Section I. - Authenticity of the Chapter
Much fewer objections have been made to the authenticity of this chapter, and much fewer difficulties started, than in regard to Daniel 5:29 may be that an order was made to that effect, with a purpose to carry it into execution on the following day. Bertholdt himself translates the passage Daniel 5:29, “Then Belshazzar gave command that they should clothe Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold around his neck,” etc. Hierauf “gab Belschazar den Befehl” dem Daniel den purpurmantel und den goldenen Halsschmuck umzuhangen, etc. On the one hand, nothing forbids the supposition that the execution of this order might have been deferred; or, on the other, that the order was executed at once. But little time would have been necessary to do it. See however, the note at Daniel 5:29.
III. A third objection or difficulty arises from the writing itself. It is, that it is wholly improbable that Daniel could have had sufficient knowledge to enable him to interpret these words when no one of the Chaldean sages could do it. Where, it is asked, could he have obtained this knowledge? His instruction in reading languages he must have received in Babylon itself, and it is wholly improbable that among so many sages and wise men who were accustomed to the languages spoken in Babylon and in other countries, no one should have been found who was as able to interpret the words as he. - Bertholdt, p. 346.
To this it is obvious to reply, that the whole narrative supposes that Daniel owed his ability to interpret these words, not to any natural skill, or to any superior advantages of genius or education, but to the fact that he was directly endowed from on high. In other cases, in the times of Nebuchadnezzar, he always disclaimed any power of his own of revealing the meaning of dreams and visions Daniel 2:27-30, nor did he set up any claim to an ability to do it of himself on this occasion. If he received his knowledge directly from God, all the difficulty in this objection vanishes at once; but the whole book turns on the supposition that he was under Divine teaching.
IV. It has been objected that there was no object to be accomplished worthy of such a miracle as that of writing in this mysterious manner on the wall. It is asked by Bertholdt (p. 347), “Is the miracle credible? What purpose was it designed to serve? What end would it accomplish? Was the design to show to Belshazzar that the city was soon to be destroyed? But of what use could this be but a couple of hours before it should occur? Or was it the design to make Belshazzar acquainted with the power of Jehovah, and to punish him for desecrating the vessels of the temple service? But who could attribute to the all-perfect Being such a weakness that he could be angry, and take this method to express his anger, for an act that could not be regarded as so heinous as to be worthy of such an interposition?”
To this it may be replied,
(1) That the objection here made would lie in some degree against almost any single miracle that is recorded in the Scriptures.
(2) That it may have been the intention to warn the king of the impending danger, not so much with a view that the danger should be averted, as to show that it came from God.
(3) Or it may have been the intention to show him the enormity of his sins, and even then to bring him to repentance.
(4) Or it may have been the intention to connect quite distinctly, in the apprehension of all present, and in the view of all future ages, the destruction of Babylon with the crimes of the monarchs, and especially their crimes in connection with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple, and the carrying away of the people into a long captivity. There can be no doubt, from many parts of the prophetic writings, that the overthrow of Babylon, and the subversion of the Chaldean power, was in consequence of their treatment of the Hebrew people; and nothing was better fitted to show this than to make the destruction of the city coincident with the desecration of the sacred vessels of the temple.
(5) Or it may have been the intention to recal Daniel into notice, and to give him authority and influence again preparatory to the restoration of his countrymen to their own land. It would seem from the whole narrative that, in accordance with a custom which still prevails in Persia (Chardin, as referred to by Hengstenberg, “Authentie des Daniel,” p. 123), all the magicians and astrologers had been dismissed from court on the death of Nebuchadnezzar, and that Daniel with the others had retired from his place. Yet it may have been important, in order to the restoration of the Hebrew people to their land at the appointed time, that there should be one of their own nation occupying an influential station at court, and Daniel was thus, in consequence of his ability to interpret this mysterious language, restored to his place, and was permitted to keep it until the time of the return of the Hebrews to their country arrived. See Daniel 6:2-3, Daniel 6:28.
(6) And it may have been the intention to furnish an impressive demonstration that Jehovah is the true God. Other objections it will be more convenient to notice in the course of the exposition of the chapter.
Section II. - Belshazzar
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. Herodotus (i. 188) calls this king, and also his father, “Labynetus,” which is undoubtedly a corruption of Nabonnedus, the name by which he was known to Berosus. - Josephus “against Apion,” i. 20. Josephus himself (“Ant.” x. ch. xi. Section 2) says that the name of this king, whom he calls Baltasar, among the Babylonians, was Naboandelus. Nabonadius in the canon of Ptolemy, Nabonedus in Eusebius (Chr. Armen. i. p. 60), and Nabonochus in Eusebius (“Prep. Evang.” ix. 41), are remarked by Winer as only varieties of his name. Winer conjectures that in the name Belshazzar, the element shazzar means “the principle of fire.” See Kitto‘s “Cyclopaedia.”
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. That which is given by Josephus as his own account of the successors of Nebuchadnezzar is in the following language: “After the death of Nebuchadnezzar Evil-Merodach, his son, succeeded in the kingdom, who immediately set Jeconiah at liberty, and esteemed him among his most intimate friends. When Evil-Merodach was dead, after a reign of eighteen years, Neglissar, his son, took the government, and retained it forty years, and then ended his life; and after him the succession came to his son, Labosordacus, who continued it in all but nine months; and when he was dead, it came to Baltasar, who by the Babylonians was called Naboandelus; against him did Cyrus the king of Persia, and Darius the king of Media, make war; and when he was besieged in Babylon there happened a wonderful and prodigious vision. He was sat down at supper in a large room, and there were a great many vessels of silver, such as were made for royal entertainments, and he had with him his concubines and his friends; whereupon he came to a resolution, and commanded that those vessels of God which Nebuchadnezzar had plundered out of Jerusalem, and had not made use of, but had put them into his own temple, should be brought out of that temple.” - “Ant.” b. x. ch. 11: Section 2. Josephus then proceeds to give an account of the appearance of the hand, and of the writing, and of the result in the taking of Babylon, substantially the same as what is found in this chapter of Daniel.
The account which Berosus gives as preserved by Josephus (“against Apion,” b. i. Section 20) varies from this in some important particulars. For an account of Berosus, see the Introduction to Daniel 5:11, Daniel 5:22. Belshazzar, he supposes, must have reigned more than twenty years.
The succession in the Babylonian Chaldean kingdom, according to Dr. Hales, was as follows: “Nabonassar reigned 14 years, from 747 b.c.; Nadius, 2,733; Chinzirus, 5,731; Jugaus, 5,726; Mardok Empad, or Merodach Baladan, 12,721; Arcianus, 5,709; first interregnum, 2,704; Belibus, 3,702; Aphronadius, 6,699; Regibelus, 1,693; Mesessemordach, 4,692; second interregnum, 8,688; Asaradin, or Esar-haddon, 13,680; Saosduchin, 20,667; Chyneladon, 22,647; Nabopolassar, or Labynetus I., 21,625; Nineveh taken by the Babylonians and Medes, 604 b.c. Then follows the Babylonian dynasty, to wit, Nabopolassar, Labynetus I., Boktanser, or, Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned 43 years from 604 b.c.; Ilverodam, or Evil-Merodach, 3,561 b.c.; Nericassolassar, Neriglissar, or Belshazzar, 5,558 b.c.; Nabonadius, or Labynetus II., appointed by Darius the Mede, 17,553 b.c.; Babylon taken by Cyrus, 536 b.c.”
Dr. Hales remarks in connection with this, “Nothing can exceed the various and perplexed accounts of the names and reigns of the princes of this dynasty (the Babylonian) in sacred and profane history.”
Jahn, following Ptolemy chiefly, thus enumerates the kings of Babylon from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar: “Nabocholassar, or Nebuchadnezzar, 43,605 b.c.; Iluarodamus, or Evil-Merodach, 2,562 b.c.; Nerichassolassar, or Neriglissar, 4,560 B. C; Laborasoarchad, 9 months, 556 b.c.; Nabounned, 17 years, 556 b.c.; Babylon taken by the Medes and Persians, 540 b.c.”
In this confusion and discord respecting the chronology of these princes, the following remarks may be made in regard to the credibility of the statements in the book of Daniel:
(1) It is clear that it was not uncommon for the same prince to have more names than one. This has not been unusual, especially among Oriental princes, who seem to have often prided themselves on the number of epithets which they could use as designating their royal state. Since this was the case, it would not be strange if the names of the same king should be so used by writers, or in tradition, as to leave the impression that there were several; or if one writer should designate a king by one name, and another by another.
(2) It would seem probable, from all the accounts, that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, but little is known of the king or kings whose reign intervened between that of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.
(3) The testimony of Daniel in the book before us should not be set aside by the statement of Berosus, or by the other confused accounts which have come down to us. For anything that appears to the contrary, the authority of Daniel is as good as that of Berosus, and he is as worthy of belief. Living in Babylon, and through a great part of the reigns of this dynasty; present at the taking of Babylon, and intimate at court; honored by some of these princes more than any other man in the realm, there is no reason why he should not have had access to the means of information on the subject, and no reason why it should not be supposed that he has given a fair record of what actually occurred. Though the account in regard to the last days of Belshazzar, as given by Berosus, does not agree with that of Daniel, it should not be assumed that that of Berosus is correct, and that of Daniel false. The account in Daniel is, to say the least, as probable as that of Berosus, and there are no means of proving that it is false except by the testimony of Berosus.
(4) The statement in Daniel of the manner in which Babylon was taken, and of the death of Belshazzar, is confirmed by Xenophon (Cyrop. vii.) - an authority quite equal, at least, to that of Berosus. See the note at Daniel 5:30. In the record in Daniel of the close of the life of Belshazzar, there is nothing that might not have been supposed to occur, for nothing is more probable than that a king might have been celebrating a feast in the manner described, or that the city might be surprised in such a night of revelry, or that, being surprised, the monarch might be slain.
Analysis of the Chapter
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 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, and of the fact that he had forgotten the lessons which the Divine dealings with Nebuchadnezzar 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 the king - See Introduction to the chapter, Section II. In the Introduction to the chapter here referred to, I have stated what seemed to be necessary in order to illustrate the history of Belshazzar, so far as that can be now known. The statements in regard to this monarch, it is well understood, are exceedingly confused, and the task of reconciling them is now hopeless. Little depends, however, in the interpretation of this book, on the attempt to reconcile them, for the narrative here given is equally credible, whichever of the accounts is taken, unless that of Berosus is followed. But it may not be improper to exhibit here the two principal accounts of the successors of Nebuchadnezzar, that the discrepancy may be distinctly seen. I copy from the Pictorial Bible. “The common account we shall collect from L‘Art de Verifier les Dates, and the other from Hales‘ “Analysis,” disposing them in opposite colums for the sake of comparison:
d Comparison of Historical Accounts of Nebuchadnezzar
d From L‘Art de Verifier From Hales's Analysis
d 605Nebuchacnezzar, who was succeeded by his son.604Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son.
d 562Evil-Merodach, who, having provoked general indignation by his tyranny and atrocities, was, after a short reign of about two years, assassinated by his brother-in-law.561Evil-Merodach, or Ilverodam, who was slain in a battle against the Medes and Persians, and was succeeded by his son.
d 560Nerigilassar, or Nericassolassar, who was regarded as a deliverer and succeeded by the choice of the nation. He perished in a battle by Cyrus, and was succeeded by his son.558Neriglissar, Niricassolassar, or Belshazzar, the common accounts of whom seem to combine what is said both of Neriglissar, and his son opposite. He was killed by conspirators on the night of the ‹impious feast,‘ leaving a son (a boy).
d 555Laborosoarchod, notorious for his cruelty and oppression, and who was assassinated by two nobles, Gobryas and Gadatas, whose sons he had slain. The vacant throne was then ascended by.553Laborosoarchod, on whose death, nine months after, the dynasty became extinct, and the kingdom came peaceably to ‹Darius the Mede,‘ or Cyaxares who, on the will-known policy of the Medes and Persians, appointed a Babylonian nobleman, named Nabonadius, or Labynetus, to be king, or viceroy. This person revotled against Cyrus, who had succeeded to the united empire of the Medes and Persians. Cyrus could not immediately attend to him, but at last marched to Babylon, took the city, b.c. 536, as foretold by the prophets.
d 554Nabonadius, the Labynetus of Herodotus, the Naboandel of Josephus, and the Belshazzar of Daniel, who was the son of Evil-Merodach, and who now succeeded to the throne of his
d 538father. After a voluptuous reign, his city was taken by the Persians under Cyrus, on which occasion he lost his life.
It will be observed that the principal point of difference in these accounts is, that Hales contends that the succession of Darius the Mede to the Babylonian throne was not attended with war; that Belshazzar was not the king in whose time the city was taken by Cyrus; and, consequently, that the events which took place this night were quite distinct from and anterior to that siege and capture of the city by the Persian king which Isaiah and Jeremiah so remarkably foretold.
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. This opinion seems to be countenanced by the words of the Codex Chisianus, “Belshazzar the king made a great festival ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐγκαινισμοῦ τῶν βασιλείων en hēmera engkainismou tōn basileiōn ) on the day of the dedication of his kingdom;” and in Daniel 5:4 it is said that “they praised the gods of gold, of silver, and of brass,” etc.
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. “Ctesias says, that the king of Persia furnished provisions daily for fifteen thousand men. Quintus Curtius says that ten thousand men were present at a festival of Alexander the Great; and Statius says of Domitian, that he ordered, on a certain occasion, his guests ‹to sit down at a thousand tables.‘ “ - Prof. Stuart, in loc.
And drank wine before the thousand - The Latin Vulgate here is, “And each one drank according to his age.” The Greek of Theodotion, the Arabic, and the Coptic is, “and wine was before the thousand.” The Chaldee, however, is, as in our version, “he 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.
Belshazzar, while 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.
Commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels - These vessels had been carefully deposited in some place as the spoils of victory (see Daniel 1:2), and it would appear that they had not before been desecrated for purposes of feasting. Belshazzar did what other men would have done in the same condition. He wished to make a display; to do something unusually surprising; and, though it had not been contemplated when the festival was appointed to make use of these vessels, yet, under the excitement of wine, nothing was too sacred to be introduced to the scenes of intoxication; nothing too foolish to be done. In regard to the vessels taken from the temple at Jerusalem, see the note at Daniel 1:2.
Which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken - Margin, “grandfather.” According to the best account which we have of Belshazzar, he was the son of Evil-Merodach, who was the son of Nebuchadnezzar (see the Introduction to the chapter, Section II.), and therefore the word is used here, as in the margin, to denote grandfather. Compare Jeremiah 27:7. See the note at Isaiah 14:22. The word father is often used in a large signification. See 2 Samuel 9:7; also the notes at Matthew 1:1. There is no improbability in supposing that this word would be used to denote a grandfather, when applied to one of the family or dynasty of Nebuchadnezzar The fact that Belshazzar is here called “the son” of Nebuchadnezzar has been made a ground of objection to the credibility of the book of Daniel, by Lengerke, p. 204. The objection is, that the “last king of Babylon was “not” the son of Nebuchadnezzar.” But, in reply to this, in addition to the remarks above made, it may be observed that it is not necessary, in vindicating the assertion in the text, to suppose that he was the “immediate” descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, in the first degree. “The Semitic use of the word in question goes far beyond the first degree of descent, and extends the appellation of “son” to the designation “grandson,” and even of the most remote posterity. In Ezra 6:14, the prophet Zechariah is called “the son of Iddo;” in Zechariah 1:1, Zechariah 1:7, the same person is called “the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo.” So Isaiah threatens Hezekiah Isaiah 39:7 that the sons whom he shall beget shall be conducted as exiles to Babylon; in which case, however, four generations intervened before this happened. So in Matthew 1:1, ‹Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.‘ And so we speak every day: ‹The sons of Adam, the sons of Abraham, the sons of Israel, the sons of the Pilgrims,‘ and the like.” - Prof. Stuart, “Com. on Dan.” p. 144.
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 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. 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. Compare Joseph. “Ant.” b. xi. ch. 6: Section 1. The females that were thus introduced to the banquet were those of the harem, yet it would seem that she who was usually called “the queen” by way of eminence, or the queen-mother (compare the note at Esther 5:10), was not among them at this time. The females in the court of an Oriental monarch were divided into two classes; those who were properly concubines, and who had none of the privileges of a wife; and those of a higher class, and who were spoken of as wives, and to whom pertained the privileges of that relation. Among the latter, also, in the court of a king, it would seem that there was one to whom properly belonged the appellation of “queen;” that is, probably, a favorite wife whose children were heirs to the crown. See Bertholdt, in loc. Compare 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 11:3; Song of Solomon 6:8.
They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, - Compare the note at 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. Nothing can well be conceived more senseless and stupid than what it is said they did at this feast, and yet it is a fair illustration of what occurs in all the festivals of idolatry. And is what occurs in more civilized Christian lands, in the scenes of carousal and festivity, more rational than this? It was not much worse to lavish praises on idol gods in a scene of revelry than it is to lavish praises on idol men now; not much less rational to “toast” gods than it is to “toast” men.
In the same hour - On the word “hour,” see the note at Daniel 4:19.
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. 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. It is easy to imagine that it would produce a sudden pause in their revelry, and diffuse seriousness over their minds.
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. Perhaps, from the prevalent views in the pagan world in regard to the crime of sacrilege, they may have connected this mysterious appearance with the profane act which they were then committing - that of desecrating the vessels of the temple of God. How natural would it be to suppose - recognizing as they did the gods of other nations as real, as truly as those which they worshipped - that the God of the Hebrews, seeing the vessels of his worship profaned, had come forth to express his displeasure, and to intimate that there was impending wrath for such an act.
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. “The pagan,” says Grotius, “thought it a great impiety to convert sacred things to common uses.” Nuerous instances are on record of the sentiments entertained among the pagan on the subject of sacrilege, and of the calamities which were believed to come upon men as a punishment for it. Among them we may refer to the miserable end of the Phocians, who robbed the temple of Delphos, and whose act was the occasion of that war which was called the Holy War; the destruction of the Gauls in their attempt upon the same temple; and of Crassus, who plundered the temple of Jerusalem, and that of the Syrian goddess. - See Lowth, in loc. That a conviction of the sin of sacrilege, according to the prevalent belief on the subject, may have contributed to produce consternation when the fingers of the hand appeared at Belshazzar‘s feast, there is no good reason to doubt, and we may suppose that the minds of the revellers were at once turned to the insult which they had thus offered to the God of the Hebrews.
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. Two objects may have been contemplated in the fact that the writing was “over against the candlestick;” one was that it might be clearly visible, the other that it might be more directly intimated that the writing was a rebuke for the act of sacrilege. On the probable situation where this miracle occurred, the reader may consult Taylor‘s “Fragments to Calmet‘s Dictionary,” No. 205. He supposes that it was one of the large inner courts of the palace - that part of the palace which was prohibited to persons not sent for. See the note at Daniel 5:10.
Upon the plaster of the wall - The Chaldee word means “lime,” not inappropriately rendered here “plaster.” The “manner” of the writing is not specified. All that is necessary to suppose is, that the letters were traced along on the wall so as to be distinctly visible. Whether they seemed to be cut into the plaster, or to be traced in black lines, or lines of light, is not mentioned, and is immaterial. They were such as could be seen distinctly by the king and the guests. Compare, however, the remarks of Taylor in the “Fragment” just referred to.
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.
Then the king‘s countenance was changed - The word rendered “countenance” is, in the margin, as in Daniel 5:9, “brightnesses.” The Chaldee word means “brightness, splendor” (זיו zı̂yv ), and the meaning here is bright looks, cheerfulness, hilarity. The word rendered was changed, is in the margin changed it; and the meaning is, that it changed itself: probably from a jocund, cheerful, and happy expression, it assumed suddenly a deadly paleness.
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” (קטר qeṭar ) 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. The word “loins” in the Scriptures refers to the part of the body around which the girdle was passed, the lower part of the back; and Gesenius supposes that the meaning here is, that the joints of his back, that is, the vertebral are referred to. This part of the body is spoken of as the seat of strength. When this is weak the body has no power to stand, to walk, to labor. The simple idea is, that he was greatly terrified, and that under the influence of fear his strength departed.
And his knees smote one against another - A common effect of fear Nahum 2:10. So Horace, “Et corde et genibus tremit.” And so Virgil, “Tarda trementi genua labant.” “Belshazzar had as much of power, and of drink withal to lead him to bid defiance to God as any ruffian under heaven; and yet when God, as it were, lifted but up his finger against him, how poorly did he crouch and shiver. How did his joints loose, and his knees knock together!” - South‘s Sermons, vol. iv. p. 60.
And 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 the note at 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. Many conjectures have been formed as to the language employed in this writing (compare the note at Daniel 5:24), but such conjectures are useless, since it is impossible now to ascertain what it was. As the writing, however, had a primary reference to the sacrilege committed in regard to the sacred vessels of the temple, and as Daniel was able to read the letters at once, it would seem not improbable that the words were in the Hebrew character then used - a character such as that found now in the Samaritan Pentateuch - for the Chaldee character now found in the Bible has not improbably been substituted for the more ancient and less elegant character now found in the Samaritan Pentateuch alone. There is no improbability in supposing that even the astrologers and the soothsayers were not familiar with that character, and could not readily read it.
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.” So the Greek of Theodotion - πορφύραν porphuran So also the Latin Vulgate - “purpura.” On the nature and uses of this color, see the note at Isaiah 1:18.
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. See Xen. “Cyrop.” I. 3,2, II. 4,6, VIII. 5,18; Anab. I. 5,8. Upon most of the figures in the ruins of Persepolis the same ornament is now found. Prof. Stuart renders this, “a collar of gold.”
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. Or the meaning may be, that the favored person who could interpret this would be raised to the third “rank” of dignity, or placed in the third class of those who held offices in the realm. The Chaldee is, “and shall rule third in the kingdom,” and the idea would seem rather to be that he should be of the third rank or grade in office. So Bertholdt understands it. Grotius understands it as the third person in rank. He says the first was the king; the second, the son of the king; the third, the prince of the Satraps.
Then came in all the king‘s wise men - The classes above referred to, Daniel 5:7.
But they could not read the writing - The character was an unknown character to them. It may have been a character which was not found in any language, and which made the power of Daniel to read it the more remarkable, or it may have been, as suggested in the notes at Daniel 5:7, a foreign character with which they had no acquaintance, though familiar to Daniel.
Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled - Not doubting that this was a Divine intimation of some fearful event, and yet unable to understand its meaning. We are quite as likely to be troubled by what is merely “mysterious” in regard to the future - by anything that gives us some undefined foreboding - as we are by what is really formidable when we know what it is. In the latter case, we know the worst; we can make some preparation for it; we can feel assured that when that is past, all is past that we fear - but who can guard himself, or prepare himself, when what is dreaded is undefined as well as awful; when we know not how to meet it, or how long it may endure, or how terrific and wide may be the sweep of its desolation?
And his countenance was changed in him - Margin, “brightnesses.” See the note at 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.
Now the queen - “Probably the queen-mother, the Nitocris of Herodotus, as the king‘s wives were at the entertainment.” - Wintle. Compare Daniel 5:2-3. So Prof. Stuart. The editor of the “Pictorial Bible” also supposes that this was the queen-mother, and thinks that this circumstance will explain her familiarity with the occurrences in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. He says, “We are informed above, that the ‹wives and concubines‘ of the king were present at the banquet. It therefore seems probable that the ‹queen‘ who now first appears was the queen-mother; and this probability is strengthened by the intimate acquaintance which she exhibits with the affairs of Nebuchadnezzars reign; at the latter end of which she, as the wife of Evil-Merodach, who was regent during his father‘s alienation of mind, took an active part in the internal policy of the kingdom, and in the completion of the great works which Nebuchadnezzar had begun in Babylon. This she continued during the reigns of her husband and son, the present king Belshazzar. This famous queen, Nitocris, therefore, could not but be well acquainted with the character and services of Daniel.” On the place and influence of the queen-mother in the Oriental courts, see Taylor‘s Fragments to Calmet‘s Dictionary, No. 16. From the extracts which Taylor has collected, it would seem that she held an exalted place at court, and that it is every way probable that she would be called in or would come in, on such an occasion. See also Knolles‘ “History of the Turks,” as quoted by Taylor, “Fragments,” No. 50.
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; or if her residence was, as Taylor supposes, detached from the palace, it is every way probable that she would be made acquainted with the consternation that prevailed, and that, recollecting the case of Nebuchadnezzar, and the forgotten services of Daniel, she would feel that the information which was sought respecting the mysterious writing could be obtained from him.
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.
There is a man in thy kingdom - To wit, Daniel. As the queen-mother had lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and 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 in on this occasion. It may be asked, perhaps, how it was 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. An ingenious and not improbable solution of this difficulty has been proposed as founded on a remark of Sir John Chardin: “As mentioned by the queen, Daniel had been made by Nebuchadnezzar ‹master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers.‘ Of this employment Chardin conjectures that he had been deprived on the death of that king, and obtains this conclusion from the fact that when a Persian king dies, both his astrologers and physicians are driven from court - the former for not having predicted, and the latter for not having prevented, his death. If such was the etiquette of the ancient Babylonian, as it is of the modern Persian court, we have certainly a most satisfactory solution of the present difficulty, as Daniel must then be supposed to have relinquished his public employments, and to have lived retired in private life during the eight years occupied by the reigns of Evil-Merodach and Belshazzar.” - Harmer, as quoted by Rosenmuller (“Morgenland,” on Daniel 5:13).
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 the note at Daniel 4:9.
And, in the days of thy father - Margin, “grandfather.” See the note at 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.
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, should be consulted on the present occasion.
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.” So the Chaldee. This language is still common in the East, to denote one who has skill in explaining difficult subjects. “In the copy of a patent given to Sir John Chardin in Persia, we find it is addressed ‹to the Lords of lords, who have the presence of a lion, the aspect of Deston; the princes who have the stature of Tahemtenten, who seem to be in the time of Ardevon, the regents who carry the majesty of Ferribours. The conquerors of kingdoms. Superintendents that unloose all manner of knots, and who are under the ascendant of Mercury,‘” etc. - Taylor‘s “Fragments to Calmet‘s Dict.,” No. 174. 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 the note at John 1:7), and it was by this name that he called him when he addressed him, Daniel 4:9.
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, 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 the note at 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 the notes at 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.
I have even heard of thee - Daniel 5:11.
And now the wise men - Daniel 5:7-8.
And I have heard of thee - 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 the notes at 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.
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.” Daniel means undoubtedly to intimate that what he would do would be done from a higher motive than a desire of office or honor. The answer is one that is eminently dignified. Yet he says he would read the writing, implying that he was ready to do anything that would be gratifying to the monarch. It may seem somewhat strange that Daniel, who here disclaimed all desire of office or reward, should so soon Daniel 5:29 have submitted to be clothed in this manner, and to receive the insignia of office. But, it may be remarked, that when the offer was proposed to him he stated his wishes, and declared that he did not desire to be honored in that way; when he had performed the duty, however, of making known the writing, he could scarcely feel at liberty to resist a command of the king to be clothed in that manner, and to be regarded as an officer in the kingdom. His intention, in the verse before us, was modestly to decline the honors proposed, and to intimate that he was not influenced by a desire of such honors in what he would do; yet to the king‘s command afterward that he should be clothed in robes of office, he could not with propriety make resistance. There is no evidence that he took these honors voluntarily, or that he would not have continued to decline them if he could have done it with propriety.
And give thy rewards to another - Margin, “or fee, as in Daniel 2:6.” Gesenius supposes that the word used here (נבזבה nebizbâh ) is of Persian origin. It means a gift, and, if of Persian origin, is derived from a verb, meaning to lead with gifts and praises, as a prince does an ambassador. The sense here seems to be, that Daniel was not disposed to interfere with the will of the monarch if he chose to confer gifts and rewards on others, or to question the propriety of his doing so; but that, so far as he was concerned, he had no desire of them for himself, and could not be influenced by them in what he was about to do.
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.
O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom - This reference to Nebuchadnezzar 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. As he was acquainted with what had occurred to Nebuchadnezzar; as he had doubtless seen the proclamation which he had made on his recovery from the dreadful malady which God had brought upon him for his pride; and as he had not humbled himself, but had pursued the same course which Nebuchadnezzar did, he had the greater reason to apprehend the judgment of heaven. See Daniel 5:22-23. Daniel here traces all the glory which Nebuchadnezzar had to “the most high God,” reminding the king that whatever honor and majesty he had he was equally indebted for it to the same source, and that he must expect a similar treatment from him.
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 the note at 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 exactly descriptive of the power which Oriental despotic monarchs have.
Whom he would he kept alive - Whether they had, or had not, been guilty of crime. 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.
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.
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.
And he was driven - See this fully explained in Daniel 4:25-33.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart - As thou shouldst 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. How little do men profit by the record of the calamities which have come upon others for their crimes! How little are the intemperate of one generation admonished by the calamities which have come upon those of another; how little are the devotees of pleasure; how little are those in places of power!
But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven - The God who had so signally rebuked and humbled Nebuchadnezzar. 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 the note at 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. It is a deeply affecting consideration, that the breath, on which our life depends, and which is itself so frail a thing, is in the “hand” of a Being who is invisible to us, over whom we can have no control; who can arrest it when he pleases; who has given us no intimation when he will do it, and who often does it so suddenly as to defy all previous calculation and hope. Nothing is more absolute than the power which God holds over the breath of men, yet there is nothing which is less recognized than that power, and nothing which men are less disposed to acknowledge than their dependence on him for it.
And whose are all thy ways - That is, he has power to control thee in all thy ways. You can go nowhere without his permission; you can never, when abroad, return to your home without the direction of his providence. What is here said, also, is as true of all others as it was of the Chaldean prince. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” “A man‘s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” None of us can take a step without his permission; none can go forth on a journey to a distant land without his constant superintending care; none can return without his favor. And yet how little is this recognized! How few feel it when they go out and come in; when they go forth to their daily employments; when they start on a voyage or journey; when they propose to return to their homes!
Hast thou not glorified - That is, thou hast not honored him by a suitable acknowledgment of dependence on him.
Then was the part of the hand sent from him - To wit, the fingers. See Daniel 5:5. The sense is, that when it was fully perceived that Belshazzar was not disposed to learn that there was a God in heaven; when he refused to profit by the solemn dispensations which had occurred in respect to his predecessor; when his own heart was lifted up with pride, and when he had gone even farther than his predecessors had done by the sacrilegious use of the vessels of the temple, thus showing special contempt for the God of heaven, then appeared the mysterious handwriting on the wall. It was then an appropriate time for the Most High God, who had been thus contemned and insulted, to come forth and rebuke the proud and impious monarch.
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. The first thing, therefore, for Daniel to do was to read the writing, and this he was able to do without difficulty, probably, as already remarked, because it was in the ancient Hebrew character - a character quite familiar to him, though not known to the Babylonians, whom Belshazzar consulted. It is every way probable that that character “would” be used on an occasion like this, for
(a) it is manifest that it was intended that the true God, the God of the Hebrews, should be made known, and this was the character in which his communications had been made to men;
(b) it was clearly the design to honor his own religion, and it is morally certain that there would be something which would show the connection between this occurrence and his own agency, and nothing would do this better than to make use of such a character; and
(c) it was the Divine intention to put honor on Daniel, and this would be well done by making use of a character which he understood.
There have been, indeed, many conjectures respecting the characters which were employed on this occasion, and the reasons of the difficulty of interpreting the words used, but it is most probable that the above is the true statement, and this will relieve all the difficulties in regard to the account. Prideaux supposes that the characters employed were the ancient Phoenician characters, that were used by the Hebrews, and that are found now in the Samaritan Pentateuch; and that, as above suggested, these might be unknown to the Babylonians, though familiar to Daniel. Others have supposed that the characters were those in common use in Babylon, and that the reason why the Babylonians could not read them was, that they were smitten with a sudden blindness, like the inhabitants of Sodom, Genesis 19:11. The Talmudists suppose that the words were written in a cabalistic manner, in which certain letters were used to stand for other letters, on the principle referred to by Buxtorf (“Lex. Chal. Rabb. et Talm.” p. 248), and known as אתבשׁ 'âthebbash - that is, where the alphabet is reversed, and the Hebrew letter א (a) is used for the Hebrew letter ת (T), and the Hebrew letter ב (B) for the Hebrew letter ש (S), etc., and that on account of this cabalistic transmutation the Babylonians could not read it, though Daniel might have been familiar with that mode of writing. rabbi Jochanan supposed that there was a change of the order in which the letters of the words were written; other rabbis, that there was a change merely in the order of the first and second letters; others, that the words were written backward; others that the words were written, not in the usual horizontal manner, but perpendicularly; and others, that the words were not written in full, but that only the first letters of each were written. See Bertholdt, pp. 349,350. All these are mere conjectures, and most of them are childish and improbable suppositions. There is no real difficulty in the case if we suppose that the words were written in a character familiar to Daniel, but not familiar to the Babylonians. Or, if this is not admitted, then we may suppose that some mere marks were employed whose signification was made known to Daniel in a miraculous manner.
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. This will appear more clearly by arranging the words together, as has been done by Hales:
d MENE, number,MENE, number,TEKEL, weight,(PERES) (division)UPHARSIN, division.
d Or, as it is explained more accurately by Berholdt and Gesenius:
d Mene, Numbered,Mene, Numbered,Tekel, Weighted,Upharsin. Divided.
d 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 - מנא menê' This word is a passive participle from מנה menâh - “to number, to review.” - Gesenius, “Lex.” The verb is also written מנא menâ' - Buxtorf, “Lex.” It would be literally translated “numbered,” and would apply to that of which an estimate was taken by counting. We use now an expression which would convey a similar idea, when we say of one that “his days are numbered;” that is, he has not long to live, or is about to die. The idea seems to be taken from the fact, that the duration of a man‘s life cannot usually be known, and in the general uncertainty we can form no correct estimate of it, but when he is old, or when he is dangerously sick, we feel that we can with some degree of probability number his days, since he cannot now live long. Such is the idea here, as explained by Daniel. All uncertainty about the duration of the kingdom was now removed, for, since the evil had come, an exact estimate of its whole duration - of the number of the years of its continuance - could be made. In the Greek of Theodotion there is no attempt to translate this word, and it is retained in Greek letters - Μανὴ Manē So also in the Codex Chisianus and in the Latin Vulgate.
God hath numbered thy kingdom - The word which is used here, and rendered “numbered” - מנה menâh - 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. It is evident, if, according to the common interpretation of Daniel 5:30, Belshazzar was slain that very night, it “might” have been applied to the king himself, meaning that his days were numbered, and that he was about to die. But this interpretation (see Notes) is not absolutely certain, and perhaps the fact that Daniel did not so apply the word may be properly regarded as one circumstance showing that such an interpretation is not necessary, though probably it is the correct one.
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 actually then come to an end by being merged in that of the Medes and Persians.
Tekel - This word (תקל teqēl ) is also, according to Gesenius, a passive participle (from תקל teqal - “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:
“O that my grief were thoroughly weighed,
And my calamity laid in the balances together.”
“Let me be weighed in an even balance,
That God may know mine integrity.”
The balance thus used to denote judgment in this life became also the emblem of judgment in the future state, when the conduct of men will be accurately estimated, and justice dealt out to them according to the strict rules of equity. To illustrate this, I will insert a copy of an Egyptian “Death Judgment,” with the remarks of the editor of the “Pictorial Bible” in regard to it: “The Egyptians entertained the belief that the actions of the dead were solemnly weighed in balances before Osiris, and that the condition of the departed was determined according to the preponderance of good or evil. Such judgment scenes are very frequently represented in the paintings and papyri of ancient Egypt, and one of them we have copied as a suitable illustration of the present subject. One of these scenes, as represented on the walls of a small temple at Dayr-el-Medeeneh, has been so well explained by Mr. Wilkinson, that we shall avail ourselves of his description, for although that to which it refers is somewhat different from the one which we have engraved, his account affords an adequate elucidation of all that ours contains. ‹Osiris, seated on his throne, awaits the arrival of those souls that are ushered into Amenti. The four genii stand before him on a lotus-blossom (ours has the lotus without the genii), the female Cerberus sits behind them, and Harpocrates on the crook of Osiris. Thoth, the god of letters, arrives in the presence of Osiris, bearing in his hand a tablet, on which the actions of the deceased are noted down, while Horus and Arceris are employed in weighing the good deeds of the judged against the ostrich feather, the symbol of truth and justice. A cynocephalus, the emblem of truth, is seated on the top of the balance. At length arrives the deceased, who appears between two figures of the goddess, and bears in his hand the symbol of truth, indicating his meritorious actions, and his fitness for admission to the presence of Osiris.‘
“If the Babylonians entertained a similar notion, the declaration of the prophet, ‹Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting!‘ must have appeared exceedingly awful to them. But again, there are allusions in this declaration to some such custom of literally weighing the royal person, as is described in the following passage in the account of Sir Thomas Roe‘s embassy to the great Mogul: ‹The first of September (which was the late Mogul‘s birthday), he, retaining an ancient yearly custom, was, in the presence of his chief grandees, weighed in a balance: the ceremony was performed within his house, or tent, in a fair spacious room, whereinto none were admitted but by special leave. The scales in which he was thus weighed were plated with gold: and so was the beam, on which they hung by great chains, made likewise of that most precious metal. The king, sitting in one of them, was weighed first against silver coin, which immediately afterward was distributed among the poor; then was he weighed against gold; after that against jewels (as they say), but I observed (being there present with my ambassador) that he was weighed against three several things, laid in silken bags in the contrary scale. When I saw him in the balance, I thought on Belshazzar, who was found too light. By his weight (of which his physicians yearly keep an exact account), they presume to guess of the present state of his body, of which they speak flatteringly, however they think it to be. ‹“
Thou art weighed in the balances - That is, this, in the circumstances, is the proper interpretation of this word. It 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, Proverbs 16:11.
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.
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. The verb (פרס peras ) means, to “divide;” and in this form, as in the previous cases, it is, according to Gesenius, participle meaning “divided.” As it stands here, it would be applicable to anything that was “divided” or “sundered” - whether a kingdom, a palace, a house, territory, etc. “What” was divided could be known only by Divine revelation. If the “word” had been understood by Belshazzar, undoubtedly it would have suggested the idea that there was to be some sort of division or sundering, but what that was to be would not be indicated by the mere use of the word. Perhaps to an affrighted imagination there might have been conveyed the idea that there would be a revolt in some of the provinces of the empire, and that a part would be rent away, but it would not have occurred that it would be so rent that the whole would pass under the dominion of a foreign power. Josephus (“Ant.” b. x. ch. xi. Section 3) says, that the word “Phares in the Greek tongue means a “fragment,” κλασμα klasma - God will, therefore, break thy kingdom in pieces, and divide it among the Medes and Persians.”
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 the notes at Isaiah 13:17. It was “given” to the Medes and Persians when it was taken by Cyrus, and when the kingdom of Babylon became extinct, and thenceforward became a part of the Medo-Persian empire. See the notes at Isaiah 13:17, Isaiah 13:19.
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. It is a remarkable instance of the result of fidelity, that a proud monarch should have received such a reproof, and such a prediction in this manner, and it is an encouragement to us to do our duty, and to state the truth plainly to wicked men. Their own consciences testify to them that it is the truth, and they will see the truth so clearly that they cannot deny it.
And they clothed Daniel with scarlet - All this, it would seem, was transacted in a single night, and it has been made an objection, as above remarked, to the authenticity of the book, that such events are said to have occurred in so short a space of time, and that Daniel should have been so soon clothed with the robes of office. On this objection, see Introduction to the chapter, Section I. II. In respect to the latter part of the objection, it may be here further remarked, that it was not necessary to “fit” him with a suit of clothes made expressly for the occasion, for the loose, flowing robes of the Orientals were as well adapted to one person as another, and in the palaces of kings such garments were always on hand. See Harmer‘s “Observations on the East,” vol. ii. 392, following. Compare Rosenmuller, “Morgenland, in loc.”
That he should be the third ruler - See the notes at Daniel 5:7.
In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain - On the taking of Babylon, and the consequences, see the notes at Isaiah 13:17-22; Isaiah 45:1-2. The account which Xenophon (“Cyrop.” vii. s.) gives of the taking of Babylon. and of the death of the king - though without mentioning his name, agrees so well with the statement here, that it may be regarded as a strong confirmation of its correctness. After describing the preparation made to take the city by draining off the waters of the Euphrates, so as to leave the channel dry beneath the walls for the amy of Cyrus, and after recording the charge which Cyrus gave to his generals Gadatas and Gobryas, he adds, “And indeed those who were with Gobryas said that it would not be wonderful if the gates of the palace should be found open, “as the whole city that night seemed to be given up to revelry” ὥς ἐν κώμῳ γὰρ δοκεῖ ἡ πόλις πᾶσα εἶναι τῇδε τῇ νυκτί hōs en kōmō gar dokei hē polis pasa einai tēde tē nukti then says that as they passed on, after entering the city, “of those whom they encountered, part being smitten died, part fled again back, and part raised a clamor. But those who were with Gobryas also raised a clamor as if they also joined in the revelry, and going as fast as they could, they came soon to the palace of the king. But those who were with Gobryas and Gadatas being arrayed, found the gates of the palace closed, but those who were appointed to go against the guard of the palace fell upon them when drinking before a great light, and were quickly engaged with them in hostile combat. Then a cry arose, and they who were within having asked the cause of the tumult, the king commanded them to see what the affair was, and some of them rushing out opened the gates. As they who were with Gadatas saw the gates open, they rushed in, and pursuing those who attempted to return, and smiting them, they came to the king, and they found him standing with a drawn sabre - ἀκινάκην akinakēn And those who were with Gadatas and Gobryas overpowered him, ἐχειροῦντο echeirounto - and those who were with him were slain - one opposing, and one fleeing, and one seeking his safety in the best way he could. And Cyrus sent certain of his horsemen away, and commanded that they should put to death those whom they found out of their dwellings, but that those who were in their houses, and could speak the Syriac language, should be suffered to remain, but that whosoever should be found without should be put to death.
“These things they did. But Gadatas and Gobryas came up; and first they rendered thanks to the gods because they had taken vengeance on the impious king - ὅτι τετιμωρημένοι ἦσαν τὸν ἀνόσιον βασιλέα hoti tetimōrēmenoi ēsan ton anosion basilea Then they kissed the hands and feet of Cyrus, weeping with joy and rejoicing. When it was day, and they who had the watch over the towers learned that the city was taken, and “that the king was dead” - τὸν βασιλέα τεθνηκότα ton basilea tethnēkota - they also surrendered the towers.” These extracts from Xenophon abundantly confirm what is here said in Daniel respecting the death of the king, and will more than neutralize what is said by Berosus. See Intro. to the chapter, Section II.
And Darius the Median took the kingdom - The city and kingdom were actually taken by Cyrus, though acting in the name and by the authority of Darius, or Cyaxares, who was his uncle. For a full explanation of the conquests of Cyrus, and of the reason why the city is said to have been taken by Darius, see the notes at Isaiah 41:2. In regard to the question who Darius the Median was, see the Introduction to 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. Among all people, where any kind of religion has prevailed, there are places and objects which are regarded as set apart to sacred use, and which are not to be employed for common and profane purposes. Though in themselves - in the gold and silver, the wood and stone of which they are made - there is no essential holiness, yet they derive a sacredness from being set apart to Divine purposes, and it has always been held to be a high crime to treat them with indignity or contempt - to rob altars, or to desecrate holy places. This general impression of mankind it was clearly the design of God to confirm in the case before us, when the sacred vessels of the temple - vessels consecrated in the most solemn manner to the worship of Jehovah - were profanely employed for the purposes of carousal. 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.
(2) We may see the peril of such festivals as that celebrated by Belshazzar and his lords, Daniel 5:1 following. It is by no means probable that when the feast was contemplated and arranged, anything was designed like what occurred in the progress of the affair. It was not a matter of set purpose to introduce the females of the harem to this scene of carousal, and still less to make use of the sacred vessels dedicated to the worship of Jehovah, to grace the midnight revelry. It is not improbable that they would have been at first shocked at such an outrage on what was regarded as propriety, or what would have been deemed sacred by all people. It was only when the king had “tasted the wine” that these things were proposed; and none who attend on such a banquet as this, none who come together for purposes of drinking and feasting, can foretell what they may be led to do under the influence of wine and strong drink. No man is certain of not doing foolish and wicked things who gives himself up to such indulgences; no man knows what he may do that may be the cause of bitter regret and painful mortification in the recollection.
(3) God has the means of access to the consciences of men Daniel 5:5. In this case it was by writing on the wall with his own fingers certain mysterious words which none could interpret, but which no one doubted were of fearful import. No one present, it would appear, had any doubt that somehow what was written was connected with some awful judgment, and the fearfulness of what they dreaded arose manifestly from the consciousness of their own guilt. It is not often that God comes forth in this way to alarm the guilty; but he has a thousand methods of doing it, and no one can be sure that in an instant he will not summon all the sins of his past life to remembrance. He “could” write our guilt in letters of light before us - in the chamber where we sleep; in the hall where we engage in revelry; on the face of the sky at night; or he can make it as plain to our minds “as if” it were thus written out. To Belshazzar, in his palace, surrounded by his lords, he showed this; to us in society or solitude he can do the same thing. No sinner can have any security that he may not in a moment be overwhelmed with the conviction of his own depravity, and with dreadful apprehension of the wrath to come.
(4) We have in this chapter Daniel 5:6 a striking illustration of the effects of a sudden alarm to the guilty. The countenance of the monarch was changed; his thoughts troubled him; the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote together. Such effects are not uncommon when a sinner is made to feel that he is in the presence of God, and when his thoughts are led along to the future world. The human frame is so made that these changes occur as indicative of the troubles which the mind experiences, and the fact that it is thus agitated shows the power which God has over us. No guilty man can be secure that he will “not” thus be alarmed when he comes to contemplate the possibility that he may soon be called before his Maker, and the fact that he “may” thus be alarmed should be one of the considerations bearing on his mind to lead him to a course of virtue and religion. Such terror is proof of conscious guilt, for the innocent have nothing to dread; and if a man is sure that he is prepared to appear before God, he is “not” alarmed at the prospect. They who live in sin; they who indulge in revelry; they who are profane and sacrilegious; they who abuse the mercies of God, and live to deride sacred things, can never be certain that in a moment, by the revelation of their guilt to their own souls, and by a sudden message from the eternal world, they may not be overwhelmed with the deepest consternation. Their countenances may become deadly pale, their joints may be loosed, and their limbs tremble. It is only the righteous who can look calmly at the judgment.
(5) We may see from this chapter one of the effects of the terror of a guilty conscience. It is not said, indeed, that the mysterious fingers on the wall recorded the “guilt” of the monarch. But they recorded “something;” they were making some record that manifestly pertained to him. How natural was it to suppose that it was a record of his guilt! And who is there that could bear a record made in that manner of his own thoughts and purposes; of his desires and feelings; of what he is conscious is passing within the chambers of his own soul? There is no one who would not turn pale if he saw a mysterious hand writing all his thoughts and purposes - all the deeds of his past life - on the wall of his chamber at night, and bringing at once all his concealed thoughts and all his forgotten deeds before his mind. And if this is so, how will the sinner bear the disclosures that will be made at the day of judgment?
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Daniel 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter