115-106 Daniel Chapter 5
King Nebuchadnezzar has died and was succeeded by his son Amel Marduk. (2 Kings 25:27-30) Amel’s reign lasted only two years and was succeeded by Nergalsharusur who was Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law. (Jeremiah 39:3,13) Within four years he died and left the throne to his son Labashi-Marduk but was replaced by Nabonidus who came from a noble family of Aramaean in Haran. Nabonidus cemented his position as king by marring the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Together they had a son who was named Belshazzar.
Nabonidus left Babylon to campaign in Arabia and spent his time in the city of Teima. His son Belshazzar then took the throne as a junior co-regent and ruled as the King of Babylon. Nabonidus did return year’s later but fled from the forces of Cyrus at Sippar. Belshazzar continued to rule on the throne at the time of the opening of this chapter.
Daniel opens this chapter at a feast given by Belshazzar to a thousand of his lords. The use of the number thousand was a number meaning that there were many and may not be the exact number. Feasts of this size were common and typical of the Asian culture. There was much wine to be had and Belshazzar had his fill and was very drunk.
It would have been better if Belshazzar had been on his guard as at the time of this feast the city of Babylon was being surrounded by the Medo-Persians who intended to invade the city. The enemy force was led by Ugbaru a general in the army of Cyrus. In spite of this threat the Babylonians were confident because the city had superior defenses.
King Nebuchadnezzar had captured the utensils from the temple in Jerusalem and they were kept in the palace of the king. Belshazzar knew of these utensils and commanded that they be brought out and used at this feast. It may have been a demonstration of his power and an act of defiance toward the God of his father. Belshazzar may have felt defiant against the God of his grandfather because his city was surrounded by the Medo-Persians and he felt that his father’s God should not have allowed that to happen. The utensils from the temple of Jerusalem were sacred vessels and this act of Belshazzar was considered a blasphemous act towards the God of the Israelites. These utensils had in the past been treated with the respect that they deserved. Daniel himself no longer held the high position that he had under King Nebuchadnezzar and therefore his influence in these matters was not effective.
The use of these vessels from the temple in Jerusalem was shamelessly done by Belshazzar and the quest of his court. Because of their drunkenness and the praises sung to man-made gods was a serious blasphemy to the God of Israel.
The place of Babylon has been excavated and it has been found that the walls were indeed covered in white plaster. The white plaster in the light of the lampstand would have made visible the hand upon the wall that we read of in this verse. Only the king is mentioned as seeing the hand writing on the wall but we can assume that all present could have seen as well. It could be that only Belshazzar saw the hand as it was writing as it was he that had ordered the act of blasphemy against the vessels of the temple. Either way if only Belshazzar or all saw the hand the point is that the message it wrote was for Belshazzar.
The effect of this scene had a dramatic effect on Belshazzar to the point that he was terrified. He now realized that the God of his father, the God of the Israelites, was now here to deal with him for his acts of blasphemy.
As we have seen in the past from King Nebuchadnezzar his grandson Belshazzar called for the wise men to come and read the meaning of the writing on the wall. He offered them rewards if they could give a proper interpretation. They were offered to be clothed in purple which would mean that they would be treated as royalty. Also with a gold chain around their neck would showed that they would have an elevated rank. This rank by the words of Belshazzar was that of the third ruler in the kingdom, behind Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
The wise of Babylon were unable to interpret the writing on the wall. With none who could say the meaning of the writing on the wall all in the banquet hall were perplexed and knew not what to say.
The queen could be the wife of Nabonidus the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar or it may be the mother of the queen the wife of Nebuchadnezzar. Women of this stature retained their position of high esteem. (1 Kings 15:31 2 Kings 11:1-3) Because of her high esteem she could enter into the room without Belshazzar’s appointment which would have not been possible for the queen who was married to Belshazzar.
This queen would have to have been a woman of age. She remembered the great man Daniel who had helped King Nebuchadnezzar through these similar situations. She identified to Belshazzar Daniel a man who was full of the spirit of the holy gods. A man of deep understanding and full of wisdom. The queen described Daniel to be the man that Belshazzar needed now to explain the meaning of the writing on the wall.
Belshazzar showed politeness towards Daniel in that he addressed him as “Of the children of the Captivity of Judah” that his grandfather King Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon. Also he called him by his Hebrew name as this was the name that Daniel preferred. It also shows that he had read the brief given to him as to who Daniel was.
Belshazzar also list the qualifications which signify that Daniel was a man who had the wisdom of the gods. Belshazzar was not giving Daniel glory but the gods who Daniel was in touch with. Belshazzar offers Daniel the same rewards as he had offered to the other wise men of Babylon. We also see that Belshazzar was not giving the gods glory himself as he omitted using the word holy in his reference to them. This is in context with his blasphemy of the vessels of the temple.
Daniel, politely, tells Belshazzar to give the rewards to another to show that he is not here to benefit himself. This may have impressed Belshazzar in that he now knew that Daniel was a man who spoke truth. The promises of Belshazzar were empty as it is because by the morning there would be no kingdom of Babylon.
There may be a twofold reason in this greeting by Daniel. One to identify Belshazzar as the king which would play to the self-pride that Belshazzar had for himself. The second would be to remind Belshazzar that his greatness came from his father King Nebuchadnezzar. His father had ruled over all the people and no Mede or Persian would have dared to trespass upon his empire. It was also a reminder that Belshazzar was a regent and not a King. But Nebuchadnezzar was the king and was the supreme lord in whom all the people trembled.
It was true that Belshazzar had power like unto his grandfather but his power was only if the true king, his father Nabonidus could overrule him if he so choose. Also the nations that his grandfather controled were now in the hands of the great Cyrus who was at his door and about to take the city from his hand.
Daniel then reminds Belshazzar that Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by God the Most High. That he was likened to a beast in the field and ate grass until he knew that the God Most High ruled the nations of men. That the God Most High appointed the rulers of the world and He also took them down.
Daniel spokes words to Belshazzar that at any other time would have sent him to his death. Daniel told Belshazzar that he had not honored the God of the heavens but had blasphemed Him by drinking wine from the vessels of the temple and made a mockery of Him. That Belshazzar’s deeds were far worse than the deeds of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar.
As Daniel spoke Belshazzar knew that he was without excuse. He had committed all these things against the God of the heavens and had not humbled himself before Him. Belshazzar knew that he had taken the temple vessels and used them to insult the God of the heavens and used them to worship their man-made images and false gods. With the charges that Daniel had made against Belshazzar and the conviction that he must have felt he now must have known that the message from the writing on the wall would not be one of good news for him.
Daniel’s purpose may have been to bring Belshazzar to repentance, and may have been also for the benefit of the lords that were present along with their wives and concubines. As late as it was for them there was still time to repent of their evil ways.
These words are also for us today. Many of us are living a life without giving proper fear and honor to the God of the Heavens. We are taking that which is His and using it for our own selfish benefit. We are not involved with the needs of our fellow men and turn our back upon them in the hour of their trial. For us we may not understand the writing on the wall but our God is just and will judge us according to our deeds.
The indication of the word “Then” is that the hand of the Lord wrote this message to Belshazzar as a result of the blasphemy of the temple vessels. The words of the message contained no spaces between the words. We do not know what language it was written in only that the Chaldeans could not interpret it.
MENE comes from the root to “count.” Thus the meaning would be numbered and Daniel states its meaning as the days of Belshazzar have reached full count. In this Belshazzar now knows that his days of rule are over.
“TEKELE” comes from the rot word “weigh,” Daniel states that Belshazzar has been weighed and has been found wanting. Belshazzar now knows that he has been judged by God and he has failed the test. This then is the reason that his kingdom is finished. He had been an immoral and religiously poor ruler.
“PERESEN” has two possible roots which mean divided and Persian. This does not mean that the kingdom will be divided between the victors but that the spoils of the kingdom will. The empire itself will be dissolved. The writing of the day speaks of only the Persian Empire. A Persian Empire made up of the Persians and the Medes. This Persian Empire was ruled by Cyrus.
In spite of the terrifying news that Belshazzar received from Daniel he made good on his promise. He commanded that Daniel be clothed in purple and a gold chain be placed around his neck. He was appointed the third ruler of Babylon. While the feast continued on and Belshazzar unknowing as to when the prophecy would be fulfilled general Ugbaru of the Persians was diverting the Euphrates River to an ancient lake. He therefore was able to slip into the city by way of the dried up river bed and take the city of Babylon without a fight.
The people of the city awoke the next morning to find that they were now ruled by the Persians and the Persian army was enforcing rule.
Belshazzar was probably slain in what little fighting there was for the city along with his lords. As a whole the Persians were a merciful people and allowed captured people, as well as the Israelites to worship their own gods. The Priest of Marduk were most likely happy with this result as their God Marduk had been ignored under Belshazzar.
The City of Babylon was now ruled by Darius the Mede under the provision of Cyrus. There are no writings that identify with Darius in recorded history. It may be that the name Darius is a throne name and not the name that he went by. It may also be that the word for king in Persian is Dara but then Darius would not have been king as he took the position held by Belshazzar. Nabonidus was the king of Babylon and was still alive after its fall.
Darius the Mede
Possibly Darius is not a name, but an honored title for Cyrus, who with his army entered Babylon in 539 BC. It is used in inscriptions of at least five Persian rulers, History mentions no specific man named Darius the Mede. In Daniel 6:28 it is possible to translate, “Darius even … Cyrus.” A less likely possibility it that Darius is a second name for Gubaru, Cyrus’ appointed king to head up the Babylonian sector of his empire. Gubaru is distinct from Ugbaru, the general, who died soon after conquering Babylon. As previously prophesied, Babylon met God’s judgment. (Isaiah 13; 47 Jeremiah 50; 51 Habakkuk 2:5-9)