The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Daniel 5

Dan 5:1

Dan 5: Belshazzar's feast: (1) Belshazzar's dishonoring of Yahweh (vv 1-4); (2) God's revelation to Belshazzar (vv 5-9); (3) The queen's counsel (vv 10-12); (4) Belshazzar's request of Daniel (vv 13-16); (5) Daniel's rebuke of Belshazzar (vv 17-24); (6) Daniel's interpretation of the writing (vv 25-28); (7) Daniel's rise and Belshazzar's fall (vv 29-31).

The events of this ch occurred about 66 years after those in Dan 1 and approx 36 years after those in Dan 4. Daniel would now have been in his 80s.

Dan 5: See Article, Handwriting on the wall.

Dan 5: "It had been the great centre of the universe for over 70 years. It was home to some of the most incredible architecture seen in the world to that time, it was lined with famous streets such as the processional, great edifices dedicated to the worship of multitudes of pagan deities were everywhere to be found. It housed the beautiful summer palace, and the hanging gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world. An enormous wall surrounded it all. This was the city of Babylon.

"No one could ever have imagined that this city would fall; and yet, the great Creator had this city and its people marked out for destruction even before it had gained the ascendancy on the world political stage.

"So confident was Belshazzar in his impregnable position behind the walls of Babylon, that the presence of Cyrus the conquering Persian outside caused him no alarm. So unperturbed was Belshazzar in fact, that he felt quite justified in organizing an enormous drunken feast! He knew not that, very soon, the writing would be on the wall.

"Cyrus found a way into Babylon. The great river Euphrates which coursed through the centre of Babylon was diverted, and the water level of the river began to sink.

"The citizens (and certainly the nobility) of Babylon did not notice what was happening to the river, but rather, kept on with their drunken revelry. They were unaware of the signs of the times. Meanwhile, Cyrus was assembling his troops to march under the wall! The writing on the wall appeared! King Belshazzer was suddenly sober! His face was deathly white: 'Mene Mene tekel upharsin!' Thou art weighed in the balances, Belshazzar, and found wanting! Your kingdom is finished, and so are you!

"Not long after, Persian troops entered into the great hall, and Belshazzar was killed. Babylon had fallen. The Great God in the heavens who sets up whomsoever He will had handed the empire to Cyrus.

"It was a black night for Babylon. The world rejoiced at the coming of their Saviour. Cyrus had kind policies, unlike the Babylonian oppressor. Many returned to their homes. A new era began.

"In our day, 'Belshazzar's feast' still rocks on. Fornication, drunkenness, blasphemy and materialism are the hallmarks of this age. The writing is on the wall! And a great king waits in the wings. The water level is sinking. When Cyrus entered Babylon, he was surrounded by his bodyguard, his elite troops. They were a band of fierce fighting men, world famous for their loyalty, skill and bravery. Cyrus called them: his Immortals!

"When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to rid this world of Babylon, as he soon will, he will have with him those appointed to aid him to do so. They will be the immortals. The Saints. Us? Yes, if we heed the lesson, read the writing on the wall, and follow the example of Daniel, remaining separate from Babylon's black night of revelry.

" 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof' (Rom 13:12-14)" (JW).

"The symbolism of the 6th and 7th vials is based upon the historical conquest of Babylon by Cyrus and his army (significantly, the elite of the Persian army was given the title of The Immortals because when one was slain in battle, his place was instantly filled by another). The River Euphrates ran under the protective walls of the city and through its centre, and its fortifications were considered to be of such strength as to defy the might of any conqueror (Dan 4:30). However, Cyrus diverted the water of the river which dried up the channel that flowed through the city, and along the dry bed his forces were led to dramatically occupy and overthrow it. The fall of Babylon was unexpected, and its citizens were engaged in 'a night of pleasure' which, however, turned into fear" (Eur).

BELSHAZZAR: "For a long time there were two points of view about this. Some said: 'History knows nothing of King Belshazzar... Therefore the writers of the Bible must have been writing fiction, not history.' Others said: 'Not so fast. History isn't complete yet. New facts may come to light one day that will show the Bible was right after all'... Now we can see the wisdom of the second approach. All these names appear in the history books today.

"Belshazzar is described by the Bible as the last king of Babylon, who was slain by the Persians when they captured the city. But the ancient historians Berosus, Megasthenes, and Herodotus agreed that the last king of Babylon was called Nabonidus (or something like it). No historian ever mentioned Belshazzar. Something was wrong, somewhere.

"In 1882 the explanation came to light. The archaeologist TG Pinches told the world of the discovery of what is called the Nabonidus Chronicle. This recorded on baked clay that Nabonidus had a son Bel-shar-usur (Belshazzar to his pals). Moreover, it made it clear that Nabonidus had a habit of saying to Belshazzar, 'I'm off to the wars for a while, son. Just you run the kingdom till I get back.' Nabonidus was unlucky. The clay tablets tell us that the last time he did this Belshazzar lost his kingdom for him to the Persians, just as the Book of Daniel said. The Persian conquerors arrested Nabonidus as soon as he returned home" (GT ch 18).

"At the time that Dan 5 begins, Nabonidus was with his army out in the country, either hoping to stop Persian invasion or else anxious not to get shut up in an indefensible city. So his son Belshazzar was acting king in Babylon and inclined to enjoy the opportunities that were now his! Legal documents of the 12th and 13th years of Nabonidus mention Belshazzar as crown-prince" (WDan).

KING BELSHAZZAR GAVE A GREAT BANQUET FOR A THOUSAND OF HIS NOBLES: "Banquets the size described in this verse also drew the attack of critics. Yet the ancient historian Ktesias wrote that Persian kings frequently dined daily with 15,000 people (cf Est 1)" (Leupold).

Dan 5:2

HE GAVE ORDERS TO BRING IN THE GOLD AND SILVER GOBLETS THAT NEBUCHADNEZZAR HIS FATHER HAD TAKEN FROM THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM: "It was probably the anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem in Zedekiah's reign (so says the Talmud), which sparked off the idea of indulging in some good anti-Semitic gloating at a special celebration. All the glorious holy vessels, the seven branched candlestick included, were brought out, and the great concourse of lords and 'ladies' settled down to a self-congratulatory orgy of hard drinking" (WDan).

HIS FATHER: The NIV mg has "ancestor, or predecessor; also in vv 11,13, and 18". Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar's grandfather rather than his father, but the original language commonly used "father" in the sense of ancestor. "Neither in Hebrew, nor in Chaldee, is there any word for 'grandfather,' 'grandson.' Forefathers are called 'fathers' or 'fathers' fathers.' But a single grandfather, or forefather, is never called 'father's father' but always 'father' only" (Pusey).

Dan 5:3

SO THEY BROUGHT IN THE GOLDEN GOBLETS THAT HAD BEEN TAKEN FROM THE TEMPLE OF GOD IN JERUSALEM, SO THAT THE KING AND HIS NOBLES, HIS WIVES AND HIS CONCUBINES MIGHT DRINK FROM THEM: Evidently the vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple had been stored as trophies of war and not used previously (cp Dan 1:2). Their presence in the warehouses of Babylon was sufficient humiliation of Yahweh who in the minds of the Babylonians could not prevent their theft. However using these vessels in praise of Babylon's gods was even more sacrilegious than just possessing them.

"Have you noticed how in recent years the world has stepped into the 'sanctuary' of faith and laid its ruthless hands on some of the things we hold most sacred? Our day has seen this impious sacrilege carried into many other realms, as well. Is God unmindful of this? Will He not visit for such defiance?" (Feinberg).

Cp also Obad 1:16: "Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been." Here the sacrilege is committed by Edom, and occurs on the holy mount of the LORD itself -- but it also involves drinking from the sacred vessels of the LORD!

Dan 5:5

THE PLASTER OF THE WALL: "In the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's palace archeologists have uncovered a large throne room 56 ft wide and 173 ft long which probably was the scene of this banquet. Midway in the long wall opposite the entrance there was a niche in front of which the king may well have been seated. Interestingly, the wall behind the niche was covered with white plaster as described by Daniel, which would make an excellent background for such a writing" (Walvoord).

This verse describes the hand of God in the writing on the wall, but it also describes the hand of God in the history of Babylon and of Israel. To Belshazzar the "hand of God" was a bizarre and frightening thing (v 6). To the believer, seeing "the hand of God" in history should be a constant encouragement.

Dan 5:6

HIS FACE TURNED PALE AND HE WAS SO FRIGHTENED THAT HIS KNEES KNOCKED TOGETHER AND HIS LEGS GAVE WAY: "Knowing the power of the Babylonian kings, Belshazzar must have seen many men stand in fear and trembling before him. Now it was his turn to tremble. In that torch-lit banquet hall, the revelry had reached its peak, doubtlessly with loud boasting and toasting, laughter and celebration. Likely, the king was the life of the party. Perhaps he was closest to the sudden emerging of the mysterious hand in the light of the nearby lamp.

"One might have thought the king was having a heart attack. Barely able to stand, his face was ashen and seized with terror. The raucous laughter turned to deafening silence with all eyes on the king. The king's eyes were fixed upon the hand as it wrote. As a sense of foreboding and panic fell on the crowd, all eyes turned to the mysterious writing on the wall. The king's actions alarmed all who were present.

"One can only imagine the scene. Already affected by too much wine, the king's terror robbed his legs of all strength. The lower part of his body seems to have lost control. Crying aloud in fear, his speech probably slurred, the king immediately summoned his wise men to the banquet hall" (Deff).

HIS LEGS GAVE WAY: More literally, as the AV: "the joints of his loins were loosed" -- he lost control of his bowels!

Dan 5:7

CLOTHED IN PURPLE: Sym royal authority: cp Est 8:15.

HE WILL BE MADE THE THIRD HIGHEST RULER IN THE KINGDOM: Because Nabonidus (Nebuchadnezzar's father) was still the "first", and Belshazzar (ruling as regent in his father's absence) was "second".

Dan 5:8

THEY COULD NOT READ THE WRITING OR TELL THE KING WHAT IT MEANT: Part of their difficulty was probably due to the inscription being in Aramaic.

Dan 5:10

THE QUEEN, HEARING THE VOICES OF THE KING AND HIS NOBLES, CAME INTO THE BANQUET HALL: "Normally we would identify the queen as Belshazzar's wife. However, there are a number of reasons to prefer the view that she was really the queen mother or perhaps even the surviving wife of Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar's wives had been participating in this banquet (v 2), but this woman now entered it apparently for the first time. She also spoke to the king more as a mother than as a wife. Moreover she spoke as one who had personal acquaintance with Daniel's earlier interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's second dream (cf Dan 4:8,9,18) [and possibly with Daniel's God also!]. Probably this woman was Belshazzar's mother and the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. The queen mother was often a significant figure who exerted considerable influence in ancient courts (cf 1Ki 15:13; 2Ki 11:1-3; 24:12; Jer 13:18). This woman proceeded to do for Belshazzar what Arioch had done for Nebuchadnezzar, namely bring Daniel to the king's attention (cf Dan 2:25)" (Const).

Dan 5:11

THERE IS A MAN IN YOUR KINGDOM...: As before, Daniel had not accompanied the other wise men whom the king had summoned (Dan 4:6-8). The reason for this is unclear, but the effect in the event and in the narrative is that it sets Daniel off as unique. Clearly Belshazzar did not know Daniel personally. Perhaps Daniel had left public service.

The Spirit of God: in Daniel (Dan 5:11); in Joseph (Gen 41:38); clothed Gideon (Jdg 6:34); clothed Amasai (1Ch 12:18); clothed Zechariah (2Ch 24:20); came upon Balaam (Num 24:2); came upon Saul (1Sa 10:10).

Dan 5:13

ARE YOU DANIEL, ONE OF THE EXILES MY FATHER THE KING BROUGHT FROM JUDAH?: "The king had heard of Daniel by reputation even though he had not met him before. He recognized him as a person whose extraordinary ability came from some divine source (cf Dan 4:8,18). Perhaps it was because Daniel was a Jew that Belshazzar did not employ him in his administration. However, now the king was quite willing to give even this Jewish exile all the honors that he had formerly promised his wise men. Here was a worshiper of the God that Belshazzar had been dishonoring in his banquet but who now might ironically prove superior to the Chaldeans. The king's willingness to reward a Jewish exile shows how desperately Belshazzar wanted to learn the meaning of the enigmatic message on the wall.

"As in the previous instances in Dan 2 and Dan 4, the wisdom of the world is demonstrated to be totally unable to solve its major problems and to understand either the present or the future. Daniel as the prophet of God is the channel through which divine revelation would come, and Belshazzar in his extremity was willing to listen.

" 'Too often the world, like Belshazzar, is not willing to seek the wisdom of God until its own bankruptcy becomes evident. Then help is sought too late, as in the case of Belshazzar, and the cumulative sin and unbelief which precipitated the crisis in the first place becomes the occasion of downfall' (Walvoord)" (Const).

Dan 5:16

THE THIRD HIGHEST RULER IN THE KINGDOM: Because Nabonidus (Nebuchadnezzar's father) was still the "first", and Belshazzar (ruling as regent in his father's absence) was "second".

Dan 5:17

YOU MAY KEEP YOUR GIFTS FOR YOURSELF: "Some gift!"... if it could be so easily taken away from you by the hand of God (Dan 4:30...)!

Dan 5:18

Vv 18-23: Daniel reminded Belshazzar, and undoubtedly everyone else in the room, of the lesson in humility that God had taught his forefather, Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4). The Most High God had given his grandfather his authority and had taught him that he was under His greater sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar's pride had led him to behave arrogantly, as Belshazzar was doing by drinking from the sacred vessels of Yahweh, this Most High God. Even though Belshazzar knew all about this (v 22) he had not humbled his heart before the Lord of heaven and glorified Him. Therefore the God who held Belshazzar's life and his ways in HIS hand had sent THE hand to write the inscription on the wall!

Dan 5:21

"God is displeased with the wickedness of men now as He was then. He is not an indifferent spectator of the ways of nations, though He would appear so in this time of long-kept silence... Babylon was weighed in the balances and found wanting, and therefore the kingdom was divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Dan 5:27,28). This was done by events with which, apparently, God had nothing to do, namely, the successful enterprise of Darius and Cyrus. So now national disasters do not come without divine intention and manipulation. A threatening army gathered on the frontiers of a country may be the hand of God for the visitation of justice" (WP 134).

Dan 5:24

Four handwritings: Upon the stone (Exo 20:2); upon the wall (Dan 5:24); upon the ground (John 8:6); and upon the cross (John 19:19).

Dan 5:26

Vv 26-28: A hidden message? Consider this: Mene (mina) = 50 shekels (Eze 45:12, RSV). Tekel (or shekel) = 20 gerahs (Eze 45:12). Upharsin (peres) = division or half. Thus: Mene = 1,000 (20 X 50) gerahs; Tekel = 20 gerahs; Perez (half) (mina?) = 500 gerahs. Altogether, then, "Mene, mene, Tekel, Upharsin" = 2,520 gerahs, or "seven times" (7 x 360 = 2,520) (cp Dan 4:23) (Adv 94:128).

MENE... GOD HAS NUMBERED THE DAYS OF YOUR REIGN AND BROUGHT IT TO AN END: "Mene" sig "numbered." Daniel understood this word to signify that the number of years that God had prescribed for the Neo-Babylonian Empire had expired. Its repetition probably stressed the certainty of this point (cp idea, Gen 41:32).

Dan 5:27

TEKEL... YOU HAVE BEEN WEIGHED ON THE SCALES AND FOUND WANTING: "Tekel" (cognate with the Heb "shekel") means "weighed." God had weighed Belshazzar and had found him deficient; he was not the ruler that he should have been because of his flagrant refusal to acknowledge the Most High God's sovereignty (v 22).

Dan 5:28

PERES... YOUR KINGDOM IS DIVIDED AND GIVEN TO THE MEDES AND PERSIANS: "Peres" (the singular of "Parsin", or "Upharsin" -- "AND Parsin") has two meanings: it can mean either "divided" (as in a half-shekel) or "Persia". This obviously relates to the division of Belshazzar's kingdom into two parts, one part for the Medes and the other for the Persians.

"The word was deliberately used to suggest 'Persians'; but it is closely associated with a familiar Hebrew word for 'broken down' or 'break in', which is precisely what was to happen that night" (WDan).

Dan 5:29

AT BELSHAZZAR'S COMMAND, DANIEL WAS CLOTHED IN PURPLE, A GOLD CHAIN WAS PLACED AROUND HIS NECK, AND HE WAS PROCLAIMED THE THIRD HIGHEST RULER IN THE KINGDOM: "In its rise to power the Babylonian Empire had conquered Jerusalem, taken its inhabitants into captivity, looted its beautiful temple, and completely destroyed the city. Yet this empire was to have as its last official act the honoring of one of these captives who by divine revelation predicted not only the downfall of Babylon but the course of the times of the Gentiles until the Son of man should come from heaven. Man may have the first word, but God will have the last word" (Walvoord).

There was so little time left for Belshazzar (v 30), and yet he spent his last hours bestowing empty honors on Daniel (who didn't want them in the first place)! How tragic to be preoccupied with purple clothing, a gold necklace, and the promotion of men, rather than with eternal destiny. In a few moments of time, all the king's wealth and power was swept away, into utter oblivion.

Dan 5:30

Vv 30,31: "The invading Medes and Persians, led by Ugbaru, commander of the Persian army, would have already taken the surrounding countryside, and everyone in the city would have known of their intentions. However, Babylon had not fallen to an invading army for 1,000 years because of its strong fortifications. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Babylon was about 14 miles square with a double wall system enclosing a moat between the two walls. The outer wall was 87 feet thick, wide enough for four chariots to drive abreast on. It was 350 feet high with 100 gates, plus hundreds more towers reaching another 100 feet above the walls.

"Belshazzar's confidence in the security of his capital is evident in his banqueting and getting drunk while his enemy was at his door. His name, which means 'Bel [also known as Marduk] has protected the king', may have increased his sense of invulnerability. Herodotus also mentioned that a festival was underway in Babylon when the city fell" (Const).

Herodotus pictured Babylon's fall as follows: "Hereupon the Persians who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the river-side, entered the stream, which had now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man's thigh, and thus got into the town. Had the Babylonians been appraised of what Cyrus was about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the Persians to enter the city, but would have destroyed them utterly; for they would have made fast all the street-gates which gave upon the river, and mounting upon the walls along both sides of the stream, would so have caught the enemy as it were in a trap. But, as it was, the Persians came upon them by surprise and took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare), long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and revelling until they learnt the capture but too certainly."

"The downfall of Babylon is in type the downfall of the unbelieving world [cp Rev 17; 18]. In many respects, modern civilization is much like ancient Babylon, resplendent with its monuments of architectural triumph, as secure as human hands and ingenuity could make it, and yet defenseless against the judgment of God at the proper hour. Contemporary civilization is similar to ancient Babylon in that it has much to foster human pride but little to provide human security. Much as Babylon fell on the sixteenth day of Tishri (Oct 11 or 12) 539 BC, as indicated in the Nabonidus Chronicle, so the world will be overtaken by disaster when the day of the Lord comes (1Th 5:1-3 [cp also Psa 2:4-6; Rev 19:15,16]). The disaster of the world, however, does not overtake the child of God; Daniel survives the purge and emerges triumphant as one of the presidents of the new kingdom in Dan 6" (Walvoord).

Dan 5:31

DARIUS THE MEDE: Who is this man? "Archer suggested that 'Darius' may have been a title of honor in the Persian Empire as 'Caesar' was in the Roman Empire or, I might add, 'Pharaoh' was in Egypt. If this was so, 'Darius' could refer to another man known in history by another name or names. The most likely possibility seems to me to have been Cyrus. This would account most naturally for the fact that Daniel referred to Darius as 'king' in Dan 6. Furthermore it would have been very unusual for a subordinate of Cyrus to divide the whole empire into 120 satrapies (Dan 6:1). Darius was probably called 'the Mede' because he was of Median descent (Dan 9:1).

"Another possibility is that Darius is another name for Gubaru (Gobryas), a ruler of Babylon under Cyrus. This would distinguish Gubaru from Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium and Persian commander who led the assault against Babylon.

"A third view is that Ugbaru and Gubaru are different spellings of the same man's name" (Const).

"Although Daniel has long since been vindicated in his references to Belshazzar, his other classic 'mistake' has not yet been cleared up. He refers to another king, Darius the Mede, and nobody yet knows who this is. Some scholars think that this is another name for a governor called Gobryas, or Gubaru. Others think it was an alternative name for Cyrus, the Persian king. Nobody really knows. But in view of what has happened in the past it would take a brave man to say that Daniel definitely blundered. One more shovelful of earth, and the final answer to the problem may appear tomorrow" (GT ch 18).

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