the city very secure.
Which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem: Nebuchadnezzar II was not the direct father of Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar II was his grandfather through his mother’s side.
They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone: The scene of partying while a hostile army surrounded the city reminds us of the spirit of our present age. Many today have the idea that the best response to the seeming danger of the times is to forget about it and escape into the pursuit of pleasure.
• In Ephesians 5:18 Paul calls drunkenness dissipation; drunkenness is a waste of resources that should be submitted to Jesus.
They brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem: Belshazzar was foolish enough to not only loose all semblance of self-control at this party, but also to openly mock God. He committed the sin of sacrilege, something few people are concerned with today.
• Gathering the vessels from the Jewish temple served the purpose of reminding the partiers of a previous victory, and Belshazzar hoped it would boost morale.
• In Babylon, a large court – 57 by 170 feet – has been unearthed, decorated with Greek columns. This is probably where the feast of Daniel 5 took place.
The Banquet
(1–4) Although the Medes and Persians besieged the city, a huge banquet was held at the Babylonian court. What was the problem with the banquet?
• The attendant guests and court officials got terribly drunk.
• They lost their sense of reality, and the group ignored the impeding danger of the siege.
• The party desecrated the holy vessels of the Jerusalem temple (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:18–21).
Nebuchadnezzar II insisted on not blaspheming the God of the Hebrews (Daniel 3:29).
• Idols were worshipped.
What are the effects of alcohol?
• It decreases inhibitions—for example, with regard to sexuality—and encourages foul speech and blasphemy.
• The capacity of reaction declines.
• Self-control diminishes.
• One’s health suffers. In some cases, permanent damage is done.
Obviously Daniel himself abstained from consuming alcohol (Daniel 1:8). The Bible warns us against drinking alcohol (see Proverbs 23:31–35). But even if people consume alcohol and are intoxicated, they are still responsible for their actions. So was Belshazzar.
His father Nebuchadnezzar — In Scripture the term “father” also refers to grandfather, ancestor, and even predecessor. Jesus is called “Son of David”, although many generations had passed between Him and David. Nebuchadnezzar II was Belshazzar’s grandfather via his daughter.
The spirit of Babylon – let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die [Isaiah 22:14; also 1 Corinthians 15:32]. 
Daniel 5:1 ¶ Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. 5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar II had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which [was] at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
The Chapter starts then, with a new king. King Belshazzar who was Nebuchadnezzar II’s grandson and unfortunately, the humility and faith that King Nebuchadnezzar II had accepted had not been carried on with Belshazzar. Now there are 3 things that stand out in this passage concerning their attitude at this time:
• 1) Life was a party! They had it all. Nobles, wives, concubines, wine. Historians tell us that these ‘parties’ were essentially drunken sexual orgies. Live for today was the motto of Babylon. Live for pleasure. It was hedonism at its finest. They sought pleasure as the ultimate goal and way of life. 
• 2) They worshiped created things – The second point that stands out is that they worshiped the ‘gods’ of silver and gold yet mocked the true God. We see that Belshazzar had no problem in using the sacred items from the Jewish temple to worship and honor these other ‘gods’ while emphasising his superiority over the God of Israel!
• 3) Self confident smugness – The history and setting of this passage is very interesting. History tells us that as they partied, the Medo-Persian empire was outside the walls of Babylon. They were actually under siege as this drunken party went on! They wined and dined as the enemy circled!
So that was the spirit of Babylon – live for pleasure, live for today. Worship the gods of silver and gold while mocking the true God. Live in a smug self confidence thinking that nothing can happen to you. Well, with that being the case, let’s have a look at what the true God thought of that attitude:
What God thought
Isaiah 47:9 But these two [things] shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, [and] for the great abundance of thine enchantments. 47:10 ¶ For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I [am], and none else beside me. 47:11 ¶ Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, [which] thou shalt not know.
What God thought of this Babylonian spirit has been recorded through Isaiah’s prophecy in Chapter 47. Their attitude was to say to themselves that ‘I am…’, ‘I have no need…’, ‘Nothing can ever touch me’. ‘I don’t even need God!’ Note what this prophecy says concerning Babylon – ‘desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, [which] thou shalt not know’. It also says it will come ‘in a moment in one day’. Well, in the Book of Daniel we have reached that day. It is the day of judgement upon this world kingdom. Let’s now have a look at God’s response.
Nebuchadnezzar II had made Babylon into the world’s mightiest fortress. The outer wall was so thick that no battering rams or instruments of warfare were able to knock it down. The presence of a second inner wall made any attempts to scale the walls suicidal. As a result, Babylon appeared impregnable. The walls of Babylon had been built over the Euphrates river. Thus, that river flowed through the city at all times, providing a constant source of fresh water. In anticipation of a blockade by Medo-Persia, the Babylonians supplied the city with enough food to maintain its population for more than 20 years. Ancient historians indicate that, in light of these great preparations, the people of Babylon laughed at the seige of their city by Medo-Persia.
• It reminds us, does it not, of the Laodicean church of Revelation Chapter 3 where Jesus is pictured outside the church while those inside revel in their wealth saying ‘I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ The worship of the gods of gold and silver isn’t just a thing of the past! Is not ‘Ichabod’ written already over the wealthy self-sufficient western churches of our modern ‘Laodicean’ age?
(1-9) Belshazzar bade defiance to the judgments of God. Most historians consider that Cyrus II the Great then besieged Babylon. Security and sensuality are sad proofs of approaching ruin. That mirth is sinful indeed, which profanes sacred things. Are many of the songs used at modern feasts better than the praises sung by the heathens to their gods? See how God struck terror upon Belshazzar and his lords. God’s written Word is enough to put the proudest, boldest sinner in a fright. What we see of God, the part of the hand that writes in the Book of His creatures, and in the Book of the Scriptures, should fill us with awful thoughts concerning that part which we do not see. If this be the finger of God, what is His arm when made bare? And what is He?
The king’s guilty conscience told him that he had no reason to expect any good news from heaven. Sometimes terrors cause a man to flee to Christ for pardon and peace; but many cry out for fear of wrath, who are not humbled for their sins, and who seek relief by lying vanities. The ignorance and uncertainty concerning the Holy Scriptures, shown by many who call themselves wise, only tend to drive sinners to despair, as the ignorance of these wise men did.
(1-9) The Handwriting on the Wall
When in 539 BC Cyrus II the Great, the Persian king, marched against Babylon, King Nabonidus, of Babylon, met him with his forces at Opis, on the Tigris, in an attempt to prevent Cyrus II the Great from crossing the river. The Babylonians suffered a disastrous defeat, and the Persians pushed immediately through to Sippar, on the Euphrates. Cyrus captured Sippar without a fight in October of 539 BC. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nabonidus fled south. Belshazzar, his son, stayed in Babylon, about 35 miles south of Sippar, trusting in its strong fortifications.
Was it an act of defiance aimed at the Persians and a show of confidence in the strong walls of Babylon? Or was it simply a festival that happened to fall on this particular date? Whatever the reason, Belshazzar’s pride and reckless state of mind are shown by his command to bring the vessels from the house of Yahweh.
No matter how drunk the king and his guests were, they quickly sobered up when they saw the “fingers of a man’s hand” writing something on the wall. All of a sudden, the revelry stopped, and a deathly silence filled the room.
Belshazzar calls for an interpretation, but once again, as in the case of his grandfather, the wise men of Babylon are unable to help the king. The inscription was in Aramaic, which, like Hebrew, is written only in consonants, and it was so short that though they could read the individual words, they did not understand their meaning.
Daniel 5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar II had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
Tasted the wine – Belshazzar was intoxicated; “With reason dethroned through shameless intoxication, and with lower impulses and passions now in the ascendancy, the king himself took the lead in the riotous orgy.” [PK523].
Vessels – carried away from Jerusalem on 3 occasions:
• Some of the Temple vessels removed in 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar II took captives (Daniel 1:1, 2).
• Most of those precious metals remaining – taken in 597 BC when king Jehoiachin went into captivity (2 Kings 24:12, 13).
• Rest of metal objects – mostly bronze – taken in 586 BC when Temple was destroyed (2 Kings 25:13-17).
His father – His grandfather [PK522]; the word is elsewhere used to mean ‘ancestor’ (1 Chronicles 2:7) and can also refer to a non-blood tie ‘predecessor’ (An Assyrian inscription calls the Israelite king Jehu, ‘a son of Omri’ – actually, Jehu was the exterminator of the whole house of Omri (2 Kings 9:10).
His wives, and his concubines – Both Aramaic words are synonyms, meaning ‘concubines’.
One (higher) class may have been from respectable, noble homes.
The other – women brought for money or captured in war.
Tasted the wine. Some understand these words to imply that Belshazzar was drunk when he gave the order to bring in the sacred vessels from Jerusalem. Others explain the phrase to mean that this command was given after the meal, at the moment the wine began to circulate. They point to classical Greek statements which declare that the Persians had the custom of drinking wine after the meal. However, it was uncommon for an Oriental to desecrate holy objects of other religions; hence it would appear unnatural that Belshazzar would have given the order as long as he was in command of his reason (see PK 523).
Vessels. The Temple vessels had been carried away from Jerusalem on three occasions:
(1) a portion of them at the time Nebuchadnezzar II took captives from Jerusalem in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1, 2);
(2) most of the remaining vessels of precious metal when King Jehoiachin went into captivity in 597 BC (2 Kings 24:12, 13); and
(3) the rest of the metal objects, mostly of bronze, when the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:13–17).
His father. Belshazzar was a grandson of the great king (see PK 522); his mother was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II. The word “father” must be understood to mean “grandfather” or “ancestor”, as in many other passages of the Bible (see 1 Chronicles 2:7). Of itself, the expression “his father” could also be understood in the sense of “his predecessor”. An example of such usage is found in an Assyrian inscription which calls the Israelite king, Jehu, “a son of Omri”, although the two had no blood relationship whatsoever. Actually Jehu was the exterminator of the whole house of Omri (2 Kings 9; 10).
His wives, and his concubines. The two Aramaic words translated “wives” and “concubines” are synonyms, both meaning “concubines”. One may have represented a higher class than the other. It has been suggested that the one class of concubines may have consisted of women from respectable homes, or even the homes of nobility, and the other, women bought for money or captured in war. Although women took part in the banquet, as we learn from this passage, it appears that the “queen” was not found among the riotous drinkers. After the appearance of the handwriting on the wall she is described as entering the banqueting hall (verse 10). The LXX makes no reference to the participation of women in the sacrilegious rioting. Some think this is because, according to the custom of the Greeks, wives took no part in such festivals.
(5:2) Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar II had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
Even though secure within massive walls and stocked with an abundance of food, this was no time for this festive occasion. Just 2 days before, Belshazzar’s father had been taken prisoner by the Persians who were now besieging the city.
More foolish yet, with a little alcohol benumbing his mind, he gave the order to do what his grandfather had never presumed to do ever since riffling the sanctuary in Jerusalem of its treasures 66 years before. To use these articles for a drunken party was considered sacrilege even by his pagan forbearers who kept them secure in the department of the treasury.
But, stupefied by the intoxicating beverage, and no doubt egged on by his lords and concubines who enthusiastically emulated the drunken king, he gave the order to bring out the vessels and drink from them. He intended to “prove that nothing was too sacred for his hands to handle” [39].
• [39] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 523.
So, who committed the greatest crime? It would seem Nebuchadnezzar II was far more guilty than his grandson having confiscated the sacred articles from the temple in Jerusalem.  In fact, he did it for the same reason Belshazzar presumed to drink from them — to prove his gods [40] were more powerful than Judah’s. But, heaven did not see it that way. While Nebuchadnezzar II was blessed exceedingly, Belshazzar met with divine scorn, and an untimely death.
• [40] In fact he may have despised his father and grandfather for being so obsessed with religion.
As this event shows, Belshazzar met with severe condemnation, not because he did worse, but because he should have known better. Given his background and what he could have known, heaven held Nebuchadnezzar II far less responsible.
Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine – As the effect of tasting the wine – stating a fact which is illustrated in every age and land, that men, under the influence of intoxicating drinks, will do what they would not do when sober. In his sober moments it would seem probable that he would have respected the vessels consecrated to the service of religion, and would not have treated them with dishonor by introducing them for purposes of revelry.
Which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken – Margin, “grandfather.” Belshazzar was born to Nabonidus and Nitocris of Babylon. Nitocris was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II.
That the king and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein – Nothing is too sacred to be profaned when men are under the influence of wine. They do not hesitate to desecrate the holiest things, and vessels taken from the altar of God are regarded with as little reverence as any other. It would seem that Nebuchadnezzar II had some respect for these vessels, as having been employed in the purposes of religion; at least so much respect as to lay them up as trophies of victory, and that this respect had been shown for them under the reign of his successors, until the exciting scenes of this “impious feast” occurred, when all veneration for them vanished.
A similar instance is related in the Book of Esther. In the feast which Ahasuerus gave, it is said that “on the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, etc., the 7 chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty,” etc.. Esther 1:10-11.
• Please note that the term ‘father’ as it is used in Daniel 5:2 can refer to any male ancestor. During the time of the events recorded in Chapter 5, Nabonidus was on the field of battle while Belshazzar his son remained in Babylon. Belshazzar offers Daniel a position in the kingdom, it is to be the third ruler in the kingdom. Why not second to Belshazzar? Well, Belshazzar himself was number 2 – his father was really the king.’ 
• The scene is reminiscent of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:32 “If the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.’ In other words, if there is no God, if there is no after life, if there is no resurrection or judgment to come, then live it up! Party, party party! Live for today only, for tomorrow we die! That was Belshazzar’s attitude. It is also the attitude of countless others today. It would make perfect sense… if there was no God. It makes no sense if there is a God and there is a life and judgment after death.
Whiles he tasted the wine
Rendered by other translations as, “while under the influence of [the] wine”.
This is the prelude to the king’s decision to fetch the temple vessels. It was apparently not his initial plan, but the wine overcame what restraint he may have exhibited toward these holy items.
The Aramaic says: “When he tasted the wine”. This apparently indicates what we have rendered: “When the wine was beginning to taste good”. It cannot mean: at the very first sip of wine. The wine had already produced that well-known boldness and pseudo-courage. In this case this unwholesome frame of mind led to a deed that is unparalleled in the records of antiquity.
A proverb warns kings not to become intoxicated: 
Proverbs 31:4 [It is] not for kings, O Lemuel, [it is] not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink.
The only thing worse than an intoxicated man is a powerful intoxicated man.
In the mystery of God’s sovereignty, Jeremiah reveals the willful drinking of the king as part of God’s plan leading to the overthrow of Babylon:
Jeremiah 51:37 And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant. 51:38 They shall roar together like lions: they shall yell as lions’ whelps. 51:39 In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah 51:56 Because the spoiler is come upon her, [even] upon Babylon, and her mighty men are taken, every one of their bows is broken: for the LORD God of recompenses shall surely requite. 51:57 And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise [men], her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name [is] the LORD of hosts.
Even as Belshazzar prepares to desecrate the temple vessels, he is fulfilling God’s plan for his own downfall. Belshazzar’s drunkenness and fall typifies the deranged behavior of the nations under the influence of Babylon the harlot prior to the return of Christ:
Revelation 17:1 ¶ And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 17:2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
Bring the gold and silver vessels
The temple vessels were previously taken by Nebuchadnezzar II during a series of deportations culminating in the overthrow of Jerusalem. See Daniel 1:2.
By the sovereignty of God, Nebuchadnezzar II was allowed to seize the vessels. Yet he demonstrated a modicum of appreciation for their sacred use by placing them in the treasure house of his god. They had remained there, in relative security, for 66 years.
Belshazzar’s command to fetch the vessels does not appear to have been premeditated, but arose under the stimulus of wine. The wine may have nourished an idea previously laid dormant in his heart. While sober, men can put on a front of civil and advanced behavior, suppressing inner motives and beliefs. Under the loosening influence of wine, these repressed views fully surface: in this instance, demonstrating Belshazzar’s contempt for the God of Israel and the vessels that had once served Him.
Considering the various nations subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar II (Jeremiah 27:8; 28:14), one would assume the Babylonian treasury held vessels from any number of different campaigns. Yet Belshazzar specifically requested the vessels of the God of Israel [41]. His request of the vessels may have been intended to demonstrate his preference for the god’s of Babylon over the God of Israel — whom his father had honored in public (Daniel 4:1-3, 34-37) [42]. Belshazzar intended that he and his guests would use the vessels of Israel’s God to raise a toast in praise of the idols of Babylon.
• [41] No doubt Nebuchadnezzar II’s treasury was filled with vessels of gold and silver that had been seized by him during his many campaigns. Yet Belshazzar specifically requests that the ones from the temple of Jerusalem be brought out.
• [42] Nabonidus, Belshazzar’s father, had attempted to strengthen the Babylonian religion. In keeping with that, this act by his son may have been an attempt to undo the influence of Nebuchadnezzar II’s honoring the God of Israel (Daniel 4:34-35) .
The Jews don’t have any idols, look there’s the idol of Bel, there’s the idol of Marduk, there’s the idol of Venus, where are all the idols, where is the idol of the God of Israel? He doesn’t have any, so this is what we’ll do. We’ll get all the vessels from the temple, that’s the only material thing that you have. And so he strips them and he brings them out and he drinks out of them.
They had all the idols of the other gods, but there’s only one God in the world that doesn’t have any idols, this God of Israel. So they say well, who’s that God; he let us capture the Jews so he can’t be very powerful, let’s get his vessels out and desecrate them.
Belshazzar brought forth those vessels by way of ridicule, for the purpose of triumphing over the true God. To show his contempt for sacred things, he desecrated the holy vessels taken from the temple of the Lord at its destruction. The king would prove that nothing was too sacred for his hands to handle.
Which his father Nebuchadnezzar
The father-son relationship of Nebuchadnezzar II and Belshazzar is emphasized throughout this Chapter:
The claim that Nebuchadnezzar II was the father of Belshazzar is found in Daniel 5 on the lips of the queen (Daniel 5:11), Belshazzar himself (Daniel 5:13), and Daniel (Daniel 5:18), and Daniel addresses Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar II’s son (Daniel 5:22). Moreover, Daniel the author calls Nebuchadnezzar II the father of Belshazzar in his narration of the events (Daniel 5:2).
Besides the inspired biblical record concerning Belshazzar, we have archaeological records wherein:
• 1) Nabonidus refers to Belshazzar as “his firstborn son” [43]. 
• 2) Nabonidus was not of royal descent — he was not a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar II.
Much ink has been spilled by biblical interpreters attempting to reconcile the biblical and archaeological information concerning the relationship of Belshazzar to Nebuchadnezzar II.
• [43] The following passage explicitly states that before Nabonidus started on his expedition to Tema in Arabia he entrusted actual kingship to Belshazzar: He entrusted a campaign to his eldest, firstborn son; the troops of the land he sent with him. He freed his hand, he entrusted the kingship to him. Then he himself undertook a distant campaign.
Belshazzar – Son of Nebuchadnezzar II?
Nebuchadnezzar II born to Nabopolassar and Shuadamqa of Babylon [f] in 634 or 633 BC. Nebuchadnezzar II was the eldest son and successor of Nabopolassar, founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Nabonidus, born around 621 BC, assumed the throne in 556 BC, only 6 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II. Belshazzar was born to Nabonidus and Nitocris, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II in 569-568? BC. Belshazzar was 6 years old when Nebuchadnezzar II died—at the age of 15 he was co-regent with Nabonidus in 553 BC.
Jeremiah 27:6 And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar II the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. 27:7 And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him.
The phrase “son’s son”, combines the word for son in a way that does not admit of an open-ended meaning such as “a remote descendant”. The phrase occurs here and in Genesis 11:31 where it refers to Terah’s grandson Lot.
If Jeremiah’s use of “son” and “son’s son” merely means “a remote descendant”, the phrase would be redundant: “son” alone would suffice to span the required generations (as is commonly the case elsewhere in Scripture).
If the phrase “son’s son” can span many generations, the prediction loses specificity. All it would communicate is descendants of Nebuchadnezzar II will continue to reign until whenever the Babylonian Empire happens to come to its demise—something one might naturally assume without need of divine revelation.
Relation of “Father” and “Son” in the Bible
Although the Chapter 5 repeatedly refers to Nebuchadnezzar II as Belshazzar’s father, Jeremiah 27:6-7 indicates the ascendancy of the Babylonian kingdom will end under the reign of a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar II. This precludes Nebuchadnezzar II as the immediate father of Belshazzar. It seems the related terms “father” and “son”, as used of the relation between Nebuchadnezzar II and Belshazzar, must describe something other than an immediate father-son relationship.
Wilson has listed 7 ways in which the term “father” was used in the time of Nebuchadnezzar II and 12 possible meanings for “son”. “Father” may refer to one’s immediate father, grandfather, ancestor, or as in the case of kings, a predecessor. Likewise “son” may mean one’s immediate offspring, grandson, descendant, or successor.
A Remote Descendant
A common use of the term “father” in Scripture spans more than one generation.
Jeremiah expressly mentions the fact that Evil-Merodach was king of Babylon, and places his reign after that of Nebuchadnezzar II (Jeremiah 52:28-31). Would not Daniel, as author, have noted this fact? Yet he calls Nebuchadnezzar II the father of Belshazzar. He must, therefore, use the word “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.
A small sample from among many biblical examples that could be cited include: Abraham is said to be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5); King Amaziah is said to have two fathers, both father David and his immediate father Joash (2 Kings 14:3); Abraham is described as the father of the Jews living in New Testament times (John 8:39; Matthew 3:9; Luke 1:73; Acts 7:2; Romans 4:1); Jesus is described as the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1); Paul refers to Isaac as the father of the Jews (Romans 9:10).
Thus, Nebuchadnezzar II and Belshazzar can be “father” and “son” without Belshazzar being the immediate child of Nebuchadnezzar II.
Not a Descendant
There is an even broader use of the father / son terminology beyond bloodlines: establishing a predecessor / successor relationship based on other factors besides line of descent. This use is found both in Scripture and in extra-biblical historic texts.
On the Black Obelisk erected by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III about 830 BC, a contemporary king of northern Israel, Jehu, is called “son of Omri” even though Jehu had exterminated the descendants of Omri (885-874 BC) [2 Kings 10:1-17 records the massacre of the descendants of Ahab son of Omri by Jehu], an earlier king of northern Israel. Shalmaneser, who conducted several campaigns in Syria and Israel between 859 BC and 841 BC, could hardly have been unaware that Jehu was not a descendant of Omri. Instead, it appears as if he used “son” to mean “successor”. Therefore it could be that Nebuchadnezzar II is called the “father” of Belshazzar in the historical sense of “predecessor”. The normal formula to indicate a father-son relationship would be “Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar II”, but that formula never occurs in Daniel. . . . Since the formal father-son designation is never used, it is possible that the term “father” here signifies “predecessor”, and “son” means “successor”.
The term father may also describe the role between a mentor and his disciples or an advisor and those he advises. This meaning is used of the prophets and their followers [44]. Joseph, in his role of advisor to the Pharaoh, refers to himself as “a father to Pharaoh” (Genesis 45:8).
• [44] More characteristic of Biblical usage is the employment of the word ‘son’ to indicate membership in a class or guild, as in the common phrase ‘sons of the prophets’, which implies nothing whatever as to the ancestry, but states that the individuals concerned are members of the prophetic guilds or schools.
The unqualified term “son” is also used of adoptive (Genesis 48:5; Exodus 2:10) and in-law relationships (Ruth 4:17).
The fluidity of these terms admits of several possible explanations in an attempt to reconcile the statements of Scripture with the archaeological record concerning Babylonian Rule after Nebuchadnezzar II.
Nabonidus Married a Daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II
We now know for sure, and this agrees with BC dating and the comments below, that Nabonidus was the immediate father of Belshazzar, having married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II prior to the conspiracy that led to his reign. The name of the daughter is Nitocris.
Nabonidus, lacking a royal bloodline, gained entry into the royal family of Nebuchadnezzar II [45] by marriage to one of Nebuchadnezzar II’s daughters.
• [45] Nabonidus appears to have had a favorable view of Nebuchadnezzar II, naming one of his sons after his predecessor. The suggestion that Nabonidus may have strengthened his position as king by marrying a daughter of the great King Nebuchadnezzar II is made the more plausible by the fact that he named one of his sons Nebuchadnezzar II. In this case, Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar II and according to the Hebrew usage could be called his son.
Belshazzar . . . was a (grand)son of Nebuchadnezzar II. . . . Nabonidus’ wife, Nitocris of Babylon, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II married Nabonidus [aged about 44 years] who was already of high rank . . . when Nebuchadnezzar II’s was about 63 years old.
Nabonidus was married to Nitocris, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II around 571 BC.
With the marriage occurring in 571 BC, before the conspiracy leading to Nabonidus assuming the throne (556 BC), Belshazzar, their firstborn, would still be old enough to assumed co-regency (553 BC) with Nabonidus. Belshazzar, the son of Nabonidus by birth, was also a “son” (grandson) of Nebuchadnezzar II by marriage.
Belshazzar was made co-regent in the third year of Nabonidus’ reign. His early exaltation to kingly rank may be best explained in that he was Nebuchadnezzar II’s grandson through Nitocris, his mother.
The fact that Belshazzar was mentioned in Daniel 5:18 as a “son” of Nebuchadnezzar II is in full accord with Semitic usage, which frequently employed the designation “son” as synonymous with “descendant”. Nitocris, mother of Belshazzar, was apparently a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II, thus making Belshazzar his grandson by strict lineal reckoning.
The biblical text says nothing more than that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar II’s direct descendant, and, as his father was not, this means his mother must have been. There is nothing unprecedented in this, for Nabu-naid seems to have been a high ranking military officer under Nebuchadnezzar II and history establishes that another contemporary comrade-at-arms, Negal-shar-usur, was married to one of Nebuchadnezzar II’s daughters.
This allows Belshazzar to be Nabonidus’ son (according to archaeological records) and remain in the bloodline of Nebuchadnezzar II (according to the biblical text).
But what about Jeremiah’s prophecy declaring the last ruler of Babylon to be Nebuchadnezzar II’s “son and his son’s son” (grandson)? Jeremiah’s statement not only sets a time limit on Babylon’s ascendancy (2 generations beyond Nebuchadnezzar II), it implies the grandson is to be reckoned according to a paternal, rather than maternal, line of descent: “So all nations shall serve him [Nebuchadnezzar II] and his son and his son’s son, until the time of his land comes; and then many nations and great kings shall make him serve them” (Jeremiah 27:7). A straightforward reading of Jeremiah appears to preclude taking Belshazzar’s immediate father as anyone other than an immediate son of Nebuchadnezzar II. Perhaps this may be reading too much into Jeremiah’s statement since we’ve seen an example where the unqualified term “son” describes an in-law relation (Ruth 4:17). Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar II’s “son” could apply to Nabonidus as a son-in-law such that the passage could read: “so all nations shall serve him [Nebuchadnezzar II] and his son-in-law and his son-in-law’s son . . ”.
Reconciling the Biblical and Secular Record Concerning Nabonidus and Belshazzar
Putting it all together, we must reconcile the following:
• (1) Jeremiah’s description of the intermediary between Nebuchadnezzar II and the grandson as a “son”;
• (2) Indication from the archaeological record that Nabonidus is not related to Nebuchadnezzar II by blood;
• (3) Nabonidus’ references to Belshazzar as “son of my loins” and “my firstborn”.
Had taken out of the temple
The house of the God of Israel no longer existed. But, by God’s providence the temple treasures were preserved during the Babylonian captivity within the house of pagan gods.
The vessels would be returned to Jerusalem once Babylon had fallen to Medo-Persia. See Daniel 1:2.
(2-4) Nebuchadnezzar II was Belshazzar’s grandfather rather than his father, but the original language commonly used “father” in the sense of ancestor.
In Hebrew and Chaldee, there is not a 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.
Evidently the vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple had been stored as trophies of war and not used previously (cf. Daniel 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.
Again, as in Chapters 3 and 4, a pagan king set himself up as superior to Yahweh. Belshazzar did what he did to strengthen nationalistic pride among the Babylonians as well.
The description of Babylon’s gods as gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone probably reflects the Hebrew perspective of Daniel (cf. Daniel 5:23). For the Israelites, the gods that Belshazzar honored were no gods at all.
5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
Obviously, Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus, had no use for Nebuchadnezzar II’s newfound faith either, and must have secretly scoffed when he heard “Nebuchadnezzar II praise and extol and honour the King of heaven” (Daniel 4:37) little realizing that he and because of his influence on his son was making the greatest mistake in his life. If he had accepted Nebuchadnezzar II’s faith, instead of trying to replace Nebuchadnezzar II’s former god Marduk with his new heathen god, and encouraged his son to do the same, it would have saved the kingdom.
Then they brought the golden vessels
Being the more valuable, only the gold vessels are mentioned even though both gold and silver vessels were requested (Daniel 5:2).
Which was at Jerusalem
See Daniel 1:2 and Daniel 5:2.
His wives, and his concubines
The wives and concubines may not have been present when the feast began but were brought in as the wine eroded restraint:
It was not very common for females in the East to be present at such festivals as this, but it would seem that all the usual restraints of propriety and decency came to be disregarded as the feast advanced. The wives and concubines were probably not present when the feast began, for it was made for “his lords” Daniel 5:1; but when the scenes of revelry had advanced so far that it was proposed to introduce the sacred vessels of the temple, it would not be unnatural to propose also to introduce the females of the court. A similar instance is related in the Book of Esther. In the feast which Ahasuerus gave, it is said that “on the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, etc., the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty”, etc. Esther 1:10-11.
The feast apparently grew increasingly licentious as the evening progressed [46].
• [46] The concubines were the inferior class of women from the royal harem. They probably were present for the purpose of a sexual orgy.
Drank in them
In their previous dedication and service of God, some of these vessels were so holy that, on penalty of death, they could not even be handled by Levites. They were reserved for use by the Aaronic priesthood (Numbers 18:1-4). Some of them had carried the blood of solemn sacrifices.
Those who drank from the vessels would be guilty on numerous counts:
• 1) handling the holy vessels of Israel’s God;
• 2) using them as props for a licentious party;
• 3) drinking from them;
• 4) using them in praise of false gods by way of toasts to their representative idols.
The king must have lost his sense of decency to commit what is to the Oriental view a sacrilege even with the holy things of another religion.
Belshazzar desecrated the holy objects of other nations as well as those of Israel in an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the gods of Babylon over the deities of the nations. This would have been an act of propaganda intended to bolster the confidence of his citizens in light of the presence of the Medo-Persian armies outside of the city walls.
If mishandling God’s holy things was inherently dangerous (cf. Uzzah and the Ark, 2 Samuel 6:6), how was it Nebuchadnezzar II’s forces were able to apprehend them from the temple in the first place? The answer is found in the sovereign purpose of God: in judging Israel, God gave them into Nebuchadnezzar II’s hand (Daniel 1:2). To accomplish his purposes, God permitted unholy, Gentile hands to seize the vessels, and even to place them in the temple of a foreign god.
Yet, during the lengthy period of the captivity of Israel in Babylon, it appears Nebuchadnezzar II had shown a measure of respect to the vessels—exempting them from use. Now, his grandson sought to desecrate the vessels, employing them at a debauched party in praise of Babylonian’s pantheon of gods.
(3-4) Belshazzar defied the God of heaven, and desecrated the sacred golden vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem.
5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Praised the gods – The drunken heathen sang songs in honour to their Babylonian gods, whose images adorned the various temples of the city.
Praised the gods. The songs of the drunken heathen were in honor of their Babylonian gods, whose images adorned the various temples of the city.
Even though Nebuchadnezzar II regained his sanity then “blessed the most High, and . . . praised and honoured him that liveth …” (Daniel 4:34) his children remained fools in spite of retaining their sanity. Regardless of the overwhelming evidence “that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32), they continued rendering praise to powerless, inanimate objects.
In other words, it seems Nebuchadnezzar II’s testimony had no influence whatsoever on Belshazzar or his subjects. Whether or not they gave any serious thought, other than ridicule, of the army of the Persians camped outside, would only be speculative. Legend has it that food stores in the city were so immense, that enough was within the walls to keep them from starvation for some 20 years.
Here we have the prototypical picture of complacency right on the verge of imminent disaster.
They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, … – Compare Daniel 5:1. Idols were made among the pagan of all the materials here mentioned. The word praised here means that they spake in praise of these gods; of their history, of their attributes, of what they had done.
They drank wine
As they continued to drink [47] they became increasingly inebriated:
• [47] The problem was not the drinking of wine per-se. The Bible condones the responsible use of wine: Numbers 6:20; Deuteronomy 7:13; 18:3-4; Judges 9:13; Nehemiah 5:18; Ecclesiastes 9:7; Job 1:13, 18; Psalms 104:15; Song of Solomon 1:2; Jeremiah 31:12; Zechariah 10:7; Matthew 26:29; Luke 22:18; John 2:9.
The problem comes when wine is abused: Genesis 9:21; 19:32, 34; 1 Kings 19:6; Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:20, 29-35; 31:4-7; Isaiah 5:11-12, 22; 28:1, 7; 56:12; Amos 4:1; Habakkuk 2:15; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:3, 8.
“Drank” is a rendering of an Aramaic participle that in this context probably carries the idea of continuous drinking. The king’s actions encouraged those attending the party to participate in consumption of the wine, and it may safely be assumed that within a short period the king and his guests were well on their way to inebriation.
Praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone
The Babylonian’s incorrectly attributed their ascendancy (and assumed invulnerability during the siege) to their false gods instead of the One True God.
Habakkuk 1:6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, [that] bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces [that are] not theirs. 1:7 They [are] terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. 1:8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle [that] hasteth to eat. 1:9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up [as] the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. 1:10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it. 1:11 Then shall [his] mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, [imputing] this his power unto his god.
Can there be any doubt they used the sacred vessels of the One True God in toasting the pagan idols, the lifeless representations of various pagan gods whom they now honored? This was a serious sacrilege triggering God’s judgment.
There is here an impressive illustration of the sin of sacrilege Daniel 5:2-3. In all ages, and among all people, this has been regarded as a sin of peculiar enormity, and it is quite evident that God in this solemn scene meant to confirm the general judgment of mankind on the subject. God had borne it patiently when those vessels had been removed from the temple at Jerusalem, and when they had been laid up among the spoils of victory in the temples of Babylon; but when they were profaned for purposes of revelry – when they were brought forth to grace a pagan festival, and to be employed in the midst of scenes of riot and dissipation, it was time for him to interpose, and to show to these profane revellers that there is a God in heaven.
The way the holy vessels were employed at the party seems to have been an intentional slight of Israel’s God—placing Him below Babylon’s gods—who had proved superior at the capture of “His people” and the vessels from “His house”. The Babylonian gods were appealed to in an attempt to turn away the siege by Cyrus II the Great’s forces and prove false the rumored predictions of the Jewish prophets concerning Babylonian’s impending downfall [48]. See Daniel 5:1.
• [48] Cuneiform texts demonstrate Belshazzar’s devotion to the god’s of Babylon. 6 texts, ranging from years 5 to 13 of the reign of Nabonidus, show that Belshazzar responded to the needs of the Babylonian sanctuaries by making offerings of silver, gold, and sacrificial animals. [These] texts depict Belshazzar’s interest in the gods of his nation with unquestionable accuracy. They register his zeal in presenting offerings to the deities worshipped in the temple of Erech and Sippar. From his generous attitude towards these sanctuaries it may be concluded that shrines in other Babylonian cities were the beneficiaries of his practical devotion.
They give these gods credit for their defeat of Israel and for their ability to humiliate Israel’s God by means of their abuse of his temple vessels.
They evidently meant it all in the sense that they glorified their own gods and challenged Him whose Temple vessels they were putting to unholy use to prevent this and to punish them if He could.
Many of the idols were valuable artifacts in and of themselves since they were constructed of silver and gold. Even so, the praise was not directed at the idols themselves, but at the gods they represented.
Scripture reveals idols themselves as lifeless and without power (1 Corinthians 8:4), but their worship is motivated and energized by powerful evil entities in the service of Satan: demons (Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 9:20).
The text emphasizes the physical construction of the idols to emphasize their mere human origin and lifeless inability.
While the pagans understand their gods to be more than mere metal, wood, or stone, Daniel heightens the sense of their foolishness by the implicit comparison of their real identity (only lifeless metal, wood, or stone) with the true, living God.
The sacred vessels of the living God were being desecrated in praise of dead idols.
Jeremiah underscores the inability of the gods and idols of Babylon to save her in the coming judgment.
Declare among the nations, Proclaim, and set up a standard; Proclaim-do not conceal [it]—Say, ‘Babylon is taken, Bel is shamed. Merodach is broken in pieces; Her idols are humiliated, Her images are broken in pieces.’ (Jeremiah 50:2).
See Daniel 5:23.
It is tempting for us to consider this party and its blatant idolatry an anachronism. But Scripture reveals mankind will not give up its idolatrous practices until God intervenes in judgment. Modern forms of idolatry may be less obvious, but the misplaced praise of false Gods and the productions of men will continue throughout the Times of the Gentiles.
The idolatry of this party within the head of gold (Daniel 2:38), typifies behavior throughout the Times of the Gentiles.
Revelation 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: 9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
This sad pattern will repeat itself until the return of Christ.
This moral condition of the first empire, Babylon, immediately before the judgment came upon it, at the close of the 70-year captivity of the Jews, is thus described in this Chapter. It foreshadows the moral conditions of the time of the end, when Israel’s long dispersion is almost ended and when God will cut out the ingrafted branches, the Gentiles, and put back Israel upon their own olive tree. May we hear God’s call to separation from that which is evil.
In his message of judgment to Belshazzar, Daniel underscores the folly of trusting in lifeless idols instead of the living God. See Daniel 5:23.
Belshazzar was afraid. His conscience was awakened. The fear and suspicion that always follow the course of the guilty seized him. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror. Alarm seized the great men of the kingdom. Their blasphemous disrespect of sacred things was changed in a moment. A frantic terror overcame all self-control. . . .  [4BC 1170.8]
In vain the king tried to read the burning letters. He had found a power too strong for him. He could not read the writing (YI May 19, 1898).  [4BC 1171.1]
5:5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
Upon the plaster – the walls to the hall were covered with white plaster made of fine plaster of Paris.
Upon the plaster. If the large throne hall excavated by Koldewey in the Southern Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II’s Babylon was the scene of this feast, it is not difficult to visualize what took place at the fateful moment described here. The hall was 57 by 170 ft. (17 by 52 m.). In the center of one of the long sides, opposite the entrance, was a niche, in which the throne may have stood. The walls were covered with white plaster made of fine plaster of Paris. We may imagine that the candlestick, or lampstand, was near the king’s seat. Lampstands with numerous oil lamps were in use at that time. Across the room from this lampstand the mysterious hand appeared and wrote on the plaster so that Belshazzar saw it. It is not explained whether the writing took the form of painted letters or was incised in the plaster.
Part of the hand. It is not stated how much of the hand was visible. The Aramaic pas, translated “part”, has sometimes been interpreted to mean “palm”, at other times to designate the hand proper below the wrist, as opposed to the lower part of the arm.
(5) In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
History repeats itself. About 44 or 43 years before, at “the same hour” when boastful words fell from his mouth “was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzzar: and he was driven from men . . ”. (Daniel 4:33). At that moment, time for the execution of the “decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones” had arrived. The “decree” was implemented to convince all “the living . . .that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Daniel 4:17). Now, the same Watcher who came to Daniel [in Daniel 4:23] was an uninvited guest at Belshazzar’s sacrilegious feast.
Nebuchadnezzar II’s successors, namely his son Evil Merodach, followed by Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar), Labishi, Nabonidus, then Belshazzar, with the possible exception of Labishi who was very young, could be thought of as “the basest of men” with, perhaps, Belshazzar occupying the lowest level. While Nebuchadnezzar II was an outstanding person who looked well to the betterment of his kingdom, his successors were “dead weights”. They were incompetent or corrupted. They weakened the kingdom so that it retained nothing more than a hollow shell of its former glory.
While the “watcher, watchers” and the “holy ones” saw fit to give Nebuchadnezzar II another chance, no such opportunity was allowed his successors who were murdered unexpectedly or died prematurely.
Nebuchadnezzaar’s dream (of Chapter 4:27), gave Belshazzar opportunity to reform, while the handwriting on the wall was only a portent of doom allowing the king no opportunity to change his administration.
When Cyrus II the Great, the Persian king, overthrew Babylon, it appears that Belshazzar was one of a few casualties. According to one historian: “it is clear that Cyrus II the Great obtained the throne and empire of Babylon with the acquiescence . . . of a large part of the population. He came to free them from a ruler who had forfeited their adhesion: . . . He was the founder of a new dynasty over a willing people, not a foreign conqueror indifferent to them and their interests . . . Cyrus II the Great immediately reversed the religious policy of Nabonidus, which had provoked great resentment, and in other respects in his attitude to the Babylonian gods he put himself right with the people”. So, it is rather unlikely that a great slaughter followed the Persian invasion of Babylon that would have terrorized the populace. On the contrary, it seems the Persians were welcomed as liberators with no outpouring of grief being expressed for Belshazzar in spite of his efforts, such as his drunken banquet, to ingratiate himself with his contemporaries.
Therefore, the “handwriting on the wall” must have made an ineffaceable impression in the minds of “the thousand” of Belshazzar’s “lords” including “his princes, his wives, and his concubines” in verses 1,2. But, the impression did not stop with ancient Babylon because the phrase “handwriting on the wall” has echoed down through the ages even to our time. It is a favored expression for taking heed to warning signs that all must, sooner or later, take responsibility for one’s own character and behavior.
“When the revelry was at its height a bloodless hand came forth and traced upon the walls of the palace characters that gleamed like fire—words which, though unknown to the vast throng, were a portent of doom to the now conscience-stricken king and his guests”. [49]
• [49] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 524.
Those “fingers” belonged to one of the “Watchers” or “the holy ones” of heaven who had been observing Nebuchadnezzar II and discussing his destiny (as we noted in Daniel 4:13, 17). Now, about 44 or 43 years later, their watch was continuing and they must have decided upon another decree unlike that made for Nebuchadnezzar II. While a special test with potential for good was agreed upon for Nebuchadnezzar II, from the heavenly point of view, all that could be done for Belshazzar had been done. He had reached the point of no return.
So, the message of this incident has rung down through the ages, reminding men that a time of accountability is coming. There will be no exception.  The “watcher” is still watching to see, just as in the case of Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar II, how we handle the knowledge we have.
(5) God writes a message on a wall.
In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
Came forth fingers of a man’s hand: God can and sometimes does communicate to man in unexpected and even shocking ways. Here, a hand mysteriously appeared and wrote on a wall.
The king saw the part of the hand that wrote: This, of course, is where we get the proverbial phrase the writing on the wall.
Came forth fingers of a man’s hand – Not the whole hand, but only the parts usually employed in writing. Not a man writing; not even an arm, but fingers that seemed to move themselves. They appeared to come forth from the walls, and were seen before they began to write. It was this that made it so impressive and alarming. It could not be supposed that it was the work of man, or that it was devised by man for the purpose of producing consternation.
The suddenness of the appearance; the fingers, unguided by the hand of man, slowly writing in mysterious characters on the wall; the conviction which must have flashed across the mind that this must be either to rebuke them for their sin, or to announce some fearful calamity, all these things must have combined to produce an overwhelming effect on the revellers.
The crime of sacrilege was regarded among the pagan as one of the most awful which could be committed, and there was no state of mind in which men would be more likely to be alarmed than when they were, even in the midst of scenes of drunken revelry, engaged in such an act.
And wrote over against the candlestick – The candlestick, or lamp-bearer, perhaps, which had been taken from the temple at Jerusalem, and which was, as well as the sacred vessels, introduced into this scene of revelry. It is probable that as they brought out the vessels of the temple to drink in, they would also bring out all that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem.
Upon the plaster of the wall – The Chaldee word means “lime,” not inappropriately rendered here “plaster.”
And the king saw the part of the hand that wrote – It is not necessary to suppose that the others did not see it also, but the king was the most important personage there, and the miracle was intended particularly for him. Perhaps his eyes were first attracted to it.
(5) Like Nebuchadnezzar II, Belshazzar received an omen from God. In Nebuchadnezzar II’s case it was two dreams (Chapters 1; 4). In Belshazzar’s, it was handwriting on a wall. The night of revelry became a night of revelation.
The Writing on the Wall
(5) Praising the Babylonian gods meant at the same time to blaspheme the God of the Jews. God reacted immediately. Fingers wrote on the wall. However, God does not always react immediately. In some cases the judgment comes later—sometimes only at the final judgment.
Which examples come to mind?
• Immediate judgments: Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), Achan (Joshua 7), and the man collecting wood on the Sabbath (Num 15:32–36)
• Later judgments: David and the consequences of his adultery (2 Samuel 12–18), Pilate’s banishment, Moses’ death outside the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 34:4)
• Final judgment: the murderers of Jesus (Revelation 1:7; 20)
The Handwriting on the Wall
Daniel 5:5 ¶ In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 5:6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. 5:7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. [And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 5:8 Then came in all the king’s wise [men]: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. 5:9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
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 nearby lamp.
Hushed was the boisterous mirth, while men and women, seized with nameless terror, watched the hand slowly tracing the mysterious characters. They shook with a nameless terror as their eyes fastened upon the wall. Before them passed, as in panoramic view, the deeds of their evil lives; they seemed to be arraigned before the judgment bar of the eternal God, whose power they had just defied. Where but a few moments before had been hilarity and blasphemous witticism, were pallid faces and cries of fear. Belshazzar was the most terrified of them all. The king was paralyzed with fear. Barely able to stand, the king’s 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. What did these words on the wall mean? He must know. A tempting reward was offered to anyone who could interpret the meaning of the handwriting on the wall.
Some think the king did not recognize the words, while others believe he only failed to understand their meaning. Since the words were written in Aramaic, and there are only 3, it may be that he recognized the words but did not understand their meaning. Unable to decipher their meaning, the wise men come and go. The king’s fear and distress intensifies while the others remain terror stricken.
In the same hour
This phrase underscores how quickly judgment fell in response to the actions recorded in the previous verse: The response to Belshazzar’s blasphemy is akin to the response to Nebuchadnezzar II’s boasting (Daniel 4:31). In both cases, the judgment is clearly connected to a “trigger”, a particularly extreme action beyond which God no longer patiently endures sin.
“In the same hour”, just as we earlier read concerning Nebuchadnezzar II, “While the saying was yet in the king’s mouth”. This was in order that the offender might recognize that his punishment was not inflicted upon him for any other reason but his blasphemy.
It’s not just chance, it’s not just happen-stance that they’ve just hauled all the goblets and bowls of the temple out of storage and began to use them and profane them, that this occurs… the handwriting appears as soon as they begin to desecrate these bowls and dishes that came out of the temple.
Holed up within what was believed to be an impenetrable fortress with supplies sufficient for many years, Babylon’s lords believed themselves secure. Yet, they would find themselves in a similar position as the rich man who trusted in his many goods:
Luke 12:19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, [and] be merry. 12:20 But God said unto him, [Thou] fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 12:21 So [is] he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Whenever we find ourselves in a time of peace or surplus, there is a tendency to begin to trust in our conditions and to forget how they came to be — by the mercy and grace of God. The longer these conditions prevail, the more likely we misappropriate blessings from God to another cause — attributing them to our own cleverness or prowess — in a vain pattern of self-elevation. But each day we live, each meal we eat, each breath we take, is ultimately a gift from God. We need to remember to retain an understanding of dependency and thankfulness to our Lord. The more we remember God in consideration of our place, the less surprised we will be when and if our condition changes — even if suddenly and radically. The wicked, being mindless of the things of God, are unprepared for their sudden loss (Job 15:20-27). This unpreparedness for coming judgment — continuing in blasphemy and riotous living as it nears — is a characteristic of an ungodly culture. The intrusion of the future Day of the Lord upon a God-rejecting world will make the fall of Belshazzar’s Babylon look insignificant in comparison.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 5:3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
Came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote
God used this supernatural manifestation to rivet the attention of everyone at the feast. The sight was designed to frighten the celebrants and elicit the sober attention of the king.
It was perfectly manifest to all who were there that this was the work of some one superior to man; that it was designed as a Divine intimation of some kind in regard to the scene that was then occurring. But whether as a rebuke for the sin of revelry and dissipation, or for sacrilege in drinking out of the consecrated vessels, or whether it was an intimation of some approaching fearful calamity, would not at once be apparent.
Over against the candlestick
Candlestick, lampstand, corresponds to the Hebrew menorah.
The candlestick, or lamp-bearer, perhaps, which had been taken from the temple at Jerusalem, and which was, as well as the sacred vessels, introduced into this scene of revelry. It is probable that as they brought out the vessels of the temple to drink in, they would also bring out all that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem.
The candlestick / lampstand is mentioned to underscore the dramatic visibility of the supernatural hand writing in the midst of an otherwise darkened scene:
If the scene can be reconstructed, it is probable that the banquet was illuminated by torches which not only produced smoke but fitful light that would only partially illuminate the great hall. As the writing according to Daniel was written “over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace”, it may have appeared in an area of greater illumination than the rest of the room and thus also have attracted more attention.
Upon the plaster of the wall
The Hebrew equivalent of this Aramaic term “plaster” refers to the powdered stones (chalkstones) of an altar (Isaiah 27:9).
Here is a significant detail in the Scriptural record that may seem unimportant: the material the fingers wrote upon, plaster. This detail has archaeological and biblical significance. The plaster is archaeologically significant because the hall where this event likely transpired has been excavated confirming this detail. The walls of the banquet hall included an area opposite the entrance that, like the ruins of palaces at Nineveh [50], was covered in white plaster:
• [50] The wall of the banquet-hall was not panelled nor draped, but rather a simple, light-colored ‘wall of lime or plaster’, such as the ruins of the palaces at Nineveh still exhibit in great number.
To the south lies the largest chamber of the Citadel, the throne-room of the Babylonian kings. . . Like the east gate, the inner chambers (of the east gate) were covered with a fine plaster of pure gypsum laid on over a thicker coating of gypsum, the walls of these chambers were washed over with white gypsum.
In the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar II’s palace archaeologists have uncovered a large throne room 57 feet wide and 170 feet 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.
The plaster is biblically significant due to a theme running throughout Scripture: God’s standard of judgment written on stone (or materials related to stone, such as dust): [51]
• [51] It is unclear whether Jeremiah 17:13 should be included in this list. The phrase in the earth / land they shall be written down, has been variously translated: “written in the earth” (ESV, KJV, NKJV); “written in the dust” (NIV84); “written in the dirt” (HCSB); “be doomed men” (TNK); “written down” (NASU); “consigned to the nether world” (NET).
Jeremiah 17:13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, [and] they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
• The Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God upon stone (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:16; 34:1, 28; Deuteronomy 5:22; 9:10; 10:4).
• Judgment against Belshazzar is written in plaster (made of dust from stones, Daniel 5:5).
• Jesus appears to have written concerning judgment in the dirt, in response to the accusers of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:6).
• Believers are an epistle of God written on the heart rather than stone (2 Corinthians 3:3-7).
• Believers will receive a new name written on stone (Revelation 2:17).
• Paul refers to the judging and evaluating function of the law, the very handwriting of God on stone, as “the handwriting of requirements that was against us” (Colossians 2:13-14).
The writing on the plaster of the wall by the finger of God serves a similar function in this Chapter: Belshazzar is evaluated and found wanting—he does not even come close to measuring up to God’s standards, as set forth in the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law. The common theme among these passage involves:
• (1) the finger of God;
• (2) writing on stone-like material;
• (3) the divine requirements or evaluation of the character of men.
The writing on stone serves as a witness against those whom it evaluates (Joshua 4:9, 20; Joshua 8:32). In some passages, stones themselves become a witness (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; 19:40). A special irony is found regarding the judgment of Babylon written in plaster. The kings of Babylon had sought to immortalize their glory by writing on their own stones!
Written in cuneiform letters on slabs on the walls, and on the very bricks, are found the perpetually recurring recital of titles, victories, and exploits, to remind the spectator at every point of the regal greatness. It is significant, that on the same wall on which the king was accustomed to read the flattering legends of his own magnificence, he beholds the mysterious inscription which foretells his fall (compare Proverbs 16:18; Acts 12:21-23).
The king saw the part of the hand that wrote
Saw is a peal participle: the king saw the hand as it was in the process of writing. “the king saw the part of the hand that wrote”. The hand [52] appeared on its own, as if ‘hanging in thin air’ as it wrote.
• [52] This probably means that the king saw ‘the back of the hand that wrote’ on the wall . . . The palm of the hand would have been facing the wall as the hand wrote. The word denotes the flat part of the hand, as distinguished from the fingers, or the flat part of the foot, as distinguished from the toes.
(5-6) While the drunken revers drank toasts to their idols out of the golden cups which had been sanctified to God, a mysterious hand appeared and wrote on the wall God’s judgement upon Babylon. See verses 26-28.
• The saying ‘the writing is on the wall’ has its roots is Daniel 5. It signifies some impending doom. Someone might say ‘I haven’t lost my job yet but the writing is on the wall’. That same is spoken of nations. Something inevitable is about to happen to Babylon. Something that no one can stop for it comes from the hand of God.
• The phrase ‘the writing is on the wall’ is still used today and comes from this passage. It expresses the thought that something ominous or bad is about to happen.
(5-9) Presence of Unseen Guest Felt.–A Watcher, who was unrecognized, but whose presence was a power of condemnation, looked on this scene of profanation. Soon the unseen and uninvited Guest made His presence felt. At the moment when the sacrilegious revelry was at its height, a bloodless hand came forth, and wrote words of doom on the wall of the banqueting hall. Burning words followed the movements of the hand. “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”, was written in letters of flame. Few were the characters traced by that hand on the wall facing the king, but they showed that the power of God was there.  [4BC 1170.7]
What God did – The Writing is on the Wall
Daniel 5:5 ¶ In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 5:6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. 5:7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. [And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 5:8 Then came in all the king’s wise [men]: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. 5:9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
Even as he and his guests wined and dined, the Medo-Persian Empire sat outside the Babylonian walls. But the king didn’t care. He was confident that they had done everything necessary to ensure their victory. Nothing could spoil this party. But then a strange little hand appeared and the laughter turned to fear. The king didn’t find this hand at all funny. In fact, he was so frightened that his knees even knocked together! Have you ever had such a shock or fright that your knees of other parts of your body literally shook? If so you have a small glimpse into the king’s experience right about now. What the might of the Medo-Persian Empire hadn’t been able to do, God had now performed through the use of a hand, a wall, and four little words. While the king couldn’t understand the meaning of the words, he inwardly knew this wasn’t something good. This outward message probably added to the inner message coming from his conscience in fully convicting this king!
Seeing the writing on the wall is a fearful thing – then and now. The writing is on the wall for any nation that revels in the same Babylonian spirit that we see here. And unfortunately we see the same type of spirit in the West today as is being expressed here with Babylon over 2500 years ago. There is a mocking of the true God. There is a self-centred ‘me’ spirit that exalts in pleasure and parties ignoring the real situation at the doors. It is like the days of Noah where the people were living it up right to the very day that the judgement of the flood came … and they had no idea.
This king should have known better. He would have heard of the tremendous testimony of his grandfather Nebuchadneszzar about all that the Most High God did for him. But unfortunately, Belshazzar had rejected the light that he had received. Belshazzar had not correctly read the experience of his grandfather, nor heeded the warning of events so significant to himself. The opportunity of knowing and obeying the true God had been given him, but it had not been taken to heart, and he was about to reap the consequence of his rebellion. As it says in God’s word:
Proverbs 29:1 ¶ He, that being often reproved hardeneth [his] neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
He obviously learned nothing from the events of king Nebuchadnezzar II, and again turns to the threefold ‘dummies’ of his enchanters, astrologers and diviners. And they again prove themselves to be as effective as their predecessors had been in the days of Nebuchadnezzar II. Isaiah’s prophecy had said that when the disaster struck they would not be able to conjure it away. God has seen and heard enough. The light given to these Babylonians had not only been rejected but was now being used to mock the very God who gave them life. The humility and acknowledgment of the true God shown by king Nebuchadnezzar II, was not on the lips of his grandson Belshazzar.
5:6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
Were loosed – cf. Isaiah 21:3 – Belshazzar was troubled by an accusing conscience; he realised that his empire was in mortal danger from:
• past political blunders
• his own immorality
• his army’s recent disastrous defeat
• his current sacrilegious acts.
Were loosed. Compare Isaiah 21:3. The terror was heightened by an accusing conscience, which roused itself and filled the king with dark forebodings. The gloom of his thoughts must have been deepened as he realized the mortal danger into which the empire had been thrown through past political blunders, his own immoral life and acts, the recent disastrous defeat of his army and the sacrilegious acts in which he was engaged. No wonder “his thoughts troubled him”.
Daniel was not there for Babylon’s last party. Belshazzar, the “party-er king,” thought he saw the hand of a ghost writing on the palace wall, and started to shake uncontrollably (verse 6). The academics were called in to unravel the mystery but they could not (verse 7-8). Then Daniel was brought in (verse 13).
(6) Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
Terror took the place of intoxicated bliss. The shock of it shook him to the very core. The guilt, for rejecting the things he learned as a child and suppressed for years resurged with a vengeance. Even though he had no idea what the blazing letters meant, he “realized that he must render an account of the stewardship entrusted him, and that for his wasted opportunities and his defiant attitude he could offer no excuse” [53].
• [53] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 527.
Panic seized him.
Then the king’s countenance was changed – The word rendered “countenance” is, in the margin, as in Daniel 5:9, “brightnesses.”
And his thoughts troubled him – Whether from the recollection of guilt, or the dread of wrath, is not said. He would, doubtless, regard this as some supernatural intimation, and his soul would be troubled.
So that the joints of his loins were loosed – Margin, “bindings,” or “knots,” or “girdles.” The Chaldee word rendered “joints” means, properly, “knots;” then joints of the bones, as resembling knots, or apparently answering the purposes of knots in the human frame, as binding it together.
And his knees smote one against another – A common effect of fear – Nahum 2:10.
(6) What might Belshazzar have felt and thought when he saw the handwriting on the wall?
• Horror and fear
• Guilt
• Impotence
He must have been almost paralyzed, and his legs trembled.
Then the king’s countenance was changed
Up to now, the king’s demeanor had appeared bold, as if assured of Babylon’s impregnability. But Jeremiah reveals he feared what might come of the siege. “The king of Babylon has heard the report about them [those laying siege], and his hands grow feeble; anguish has taken hold of him, pangs as of a woman in childbirth” (Jeremiah 50:43).
Although the king’s reaction may simply reflect his astonishment at seeing a detached hand miraculously appear out of nowhere to write on the wall, it seems more likely the change in the expression on the king’s face reveals misplaced his bold manner. While outwardly mocking the God of Israel, he harbored internal trepidation concerning his actions and their possible ramifications.
Then the king’s countenance was changed – Instantly all the blood drains out of his face, and his thoughts troubled him. When an individual is on negative volition and operating on the sin nature his conscience is always sensitive and will always give testimony to his failures, given the right circumstances. And no matter how skilled you might be at covering up your conscience and hardening your conscience and suppressing it, sooner or later you’re going to get into some situation. Then all of a sudden all those things in your conscience are going to come bubbling to the surface and you’re going to become overwhelmed with guilt and guilt always comes along with its handmaiden, fear; which is the fear of discovery and the fear of having to pay the consequences for our actions.
The appearance of the detached hand was disturbing in its own right, but the king also had a growing suspicion that the message had ominous implications. “The Persian army is outside the walls of Babylon, and he suspects, probably, that this miraculously appearing message on the wall has something to do with him and something to do with the army outside the wall.
His thoughts troubled him
The king’s troubled thoughts betray a guilty conscience. He already knew of a similar situation involving his grandfather, when Nebuchadnezzar II’s pride and boasting resulted in God’s judgment (Daniel 5:20-22 cf. Daniel 4:30-33). Might not the appearance of the hand herald God’s judgment of the king’s own arrogance and presumption this very night?
The king needed no intimation from another. His conscience, corroded with depravity, trembled before the hand which traced his doom, though he knew not a word that was written. Instinctively he felt that He whose hand none can stay was dealing with him.
Perhaps he might immediately fear it was a sign of ruin and destruction to him; the sins of his former life might at once come into his thoughts, and those particularly he had now been guilty of; his luxury and intemperance, his idolatry and profanation of the vessels of the sanctuary, of which his conscience might accuse him.
So that the joints of his loins were loosed
Belshazzar’s panic was such he lost control of his body. He may have fallen to the ground, “his limbs gave way”. He may have even become incontinent.
A prophecy by Isaiah concerning the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus II the Great may have this event in view:
Isaiah 45:1 ¶ Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut.
His knees smote one against another
The king has previously been the focus of the party, full of prideful boasting. Now he collapsed in fear as he considered the implications of the hand and its unknown message. The riotous merriment must have come to a stand-still as puzzlement and apprehension settled upon the crowd.
Immediately the revelry was stilled. What on earth did this handwriting mean? In great alarm the drunken Belshazzar stared at the words, his face ashen and his knees knocking together (Daniel 5:6). The musicians put aside their instruments, the dancing girls stood motionless, and the waiters stopped short, as they all gazed at the words on the wall.
The king experienced the special dread of those who meet God’s judgment in the midst of their sinful folly [54].
• [54] Numerous passages speak of shaking and being on the verge of collapsing from fear (1 Samuel 14:15; 28:5; Ezekiel 7:15-18; 26:16). For the ‘loosening of the loins’ as symptom of panic fear, cf. Isaiah 21:3; Nahum 2:11; Ezekiel 21:11; Psalms 69:24, and for the ‘knocking of the knees one against the other’ Nahum 2:11.
It is an appalling scene when a sinning mortal knows that the great God has come to meet him in the very midst of his sins. How changed the scene from the glee of his blasphemous revelry to this paleness of cheek, convulsion of frame, remorse of conscience, and dread foreboding of doom. Many a sinner has had a like experience, and many thousands will.
(6-7) The “conjurers” that Belshazzar called to help him were magicians. These “Chaldeans” were scholars who knew the lore of the Babylonians. The “diviners” were astrologers. These were only 3 of the many groups of wise men that the king summoned (Daniel 5:8).
Clothing someone in “purple” meant giving him royal authority (cf. Esther 8:15). This “gold chain” (necklace) would have had symbolic as well as monetary value. Belshazzar evidently offered to promote anyone who could interpret the mysterious writing, to “third” ruler of the kingdom, because he himself was the second ruler under his father, Nabonidus. Thus this was the highest official reward he could offer.
(6-9) Belshazzar’s reaction to the message, and his call for someone to interpret the message.
Daniel 5:6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. 5:7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. [And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 5:8 Then came in all the king’s wise [men]: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. 5:9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
So that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another: Daniel’s vivid description shows us that Belshazzar was terrified. His carefree partying was so shallow that it turned from merry to terrified in a moment. This shows that his conscience was active beneath his energetic partying.
• After all, if Belshazzar could not understand the writing, why should it trouble him so? It troubled him because his own conscience testified against him.
Shall be the third ruler in the kingdom: Archaeologists have discovered why Belshazzar offered the interpreter of the dream the third place in the kingdom. The real king was Nabonidus, and his son Belshazzar ruled as second in the kingdom. Belshazzar couldn’t give away the second place in the kingdom, because he was the second in the kingdom at the time. The best he had to offer was the third place.
They could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof: When Daniel came to interpret these words, it does not seem so hard to figure out. It may be that God deliberately put a veil over the minds of these men so Daniel would be called.
5:7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Scarlet – purple – a better translation from the Aramaic. Purple – the royal colour of antiquity.
The ancient royal purple was deep purplish red in colour, more nearly like crimson.
Chain of gold – a common custom over many centuries (i.e. Egypt – Genesis 41:42).
The third ruler – Belshazzar was only a co-ruler (co-regent) with his father – the second ruler in the kingdom where Nebuchadnezzar II was first.
The highest position that Belshazzar could bestow was that of third ruler in the kingdom.
Astrologers. See Chronicles 1:20.
Chaldeans. See Chronicles 1:4.
Soothsayers. See Chronicles 2:27.
Scarlet. Better, “purple”. Ancient royal purple was deep purplish red in color, more like crimson. That purple was the royal color of antiquity is attested by documentary evidence from the time of the Persians (Esther 8:15), the Medes, and later periods. Daniel attests the existence of this custom for the Neo-Babylonian period, which preceded the Persian.
Chain of gold. The custom of honoring favorite public servants of the crown by the granting of gold chains, decorations, or collars existed in Egypt many centuries earlier (see Genesis 41:42). The custom was common among ancient nations.
The third ruler. Prior to the time that Belshazzar’s place in the kingdom and his relationship to Nabonidus were fully understood, commentators could only conjecture as to the identity of the second ruler in the kingdom. Now that it is known that Belshazzar was only a co-ruler with his father, and hence the second ruler in the kingdom, it is clear why he could bestow no higher position in the realm than that of “third ruler”.
5:7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. [And] the king spake, and said to the wise [men] of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
With the king losing all composure and throwing his dignity to the winds, his wail of despair echoed through the great hall. It must also have been pretty frightening for the vast crowd.
We don’t know if Belsazzar required as much of the “astrologers, Chaldean, and the soothsayers” as his grandfather did. We do know that his father, Nabonidus, rejected Nebuchadnezzar II’s heathen god and attempted to introduce another, making himself unpopular with the people. Perhaps Belshazzar, seeing the futility of Nabonidus’ effort to change the religion of the Babylonians, decided to dispense with the matter of worship entirely and substitute a hedonistic way of life in its place.
Up to this point he may never have felt in need of special counsel. As a last resort he hailed the wise men into the hall. Perhaps, since he had never met them before he felt they must be bribed to give an answer to the mystery. Offering to make the determiner “third ruler in the land” was the best thing he could do since, as we now know, he was second next to his father Nabonidus.
Nabonidus had just been taken prisoner by the Persians. Although Nabonidus’ fate was unknown, Cyrus II the Great was known for sparing the lives of the kings whom he had defeated. It transpires that Nabonidus’ life was spared, and that he was allowed to retire in Carmania.
The king cried aloud – Margin, as in the Chaldee, “with might.” This indicates a sudden and an alarming cry. The king was deeply terrified; and, unable himself to divine the meaning of the mysterious appearance of the hand, he naturally turned at once to those whose office it was to explain dreams and supernatural appearances.
To bring in the astrologers … – See Daniel 2:2; Daniel 4:7.
And said to the wise [men] of Babylon – Those just referred to – the astrologers, etc.. Having the power, as was supposed, of interpreting the indications of coming events, they were esteemed as eminently wise.
Whosoever shall read this writing – It would seem from this that even the characters were not familiar to the king and to those who were with him. Evidently the letters were not in the ordinary Chaldee form, but in some form which to them was strange and unknown. Thus there was a double mystery hanging over the writing – a mystery in regard to the language in which the words were written, and to the meaning of the words.
And show me the interpretation thereof – The meaning of the words.
Shall be clothed with scarlet – The color worn usually by princes and by persons of rank. The margin is “purple.”
And [have] a chain of gold about his neck – Also indicative of rank and authority. Compare Genesis 41:42. When Joseph was placed over the land of Egypt, the king honored him in a similar manner, by putting “a gold chain about his neck.” This was common in Persia.
And shall be the third ruler in the kingdom – Of course, the king was first. Who the second was, or why the one who could disclose the meaning of the words should not be raised to the second rank, is not stated. It may be, that the office of prime minister was so fixed, or was held by one whose services were so important to the king, that he could not be at once displaced.
The king cried aloud
The ominous silence descending upon the gathering at the sight of the hand and the king’s startled reaction was shattered by the panicky summons of the king for his advisors.
Laying aside all decency, and forgetting his royal majesty, like a man out of his senses.
He was clearly so astonished as to forget his being king, for to cry out at table was not consistent with his dignity. But God expelled all pride from him, by compelling him to burst forth into a cry, like a man completely beside himself.
Bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers
Like his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar II (Daniel 2:2; 4:6) and the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41:8), the king summons his best advisors in his time of need. And, like Nebuchadnezzar II and the Pharaoh, the assembled wisdom of those without knowledge of God will prove inadequate.
The terms describing the king’s advisors have been variously translated [55]. See astrologers (Daniel 1:20, Daniel 2:2), Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4, Daniel 2:2), and soothsayers (Daniel 2:27).
• [55] The king called loudly for the exorcists, Chaldeans, and diviners to be brought.
Interestingly, the king did not mention the magicians, Daniel 1:20), among the classes of wise men summoned. Daniel had served earlier as chief administrator over all the wise men under Nebuchadnezzar II (Daniel 2:48). Perhaps by this time Daniel no longer served in that role and was considered among the magi in his retirement [56]. This may explain why Daniel was not among the wise men initially summoned to interpret the writing. See Daniel 5:11.
• [56] According to Matthew, the men who sought the predicted King of the Jews were wise men (Matthew 2:1, 7, 16). This knowledge probably originated with Daniel and was preserved and handed down for centuries among the Babylonian “magicians”. This may also indicate Daniel’s close association with this particular class of wise men in Babylon.
Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof
Here we see the futile pattern of secular rule by secular wisdom. Assemble the best of the (secular) best while rejecting those who acknowledge God and have deeper understanding of His revelation. Then rely on these secular “experts” to explain things ultimately originating with God.
So in the present day almost all the world continues in blindness; it is not allowed to wander in darkness, but when light shines upon it, it closes its eyes, rejects God’s grace, and purposely desires to cast itself headlong. This conduct is far too common.
Clothed with scarlet
Being clothed in purple [scarlet] was a sign of high rank.
[The color purple] formed the distinguishing feature of clothing among the Persian kings, and was by them occasionally bestowed on high officials, as a mark of especial favor and exalted dignity; e.g., on Mordecai, Esther 8:15. Purple was probably the badge of distinguished rank at the Babylonian as well as at the Persian court, especially as Babylon, like Tyre, was celebrated among the ancients for its manufacture of purple goods.
Chain of gold about his neck
Chain may denote something more elaborate than a simple chain, possibly including ornamental attachments.
Judging from a similar offer by Pharaoh to Joseph, the golden chain may have signified the rank and authority of the wearer.
Genesis 41:41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. {cp. God sets Jesus over this sinful world.} 41:42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; 41:43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him [ruler] over all the land of Egypt. 41:44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I [am] Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.
Daniel reluctantly receives this honor (Daniel 5:29), but has little use for it since he already possessed the true riches of God.
Proverbs 1:7 ¶ The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge: [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction. 1:8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 1:9 For they [shall be] an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
See Daniel 2:6.
Third ruler in the kingdom
Nabonidus Cylinder
This offer of being third ruler remained a puzzle for hundreds of years. If Belshazzar was king, why wouldn’t he offer Daniel the position as second ruler, as Pharaoh offered Joseph (Genesis 41:40-44) and Ahasuerus offered Mordecai (Esther 10:3)?
This puzzle was answered by the discovery of archaeological artifacts indicating Belshazzar was co-regent with his father Nabonidus.
Archaeological discoveries indicate that Belshazzar was in charge of the northern frontier of the Babylonian empire while his father Nabonidus maintained his headquarters at Tema in North Arabia. Among the discoveries at the site of Ur is an inscription of Nabunaid, dated 530 BC, containing a prayer for Nabunaid himself followed by a second prayer for his firstborn son, Bel-shar-usur—such prayers being customarily offered only for the reigning monarch.
Nabonidus was the king of Babylon and father of Belshazzar. In the ancient historical inscription known as The Verse Account of Nabonidus, we read, that when “the third year was about to begin—He [Nabonidus] entrusted the ‘Camp’ to his oldest (son), the firstborn, the troops everywhere in the country he ordered under his command. He let everything go, entrusted the kingship to him” . . . A different ancient inscription known as the Nabonidus Cylinder explains that his firstborn son was Belshazzar. He was entrusted with the army in the third year of Nabonidus’ reign, which most scholars agree was in the year 553 BC. So the third year of his reign, in which the prophecy of Daniel 8 was delivered, was 551 BC.
This cylinder [of Nabonidus], 1 of 4 bearing the same text found at the 4 corners of the ziggurat . . . at Ur, is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with an account of its rebuilding by Nabonidus. . . . Nabonidus . . . concludes the inscription with a prayer to the moon god Sin to whom the ziggurat was consecrated. The prayer is of particular interest since it ends . . . with a plea for the piety of . . . ‘Belshazzar the son first (born) the offspring of my heart (body).’ The reference is, of course, to Belshazzar who figures prominently in the Book of Daniel, where he is described as ‘king’ of Babylonia (Daniel 5:1 etc.). It is clear from other inscriptions that Nabonidus spent several years of his reign in north-west Arabia during which Belshazzar ruled Babylonian in his place, and though he is not included in the king lists he was king in all but name during that time, and the Biblical statement may be understood in that light. The cuneiform texts show that the designation of Daniel as ‘the third ruler in the kingdom’ (Daniel 5:29) makes sense, Nabonidus (in Arabia) being first, and Belshazzar (in Babylon) being second.
(7–8) Belshazzar turned to his astrologers and wise men for an explanation of the phenomenon. He promised the third position in the kingdom to the one able to interpret the writing. (While Pharaoh promised Joseph the second position in the kingdom, Belshazzar was only able to offer the third position. As co-regent with his father he himself was the second ruler.) Again the wise men and magicians proved their inability to interpret divine messages.
5:8 Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
Then came in all – Having addressed those men at the banquet (Daniel 5:7), now all the king’s wise men came into the banquet hall in response to the Belshazzar’s command.
They could not read – No reason is given and any explanation would only be conjecture.
However, the words were:
• in Aramaic (Daniel 5:26-28)
• of dazzling brilliance (EGW Supplementary material refers to verses 5–9)
• so cryptic that their individual meanings did not reveal the concealed message.
Then came in all. Some have seen a contradiction between this statement and the account of the preceding verse that records an address of the king to the wise men. The most natural explanation is that the king’s address recorded in verse 7 was spoken to the wise men who were already present at the banquet when the handwriting appeared on the wall. Verse 8 would then apply to “all the king’s wise men”, including those who came into the banquet hall in response to Belshazzar’s command.
They could not read. The reason is not stated, and any explanation that may be offered is only conjecture. The words were apparently in Aramaic (see verses 26–28). But the words were so few and so cryptic that even a knowledge of their individual meanings would not reveal the message concealed in them. Whether the king himself could not read because of excessive use of wine, or whether the letters themselves were indistinguishable because of their dazzling brilliance (see EGW, Supplementary Material, on verses 5–9), or whether the script was singular, decipherable only by divine illumination, is not stated.
5:8 Then came in all the king’s wise [men]: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
Even though they “tried to read the burning letters”, Belshazzar got the same answer as his grandfather. “Heavenly wisdom cannot be bought or sold”. Even though it was obvious that the strange manifestation boded ill, “They were no more able to read the mysterious character than had been the wise men of a former generation to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar II” [57]. They could have said “there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Daniel 2:11).
• [57] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 527.
Then came in all the king’s wise [men] – See Daniel 5:7.
But they could not read the writing – The character was an unknown character to them.
They could not read the writing
Characters Change with Time
Constable wittily observes, “Scholars have wearied themselves trying to figure out how Daniel got his interpretation from these 3 apparently Aramaic words. They have been as unsuccessful as Belshazzar’s original wise men were”.
The verse mentions 2 deficiencies of the wise men. They were unable to:
• (1) read the writing;
• (2) make known its interpretation.
Their inability to “read” the writing could mean either the text itself was incomprehensible or it could not be understood.
Various aspects of the message may have served to conceal its meaning:
Language – The language the message was written in. Daniel’s interpretation (Daniel 5:25-28) implies the message was written in Aramaic.
Characters – The form or style of characters (letters) used to write the message. Were the characters of an unfamiliar or specialized form known to Daniel but not the wise men?
Arrangement – The arrangement of the characters forming the message. Were the letters placed in an unusual order such as an anagram?
Encipherment – Were the characters of the message encoded using a cabalistic method such as atbash?
Additional Revelation – Was the message sufficient on its own, once decoded, to be understood? Or was additional information needed to make sense of the fragmentary writing? By this time Daniel had additional revelation from God regarding aspects of Babylon’s fall that may not have been known to the wise men.
When considering these issues, we should avoid the mistake of attributing the inability of the wise men to decode the message solely to natural causes such as aspects of language, character formation, and the arrangement of the text. Whatever role these aspects played in contributing to the puzzlement of the wise men, the single biggest advantage Daniel had in decoding the message’s meaning was divine revelation. Daniel had additional information provided prior to the events of this night and possibly received additional direct revelation at the very moment he was called upon to interpret its meaning.
Daniel’s explanation of the words making up the message indicates the writing was in Aramaic. With the message in Aramaic — and assuming it was rendered using characters familiar to readers of that time — the words on their own proved insufficient to give the interpretation. Special revelation allowed Daniel to go beyond the words themselves and their arrangement to deliver the full meaning of the message. “A small child could read ‘H2O’ with no trouble, but he probably could not understand that it signifies water. So it was with these wise men; they could read what the words said, but they could not explain what they meant”.
Perhaps the wise men were unable to identify the words comprising the message. If this was the case, they could not even attempt an interpretation since there would have been no information for doing so.
Perhaps the message was written in an unfamiliar language or using unfamiliar characters, or as consonants lacking vowel points. Perhaps the words were rendered using an anagram or special encoding.
The failure of the wise men to read — much less interpret — the writing has led to speculation as to why they could not decipher what was written. From Daniel’s interpretation (Daniel 5:25-28), the inscription was in Aramaic, a language with which the wise men would have been familiar.
Nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof
If the wise men were strictly unable to read the message (unable to identify the letters or words), then an interpretation would have been impossible since there would essentially be nothing to interpret: as if the hand hadn’t written anything. This may have been the situation.
Even if the wise men were able to read the individual letters and identify the words, the words themselves convey a fragmentary idea — not the full meaning Daniel is able to attribute to them.
The words of the message appear to use a play on the relative value of coins.
The first 2 words are nouns, MENE, MENE, and they mean the same thing, they refer to a mina, a mina was a coin, a piece of money. And TEKEL refers to the shekel, which was smaller in weight than the MENE, and then the UPHARSIN was even smaller yet, and that was a half a mina. But each of these nouns has a related verb, and so the meaning, the real meaning of the sentence comes from the verb to which it is related. MENE, MENE, that word relates to a verb which means to be numbered. TEKEL which in the noun form means a shekel, and the verb form means to be weighed out. And UPHARSIN, the “U” is the Hebrew Vav, which is the “and”, it’s the Aramaic PHARSIN, which refers to the half mina, and because it was half a mina the verb meant divided. So the significance of the saying was not in its literal meaning, MENE, MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN, Mina, mina, shekel and a half mina, but number, numbered, weighed and divided. And so then Daniel understands that and he is going to apply that to the situation. And the words, though they weren’t difficult to understand because they were written in a noun form instead of the verb confused the wise men and they weren’t able to understand or interpret exactly what it meant.
The connection between the coin values and the message of judgment could be made by Daniel because of his knowledge of the predicted transition from Babylon to Medo-Persia that God had previously revealed.
Or perhaps the eyes of the wise men were judicially blinded by God (Job 12:17-25; Isaiah 19:3, 12-13; 29:10-12; 44:25; Jeremiah 50:35-36; Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 1:20):
Just as God denounced against the Jews a stupor of this kind. We see what he pronounces, by Isaiah (Isaiah 29:11). Whatever God threatened against the Jews we know was fulfilled, and is fulfilled to this day, since a veil is put before their eyes, as Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:14). Hence they were blind in the midst of the brightest light. What wonder then if the same thing happened to the Chaldeans, so stony hardhearted, they could not read the writing? There is no necessity to conjecture any transposition of letters, or any inversion of their order, or any change of one into another.
Whatever the case, the words of Isaiah were fulfilled in the inability of the wise men to provide the answers the king of Babylon sought that night:
Isaiah 47:12 Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. 47:13 Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from [these things] that shall come upon thee.
See Daniel 5:25.
(8-9) The writing appears in the Aramaic language. Therefore it seems that the wise men’s difficulty in understanding it was due to its interpretation and the meaning of the words (cf. Daniel 5:14-16; Daniel 5:25).
5:9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
The obvious confusion and embarrassment of the wise men only added to the king’s perplexity. The murmur of excited voices rippling through the hall did not help matters either.
While the assembled multitude “watched the hand slowly tracing the mysterious characters . . . the deeds of evil lives . . . seemed to be arraigned before the judgment-bar of the eternal God, whose power they had just defied. Where but a few moments before had been hilarity and blasphemous witticism, were pallid faces and cries of fear. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror” [58].
• [58] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 524.
Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled – Not doubting that this was a Divine intimation of some fearful event, and yet he was unable to understand its meaning.
And his countenance was changed in him – Margin, “brightnesses.” See Daniel 5:6.
And his lords were astonied – Amazed. The Chaldee word means to perplex, disturb, trouble. They were doubtless as much perplexed and troubled as the king himself.
(9) Why did Belshazzar became more terrified when the wise men had no interpretation?
• It may have dawned on him that this was a supernatural event.
• Obviously, he expected some kind of disaster.
• Possibly he feared a god that could harm him.
The other dignitaries and guests were also affected.
King Belshazzar
See Daniel 5:1.
Was greatly troubled
Like Nebuchadnezzar II in previous Chapters, Belshazzar knew the writing was in response to his irresponsible actions and suspected its meaning was against him.
See Daniel 5:6.
And his lords were astonied
Astonished is to be bewildered, be baffled, be perplexed . . . there may be an implication of fear.
None retained their places; a general uproar ensued; groups were formed; and the people talked, and ran hither and thither to no purpose.
Normally confident in their own abilities and the resources of their counselors, these gifted and powerful secular men have come to the end of their resources.
5:10 ¶ [Now] the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
The queen – The queen mother-in-law – Oriental custom that none but a ruling monarch’s mother would dare to enter into the king’s presence without being summoned (cf. Esther 4:11, 16 where the wife of a king endangered her life).
In 547 BC? or 544 BC, Nabonidus’ mother, Belshazzar’s grandmother, Adad-guppi, also known as Addagoppe, who was an Assyrian priestess, a devotee of the moon god Sin in the northern Assyrian city of Harran, had died. An extensive official court mourning had occurred – together with the respectful tone of king’s letters to their mothers, such action shows the exalted position of a queen mother.
The queen. From the time of Josephus (Antiquities x. 11. 2) commentators have usually taken this “queen” to be the king’s mother or grandmother (see PK 527). According to Oriental custom none but a ruling monarch’s mother would dare to enter the presence of the king without being summoned. Even the wife of a king endangered her life by so doing (see Esther 4:11, 16). Babylonian cuneiform letters written by kings to their mothers show a remarkably respectful tone and clearly reveal the exalted position in which royal mothers were held by their sons. This high position of a queen mother can also be deduced from the fact that when, in 547 BC? or 544 BC, Adad-guppi, also known as Addagoppe, Nabonidus’ mother, Belshazzar’s grandmother, died on the Euphrates above Sippar, there was an extensive official court mourning. The fact of her death prior to the events of this Chapter was unknown to commentators who identified the “queen” as Belshazzar’s grandmother.
O king, live for ever. For this common salutation see Chronicles 2:4.
(10) Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
The “queen” was not Belshazzar’s wife, she was his mother-in-law [59]. In the next verse she vividly recalls Daniel who was made “master of the magicians” 44 or 43 years before (see Daniel 4:9), a promotion that took place long before Belshazzar was even born. She also recalled that Daniel “had made known to King Nebuchadnezzar II the dream of the great image and its interpretation” [60] 66 years before.
• [59] Historians say her name was Nitocris . . . the wife of Nabonidus . . . and a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II by his Egyptian consort. She is also identified as the queen of Daniel 5 in Handel’s oratorio Belshazzar.
• [60] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 527, 528.
Note also that she came into the banquet hall uninvited. She entered because she heard “His wild cry [that] rang out in the assembly, calling upon the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers to read the writing” [61]. Nobody but his mother-in-law would dare do that.
• [61] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 527.
Now, in effect, she tells her son-in-law: “come on now, pull yourself together. I want to remind you of something you should have remembered”.
[Now] the queen – The queen-mother, the Nitocris of Babylon, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II. The king’s wives were at the entertainment. Compare Daniel 5:2-3.
By reason of the words of the king and his lords – Their words of amazement and astonishment. These would doubtless be conveyed to her, as there was so much alarm in the palace, and as there was a summons to bring in the wise men of Babylon. If her residence was in some part of the palace itself, nothing would be more natural than that she should be made acquainted with the unusual occurrence.
[and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever – A common salutation in addressing a king, expressive of a desire of his happiness and prosperity.
Let not thy thoughts trouble thee … – That is, there is a way by which the mystery may be solved, and you need not, therefore, be alarmed.
(10) 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-in-law.” She could not have been the wife of Nebuchadnezzar II as Amytis of Babylon died c. 565 BC. She could not have been the mother of Nabonidus as in 547 BC? or 544 BC, Nabonidus’ mother, Belshazzar’s grandmother, Adad-guppi, also known as Addagoppe, had died. Belshazzar’s wives had been participating in this banquet (Daniel 5:2), but this authoritative woman now entered unannounced apparently for the first time. She also spoke to the king more as a mother-in-law than as a wife. Moreover, she spoke as one who had personal acquaintance with Daniel’s earlier interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar II’s second dream (cf. Daniel 4:8-9; Daniel 4:18). Therefore, this woman had to be Belshazzar’s mother-in-law who was Nitocris of Babylon, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II. The queen mother was often a significant figure who exerted considerable influence in ancient courts (cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 11:1-3; 2 Kings 24:12; Jeremiah 13:18). This woman proceeded to do for Belshazzar what Arioch had done for Nebuchadnezzar II, namely, to bring Daniel to the king’s attention (cf. Daniel 2:25).
The Recommendation of Daniel
Daniel 5:10 ¶ [Now] the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: 5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers; 5:12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
The queen mother-in-law did not attend the banquet, but eventually the cries of those in the banquet hall reach her ears, and she arrived on the scene. Taking note of Belshazzar’s appearance and demeanor, she tries to calm him. She informs the king that in the past a man named Daniel had successfully dealt for many years with such difficult matters. Daniel could decipher the words and their meaning.
The queen has great confidence in Daniel’s ability based upon his track record in the history of Babylonian affairs. Her summary of Daniel’s accomplishments in verse 12 suggests that Daniel performed other amazing tasks throughout the lifetime of king Nebuchadnezzar II. Those recorded in the Book of Daniel are but a sampling of Daniel’s ministry to the king.
Sadly, we must observe that the queen mother-in-law’s confidence in Daniel does not seem to have been related to any personal faith in his God. She refers to Daniel and his great wisdom in pagan terms and makes no reference to Daniel’s God as the God of the Jews. She simply refers to his wisdom as having its source in “the gods”. His wisdom was extraordinary, but not the wisdom of a sovereign God. Her knowledge of Daniel and his God is superior to that of Belshazzar, but inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar II’s final assessment (see Daniel 4:2-3, 34-37). Her confidence does seem to produce a calming effect on the king and his guests. The king summons Daniel to appear before the king and his guests that very night.
The queen
Queen – Unlike our English term, the Aramaic (and Hebrew term) for “queen” is not restricted to the wife of the king. It may also denote the chief woman among the royal harem or the mother of the king: the “queen mother”.
As mother-in-law of the king, she could enter the royal banquet uninvited without fear of reprisal for violating protocol:
Presumably the queen mother, often a significant political figure in an ancient court. In the OT, cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 11:1-3; 24:12; Jeremiah 13:18; as “senior counsellor to king and people”, she could “provide a stabilizing, moderating influence in the political system” and “could circumscribe royal power to some extent and could represent the interests of people or court before the king”. The queen mother could take the initiative in coming into the king’s presence, unlike his consort (Esther 4:11).
By reason of the words of the king and his lords
Perhaps her residence was near the banquet hall and she heard the commotion due to the handwriting on the wall, or a servant or noble in attendance at the banquet rushed to inform her of the situation and resulting consternation of the king.
Came into the banquet house
The queen had not been present at the beginning of the festivities. Nor was she among the king’s wives or concubines when they arrived (Daniel 5:3). This suggests she was not the king’s consort, but more than likely his mother-in-law.
She had not attended the banquet. This would be understandable if she was elderly and a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II.
The queen’s authority in the situation is notable. She appears to have entered the banquet uninvited and proceeded to address the king inferring she possessed an elevated level of authority and respect (cf. Esther 4:11). This was likely due to being the queen mother-in-law.
She must have been a highly prestigious individual to enter the banquet hall uninvited, and when she arrived, she seemed to take charge. Since the time of Josephus (first century AD) have identified her as the queen-mother, the wife of Nabonidus.
Such queen mothers enjoyed rare authority which exceeded even that of the chief wife or queen of the reigning monarch.
O king, live for ever
This was a standard means of addressing royalty (Nehemiah 2:3; Daniel 2:4; 3:9; 6:6, 21). Although royalty herself, the queen was still subject to the king’s approval. Such was the case with Bathsheba before David (1 Kings 1:31). See Daniel 2:4.
Let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed
Here we see a frequent theme in Scripture: when leading men are out-of-step with God resulting in troublesome circumstances, a woman brings a stabilizing perspective.
Several times in Scripture we can think of women, such as Deborah in the Book of Judges, women in the Scripture who focus on doctrine when the men around them are falling apart and so she is a model of what all the great women in the Bible are pictured to be. She is stable and she brings to the table something that causes the men to focus on something that goes beyond the situation and beyond the problem at hand.
(10-12) Daniel is recommended as an interpreter of the message.
Daniel 5:10 ¶ [Now] the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: 5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers; 5:12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
The queen… came into the banquet house: This queen (queen mother) is Belshazzar’s mother-in-law, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II.
There is a man in thy kingdom: When the wise men were called to explain the writing on the wall to Belshazzar, Daniel apparently was not called. It seems that Daniel was semi-retired, still holding a government office yet not a main figure in the administration.
The same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: The queen referred to Daniel by his Jewish name, thus showing respect for his faith and background.
Daniel is Introduced
(10–12) The queen mother-in-law encouraged Belshazzar and pointed him to Daniel. Why was Daniel not one of the wise men brought to the king earlier? According to Daniel 2:48 he was their chief administrator.
• It is almost certain that he no longer held that position. Daniel was now 84 years old, therefore
• He probably no longer served at the royal court.
• Nebuchadnezzar II‘s successors pursued different political goals. They may have known about how God revealed Himself to Nebuchadnezzar II but rejected God. So they most likely also rejected Daniel. This may have been a reason why under the Medes and Persians Daniel quickly re-acquired a high position.
(10-12) The Queen’s Counsel.
The confusion of Belshazzar and his nobles must have lasted for some time. The news of what had happened was carried throughout the palace and reached the ears of the “queen’ who had not been present in the banquet hall.
The importance of queen mothers is widely attested to in ancient Near Eastern sources. Often the mother of the reigning king held a more important position at the court of her son than his own wife. An inscription from Haran speaks of the influence Belshazzar’s mother had on the career of her son, and the Greek historian Herodotus reports that Nebuchadnezzar II’s wife was renowned for her wisdom. He credits her with the development of the defenses of Babylon.
When the queen mother entered the banquet hall, she was able to calm the frazzled king. She remembered that on at least two prior occasions Daniel had been able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar II’s dreams, and she must have concluded that if anyone could solve this riddle, it would be Daniel. He evidently was in retirement at that time, though he still lived in Babylon. At the right time, God had the right man ready.
Before urging her son to call Daniel, the queen mother sang the praises of the aged prophet. Her words remind us of Nebuchadnezzar II’s confession in Daniel Chapter 4. The fact that she mentions the name of Daniel twice indicates that she was well acquainted with him.
The response 
Daniel 5:10 ¶ [Now] the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: [and] the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: 5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers; 5:12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation. 5:13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? 5:14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods [is] in thee, and [that] light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. 5:15 And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing: 5:16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
The king could see that the writing on the wall and that it made them all fearful. But the people didn’t know what it all meant nor what to do about it. It seems that we are in that position. There is fear and anxiety over the financial markets and job security. There is fear over Covid, the so-called vacines, the rise of Islam and immigration. Many in the world fear over global warming, CO2 emissions and warfare. But most do not know what to do. God is allowing unsolvable problems to be heaped up one upon another. What is needed is a ‘Daniel’ who can not only see the writing on the wall, but can also interpret the signs for the people. Bible believing Christians should be those people.
Now the king may have been a dead loss but at least the queen mother-in-law had some wisdom as in the moment of crisis she remembered that ‘there is a man’ who could help [8]. It is interesting that in the time of a crisis people start looking for answers. From the above passage it seems that Daniel hadn’t been consulted for some time. Not in the reign of this king at least. And yet, when real trouble comes into town, he is sought for again. It seems in the west at least that we have hit that part of the cycle where our abundance has lead to selfishness, and selfishness has lead to apathy towards spiritual matters. Is God now shaking things up? Each new day seems to bring forth more world crises. Is He allowing this to shake people out of their complacency? In Daniel Chapter 6 we see what became of Babylon, but for now consider those around you who do not know the Lord. Consider your own relationship with the Lord. Have you been sucked in by the Babylonian spirit that pervades the Western world? And consider Daniel… a man set apart who could speak into the situation.
May we too be like Daniel as we see and interpret the writing that is appearing on the wall. 
(10-17) Daniel was forgotten at court; he lived privately, and was then 84 years of age. Many consult servants of God on curious questions, or to explain difficult subjects, but without asking the way of salvation, or the path of duty. Daniel slighted the offer of reward. He spoke to Belshazzar as to a condemned criminal. We should despise all the gifts and rewards this world can give. Did we see, as we may by faith, its end hastening on; ut let us do our duty in the world in the best way that we can.
5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers;
There is a man – The queen mother-in-law, a representative of the earlier generation, remembered the events of 43 or 44 and 66 years earlier with Nebuchadnezzar II. Under different and God-rejecting policies, Daniel would have been retired from public Babylonial service.
Spirit of the holy gods – cf. Daniel 4:8, 9 – similar wording suggests that the queen mother-in-law was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II.
There is a man. It need not be thought strange that Daniel was not among the group of wise men summoned by the king. His term of public service had closed some time before, perhaps with Nebuchadnezzar II’s death or earlier. Yet he would be known to a representative of the earlier generation, to which the king’s mother-in-law belonged.
Spirit of the holy gods. Compare Nebuchadnezzar II’s statement (Daniel 4:8, 9). The similarity supports the probability, suggested also by other evidence, that the queen mother-in-law was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II. The information she imparts concerning Daniel’s distinguished service in the past and concerning the prophet’s elevated position under Nebuchadnezzar II is apparently new to Belshazzar. This suggests that Daniel had not held office for some time prior to the event narrated here. Hence probably few men, if any, in the king’s entourage, who had grown up with him, were well acquainted with Daniel.
Nebuchadnezzar thy father. See verse 2.
Magicians. See Chronicles 1:20; cf. Chronicles 2:2, 27.
5:11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers;
This verse and the next were spoken by Belshazzar’s mother-in-law. Keep in mind Belshazzar was only 29 years old. A young wife could not know the things mentioned in these verses unless she got them second hand. But, the phraseology indicates she got them first hand. Note the last phrase in the next verse saying: “he [Daniel] will shew the interpretation” indicating absolute faith in Daniel’s ability.  That “faith” was not second hand!
Note her emphasis on Belshazzar’s relationship to Nebuchadnezzar II saying: “king Nebuchadnezzar II thy father . . . I say, thy father” (his grandfather) suggesting she had tried to tell him these things before. Bear in mind that she was also Nabonidus’ wife, although it is very unlikely he shared her faith in Daniel [62]. Therefore, Belshazzar was torn between the faith of his grandfather and that of his mother-in-law who not only adopted faith in Daniel, but may have adopted faith in Daniel’s God.
• [62] Nabonidus’ background is not clear. In most ancient accounts, Nabonidus is being depicted as a royal anomaly. He is supposed to have worshipped the moon-god Sin beyond all the other gods, to have paid special devotion to Sin’s temple in Harran. His deceased mother had been a priestess; both having neglected the Babylonian main god, Marduk. There is no record of what Nabonidus thought about Daniel or even Nebuchadnezzar II, whose experiences are recorded only in the Bible.
As we learnt in Chapter 2, the noun “soothsayers” is from gazerin [63], from a root meaning ‘to cut,’ ‘to determine.’ Hence the generally accepted meaning is ‘the deciders,’ or ‘the determiners [of destiny] [64]. Also recall it is translated “cut out” in Daniel 2:34, 45, depicting the action that selects, “without hands” [65], a “stone” from a “mountain”. The “stone” was then used by God to “brake in pieces” the elements of the great image Nebuchadnezzar II saw in his dream. It then became a “great mountain” that “filled the whole earth”.
• [63] See also Strong’s Concordance where the Aramaic word for “soothsayers” is spelled “ghezar’” meaning “to quarry; determine:–cut out”. Although the spelling is a little different than the Commentaries, it is still the same word.
• [64] See SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4 page 770 (right column under “Soothsayers”.) Although that comment relates to Daniel 2:27, the same translation applies here as well as to “cut out” in Daniel 2:34, 45.
• [65] “without hands” or “unaided by human agencies”. (SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4, page 771)
Here the false “soothsayers” were frustrated again and compelled to take a back seat to the true heavenly “soothsayer” who really could “decide” and “determine” destiny, a fact vividly demonstrated in this message where God decidedly rejects the likes of people like Belshazzar whose character and behavior disqualifies them from being selected for God’s kingdom.
There is a man in thy kingdom – To wit, Daniel. As the queen mother-in-law had lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar II as a daughter, she recollected the important service which he had rendered in interpreting the dream of the king, it was natural that her mind should at once recur to him. It would seem, also, that though Daniel was no longer employed at court, yet that she still had an acquaintance with him, so far at least as to know that he was accessible, and might be called upon for this occasion. How was it that Belshazzar was so ignorant of all this as to need this information? For it is clear from the question which the king asks in Daniel 5:13, “Art thou that Daniel?” that he was ignorant of him personally, and probably even of his services as an officer in the court of Nebuchadnezzar II.
In whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods – This is language such as a pagan would be likely to use when speaking of one who had showed extraordinary knowledge of Divine things. See Daniel 4:9.
And, in the days of thy father – Margin, “grandfather.” See Daniel 5:1-2.
Light, and understanding, and wisdom – Light is the emblem of knowledge, as it makes all things clear. The meaning here is, that he had showed extraordinary wisdom in interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar II.
Like the wisdom of the gods – Such as the gods only could possess.
Whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, [I say], thy father, made master of the magicians – See Daniel 2:48. This is repeated here, and dwelt on, in order to call the attention of the king to the fact that Daniel was worthy to be consulted. Though now living in obscurity, there was a propriety that one who had been placed at the very head of the wise men of Babylon by a prince so distinguished as Nebuchadnezzar II, should be consulted on the present occasion.
There is a man in thy kingdom
In the midst of the circumstances, Belshazzar had forgotten about Daniel.
Scripture has Daniel serving in the administration in the third year of King Belshazzar (Daniel 8:1, 27), in 551 BC. Since the events of this Chapter occur in 539 BC (the night Babylon falls to Medo-Persia), Daniel had been in the king’s service 12 years earlier [66] [67]. On the accession of Belshazzar, Daniel was probably formally deprived of his office as the chief Magian.
• [66] Perhaps he had retired soon after 551 BC due to poor health or advancing age.
• [67] At 84 years of age, Daniel was in retirement; Daniel 8:27 implies that he had been in government service as recently as the third year of Belshazzar (cf. Daniel 8:1) but had not been enjoying good health.
Daniel was now in retirement [68]. Belshazzar would have known of him: not only from his previous service to the king, but also from the role Daniel played in the events befalling Nebuchadnezzar II — events familiar to Belshazzar (Daniel 5:22) [69]. The king was undoubtedly acquainted with Daniel, but he may not have fully appreciated Daniel’s capabilities and skills [70]. Judging from the king’s character, he may not have been well-acquainted with those serving under him—leaving them to manage the essential affairs of state while he ruled as a fool. Or perhaps the king’s memory was hindered this night by wine. Whatever the reason, Daniel did not immediately come to mind as a possible resource to interpret the mysterious writing.
• [68] The scene on the fatal night of Belshazzar’s feast suggests that he had been then so long in retirement, that the young king-regent could remember nothing of his fame.
• [69] Belshazzar mentions Daniel’s ethnicity. Because the queen mother-in-law does not mention this, this may provide evidence that Belshazzar knew of Daniel independently of the queen mother-in-law. When Daniel is brought before the king, it is apparent from Belshazzar’s words that he is already acquainted with Daniel. The queen mother-in-law did not tell him about Daniel’s ethnic background, but Belshazzar already knows about it. Or, it may be that the words attributed to the queen mother-in-law in Daniel 5 are only a subset of everything she said on that occasion.
• [70] The words of the queen mother-in-law in Daniel 5:11 and what follows, by no means indicate that the king was wholly unacquainted with Daniel, but merely that up to that time no personal or official intercourse had taken place between them.
Spirit of the holy gods
Gods – Translators differ on whether this phrase should be understood as referring to the One True God (singular) or pagan deities (plural). See Daniel 4:8.
Thy father
See Daniel 5:2.
Light and understanding and wisdom
See Daniel 5:14.
Like the wisdom of the gods
The words of the queen mother-in-law fall short of acknowledging the God of Israel praised by Nebuchadnezzar II (Daniel 4:37) [71]. After witnessing the results of divine intervention, unbelievers generally interpret the hand of God within the confines of their pagan world view.
• [71] As to whether the queen mother-in-law was a believer, sadly, we must observe that the queen mother-in-law’s confidence in Daniel does not seem to have been related to any personal faith in his God. She refers to Daniel and his great wisdom in pagan terms and makes no reference to Daniel’s God as the God of the Jews.
It is not surprising that the profane use this language, since they cannot discern between the one God and angels. Hence they promiscuously call anything divine and celestial, a god. Thus the queen mother-in-law calls angels, holy gods, and places the true God among them.
Such was the experience of Paul and Barnabas upon healing a lame man in Lystra.
Acts 14:11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.
Master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, [and] soothsayers
For the identity of the magicians see (Daniel 1:20), astrologers (Daniel 1:20, Daniel 2:2), Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4, Daniel 2:2), and soothsayers (Daniel 2:27).
(11-12) As before, Daniel had not accompanied the other wise men whom the king had summoned (cf. Daniel 4:6-8). The effect of the event and in the narrative is that it sets Daniel off as unique. Clearly Belshazzar did not know Daniel personally. Daniel had left public service by this time.
When severe crises arise, it is often the man or woman of God that others turn to for answers.
5:12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.
Doubts – knots – difficult tasks or problems.
Doubts. Aramaic qi?rin, literally, “knots”. The word was later used as a magical term in Syria and Arabia. Here the meaning seems to be “difficult tasks”, or “problems” (RSV).
Belshazzar’s mother-in-law is still speaking here. Since she was Nebuchadnezzar II’s daughter, she would have heard her father mention “Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar”, who interpreted his dream about the great “tree” that would be hewed down if he did not mend his ways. She would have also recalled how her father, although greatly impressed by Daniel’s wisdom, pass it off as absurd although not expressing his sentiments to Daniel. Then, how could she forget seeing her proud father eating grass as oxen for seven long years and feeling a sense of the burning humiliation that he endured.
So, how could she forget? It is probable that she had recounted the hard experience of her father to her son Belshazzar. Unfortunately, like so many youths who thought such things could never happen to them, it went in one ear and out the other. Occupied with the many attractions of court life, he quickly forgot the whole thing and conducted his life as if grandfather’s repeated warning that “those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37), he probably regarded as a sign of senility.
Forasmuch as an excellent spirit – Not an excellent spirit in the sense in which that phrase is sometimes used now, as denoting a good and pious spirit, but a spirit or mind that excels; that is, that is “distinguished” for wisdom and knowledge.
Interpreting of dreams – Margin, “or, of an interpreter.” This was regarded as a great attainment, and was supposed to prove that one who could do it was inspired by the gods.
And showing of hard sentences – The meaning of enigmatical or obscure sentences. To be able to do this was supposed to indicate great attainments, and was a knowledge that was much coveted. Compare Proverbs 1:6 “To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings”.
And dissolving of doubts – Margin, “or, a dissolver of knots.” This Chaldean language is still common in the East, to denote one who has skill in explaining difficult subjects. The language used here would be applicable to the explanation of any difficult and perplexing subject.
Whom the king named Belteshazzar – That is, the name was given to him by his authority (see John 1:7), and it was by this name that he called him when he addressed him, Daniel 4:9.
An excellent spirit
Daniel’s abilities, gifts, and character made him stand out from among the other wise men and counsellors. Following the events of this night, his character and gifting would be recognized in service to the Medo-Persian administration.
Daniel 6:3 Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit [was] in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
Knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts were found in this Daniel
Daniel’s abilities are similar to that of the Antichrist, although derived from a different spiritual source.
In this passage [Daniel 8:23-25] it is emphasized that the king of fierce countenance, or the Antichrist, will have the understanding of hard sentences. This means that he will have the same supernatural abilities to solve riddles that Daniel had in Daniel 5:12. Daniel’s source was God, but the source for the Antichrist will be Satan. The Antichrist will have the power of the occult behind him.
See Daniel 5:14.
He will show the interpretation
The queen mother-in-law’s freedom to give advice to the king implies she was his mother rather than his wife.
The tone in which this last clause is spoken confirms one of an elevated rank and of authority and a right to give advice. A mother could only assume this in the East before a king.
See Daniel 5:10.
Daniel’s wisdom and ability to answer difficult questions was similar to that of Solomon.
1 Kings 10:1 ¶ And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions. 10:2 And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. 10:3 And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not [any] thing hid from the king, which he told her not.
See Daniel 1:17.
As Daniel confronts king Belshazzar he begins with a history lesson. Why you ask? Well, this king should have learned! This king should have seen what happened to his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar II and humbled himself before God. Belshazzar had been given great light. He had been given tremendous grace. He should have learned. He should have known better than to mock the God of Israel while praising the so called gods of silver and gold. So Daniel, like a wise court prosecutor, starts with the facts of history. He is building his case and laying a foundation for the judgement and conclusion to come. And once he has finished laying out the facts, all will know why the writing has now appeared.
5:13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
[Art] thou that Daniel? – Daniel was no longer the president of the magicians at the king’s court (Daniel 2:48, 49). Since Nebuchadnezzar II’s days, Babylon had rejected God’s will (Daniel 4:28-37; 5:23) and Belshazzar had been hostile towards the principles and the state policy that Daniel represented. Soon (Daniel 6:1-3), Daniel would enter the service of Persia whose rulers also disapproved of the official Babylonian policy.
[Art] thou that Daniel? This clause may also be translated, “You are that Daniel” (RSV). If this is the correct rendering, the salutation suggests that Belshazzar was acquainted with Daniel’s origin, but that he had had no official intercourse with him. This much seems clear, Daniel was no longer the president of the magicians at the king’s court (Chronicles 2:48, 49).
With the passing of Nebuchadnezzar II, the policy for which Daniel had stood had come into disfavor at the court of Babylon, and that he was retired from public service. Belshazzar and his predecessors evidently knew all about God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar II (Chronicles 5:22), but had deliberately rejected the latter’s policy of acknowledging the true God and cooperating with His will (Daniel 4:28–37; 5:23). The fact that Daniel later entered the service of Persia (Chronicles 6:1–3) implies that his retirement during the closing years of the Babylonian Empire was not due to ill-health or old age. His bitter censure of Belshazzar (Chronicles 5:22, 23) is evidence of the king’s hostility toward the principles and state policy that Daniel represented. Daniel’s disapproval of official Babylonian policy may have been one of the factors that led the first rulers of the Persian Empire to favor him.
5:13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
History often repeats itself. 44 or 43 years before, even though Daniel was “master of the magicians” he did not come in before king Nebuchadnezzar II when “the magicians, that astrologers, and the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers” were brought in, but “came in” sometime afterwards (Daniel 4:7-9). Here we see the same sequence even though it seems clear he was not now “master of the magicians”. Belshazzar, Nabonidus, or even Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar) may have, long before, exiled him to a remote post in the kingdom because of his faith in God. It seems possible that even Amel-Marduk (called Evil-Merodach in 2 Kings 25:27) may have been responsible because it is alleged he tried to modify his father’s (Nebuchadnezzar II’s) policies. Among one of those changes could have been Daniel’s removal from his post as “master of the magicians” [72].
• [72] This is speculation. It seems certain that Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar) did not murder Amel because he was attempting to institute worship of Daniel’s God, but for some other reason either political or religious.
By this time, Daniel was (approximately) 84 years old [73]. Since Belshazzar’s first year, and possibly during the intervening time between Nebuchadnezzar II’s death and Belshazzar’s reign, the demand on Daniel’s time had dwindled leaving him more hours to spend as he wished.  Daniel’s presence at “Shushan” during Belshazzar’s “third year” (Daniel 8:1) which was many miles east of Babylon suggests that the new officials wanted nothing to do with him in the capital city. Over time, with the encroachment of the invading Medes and Persians, Daniel and the others of his staff, were probably forced back into the city of Babylon sometime prior to this final episode of Belshazzar’s rule.
• [73] 605 BC – 539 BC = 66 + 18 = 84.
It does not appear Belshazzar issued the order to have Daniel brought in. Rather, it was his mother-in-law that commanded: “now let Daniel be called . . ”. Belshazzar, who was at his wits end, silently acquiesced. After that “the king [finally] spake” asking Daniel who he was. That reveals Belshazzar had no personal acquaintance with Daniel suggesting also one of his predecessors, including Nabonidus, had long before ostracized Daniel from the court.
Then was Daniel brought in before the king – From this it is clear that he lived in Babylon, though in comparative obscurity. It would seem to be not improbable that he was still known to the queen mother-in-law, who, perhaps, kept up an acquaintance with him on account of his former services.
[Art] thou that Daniel – This is a clear proof that Belshazzar was not acquainted personally with him. See Daniel 5:11.
Which art of the children of the captivity of Judah – Belonging to those of Judah, or those Jews who were made captives, and who reside in Babylon. See Daniel 1:3. He could not be ignorant that there were Jews in his kingdom, though he was not personally acquainted with Daniel.
Whom the king my father – Margin, as in Daniel 5:2, Daniel 5:1, “grandfather.”
Brought out of Jewry? – Out of Judea. See Daniel 1:1-3.
Daniel and Belshazzar
(13) Again Daniel was being discriminated against. In spite of the high position under his grandfather, Belshazzar addressed him as a prisoner.
Daniel is Summoned
Daniel 5:13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? 5:14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods [is] in thee, and [that] light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. 5:15 And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing: 5:16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
When Daniel arrived, the king was eager to assure himself that this was the man the queen mother-in-law had recommended with the credentials to perform the task at hand. His questions all pertain to Daniel’s ministry during the reign of his “father” Nebuchadnezzar II. They will, to some degree, become the basis for Daniel’s indictment of the king’s sin in the verses which follow. The question then will not be whether Daniel demonstrated divine wisdom, but what this king did with the knowledge of such wisdom.
The failure of all the other wise men in the kingdom is reported to Daniel in the words of verse 15. Daniel was being asked to do what no other wise man in Babylon could do, all having failed before Daniel was summoned. If Daniel was able to fulfil the king’s request, there would be a reward. The king promised royal clothing, a gold necklace, and a position of power directly under him. Obviously, the king was eager to know what those words on the wall meant.
Then was Daniel brought in before the king
Daniel would have been an octogenarian by this time, and was undoubtedly asleep at this late hour.
He was doubtless aroused from his slumbers, for it was far in the night. This would be no light matter, for he was now an old man. 66 years had passed by since he had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar II’s Dream, and if he was 18 years old when taken to Babylon, he was now 84 years of age.
[Art] thou that Daniel
One would think the king would have some familiarity with Daniel who had served under him just 12 years earlier. But profligate rulers can be woefully out-of-touch with those who run their administration.
Though Daniel was one of the chief ministers of state, who did “the king’s business” in the palace (Daniel 8:27) yet Belshazzar seems to have known nothing of him. This shews that he was a weak and vicious prince, who minded pleasure more than business, according to the character given him by historians. He appears to have left the care of public affairs to his mother, Nitocris, a lady celebrated for her wisdom, who evidently knew Daniel well, and possibly had employed him in the government of the kingdom.
The king may not have used Daniel’s Babylonian name to emphasize his captive status as a Jew or to avoid using a name so similar to his own (Belteshazzar) [74].
• [74] Why did Belshazzar call him ‘Daniel’ instead of ‘Belteshazzar,’ which was his official Babylonian name? The answer could well be that he wanted to emphasize Daniel’s humble Jewish background and thereby excuse his own failure to have honored him previously. Also, he may have sought ‘to avoid the name Belteshazzar which was so similar to his own’.
See Daniel 5:11.
Children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
If the king was asking a question rather than making a statement, then his interest in whether Daniel was a Jew may reflect his concern for having desecrated the temple vessels of the God of the Jews [75].
• [75] Belshazzar took particular pains to find out if he was a Jew (Daniel 5:13), as if his presence had something to do with the King’s desecration of the ‘Sacred Vessels’ of the Temple.
See Daniel 1:3 and Daniel 2:25.
(13-16) Belshazzar asks Daniel to interpret the message.
Daniel 5:13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. [And] the king spake and said unto Daniel, [Art] thou that Daniel, which [art] of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? 5:14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods [is] in thee, and [that] light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. 5:15 And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing: 5:16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Then was Daniel brought in before the king: When everything seems great – when the party is going non-stop – God and His servants are mocked, neglected, and hidden away. But when the hand of heaven wrote a sobering message, panic-stricken worldlings cried out for the one who had the Spirit of God.
I have even heard of thee: Since Belshazzar didn’t think to call for Daniel himself, it seems that his remembrance of Daniel was just now by the queen rather than long ago.
(13-16) The king had heard of Daniel by reputation, even though he had not met him before (Daniel 5:13). He recognized him as a person whose extraordinary ability came from some divine source (cf. Daniel 4:8; Daniel 4:18). Perhaps it was because Daniel was a Jew that Belshazzar did not know him. 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 worshipper of the God – that Belshazzar had been dishonoring in his banquet but who, ironically on this night of all nights, might 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.
Like Daniel Chapters 2 and 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.
(13-24) Without Excuse.
From the way Belshazzar greeted Daniel, we may conclude that Belshazzar was not personally acquainted with Daniel, or he had not seen him for many years. Probably sometime after 551 BC when Belshazzar was co-regent with Nabonidus, Daniel was retired from public service. However, the fact that Daniel, in his old age, entered the services of the Persian kings (Daniel 6:1-3) in 539 BC indicates that his retirement from Babylonian politics was not a result of ill health or old age. His public censure of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:22, 23) may have been one of the factors that led Darius to hire the services of Daniel.
Why could Belshazzar offer Daniel only the third place in the kingdom (Daniel 5:16)?
Officially, Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus, was still the king of Babylon. Belshazzar, as co-regent, was second in command; therefore, he could offer only the third place to the person who could interpret the writing on the wall.
Daniel had no difficulty interpreting the words; but before he did so, he wanted the king to know the reason for the impending tragedy. By recounting the history of Nebuchadnezzar II, Daniel reminded King Belshazzar that it was the Most High God who had granted Nebuchadnezzar II, and by implication also Belshazzar, the authority to rule Babylon (Daniel 5:18, 23). He pointed out that at the end of Nebuchadnezzar II’s insanity, the king acknowledged that “the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will” (Daniel 5:21).
Although Belshazzar knew first-hand what had happened to his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar II, he failed to learn from Nebuchadnezzar II’s experience. His grandfather had been proud, but he had repented and had become a child of God. Belshazzar, on the other hand, chose to defy God’s Law and authority and refused to humble himself. His sin, therefore, was great and the judgment speedy.
In a sense, Daniel was telling the king that he was “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Why, in the end, are we all “without excuse”? Even more important, why does the fact we are “without excuse” make the Cross even more crucial to us?
5:14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
Spirit of the gods – Belshazzar omits the adjective ‘holy’ when repeating the queen mother-in-law’s words (Daniel 5:11) and those earlier of Nebuchadnezzar II (Daniel 4:8).
Spirit of the gods. In contrast with the words of the queen mother-in-law (verse 11) and of Nebuchadnezzar II (Chronicles 4:8), Belshazzar omits the adjective “holy” in connection with “gods”.
5:14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
Note, in verses 11 and 12 his mother had just said: “there is a man . . . in whom is the spirit of the holy gods . . . an excellent spirit, and knowledge and understanding”. Was Belshazzar just repeating his mother’s words, or had she spoken them to him many times before he became king? Perhaps he was just pretending ignorance!
I have even heard of thee … – See Daniel 5:11.
Spirit of the gods
See Daniel 4:8.
Light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
True wisdom, insight, and revelation find their source in God [76]. The secular world believes deep wisdom and insight can be attained independently of God. Though academic attainments and understanding can be pursued apart from acknowledging God, it is God’s purpose to conceal certain things from those who reject Him while revealing them to those who appear to be more simplistic, but acknowledge Him (Matthew 11:25; 16:17). Those who reject God have no means of understanding spiritual things because they remain disconnected from God’s Spirit (John 3:12; Ephesians 2:1; 5:14; Colossians 2:13). It is God’s Spirit that reveals deep spiritual matters (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13).
• [76] God is the source of true wisdom: Genesis 40:8; 41:38; 1 Kings 3:28; 10:24; 2 Chronicles 9:23; Daniel 1:17; 2:11, 22; Matthew 11:25; 16:17; John 14:26; 16:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Ephesians 1:17; 3:3-5; 1 John 2:27.
Some truths of God are “mysteries” — unknowable apart from God’s special revelation (via the Bible and by God’s Holy Spirit) [77]. Unless God reveals these mysteries, they remain completely and permanently beyond the reach of man [78]. Those who don’t know God cannot benefit from His special revelation. Even worse, sometimes God actively frustrates those who attempt to attain wisdom apart from Him (Job 12:17-25; Isaiah 19:12-13; 44:25; Romans 1:21-22, 28; 1 Corinthians 1:20).
• [77] The New Testament word for “Mystery” does not mean “mysterious”, as in complex or difficult to understand. It refers to what can be known only through revelation mediated from God what was not known before (Matthew 13.11).
• [78] New Testament mysteries: Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Romans 11:25; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; Ephesians 1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:32; 6:19; Colossians 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:9, 16; Revelation 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7
All the positive aspects of a relationship with God helped Daniel whereas the negative aspects hampered the wise men of Belshazzar’s court. Daniel’s education and wisdom had grown during his schooling in Babylon, but it was his relationship with God that refined and amplified his natural ability and insight. See Daniel 1:17.
(14–16) The king admitted his helplessness and mentioned Daniel’s wisdom. Again he promised a reward.
5:15 And now the wise [men], the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing:
In contrast to his grandfather, who “was angry and very furious” because these men failed to explain his dream, Belshazzar was rattled and terrified of the mysterious specter of the hand and its writings on the wall. Judging by verse 6 where “his knees smote one against another”, his voice must have been quavering in sync with his knees. The inability of the wise men to help him with the difficulty he faced was far from re-assuring.
And now the wise [men] – See Daniel 5:7-8.
The wise [men], the astrologers
See Daniel 5:7.
They could not show the interpretation
See Daniel 5:8.
5:16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and [have] a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
The first phrase “I have heard of thee” suggests he may have been attempting to repress the memories of this man that were now surging back to him like a tsunami of memories that he should never have forgotten.
Belshazzar did the best he knew by offering the same high position his grandfather had given Daniel so many years before, and continued to counsel with him. Such a policy would not only have saved the kingdom, it would quite certainly have saved his life!
The interpretations Daniel made known to both Nebuchadnezzar II [79] and Belshazzar were judgment messages. Both can be seen as punishment for pride and arrogance. But, whereas Nebuchadnezzar II was first given a warning followed by an opportunity to repent after the judgment, no such prospect was to be allowed in Belshazzar’s case.
• [79] See Daniel 4 verses 19-27.
And I have heard of thee – See Daniel 5:11.
Canst make interpretations – Margin, “interpret.” Chaldee, “interpret interpretations.” The meaning is, that he was skilled in interpreting or explaining dreams, omens, etc..
And dissolve doubts – See Daniel 5:12.
Now, if thou canst read the writing … thou shalt be clothed with scarlet … – This was the reward which at the first he had promised to any one that was able to do it, and as all others had failed, he was willing that it should be offered to a Jew.
I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations
Having failed to honor or even remember Daniel, who had previously served in his administration, the impious king now turns to the man of God for answers.
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.
It is a fact that when troubles come upon the wicked they generally betake themselves to those whose warnings and good counsels they have despised. The coarse blasphemer, when taken down in his impieties, is most likely to send for the very minister whom he most hated and cursed before.
Thus did Pharaoh turn to Joseph in similar circumstances (Genesis 41:15).
If thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof
The statement by the king implies an interpretation could not even be attempted since the writing—however enigmatic its words or message might be—could not even be read. First there was a need to read the writing and then, perhaps, it’s meaning could be discerned. See Daniel 5:8.
Chain of gold about thy neck
See Daniel 5:7.
Third ruler in the kingdom
See Daniel 5:7.
Daniel receives this honor, if only for a few hours, in Daniel 5:29.
5:17 ¶ Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
Let thy gifts be to thyself – Daniel showed continual loyalty to God. What advantageous gift would be beneficial from a man who had blasphemed God and was to loose his kingdom later that night (Daniel 5:30)?
To thyself. Some have thought that, as a divinely enlightened seer, Daniel declined the distinction and the place of honor promised the interpreter in order to avoid every appearance of self-interest in the presence of such a king. This may be true. It is also possible that Daniel, knowing that Belshazzar’s reign was about to end, had no interest in receiving any favors from the man who that very night had, by acts and words, blasphemed the God of heaven and earth. That even now. in his old age, Daniel was not in principle opposed to accepting a high government position can be demonstrated from the fact that a short time later he was once more in high office (Chronicles 6:21). The office was doubtless accepted because Daniel felt that he could exercise a wholesome influence upon the king and be an instrument in the hand of God to bring about the release of his people from exile. Perhaps Daniel felt that to accept any honors or dignities from Belshazzar not only was useless but could even be harmful and dangerous.
Nebuchadnezzar II. Before Daniel read and interpreted the writing he reminded the king of what Nebuchadnezzar II had experienced as a result of his refusal to fulfil the divine destiny with regard to himself and his nation. Besides, Nebuchadnezzar II had been mightier and more prudent than the wretched Belshazzar. The prophet showed Belshazzar how he, the (grand)son, had acted wickedly toward God, the Lord of his life, and had learned nothing from the experience of Nebuchadnezzar II.
5:17 ¶ Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
“Daniel, unmoved by the promises of the king, stood in the quite dignity of a servant of the Most High, not to speak words of flattery, but to interpret a message of doom” [80]. It would seem, therefore, that Belshazzar had committed the unpardonable sin. For him, probation was closed.
• [80] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 529.
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself – That is, “I do not desire them; I do not act from a hope of reward.”
And give thy rewards to another – Margin, “or fee, as in Daniel 2:6”.
Yet I will read the writing – Expressing no doubt that he could do it without difficulty. Probably the language of the writing was familiar to him, and he at once saw that there was no difficulty, in the circumstances, in determining its meaning.
(17) Daniel’s reply to the king was in every sense a powerful sermon. The prophet began by declining the offered gifts. This had the effect, whatever Daniel’s reason for doing so may have been, of helping Belshazzar realize that these gifts did not influence his interpretation of the writing.
(17) Why did Daniel reject the reward?
• As a prophet of God he did not work for pay (cf. Micah 3:11–12).
• Belshazzar had blasphemed God.
• Daniel knew about the fall of Babylon. A high office in the Babylonian kingdom could have been dangerous.
• He did not want to become selfish.
Daniel’s Indictment
Daniel 5:17 ¶ Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 5:18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 5:19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. 5:20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: 5:21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling [was] with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. 5:22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 5:23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: 5:24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
Daniel begins by turning down Belshazzar’s reward. Let the king keep his gifts or give them to someone else. Why would he decline Belshazzar’s offer? Daniel knows that the king’s gifts are virtually useless. What good would it do Daniel to be given the third highest office in the administration of Belshazzar when his reign would end that very night? Daniel was God’s servant, divinely gifted to interpret dreams. He would not prostitute his gift by using it for his own gain. His was a gift of grace, and he would use it that way. Finally, Daniel was not “for hire”. As God’s prophet, Daniel spoke to men for God. He was not like Balaam, whose ministry could be bought. When the king pressed Daniel to take the gifts, Daniel did so, knowing he had faithfully carried out his task as God’s servant.
Verses 18-24 are fascinating. In these verses Daniel explains the guilt of king Belshazzar. The writing on the wall, explained in verses 25-28, speak of the imminent judgment of God which will fall upon Belshazzar and his kingdom, due to sin. Daniel spends more time on the king’s guilt than on his punishment, as he devotes more time to explaining the reason for the writing than the meaning of the writing.
Verses 18-24 are intriguing also because they focus on Belshazzar’s father, Nebuchadnezzar II. Belshazzar’s sin is attributed to his failure to learn from history. The great head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar II, the one into whose hand God gave king Jehoiakim, the king of Judah. He was the one who had brought the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem to Babylon (1:1-2; 5:2). Under his reign, Daniel’s divinely bestowed wisdom became evident and was displayed on various occasions. The queen mother-in-law’s words in 5:10-12 focus on Daniel’s wisdom during the days of Nebuchadnezzar II. Now, when Daniel rebukes this king, he does so because he ignored the lessons he should have learned from the past, through his father’s experiences with Daniel and his God.
The events of Daniel 4 are now repeated, as a lesson which not only Nebuchadnezzar II learned but which Belshazzar his son should have learned as well. God sovereignly granted Nebuchadnezzar II power, glory, and majesty, and he exercised that power and authority over mankind. But his heart became proud, and he acted arrogantly. God temporarily took away his power and his kingdom, and he became like the beasts of the field, eating grass and living in the elements without shelter. All this happened so that he might recognize God as the ruler over mankind and recognize that all human authority is delegated to men by God, from whom all authority is derived.
Belshazzar knew these things, and yet he had not learned from them. His heart was now proud and haughty like that of his forefather Nebuchadnezzar II. He exalted himself against the God of heaven, as evidenced in his profaning the holy vessels taken from the temple. His sin was shared by those who ate and drank toasts with him that night. Rather than glorifying the God of heaven, whom he had heard about in relationship to his forefather, Nebuchadnezzar II, Belshazzar blasphemed the name of God by profaning the temple vessels. This was the reason for the writing on the wall. The blasphemous use of the vessels and the writing on the wall were inseparably related. Judgment day had arrived.
Daniel Interprets the Writing on the Wall
Unlike Balaam in the service of Balak (Numbers 22:7), but like Ahijah before the wife of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:6-16) and Peter before Simon (Acts 8:18-20), Daniel’s service could not be purchased.
One measure of a true man or woman of God is whether he or she can be swayed by bribery or reward (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). He was like Abraham who told the king of Sodom that he wouldn’t even take a shoelace from him (Genesis 14:22-23). The apostle Paul said, ‘I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel’ (Acts 20:33). This was the stance of Elisha before Namaan, the king of Syria—after his leprosy had been healed by God (2 Kings 5:15-16). Unfortunately, Elisha’s servant Gehazi had not learned this important lesson from his master (2 Kings 5:25-27).
It is foolish for those seeking to understand a message from God to make such an offer as it can only serve to tempt God’s messenger to shy away from telling the hard, unvarnished truth. This may also explain why Daniel refused the offer prior to the interpretation, but accepted it afterwards (Daniel 5:29): for it guaranteed the interpretation was not influenced by the potential of reward. For the faithful minister, the Word of God must be given the same before both kings and paupers.
This refusal of the royal presents was designed merely to decisively reject, at the outset, and in a manner becoming the prophet of Jehovah, any influence that might be brought to bear on him. Daniel ultimately accepted the reward offered for the interpretation (Daniel 5:29), since he regarded it as a recognition of his God.
Besides the matter of guarding the integrity of the interpretation, Daniel was likely incensed by the reputation of the king and his offensive performance desecrating God’s temple vessels [81]. Nor was Daniel about to use the gifts of God for his own personal benefit. And Daniel already understood the mysterious message — meaning that the king’s rule and ability to bestow lavish rewards would only last another hour or two.
• [81] Daniel, on this occasion, behaved in a very different manner to Belshazzar, than he had formerly done to Nebuchadnezzar II. Belshazzar had that very night insulted the God of heaven in the most daring manner; and the venerable prophet, as His delegate, denounced sentence against him.
Yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation
Daniel consented to interpret the message because he understood it was a message of judgment from God intended for Belshazzar. Depending on Belshazzar’s spiritual condition, the message would either lead to his bona fide repentance and salvation, or serve to confirm his hardened heart in judgment. It was not Daniel’s job to know the result, but only to faithfully deliver the message.
What the message meant
(17-23) Daniel describes Belshazzar’s sinful pride.
Daniel 5:17 ¶ Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 5:18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 5:19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. 5:20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: 5:21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling [was] with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. 5:22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 5:23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
Let thy gifts be to thyself: Remember that Daniel was troubled when he had to give Nebuchadnezzar II bad news (Daniel 4:19). This wasn’t the case here. Daniel was not impressed with this successor of Nebuchadnezzar II.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this: Daniel was so harsh because Belshazzar should have known better. Even if he was not raised in a godly home, Romans 1 reminds us that all men know of God through creation. Belshazzar should have known even more through God’s dealings with and through Daniel. We are all responsible to honor God according to what revelation we have.
The God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: It would be easy for Belshazzar to think that he never did anything against the God of Israel – at least nothing too bad. Yet at the very least, he had not glorified the true God, and every creature is obligated to give glory to their Creator.
• The breath of the creature should praise the Creator, but Belshazzar blasphemed God with his breath. The ways of the creature should glorify the Creator, but Belshazzar used his ways to mock and offend God. Every creature owes something to the Creator.
• If God held Belshazzar responsible for the ray of light which shone across his pathway, what will He say to men living in the blaze of light which illuminates the world today? Every unconverted man in this country has more light than Belshazzar had.
(17-24) Daniel reminded Belshazzar, and undoubtedly everyone else in the room, of the lesson in humility that God had taught the king’s forefather, Nebuchadnezzar II. The Most High God had given his grandfather his authority, and had taught him that he was under His greater sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar II’s pride had led him to behave arrogantly, as Belshazzar was doing by drinking from the sacred vessels of Yahweh – the Most High God. Even though Belshazzar knew all about this, 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 wall.
Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah used the title “the God of heaven” to describe Yahweh because this was the title of the chief Syrian god and a title that other people in the Persian Empire gave to their chief god (c. Ezra 1:2; Ezra 5:11-12; Ezra 6:9-10; Ezra 7:12; Ezra 7:23; Nehemiah 1:4-5; Nehemiah 2:4; Nehemiah 2:20; Daniel 2:18-19; Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 5:23). This title implies God’s transcendence over all.
5:18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
Nebuchadnezzar – Daniel first reminds Belshazzar that God gave his grandfather the kingdom. Belshazzar had rejected those experiences learned by Nebuchadnezzar II, despite knowing about his grandfather’s fall through sin and pride (Daniel 5:20, 21).
5:18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
This should not have been news to Belshazzar who must have heard his grandfather tell about “the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward [him]” including Daniel’s explanation of the “great image” of Daniel 2, the wonderful deliverance of Daniel 3 friends from the burning fiery furnace and finally his 7 years of insanity. Although it was fully apparent to his grandfather and to many others of his court that Daniel’s God was all powerful, it was scorned by such as Belshazzar.
O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom – This reference to Nebuchadnezzar II is evidently designed to show to Belshazzar the wickedness of his own course, and the reason which he had to apprehend the Divine vengeance, because he had not learned to avoid the sins which brought so great calamities upon his predecessor.
The Most High God
See Daniel 3:26.
Gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour
The kingdom, majesty, glory and honor Belshazzar enjoyed were passed down to him. Belshazzar was a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar II, but he lacked the character and leadership qualities of Nebuchadnezzar II.
The brilliant description of Nebuchadnezzar II’s power in verses 18 and 19 has undeniably the object of impressing it on the mind of Belshazzar that he did not equal his (grand)father in power and majesty.
See Daniel 2:37.
Thy father
See Daniel 5:2.
(18–23) Daniel was again very courageous and willing to speak his mind. Of what does he accuse Belshazzar?
• That he did not learn from Nebuchadnezzar II‘s experience
• That he opposed the true God and Lord who has everything in His hand (verses 18–19, 21, 23; see also Daniel 4)
• That he was as proud as Nebuchadnezzar II had been
• That he did not use his knowledge in a responsible way.
Daniel’s talk consisted of a review of Nebuchadnezzar II’s experience and a rebuke of Belshazzar.
(18-31) Daniel reads Belshazzar’s doom. He had not taken warning by the judgments upon Nebuchadnezzar II. And he had insulted God. Sinners are pleased with gods that neither see, nor hear, nor know; but they will be judged by One to whom all things are open. Daniel reads the sentence written on the wall. All this may well be applied to the doom of every sinner. At death, the sinner’s days are numbered and finished; after death is the judgment, when he will be weighed in the balance, and found wanting; and after judgment the sinner will be destroyed along with the devil and his angels. While these things were passing in the palace, the army of Cyrus II the Great entered the city; and when Belshazzar was slain, a general submission followed. Soon every impenitent sinner will find the writing of God’s Word brought to pass upon him as he is weighed in the balances of the Law.
5:19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
So, instead of immediately plunging into the interpretation, Daniel launched into a lecture scolding the king. He first compares his administration to that of his grandfather. While Nebuchadnezzar II claimed great “majesty, glory, and honour”, the inference was that Belshazzar had none of the above. While Nebuchadnezzar II was greatly esteemed because they knew his threats were real, and his decision making ability was unaffected by hesitation and doubt, Belshazzar did not possess such qualities.
And for the majesty that he gave him – That is, on account of his greatness, referring to the talents which God had conferred on him, and the power which he had put in his hands. It was so great that all people and nations trembled before him.
All people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him – Stood in awe of him. On the extent of his empire, see Daniel 3:4; Daniel 4:1, Daniel 4:22.
Whom he would he slew … – That is, he was an arbitrary – an absolute sovereign. This is descriptive of the power which Oriental despotic monarchs had.
Whom he would he set up – That is, in places of trust, of office, of rank, etc..
And whom he would he put down – No matter what their rank or office.
And for the majesty that he gave him
Nebuchadnezzar II’s rise to power was not through his own ability and effort. His power and influence was ultimately according to God’s design (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:5-7). See Daniel 2:1, Daniel 2:21, Daniel 2:38, and Daniel 4:17.
Whom he would he slew
As a governing authority established by God, Nebuchadnezzar II exercised the power of capital punishment (Genesis 9:5-6; John 19:11; Romans 13:1-4).
Nebuchadnezzar II was able to cast down some, and to raise up others at his will, since it was in his power to give life to some and to slay others.
There were times when Nebuchadnezzar II’s use of capital punishment had been arbitrary and self-serving, constituting an abuse of his God-given authority. In Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar II threatened to destroy the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:5, 13). In Chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar II required worship of the golden image at the threat of being “cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:6, 20-21, 29).
He had the absolute power of life and death over them There was no such instrument as we call a “constitution” to control the sovereign as well as the people; there was no tribunal to which he was responsible, and no law by which he was bound; there were no judges to determine on the question of life and death in regard to those who were accused of crime, whom he did not appoint, and whom he might not remove, and whose judgments he might not set aside if he pleased; there were no “juries” of “peers” to determine on the question of fact whether an accused man was guilty or not. There were none of those safeguards which have been originated to protect the accused in modern times, and which enter so essentially into the notions of liberty now. In an absolute despotism all power is in the hands of one man, and this was in fact the case in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar II had also executed the chief men of Jerusalem at the overthrow and final deportation of the Jews (Jeremiah 52:24-27).
5:20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
Belshazzar’s “heart” was also “lifted up” like his grandfather who viewing the beauty of his kingdom from the portico of his gorgeous palace boasted “is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power and for the honour of my majesty”? But, in Belshazzar’s case, he could make no such boast because “this great Babylon” had deteriorated to a mere shadow of its former grandeur. All he could boast of was what his grandfather had done. All he could do was take another drink and escape from reality.
But when his heart was lifted up – See Daniel 4:30.
And his mind hardened in pride – Margin, “to deal proudly.” The state of mind indicated here is that in which there is no sense of dependence, but where one feels that he has all resources in himself, and need only look to himself.
He was deposed from his kingly throne – Margin, “made to come down.” That is, he was so deposed by the providence of God, not by the acts of his own subjects.
His mind hardened in pride
See Daniel 4:30.
He was deposed from his kingly throne
God, through Daniel, had warned Nebuchadnezzar II of impending judgment, but the king’s heart was hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). Failing to repent, he continued on in his prideful ways, triggering God’s judgment. See Daniel 4:31.
5:21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling [was] with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and [that] he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
Verses 18 and 19 gave the positive aspects of Nebuchadnezzar II’s character. These give the negative followed by a review of his judgment depicted in Daniel 4:33.
Some additional details of Nebuchadnezzar IIs’s punishment are presented here.  While Chapter 4 says “he was driven from men”, here “he was driven from the sons of men” or “men” of high estate. While Chapter 4 says he “did eat grass as oxen”, here “they fed him with grass like oxen”. The pronoun “they” suggests he was attended to by those who took care of the livestock.
Nevertheless, Daniel did neglect to mention Nebuchadnezzar II’s hair grew “like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws”.
And he was driven … – See Daniel 4:25-33.
And he was driven from the sons of men
See Daniel 4:25.
His heart was made like the beasts
See Daniel 4:16.
His dwelling [was] with the wild asses
Chapter 4 describes Nebuchadnezzar II’s humiliation, but only in this verse does it divulge that Nebuchadnezzar II lived with the ‘wild asses’ (donkeys).
Daniel 4:25 That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 4:32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling [shall be] with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
They fed him with grass like oxen
See Daniel 4:25.
His body was wet with the dew of heaven
See Daniel 4:15.
Till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men
See Daniel 4:17 and Daniel 4:25.
5:22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;
This is a very important verse. It makes it clear that God judges us, as well as the likes of Belshazzar, based on what we know regardless whether we chose to accept and live by it or disregard it. Belshazzar was an “avowed unbeliever”, one who deliberately chooses to disbelieve regardless of the strength of evidence to the contrary.
In contrast, Belshazzar’s grandfather, irrespective of the overwhelming power of the evidences that came to him, was not compelled to believe. He still had to humble himself in order to accept the evidence. Belshazzar had it easy. It should not have been a difficult choice to humble his heart.
Such is the case with many today. Irrespective of the overwhelming scientific evidences favouring the reality of a designer and a Divine Creator, many chose to believe that everything was made by nothing, a concept totally unscientific. Thus, there are many “avowed unbelievers” just like Belshazzar, living even in our day.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart – As you should have done in remembrance of these events. The idea is, that we ought to derive valuable lessons from what has taken place in past times; that, from the events which have occurred in history, we should learn what God approves and what he disapproves; that we should avoid the course which has subjected others to his displeasure, and which has brought his judgments upon them. The course, however, which Belshazzar pursued has been that of kings and princes commonly in the world, and indeed of mankind at large.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar
See Daniel 5:2.
Hast not humbled thine heart
Humility is generally lacking in those of high position and influence. The perpetual incense of flattery, coupled with the daily experience of being dependent upon no one, and of having every one dependent upon himself, tempts an absolute monarch to feel himself almost a god. Nebuchadnezzar II had started out on the same arrogant and prideful path. But when God brought judgment, Nebuchadnezzar II learned the hard lesson and repented before it was too late. Daniel pronounced God’s judgment and Belshazzar could have repented earlier, yet he did not. Isaiah 26:10 Let favour be showed to the wicked, [yet] will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD.
When men refuse to repent and do not respond to the promptings of God to turn to Him, then eventually because of His holiness and justice, He will act in judgment. Nebuchadnezzar II had sinned in many ways but had eventually turned to the Lord and experienced His mercy and grace. But that was not the case with king Belshazzar.
Daniel’s bold pronouncement reflects his God-given authority as a prophet: he did not soften the harsh message of coming judgment.
Daniel, God’s faithful prophet, did not tremble before the king. He had no fear; he had but one duty and responsibility: To be faithful to the Word of God written on the wall, and to tell the king exactly what God had spoken. That is the responsibility of every minister, evangelist, and Bible teacher. We are responsible only to God. A minister called and ordained of God to preach the Gospel, owes his first allegiance to God, regardless of the age or dispensation. He must fear no one save God—and that includes kings, governors, and rulers. He must reprove, rebut, and exhort. A minister need never apologize for preaching “Thus saith the Lord”.
Daniel’s interpretation must have greatly disturbed Belshazzar, for it spelled his imminent doom. His natural response would have been to have the prophet executed on the spot for his bold condemnation of the king in front of the court. But perhaps the God-given authority Daniel spoke with, awed Belshazzar, and he was afraid of incurring still greater wrath if he laid a hand on God’s spokesman.
Scripture bears testimony to powerful leaders who failed to humble themselves before the Almighty. Leaders such as Pharaoh (Exodus 10:3), King Amon (2 Chronicles 33:23), and King Zedekiah (2 Chronicles 36:12). The decline and eventual captivity of the northern kingdom by Assyria, (see Fall of Israel (Northern Kingdom)) followed by the decline and captivity of the southern kingdom by Babylon. They all testify to the lack of humility by the majority of kings of Israel and Judah in their continued refusal of God’s correction. It is rare for those in power to heed God and turn from their wicked ways (2 Chronicles 12:6-7; 30:11; 33:19; 1 Corinthians 1:26).
Like Belshazzar, an unwillingness to repent in the face of clear evidence of God’s judgment will characterize the final generation prior to the return of Jesus Christ (Revelation 16:9).
In contrast with the ungodly, the lives of believers should evidence humility and a willingness to submit to God and to fellow man (Ephesians 5:21, 22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 3:4; Hebrews 13:17; James 4:6-7; 1 Peter 3:1-5; 5:5-6).
Not only was Belshazzar prideful and unrepentant, history records his cruel and impulsive character:
Even the heathen historian Xenophon pronounces him an “impious” man, and instances his passionate cruelty in slaying one of his nobles for anticipating him in striking down the game in a hunt, and in mutilating a courtier at a banquet because one of the women said he was handsome.
Xenophon does not mention the last native king of Babylon by name. He describes him as the impious son of a noble-minded king, also not named.
Meanwhile Belshazzar’s rule had proved a disaster and once fertile Babylonia suffered the very real threat of starvation in 546 BC. Misrule and graft were rampant, the peasants were oppressed, and commerce and the economy were in a shambles. This apparently precipitated the defection of Gobryas, one of Nebuchadnezzar II’s outstanding generals, to Cyrus II the Great with a large part of the Babylonian army. In defecting, Gobryas (Gubaru) took with him the province of Elam and its capital, Susa.
See Daniel 4:29, Daniel 4:30, Daniel 5:27, and Daniel 5:31.
Though thou knewest all this
Nebuchadnezzar II’s affliction with madness came to an end in c. 575-574 BC [82]. Belshazzar was born 569-568? BC, and assumed his co-regency when aged 15 years old with Nabonidus in 553 BC. This was 9 years after the death Nebuchadnezzar II in 562 BC. Belshazzar was old enough to have been told and to remember what had befallen Nebuchadnezzar II [83].
• [82] Belshazzar as a boy had association with the royal court of Nebuchadnezzar II. He would have been told, probably from his mother’s lips, about Nebuchadnezzar II recovery from his insanity. As an heir to the throne he would have been warned to avoid his grandfather’s sin.
• [83] Belshazzar was made co-regent in 553 BC, and he was killed in 539 BC. Nebuchadnezzar II died in 562 BC, so there was only 9 years between the time of Nebuchadnezzar II’s death and the time Belshazzar is made co-regent with his father Nabonidus.
How would Belshazzar have been aware of Nebuchadnezzar II’s humiliation? Certainly the message would have been known, but evidence exists that indicates that Belshazzar may have seen these events first-hand. Belshazzar, aged 8, served as chief officer during the administration of King Nergal-Sharezar (Neriglissar) in 560 BC according to Babylonian historical texts. This means that the king was old enough to fill a high position in government only 2 years after Nebuchadnezzar II’s death (562 BC). Since Nabonidus was an official in Nebuchadnezzar II’s administration, Belshazzar would have lived in Babylon and would have observed personally the last years of the great king’s reign. Thus Daniel’s rebuke is even more understandable. Belshazzar had seen with his own eyes what happened to Nebuchadnezzar II, and yet he had refused to humble himself before the Most High God.
Belshazzar’s knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar II’s madness should have engendered a measure of humility and respect for the God of Israel. Instead, he brazenly mocked God through his flagrant desecration of the temple vessels at the riotous party.
Here is a frequent pattern of history: the excellence and character of a predecessor degenerates in the descendant. In the same way that great nations, having experienced God’s blessings, tend to abandon His ways and degenerate with time, so too are many family lines. It is a rare and precious result when the character and godliness of a father or mother is successfully passed on to their child or grand child.
Belshazzar, as leader of Neo-Babylon at its downfall, typifies the attitude and arrogance of Antichrist, leader of Babylon at the time of the end.
Like many of the wicked, Belshazzar wouldn’t submit to God or retain him in his thoughts (Job 15:20-25; Psalms 10:4; Proverbs 18:12).
Isaiah 5:11 ¶ Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, [that] they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, [till] wine inflame them! 5:12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.
See Daniel 4:29 and Daniel 4:30.
(22-23) When Daniel was asked to interpret the Nebuchadnezzar II’s dream of the great tree being chopped down, he did so almost with a sadness that the interpretation applied to king Nebuchadnezzar II and not his enemies. There seemed to be a fondness there. Well, things are quite different for this king and Daniel is straight to the point. ‘thou knewest all this’ ‘You knew it Belshazzar… you saw how God humbled your Grandfather and yet you still wouldn’t humble yourself!’ ‘You had been given great revelation and light from God and you rejected it! You mocked the true God and made created things into a god!’ You can just imagine the force of Daniel’s words as he speaks straight to the king’s actions. And yet, don’t the same words condemn those in the western nations? Have not America, the United Kingdom, Western Europe, etc. done the same thing? When we look at our history we see that we were given great light. We have received much revelation and teaching concerning the true God and His ways and yet, as a whole, it is now rejected. That is what makes this Book of Daniel so important in this age.
Look at how this Scripture describes the One whom they despise and turn their backs on: ‘the God who holds in His hand your life and all your ways’. The one that is being mocked and being declared irrelevant in our societies is the one who holds the very life and breath of the mocker in His hand. God could clench His fist and snuff out their life if He so wished.
(22-24) Belshazzar knew all of God’s dealings with his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar II, yet he persistently chose to turn away from the light and remain in darkness.
5:23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
Daniel now reminds Belshazzar of what has just occurred.
Daniel told Belshazzar that he was doing the opposite of his grandfather. He was exalting himself against the Lord of heaven (just like Lucifer during the Rebellion in Heaven) and carelessly and irresponsibly brought in the vessels from the Temple of Jerusalem and drank out of them. “and the God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (verse 23).
But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven – The God who had so signally rebuked and humbled Nebuchadnezzar II. The monarch had done this, it would seem, during the whole of his reign, and now by a crowning act of impiety he had evinced special disregard of Him, and contempt for Him, by profaning the sacred vessels of His temple.
And they have brought the vessels of his house before thee – See Daniel 5:2.
And the God in whose hand thy breath [is] – Under whose power, and at whose disposal, is thy life. While you have been celebrating the praises of idol gods, who can do you neither good nor evil, you have been showing special contempt for that great Being who keeps you in existence, and who has power to take away your life at any moment. What is here said of Belshazzar is true of all men – high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, princes and people.
And whose [are] all thy ways – That is, He has power to control thee in all thy ways.
Hast thou not glorified – That is, thou hast not honored him by a suitable acknowledgment of dependence on him.
But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven
Instead of trusting in the God of the Jews, Belshazzar trusted in the ability of the city to withstand any siege. He was so confident in this he had called for the vessels from the Jewish God’s temple for use in toasting the gods of Babylon, whose protection he no doubt trusted in.
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had made a similar mistake — exhibiting extreme pride and mocking God. Isaiah 37:23 Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted [thy] voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? [even] against the Holy One of Israel. Jeremiah had predicted Babylon’s eventual fall from pride exhibited against the Holy One of Israel.
Jeremiah 50:29 Call together the archers against Babylon: all ye that bend the bow, camp against it round about; let none thereof escape: recompense her according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her: for she hath been proud against the LORD, against the Holy One of Israel.
The judgment of Belshazzar’s Babylon prefigures God’s judgment of the prideful works of man on a global scale in the ultimate day of the Lord.
Isaiah 2:11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. 2:12 For the day of the LORD of hosts [shall be] upon every [one that is] proud and lofty, and upon every [one that is] lifted up; and he shall be brought low: 2:17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
Nebuchadnezzar II had ascended to the throne with a similar attitude to Belshazzar, but God’s chastisement cured him of his pride such that he came to “praise and extol and honor the King of heaven” (Daniel 4:37). Belshazzar exhibited no such repentance.
See Daniel 5:1 and Daniel 5:2.
Vessels of His house
See Daniel 5:2.
Thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them
See Daniel 5:4.
Praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone
See Daniel 5:4.
which see not, nor hear, nor know
Scripture provides a sad testimony to the continuing blindness of mankind.
Isaiah 42:17 ¶ They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye [are] our gods. 42:18 Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see.
Men refuse to acknowledge the “living God” as the source of all life, turning to dead idols in His stead [84].
• [84] Concerning God as living: Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 16; Psalms 42:2; 84:2; Isaiah 37:4, 17; Jeremiah 10:10; 23:36; Daniel 6:20, 26; Hosea 1:10; Matthew 16:16; 22:32; 26:63; John 6:69; Acts 3:15; 14:15; Romans 9:26; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 6:16; 1 Timothy 3:15; 4:10; 6:17; Hebrews 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Revelation 7:2. Concerning lifeless idols: Deuteronomy 4:28; 32:38; 1 Kings 18:29; 2 Kings 19:18; Psalms 115:4-8; 135:15-17; Isaiah 37:19; 41:25; 44:9; 45:20; 46:7; Jeremiah 2:28; 10:5; 10:8; 10:15; 16:20; 51:17; Daniel 5:23; Habakkuk 2:18-19; Acts 19:26; Revelation 9:20; 13:15.
On numerous occasions, God has intervened to point man to the truth, but the message fails to penetrate the hardened heart of unbelief where pagan predispositions eclipse hunger for the true God. When Dagon’s idol fell on its face before the ark of the Lord, the people merely set Dagon back up again: no thought was given concerning the message this incident conveyed (1 Samuel 5:3).
The same could be said regarding Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal. Even though the prophets of Baal entreated their god with great zeal and diligence, “[there was] no voice, nor any that answered” (1 Kings 18:26). God, in a dramatic response, sent fire to consume Elijah’s drenched sacrifice and the people reacted with excitement, but the revival and reforms that should have followed never materialized, leaving Elijah despondent (1 Kings 19:10). The majority of the people continued to trust in false gods and their related idols, though the idols remained lifeless and unresponsive (Psalms 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Isaiah 37:18-19; 46:6-7; Habakkuk 2:18-19). Even worse, the idols gave the erroneous impression that if there was a supreme God, then he was probably a larger, more powerful entity with similar attributes (Isaiah 40:18-20; Acts 17:29-30).
The living God offers to carry men, but men would rather carry the burden of their lifeless idols than acknowledge Him (Isaiah 46:3-7; Jeremiah 10:2-5, 8-11). Unlike the lifeless idols: 
Hebrews 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things [are] naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
This lesson was lost on the last king of Babylon, but it would be learned by the upcoming king of Medo-Persia. Unlike Belshazzar, Darius the Mede would come to know Daniel’s “living God” (Daniel 6:20, 26-27).
The God in whose hand thy breath [is], and whose [are] all thy ways, hast thou not glorified
But you have not glorified the God who has in his control your very breath.
The same hand writing the mysterious message also held Belshazzar’s life. God holds the life of every living thing in His hand (Job 12:10; Isaiah 42:5; Acts 17:25-28). If He were to withdraw His Spirit and breath, all flesh would perish (Job 34:14-15; Psalms 104:29).
Refusal to glorify the living God continues in our own day, both in the spiritual realm (appealing to demonic sources such as tarot cards and palm readers) and in the material realm (attributing the material universe and life itself to blind chance and unguided processes). The very breath and heartbeat of those who mock God originates in the One Whom they reject, ridicule, and refuse to glorify.
Whose [are] all thy ways
Life is not meant to be independent from God. The unbeliever considers as his “chief end” to live according to his own ambitions and predilections. He rarely considers whether life might be granted from a Giver to Whom he might be accountable. Yet, God counts all his steps (Job 31:4), is acquainted with all his ways (Psalms 139:3), and even orders his steps (Proverbs 20:24; Jeremiah 10:23). Ultimately, he cannot escape the sovereignty of God: even those who reject God wind up ultimately serving His purpose (Ex. 9:16; 14:4; Jeremiah 51:7; Ezekiel 38:4; 38:10; 39:2; Romans 9:17-18). How much better to serve Him knowingly, willingly, and joyfully as a participant within His divine purpose.
Thou not glorified
Frequently we hear the skeptic claim neutrality, saying if God would only reveal Himself, then the skeptic would believe and give God glory (Matthew 12:38; 16:1). In reality, there is no neutrality and the problem is not a want of evidence, but a hardness of heart (Luke 16:30-31). Consider how Pharaoh, with overwhelming evidence of God’s power and magnificence in 10 horrific plagues, steadfastly refused to glorify God (Exodus 14:5-9). As the events of the Book of Revelation unfold, mankind is given enormous evidence of God’s existence and impending judgment, but this proves insufficient to turn the hearts of men to give Him glory.
Revelation 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
5:24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
Then. A reference to the recent moment when, in drunken revelry, Belshazzar had praised his gods and drunk wine out of the consecrated vessels from the Temple of Jerusalem, as described in verse 23.
Part of the hand. See verse 5.
This writing. The inscription was still visible upon the wall.
The pronoun “him” refers to “the God in whose hand thy breath is” because this verse completes that of verse 23. Therefore, that “hand” belonged to God Himself. It was the same hand referred to in Daniel 2 as “without hands” in Chapter 2 that was responsible for selecting the “stone” out of the “mountain” (Daniel 2:34, 45).
He was the One who wrote the words that follow. Perhaps, after the “hand” finished writing, it vanished leaving the words blazing on the wall.
Then was the part of the hand sent from him – The fingers. See Daniel 5:5.
(24) Nebuchadnezzar II had heard a voice from heaven while he was outdoors (Daniel 4:31), but Belshazzar saw a hand from heaven indoors. Both forms of revelation have been extremely rare throughout history, but these occasions in the Book of Daniel involved leaders of the greatest nation on earth.
The part of the hand
See Daniel 5:5.
This writing was written.
The LXX describes the message as having been formally “posted”, “ordered”, or “registered”.
(24-28) Daniel tells Belshazzar that God’s judgment is at the door.
5:24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. 5:25 ¶ And this [is] the writing that was written,
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
5:26 This [is] the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 5:27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This [is] the interpretation of the thing: It should be observed, that each word stands for a short sentence; mene signifies NUMERATION; tekel, WEIGHING; and peres, DIVISION.
• God had Belshazzar’s number, and it fell short.
• God weighed Belshazzar, and he came up light.
• God would therefore divide Belshazzar’s kingdom to the Medes and the Persians.
Weighed in the balances, and art found wanting: A mighty army and brilliant tactics overcame the Babylonian Empire, yet it still fell from within. The armies of the Medes and Persians could only conquer because Belshazzar and his kingdom were found lacking in spiritual and moral values.
Given to the Medes and Persians: The ancient Greek historian Herodotus relates that the Persian King Cyrus II the Great conquered Babylon by diverting the flow of the Euphrates into a nearby swamp. This lowered the level of the river so his troops marched through on the river bed and through the river-gates. They still would not have been able to enter had not the bronze gates of the inner walls been left inexplicably unlocked. This was exactly what God predicted in Isaiah 44:28-45:7 and Jeremiah 51:57-58. God opened the gates of the city of Babylon for Cyrus II the Great, and put it in writing 172 years before it happened.
• In October 539 BC, Cyrus II the Great advanced into lower Mesopotamia and, leaving Babylon till last, conquered and occupied the surrounding territory. Nabonidus of Babylon left his city, leaving it in the charge of his son Belshazzar. The taking of Babylon was as bloodless and effortless as Daniel 5 implies.
• The fall of mystery Babylon will be like the fall of real Babylon – sudden, sure, and in the midst of her worst blasphemies. Empires do not stand by human might, man-made machines and missiles. There is not a wall high enough nor thick enough to prevent a nation from falling when God pronounces that nation’s doom.
(24–28) The writing was in Aramaic. Why then did the wise man not understand it?
Possible answers:
• A few of the words made the meaning of the message unclear.
• The consumption of alcohol may have hindered the people from understanding the message.
• The writing was only readable and / or understandable by receiving divine illumination.
“Weighed and found deficient” is true also today. There is a judgment of God that affects all human beings. Where do I find myself?
5:25 ¶ And this [is] the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
This [is] the writing – still visible upon the wall for Daniel to read the 4 words – the meaning to each word requiring Divine illumination.
This [is] the writing. Daniel proceeds to read the words written on the wall, apparently 4 words in Aramaic. It is futile to speculate concerning the nature of this script and its relationship to any other known script (see verse 8). But, even after the words had been read, they could not be understood except by divine illumination. A whole truth was expressed in each key word; hence the need for an interpretation.
According to the Commentary “It is futile to speculate concerning the nature of this script and its relationship to any other known script. But, even after the words had been read, they could not be understood except by divine illumination. A whole truth was expressed in each key word; hence the need for an interpretation” [85]. If you do a Google search using these 3 words, you will find that essentially true. Therefore, lets stick to Daniel’s God-given interpretation.
• [85] SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4, page 804.
And this is the writing that was written – The Babylonians, it would seem, were unacquainted with the “characters” that were used, and of course unable to understand the meaning. See Daniel 5:8.
Daniel’s Interpretation
5:25 ¶ And this [is] the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 5:26 This [is] the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 5:27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 5:28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
3 little words compose the message, 1 of which was repeated. They are Aramaic words. While these words may have been familiar to the king, the message in writing was so sparing he could not understand it. Now, Daniel is about to interpret the meaning of the words on the wall.
Scholars have spent considerable effort to explore the origin and meaning of each of these 3 terms. We need not rely on such efforts to determine the meaning of the writing on the wall. The king did not need a dictionary; he needed the interpretation of the meaning of these 3 words as written, in the context of that moment of history. In effect, it would seem that the message on the wall was a kind of abbreviation, summed up in 3 words. Imagine a 3 point message.
Daniel explained that the twice-used term ‘MENE’ informed the king that God had numbered his kingdom and was putting an end to it (verse 26). In effect, God seems to be saying to Belshazzar, “Time’s up”. ‘TEKEL’ meant the king had been weighed on the scales of divine justice and found deficient. The king had given God short measure. ‘PERES’ is the divine notification that the Babylonian kingdom was to be divided and handed over to the Medes and the Persians (verse 28).
(25) Now here are the words that were written on the wall – Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. 4 little words but what confusion they caused! The problem was that each Aramaic word had more than one meaning.
The inscription
• Mene – means ‘numbered’ or mena (a unit of money)
• Tekel – means ‘weighed’ or ‘shekel’ (a unit of money)
• Parsin – means ‘divided’ or ‘Persia’ or ‘half a shekel’
So as the Babylonians tried to interpret this message there were a few interpretations open to them. At its best it might be saying ‘money, money, money’! Or, just possibly, it meant something more foreboding.
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN
Daniel’s describes the written message as consisting of 3 words, the first of which is repeated. Some have questioned whether the first word was written twice, or whether Daniel only repeated the first word during his explanation.
Regardless of whether the first word was written twice, Daniel gives it twice in his explanation. The first word, may have been repeated to emphasize the certainty of God bringing the kingdom to an end, similar to how the phrase “verily, verily” is used in the New Testament. Perhaps the repetition of the first word conveys 2 related, but with different meanings: “numbered”, and “a mina” (coin value). Another possibility is the first word, meaning “numbered”, is applied once for the king and again for the kingdom (although no indication of this is given in Daniel’s elaboration in Daniel 5:26).
Since Daniel is reading the message aloud as part of the interpretation, his statement may not correspond verbatim with what was written.
His repetition of the first word shows that he is reading aloud somewhat freely; he is orally reading the entire inscription with a hint of its interpretation. That explains why, when reading the third word aloud, he converts the singular pere? to the plural upharin, to signal that it will have a double play on words in his interpretation.
The last word implies the plural form of peres. The plural form hints of two meanings:
• (1) the kingdom will be divided, and
• (2) the division of the kingdom will be at the hands of the Persians.
The word “upharsin” (verse 25), that is, “and parsin”, the plural of “peres”, is a wordplay on Paras (“Persia or Persians”).
The individual words comprising this phrase were written on the wall without vowels.
Legal or financial terms could be well-suited to convey the concepts of being weighed (in a balance) and found wanting (owing, coming up short, needing to pay).
The Jewish historian Josephus summarizes the meaning:
And he explained the writing thus: — MANEH. This, if it be expounded in the Greek language, may signify a Number, because God hath numbered so long a time for thy life, and for thy government, and that there remains but a small portion. — THEKEL. This signifies a Weight, and means that God hath weighed thy kingdom in a balance, and finds it going down already. — PHARES. This also, in the Greek tongue, denotes a fragment; God will therefore break thy kingdom in pieces, and divide it among the Medes and Persians.
See Daniel 5:8, Daniel 5:26, Daniel 5:27, and Daniel 5:28.
(25-29) Weighed and Found Wanting.
Babylon city covered an area of approximately 3.5 square miles / 900 hectares. The total length of its inner and outer walls was about 56 miles long; the double wall fortifying the city measured more than 96 feet in width. It was a religious center without rival. “A cuneiform tablet of Nebuchadnezzar II’s time lists 53 temples dedicated to important gods, 955 smaller sanctuaries, and 384 street altars — all of them within the city confines”. The center of Babylon’s glory was the famous temple tower Etemenanki, dedicated to the god Marduk, which was 300 feet square at the base and more than 300 feet high. In ancient times it was only surpassed by the 2 great pyramids at Giza in Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar II’s reputation as a builder has been preserved in the writings of the Babylonian priest Berossus.
As soon as the boastful words, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”, had left the monarch’s lips, judgment was meted out, and he became insane. What do we know about the sickness with which Nebuchadnezzar II was afflicted?
Nebuchadnezzar II possibly suffered from a form of insanity in which a man thinks that he is an animal. It could have been lycanthropy, which is the wolf-man syndrome, but probably boanthropy, in which a person thinks he / she is an ox. A Babylonian cuneiform text, published in 1975, may refer to Nebuchadnezzar II’s madness. The text states that the king gave contradictory orders, refused to accept counsel, showed love neither to son nor daughter, neglected his family, and no longer performed his duties as head of state. In Aramaic, the inscription consisted of a series of 4 words. Because Aramaic, like Hebrew, was written only with consonants, the way in which the words were to be read depended on which vowels were supplied. To the wise men, the letters M N M N T Q L P R S N did not make sense. Some of them may have seen the names of three common weights on the wall, “a mina, a mina, a shekel, and a half-shekel’ but translated into modern weights, what did “a pound, a pound, an ounce, and half an ounce” mean? Daniel read them out as “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” and then gave the interpretation: “numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided”. The repetition of the first word is a solemn emphasis, just like Jesus’ words “verily, verily” in the New Testament (John 3:11, 5:24).
MENE means “numbered,” because the days of Belshazzar’s reign had been numbered, and God had decided to call a halt. TEKEL means “weighed.” Belshazzar’s life and actions were placed on one side of the scales, so to speak, and God’s law on the other side. Belshazzar’s side, unfortunately, was found wanting. PERES means “broken” or “divided.” Belshazzar’s kingdom was about to be broken and given to the Medes and Persians. There is a play on words here, because the consonants for the word divided are the same as for the name Persian (paras).
The message, then, was clear and specific. God had numbered or added up the crimes of the king and completed their tally. The period of Babylon’s political supremacy was coming to an end. Besides the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar II and the deliverance of the 3 Hebrews from the fiery furnace, the mysterious handwriting on the wall was another example of God’s direct intervention in human affairs.
If our lives, like Belshazzar’s, were placed on a balance (our life on one side and God’s law on the other), would we fare much better? And even if we fared better, would we fare well enough? After all, whose life — even that of the most saintly Christian — can stand before God’s holy law (Romans 3:23)? In that sense, we aren’t all that different, really, from Belshazzar. However, we believe that there is a crucial and defining difference between us as Christians and this king: our faith in the God in “whose hand thy breath is” (Daniel 5:23). Read the following texts: Psalm 130:4, John 5:24, Romans 8:1, Ephesians 1:7. How do they explain what we have in Christ that makes all the difference between us and this king, who is doomed now and forever?
(25-31) That very night God’s judgement on Babylon was fulfilled. Gubaru had the seasonally low waters of the Euphrates river diverted, and under the cover of darkness they then moved under the city walls where they found the river gates still open. Once inside, they slew the unsuspecting guards and took control of the city.
Daniel lived long enough to see the first part of Nebuchadnezzar II’s vision [Daniel 2] of the image fulfilled. Babylon [the “head” did come to an end and another kingdom took its place.
The fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians in Daniel’s time foreshadows the fall of modern-day spiritual Babylon. See Revelation 17 and 18.
5:26 This [is] the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
MENE – ‘numbered’ or ‘counted’.
By Divine illumination, Daniel interpreted ‘God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it’.
Mene. The Aramaic mene’ is a passive participle of the verb “to number”, or “to count”, and, if taken alone, simply means “numbered”, or “counted”. By divine illumination Daniel drew from this word the interpretation, “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it”.
While “MENE” appeared twice on the wall, and repeated only once in Daniel’s interpretation, he gave it a dual application: “numbered” and “finished”. The verb “numbered” or “counted” [86] suggests the “kingdom” was under scrutiny. It was being watched by “a watcher and an holy one” who “came down from heaven” (Daniel 4:13, 17) using His fingers to write frightening words on the wall placing the king and his subjects on notice their probation was “finished”.
• [86] SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4, page 804. Or “numbered” – from the Aramaic word “men-aw” meaning “set” or “ordained” rather than “counted”. The meaning “counted” coincides more closely with the “watcher”.
The transition point between the “head of gold” and the “breast and arms of silver” (Daniel 2:32, 38) had been reached. Even though this “kingdom” was number “one” under the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar II, it had degenerated under the dominion of its successors, with Belshazzar giving it its mortal wound. But, “by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones” (Daniel 4:17), it was agreed that the time for the predicted change in the sequential order of kingdoms, had come for there was no prospect for its recovery.
This [is] the interpretation of the thing – It may seem not to have been difficult to interpret the meaning of the communication, when one was able to read the words, or when the sense of the words was understood. But, if the words are placed together, and considered in their abstract form, the whole communication would be so enigmatical that the interpretation would not be likely to occur to anyone without a Divine guidance.
MENE, number, MENE, number, TEKEL, weight, (PERES) (division) UPHARSIN, division.
Mene, Numbered, Mene, Numbered, Tekel, Weighted, Upharsin. Divided. From this arrangement it will be at once seen that the interpretation proposed by Daniel was not one that would have been likely to have occurred to anyone.
Mene. This word is a passive participle – “to number, to review”. An expression which would convey a similar idea is when we say that “his days are numbered;” meaning that he has not long to live and is about to die.
God hath numbered thy kingdom – The word which is used here, and rendered “numbered” is the verb of which the previous word is the participle. Daniel applies it to the “kingdom” or “reign” of the monarch, as being a thing of more importance than the life of the king himself.
And finished it – This is not the meaning of the word “Mene,” but is the explanation by Daniel of the thing intended. The word in its interpretation fairly implied that; or that might be understood from it. The fact that the “kingdom” in its duration was “numbered,” properly expressed the idea that it was now to come to an end. It did come to an end by being ruled by the Medes and Persians.
MENE: God hath numbered thy kingdom
“There is a kind of double meaning in the verb ‘to number.’ It means not only, ‘to count’ but ‘to fix the limit of’ as is also the case in our common expression that a man’s days are ‘numbered’. One wonders how long it might be before the Lord God places each country upon His scales.
Not only had Belshazzar’s kingdom been numbered, the days of the king himself have been numbered — he was slain that very night.
Finished it – meaning, “bring to an end, cease, stop a state of reigning” and includes the notion of closing out an overdue account, to “take possession, formally, settle accounts”.
God used Babylonia as a tool of judgment upon Israel, but both the king and country of Babylonian were guilty of their own iniquity meriting this judgment.
Jeremiah 25:12 ¶ And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, [that] I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
The end of Neo-Babylonia was in accord with the prediction of Jeremiah that it would last only two generations beyond Nebuchadnezzar II.
Jeremiah 27:7 And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him.
See Daniel 5:2, Daniel 5:25, and Daniel 5:28.
Numbered, weighed and divided
(26-28) 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.
As Daniel gives the true interpretation of the writing on the wall you can only imagine the fear rising within the king.
Numbered, numbered, weighed and divided.
• Your number is up Belshazzar.
• You have been weighed and found to be a spiritual featherweight.
• Your life and kingdom is over.
• You have been found wanting.
Important words for us all. God not only numbers our days, but he weighs our lives. And He not only weighs our lives, but He records and judges our deeds. The fact is that all of us will have to hop on the heavenly scales one day.
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
For the believer, this will not be a judgement of their sins, for that took place nearly 2000 years ago as Jesus was nailed to the cross. But there is a judgement of our lives and all that will be based on our relationship with God and Jesus.
1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
27. God Reads the Secret Devisings. – It is for the eternal interest of every one to search his own heart, and to improve every God-given faculty. Let all remember that there is not a motive in the heart of any man that the Lord does not clearly see. The motives of each one are weighed as carefully as if the destiny of the human agent depended upon this one result. We need a connection with divine power, that we may have an increase of clear light and an understanding of how to reason from cause to effect. We need to have the powers of the understanding cultivated, by our being partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. Let each one consider carefully the solemn truth, God in heaven is true, and there is not a design, however intricate, nor a motive, however carefully hidden, that He does not clearly understand. He reads the secret devisings of every heart. Men may plan out crooked actions for the future, thinking that God does not understand; but in that great day when the books are opened, and every man is judged by the things written in the books, those actions will appear as they are.  [3BC 1160.2]
The Lord sees and understands all dishonesty in planning, all unlawful appropriation in any degree of property or means, all injustice in man’s dealing with his fellow men . . . [Daniel 5:27 quoted] (RH March 8, 1906).  [3BC 1160.4]
5:27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
TEKEL – ‘weighed’.
Belshazzar had been weighed by God and found lacking in moral worth.
Tekel. The Jewish scholars called Masoretes, who somewhere between the 7th and 9th centuries of AD added vowel signs to the Bible manuscripts, pointed the Aramaic word teqel as a noun. Like mene’ (see verse 26), it should obviously be pointed as a passive participle (teqil). The form teqel was probably chosen by the Masoretes on account of its greater similarity of sound with mene’. Teqil comes from the verb “to weigh”. Daniel at once informed the king as to the import of this divine weighing. Belshazzar was found lacking in moral worth.
Found wanting. These fearful words of doom, addressed to the profligate king of Babylon, condemn all who, like Belshazzar, neglect their God-given opportunities. In the investigative judgment now in progress (see Chronicles 7:10) men are weighed in the balances of the sanctuary to see whether their moral character and spiritual state correspond with the benefits and blessings God has conferred upon them. There is no appeal from the decisions of that court. In view of the solemnity of the hour, all must watch lest the decisive moment that forever fixes every man’s destiny finds them unprepared and “wanting”. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:11, 12.
5:27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
The sense of being watched continues with the “balances” being metaphoric for assessment and evaluation. The pronoun “thou” indicates Belshazzar’s personal, moral worth, his character and behaviour were being scrutinized.
1 Samuel 2:3 Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let [not] arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD [is] a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
John saw the same figure:
Revelation 6:5 And when he had opened the THIRD SEAL, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
The word “wanting” [87] is and old English term meaning “deficient” or “lacking”. In this case “lacking in moral worth” [88].
• [87] “wanting” – from the Aramaic word “chacciyr”, “lacking wanting, deficient”. This is the only time this word is found in the Bible.
• [88] SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4, page 805.
“In the investigative judgment now in progress men are weighed in the balances of the sanctuary to see whether their moral character and spiritual state correspond with the benefits and blessings God had conferred upon them” [89].
• [89] SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4, page 805 (under “Found wanting”).
God is watching us just as closely as He was watching Nebuchadnezzar II and Belshazzar.
Tekel – This word is also a passive participle – “to poise, to weigh”, and means “weighed.” It would be used with reference to anything placed in a balance to ascertain its weight; and hence, like the word “measure,” would denote that the extent, dimensions, true worth, or character of anything was ascertained. As by the use of scales the weight of anything is known, so the word is applied to any estimate of character or of actions, and a balance becomes the emblem of justice. Thus God, in his judgments of men, is represented as “weighing” their actions. 1 Samuel 2:3, “the LORD [is] a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” Compare Job 6:2.
Thou art weighed in the balances – The proper interpretation of this word would apply to anything whose value was ascertained by weighing it; but as the reference here was to the king of Babylon, and as the whole representation was designed for him, Daniel distinctly applies it to him: “thou art weighed.” On the use and application of this language, see 1 Samuel 2:3 : “the LORD [is] a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” Compare also Job 31:6; Proverbs 16:2, 11.
And art found wanting – This is added, like the previous phrase, as an explanation. Even if the word could have been read by the Chaldeans, yet its meaning could not have been understood without a Divine communication, for though it were supposed to be applicable to the monarch, it would still be a question what the result of the weighing or trial would be. That could have been known to Daniel only by a communication from on high.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
Not only the Babylonian kingdom, but the king himself had been evaluated by God and come up short.
Xenophon relates 2 different incidents illustrating the vanity and cruelty of Belshazzar.
• (1) While on a royal hunt, in a fit of jealousy, Belshazzar murdered the son of Gobryas:
And when my boy went hunting with [Belshazzar] as his friend, and when a bear came out, they both gave chase and the present ruler [Belshazzar] let fly his javelin but missed. . . . Then my son threw . . . and brought down the bear. And then that man was vexed, to be sure, as it proved, but covered his jealousy in darkness. But when again a lion appeared, he missed again. . . . but again a second time my son hit his mark and killed the lion and cried, ‘Have I not thrown twice in succession and brought an animal down each time!’ Then that villain no longer restrained his jealous wrath but, snatching a spear from one of the attendants, smote him in the breast — my son, my only, well-loved son — and took away his life. . . If, therefore, you [Cyrus II the Great] will receive me and I may find some hope of getting with your help some vengeance for my dear son, I think that I should find my youth again.
• (2) At a royal banquet, Belshazzar castrated a man named Gadatas, merely because his concubine found the man attractive:
“But, Gobryas”, said Cyrus II the Great, when he heard this, “do you not accuse this young fellow who has just come to the throne [Belshazzar] of cruel insolence of character”? “That judgment, I think”, said Gobryas, “is warranted by my experience with him. For once when he and the son of a man much more powerful than I were drinking together, a young man [Gadatas] who, like my son, was his comrade, he had him seized and castrated; and the occasion, so some people said, was simply because his concubine had praised his friend, remarking how handsome he was and felicitating the woman who should be his wife; but the king himself now maintains that it was because the man had made advances toward his concubine”.
The king would reap the rewards of his viciousness. The father of the man he had slain and the individual he had castrated joined with the forces of Cyrus II the Great to bring the downfall of Belshazzar that very night [90]. See Daniel 5:30.
• [90] He [Xenophon] tells us also how Babylon was taken, viz., by Gobryas and Gadatas his generals. For Belshazzar had castrated one of these to his shame, and had slain the son of the other in the lifetime of his father. Since then the latter burnt with the desire of avenging his son’s death, and the former his own disgrace, they conspired against him.
Belshazzar was also “found wanting” because of his desecration of the vessels from the Jewish temple.
For it was because of the desecration of the “Sacred Vessels” that the “Handwriting” appeared on the wall, and the doom of Belshazzar pronounced, for if he continued on the throne there was little hope of the return of the Jews and the sacred vessels to Jerusalem 3 years later, as the prophets had foretold.
Scripture warns of God’s evaluation of mankind and our inability, apart from Christ, to measure up. God sees all our ways and counts all our steps (Job 31:4-6). All our actions are weighed (1 Samuel 2:3). Both men of low degree and high degree will be evaluated on God’s scales of justice (Psalms 62:9-10). We are blind to our sin, unable to assess our true condition. 
Proverbs 16:2 All the ways of a man [are] clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.
No man can stand before the all-seeing gaze of a Holy God unless clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Job 29:14; Psalms 132:9; Isaiah 59:17; 61:10; Jeremiah 23:6; Matthew 22:11-12; Romans 3:21-26; 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). Even those who trust in Jesus Christ, obtaining eternal life and escaping hell, will have their works judged for reward (1 Corinthians 3:13; Revelation 3:2).
The Scriptures everywhere assure us that ” the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed”. Solomon writes : “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirit”. He puts every Belshazzar and every other in His balances, weighs every soul, marks every folly, and records every good and every deficiency. Every opportunity mis-improved, every admonition disregarded, every ungrateful feeling indulged, every impulse of pride entertained, every instance of power abused or talents squandered, every word and act of profanity, every neglect and slight of Jehovah’s messengers, every effort to get away from duty, every attempt to drown serious thoughts by sensual excesses, every sending away of God’s servants to wait for a more convenient season, every contempt for the Bible and for those who believe and follow it, every thought and passion, or idle word that men speak, — all of them, singly and together, are surveyed and weighed, and written down in heaven against the day of final account.
Without Christ, the condition of every person before our God is akin to that of Belshazzar: weighed and found wanting. A time is coming when all the unrighteous dead will undergo God’s just evaluation:
Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
All those throughout history, who have rejected the perfect righteousness obtained by faith in Christ, will stand in judgment to receive what they expect and justly deserve: an impartial evaluation of their works. Having rejected the freely-available merits of Christ on their behalf (Isaiah 55:1-3; Revelation 22:17), they stand before a Holy God for evaluation. Too late, they realize God does not grade on a relative curve as they expected. Instead, absolute perfection is the requirement for entry into heaven — to remain in God’s presence.
Different Books are used during their court session. First, a set of Books records each lifetime in deed and thought (Matthew 5:20, 27-28). Each one is judged, “by the things which were written in the Books”. In every case, the Books bear a record of imperfection.
The Scriptures of truth, the Word of God, contained in the Books of the Old and New Testament, are the balances of the sanctuary, in which persons, principles, and practices, are to be weighed; and sad it is where they are found light and wanting: men, both of high and low degree, when put here, are lighter than vanity.
On the basis of their own merit they will be found to have fallen short. Next, a check will be made to see if they have been written in the Book of Life — recording the names of all those throughout history who trusted in God’s provision for redemption in Jesus Christ (Psalms 69:29; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:23; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 21:27). Having verified they are “not found written in the Book of Life”, their sentence is justified: condemnation to the lake of fire.
You “art weighted in the balances, and art found wanting”. That’s the sad destiny of every unbeliever. At the Great White Throne judgment a person who has not trusted in Jesus Christ must stand before Jesus.
“Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). When that day of evaluation comes, do you think you will fare better than Belshazzar in avoiding the lake of fire? Think again! The smallest sin will seal your shared destiny: spending eternity with Belshazzar in the lake of fire. The only escape is through the narrow gate of Jesus Christ, accepting His sacrifice on the cross for your sin (Isaiah 53:4-5), thereby gaining His merit as the perfect and righteous Son of God (Romans 3:21-25). In a moment, you can exchange a destiny of eternal condemnation for eternal life (John 11:25-26).
See Daniel 5:25.
5:28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
PERES – Unlike the other words, which are passive participles of verbs, this word is a noun – singular in form – meaning ‘share’ or ‘portion’.
UPHARSIN – plural form – ‘pieces’. Thy kingdom is broken in pieces.
Peres. This word is not a passive participle like the two words mene’ and teqil, although the vocalization indicates that the Masoretes considered it a verb form. It is a noun, here singular in form. The plural form appeared on the inscription (verse 25). There it is also connected to the preceding words by the conjunction we, “and”. The “we” appears as u in the word upharsin. This accounts for the difference between upharsin and peres. Peres means “share”, or “portion”, and if the plural form upharsin (verse 25) is adopted, may be translated, “pieces”. Daniel’s interpretation, “Thy kingdom is divided”, could also be rendered, “Thy kingdom is broken into pieces”. The emphasis is not necessarily that the kingdom was to be divided into two equal parts, the one part given to the Medes and the other to the Persians. The kingdom was to be divided into pieces, destroyed, and dissolved. This was to be effected by the Medes and the Persians. Significantly, the Aramaic form peres contains the consonants of the Aramaic words for Persia and Persians, who were even then at the gates of Babylon.
5:28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
While “MENE” and ‘TEKEL” denote passive observation, assessment, evaluation and scrutiny, “PERES”, or its equivalent “UPHARSIN”, is active denoting the execution of the “decree”, the “sentence” agreed upon by the “watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones”.
The last word called “UPHARSIN” in verse 25, Daniel here calls it “PERES” and translates it “divided”. Interestingly, both words are from the same Aramaic word. Further insight from the SDA Bible Commentary suggests its meaning to be: “The kingdom was to be divided into pieces, destroyed, and dissolved” [91] rather then chopped in half with each half distributed to “the Medes and Persians”.
• [91] SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4 page 805.
So, Daniel declared, “thy kingdom is destroyed, and dissolved” very much like the great image that was “broken to pieces . . . and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them” (Daniel 2:35).
Peres – In Daniel 5:25 this is “Upharsin.” These are but different forms of the same word – the word in Daniel 5:25 being in the plural, and here in the singular.
Thy kingdom is divided – That is, the proper interpretation of this communication is, that the kingdom is about to be rent asunder, or broken into fragments. It is to be separated or torn from the dynasty that has ruled over it, and to be given to another.
And given to the Medes and Persians – On this united kingdom, see Isaiah 13:17. It was “given” to the Medes and Persians when it was taken by Cyrus II the Great, and when the kingdom of Babylon became extinct, and thence-forward became a part of the Medo-Persian empire. See Isaiah 13:17, Isaiah 13:19.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided
These 3 words in this verse form a paranomasia, a type of play on words. PERES, divided, and Persians share the same root consonants.
The whole point of the wordplay is that the Persians were about to take over the kingdom directly from the Babylonians: “Peres: Thy kingdom is divided [perisat, from the verb peras”, “separate”] and given to the Medes and Persians [paras]” (Daniel 5:28). It is quite apparent that only the Persians fit into this wordplay (P-R-S are the 3 consonants involved in all 3: PeReS, PeRiSat, PaRaS).
Some commentators suggest the division of the kingdom indicated how jurisdiction over Babylon will be separated under Cyrus II the Great between the Medes and Persians [92]. More probably, it merely refers to the dissolution of the kingdom, as in “broken to pieces” [93].
• [92] The Babylonian empire must have been divided by Cyrus II the Great into two parts. One part would be added to the countries which already owned his sway, and the other given as a sub-kingdom to his son Cambyses.
• [93] The meaning is not that the kingdom was to be divided into two equal parts, and the one part given to the Medes and the other to the Persians; but is to divide into pieces, to destroy, to dissolve the kingdom. See Genesis 38:29; 1 Chronicles 13:11.
The verbs for numbering, finishing, weighing, and dividing the kingdom are all in the perfect tense, as if these actions had already taken place. Although the celebrants at the royal party were unaware of it, Babylon’s doom was already sealed. It seems likely that by the time Daniel uttered these words the city had already been penetrated by Cyrus II the Great’s forces.
Daniel says, Peres, “divided”, a form of the same word Upharsin which he reads from the wall, but implying that the division had already taken place; for instead of saying, “God is dividing thy kingdom”, he declares, “Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians”. It was as much as to say the blow had already fallen: it was not that God was about to do this, but it had already been accomplished. While Daniel was interpreting, the kingdom had passed to other hands.
It was already night. For the handwriting had been seen some time before, written where the light of the chandelier fell on it. The Medes and Persians must have been already in motion. The city, buried in its revelry, was virtually already in their hands. They were all-but-marching along the half-dried bed of the Euphrates, to take possession of what God had given into their hands.
See Daniel 5:31.
The king had lived his life according to his own designs. He had enjoyed power, prestige, and unbridled living. Still relatively young, he undoubtedly expected many more years of enjoyment ahead. How quickly did his situation change. In the midst of merriment, he fell under divine judgment as his last hours unexpectedly drew to a close.
Your “mene” may very soon be written on the wall — your days numbered — your life finished. “Tekel”, for you, may even now be true — weighed, and found wanting!
And then “peres” shall seal your doom, and your opportunities of mercy be forever gone; your body a corpse, and your soul in hell. Divided — separated from all that is good, from all that is holy — to be lost forever, shut up to a Christless eternity. O heed now the word of warning, and flee for your life to the city of refuge, which is Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in nowise cast out”.
See Daniel 5:25 and Daniel 5:27.
Given to the Medes and Persians
Cyrus II the Great Cylinder Detail
Here marks the end of the first kingdom and the rise of the second kingdom as portrayed by Nebuchadnezzar II’s dream in Chapter 2 and Daniel’s vision in Chapter 7 [94]. (Both Nebuchadnezzar II’s dream and Daniel’s vision took place prior to this night. See Daniel 5:1.)
• [94] Belshazzar’s Feast was the turning point in the history of Babylon. It marked the transition from the ‘Head of Gold’ to the ‘Arms and Breast of Silver’ (Daniel 2:32) of the ‘Image,’ and from the ‘Lion’ to the ‘Bear’ phase of Gentile rule (Daniel 7:5). 66 years had elapsed since the capture of Jerusalem recorded in Daniel 1. In the interpretation of the image in Chapter 2, Daniel had predicted to Nebuchadnezzar II, ‘After thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee’ (Daniel 2:39).
Daniel 2:39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.
Daniel 7:5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and [it had] three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.
Daniel informs Belshazzar that the demise of his kingdom will be at the hands of both Media and Persia in a unified alliance. Babylon would not fall to the Medes first, who would then subsequently fall to the Persians: the position of some who incorrectly identify the Sequence of Kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar II’s dream (Daniel 2) as Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece rather than Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Darius the Mede is the initial representative of the Medo-Persian kingdom (Daniel 5:31) and subsequent mention is made of Cyrus II the Great the Persian (Daniel 6:28), there is no record of an intervening fall of Media and rise of Persia.
The mention of Medes prior to Persians conveys an historical detail unlikely to have been known if Daniel was written late, during the Maccabean era.
In the naming of the Median before the Persian there [Daniel 5:28] lies . . . a notable proof of the genuineness of this narrative, and with it of the whole Book; for the hegemony of the Medes was of a very short duration, and after its overthrow by the Persians the form of expression used is always “Persians and Medes”, as is found in the Book of Esther.
This sequence: “Medes” first, then “Persians”, [Daniel 5:28] indicates a point of historical accuracy that fits in beautifully with the idea of Daniel’s authorship of the Book. The supremacy in this dual kingdom remained but a short time with the Medes and that while Daniel was still on the scene, and then passed permanently to the Persians, a fine point that a writer who lived in the Maccabean age would hardly have thought of recording.
The handwriting on the wall presents a dual monarchy (“the Medes and the Persians”, Dan 5:28) as the divine instrument of Babylon’s destruction. Even more important, the emphasis is clearly upon the Persians rather than the Medes, for the word PERES that appeared on the wall was identical to the word PARAS (the vowels did not appear), thus providing the double meaning of “Persians” and “divided”. Thus, the Book of Daniel does not endorse the erroneous idea that it was the Medes that conquered Babylon.
Many other passages indicate the Medo-Persian empire followed upon the fall of Neo-Babylonia (Isaiah 13:1, 17-19; 21:2; 44:28; 45:1, 3; Jeremiah 51:24, 28; Daniel 5:31; 8:3, 20; 9:1; Ezra 1:2; 6:14; Esther 1:3) [95].
• [95] Elam is a part of Persia; but is taken for the whole of Persia, and on this account also the Persians are called Elamites. It is worthy of observation, that, when Isaiah foretold these things [Isaiah 21:2], there was no probability of war, and that he was dead a hundred years before there was any apprehension of this calamity. Hence it is sufficiently evident that he could not have derived his information on this subject from any other than the Spirit of God; and this contributes greatly to confirm the truth and certainty of the prediction.
5:29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Then commanded Belshazzar – The king fulfilled his promise to Daniel.
Then commanded Belshazzar. The king fulfilled the promise he had made to Daniel, although Daniel clearly indicated that he was not interested in the proffered honors. Because of Belshazzar’s drunken condition it may not have been possible to deter him from his course. Some have objected that the dignity of being third ruler was not possible, because, according to verse 30, Belshazzar was slain that very night. The objection is based on the supposition that the proclamation was publicly made in the streets of the city. But the words do not necessitate such a supposition. The proclamation may have been made only before the notables assembled in the palace. It could not become effective because of succeeding events.
Regardless of what Daniel thought of Belshazzar’s reward and the scolding Daniel levelled at the king and Daniel’s terrible pronouncements of doom, Belshazzar accepted Daniel’s reprimands and his fearful interpretations. While it was too late to avert the doom, the final decision in regard to Belshazzar’s ultimate salvation must be left with the great “Watcher” in heaven who, we can be sure, took the king’s last recorded action into consideration and read his heart.
If time had lasted, with Daniel becoming “third ruler in the kingdom”, we can be sure a lot of changes for the better would have been made. But, it was not to be.
(29) Daniel is promoted.
5:29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
They clothed Daniel with scarlet: Though his words were harsh, Daniel was quickly rewarded. Either Belshazzar knew that Daniel was right and bravely tried to do the best under the inevitable circumstances, or he disbelieved the whole thing and promoted Daniel in a display of big-hearted fun.
That he should be the third ruler in the kingdom: Daniel held this post for only a few hours. This shows how temporary the awards and accolades of this world are. In the kingdom that succeeded Belshazzar Daniel was also promoted, but that was due to God, not to Belshazzar.
Then commanded Belshazzar – In compliance with his promise, Daniel 5:16. Though the interpretation had been so fearful in its import, and though Daniel had been so plain and faithful with him, yet he did not hesitate to fulfill his promise.
And they clothed Daniel with scarlet – All this, it would seem, was transacted in a single night.
That he should be the third ruler – See Daniel 5:7.
(29) Belshazzar kept his promise (Daniel 5:16), though Daniel’s honors only lasted a few hours, at the most, typical of the honours of this world. The king’s response is surprising. We might have expected him to execute Daniel for confronting him publicly. Perhaps his response indicates that he was drunk or that he repented. If he repented, his repentance was too late to prevent judgment from falling.
The downfall of Babylon is in type the downfall of the unbelieving world [cf. Revelation 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 defence-less 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 (October 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 (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 [cf. Psalms 2:4-6; Revelation 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 Chapter 6.
The record of Nebuchadnezzar II in Daniel is the message of an overbearing king who experienced temporary judgment, but the message of Belshazzar is one of a sacrilegious king who suffered permanent judgment.
Daniel’s Reward and the Execution of the Judgment
(29) The king fulfilled his promise.
Daniel’s Reward
5:29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Verse 29 describes the king’s response, which, like his life and administration, was found wanting. Belshazzar’s response to Daniel imply 2 sad realities.
First, the king’s response indicates he believed Daniel had given him the true interpretation of the writing on the wall. He rewarded Daniel as he had promised to anyone who could interpret the writing on the wall. When he rewarded Daniel, he gave testimony to the truth of the interpretation Daniel had given. Surely he would never have rewarded Daniel for an interpretation he believed to be inaccurate.
Second, the king’s response is sadly deficient. While Daniel is not said to have urged the king to repent, as he did with Nebuchadnezzar II (4:27), prophecy affords sinners the opportunity to repent. Daniel does not indicate how much time is left for the king. We know from the final verses of the passage that the night would not pass before the king was put to death. For him, there were only minutes — at the most hours — to repent, and he did not do so.
Is this a one final act of pride in verse 29? Did the king take such pride that his word would be carried out that he spent his last moments bestowing the promised reward upon Daniel, a reward Daniel had already turned down? Or did the king think that putting Daniel in a position of power might change things? Daniel turned down the reward before he interpreted the writing on the wall because he wanted the king to know his was a ministry of grace. The king’s insistence on rewarding Daniel, even in the last moments of his own life, was to be understood as a rejection of grace. The king’s promise was fulfilled, but at the same time, his doom was sealed. How tragic to be preoccupied with scarlet clothing, a gold necklace, and the promotion of men, rather than with eternal destiny.
[put] a chain of gold about his neck
Here is evidence of the failure of the ungodly to respond in the face of divine judgment. The king should have been terrified by the message of judgment interpreted by Daniel. Instead of repenting and entreating Daniel to intercede on his behalf, Belshazzar assumes the continuation of his position of authority and bestows rewards to Daniel.
The end of his reign was now close at hand, and yet in security he offers this dignity to Daniel. This shows how rapidly the terror which God had occasioned him had vanished away.
In accepting the chain of gold, Daniel knew Belshazzar’s reward would be short-lived since the king was about to be killed.  See Daniel 5:7.
Third ruler in the kingdom
For the reasons why Daniel was offered the position of third and not second in the kingdom, see Daniel 5:7.
The king’s proclamation would soon elevate Daniel to the position of first ruler—since the king’s father was in exile and the king would be assassinated later that night.
The fact that Daniel was made the third ruler in the land is noteworthy for, as Nabonidus, also spelled Nabu-Na?id, was in exile, when Belshazzar was killed later that night, that left Daniel as the ranking ruler in Babylon. Now, the Persian policy of conquest was to continue, as far as possible, the government of any conquered people. So this move left Daniel as the likely head of the Persian province or satrapy of Babylon, and that is just what Daniel 6:2 presents. So God caused this drunken pagan king in his last regal act to ensure that His representative was placed in the court of the next world power.
Given the upcoming change in regime, this could have been a dangerous reward. Incoming regimes generally arrest or dispatch the leaders of the previous regime. But Daniel’s position of safety and favor with the incoming Medo-Persian regime was guaranteed by his God — Who bestowed upon him an “excellent spirit” (Daniel 6:1-3) [96]
• [96] Meanwhile, we must observe God’s wonderful kindness towards the Prophet. He was not in the slightest danger, as the rest were. He was clad in scarlet [purple], and scarcely an hour had passed when the Medes and Persians entered the city. He could hardly have escaped in the tumult, unless God had covered him with the shadow of his hand.
Besides being divinely protected, Daniel’s role in interpreting the mysterious writing predicting the downfall of Belshazzar would have certainly become known to the forces of Cyrus II the Great [97]. It would have been evident Daniel was not sympathetic to Belshazzar and had talents and abilities of potential benefit to the incoming administration [98].
• [97] There is no doubt that Cyrus II the Great was afterwards informed of this prophecy; for he would not have courted Daniel so much, nor honored him so remarkably, unless this occurrence had been made known to him.
• [98] Coming into power in Babylon upon the fall of Nabonidus and Belshazzar, he would necessarily have his attention very particularly directed to Daniel, not only from his connection with the court for such a long succession of years, but chiefly on account of his interpretation of the mysterious writing on the wall, his prediction of Belshazzar’s fall, and his remarkable wisdom in connection with the reign of the great Nebuchadnezzar II. Very naturally, he would desire to avail himself of the services and talents of so wise, experienced and faultless a man.
Whether Belshazzar’s successor recognised the promotion granted to Daniel in the last hours of his reign . . . the successor would be inclined toward its recognition by the reflection, that by Daniel’s interpretation of the mysterious writing from God the putting of Belshazzar to death appeared to have a higher sanction, presenting itself as if it were something determined in the councils of the gods, whereby the successor might claim before the people that his usurpation of the throne was rendered legitimate. Such a reflection might move him to confirm Daniel’s elevation to the office to which Belshazzar had raised him. This supposition appears to be supported by Daniel 6:2.
Daniel’s stellar behavior is noteworthy in the midst of this dangerous situation:
• (1) Daniel did not pander to or flatter the sinful king to gain favor; instead
• (2) Daniel unapologetically delivered the unvarnished message of God’s judgment to the king;
• (3) Daniel trusted God for protection in the midst of the dangerous regime change.
Let us learn this valuable lesson from Daniel: our job is simply to walk in integrity and devotion to God and trust Him for the results [99].
• [99] Belshazzar’s promotion of Daniel in spite of Daniel’s earlier rebuke of the king again exemplifies to the deportees how they are to live in the exile by consecrating themselves to God and trusting in Him to handle the remaining issues in their lives.
It is ironic that the very empire that destroyed Jerusalem and carried the Hebrews into captivity would have as its last official act the exaltation of the very people that it once dominated.
See Daniel 2:48.
Third ruler in the Kingdom… for about an hour or two
Daniel 5:29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and [put] a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 5:30 ¶ In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 5:31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.
Finally we see that for telling Belshazzar that his kingdom has come to an end, Daniel is rewarded by being made a third ruler in the kingdom.
We read in the Scripture that that very night king Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom. The walls of Babylon were penetrable. Belshazzar obviously thought that they were safe. So how did the Medes and the Persian army get in? Well it is an interesting message and one that shows how even the mighty can fall in one day.
History records for us how they did it. The Medo-Persian army had been camped outside the walls of Babylon. But the walls of Babylon were said to be wide enough to race 6 chariots side by side so there was no breaking in. The Babylonians had also stock piled up to 20 years of food so there was no starving them out either. But they had an Achilles heel. The river Euphrates ran underneath the wall giving the city a constant source of fresh water. So what the Medes and Persians did, was to dig up by the river and form an alternative channel for the water to flow. The Persians turned the Euphrates out of its channel. This reduced the amount of water flowing under the walls enough so that they could simply march in under the walls of Babylon. With the king throwing such a grand party inside the Medo-Persian army was able to take the city without much force. And thus, king Belshazzar of Babylon was killed the very night that God wrote His judgement upon the wall.
But this had all been prophesied earlier by Isaiah concerning Babylon:
Isaiah 47:7 ¶ And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever: [so] that thou didst not lay these [things] to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it. 47:8 Therefore hear now this, [thou that art] given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I [am], and none else beside me; I shall not sit [as] a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children: 47:9 But these two [things] shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, [and] for the great abundance of thine enchantments.
5:30 ¶ In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
In that night – Cyrus II the Great’s army, commanded by Gobryas, entered the palace and ‘the impious king of Babylon’ was slain. Nabonidus, absent from Babylon at that time, surrendered and Cyrus II the Great sent him to distant Carmania.
In that night. Although Belshazzar is not mentioned in the cuneiform sources describing the fall of Babylon, Xenophon declares that “the impious king” of Babylon, whose name is not mentioned in the account, was slain when Cyrus II the Great’s army commander Gobryas entered the palace. Although it must be recognized that Xenophon’s narrative is not historically reliable in all details, many of his statements are based on fact. According to cuneiform sources Nabonidus was absent from Babylon at the time of its capture. When Nabonidus surrendered, Cyrus II the Great sent him to distant Carmania. Therefore the king who was slain during the capture of Babylon could have been none other than Belshazzar.
That night Gobryas the Mede reached the open gates of Babylon, entered the city, and slayed Belshazzar (verse 30). Darius the Mede, the ruler mentioned in Chapter 6, then reigned for about 2 years before Cyrus II the Great the Persian took over. Nabonidus’ moon-god Sin could not outsmart the God of Daniel and prevent Cyrus II the Great from ruling Babylon as Isaiah 45:1 had predicted.
5:30 ¶ In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
Cyrus II the Great was so afterwards welcomed as representative of the supreme god. Nabonidus was despised, and his representative, Belshazzar, even though “not mentioned in the cuneiform sources describing the fall of Babylon” [100], was killed.
• [100] SDA Bible Commentary Volume 4, page 805.
Nabonidus was absent from the city of Babylon at the time of its capture. He, with his army and gone outside the city in a vain effort to stem the onslaught of the Persians, but were defeated near a city named Opis. The Babylonians withdrew south to establish a line of defence near the Euphrates that should prevent Cyrus II the Great from advancing. However, Cyrus II the Great did not try the Babylonian army, but sent a small division south along the Tigris to try to take the capital by surprise. This plan worked: the division could reach Babylon undetected and caught it unawares, meeting only minor resistance near one of its gates. Thus, they were not only able to capture Babylon, but also king Nabonidus, who briefly afterwards left his army to return to Babylon, not knowing that the city had already been taken.
This left the Babylonian army in a precarious position, and it soon surrendered. In the meantime, Ugbaru, the commander of the divisions that had captured, Babylon, had taken good care that his men would not plunder or otherwise harm the city; he had even made sure that the temple rites continued to be observed.
In the meantime, Cyrus II the Great had sent Nabonidus “to distant Carmania” [101] where he was allowed to retire.
• [101] SDA Bible Commentary Vol. 4, page 805.
The lives of “thousand of [Belshazzar’s] lords” who “drank wine” in verses 1, 2 were spared including, as we know from the next Chapter, Daniel.
In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain – On the taking of Babylon, and the consequences, see Isaiah 13:17-22; Isaiah 45:1-2.
(30) Belshazzar died the very same night. Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians. Jeremiah’s prediction (Jeremiah 51:31–32, 56–58) was beginning to be fulfilled with the events that took place in 539 BC. The Jews were able to return from exile.
One cannot play games with God.
In that night
By daybreak, the prediction of the mysterious writing had come to pass: the king and kingdom of Babylon had both come to their end.
Like the rich man in a parable of Jesus, Belshazzar’s life ended unexpectedly on October 12, 539 BC.
Luke 12:16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 12:17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 12:18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 12:19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, [and] be merry. 12:20 But God said unto him, [Thou] fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 12:21 So [is] he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Sudden intervention by God’s judgment will be the experience of a sleeping world when the future Day of the Lord arrives [102].
• [102] Much as Babylon fell on that sixteenth day of Tishri (October 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 (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
The fixing of the day in 539 BC when this historical event occurred is based on a stone document known as the Nabonidus (Nabunaid) Chronicle. This important find was discovered in ruins near the city of Baghdad in 1879, and it is now preserved in the British Museum. A translation of this finding reads in part:
“In the month of Tashritu [Tishri, Hebrew 7th month], when Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revolted, but he (Nabonidus) massacred the confused inhabitants. The 14th day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The 16th day [October 11?-12, 539 BC, Julian, or October 5?-6, Gregorian] Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned (there). . . . In the month of Arahshamnu [Heshvan, Hebrew 8th month], the 3rd day [October 28?-29, Julian], Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him—the state of ‘Peace’ (Sulmu) was imposed upon the city.”
Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium died on November 6, 539 BC; just 25 days after the October 12 death of Belshazzar.
Like Belshazzar, we live each day assuming on tomorrow, but only God knows when our time is up. Accidents occur in our fallen world and may cut our life short at any moment. Jesus spoke of the need to be reconciled to God while there is still time, else we share the fate of those taken when the Tower of Siloam unexpectedly collapsed. “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). What motivation this should be to secure our eternal destiny today by trusting in God’s provision (John 3:16)!
Belshazzar
See Daniel 5:1.
King of the Chaldeans
Chaldeans is here used ethnically and does not follow the later use of the term where it came to mean a class of astrologers. This is evidence for the early date for the composition of Daniel. 
Slain
Historical records bear witness to the assassination of the king’s son:
As the noise and tumult ensued, those within heard the uproar, and at the king’s command to see what the matter was, some of them opened the gates and ran out. And when Gadatas and his men saw the gates open they dashed in in pursuit of the others as they fled back into the palace, and dealing blows right and left they came into the presence of the king; and they found him already risen with his dagger in his hand. And Gadatas and Gobryas and their followers overpowered him; and those about the king perished also, one where he had sought some shelter, another while running away, another while actually trying to defend himself with whatever he could. . . . And when day dawned and those in possession of the citadels discovered that the city was taken and the king slain, they surrendered the citadels too.
The principle record here . . . is “the Annalistic tablet of Cyrus”, an inscription of which the transparent design is to represent his conquest of Babylon as the fulfilment of a divine mission, . . . According to this tablet, “Sippara was taken without fighting, and Nabonidus fled”. This was on the 14th day of Tammuz (June-July); and on the 16th, “Gobryas and the soldiers of Cyrus II the Great entered Babylon without fighting”. On the 3rd day of Marchesvan, that is, 4 months later (October-November), Cyrus II the Great himself arrived. Following this comes the significant statement: “The 11th day of Marchesvan, during the night, Gobryas was on the bank of the river. The son of the king died” ; or, as Professor Driver reads it, “Gubaru made an assault, and slew the king’s son”. . . . But who was this personage whose death was the occasion of a great national mourning and a State funeral? As the context shows clearly that “the king” referred to was not Cyrus II the Great, he can have been no other than Nabonidus. Thus “the king’s son”, so frequently mentioned in the earlier fragments of the inscription and in the contract tablets, is admittedly Belshazzar, there is no reason whatever to doubt that it was he whose death and obsequies are here recorded.
According to the Babylonian Chronicle, in the last year of Nabonidus’s reign the New Year Festival was properly observed and the gods of other cities were brought into Babylon. “In the month of Teshrit, while Cyrus II the Great was attacking the Babylonian army at Opis on the Tigris, the people of Babylonia revolted, but he [Nabonidus] slew some of the people. On the fourteenth day, Sippar was taken without a battle. Nabonidus fled. On the sixteenth day [12 October] Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium, and the troops of Cyrus II the Great entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards Nabonidus was arrested when he returned to Babylon”. Religious ceremonies were not interrupted. “On the third of Marcheswan [29 October], Cyrus II the Great entered Babylon and they waved branches before him. Peace settled on the city and Cyrus proclaimed peace to Babylon. Gubaru, his governor, appointed local governors in Babylon … On the night of the eleventh of Marcheswan [6 November] Ugbaru died. On the . . . the . . . of the king died”.
Two key individuals helped overthrow the city and assassinate the king: Gadatas and Gobryas, both of whom had suffered from wicked acts of the king [103]. See Daniel 5:27.
• [103] Gadatas and Gobryas . . . did homage to the gods, seeing that they had avenged themselves upon the wicked king, and then they kissed Cyrus’ hands and his feet with tears of joy.—Xenophon.
Belshazzar had been killed, but his father Nabonidus remained alive. Josephus cites Berosus who indicates Nabonidus fled to Borsippus where he was subsequently surrendered to Cyrus II the Great [104]. The Nabonidus Chronicle indicates, after the fall of Babylon, Nabonidus returned to Babylon where he was taken captive. Cyrus II the Great allowed Nabonidus to remain alive in exile.
• [104] This is what Berosus relates . . . ‘but when he [Nabonidus] was come to the seventeenth year of his reign, Cyrus II the Great came out of Persia with a great army; and having already conquered all the rest of Asia, he came hastily to Babylonia. When perceived he was coming to attack him, he met with his forces, and joining battle with him, was beaten; and fled away with a few of his troops with him, and was shut up within the city Borsippus. Hereupon Cyrus II the Great took Babylon, and gave order that the outer walls of the city should be demolished, because the city had proved very troublesome to him, and cost him a great deal of pains to take it. He then marched away to Borsippus, to besiege ; but as he [Nabonidus] did not sustain the siege, but delivered himself into his hands, he was at first kindly used by Cyrus II the Great, who gave him Carmania, as a place for him to inhabit in, but sent him out of Babylonia. Accordingly spent the rest of his time in that country, and there died’.
(30-31) The death of Belshazzar and the rise of Darius the Mede.
5:30 ¶ In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 5:31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.
In that night: The word was fulfilled just as Daniel said. God’s Word is always reliable and true.
Darius the Median took the kingdom: Darius was a sub-king under Cyrus II the Great the Persian.
(30-31) Babylon’s Fall.
While at times God delayed judgment to give people the opportunity to repent (Jonah 1), in Belshazzar’s case the time of probation was closed.
Belshazzar’s Reward
While Daniel had not given a time frame for when his kingdom would end, the inference of Daniel’s words was that time had run out for the king. Did the king even have time to sober up enough to understand what Daniel had told him? That very night the writing on the wall was fulfilled. Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede came to power.
Secular history fills in much detail here showing how the Babylonian king felt secure within the walls of that great city and how Gubaru managed to lower the level of the River Euphrates which flowed through the city so that his army could enter the city unhindered. Daniel omits these details, perhaps because they diminish the impact of the swift and devastating fulfilment of prophecy.
Daniel intends for us to grasp this one thing: the Word of God is sure. God brought about the downfall of Babylon and Belshazzar, its king, just as He said. The history books provide details of this defeat, but Daniel underscores the one thing they all omit: the death of Belshazzar and the defeat of Babylon was the judgment of God on a city and a people who profaned the name of the God of Israel. God will not be mocked.
5:31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.
Darius – the word itself represents a title (rather than a name) of several Persian kings.
Darius the Median – (grand)son of Ahasuerus (Daniel 9:1). Darius the Mede was “made king over the realm of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 9:1) by the Persian emperor.
Took the kingdom – Cyrus II the Great’s conquest of Babylon occurred in 539 BC.
Cf. parallels with final fall of Babylon (PK531-8).
Darius the Median. The ruler mentioned in this verse and throughout the 6th Chapter is still an obscure figure as far as secular history is concerned. There is no difference between the spelling of the name of the Darius mentioned here and that of “Darius [I] king of Pesia” in Ezra 4:24 and elsewhere, in Aramaic and Hebrew as in English.
Threescore and two years. Darius’ advanced age was probably responsible for the brevity of his reign. The Book of Daniel mentions only the first regnal year of Darius (Daniel 9:1, 2; 11:1). The king’s death occurred “within about two years of the fall of Babylon” (PK 556).
5:31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, [being] about threescore and two years old.
“Babyon was conquered by Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium, who led the army of Cyrus II the Great and entered the city of Babylon on the night of Belshazzar’s feast”. He accomplished this feat exactly the way it was predicted 172 years earlier in 711 BC.
Isaiah 44:27 That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
44:28 That saith of Cyrus, [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
Isaiah 45:1 ¶ Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
The exact mode by which Cyrus II the Great drained the stream of its water is uncertain. Herodotus relates that it was by turning the river into the receptacle excavated by Nitocris [Belshazzar’s mother-in-law], when she made the stone piers of the bridge within the town. Xenophon records a tradition that it was by means of two new cuttings of his own, from a point of the river above the city to a point below it. Both agree that he entered the city by the channel of the Euphrates, and that he waited for a general festival which was likely to engage the attention of the inhabitants, before turning the river from its natural bed. If the sinking of the water had been observed, his plan would have been frustrated by the closing of the city water-gages, and his army would have been caught, as Herodouts expresses it, ‘in a trap’.
The fact that the Persian account of the fall of Babylon to Cyrus II the Great begins Cyrus’ reign in Babylon immediately, without any intervening reign of Darius the Mede, does not contradict the Biblical narrative. Darius was evidently recognized as a ruler in Babylon by courtesy of Cyrus II the Great, while it was Cyrus II the Great who actually held the power (see Isaiah 45:1). It was natural that Daniel, in direct contact with Darius, should speak of him as the “king” and mention his “first year” (Daniel 9:1) [105].
• [105] SDA Bible Dictionary page 254.
While all these historic things are intriguing and deeply interesting, we must remember the irony of it all. Because people fail to learn from it, history always repeats itself. Consequently: “The present is a time of overwhelming interest to all living. Rulers and statesmen, men who occupy positions of trust and authority, thinking men and women of all classes, have their attention fixed upon the events taking place about us. They are watching the relations that exist among the nations. They observe the intensity that is taking possession of every earthly element, and they recognize that something great and decisive is about to take place—that the world is on the verge of a stupendous crisis.
“The Bible, and the Bible only, gives a correct view of these things. Here are revealed the great final scenes in the history of our world, events that already are casting their shadows before, the sound of their approach causing the earth to tremble and men’s hearts to fail them for fear” [106].
• [106] Prophets and Kings by E.G. White page 537.
And Darius the Median took the kingdom – The city and kingdom were actually taken by Cyrus II the Great, though acting in the name and by the authority of Darius, or Cyaxares, who was his uncle.
Being – Margin, “He as son of.” It is not unusual in the language of the Orientals to denote the age of anyone by saying that he is the son of so many years.
About – Margin, “or, now.” The word, both in the text and the margin, is designed to express the supposed sense of his “being the son of 62 years.” The language of the original would, however, be accurately expressed by saying that he was then 62 years old.
(31) Belshazzar suffered execution that very night, and Darius the Mede became the ruler of Babylonia (cf. Daniel 2:21). Daniel introduced Darius in Daniel 5:31, which is the first verse of Chapter 6 in the Hebrew Bible, and he is the prominent king in Chapter 6.
It is interesting that historians that have studied these things tell us that nations and empires have births and deaths just like people. The following cycle has been discovered about the birth and death of nations:
From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence to bondage.
With this the case, where would you say the United States of America and many other Western nations are on that cycle? Here are the main reasons for Rome’s fall:
• 1. The rapid increase in divorce and the undermining of the sanctity of the home
• 2. The spiraling rise of taxes and extravagant spending
• 3. The mounting craze for pleasure and the brutalization of sports
• 4. The building of gigantic armaments and the failure to realize that the real enemy lay within the walls with the moral decay of the people.
• 5. The decay of religion and the fading of faith into a mere form leaving the people without a guide.
Read those 5 points again for they are eerily reminiscent of the age in which we live. In connection with this, consider the following quote from Abraham Lincoln at his Lyceum Address on January 27, 1838 concerning the USA – in answer to “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected?” he answered “If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide”.
Sobering words and thoughts in the current economic, social and political climate.
• Ultimately Jesus Christ is the only man with any lasting answers. But we are his ambassadors so you should have some answers for people who are living in fear and anxiety due to the writing that is appearing on the wall.
We looked at how God can write ‘Ichabod’ over a nation and this is what He did with the Babylonian empire. The word Ichabod means ‘no glory’ and God is able to give or remove the glory of a nation as He so determines. We also saw how nations and empires are like people in that they can have births and deaths.
Daniel 5:31, which occurred in 539 BC, is one of several verses providing clear chronological indicators within the Book of Daniel (Daniel 1:1, 21; 2:1; 5:31; 7:1; 8:1; 9:1; 10:1).
Darius the Median.
Concerning the relationship of the Medes and Persians, see Daniel 5:28.
Several prophets had predicted it would be the Medes who would overthrow Babylon. 172 years earlier [107], Isaiah had predicted that Cyrus, the Persian king now allied with the Medes, would be God’s instrument allowing Jerusalem to be rebuilt (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1) [108]. About 50 years earlier, Jeremiah had identified the Medes as the ones who would overthrow Babylon (Jeremiah 51:28) [109]. About 12 years earlier, in the third year of Belshazzar (551 BC), Daniel received revelation that Medo-Persia would overthrow Greece (Daniel 8:20-21), implying the kingdom following Babylon in the predicted sequence of kingdoms would be Medo-Persia.
• [107] The fact that God predicted 172 years in advance that a man named Cyrus would release the Jewish exiles points to God’s uniqueness. As proof of the inspiration of the Scriptures it is worthy of note that the ‘Fall of Babylon’ was foretold, and the manner of its capture described, and the name of its captor given, 172 years before the event took place. The Prophecy is found in Isaiah 44:28 – Isaiah 45:1-4.
• [108] Beginning as early as the first deportation of the Jews to Babylon, but especially by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, Isaiah’s prophecy could be understood as predicting Cyrus would gain dominion over Babylon. The Median aspect of this prediction may not have become evident until Cyrus II the Great conquered the Medes in 550 BC (549? BC). “Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, first came to the throne of Anshan in Eastern Elam in 559 BC. In 550 BC (549? BC) he conquered the Medes and became the ruler of the combined Persian and Median Empire.
• [109] Jeremiah Chapter 51 was written in c. 590 BC.
Jeremiah 51:11 Make bright the arrows; gather the shields: the LORD hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device [is] against Babylon, to destroy it; because it [is] the vengeance of the LORD, the vengeance of his temple. 51:12 Set up the standard upon the walls of Babylon, make the watch strong, set up the watchmen, prepare the ambushes: for the LORD hath both devised and done that which he spake against the inhabitants of Babylon. 51:13 O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, [and] the measure of thy covetousness.
Already in Jeremiah God had prophesied that the captivity of his people in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). Babylon’s fall to the Persians 66 years after Jerusalem was first given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar II in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1-2) and the first captives (including Daniel) were taken to Babylon was the first step in keeping this promise. Jeremiah had promised that the Medes would be God’s instrument for punishing Babylon (Jeremiah 51:11, 28), and Daniel dutifully records the fall of the city and kingdom to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:28), where “Darius the Mede” “took the kingdom”. (Daniel 5:31).
Took the kingdom
Cyrus II the Great Cylinder Text
Darius the Mede took the kingdom, but it was forces under Cyrus II the Great, a Persian, that captured the city, leading to the release of the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem — as predicted by Isaiah:
Isaiah 44:28 That saith of Cyrus, [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. 45:1 ¶ Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 45:2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 45:3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call [thee] by thy name, [am] the God of Israel. 45:4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
When Cyrus II the Great led forces against Babylon, he was a commander under the authority of Darius the Mede. Soon [within 2 years] thereafter, he revolted against Darius and assumed the position of prominence from which he issued the decree releasing the Jews [110]. This revolt may have happened, although, by a legal agreement, the Median kingdom was to be his in any case upon the death of Darius.
• [110] Cyrus II the Great, who was of the royal family of the Persians, might have been a satrap of Persia and commanded a part of the army under Darius but was not yet an absolute and independent king. However, soon after the taking of Babylon, when he had a victorious army at his devotion and after Darius returned to Media from Babylon, Cyrus II the Great and the Persians under him revolted from Darius. According to Strabo, the Roman geographer, this last battle was fought at Pasargadae, later Persepolis, in Persia, and Darius the Mede was beaten and taken prisoner by Cyrus II the Great. This victory transferred the empire to the Persians from the Medes. This victory over Darius the Mede happened in 538 BC, about a year after the taking of Babylon, for the reign of the last king of the Chaldeans, whom Josephus calls Naboandelos and Belshazzar, ended in 539 BC. This was 8 years before the death of Cyrus II the Great on December 4, 530 BC, according to Ptolemy’s Canon. The first time Cyrus II the Great defeated Darius the Mede was in 538 BC. He revolted from Darius and became king of the Persians, either the same year, or in the end of the previous year. Darius died naturally on 27 October 538 BC, just over a year after the fall of Babylon, and as he had no male heir, and Cyrus had married his daughter, Cyrus inherited his position upon his death and united the Median and Persian kingdoms in a single throne.
The statements in red above are very doubtful and do not agree with logic and biblical accounts. Until she died in 538 BC, Cyrus II the Great enjoyed a very loving relationship with Cassandane, and no doubt also with her father Cambyses II [Darius the Mede] – who also died naturally on 27 October 538 BC. Cyrus II the Great use to visit his uncle’s house many times before marrying Cassandane. Knowing that Cambyses was old [about threescore and two years old – Daniel 5:31] and that, by a signed legal covenanted agreement, the whole kingdom of Median was to become his upon the death of Darius, it is unlikely that Cyrus II the Great, although more agile, would do battle with Darius and take him prisoner. Such could easily cause a family rebellion. Cyrus was only a year younger than Darius and appear to have acted as brothers rather than as nephew and uncle.
Furthermore, and more importantly, this would imply that Media had fallen to Persia. This would be contrary to all biblical accounts as the second kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar II’s dreamed statue was Medo-Persia (Daniel 2 – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome). Medo-Persia was a combined kingdom with no record of an intervening fall of Media and subsequent rise of Persia.

According to Josephus, after the fall of Babylon, Isaiah’s prediction was read to Cyrus II the Great and played a part in his subsequent decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem [111].
• [111] (5) This was known to Cyrus II the Great by his reading the section in the Book of Isaiah of his prophecies; where, in effect, God had spoken to him: — ‘My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.’ (6) This was foretold by Isaiah 125 years (711 BC – 586 BC) before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus II the Great read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written; so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said to them, that he gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem, and the temple of God.
Isaiah 44:28 That saith of Cyrus, [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. 45:1 ¶ Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
This fateful night was foreseen by the prophets who predicted that Babylon would fall under God’s judgment.
Prophets who predicted the fall of Babylon by name include:
• Isaiah (Isaiah 13:1, 17, 19; 14:3-4) [112], 
• Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:26; 27:6-7; 50:1-1, 9-10, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23-25, 28-29, 35, 42-43, 45-46, 51:1-2, 4, 6-9, 11-12, 24, 39-31, 33-35, 37, 41-42, 44, 47-49, 53-54, 55-56, 58, 60-62) [113], and
• Daniel (Daniel 2:39; 7:5; 8:3, 20).
• [112] The first period of [Isaiah’s] ministry was in the reigns of Uzziah (792 BC-740 BC) and Jotham (750 BC-738 BC as regent, 738 BC-732 BC as sole ruler), in which he called for repentance without success, and consequently had to announce judgment and banishment. The second period extended from the commencement of the reign of Ahaz (735 BC-715 BC) to that of the reign of Hezekiah; the third from the accession of Hezekiah (c. 715) to the fifteenth year of his reign. Isaiah’s prediction concerning the Medes, in Isaiah 13:17, may refer to their participation in an earlier sack of Babylon by Assyria in 689 BC.
• [113] The references to Sheshach in Jeremiah 25:26 and 51:41 are thought to be a cipher for Babylon. “Who or what is Sheshach? Most scholars believe that the word is a cryptogram or atbash [a simple substitution cipher for the Hebrew alphabet] for Babylon. An atbash was a code in which the letters of a name counted from the end of the alphabet are substituted for the letters counted from the beginning. For example, in English the letter ‘z’ would replace the letter ‘a,’ the letter ‘y’ would replace the letter ‘b,’ etc. The word ‘Abby’ as an atbash would become ‘zyyb.’ If ‘Sheshach’ is a Hebrew atbash the consonants become bbl, which is the spelling for Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 25:1). The term Marathaim in Jeremiah 50:21 also refers to Babylon: ““Merathaim” was the region of Matthew Marratim in southern Babylon where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers enter the Persian Gulf. However, the word in Hebrew means “double rebellion”. “Pekod” referred to an Aramean tribe (Pequdu) in southern Babylon on the east bank of the Tigris River; but the word in Hebrew means “to punish” or “punishment”. Thus God was saying He would attack the land of double rebellion and inflict His punishment on it.
Jeremiah’s predictions included information about the timing of Babylon’s fall that came to pass in the events before us: [114]
• [114] Jeremiah also predicts that Babylon will be made “a perpetual desolation”. This part of Jeremiah’s predictions has not found complete fulfilment.
Jeremiah 25:12 ¶ And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, [that] I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations. 25:13 And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, [even] all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations.
Jeremiah 27:6 And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. 27:7 And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him.
Genesis 9:27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
This event marks the change of world domination prophesied in Genesis 9:27 — when Japheth would take over the tent of Shem and dwell therein, for the Neo-Babylonian Empire is the last Semitic empire to have held world dominance and the Medo-Persian Empire the first Japhite empire to come to world prominence.
The downfall of Lydia prepared the way for a Persian attack on Babylonia. The conquest of that country proved unexpectedly easy. In 539 BC the great city of Babylon opened its gates to the Persian host. Shortly afterwards Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jewish exiles there to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, which Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. With the surrender of Babylon the last Semitic empire in the East came to an end. The Medes and Persians, an Indo-European people, henceforth ruled over a wider realm than ever before had been formed in Oriental lands.
See Daniel 5:2.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON CHAPTER 5
One of the great puzzles to Bible commentators through the centuries has been the identity of Belshazzar. Until fairly recently no reference in ancient records to such a king had been discovered. The name Belshazzar was known only from the Book of Daniel and from works that borrowed the name from Daniel—as, for example, the Apocryphal Baruch and Josephus’ writings. Many attempts were made to harmonize secular history with the Biblical records. The difficulty was accentuated by the fact that several ancient sources gave lists of the kings of Babylon to the end of the history of that nation, all of which mentioned Nabonidus, in different spellings, as the last king before Cyrus II the Great, who was the first king of Persia. Since Cyrus II the Great conquered Babylon and succeeded its last Babylonian king, there seemed to be no place for Belshazzar in the royal line. The Book of Daniel, on the other hand, puts the events immediately preceding the fall of Babylon in the reign of Belshazzar, a “son” of Nebuchadnezzar II (see Chronicles 5:2), who lost his life during the night of the conquest of Babylon by the invading Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:30).
In 1861 H. F. Talbot published certain texts found in the Moon Temple at Ur, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. The texts contained a prayer of Nabonidus pronounced in favor of Bel–shar–u?ur, his eldest son. Several writers, among them George Rawlinson, brother of the famous decipherer of the cuneiform script, identified this Bel–shar–u?ur with the Biblical Belshazzar. Others rejected this identification, among them Talbot himself, who, in 1875, listed his arguments with a new translation of the text mentioning Belshazzar. Seven years later (1882) Theophilus G. Pinches published a text brought to light in the preceding year, which is now called the Nabonidus Chronicle. This text describes the capture of Babylon by Cyrus II the Great, and states also that Nabonidus stayed in Tema for several years while his son was in Babylonia. Although at the time Pinches did not completely understand the text, and incorrectly identified Tema, which lies in western Arabia, he made several accurate deductions concerning Belshazzar. He observed, for example, that Belshazzar “seems to have been commander-in-chief of the army, probably had greater influence in the kingdom than his father, and so was regarded as king”
4 cylinders found in the ziggurat of Ur contain the following prayer of Nabonidus: . . . Belshazzar, the first son proceeding from my loins . . . A variant of the above text occurs twice in a large cylinder of Nabonidus found at Ur, as the following passage indicates: . . . Belshazzar, the first son proceeding from my loins. He [Nabonidus] entrusted a camp to his eldest, firstborn son; the troops of the land he sent with him. He freed his hand; he entrusted the kingship to him.
In the succeeding years more texts were discovered that shed light on the various functions and important positions that Belshazzar, Nabonidus’ son, held before and during his father’s reign. However, none of these texts called Belshazzar king as the Bible does. Nevertheless a number of scholars, on the basis of the accumulating evidence, suggested the view—later proved to be correct — that the 2 men may have been co-regents. In 1916 AD Pinches published a text in which Nabonidus and Belshazzar were jointly invoked in an oath. He claimed that texts like this indicated that Bleshazzar’ must have held a “regal [vice-regal] position”, although he stated that “we have yet to learn what was Belshazzar’s exact position in Babylonia”.
Confirmation of the conclusion that a co-regency between Nabonidus and Belshazzar had existed finally came in 1924, when Sidney Smith published the so-called “Verse Account of Nabonidus” of the British Museum, in which the clear statement is made that Nabonidus “entrusted the kingship” to his eldest son. This text, which settled all doubts about a kingship for Belshazzar, was a severe blow to scholars of the higher-critical schools who claimed that Daniel was a product of the 2nd century BC. It should be noted that the Book of Daniel is not regarded by scholars as a reliable guide to history!!!
The discovery of so many cuneiform texts that shed light on the reign of Nabonidus and Belshazzar led Raymond P. Dougherty of Yale University to collect all source material, cuneiform and classical, in one monograph, which appeared in 1929 under the title Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
Cuneiform inscriptions indicate that Nabonidus was the son of the prince of Haran, and of the priestess of the Moon Temple at Haran. After the Medes and Babylonians captured Haran in 610 BC the mother of Nabonidus was possibly taken as a distinguished prisoner to Nebuchadnezzar II’s harem, so that Nabonidus grew up in the court under the eyes of the great king. He was most likely the “Labynetus” of Herodotus, who acted as peace mediator between the Lydians and Persians in 585 BC. This appears evident from the following observations: Herodotus calls the king of Babylon who reigned at the time of the fall of Sardis, in 546 BC, Labynetus. Later Herodotus identifies the father of the ruler of Babylon at the time of its fall in 539 BC by the same name, Labynetus. We know that Nabonidus was king of Babylon in 546 BC, also that he was Belshazzar’s father. That, in 585 BC, Nabonidus was chosen to act as diplomatic representative of Nebuchadnezzar II was a high honor, and shows that the young man must have been a favorite of the king at that time. His wife Nitocris, whom Herodotus describes as a wise woman, was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II by an Egyptian princess.
As far as Biblical usage is concerned “father” may mean also “grandfather” or “ancestor”. We now know that Nabonidus was a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar II, and Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar II’s grandson through his mother.
Cuneiform records have thrown an abundant stream of light on Belshazzar, his office and activities during the years he was co-regent with his father. After conferring the kingship upon Belshazzar in 553 BC / 552 BC, Nabonidus conducted a successful expedition against the Arabian Tema, and made it his residence for many years. During this time Belshazzar was the acting king in Babylon and functioned as commander in chief of the army. Although legal documents continued to be dated according to the regnal years of Nabonidus, the fact that the names of both father and son were pronounced together in oaths, whereas under other kings’ reigns only one name was used, clearly reveals the dual rulership of Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
Of all non-Babylonian records dealing with the situation at the close of the Neo-Babylonian empire the fifth Chapter of Daniel ranks next to cuneiform literature in accuracy so far as outstanding events are concerned. The Scriptural account may be interpreted as excelling because it employs the name Belshazzar, because it attributes royal power to Belshazzar, and because it recognizes that a dual rulership existed in the kingdom. Babylonian cuneiform documents of the sixth century BC furnish clear-cut evidence of the correctness of these three basic historical facts contained in the Biblical narrative dealing with the fall of Babylon. Cuneiform texts written under Persian influence in the sixth century BC have not preserved the name Belshazzar, but his role as a crown prince entrusted with royal power during Nabonidus’ stay in Arabia is depicted convincingly.
Summary of Chapter 5: This Chapter depicts 2 pagan kings with Nebuchadnezzar II being an example of one who is honest hearted that God was able to use. In contrast, Belshazzar dismissed all the privileges and opportunities that came his way that would have gained him complete success as the last king of his nation. Although Chapter 6 follows sequentially with this, Chapter 7 falls back to Belshazzar’s “first year” to begin the prophetic portion of Daniel’s Book that comprises the remainder of Daniel’s writings. However Chapter 5 begins with the last year of Belshazzar’s reign that basically sums up the character and behaviour of one who lived only for self and used his fellow men to minister to him rather than being a minister to them. The most outstanding epic of this message is the supernatural hand-writing on the wall of the palace that riveted the attention of all the party goers. It exemplified the judgment scene that is going on right now in heaven where all nations, kingdoms, tongues and people are being numbered, weighed in the balance of the sanctuary and soon be divided between those whom God accepts and those whom He will reject. While Nebuchadnezzar II may be accepted, Belshazzar probably not.
Application
• Reasons for the judgment (verses 20, 22):
(1) Humanity’s pride. People are opposed to God and separate from Him (humanism and materialism).
(2) The pleasure principle. People live only for pleasure.
(3) No willingness to learn. Knowledge that would be available is not being utilized. The Scriptures are accessible to almost all of us but we may ignore them. Jesus wants to live in us, and we may allow Him partial access only. This is unbelief.
• Effects of the judgment (Daniel 5):
(1) Death of the sinners.
(2) Justification of God.
(3) Liberation of the people of God.
• How to “escape” the judgment: Committing one’s live in faith to God (John 5:24).
Conclusions
We should not fear God in the negative sense. His goal is to save humanity. On the other hand, we should not feel free to disregard His will. It is unbelief and disobedience that bring about judgment.
How the Persians were able to penetrate the seemingly impregnable defenses of the city is explained by the Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote some 70-80 years after the event happened. He writes that Cyrus II the Great diverted the river Euphrates by redirecting its flow, causing the river level to drop as it went beneath the city wall. When the water reached about midway up a man’s thigh, the Persian soldiers entered the city via the riverbed. So sure the city could not be taken, the Babylonians grew careless. Thus, the Persians came upon them by surprise and so took the city.
From the Babylonian chronicles we learn that Babylon fell on the sixteenth day of Tishri, or on October 12, 539 BC, in terms of our calendar. Belshazzar was slain, but his father, Nabonidus, who had fled south, surrendered and committed himself to the mercy of Cyrus II the Great. According to a Greek report, Cyrus II the Great spared his life and gave him a residence in Carmania, a Persian province located along the north shore of the Persian Gulf.
What are some parallels between the fall of literal Babylon in 539 BC and the fall of spiritual Babylon in the time of the end? Jeremiah 5:8, 51:13, 51:45, 51:60-64, Revelation14:8, 17:1, 18:4, 18:21-24.
Around 597 BC, when Babylon was at the pinnacle of its power, Jeremiah prophesied Jeremiah 51.37 And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant. Yet, after its fall to the Persians, it remained an important city. Alexander the Great planned to make it the capital of his empire, but he died prematurely. One of his generals, Seleucus Nicator, chose Opis, to the north, as his capital, which he named Seleucia after himself. He used millions of bricks from Babylon to help build his new capital. Babylon, therefore, sank slowly into obscurity. As century succeeded century, it gradually fell into decay. By 200 AD the place was deserted.
Covered by the shifting sands of the desert, it became a lost city until archaeologists uncovered it in the nineteenth century.
We see from our passage that the events of that fateful final night in Belshazzar’s banquet hall did not profit him at all. We may conclude that Daniel 5 was written more for our edification than for Belshazzar. Some of the lessons we should learn from the writing on the wall are given below:
The deadly nature of the sin of pride. Pride is the evil response of sinful men to the grace of God. It is taking personal credit for what God has given or accomplished. Pride was the root sin necessitating the disciplining of Nebuchadnezzar II in Daniel 4. Pride was also the sin of Belshazzar in Chapter 5. It led to his blasphemous acts with the temple vessels and, ultimately, to his death.
The Bible views pride as a dreaded and deadly sin. In our culture today, pride is seen more as a virtue. In our culture, it is not something men have too much of, but something men believe they lack and need more of. Why does the Bible condemn men for thinking too highly of themselves and command them to do otherwise (see Philippians 2:1-11)? Our culture hides this great evil, the source of many social ills, and promotes self-esteem. If self-esteem is not another name for pride, then what is it?, and where is it described, defended, or advocated in the Scriptures?
Like his father, Belshazzar did not see the Almighty God. He had no adequate grasp of the greatness of God, which always results in humility — a realistic view of ourselves. Only when we esteem God rightly do we see ourselves correctly. Pride swells men’s ego to the point that God is small, and He can be controlled by men. True worship sees God as “high and lifted up”, infinitely wise and all-powerful. True worship causes men to fall before God in humble praise and adoration. To fail to acknowledge the glory of God and pursue and promote one’s own glory is to pursue death. We must not fail to learn this from the death of Belshazzar.
The inadequacy of secular wisdom. 3 times in the first 5 Chapters of Daniel, the wisest men in the land were summoned by the king to tell him the truth which had been divinely revealed. Each time, the wise men were forced to acknowledge their inability to do so. Secular wisdom can never provide the answers for the all-important, spiritual and eternal issues of life:
Isaiah 55:8 ¶ For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 55:9 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 11:34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 11:35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 11:36 For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen. See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:6-16.
A popular phrase frequently heard in Christian circles today says something like this: “All truth is God’s truth”. On the face of it, this is surely true. The problem is in placing secularly derived truth on the same level as divinely revealed truth. God’s truth, as revealed in His Word, is the only truth we need to be saved and to live godly lives in this world (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-25; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 1:2-4, 16-21; 3:14-18).
Why are Christians turning more and more to the secular wisdom of men (sometimes Christian men) for that which is essential for life and godliness? Are the Scriptures not sufficient? Is the cross of Christ not the solution for sin? What does the world offer that is better than the Bible has to offer? Christians are turning to secular wisdom for truth, guidance, and direction, when the Book of Daniel turns us to divine revelation. It is time to get back to the Book!
Seeing the hand of God in history. The spiritual, divinely inspired account of the fall of Babylon differs greatly from that of secular accounts. Daniel’s account includes all that God felt it necessary for us to know. It is not wrong to know more, but all we need to know, God has revealed in the Bible.
Daniel’s account differs greatly from the secular accounts of the historians. How and why Daniel differs is significant and instructive. Secular accounts focus on the political and administrative blunders of Belshazzar and Babylon. Daniel focuses on the moral failures of Belshazzar and the nobility of Babylon. Secular history would look at the death of Belshazzar and his kingdom from a political point of view. The Bible describes the same incidents from a spiritual viewpoint. The moral failure was that of pride. The sin was that of blasphemy and failing to give God the glory which is His. Secular accounts would focus on diverting of the river which passed under or through the walls of Babylon, while the Bible focuses on divine judgment. The city fell because this was God’s judgment on a wicked nation and a wicked king.
Daniel 5 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. To the Christian, seeing “the hand of God” in history should be a constant mindset.
Learning from history. While Belshazzar’s punishment was revealed by the writing on the wall, the king’s sin was the result of his failure to heed the lessons which his father, Nebuchadnezzar II, had learned. The basis for Belshazzar’s judgment was his failure to heed history and the lessons of his father. All the king needed to know in order to honor God and be spared from divine judgment, he did know. But he failed to act on what he knew from history. Even when the day of judgment was revealed through the writing on the wall, he still did not repent.
When you and I stand before God, all of the Bible will be the basis for divine judgment. We cannot say we did not know better nor can we plead ignorance. No one, in all of time, has been given so much revelation as us. What have you done with the revelation you have received through the Bible? As God held Belshazzar responsible for what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar II, so he will hold us responsible, as revealed in His Holy Word. We must learn to heed the lessons of history.
The judgment of God. Daniel 5 is the inspired account of the judgment of God, falling upon the kingdom of Babylon and upon its king, Belshazzar. How sad to read of a king who parties while his kingdom crumbles, and who fails to repent even when the day of judgment is divinely revealed to him. Refusing to heed the “hand-writing on the wall”, he was judged for it. The final minutes of life were spent in matters pertaining to his earthly kingdom, rather than in seeking entrance into the eternal kingdom.
The judgment of Babylon and of Belshazzar were certain. They were also imminent. Yet the king never seemed to grasp this and act accordingly. His actions are typical of all who are blinded by sin. For this reason, our Lord warned of the dullness of men’s hearts and minds, even as the day of judgment approaches:
Matthew 24:32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer [is] nigh: 24:33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, [even] at the doors. 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 24:36 ¶ But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but MY FATHER only. 24:37 But as the days of Noe [were], so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 24:38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 24:39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 24:40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 24:41 Two [women shall be] grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 24:42 ¶ Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 24:44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Only 2 letters are different in the names Belshazzar (the king) and Belteshazzar (Daniel). The life of the king was cut short, while the life of the prophet was extended, so that he outlived several Babylonian kings and served in the Medio-Persian court as well as the Babylonian court. But the difference between Belshazzar and Belteshazzar is not in the spelling of their names; the difference is in their relationship to God.
Belshazzar resisted and rejected the grace of God and the revelation which he was given through history and the prophet Daniel. Belshazzar reaped the wrath of God.
Belteshazzar, Daniel, trusted in God and served Him faithfully. Daniel believed, obeyed, and proclaimed God’s Word, and lived on. Not only did Daniel live long in this world, but he will live forever in the kingdom of God.
May we not be like Belshazzar but like Belteshazzar.
Isaiah 47:1 ¶ Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: [there is] no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. 47:2 Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. 47:3 Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet [thee as] a man. 47:4 [As for] our redeemer, the LORD of hosts [is] his name, the Holy One of Israel. 47:5 Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms. 47:6 ¶ I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke. 47:7 ¶ And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever: [so] that thou didst not lay these [things] to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it. 47:8 Therefore hear now this, [thou that art] given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I [am], and none else beside me; I shall not sit [as] a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children: 47:9 But these two [things] shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, [and] for the great abundance of thine enchantments. 47:10 ¶ For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I [am], and none else beside me. 47:11 ¶ Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, [which] thou shalt not know.
Isaiah 55:6 ¶ Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 55:8 ¶ For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 55:9 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 55:10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: IT SHALL NOT RETURN UNTO ME VOID, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it.
Daniels case against Belshazzar was based upon the fact that God had given the king great light and understanding, yet it made no difference and the king carried on living in contempt of God. This speaks to our nation and culture as well as to our lives personally. There is often a disconnection between what we know and how it affects our daily lives. There is no doubting that the pull of the world and the Babylonian spirit are very strong.
But let us remember the 2 aspects that have come out of this study – the precarious position of the unbeliever and the importance of this life for the believer. Let us not be like king Belshazzar who knew it all but did nothing, but like Daniel who set himself apart for the Lord to use.
• Other examples exist like the Ninevites in Jonah Chapter 3 who genuinely repented and were spared judgement. They were just as wicked as the Babylonians but after a decree from the king, everyone humbled themselves before the Lord when they heard of the upcoming judgement. Even every beast had to be covered in sackcloth! But not our Belshazzar. No sign of repentance.
Besides the inspired Scriptures, we have historical accounts of this night’s events by the Greek historians Herodotus and  Xenophon:
{190} {1} Then at the beginning of the following spring, when Cyrus II the Great had punished the Gyndes by dividing it among the 360 canals, he marched against Babylon at last. The Babylonians sallied out and awaited him; and when he came near their city in his march, they engaged him, but they were beaten and driven inside the city. {2} There they had stored provisions enough for very many years, because they knew already that Cyrus II the Great was not a man of no ambition, and saw that he attacked all nations alike; so now they were indifferent to the siege; and Cyrus II the Great did not know what to do, being so long delayed and gaining no advantage. {191} {1} Whether someone advised him in his difficulty, or whether he perceived for himself what to do, is not known, but he did the following. {2} He posted his army at the place where the river goes into the city, and another part of it behind the city, where the river comes out of the city, and told his men to enter the city by the channel of the Euphrates when they saw it to be fordable. Having disposed them and given this command, he himself marched away with those of his army who could not fight; {3} and when he came to the lake, Cyrus II the Great dealt with it and with the river just as had the Babylonian queen: drawing off the river by a canal into the lake, which was a marsh, he made the river sink until its former channel could be forded.
{4} When this happened, the Persians who were posted with this objective made their way into Babylon by the channel of the Euphrates, which had now sunk to a depth of about the middle of a man’s thigh. {5} Now if the Babylonians had known beforehand or learned what Cyrus II the Great was up to, they would have let the Persians enter the city and have destroyed them utterly; for then they would have shut all the gates that opened on the river and mounted the walls that ran along the river banks, and so caught their enemies in a trap. {6} But as it was, the Persians took them unawares, and because of the great size of the city (those who dwell there say) those in the outer parts of it were overcome, but the inhabitants of the middle part knew nothing of it; all this time they were dancing and celebrating a holiday which happened to fall then, until they learned the truth only too well. {192} {1} And Babylon, then for the first time, was taken in this way.
{9} . . . Cyrus II the Great answered . . . “dig a ditch as wide and as deep as possible” . . . {13} Thus, then his men were employed, while the enemy upon the walls laughed his siege-works to scorn, in the belief they had provision enough for more than 20 years. . . . {15} . . . Then, when he heard that a certain festival had come round in Babylon, during which all Babylon was accustomed to drink and revel all night long, Cyrus II the Great took a large number of men, just as soon as it was dark, and opened up the heads of the trenches at the river. {16} As soon as that was done, the water flowed down through the ditches in the night, and the bed of the river, where it traversed the city became passable for men. . . . {26} . . . they advanced. And of those they met on the way, some fell by their swords, some fled back into their houses, some shouted to them; and Gobryas and his men shouted back to them as if they were fellow-revellers. . . . {27} And Gobryas and Gadatas and their troops found the gates leading to the palace locked, and those who had been appointed to attack the guard fell upon them as they were drinking by a by a blazing fire . . . {28} But, as a noise and tumult ensued, those within heard the uproar, and at the king’s command to see what the matter was, some of them opened the gates and ran out. {29} And when Gadatas and his men saw the gates open they dashed in in pursuit of the others as they fled back into the palace, and dealing blows right and left they came into the presence of the king; and they found him already risen with his dagger in his hand. {30} And Gadatas and Gobryas and their followers overpowered him . . .
{31} Cyrus II the Great then sent the companies of cavalry around through the streets and gave them orders to cut down all whom they found out of doors, while he directed those who understood Assyrian to proclaim to those in their houses that they should stay there, for if any one should be caught outside, he would be put to death. . . . {33} And when the day dawned and those in possession of the citadels discovered that the city was taken and the king slain, they surrendered . . . {35} When all this was finished, [Cyrus II the Great] first called the magi and requested them, inasmuch as the city had been taken by the sword, to select sanctuaries and the first fruits of the booty for the gods. . . . {36} He ordered the Babylonians, moreover, to go on tilling their lands, to pay their tribute, and to serve those to whom they had severally been assigned . . . {69} And since he considered that all Babylon, too, stood in need of adequate protection . . . he stationed there also an adequate garrison, and he arranged that the Babylonians should furnish the money for their wages, for it was his aim that this people should be as destitute of resources as possible, so that they might be submissive and as easily restrained as possible. {70} This guard that he then established about himself and in the city of Babylon is maintained on that same footing even to this day.
The record of Herodotus and Xenophon agree with this passage. Where Herodotus and Xenophon differ from Scripture is in relation to the catastrophic overthrow of the city, which awaits future fulfilment.
Reducing the river’s depth allowing men to march their way into the city was the key strategy the overconfident Babylonians had not considered. Xenophon gives the depth of the river as greater than the height of two men. Since the invasion occurred in the fall (Tishri, October), the level of the river may have been at an annual minimum [115]. Cyrus II the Great may have been aware of the previous construction project by the Queen of Babylon where the river was routed into a lake to permit tiling the river banks within the city [116]. Cyrus II the Great could have used the artificial lake from the Queen’s project or he probably constructed a new channel [117]. The distance from the northernmost defence wall to where the river was diverted appears to have been great enough that the lookouts in the city would not have been aware of the plan in progress [118]. As Xenophon mentions, the river level only began to fall under the cover of darkness.
• [115] The extent to which the Euphrates was diverted may be exaggerated in these classical sources, the Chronicle nevertheless does lend some support to the idea that the Persians gained access to the city by way of the river, since they attacked Babylon in Tishri (October), when the river was at its lowest level.
• [116] Having stationed the bulk of his army near the passage of the river where it enters Babylon, and again having stationed another division beyond the city, where the river makes its exit, he gave orders to his forces to enter the city as soon as they should see the stream fordable. . . .he himself marched away with the ineffective part of his army; and having come to the lake, Cyrus II the Great may have done the same with respect to the river and the lake as the queen of the Babylonians had done; for having diverted the river, by means of a canal, into the lake, which was before a swamp, he made the ancient channel fordable by the sinking of the river. . . It is related by the people who inhabited this city, that. . .those of the Babylonians who inhabited the centre knew nothing of the capture (for it happened to be a festival); but they were dancing at the time, and enjoying themselves, till they received certain information of the truth.
• [117] Some say he constructed a large artificial lake, miles above the city, into which he drained the river. Others say, and it seems the most likely, that he constructed a new channel for the river, far away and invisible from the tops of the Towers on top of the walls, and into this new channel he diverted the water of the river above the city, so that the water that flowed through the city flowed away and left the river bed passable.
• [118] The site for the northernmost defence wall for the Babylonian area suits the operation by Cyrus II the Great when he diverted the River Euphrates at such a distance as not to arouse immediate suspicion. This allowed the element of surprise for the attack on the city along the river and canal beds which gave access under and through walls into the citadel itself.
Several passages in the prophets, that may have seemed to employ symbolism, actually describe the literal strategy of Cyrus II the Great: [119]
• [119] [Babylon] will be taken by stratagem, caught in a snare: Jeremiah 50:24 I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware: thou art found, and also caught, because thou hast striven against the LORD. This stratagem is connected with her water defences, of which Jeremiah gives such an eloquent description: Jeremiah 51:36 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will plead thy cause, and take vengeance for thee; and I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry.
Who [Cyrus] says to the deep, ‘Be dry! And I will dry up your rivers’ Isaiah 44:27 That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: [by the action of Cyrus II the Great].
Not only had the prophets predicted Babylon’s rivers would be dried up, Isaiah had predicted God would make sure “the gates will not be shut” for Cyrus:
Isaiah 45:1 ¶ Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 45:2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron:
Xenophon stated, “Gobryas and Gadatas and their troops found the gates leading to the palace unlocked”. As Gobryas and Gadatas approached the palace itself, “those within heard the uproar, and at the king’s command . . . opened the gates”. “One of Cyrus’ own clay cylinders tells that the priests of Babylon opened the gates of the impregnable city and let him come in”. “Gobryas in the camp of Cyrus II the Great, when the command for making the furtive assault was given, said, ‘I should not be surprised if the doors of the palace are now open, for the whole city seems to-night to be given up to revelry.’ ”. These “fortuitous” developments are in accord with the word of God pronounced 172 years earlier through Isaiah.
Through the carelessness of the guards, the brazen gates in the walls that lined the banks of the river inside the city were left unbolted, thus giving easy entrance to the soldiers of Cyrus II the Great, who quickly took the city. If it had been otherwise Cyrus II the Great’s soldiers would have been trapped, or had to march out again. But the Hand of God was in it. God had said that Cyrus should take the city, and as its time was come, the plan of Cyrus II the Great was doubtless inspired of God, and He saw to it that the gates on the river’s banks were not closed. If the guards of the river gates had been on duty, and had noticed the subsidence of the water of the river, they could have given the alarm, and probably saved the city. But God had ordered otherwise.
As Herodotus and Xenophon relate, the capture of Babylon by the forces of Cyrus II the Great was generally peaceful, with only limited bloodshed. This accords with other archaeological records such as the  Nabonidus Chronicle and Cyrus II the Great Cylinder:
Cyrus II the Great entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him—the state of “Peace” was imposed upon the city. Cyrus II the Great sent greetings to all Babylon. . . . From the month of Kislimu to the month of Addaru, the gods of Akkad which Nabonidus has made come down to Babylon . . . returned to their sacred cities.
Cyrus II the Great’s widespread troops . . . strolled along — their weapons packed away. Without any battle, he [Marduk] made him [Cyrus] enter his town Babylon . . . sparing Babylon . . . any calamity. He delivered into his (i.e., Cyrus II the Great’s) hands Nabonidus, the king who did not worship him (i.e., Marduk). All the inhabitants of Babylon . . . as well as of the entire country of Sumer and Akkad, princes and governors (included), bowed to him (Cyrus II the Great) and kissed his feet, jubilant that he (had received) the kingship, and with shining faces. . . . I am Cyrus II the Great . . . When I entered Babylon . . . as a friend and (when) I established a seat of government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord, [induced] the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon . . . [to love me], and I was daily endeavouring to worship him. . . . I strove for peace in Babylon . . ..
The only significant battle of the campaign was at Opis, on the way to Babylon [120].
• [120] In the march of Cyrus II the Great’s army against Babylon the only real battle of the campaign was fought at Opis: . . . In the month Tishri, when Cyrus II the Great fought at Opis on the Tigris river against the troops of Akkad, the people of Akkad he destroyed by means of a conflagration: he put the people to death.
As is often the case with wicked men, their sin ultimately returns on their own heads. This was the case for both Belshazzar and his father Nabonidus.
Two men, whom Xenophon records as being instrumental in Babylon’s downfall, had suffered grievously at the hands of Belshazzar.
One man, named Gobryas, was motivated to help Cyrus II the Great partly out of revenge for the murder of his son by Belshazzar:
“These treasures, Cyrus II the Great, I [Gobryas] present to you, and this my daughter I entrust to you to make what disposal of her you may see fit. But we make our prayer to you, I, as I have done already, that you avenge my son, and she that you be the avenger of her brother”.
The other man, named Gadatas, was made a eunuch by the command of Belshazzar:
When the eunuch saw him [Gobryas], he gladly concurred in all the plans and settled with him the things they were to do. . . . on the day following Cyrus II the Great made his attack and Gadatas his defence. . . . when Cyrus II the Great came, he [Gadatas] made himself master of the place . . . When this was accomplished, the eunuch after setting things in order within the fort, came out and did him obeisance according to the custom and said: “Joy be with you, Cyrus II the Great!”.
For additional background on the mistreatment of Gobryas and Gadatas by Belshazzar, see under Daniel 5:27.
Like his son, Nabonidus had made his own enemies: the priests and populous of Babylon. As mentioned in the Daniel 5:1, Nabonidus was absent from Babylon for 17 years. It seems he wanted to change the religious practices in Babylon and, as a result, had earned the anger of the priests and populous. His lack of respect for Babylon’s patron god, Marduk, and his practice of moving various idols into Babylon are the subject of a passage found on the Cyrus II the Great Cylinder:
A weakling has been installed as the end of his country; . . . the correct images of the gods he removed from their thrones . . . The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he [chang]ed into an abomination, daily he used to do evil against his (i.e., Markuk’s) city . . . the lord of the gods became terribly angry and [he departed from] their region, (also) the (other) gods living among them left their mansions, wroth that he had brought (them) into Babylon . . ..
Adding to his unpopularity, when the Persian forces attacked Opis, the Nabonidus Chronicle indicates Nabonidus killed his own subjects [121].
• [121] When the Persians attacked at Opis on the Tigris, the Chronicle records that the inhabitants of Akkad revolted. In order to suppress the revolt, Nabonidus massacred a number of his own subjects. No wonder the Babylonians welcomed Cyrus II the Great as a deliverer:
When Cyrus II the Great attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revolted, but he (Nabonidus) massacred the confused inhabitants. The 14th day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. . . . Afterwards Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned (there).
Since Belshazzar and Nabonidus were so unpopular, Cyrus II the Great was seen as a restorer of proper worship and a deliverer from their oppressive rule:
The clay cylinder [the Cyrus II the Great Cylinder] is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with an account by Cyrus II the Great, king of Persia 549-530 BC, of his conquest of Babylonia in 539 BC and capture of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king . . . He then describes measures of relief which he brought to the inhabitants of the city, and tells how he returned a number of god-images which Nabonidus had collected in Babylonian, to their proper temples through Babylonia, Assyria and western Iran.
As Cyrus II the Great the Persian marched through southern Mesopotamia, most of the cities greeted him as a liberator. They were tired of Belshazzar and his negligent father, and they had heard positive reports of the way Cyrus II the Great respected people in his territories. Cyrus II the Great was a master of propaganda; he cast himself as a just man to those he ruled, as a ruler with happy subjects.
After Cyrus II the Great captured Babylon, he appointed a representative of the Medes over the city, “Darius the Mede received the kingdom”. Received – “formally, receive a kingdom”, implying the kingdom was conferred upon Darius subject to a higher authority (Cyrus II the Great) [122]. This meaning is supported by the statement concerning Darius in Daniel 9, “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed [lineage] of the Medes, which [who] was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans”  (Daniel 9:1). Was made king is a (passive) perfect verb— the subject of the verb (Darius) was made king by another agent of greater authority. The same root word describes the reception of the Messiah’s kingdom by his saints: “But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (Daniel 7:18). Here again, a higher authority (the Ancient of Days) conferred the kingdom into the hands of a lesser authority (the saints).
• [122] ‘Received the kingdom’ has been explained in various ways:
• (1) God bestowed the kingdom upon Darius;
• (2) he (a subordinate to the king) was granted the kingdom by a superior, Cyrus II the Great; and
• (3) it denotes mere ‘secular succession’.
Daniel 9:1 ¶ In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans.
Made king by God? What a needless statement! All kings are made kings by God. But if we take the words to mean made king by man, then at once they become intelligible; for this tell us that the date is reckoned, not according to the years of an independent sovereign, such, for instance as the later Darius, but of a sub-king set over the realm of the Chaldeans, a Babylonian as distinguished from an imperial ruler. The Darius of Daniel 5 is, then, a sub-king, and not an independent monarch.
Daniel 9:1 states that Darius the Mede was made king over realm of the Chaldeans — a term which strongly suggests that it was some higher authority that put him in power. The earlier statement in Daniel 5:31 (Daniel 6:1) that Darius received the kingdom clearly points in the same direction, for a conqueror does not receive authority (as from a higher sovereign who entrusts it to him) but he wins it by force and claims it as his own by right of conquest. Quite evidently Cyrus II the Great found it expedient to turn Babylon over to a trusted lieutenant while he took care of more urgent business along his northern frontier.
Cyrus II the Great may have entrusted the government to Darius as a concession to the Median faction within his alliance or because Cyrus II the Great did not plan to remain in Babylon [123].
• [123] Darius the Mede did not take Babylon. It was captured by Cyrus II the Great. But as an act of courtesy, because Media was the older of the 2 Kingdoms (Media and Persia), and also because Cyrus II the Great had some other military campaigns to finish, Cyrus committed the governorship of Babylon to his uncle Darius, the king of Media, who ruled for about 2 years.
Unknown to secular historians such as Herodotus and Xenophon, behind-the-scenes, angelic powers were involved in the struggle associated with the city’s overthrow and the establishment of Medo-Persia under Darius [124] being about 62 years old.
• [124] Also, this first year is when there was significant warfare in the angelic realm (Daniel 11:1) as God’s predicted program transitions from the first kingdom of gold to the second kingdom of silver. Clearly, evil angels under Satan’s direction were, and still are, involved in an attempt to thwart God’s work.
Here is evidence of God’s sovereignty. The man who would rule following Babylon’s overthrow was born only a few years after Daniel was taken in the first deportation to Babylon.
Darius was born about 601 BC, at the height of Babylonian power and just after Daniel was taken into captivity with the first wave of exiles from Judah in 605 BC. Thus Daniel signals that even at the beginning of Israel’s captivity, God had already begun to implement his plan to bring it to an end, as he promised through his prophets (e.g., Isaiah 44:24-28; 45:1-8; Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10; Ezekiel 34:11-16).
God had said: That saith of Cyrus, [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Since the Jews had been taken captive by Babylon, the overthrow of Babylon by Medo-Persia laid the groundwork for fulfilment of Isaiah’s prediction. In 536 BC Cyrus II the Great issued the decree allowing the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem.
Ezra 1:1 ¶ Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and [put it] also in writing, saying, 1:2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which [is] in Judah. 1:3 Who [is there] among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which [is] in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he [is] the God,) which [is] in Jerusalem. (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23)
This proclamation of Cyrus II the Great triggered opposition in the demonic realm in an attempt to thwart God’s plans. See Daniel 11:1.
Following the earlier deportations to Babylon, decrees by Cyrus II the Great and Artaxerxes I Longimanus enabled the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. Not all the Jews returned. Those that did returned in stages.
A decree allowing their return was issued and the return followed soon thereafter. In 458 BC, Ezra, . . . in accordance with the decree of Artaxerxes I Longimanus, organised another large caravan of those whose hearts were made willing to return to the land of their fathers. 2 major expeditions made the journey, one in 537-8 BC. and another in 458 BC. Another decree by Artaxerxes I Longimanus and his 7 counsellors to Ezra in the Autumn of 457 BC was to organise the nation along the lines of the Mosaic code and to re – establish the city government of Jerusalem. [See Ezra 7, Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 1].
Artaxerxes I Longimanus was nicknamed by the Greeks ‘long-armed’. According to Plutarch (Artaxerxes 1), ‘the first Artaxerxes, among all the kings of Persia the most remarkable for a gentle and noble spirit, was surnamed the Long-handed, his right hand being longer than his left, and was the son of Xerxes.’
The statement concerning Darius’ age may also infer his relatively short reign until Cyrus II the Great of Persia rises to prominence.
Lessons for Living
Daniel Chapter 5 contains numerous lessons we can apply in our own lives.
Blinding Power of Idolatry – Evidence of the living God is all around us (Psalms 19:1-4; Romans 1:20), yet throughout history men have suppressed the knowledge of God and followed after dead idols (Psalms 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Isaiah 40:18-20; 42:17-18; 46:3-7; Jeremiah 10:2-11; Habakkuk 2:18-19; Acts 17:29-30; 19:24-28; Revelation 9:20-21).
Acts 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 17:27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 17:29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
Failure to Learn – After recounting how Belshazzar’s grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar II, had been judged by God for his pride, Daniel states, “And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this”. (Daniel 5:22). This is the real “power of pride”: it interferes with our ability to learn. The idea is, that we ought to derive valuable lessons from what has taken place in past times; that, from the events which have occurred in history, we should learn what God approves and what he disapproves; that we should avoid the course which has subjected others to his displeasure, and which has brought his judgments upon them. Hence we must diligently consider the example of the King of Babylon when we see him full of anxiety, and yet not seeking God as he ought. And why so? He wanders about in great hesitation; he sees himself constrained, and yet he cannot fly from the judgment of God, but seeks consolation in magi, Chaldeans, and other impostors; for, as we have seen, they had been once or twice proved so, and this ought to have been sufficiently celebrated and notorious to all men. This time was a preparation for repentance; but he failed in the midst of his course, as we see too many do who tremble at the voice of God and at the signs of his vengeance, as soon as he admonishes them; but these feelings are but evanescent; thus proving how little they have learnt of the necessary lesson.
Liability of Guilt – When the hand appeared and began writing on the wall, the King was greatly alarmed. His fear, no doubt, was partly due to the miraculous sight itself. But it seems he also had a sense of foreboding: his guilt and licentious lifestyle had placed him in a position of moral liability. Those who mock God and live like there is no tomorrow may appear bold and worry-free, but deep down inside, their conscience is keeping a ledger they cannot escape (Romans 2:14-15). They know they have a sin debt — though they go to enormous lengths to suppress this truth. How much better to live life with a clear conscience, where one can walk in a position of peace and rejoice in God’s grace and reconciliation! See Daniel 5:6.
Desecrating the Holy Things of God – Belshazzar’s abuse of the temple vessels of the God of Israel at his drunken party illustrates the ignorant disregard of the important things of God by the godless of every age. When the precious things of God’s holy Church are seized and appropriated to gild and glorify a party or a sect or to satisfy the narrow whims of some modern Diotrephes, what is it but a desecration of holy things? When Baptism, a profession of religion, or the sacred Supper of our Lord is used as a passport to citizenship, a qualification for secular office, a means of gratifying friends, securing favors or gaining credit and standing in society, what is it but a misappropriation of holy vessels to an unholy use? When the Christian pulpit and the honors and sanctities of the holy office are laid hold of for mere personal display, the securement of notoriety, the building up of a reputation or the putting forth of doctrines contrary to the Gospel, what is it else than a profanation of what is sacred to the Lord? . . . When the facts and expressions of God’s Word, its pure and glorious truths, its sublime and awful doctrines, are taken to point a pun, to edge a jest, to sharpen a sarcasm, to excite a laugh, to raise a sneer, what is it but Belshazzar over again profanely taking hold of the sacred vessels to add to the zest of an impious carousal? . . . We fault Belshazzar for his profanations, but in these things his sin still lives
Need of Discernment in Ministry – We need to carefully consider to whom we are ministering, what is their relationship to God, and why God has us involved? What is the purpose of our ministry in each particular setting? We hope and pray our purpose is to minister God’s reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). At other times and places our role may be to speak God’s unvarnished judgment. In those situations, we dare not align ourselves with or seek reward from those to which we minister. Like Daniel before Belshazzar, we must not fear the face of man and stand resolute in our purpose before God. See Daniel 5:17.
Perspective When the Ungodly Rule – Job asks the age-old question: Job 21:7 Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? While the ungodly, like Belshazzar, are in power, great patience is required by the people of God. Our world view must be informed by Scripture so we are convinced God’s justice will ultimately prevail. Hence we may seek consolation, when we see tyrants rushing on so impetuously, and indulging their lust and cruelty without moderation. When, therefore, they rush on, as if they would mingle heaven and earth, let us remember this instruction, Their years are numbered! God knows how long they are to rage; He is not deceived; He knows whether it is useful to the Church and his elect, for tyrants to prevail for a time. By and by He will surely restrain them, but since He determined the number of their days from the beginning, the time of his vengeance is not yet quite at hand, while He allows them a little longer to abuse without restraint the power and the sway which He had divinely granted them. A record of these events would encourage the exiles by reminding them that all of the oppressive forces that the nation would experience during the times of the Gentiles would only be allowed to assert themselves for a limited duration. Each oppressive empire would only be allowed to stay in power for a specific amount of time.
God Provides Revelation and Understanding to Believers – Daniel 5 reinforces and brings to a climax a theme from Daniel 2 and 4: God reveals mysteries to His people that unbelievers cannot understand. As believers, we have an understanding of spiritual realities — how circumstances and events form part of God’s plan as revealed within the Scriptures. Non-believers don’t understand these things. Even if they do happen to read the Bible, without a change of heart, their minds remain blinded to what God has revealed (Job 12:24; Matthew 11:20, 25; John 9:39-41; Romans 11:7-8; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Spirit of Prophecy
The Holy One heard their sacrilegious hilarity and glee, and beheld their base idolatry. That witness did not depart from the banqueting hall without leaving His testimony. In the same hour came forth the bloodless fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the king’s palace, and the king saw the hand writing, in letters that seemed to burn and flame like fire—characters which he knew not. Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the other. All the magicians, and astrologers, and the wise men of the kingdom tried to read to writing, but could not decipher it or make known the interpretation thereof. Finally Daniel was brought before the king read Daniel 5:13-28. {Lt8-1893}
Shall we not strive to avoid the sin of Belshazzar when at his sacrilegious feast he praised the gods of gold and silver? At this feast the king and his nobles drank wine out of the sacred vessels of the Lord’s house. The wine confused the senses of the revelers until nothing was too sacred for them to profane. The king himself led in the blasphemy, making a display of defiant desecration. {Ms50-1893}
At the very moment when the feasting was at its height, a bloodless hand came forth and traced on the wall of the banqueting room the doom of the king and his kingdom. “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” were the words written, and they were interpreted by Daniel to mean, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting…. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” And the record tells us, “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom.” {Ms50-1893}
Little did Belshazzar think that an unseen Watcher beheld his idolatrous revelry. But there is nothing said or done that is not recorded on the books of heaven. The mystic characters traced by the bloodless hand testify that God is a witness to all we do and that He is dishonored by feasting and reveling. We cannot hide anything from God. We cannot escape from our accountability to him. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we are responsible to Him whose we are by creation and by redemption. {Ms50-1893}
Holy angels looked down on the scene of desecration. A Watcher was present who was unrecognized, but who was making his presence a power of condemnation. Now the unseen and uninvited guest made his presence felt. At the moment when the sacrilegious revelry was at its height, a bloodless hand came forth, and wrote words of doom on the wall of the banqueting hall. Burning words followed the movements of the hand. “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” was traced in letters of flame. Few were the characters traced by the silent hand on the wall facing the king, but they demonstrated that the power of God was there. {Lt51a-1897}
The king was afraid. His conscience was awakened. Fear and suspicion seized him. This always follows the course of the guilty. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror. Alarm and terror seized the great men of the kingdom. Their blasphemous disrespect of sacred things was changed in a moment. A frantic terror overcame all self-control. {Lt51a-1897}
“The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. Then came in all the king’s wise men; but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.” In vain the king offered honor and promotion. Heavenly wisdom cannot be bought or sold. “Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.” {Lt51a-1897}
There was in the palace a woman who was wiser than them all,—the queen of Belshazzar’s grandfather. In this emergency she addressed the king in language that sent a ray of light into the awful darkness. “O king, live forever,” she said; let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed. There is a man in the kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar, thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; … now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.” {Lt51a-1897}
Note: “the queen of Belshazzar’s grandfather” would be the wife of Nebuchadnezzar II, Amytis of Babylon. While this is not impossible, as Amytis was born c. 630 BC, and she would be about 91 years old. However, Amytis of Babylon is believed to have died c. 565 BC aged about 65 years. Amytis had mothered 9 children with Nebuchadnezzar II [Kassaya, Innin-etirat, Ba’u-asitu, Marduk-nadin-ahi, Eanna-sarra-usur, Amel-Marduk, Marduk-sum-usur, Musezib-Marduk, and Nitocris] and it is unlikely that she would then live longer than most people. Also, Spirit of Prophecy in {CTBH 21.1} does say that “the queen-mother remembered Daniel”. This would be Nitocris of Babylon, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II and the wife of the king Nabonidus.
“Then was Daniel brought in before the king.” Making an effort to brace himself up to show kingly authority and greatness, Belshazzar said, “Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee…. Now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be third ruler in the kingdom.” {Lt51a-1897}
Daniel was not awed by the king’s appearance, or confused and intimidated by his words. He answered, “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor…. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him…. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk in them, and thou hast praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” {Lt51a-1897}
“This is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE: God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL: Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES: Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Daniel did not swerve from his testimony. He held the king’s sin before him, showing him the lessons he might have learned, but did not. He had not heeded the events so significant to him. He had not read the history of his grandfather correctly. The responsibility of knowing truth had been laid upon him, but the practical lessons he might have learned and acted upon, had not been taken to heart; and his course of action brought its sure consequences. {Lt51a-1897}
This was the last feast of boasting held by the Chaldean king. He who bears long with the perversity of man passed the irrevocable sentence. Belshazzar had greatly dishonored Him who had exalted him as king, and his probation was taken from him. While the king and his nobles were at the height of their revelry, the Persians turned the Euphrates out of its channel, and marched into the unguarded city. And as the king and his lords were drinking from the sacred vessels of Jehovah, and praising their gods of silver and gold, Cyrus and his soldiers stood under the walls of the palace. “In that night,” the record says, “was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom.” {Lt51a-1897}
Could the curtain be rolled back before the youth who have never given their hearts to God, with others who are Christians in name, but who are unrenewed in heart and unsanctified in temper, they would see that God’s eye is ever upon them, and they would feel as disturbed as did the king of Babylon. They would realize that in every place and in every hour of the day, there is a holy Watcher, whose eye takes in the whole situation, whether it is one of fidelity or of disloyalty and deception. He balances every account. {Lt51a-1897}
The Lord does not suffer wicked practices to go on without sending reproof and warning. There are men in high places who know of the reproofs of warnings of judgment sent, who know the example of God’s dealings with others who have been disobedient, yet who have not sought to correct their ways before God. They have endeavored rather to make of none effect the messages that God has sent. They have continued to make of none effect the messages God has sent. They have continued to exalt themselves, and to carry out their own ways in defiance of the words of God. They have not been ignorant of the right way, but they have allowed their eyes to be blinded. In pronouncing judgment upon these, God will say, “‘Though thou knewest all this,’ thou hast not humbled thy heart.” {Ms79-1908}
In my travels I have witnessed scenes of feasting and revelry; and as I have marked the effects of unrestrained indulgence, as I have listened to the blasphemous mirth, and seen the indifference and even contempt for all things sacred, I have thought of the sacrilegious feast of Belshazzar, to which were invited a thousand of his lords, his princes, his wives, and his concubines,—that feast where wine was freely drunk from the sacred vessels of the temple of God, while the revelers sang the praises of their gods of silver and gold. They knew not that an unseen Watcher heard every word of blasphemy, beheld every impious action. {CTBH 20.1}
In the midst of the revelry, Belshazzar saw the bloodless hand of an uninvited guest tracing upon the wall of the palace words that gleamed like fire,—words which, though unknown to that vast throng, were a portent of doom to the new conscience-stricken revelers. The boisterous mirth was hushed, and they shook with a nameless terror as their eyes fastened upon the wall. Where but a few moments before had been hilarity and blasphemous witticism, were pallid faces and cries of fear. A wild cry from the frantic king rang out in the assembly, calling for some one to come and read the writing. The wise men were called in, but those mystic characters were as strange to them as to the others. {CTBH 20.2}
Then the queen-mother remembered Daniel, who, so many years before, had made known to king Nebuchadnezzar his forgotten dream and its interpretation. Standing before that gorgeous, terror-stricken throng, the prophet of God reminded the king of Nebuchadnezzar’s sin and fall, and reproved him for his own crimes. Then turning to the writing on the wall, he read the message from Heaven. The hand was gone, but four terrible words were left. With bated breath the people waited as Daniel announced their meaning: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin:” “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it;” “thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting;” “thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” [Daniel 5:25-28.] {CTBH 21.1}
Just as surely as there was a Witness at the feast of Belshazzar, there is also a Witness in every scene of sacrilegious mirth, and just as surely is the recording angel writing, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” {CTBH 21.2}
Intemperance is on the increase, in spite of the efforts made to control it. We cannot be too earnest in seeking to hinder its progress, to raise the fallen, and shield the weak from temptation. With our feeble human hands we can do but little, but we have an unfailing Helper. We must not forget that the arm of Christ can reach to the very depths of human woe and degradation. He can give us help to conquer even this terrible demon of intemperance. {CTBH 21.3}
But it is in the home that the real work must begin. The greatest burden rests upon those who have the responsibility of educating the youth, of forming their character. Here is a work for mothers, in helping their children to form correct habits and pure tastes, to develop moral stamina, true moral worth. Teach them that they are not to be swayed by others, that they are not to yield to wrong influences, but to influence others for good, to ennoble and elevate those with whom they associate. Teach them that if they connect themselves with God, they will have strength from him to resist the fiercest temptations. {CTBH 21.4}
In his pride and arrogancy, with a reckless feeling of security Belshazzar “made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” All the attractions that wealth and power could command, added splendor to the scene. Beautiful women with their enchantments were among the guests in attendance at the royal banquet. Men of genius and education were there. Princes and statesmen drank wine like water and reveled under its maddening influence. {PK 523.2}
With reason dethroned through shameless intoxication, and with lower impulses and passions now in the ascendancy, the king himself took the lead in the riotous orgy. As the feast progressed, he “commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which . . . Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.” The king would prove that nothing was too sacred for his hands to handle. “They brought the golden vessels; . . . and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.” {PK 523.3}
Little did Belshazzar think that there was a heavenly Witness to his idolatrous revelry; that a divine Watcher, unrecognized, looked upon the scene of profanation, heard the sacrilegious mirth, beheld the idolatry. But soon the uninvited Guest made His presence felt. When the revelry was at its height a bloodless hand came forth and traced upon the walls of the palace characters that gleamed like fire–words which, though unknown to the vast throng, were a portent of doom to the now conscience-stricken king and his guests. {PK 524.1}
Hushed was the boisterous mirth, while men and women, seized with nameless terror, watched the hand slowly tracing the mysterious characters. Before them passed, as in panoramic view, the deeds of their evil lives; they seemed to be arraigned before the judgment bar of the eternal God, whose power they had just defied. Where but a few moments before had been hilarity and blasphemous witticism, were pallid faces and cries of fear. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror. {PK 524.2}
Belshazzar was the most terrified of them all. He it was who above all others had been responsible for the rebellion against God which that night had reached its height in the Babylonian realm. In the presence of the unseen Watcher, the representative of Him whose power had been challenged and whose name had been blasphemed, the king was paralyzed with fear. Conscience was awakened. “The joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” Belshazzar had impiously lifted himself up against the God of heaven and had trusted in his own might, not supposing that any would dare say, “Why doest thou thus?” but now he realized that he must render an account of the stewardship entrusted him, and that for his wasted opportunities and his defiant attitude he could offer no excuse. {PK 524.3}
Before that terror-stricken throng, Daniel, unmoved by the promises of the king, stood in the quiet dignity of a servant of the Most High, not to speak words of flattery, but to interpret a message of doom. “Let thy gifts be to thyself,” he said, “and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.” {PK 529.1}
The prophet first reminded Belshazzar of matters with which he was familiar, but which had not taught him the lesson of humility that might have saved him. He spoke of Nebuchadnezzar’s sin and fall, and of the Lord’s dealings with him–the dominion and glory bestowed upon him, the divine judgment for his pride, and his subsequent acknowledgment of the power and mercy of the God of Israel; and then in bold and emphatic words he rebuked Belshazzar for his great wickedness. He held the king’s sin up before him, showing him the lessons he might have learned but did not. Belshazzar had not read aright the experience of his grandfather, nor heeded the warning of events so significant to himself. The opportunity of knowing and obeying the true God had been given him, but had not been taken to heart, and he was about to reap the consequence of his rebellion. {PK 529.2}
“Thou, . . . O Belshazzar,” the prophet declared, “hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: then was the part of the hand set from Him; and this writing was written.” {PK 529.3}
Turning to the Heaven-sent message on the wall, the prophet read, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.” The hand that had traced the characters was no longer visible, but these four words were still gleaming forth with terrible distinctness; and now with bated breath the people listened while the aged prophet declared: {PK 530.1}
“This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” {PK 530.2}
In that last night of mad folly, Belshazzar and his lords had filled up the measure of their guilt and the guilt of the Chaldean kingdom. No longer could God’s restraining hand ward off the impending evil. Through manifold providences, God had sought to teach them reverence for His law. “We would have healed Babylon,” He declared of those whose judgment was now reaching unto heaven, “but she is not healed.” Jeremiah 51:9. Because of the strange perversity of the human heart, God had at last found it necessary to pass the irrevocable sentence. Belshazzar was to fall, and his kingdom was to pass into other hands. {PK 530.3}
As the prophet ceased speaking, the king commanded that he be awarded the promised honors; and in harmony with this, “they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.” {PK 530.4}
The Unseen Watcher. [Part 1]
“I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed,” writes Daniel, “and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; he cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit; let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches; nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth; let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 1}
Here we are shown that God holds even heathen kings subject to His will. He takes idolaters and deals with them according to their evil ways and doings. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 2}
The same watcher who came to Daniel was an uninvited guest at Belshazzar’s Sacrilegious Feast. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 3}
This monarch had everything to flatter his pride and indulge his passions. He was a great king, presiding over the then greatest kingdom on earth. His provinces were cultivated by captives, and his capital enriched by the spoil of nations. He held the life and property of his subjects in his hand. To those who ministered to his pride and vanity, he was indulgent; they were his chosen favourites; but if at any moment they crossed his will, he was at once a cruel tyrant. His anger blazed forth against them without restraint. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 4}
Admitted to a share in kingly authority in his youth, Belshazzar gloried in his power, and lifted up his heart against the God of heaven. He despised the One who is above all rulers, the General of all the armies of heaven. “Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” On this occasion there was music and dancing and wine drinking. The profane orgies of royal mirth were attended by men of genius and education. Decorated women with their enchantments were among the revellers. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 5}
Riotous Blasphemy
Exalted by wine and blinded by delusion, the king himself took the lead in the riotous blasphemy. Reason no longer controlled him; his lower impulses and passions were in the ascendency. His kingdom was strong and apparently invincible, and he would show that he thought nothing too sacred for his hands to handle and profane. To show his contempt for sacred things, he desecrated the holy vessels taken from the temple of the Lord at its destruction. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 6}
A watcher who was unrecognized, but whose presence was a power of condemnation, looked on this scene of profanation. Soon the unseen and uninvited guest made his presence felt. At the moment when the sacrilegious revelry was at its height, a bloodless hand came forth, and wrote words of doom on the wall of the banqueting hall. Burning words followed the movements of the hand. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 7}
“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,” was written in letters of flame. Few were the characters traced by that hand on the wall facing the king, but they showed that the power of God was there. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 8}
Belshazzar was afraid. His conscience was awakened. The fear and suspicion that always follows the course of the guilty seized him. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror. Alarm seized the great men of the kingdom. Their blasphemous disrespect of sacred things was changed in a moment. A frantic terror overcame all self-control. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 9}
Neglected Opportunities.
Belshazzar had been given many opportunities for knowing and doing the will of God. He had seen his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar banished from the society of men. He had seen the intellect in which the proud monarch gloried taken away by the One who gave it. He had seen the king driven from his kingdom, and made the companion of the beasts of the field. But Belshazzar’s love of amusement and self-glorification effaced the lessons he should never have forgotten; and he committed sins similar to those that brought signal judgments on Nebuchadnezzar. He wasted the opportunities graciously granted him, neglecting to use the opportunities within his reach for becoming acquainted with truth. “What must I do to be saved?” was a question that the great but foolish king passed by indifferently. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 10}
Note: The words “seen” used in the above paragraph do not imply that Belshazzar had actually witnessed his grandfather’s events. These events had taken place years before his birth. Belshazzar had only “seen” them by court and family hearsay and also by his understanding. As Spirit of Prophecy confirms in {Lt51a-1897}, He had seen the reason and intellect, in which the proud king gloried, taken away by the One who gave it. Also, He had known of his grandfather’s banishment, by the decree of God, from the society of men; and he was familiar with Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion and miraculous restoration. {PK 522.2}. Likewise {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 2} says Belshazzar was acquainted with the dealings of God with Nebuchadnezzar, but this knowledge had no effect upon his own course.
This is the danger of heedless, reckless youth today. The hand of God will awaken the sinner as it did Belshazzar, but with many it will be too late to repent. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 11}
The ruler of Babylon had riches and honour, and in his haughty self-indulgence he had lifted himself up against the God of heaven and earth. He had trusted in his own arm, not supposing that any would dare to say, “Why doest thou this?” But as the mysterious hand traced letters on the wall of his palace, Belshazzar was awed and silenced. In a moment he was completely shorn of his strength and humbled as a child. He realized that he was at the mercy of One greater than Belshazzar. He had been making sport of sacred things. Now his conscience was awakened. He realized that he had had the privilege of knowing and doing the will of God. The history of his grandfather stood out as vividly before him as the writing on the wall. {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 12}
In vain the king tried to read the burning letters. He had found a power too strong for him. He could not read the writing. “The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. Then came in all the kings’s wise men; but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.” In vain the king offered honour and promotion. Heavenly wisdom cannot be bought and sold. “Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.” {BEcho, April 25, 1898 par. 13}
The Unseen Watcher. [Part 2]
“Then was Daniel brought in before the king.” Making an effort to brace himself and to show his authority, Belshazzar said, “Art thou that Daniel which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, which the king, my father, brought out of Jewry? I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. . . . Now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.” {BEcho, May 2, 1898 par. 2}
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Daniel did not swerve from his duty. He held the king’s sin before him, showing him the lessons he might have learned but did not. Belshazzar had not heeded the events so significant to him. He had not read his grandfather’s history correctly. The responsibility of knowing truth had been laid upon him, but the practical lesson he might have learned and acted upon had not been taken to heart; and his course of action brought the sure result. {BEcho, May 2, 1898 par. 5}
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We are never alone. We have a companion, whether we choose Him or not. Remember that wherever you are, whatever you are doing, God is there. To your every word and action you have a witness,–the holy, sin-hating God. Nothing that is said, or done, or thought, can escape His infinite eye. Your words may not be heard by human ears, but they are heard by the Ruler of the universe. He reads the inward anger of the soul when the will is crossed. He hears the expression of profanity. In the deepest darkness and solitude He is there. No one can deceive God; none can escape from their accountability to Him. {BEcho, May 2, 1898 par. 8}
“O Lord, Thou hast searched Me, and known me,” writes the psalmist. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.” {BEcho, May 2, 1898 par. 9}
Day by day the record of your words, your actions, and your influence, is being made in the books of heaven. This you will one day meet. “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” {BEcho, May 2, 1898 par. 10}
I send you the note of warning to take heed. You are appointed to be “labourers together with God.” This responsibility you may ignore; but your action in so doing will bring its sure result. God has given to each of you your work. He has given you faculties, means, light, and knowledge, and He holds you accountable for the way in which you use these powers. “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him?” {BEcho, May 2, 1898 par. 11}
Belshazzar was acquainted with the dealings of God with Nebuchadnezzar, but this knowledge had no effect upon his own course. He blindly clung to the worship of idols, and gave himself up to sensual indulgence. It was not long before reverses came. He had been defeated in battle by Cyrus, and for two years had been besieged in the city of Babylon. Within that seemingly impregnable fortress, with its massive walls and its gates of brass, protected by the river Euphrates, and supplied with provisions for a twenty years’ siege, the voluptuous monarch felt secure, and passed his time in mirth and revelry. {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 2}
One night he made a great feast to a thousand of his lords. All the attractions that wealth and royal power could command, combined to give splendor to the scene. Everything that could administer to the lusts of the flesh was there. Princes and statesmen drank wine like water, and reveled under its maddening influence. The king had commanded to bring to that sacrilegious feast the golden and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple at Jerusalem, and which had been consecrated to the service of God, and employed by holy men in his worship. These were now to be used by the wicked revelers. {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 3}
While they were that night in the midst of idolatrous mirth, the king’s countenance suddenly pales, and he seems paralyzed with terror; for lo! a bloodless hand is tracing mystic characters on the wall over against him. The revelers discern the curious and, to them, unintelligible writing. The exciting merriment dies away, and a painful silence falls upon the throng. The king’s thoughts troubled him, “the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” Trembling with alarm, he “cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed in scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” But these men are no more able to interpret the mystic characters traced by the hand of an angel of God than they were to interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 4}
The terror of the king increases. He is conscious that this writing is a rebuke of his impious feast, and yet he cannot tell its exact import. The queen then reminds him that there is a man in his kingdom “in whom is the spirit of the holy gods,” and that in the days of his father, “light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods was found in him;” whom his father “made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.” {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 5}
Then is Daniel brought before the king without delay, and the monarch promises him great rewards if he will interpret the writing. Daniel looks upon that wicked throng bearing evidence of intemperate feasting and revelry. He stands before them in the quiet dignity of a servant of the most high God, not to speak words of flattery, as was the custom of the professedly wise men of the kingdom, but to speak the truth of God. Sternly disclaiming all desire for rewards or honor, he says, “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.” {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 6}
Daniel then proceeds to speak of the Lord’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar,–the dominion and glory bestowed upon him, the divine judgment for his pride, and his subsequent acknowledgment of the power and mercy of the God of Israel; and then in the most direct and emphatic words he rebukes the great wickedness of the impious king,–“And thou, his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of Heaven.” {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 7}
Daniel then gave the interpretation of the mystic writing: “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.” “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” That very night the words of the prophet were fulfilled. The city was occupied, the king slain, and the kingdom taken, by the Medes and Persians. {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 8}
When called before King Belshazzar to explain the mysterious writing on the wall, Daniel reminded the king of matters with which he was familiar, but which had not taught him the lesson of humility that might have saved him. “O thou king,” said the prophet, “the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: and he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.” {RH, September 24, 1908 par. 8}
Then the enormity of Belshazzar’s guilt was thus emphasized: “And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knowest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them, and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways hast thou not glorified: then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. {RH, September 24, 1908 par. 9}
“And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene, God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou are weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” {RH, September 24, 1908 par. 10}
The Lord does not suffer wicked practises to go on without sending reproof and warning. There are men in high places who know of the reproofs, of warnings, of judgment sent, who know the example of God’s dealings with others who have been disobedient, yet who have not sought to correct their ways before God. They have endeavored rather to make of none effect the messages that God has sent. They have continued to exalt themselves, and to carry out their own ways in defiance of the words of God. They have not been ignorant of the right way, but they have allowed their eyes to be blinded. In pronouncing judgment upon these, God will say, as he said to the wicked king, “Thou . . . hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.” {RH, September 24, 1908 par. 11}
Many have continued in a wicked course of action, until the Lord Jesus can not accept their services unless there is a genuine conversion. His people today have no excuse for turning away from the counsels of his Spirit. In his Word, he has given us examples that should be warnings to us, yet although we have known all this, many of God’s people have not taken heed to the warnings of God. {RH, September 24, 1908 par. 12}
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. {RH, September 24, 1908 par. 13}
There is a witness present with us, even as there was at the sacrilegious feast of Belshazzar. “The king made a feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.” {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 1}
There was a witness present on this occasion, just as there is a witness present at all such times of feasting and frivolity. The witness was not an invited guest, yet when the hilarity was at its height, when God’s name and honor were profaned, the bloodless hand wrote the sentence of judgment on the wall. “Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 2}
In all the gatherings of young and old, there is present an uninvited guest, a witness from heaven, as there was a witness at the sacrilegious feast of Belshazzar. Could those who dishonor God by their words and actions, behold the writing in the record, their countenances would change, as surely as did the countenance of the king when he saw the part of the bloodless hand that wrote on the wall of his palace. You may think that you are sinning in secret, or you may be entirely indifferent to the matter; but for all that, every dishonoring word spoken against God will bring its sure reward. That which you sow you will also reap. The Lord has said, “Them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” You may suppose that your reasonings are very clear and sharp. Nebuchadnezzar thought the same. Warnings were given him in dreams, and no one of his wise men could interpret them. Daniel alone was found to interpret the dreams of the king, and to add words given him of God, to exhort the king to repentance and reformation. {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 3}
Daniel said to the king, “O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.” But the king did not heed the message of Daniel. For twelve months he was tested and proved of God, to see if he would humble his proud heart, and the witness was with him when he came in and when he went out; and at the end of the twelve months he walked in his palace in the kingdom of Babylon. “The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 4}
The king’s reason was taken away, and the word of God was fulfilled to the very letter. For seven years his kingdom was ruled by others, while the might and mind and power of the king were humbled. He ate grass as an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven. “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 5}
Before Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall of the king’s palace, he rehearsed the experience of Nebuchadnezzar before Belshazzar. “Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let they gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: and he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou and thy lords, thy wives and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them: and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hah numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel;’ Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 6}
The Lord exalted his name even among the heathen, and kings honored God because of his wonderful works, which revealed him to be the only true God. {YI, November 9, 1893 par. 7}
Daniel was true, noble, and generous. While he was anxious to be at peace with all men, he would not permit any power to turn him aside from the path of duty. He was willing to obey those who had rule over him, as far as he could do so consistently with truth and righteousness; but kings and decrees could not make him swerve from his allegiance to the King of kings. Daniel was but eighteen years old when brought into a heathen court in service to the king of Babylon, and because of his youth his noble resistance of wrong and his steadfast adherence to the right are the more admirable. His noble example should bring strength to the tried and tempted, even at the present day. {4T 570.1}
Through the folly and weakness of Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, proud Babylon was soon to fall. Admitted in his youth to a share in kingly authority, Belshazzar gloried in his power and lifted up his heart against the God of heaven. Many had been his opportunities to know the divine will and to understand his responsibility of rendering obedience thereto. He had known of his grandfather’s banishment, by the decree of God, from the society of men; and he was familiar with Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion and miraculous restoration. But Belshazzar allowed the love of pleasure and self-glorification to efface the lessons that he should never have forgotten. He wasted the opportunities graciously granted him, and neglected to use the means within his reach for becoming more fully acquainted with truth. That which Nebuchadnezzar had finally gained at the cost of untold suffering and humiliation, Belshazzar passed by with indifference. {PK 522.2}
… Babylon was besieged by Cyrus, nephew of Darius the Mede, and commanding general of the combined armies of the Medes and Persians. … . {PK 523.1}
In his pride and arrogancy, with a reckless feeling of security Belshazzar “made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” All the attractions that wealth and power could command, added splendor to the scene. Beautiful women with their enchantments were among the guests in attendance at the royal banquet. Men of genius and education were there. Princes and statesmen drank wine like water and reveled under its maddening influence. {PK 523.2}
Belshazzar was acquainted with the dealings of God with Nebuchadnezzar, but this knowledge had no effect upon his own course. He blindly clung to the worship of idols, and gave himself up to sensual indulgence. It was not long before reverses came. He had been defeated in battle by Cyrus, and for two years had been besieged in the city of Babylon. Within that seemingly impregnable fortress, with its massive walls and its gates of brass, protected by the river Euphrates, and supplied with provisions for a twenty years’ siege, the voluptuous monarch felt secure, and passed his time in mirth and revelry. {RH, February 8, 1881 par. 2}
Admitted to a share in kingly authority and power at fifteen years of age, Belshazzar gloried in his power, and lifted up his heart against the God of heaven. He despised the One who is above all rulers, the General of all the armies of heaven. “Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” The profane orgies of royal mirth were attended by men of genius and education, by masters of architecture. {Lt51a-1897}
Belshazzar had been given many opportunities for knowing and doing the will of God. He had seen his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar banished from the society of men. He had seen the reason and intellect, in which the proud king gloried, taken away by the One who gave it. He had seen the king driven from the kingdom, and made the companion of the beasts of the field. But Belshazzar’s love of amusement and self-glorification had effaced the lessons he should never have forgotten. He committed sins similar to those that had brought such signal judgments on Nebuchadnezzar. He wasted the opportunities graciously granted him, neglecting to use the means within his reach for becoming acquainted with truth. “What must I do to be saved?” was a question that the great but foolish king passed by indifferently. {Lt51a-1897}
While still in the festal hall, surrounded by those whose doom has been sealed, the king is informed by a messenger that “his city is taken” by the enemy against whose devices he had felt so secure; “that the passages are stopped, . . . and the men of war are affrighted.” Verses 31, 32. Even while he and his nobles were drinking from the sacred vessels of Jehovah, and praising their gods of silver and of gold, the Medes and the Persians, having turned the Euphrates out of its channel, were marching into the heart of the unguarded city. The army of Cyrus now stood under the walls of the palace; the city was filled with the soldiers of the enemy, “as with caterpillars” (verse 14); and their triumphant shouts could be heard above the despairing cries of the astonished revelers. {PK 531.2}
“In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain,” and an alien monarch sat upon the throne. {PK 531.3}
The destruction of Babylon pictures to some degree the final destruction of the world, of which the prophet writes, “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.” Destruction came upon Babylon while the king and his lords were engaged in feasting and revelry. Cyrus and his army marched up the bed of the river Euphrates; for trenches had been dug, and the river turned from its course, so that there was no obstruction to their entering the city, provided the gates were opened. The guardsmen were indulging in merriment and revelry, and the city was left without defense. Before the officers were aware, the enemy had entered the city, and escape was impossible. Those in one part of the city were slain or captured before those in another part knew that the city was invaded. No alarm was sounded, no cry could be raised to warn the people that the forces of Cyrus were upon them. {ST, December 29, 1890 par. 2}
The monarch, his princes, and guardsmen, were given up to feasting, and, intoxicated with strong drink, they knew nothing of the peril of the kingdom. There was a noise at the palace gates, the doors were forced open, the troops of Cyrus rushed in, and in a short time the king and his guests were lying mangled in the heaps of the slain, and the drunken slept a perpetual sleep. Thus was the prophecy of Isaiah and Jeremiah fulfilled to the letter. {ST, December 29, 1890 par. 3}