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Belshazzar’s feast (5:1-31)
The events of this chapter took place in 539 BC. If Daniel was about fifteen years of age when taken captive to Babylon in 605 BC, he would now be over eighty. Nebuchadnezzar had long been dead. The present king, Nabonidus, was absent in distant territories for much of his reign, and the rule of the country was largely in the hands of his son Belshazzar. The queen who appears in the story (v. 10) was probably the queen mother, wife of Nabonidus. Nebuchadnezzar is referred to in the story as Belshazzar’s father (v. 2,11), not in the sense of being father by blood, but in the sense of being predecessor as king.
While the armies of Persia were preparing for their final attack on Babylon, Belshazzar and most of Babylon’s leaders were enjoying themselves at an extravagant banquet. Belshazzar knew of the expanding power of the Medo-Persians, but he was so self-confident that he thought nothing could shake his mighty kingdom. He also knew of the God of the Jews who had humbled Nebuchadnezzar, but he showed his contempt for this God by taking the Jews’ sacred vessels to use in his banquet of drunkenness and idolatry (5:1-4).
At the height of the feast, Belshazzar was overcome with a sickening terror when a hand suddenly appeared and wrote mysterious words on the wall (5-6). Panic-stricken, he asked his wise men to explain what it all meant. He promised that the one who explained the mystery would be given the next highest place in the kingdom after him. No one was successful (7-9).
When news of the confusion reached the queen mother, she came to the banquet hall to tell the king how Daniel had interpreted mysteries for Nebuchadnezzar many years previously (10-12. At this time Daniel no longer occupied a position of power in Babylon, either because of his age or because of the change in kings). Though able to interpret the writing, Daniel refused the king’s reward (13-17). Also, he reminded Belshazzar of how God had humbled the mighty Nebuchadnezzar (18-21), yet although Belshazzar knew all this he deliberately treated God with contempt (22-23). Therefore, God sent him this terrifying message (24).
Daniel recognized three well known Aramaic words in the mysterious writing: mene, meaning ‘numbered’; tekel, meaning ‘weighed’; and parsin (plural of peres), meaning ‘divided’. He then offered his interpretation of the words. God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and fixed the day when it would collapse; he had judged (weighed) Belshazzar and found him to be a failure; he would divide Belshazzar’s kingdom and give it to the Medes and Persians (25-28).
That night, before Belshazzar’s banquet was over, Babylon fell to the armies of Medo-Persia under the leadership of the Persian king Cyrus. The Darius mentioned in the story could have been Cyrus under an alternative name, or it could have been a Median general whom Cyrus appointed over Babylon. He is not the Darius mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament (29-31).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Daniel 5". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12