Daniel here refers to the history of what happened at the taking of Babylon; but meanwhile he leaves those judgments of God to the consideration of his readers, which the Prophets had predicted before the people had become exiles. He does not use the prophetic style, as we shall afterwards see, but is content with simple narrative; while the practice of history may be learnt from the following expressions. It is our duty now to consider how this history tends towards building us up in the faith and fear of God. First of all we notice the time at which Belshazzar celebrated this banquet. Seventy years had passed away from the time when Daniel had been led into exile with his companions. For although Nebuchadnezzar will soon be called the father of Belshazzar, yet it is clear enough that Evil-Merodach lived between them; for he reigned twenty-three years. Some reckon two kings before Belshazzar; for they place Regassar after Labassardach; and these two will occupy eight years. Metasthenes has stated it so, and he has many followers. But Nebuchadnezzar the Great, who took Daniel captive, and was the son of the first king of that name, evidently reigned forty-five years. Some transfer two years to the reign of his father; at any rate, he held the regal power for forty-five years; and if the twenty-three years of Evil-Merodach are added, they will make sixty-eight years — in which Belshazzar had reigned eight years. We see, then, how seventy-two years had passed away from the period of Daniel being first led captive. Metasthenes reckons thirty years for the reign of Evil-Merodach; and then, if we add eight years, this makes more than eighty years — which appears probable enough, although Metasthenes seems to be in error in supposing different kings instead of only different names. (240) For Herodotus does not call Belshazzar, of whom we are now speaking, a king, but calls his father Labynetus, and gives him the same name. (241) Metasthenes makes some mistakes in names, but I readily embrace his computation of time, when he asserts Evil-Merodach to have reigned thirty years. For when we treat of the seventy years which Jeremiah had formerly pointed out, we ought not to begin with Daniel’s exile, no,’ yet with the destruction of the city, but with the slaughter which occurred between the first victory of king Nebuchadnezzar, and the burning and ruin of the temple and city. For when the report concerning the death of his father was first spread abroad, as we have elsewhere said, he returned to his own country, lest any disturbance should occur through his absence. Hence we shall find the seventy years during which God wished the people’s captivity to last, will require a longer period for the reign of Evil-Merodach than twenty-three years; although there is not any important difference, for soon after Nebuchadnezzar returned, he carried off the king, leaving the city untouched. Although the temple was then standing, yet God had inflicted the severest punishment upon the people, which was like a final slaughter, or at least nearly equal to it. However this was, we see that Belshazzar was celebrating this banquet just as the time of the deliverance drew nigh.
Here we must consider the Providence of God, in arranging the times of events, so that the impious, when the time of their destruction is come, cast themselves headlong of their own accord. This occurred to this wicked king. Wonderful indeed was the stupidity which prepared a splendid banquet filled with delicacies, while the city was besieged. For Cyrus had begun to besiege the city for a long time with a large army. The wretched king was already half a captive; and yet, as if in spite of God, he provided a rich banquet, and invited a thousand guests. Hence we may conjecture the extent of the noise and of the expense in that banquet. For if any one wishes to entertain only ten or twenty guests, it will occasion him much trouble, if he wishes to treat them splendidly. But when it was a royal entertainment, where there were a thousand nobles with the king’s wife and concubines, and so great a multitude assembled together, it became necessary to obtain from many quarters what was required for such a festival; and this may seem incredible! But Xenophon though he related many fables and preserved neither the gravity nor the fidelity of a historian, because he desired to celebrate the praises of Cyrus like a rhetorician; although he trifles in many things, yet here had no reason or occasion for deception. He says a treasure was laid up, so that the Babylonians could endure a siege of even ten or more years. And Babylon was deservedly compared to a kingdom; for its magnitude was so large as to surpass belief. It must really have been very populous, but since they drew their provisions from the whole of Asia, it is not surprising that the Babylonians had food in store, sufficient to allow them to close their gates, and to sustain them for a long period. But in this banquet it was most singular that the king, who ought to have been on guard, or at least have sent forth his guards to prevent the city from being taken, was as intent upon his delicacies as if he had been in perfect peace, and exposed to no danger from any outward enemy. He had a contest with a strong man, if any man ever was so. Cyrus was endued with singular prudence, and in swiftness of action by far excelled all others. Since, then, the king was so keenly opposed, it is surprising to find him so careless as to celebrate a banquet. Xenophon, indeed, states the day to have been a festival. The assertion of those Jews who think the Chaldeans had just obtained a victory over the Persians, is but trifling. For Xenophon — who may be trusted whenever he does not falsify history in favor of Cyrus, because he is then a very grave historian, and entirely worthy of credit; but when he desires to praise Cyrus, he has no moderation — is here historically correct, when he says the Babylonians were holding a usual annual festival. He tells us also how Babylon was taken, viz., by Gobryas and Gadatas his generals. For Belshazzar had castrated one of these to his shame, and had slain the son of the other in the lifetime of his father. Since then the latter burnt with the desire of avenging his son’s death, and the former his own disgrace, they conspired against him. Hence Cyrus turned the many channels of the Euphrates, and thus Babylon was suddenly taken. The city we must remember was twice taken, otherwise there would not have been any confidence in prophecy; because when the Prophets threaten God’s vengeance upon the Babylonians, they say their enemies should be most fierce, not seeking gold or silver, but desiring human blood; and then they narrate every kind of atrocious deed which is customary in war. (Jeremiah 50:42.) But nothing of this kind happened when Babylon was taken by Cyrus; but when the Babylonians freed themselves from the Persian sway by casting off their yoke, Darius recovered the city by the assistance of Zopyrus, who mutilated his person, and pretended to have suffered such cruelty from the king as to induce him to betray the city. But then we collect how hardly the Babylonians were afflicted, when 3000 nobles were crucified! And what usually happens when 8000 nobles are put to death, and all suspended on a gallows — nay, even crucified? Thus it easily appears, how severely the Babylonians were punished at the time, although they were then subject to a foreign power, and treated shamefully by the Persians, and reduced to the condition of slaves. For they were forbidden the use of arms, and were taught from the first to become the slaves of Cyrus, and dare not wear a sword. We ought to touch upon these things shortly to assure us of the government of human events by the judgment of God, when he casts headlong the reprobate when their punishment is at hand. We have an illustrious example of this in King Belshazzar.
The time of the deliverance predicted by Jeremiah was at hand — the seventy years were finished — Babylon was besieged. (Jeremiah 25:11.) The Jews might now raise up their heads and hope for the best, because the arrival of Cyrus approached, contrary to the opinion of them all; for he had suddenly rushed down from the mountains of Persia when that was a barbarous nation. Since, therefore, the sudden coming of Cyrus was like a whirlwind, this change might possibly give some hope to the Jews; but after a length of time, so to speak, had elapsed in the siege of the city, this might east down their spirits. While king Belshazzar was banqueting with his nobles, Cyrus seems able to thrust him out in the midst of his merriment and hilarity. Meanwhile the Lord did not sit at rest in heaven; for he blinds the mind of the impious king, so that he should willingly incur punishments, yet no one drew him on, for he incurred it himself. And whence could this arise, unless God had given him up to his enemy? It was according to that decree of which Jeremiah was the herald. Hence, although Daniel narrates the history, it is our duty, as I have said, to treat of things far more important; for God who had promised his people deliverance, was now stretching forth his hand in secret, and fulfilling the predictions of his Prophets. (Jeremiah 25:26.)
It now follows — King Belshazzar was drinking wine before a thousand Some of the Rabbis say, “he strove with his thousand nobles, and contended with them all in drinking to excess;” but this seems grossly ridiculous. When he says, he drank wine before a thousand, he alludes to the custom of the nation, for the kings of the Chaldeans very rarely invited guests to their table; they usually dined alone, as the kings of Europe now do; for they think it adds to their dignity to enjoy a solitary meal. The pride of the kings of Chaldea was of this kind. When, therefore, it is said, Belshazzar drank wine before a thousand , something extraordinary is intended, since he was celebrating this annum banquet contrary to his ordinary custom, and he deigned to treat his nobles with such honor as to receive them as his guests. Some, indeed, conjecture that he drank wine ordeals, as he was accustomed to become intoxicated when there were no witnesses present; but there is no force in this comment: the word before means in the presence or society of others. Let us go on:
Here king Belshazzar courts his own punishment, because he furiously stirred up God’s wrath against himself, as if he was dissatisfied with its delay while God put off his judgment for so long a period. This is according to what I have said. When the destruction of a house is at hand, the impious remove the posts and gates, as Solomon says. (Proverbs 17:19.) God therefore, when he wishes to execute his judgments, impels the reprobrate by a secret instinct to rush forward of their own accord, and to hasten their own destruction. Belshazzar did this. His carelessness was the sign of his stupidity, and also of God’s wrath, when in the midst of his own pride and crimes he could delight in reveling. Thus his blindness more clearly points out God’s vengeance, since he was not content with his own intemperance and excesses, but must openly declare war against God. He ordered, therefore, says he, the gold and silver vessels to be brought to him which he had taken away from Nebuchadnezzar These vessels appear to have been laid up in the treasury; hence Nebuchadnezzar had never abused these vessels in his lifetime; we do not read that Evil-Merodach did anything of this kind, and Belshazzar now wishes purposely to inflict this insult on God. There is no doubt he brought forth those vessels by way of ridicule, for the purpose of triumphing over the true God, as we shall afterwards see.
We have already explained the sense in which the Prophet calls Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar, since it is usual in all languages to speak of ancestors as fathers; for Belshazzar was of the offspring of Nebuchadnezzar, and being really his grandson, he is naturally called his son; and this will occur again. There are some who think Evil-Merodach was stricken with that grievous affliction mentioned in the last chapter: possibly his name was Nebuchadnezzar, but there is no reason for adopting their opinion; (245) it is frivolous to fly directly to this conjecture when the name of the father occurs. the Prophet says Belshazzar committed this under the influence of wine Since טעם, tegnem, signifies “to taste,” no doubt he here speaks of tasting; and since this may be metaphorically transferred to the understanding, some explain it to mean being impelled by wine, and thus his drunkenness took the place of reason and judgment. Nights and love and wine, says Ovid, have no moderation in them. (246) This explanation I think too forced; it seems simply to mean, when Belshazzar grew warm with wine, he commanded the vessels to be brought to him; and this is the more usual view. When, therefore, the savor of the wine prevailed, — that is, when it seized upon the king’s senses, then he ordered the vessels to be brought It is worth while to notice this, to induce us to be cautious concerning intemperance in drinking, because nothing is more common than the undertaking many things far too rashly when our senses are under the influence of wine. Hence we must use wine soberly, that it may invigorate not only the body but the mind and the senses, and may never weaken, or enervate, or stupify our bodily or mental powers. And this is, alas! too common, since the vulgar proverb is well known — pride springs from drunkenness. For this reason the poets supposed Bacchus to have horns, since intemperate men are always puffed up, and the most wretched fancy themselves kings. What then must happen to monarchs, when in their forgetfulness they dream themselves kings of kings, and even deities? The Prophet wishes to mark this fault when he says, Belshazzar, under the influence of wine, ordered vessels to be brought to him It now follows, —
“La nuiet, l’amour, le boire sans mesure,
N’ induit a rien sinon a toute ordure.”
The Prophet uses the word “golden, ” probably, because the most precious vessels were brought; silver might also have been added, but the more splendid ones are noticed. He does not say that Nebuchadnezzar carried them off, but implies it to be the common act of all the Babylonians. They obtained the victory under the direction of this king, hence he used the spoils; and since they were all engaged in the victory, the Prophet speaks of them all. In using the phrase, “the temple,” he expresses more than before, by saying, not from Jerusalem only but from the temple of God’s house.
Here the Prophet shews more distinctly and clearly how the king insulted the true and only God, by ordering his vessels to be brought to him. For when they had been brought forth, they praised, says he, all their gods of gold and silver; meaning in defiance of the true God they celebrated the praises of their false deities, and thanked them, as we find in Habakkuk. (Habakkuk 1:16.) Although there is no doubt they sacrificed heartily the produce of their industry, as the Prophet there expresses it, yet they exalted their own gods, and thus obliterated the glory of the true God. And this is the reason why the Prophet now takes pains to state those vessels to have been brought from the temple of God ’s house For he here strengthens the impiety of the king and his nobles for erecting their horns against the God of Israel. There is then a great contrast, between God who commanded his temple to be built at Jerusalem, and sacrifices to be offered to him and false gods. And this was the head and front of Belshazzar’s offending, because he thus purposely rose up against God, and not only tyrannically and miserably oppressed the Jews, but triumphed over their God — the Creator of heaven and earth. This madness accelerated his ultimate destruction, and it occurred for the purpose of hastening the time of their deliverance. Hence I have represented him to have been drawn by God’s great instinct to such madness that vengeance might be ripened.
They drank, says he, wine, and praised their gods. The Prophet does not ascribe the praise of their gods to drunkenness, but he obliquely shews their petulance to have been increased by drink. For if each had been sober at home, he would not have thus rashly risen up against God; but when impiety exists in the heart, intemperance becomes an additional stimulus. The Prophet seems to me to mean this, when he repeats, they were drinking; for he had said, the king and his nobles, his wife, and concubines, were drinking He now inculcates the same thing in similar words, but adds, they drank wine, — meaning their madness was the more inflamed by the excitement of the wine. Then they praised the gods of silver, etc. The Prophet here reproachfully mentions gods of gold, silver, brass, wood, and stone, since we know God to have nothing in common with either gold or silver. His true image cannot be expressed in corruptible materials; and this is, the reason why the Prophet calls all the gods which the Babylonians worshipped, golden, silver, brazen, wooden, and stone. Clearly enough the heathen never were so foolish as to suppose the essence of Deity to reside in gold, or silver, or stone; they only called them images of their deities; but because in their opinion the power and majesty of the deity was included within the material substance, the Prophet is right in so completely condemning their criminality, because we hear how carefully idolaters invent every kind of subtlety. In the present times, the Papacy is a glaring proof how men cling to gross superstitions when they desire to excuse their errors; hence the Prophet does not here admit those vain pretenses by which the Babylonians and other heathens disguise their baseness, but he says, their gods were of silver and gold And why so? for although they orally confessed that gods reign in heaven, (so great was the multitude and crowd of their deities that the supreme God was quite shrouded in darkness,) although therefore the Babylonians confessed their gods to have dwelt in heaven, yet they fled to statues and pictures. Hence the Prophet deservedly chides them for adoring gods of gold and silver. As to his saying, then the vessels were brought, it shews how the slaves of tyrants obey them in the worst actions, because no delay intervened in bringing the vessels from the treasury. Daniel therefore signifies how all the king’s servants were obedient to his nod, and desirous of pleasing a person brutish and drunken; at the same time he shews the shortness of that intemperate intoxication; for he says, —
Here Daniel begins his narration of the change which took place, for at that instant the king’ acknowledged something sorrowful and disturbing to be at hand. Yet, as he did not at once understand what it was, God gave him a sign as an omen of calamity, according to the language of the profane. In this way God sent him warning when he saw the king and his nobles raging with mad licentiousness. There appeared, then, the hand of a man, says the Prophet, using this expression from its similitude and form. We are sure it was not a man’s hand; it had the appearance of one, and hence was called so. Scripture often uses this method of expression, especially when treating external symbols. This is, then, a sacramental form of speech, (251) if I may use the expression. God, indeed, wrote the inscription by his own power, but he shews King Belshazzar the figure as if a man had written it on the wall; hence the fingers of a hand were put forth. This expression conduces in no slight degree to the reality of the miracle; for if Belshazzar had seen this on the wall from the very first, he might have supposed some artifice had placed the hand there; but when the wall was previously bare, and then the hand suddenly appeared, we may readily understand the hand to have been a sign from heaven, through which God wished to shew something’ important to the king. The fingers of a hand, then, were put forth, and wrote from the midst of the candlestick, or lamp. Clearly, then, this was a feast by night, and Babylon was taken in the midst of the night. No wonder their banquets were protracted to a great length, for intemperance has no bounds. When men are accustomed to spend the day in luxury, I confess indeed they do not usually continue their banquets till midnight; but when they celebrate any splendid and remarkable feast, they do not find the daylight sufficient for their festivites and the grosser indulgences of the table.
Hence the hand appeared from the candlesticks to render it the more conspicuous. That hand, says the Prophet, wrote on the surface of the palace wall. If any one had announced to the king this appearance of a human hand, he might have doubted it; but he says the king was an eye-witness, for God wished to terrify him, as we shall afterwards see, and hence he set before him this spectacle. The king, then, perceived it; perhaps his nobles did not; and we shall afterwards see how the terror operated upon the king alone, unless, indeed, some others trembled with him. When, therefore, they saw his countenance changed and exhibiting proofs of terror, they began to fear, although they were all desirous of affording him some consolation. Hence God wished to summon this impious king to His tribunal when the hand of a man appeared before him in the act of writing. We shall see what it wrote in its proper place.
Here Daniel shews how the king’s mind was struck with fear, lest any one should think his fright without foundation. But he expresses, by many circumstances, how disturbed the king was, and thus the sufficiency of the reason would easily appear. It was needful for him to be so struck, that all might understand how God was seated on his throne, and summoned him as a criminal. We mentioned before how Daniel impresses us with the pride of this king, and his careless security is a clear proof of it. When the daily siege of the city ought to have rendered him anxious, he was celebrating his usual banquets, as if in profound peace. Whence he appears to be corrupted by a kind of spiritual drunkenness, so as not to feel his own calamities. This, then, is the reason why God roused him up and awakened him from his lethargy, because no ordinary means were effectual in recalling him to soundness of mind. The fear which he experienced might seem a convenient preparation for penitence. But we see the same thing in this case as we do in that of Esau; for he was not only touched with contrition when he saw himself cut off, but he uttered a loud and piercing’ lamentation when seeking his father’s “blessing,” and yet he was too late. (Genesis 27:24.) A similar occurrence is related here of King Belshazzar, but we must remark upon everything in order. Daniel says. The king’s countenance was changed; then, the joints of his limbs were loosened, and he was disturbed, or frightened, in his thoughts; and lastly, he adds, his knees smote together The word properly signifies, to strike one against another. By these signs the Prophet shews how King Belshazzar was frightened by the vision already mentioned. Without doubt, as I have just said, God inspired him with this terror, for we know even when God has openly ascended to his own tribunal, how stupid the reprobate remain, and how immovable! But God wished to affect the mind of this impious king, and to render his ignorance without excuse.
Here we may remark, generally, in how many ways God touches men’s hearts — not those of the reprobate only, but also of his elect, for we see even the best men slow and slothful when God summons them to his judgment-seat. It becomes necessary to chastise them with rods, otherwise they never approach God of their own accord. He might, indeed, move their minds without violence; but he wishes to set before us, as in a glass, our slowness and slothfulness, since we do not obey his word with natural willingness. Hence he tames his children with cords when they will not profit by his word. With regard to the reprobate, he often chides their obstinacy, because, before he undertakes the office of judge, he kindly entices them; when they do not profit by this, he threatens; and when his threats are useless and devoid of efficacy, he then calls them to his tribunal. Respecting the fate of the King of Babylon, God had suffered Daniel to be silent, for his ingratitude and pride had closed the door, so as to prevent Daniel from undertaking the office of a teacher as he was prepared to do; hence the King of Babylon continued without one. But God suddenly appeared as a judge, by the writing of which we have shortly spoken, and of which we shall say more in the proper place. Whatever its meaning may be: we see King Belshazzar not only admonished by an outward sign of his approaching death, but inwardly stirred up to acknowledge himself to be dealing with God. For the reprobate often enjoy their own pleasures, as I have said, although God shews himself to be their judge. But he treats King Belshazzar differently: he desires to inspire him with terror, to render him more attentive to the perusal of the writing. This time was, as I have said, a preparation for repentance; but he failed in the midst of his course, as we see too many do who tremble at the voice of God and at the signs of his vengeance, as soon as he admonishes them; but these feelings are but evanescent; thus proving how little they have learnt of the necessary lesson.
The example of Esau is similar to this, since he despised God’s grace when he heard himself deprived of the inheritance divinely promised him. (Genesis 25:33.) He treated the blessing as a fable, till he found it a serious matter; he then began to lament, but all in vain. Such also was the fright of King Belshazzar, as we shall soon perceive. Even when Daniel explained the writing to him, he was by no means moved by it, but adorned Daniel with royal tokens of regard. Yet the object and use of this was totally different, for when the nobles were moved, and the reality became manifest, God in this way demonstrated his glory: and Darius, who took the city, with his son-in-law Cyrus, understood how his own valor and perseverance were not the sole cause of his victory, and how the satraps, Gobryas and Gadata, would not have assisted him so materially unless the whole affair had been under God’s auspices. Thus God shewed himself as in a glass to be the avenger of his people, as he had promised seventy years previously. It now follows: —
The Prophet narrates how King Belshazzar sought a remedy for his anxiety; hence we gather how his mind was so immediately wounded, and how he felt he could not escape God’s hand, otherwise he would not have called the wise men so suddenly in the midst of the banquet. Again, when the Prophet says, He cried out loudly, he was clearly so astonished as to forget his being king, for to cry out at table was not consistent with his dignity. But God expelled all pride from him, by compelling him to burst forth into a cry, like a man completely beside himself. We must now consider the remedy to which he resorted: he ordered the Chaldeans, and magi, and astrologers to be called We learn from this how exceedingly prone men are to vanity, lying, and falsehood. Daniel ought to have been first, even among the Chaldeans, for that was an answer worthy of remembrance which he had given to the grandfather of this king, when he predicted his becoming like the beasts of the forest. Since this prophecy was verified by the event, his authority ought to have flourished even to a thousand years. He was daily in the king’s sight, and yet he was neglected, while the king sent for all the Chaldeans, and astrologers, and diviners, and magi. Truly enough, these men were then in so great repute that they deservedly obscured the fame of Daniel, for they were indignant at a captive being preferred to native teachers, when they knew their own glory amongst all peoples depended upon the persuasion of their being the only wise men. As, therefore, they wished to retain their good opinion, as being God’s counselors, no wonder they despised this stranger. But this feeling cannot avail for a moment before God: for what can be urged in defense of the king’s impiety? His grandfather was a memorable instance of God’s vengeance, when rejected from the company of men, and compelled to dwell among the wildest beasts of the forest. This, truly, could not appear a matter of chance. God, then, had first admonished him by a dream, and next sent his own Prophet as the interpreter of the oracle and the vision. As I have said, the fame of this event ought to have been perpetual among the Chaldeans, yet the grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten his example, insulted the God of Israel, profaned the vessels of the temple, and triumphed with his idols! When God sets before him the sign of his judgment, he calls together the magi and the Chaldeans, and passes by Daniel. And what possible excuse can he have for this? We have seen, as I have said, how very prone men are to be deluded by Satan’s impostures, and the well-known proverb becomes true, — The world loves to be deceived!
This, also, is worthy of notice, because in the present day, and in troublous times, many protect themselves behind the shield of their ignorance. But the explanation is at hand — they are willingly blind; they shut their eyes amidst the clearest light; for if God considered King Belshazzar without excuse when the Prophet was once presented to him, what excuse can the ‘blind of these days allege? Oh! if I could determine what God’s will is for me, I would submit myself instantly to it, because God daily and openly calls to us and invites us, and shews us the way; but none answer him, none follow him, or at least how very few! Hence we must diligently consider the example of the King of Babylon when we see him full of anxiety, and yet not seeking God as he ought. And why so? He wanders about in great hesitation; he sees himself constrained, and yet he cannot fly from the judgment of God, but seeks consolation in magi, Chaldeans, and other impostors; for, as we have seen, they had been once or twice proved so, and this ought to have been sufficiently celebrated and notorious to all men. We see, then, how blind King Belshazzar was, since he closed his eyes to the light offered him. So in the present day almost all the world continues in blindness; it is not allowed to wander in darkness, but when light shines upon it, it closes its eyes, rejects God’s grace, and purposely desires to cast itself headlong. This conduct is far too common.
Now the Prophet says, — The king promised the wise men a present of a chain of gold to whoever read the writing; and besides this, raiment of purple, and the third rank in the kingdom! This shews him not to have been sincerely touched by the fear of God. And this repugnance is worthy of observation in the wicked, who dread God’s judgments, and yet the pride of their hearts is not corrected and subdued, as we saw in the case of this king. For his knees smote one against the other, and the joints of his loins were loosened: he trembles throughout his entire frame, and becomes half dead with fear, because God’s terror seizes on all his senses. Meanwhile, we see a hidden pride lurking in his mind, which breaks forth in the promise, whoever shall interpret the writing, shall be the third in rank in the kingdom! God had already deprived him of his royal dignity; yet he still wishes to raise others on high in defiance of God! What, then, is the meaning of this? We see how often the wicked are terrified, and how deeply they cherish a hidden contumacy, so that God never subdues them. They shew, indeed, many signs of repentance; but if any one carefully weighs all their words and deeds, he will find the Prophet’s narration concerning King Belshazzar completely verified, because they rage against God, and are never teachable or obedient, but utterly stupefied. We saw this partly in former verse, and shall see it again more clearly at the end of the chapter. As to the latter clause of the verse, he shall rule as third in the kingdom, it is uncertain whether he promises the third portion or the third rank; for many think the queen, of whom mention will soon be made, was the wife of King Nebuchadnezzar, and grandmother of King Belshazzar. It follows: —
Here Daniel relates how deceived the king was in his opinion, in hoping for any interpretation of the writing from either the magi or the astrologers, the Chaldeans or the soothsayers; for none of them could read it. Hence he pays here the punishment of his ingratitude in passing over God’s Prophet, while he knew he had predicted truth to his grandfather just as it had happened, as well as Daniel’s general excellence in wisdom, Hence the proofs of his calling were sufficiently numerous and trustworthy. Since, then, he had so despised God’s unparalleled benefit, he is destitute of counsel:, and sees himself call in vain upon all the Chaldeans and astrologers. For Daniel says, There was no one who could read the writing or reveal its interpretation to the king Because this seems absurd, many Rabbis have hazarded various conjectures. Some think the letters were transposed; others guess that they were changed into their counterparts and equivalents; and others think the char-actors were changed. But we have elsewhere shewn how bold the Jews are in their conjectures, whenever they have no certain guide. We do not require their guesses, because, very probably, the writing was visible to the king and concealed from all the Chaldeans, or else they were so blind that they could see nothing; just as God denounced against the Jews a stupor of this kind. We see what he pronounces, by Isaiah, (Isaiah 29:0 : 11,) “Your law shall be like a. sealed book: If it shall be said to any one, ‘Read it,’ he shall say, ‘The book is sealed, I cannot:’ or the book may be opened and ye shall all become blind: even those who seem to be sharper than all others, shall say they are ignorant and unlettered men.” Whatever God threatened against the Jews we know was fulfilled, and is fulfilled to this day, since a veil is put before their eyes, as Paul says. (2 Corinthians 3:14.) Hence they were blind in the midst of the brightest light. What wonder then if the same thing happened to the Chaldeans, so flint they could not read the writing? There is no necessity to conjecture any transposition of letters, or any inversion of their, order, or any change of one into another; for the word תקל,tekel, went first, and afterwards מנא, מנא Mena, Mena. These guesses then are frivolous; and thus much is certain, God wished the king to be made aware of his approaching destruction; next, his soul was moved, not with repentance, but only enough to render his sloth without excuse; and hence, whether willingly or not, he was compelled to send for some remedy, since he knew himself to be dealing with God.
Now, with regard to the writing itself, God could not be a free agent unless he possessed the power of addressing one man at one time, and a number of men at another. He wished King Belshazzar to be conscious of this writing, while the magi were all as unable to read it as if they were blind. And then, with reference to the interpretation, their perplexity need not surprise us. For God spoke enigmatically, when he said Mene, Mene, and then Tekel, that is weighed, and Peres, divided. If the magi could have read these words a hundred times over, they could never either conjecture or comprehend their true meaning. The prophecy was allegorical, until an interpreter was divinely ordained for it. So far as the mere letters are concerned, there is no reason why we should be surprised at the eyes of the magi being blinded, since God pleased it to be so, and wished to cite the king to his tribunal, as we have already said. The Prophet says, The king was frightened, his countenance was changed, and the princes also were disturbed The publicity of the event ought to have increased the sense of God’s judgment, for, as we shall afterwards see, King Belshazzar himself was slain that very night. Cyrus entered while the Babylonians were feasting, and enjoying their luxuries in security. So remarkable an example of God’s justice might have been instantly buried in that drunken revel, had it not been rendered conspicuous to many bystanders. Hence Daniel repeats, The king was disturbed, after he saw no prospect of either aid or advice from his magi and astrologers. He says also, his princes were astonished, because not only the king ought to be troubled but the whole Court, and the report ought to flow forth not only through the city, but to foreign nations, since there is no doubt that Cyrus was afterwards informed of this prophecy; for he would not have courted Daniel so much, nor honored him so remarkably, unless this occurrence had been made known to him. It afterwards follows:
Here Daniel relates the occasion of his being brought before the king, as the reader and interpreter of the writing. The queen, he says, did this. It is doubtful whether it was the wife of King Belshazzar, or his grandmother. She was probably an old woman, as she refers to events in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar This conjecture has no sufficient foundation, and hence it is better to suspend our judgment than to assert anything rashly; unless, as we before saw, his wife was at table with him. As far as we can gather the words of the Prophet with certainty, we must diligently notice them, and thus convict the king of ingratitude, because he did not admit Daniel among the magi, Chaldeans, and astrologers. The holy man had no wish to be reckoned in that company; he would have deserved to lose God’s prophetic spirit had he thus mingled with impostors; and he is clearly to be distinguished from them. King Nebuchadnezzar had set him over all the magi; he had no wish to exercise this honor, unless, as I have just said, he would deprive himself of the singular gift of prophecy; for we must always take care how far we can go. We know how very prone we are to be enticed by the blandishments of the world, especially when ambition blinds us and disturbs all our senses. No plague is worse than this, because when any one sees a prospect of the acquisition of either profit or honor, he does not regard either what he ought to do or what God permits, but is hurried on by a blind fury. This would have happened to Daniel, unless he had been restrained by a sense of true piety, and hence he repudiated the honor offered him by King Nebuchadnezzar. He never wished to be reckoned among soothsayers, and astrologers, and impostors of this kind, who deluded that nation with prodigies. Here the queen enters and mentions Daniel; but this does not render the king without excuse; for, as we have already said, Daniel had acquired a name of renown among men of all ages, and God wished to signalize him by a distinct mark, to fix the minds of all upon him, as if he were an angel from heaven. As King Belshazzar was ignorant of the existence of such a Prophet in his kingdom, this was the result of his gross and brutish indifference. God, therefore, wished King Belshazzar to be reproved by a woman, who said, Let not thy thoughts disturb thee! She calms him quietly, because she saw how frightened he was; but, meanwhile, she shews him the grossness of his error in wandering about in uncertainty, when the way was plain before him. God had put his torch in the Prophet’s hand for the very purpose of lighting the king, unless he willfully desired to wander in darkness, as all the wicked do. Hence, we may learn from the example of this king, the common fault of our nature; for no one runs out of the right way, unless he indulges in his own ignorance, and desires all light to be extinct within him. As to the language of the queen, The spirit of the holy gods is in Daniel! we have elsewhere explained its meaning. It is not surprising that the profane use this language, since they cannot discern between the one God and angels. Hence they promiscuously call anything divine and celestial, a god. Thus also the queen calls angels, holy gods, and places the true God among them. But it is our privilege to acknowledge the true God as shining forth alone, and the angels as all taking their own ranks without any excellence in heaven or earth to obscure the glory of the only God. The writing has this tendency — the exaltation of God in the highest degree, and the magnifying of his excellency and his majestic supremacy. We here see how needful it is for us to be instructed in the essential unity of God, since from the very beginning of the world men have always been persuaded of the existence of some Supreme Deity; but after they became vain in their imaginations, this idea entirely escaped them, and they mingled God and angels in complete confusion. Whenever we perceive this, let us feel our need of Scripture as a guide and instructor which shines on our path, urging us to think of God as inviting us to himself and willingly revealing himself to us.
The queen here assigns the reason why Daniel had obtained the honor of being esteemed the prince and master of all the wise men; because she said, An excellent spirit was found in him, as he interpreted dreams, revealed secrets, and solved difficulties The three gifts in which Daniel excelled are here enumerated, and this proves him to have surpassed the other magi, since none of them could be compared with him. The magi boasted in their ability to interpret dreams, to solve all difficulties, and explain enigmas; but this boast of theirs was twice shewn to be vanity and folly. The queen therefore deservedly claims these three qualities for Daniel, while shewing his superiority to all others. Hence she reasons with authority when she says, A name was imposed upon him by the king. We have already spoken of this name, Belteshazzar; but the queen now refers to this name, to inform the king in what great esteem and honor he was held by his grandfather. The name of his father is here expressed, since Belshazzar might despise all strangers; yet reason would dictate the propriety of deferring to the judgment of his grandfather, whom every one knew to be a most remarkable character, whom God humbled for a time, as we saw, and as Daniel will now allude to it. Let us proceed, —
Here the king does not acknowledge his own folly, but without any modesty he interrogates Daniel, and that, too, as a captive, — Art thou, that Daniel, of the captives of Judah, whom my father led away? He seems to speak contemptuously here, to keep Daniel in servile obedience; although we may read this sentence as if Belshazzar inquired, Are you that Daniel? In truth, I have heard of thee! He had heard before, and had said nothing; but now, when extreme necessity urges him, he pays the greatest respect to Daniel.I have heard, therefore, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, since thou canst unravel intricacies and reveal secrets With regard to the spirit of the gods, we have already mentioned how King Belshazzar, by the common custom of all nations, promiscuously mingled angels with God; because those miserable ones could not extol God as they ought, and treat angels as entirely under his feet. But this sentence shews men never were so brutal as not to ascribe all excellence to God, as we see in profane writers; whatever promotes human advantage, and is remarkable for superiority and dignity, they treat as benefits derived from the gods. Thus the Chaldeans called the gift of intelligence a spirit of the gods, being a rare and singular power of penetration; since men acknowledge they do not acquire and attain to the prophetic office by their own industry, but it is a heavenly gift. Hence men are compelled by God to assign to him his due praise; but because the true God was unknown to them, they speak implicitly, and, as I have said, they called angels gods, since in the darkness of their ignorance they could not discern which was the true God. Whatever be the meaning, Belshazzar here shews in what estimation he holds Daniel, saying, he depends on the reports received from others, and thus displaying his own slothfulness. He ought to have known the Prophet by personal experience; but from his being content with simple rumor, he proudly neglected the teacher offered to him, and neither reflected upon nor wished to confess his own disgrace. But thus God. often extracts a confession from the impious, by which they condemn themselves, even if they wish exceedingly to escape censure.
The following phrase has the same meaning: — All the wise men were brought before me, and the soothsayers or diviners, to read this writing to me, and to reveal its interpretation; and they could not do it, said he; for God punished him by shewing how profitless were all the Chaldeans and soothsayers, in whom he trusted at the moment of his extremity. While he was thus disappointed in his hopes, he acknowledges himself to have been deceived; and when he preferred the magi and soothsayers, he thought himself fortified by their counsel, as long as they were on his side. Meanwhile his rejection of the holy Prophet was deservedly intolerable to God. Belshazzar confesses this without intending to do so; hence I said his confession was not ingenuous or voluntary, but violently extorted by the secret instinct of God. He also promises Daniel what he had previously promised the magi, — Thou shalt be clothed in purple if thou canst read this writing, and wear a golden chain round thy neck, and thou shalt reign as the third person in the kingdom But the end of his reign was now close at hand, and yet in security he offers this dignity to Daniel. This shews how rapidly the terror which God had occasioned him had vanished away. He is agitated by the greatest uneasiness, just like madmen, for they having no certainty exult amidst their terror, and wish to leap or fly towards heaven itself. Thus also this tyrant though he trembles at God’s judgment, yet retains a hidden obstinacy in his heart, and imagines his kingdom will permanently continue, while he promises wealth and honors to others. It now follows, —
First of all, Daniel here rejects the proffered gifts. We do not read of his doing so before; he rather seemed to delight in the honors conferred by King Nebuchadnezzar. We may inquire into the reason for this difference. It is not probable that the intention, feeling, or sentiments of the Prophet were different. What then could be his intention in allowing himself to be previously ennobled by Nebuchadnezzar, and by now rejecting the offered dignity? Another question also arises. At the end of this chapter we shall see how he was clothed in purple, and a herald promulgated an edict, by which he became third in the kingdom. The Prophet seems either to have forgotten himself in receiving the purple which he had so magnanimously rejected, or we may ask the reason why he says so, when he did not refuse to be adorned in the royal apparel. With respect to the first question, I have no doubt of his desire to treat the impious and desperate Belshazzar with greater asperity, because in the case of King Nebuchadnezzar there still remained some feelings of honor, and hence he hoped well of him and treated him more mildly. But with regard to King Belshazzar, it was necessary to treat him more harshly, because he had now arrived at his last extremity. This, I have no doubt, was the cause of the difference, since the Prophet proceeded straight forward in his course, but his duty demanded of him to distinguish between different persons, and as there was greater pertinacity and obstinacy in King Belshazzar, he shews how much less he deferred to him than to his grandfather. Besides, the time of his subjection was soon to be finished, and with this end in view he had formerly honored the Chaldean empire.
As to the contrast apparent between his reply and his actions, which we shall hereafter see, this ought not to seem absurd, if the Prophet had from the beginning borne his testimony against the king’s gifts, and that he utterly re-jeered them. Yet he does not strive very vehemently, lest he should be thought to be acting cunningly, for the purpose of escaping danger. In each case he wished to display unconquered greatness of mind; at the beginning he asserted the king’s gifts to be valueless to him, for he knew the end of the kingdom to be at hand, and afterwards he received the purple with other apparel. If he had entirely refused them, it would have been treated as a fault and as a sign of timidity, and would have incurred the suspicion of treason. The Prophet therefore shews how magnificently he despised all the dignities offered him by King Belshazzar, who was already half dead. At the same time he shews himself intrepid against all dangers; for the king’s death was at hand and the city was taken in a few hours — nay, in the very same hour! Daniel therefore did not reject this purple, she wing his resolution not to avoid death if necessary. He would have been safer in his obscurity, had he dwelt among the citizens at large, instead of in the palace; and if he had resided among the captives, he might have been free from all danger. As he did not hesitate to receive the purple, he displays his perfect freedom from all fear. Meanwhile he, doubtless, wished to lay prostrate the king’s foolish arrogance, by which he was puffed up, when he says, Let thy gifts remain with thee, and give thy presents to another! I care not for them. Because he so nobly despises the king’s liberality, there is no doubt of his desire to correct the pride by which he was puffed up, or at least to wound and arouse his mind to feel God’s judgment, of which Daniel will soon become both the herald and the witness. It now follows, —
Before Daniel recites the writing, and adds its interpretation, he explains to King Belshazzar the origin of this prodigy. He did not begin the reading at once, as he might conveniently have done, saying Mene, Mene! as we shall see at the end of the chapter, since the king could not have pro-fired by his abrupt speech. But here Daniel shews it to be by no means surprising, if God put forth his hand and shewed the figure of a hand describing the king’s destruction, since the king had too obstinately provoked his anger. We see then why Daniel begins by this narrative, since King Nebuchadnezzar was a most powerful monarch, subduing the whole world to himself and causing all men to tremble at his word, and was afterwards hurled from the throne of his kingdom. Hence it more clearly appears that Belshazzar did not live in ignorance, for he had so signal and remarkable an example [hat he ought to have conducted himself with moderation. Since then that domestic admonition did not profit him, Daniel shews the time to be ripe for the denunciation of God’s wrath by a formidable and portentous sign. This is the sense of the passage. Passing on to the words themselves, he first says, To King Nebuchadnezzar God gave an empire, and magnificence, and loftiness, and splendor; as if he had said, he was magnificently adorned, as the greatest monarch in the world. We have stated elsewhere, and Daniel repeats it often, that empires are bestowed on men by divine power and not by chance, as Paul announces, There is no power but of God. (Romans 13:1.) God wishes his power to be specially visible in kingdoms. Although, therefore, he takes care of the whole world, and, in the government of the human family even the most miserable things are regulated by his hand, yet his singular providence shines forth in the empire of the world. But since we have often discussed this point at length, and shall have many opportunities of recurring to it, it is now sufficient just briefly to notice the principle, of the exaltation of earthly kings by the hand of God, and not by the chances of fortune.
When Daniel confirms this doctrine, he adds, On account of the magnificence which God conferred upon him, all mortals trembled at the sight of him! By these words he shews how God’s glory is inscribed on kings, although he allows them to reign supreme. This indeed cannot be pointed out with the finger, but the fact is sufficiently clear; kings are divinely armed with authority, and thus retain under their hand and sway a great multitude of subjects. Every one desires the chief power over his fellow-creatures. Whence happens it, since ambition is natural to all men, that many thousands are subject to one, and suffer themselves to be ruled over and endure many oppressions? How could this be, unless God entrusted the sword of power to those whom he wishes to excel? This reason, then, must be diligently noticed, when the Prophet says, All men trembled at the sight of King Nebuchadnezzar, because God conferred upon him that majesty, and wished him to excel all the monarchs of the world. God has many reasons, and often hidden ones, why he raises one man and humbles another; yet this point ought to be uncontroverted by us. No kings can possess any authority unless God extends his hand to them and props them up. When he wishes to remove them from power, they fall of their own accord; not because there is any chance in the changes of the world, but because God, as it is said in the Book of Job, (Job 12:18,) deprives those of the sword whom he had formerly entrusted with it.
It now follows, Whom he wished to slay he slew, and whom he wished to strike he struck Some think the abuse of kingly power is here described; but I had rather take it simply, for Nebuchadnezzar being able to east down some, and to raise others at his will, since it was in his power to give life to some and to slay others. I, therefore, do not refer these words to tyrannical lust, as if Nebuchadnezzar had put many innocent persons to death, and poured forth human blood without any reason; or as if he had despoiled many of their fortunes, and enriched others and adorned them with honor and wealth. I do not take it so. I think it refers to his arbitrary power over life and death, and over the rise of some and the ruin of others. On the whole, Daniel seems to me to describe the greatness of that royal power which they may freely exercise over their subjects, not through its being lawful, but through the tacit consent of all men. Whatsoever pleases the king, all are compelled to approve of it, or at least no one dares to murmur at it. Since, therefore, the regal license is so great, Daniel here shews how King Nebuchadnezzar was not carried away by his own plans, or purposes, or good fortune, but was entrusted with supreme power and rendered formidable to all men, because God had designed him for his own glory. Meanwhile, kings usually despise what they are permitted to enjoy, and what God allows them. For powerful as they are, they must hereafter render an account to the Supreme King. We are not to gather from this, that kings are appointed by God without any law, or any self-restraint; but the Prophet, as I have said, speaks of the royal power in itself. Since kings, therefore, have power over their subjects for life and death, he says, the life of all men was in the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar. He now adds, When his heart was exalted, then he was cast down (or ejected) from the throne of his kingdom, and they deprived him of his majesty He follows up his own narrative, tie wishes to shew King Belshazzar how God bears with the insolence of those who forget him, when they have obtained the summit of power. Desiring to make this known, he says, King Nebuchadnezzar, thy grandfather, was a mighty monarch. He did not obtain this mightiness by himself, nor could he have retained it, except he had been supported by God’s hand. Now his change of circumstances was a remarkable proof that the pride of those who are ungrateful to God can never be endured unto the end, as they never acknowledge their sway to proceed from his benevolence. When, therefore, says he, his heart was raised up and his spirit strengthened in pride, a sudden change occurred. Hence you and all his posterity ought to be taught, lest pride still further deceive you, and ye profit not by the example of your father; as we shall afterwards relate. Hence this writing has been set before thee, for the purpose of making known the destruction of thy life and kingdom.
First, with respect to the text; verbally, it is “he put,” and thus some translate, “he placed his own heart among the brutes,” which makes a tolerable sense; but others rather refer this to God, who placed his heart among beasts, and we know how often the noun substantive is defective in Hebrew and Chaldee; hence we may translate it verbally, Nebuchadnezzar himself placed his own heart, that is, assimilated his own senses to the brutes, so as to differ in no respect from them. It may also mean, God placed his heart among the brutes, that is, infatuated him so, as to render him like them. Others take the word שוי, shevi, absolutely; but it ought rather to be explained actively. Again, some translate the next clause, “Made him taste the grass, like a brute;” and others, that the grass supported him. The number is changed, but there is no doubt about the sense; for if we read, “The herb of the field supported him,” the expression will be indefinite, similar to many others previously noticed; but if any one prefers using the plural number, the sense will be equally suitable; for “the herbs of the field gave him nourishment.”
This verse does not need any long explanation, since Daniel only repeats what he had formerly written: His grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, although not changed into a wild beast, was driven from the common society of men, and his whole body was deformed, whilst he abhorred the habits of men and preferred to dwell with the brutes. This was a horrible prodigy, especially in so great a monarch; and it was an example worthy of being handed down by posterity even to a thousand generations, had the monarchy endured so long. But his grandson quickly forgot this event, and thus he is deservedly convicted of the basest slothfulness. This is the reason why Daniel repeats the history again, He was driven, says he, from the children of men; his heart was placed among the beasts, meaning he was deprived of reason and judgment. We know this to be the principal difference between men and brutes — men understand and reason, but brutes are carried away by their senses. God, therefore, set forth a memorable example in despoiling this king of his reason and intelligence, His dwelling, says he, was with the wild asses; formerly he had dwelt in a palace, conspicuous throughout the world at large, from whom all the people of the East sought their laws. Since he was habitually worshipped as a god, this was a horrible judgment, since he afterwards dwelt among wild beasts, and like a bull received his sustenance from the grass of the field, when he had previously reveled in every delicacy, and was accustomed to luxurious habits, and to the whole wealth of a kingdom; especially, when we know how luxuriously the Orientals indulged themselves. Babylon was the mother of all indulgences, and when the king’s condition was thus changed, no one could be ignorant of its cause — not mere chance or accident:, but the rare and singular judgment of God!
He afterwards adds what he had formerly said, His body was moistened by the dews of heaven, until he acknowledged God to reign supreme in the kingdom of men Here again the end of the punishment is expressed — that Nebuchadnezzar might feel himself to have been created king by divine power, and to shew how earthly kings could not stand unless God propped them up by his hand and influence. They think themselves placed beyond the changes of fortune, and although they verbally boast of reigning by the grace of God, yet they despise every deity and transfer the glory of the divinity to themselves! We gather from these words that this is the folly of all kings. For if Nebuchadnezzar had been persuaded of God’s appointment of kings, of their dependence upon his will, and of their fall or stability according to his decree, he had not needed this punishment, as these words clearly imply, tie excluded God, then, from the government of the world; but this is common with all earthly kings, as I have lately stated. All indeed will profess something, but the Holy Spirit does not regard those false protestations, as they are called. Hence in the character of King Nebuchadnezzar we have set before us, as in a glass, the drunken confidence of all kings, in supposing themselves to stand by their own power, and to free themselves from the authority of God, as if he were not seated as a judge in heaven, Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, ought to be humbled, until he acknowledged God’s reign upon earth, since the common opinion fixed him up in heaven, as if contented with his own ease, and careless of the affairs of the human race. At length it is added, and whom he wills, he exalts, or sets up. What has been said obscurely is better expressed, since Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged, by being severely punished and subdued, the reign of God on the earth. For when earthly kings see themselves surrounded by guards, powerful in riches, and able to collect mighty armies by their nod; when they see they inspire universal terror, they think God deprived of his rights, and are unable to conceive any change; as it is said in the Psalms of all the proud, (Psalms 10:4,) and as Isaiah says to the same purport, Even should a blast pass by, or a deluge overwhelm the whole earth, yet evil shall not touch us. (Isaiah 28:15.) As if they had said, although God should thunder from heaven, yet we shall be safe from all disaster and disturbance. Kings persuade themselves of this. Hence they begin to acknowledge God as king of the earth, when they feel themselves in his hand and at his disposal, to east down those whom he has raised up, and to exalt the lowly and abject, as we have already seen. This clause of the verse, then, is an explanation of the former sentence. It now follows:
Daniel here shews why he, related what we have hitherto heard concerning King Nebuchadnezzar ’s punishment; for Belshazzar ought to have been so affected by that domestic example, as to submit himself to God. We may believe, indeed, that his father Evil-Merodach had forgotten his punishments, since he would not have conducted himself so petulantly against God, nor trampled on true and sincere piety; for God spared the wretched tyrant who restrained himself within the bounds of moderation. But as to his grandfather Belshazzar, he was altogether intolerable; hence God stretched forth his hand. The Prophet now teaches this. Thou art his son, says he. This circumstance urges upon him with greater force the duty of not seeking an example in foreign nations, since he acknowledged himself to have sufficient at home of what was both necessary and useful. He enlarges upon his crime in another way, by saying, Yet thou didst know this Men are accustomed to shield themselves under their ignorance with the view of extenuating the guilt of their crimes, but those who sin knowingly and willfully are without the slightest excuse. The Prophet therefore convinces the king of manifest obstinacy; as if he had said, You have provoked God’s anger on purpose; since he ought to have been aware of the horrible judgment awaiting all the proud, when he had such a remarkable and singular proof of it in his grandfather, which he ought to have kept constantly before his eyes. It follows, —
The Prophet continues his own sentence, and confirms what I have said, namely, King Belshazzar was intractable and willfully blind to God’s judgment. For thou hast raised thyself, says he, against the Lord of heaven. If he had raised himself thus insolently against men, his sin would be worthy of punishment; but when he had provoked God on purpose, this arrogance neither could nor ought to be borne. Again, therefore, the Prophet increases the guilt of the king’s pride by saying, he raised himself against the King of heaven He also expresses the manner of his doing so, by commanding the vessels of the temple to be brought to sight; he drank from them This profanation was an indecent sacrilege, but Belshazzar was not content with that indignity; he used these vessels for luxury and foul debauchery, abusing them in the company of concubines and abandoned women; and added a yet greater reproach against God, in praising his gods of silver and gold, brass and iron, wood and stone, which cannot feel. This had not been said previously; but since Daniel here sustains the character of a teacher, he does not relate the events so shortly as at first. When he said at the beginning of this chapter, Belshazzar celebrated that impure banquet, he spoke historically; but he now executes, as I have said, the office of a teacher. Thou, says he, hast praised the gods made of corruptible material, who neither see, nor hear, nor understand; but thou hast defrauded the living God of his honor, in whose hand is thy life, on which thou dependest, and whence all in which thou boastest proceeds. Because thou hast so despised the living God, who had been so gracious unto thee, this ingratitude was both base and shameful. We see, therefore, how severely the Prophet reproves the impious tyrant of sacrilege, and mad rashness, and foul ingratitude towards God. I pass over these things lightly, since they have been treated elsewhere. It now follows, —
Some stress must be laid upon the adverb באדין,badin, “at that time,” because God’s wrath, or at least its denunciation, was now ripe. Daniel, therefore, shews how very patiently God had borne with King Belshazzar in not instantly talking up arms and inflicting punishment; but he now begins to come forth as a judge, and to ascend his judgment seat; for the haughtiness was now desperate, and the impiety no longer tolerable. We observe with what emphasis the word then is used; as if he had said, Thou canst not complain of the swiftness of the penalty, as if God had exacted it before the time. Thou canst not here complain of God’s swiftness in punishing thee; for think and consider in how many ways, and for how long a time, thou hast provoked his anger. And with ‘regard to thy last crime, thou certainly hadst arrived at the height of impiety, when that hand appeared to thee. God, therefore, now drags thee to punishment in proper time, since he has hitherto borne with thee and thy sins. After this forbearance, what remains to prevent his destroying thee, because thou hast so proudly insulted him, and art utterly hardened, without the slightest hope of amendment.
He says also, from himself; for Belshazzar need not inquire whence the hand proceeded, it came from the presence of God; that is, This hand is a witness to the wrath of heaven; do not consider it as a specter which will vanish away, but see in this appearance a proof of God’s displeasure at thy wickedness; and because thou hast arrived at thy last extremity, thy punishment is also ready for thee. And this writing, says he, has been marked; as if he had said, The eyes of King Belshazzar were not deceived, since this was really God’s hand, being sent from his sight as a certain testimony of his wrath. He afterwards adds, —
Daniel here explains these four verses which were written upon the wall. The king could not read them, either through stupor, or because God blunted all his senses, and blinded his eyes, as was formerly said. The same thing must be said of the magi and the soothsayers, for they could have read, had they not been rendered blind. First of all, Daniel recites the four words, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsn, and then adds their interpretation. He repeats the word Mene twice. Some conjecture this to apply to the numbering of the years of the king’s life, and also to the time of his reign; but the guess seems to be without any foundation. I think the word is used twice for the sake of confirmation; as if the Prophet meant the number to be completed, since men usually allow calculations to be liable to error. To impress upon Belshazzar that his ‘life and kingdom were at stake, God affirms the number to be complete, meaning, not a moment of time can be added to the boundary already determined. So also Daniel himself interprets it: God, says he, has numbered thy kingdom; implying, God has appointed and prescribed a fixed end to thy kingdom; hence it must necessarily come to an end, since its period is fulfilled.
Although God here addresses but one king by the writing set before his eyes, we may still gather this general instruction — God has prescribed a certain time for all kingdoms. (Job 14:5.) The Scripture bears the same witness concerning the life of each of us. If God has prescribed to each of us the length of his life, surely this applies more forcibly to public empires, of so much greater importance. Hence we may know how not only kings live and die according to God’s pleasure, but even empires are changed, as we have formerly said. He fixes alike their origin and their destiny. Hence we may seek consolation, when we see tyrants rushing on so impetuously, and indulging their lust and cruelty without moderation. When, therefore, they rush on, as if they would mingle heaven and earth, let us remember this instruction, Their years are numbered! God knows how long they are to rage; He is not deceived; He knows whether it is useful to the Church and his elect, for tyrants to prevail for a time. By and bye he will surely restrain them, but since he determined the number of their days from the beginning, the time of his vengeance is not yet quite at hand, while he allows them a little longer to abuse without restraint the power and the sway which he had divinely granted them.
The exposition of the word Tekel, to weigh, now follows: — Since thou hast been weighed in the balance, or scale, and found wanting Here Daniel shews God so moderating his judgments, as if he was carrying a balance in his hand. The emblem is taken from the custom of mankind; for men know the use of the balance for accurate measurement. So also God is said to treat all things by weight and measure, since he does nothing with confusion, but uses moderation; and, according to ordinary language, nothing is more or less than it should be. (Wisdom of Solomon 11:21.) For this reason, Daniel says God weighed Belshazzar in a balance, since he did not make haste to inflict punishment, but exacted it with justice according to his own uniform rule of government. Since he was found deficient, that is, was found light and without weight. As if he had said, Thou thinkest thy dignity must be spared, since all men revere thee; thou thinkest thyself worthy of honor; thou art deceived says he, for God judges otherwise; God does not use a common scale, but holds his own, and there art found deficient; that is, thou art found a man of no consequence, in any way. From these words there is no doubt that the tyrant was greatly exasperated, but as his last end was approaching, he ought to hear the voice of the herald. And God, without doubt, restrained his fierceness, that he should not rise up against Daniel.
The word פרס, Pheres, is added, for the word Phersin, meaning his kingdom was divided among the Medes and Persians. I have no doubt that by this word God signified the dispersion of the Monarchy which was at hand. When, therefore, he says Upharsin, and they shall divide, it signifies the instability of the Monarchy, since he wished to destroy or utterly abolish it. But the Prophet alludes very appositely to the division made between the Medes and Persians; and thus his disgrace was increased by the Babylonians being compelled to serve many masters. This is indeed a grave and serious disgrace, when a people has obtained a wide and extensive empire, to be afterwards conquered and subjected to the yoke of a single master; but when it suffers under two masters, then the indignity is greatly increased. So Daniel here shews how God’s wrath was complicated in the destruction of the monarch of Babylon, since it added to the severity of their punishment, to be subdued by both Medes and Persians. The city, indeed, was truly taken by the valor and industry of Cyrus; but since Cyrus admitted his father-in-law to the great honor of allowing him to partake of the royal authority, hence the Medes and Persians are said to have divided the kingdom, although there was properly no division of the kingdom. Cyrus afterwards engaged in other expeditions, as he was led away by his insatiable avarice and ambition. But Darius, as we shall afterwards see, died at the age of sixty years, dwelt quietly at home, and it is very well known that he was a Mede; and if we may believe the majority of historians, his sister, the mother of Cyrus, had been banished to Persia, in consequence of the oracle concerning the fortune and greatness of Cyrus. Since his grandfather had exposed him, he afterwards avenged the injury, yet, not so cruelly as to take his life,-for he desired him to retain some dignity, and hence appointed him a satrap. But his son afterwards reigned over the Medes, with the full permission of Cyrus, who next married his daughter; and thus, on account of this relationship, and through the influence of this new alliance, he wished to have him as a partner in the empire. In this sense, then, Daniel narrates the division of the Monarchy to be at hand, since the Medes and the Persians should divide it among them. It follows, —
This order of the king may excite surprise, since he had been so sharply reproved by the Prophet. He next seemed to have lost all spirit, for he had grown pale a hundred times, and would have devoted the holy Prophet of God to a thousand deaths! How happens it, then, that he ordered him to be adorned with royal apparel, and next to be proclaimed by his own herald the third person in the kingdom? Some think this was done because the laws of kings were sacred among the Babylonians; nay, their very words were held as binding, and whatever they proclaimed, they desired it to be esteemed firm and inviolable. They suppose King Belshazzar to have acted thus through ambition, that he might keep his promises. My opinion is, that he was at first utterly astonished, and through listening to the Prophet he became like a stock or a stone! I think he did so to consult his own ease and safety; otherwise he would have been contemptible to his nobles. To shew himself unmoved, he commands Daniel to be clothed in these robes, as if his threat had been perfectly harmless. He did not despise what the Prophet had said, but he wished to persuade his nobles and all his guests of his perfect indifference to God’s threats, as if he did not utter them for the purpose of executing them, but only of terrifying them all. Thus kings, when greatly terrified, are always exceedingly careful not to shew any sign of their timidity, since they think their authority would become materially weakened. To continue, therefore, his reverence among his subjects, he is desirous of appearing exceedingly careless and undisturbed; and I do not hesitate to pronounce this to have been the tyrant’s intention in ordering Daniel to be clad in purple and in royal magnificence.
Here Daniel shortly relates how his prophecy was fulfilled that very night. As we have before explained it, a customary feast-day had occurred which the Babylonians celebrated annually, and on this occasion the city was betrayed by two satraps, whom Xenophon calls Gobryas and Gadatas. On this passage the Rabbis display both their impudence and ignorance; as, according to their usual habit, they babble with audacity about what they do not understand. They say the king was stabbed, because one of his guards heard the Prophet’s voice, and wished to execute that heavenly judgment; as if the sentence of God depended upon the will of a single heathen! We must pass by these puerile trifles and cling to the truth of history; for Belshazzar was seized in his own banqueting-room, when he was grossly intoxicated, with his nobles and concubines. Meanwhile, we must observe God’s wonderful kindness towards the Prophet. He was not in the slightest danger, as the rest were. He was clad in purple, and scarcely an hour had passed when the Medes and Persians entered the city. He could scarcely have escaped in the tumult, unless God had covered him with the shadow of his hand. We see, then, how God takes care of his own, and snatches us from the greatest dangers, as if he were bringing us from the tomb. There is no doubt that the holy Prophet was much agitated amidst the tumult, for he was not without sensibility. (278) But he ought to be thus exercised to cause him to acknowledge God as the faithful guardian of his life, and to apply himself more diligently to his worship, since he saw nothing preferable to casting all his cares upon him!
Daniel adds, the kingdom was transferred to the king of the Medes, whom he calls Darius, but Xenophon terms him Cyaxares. It is clear enough that Babylon was taken by the skill and under the auspices of Cyrus; since he was a persevering warrior possessed of great authority, though he is not mentioned here. But since Xenophon relates that Cyaxares, here called Darius, was Cyrus’s father-in-law, and thus held in the highest honor and estimation, it is not surprising to find Daniel bringing that king before us. Cyrus was content with his own power and with the praise and fame of his victory, and readily conceded this title to his father-in-law, whom he perceived to be now growing aged and infirm. It is uncertain whether he was the son of Astyages, and thus the uncle of Cyrus. Many historians concur in stating that Astyages was the grandfather of Cyrus who married his daughter to Cambyses; because the astrologers had informed him how an offspring should be born of her who should possess the sovereignty over all Asia! Many add the story of his ordering the infant Cyrus to be slain, but since these matters are uncertain, I leave them undecided. I rather think Darius was the uncle of Cyrus, and also his father-in-law; though, if we believe Xenophon, he was unmarried at the capture of Babylon; for his uncle, and perhaps his father-in-law, had sent him to bring supplies when he was inferior in numbers to the Babylonians and Assyrians. However this may be, the Prophet’s narrative suits the circumstances well enough, for Darius, as king of the Medes, obtained the royal authority. Cyrus was, indeed, higher than he in both rank and majesty, but he granted him the title of King of Babylon, and under this name he reigned over the Chaldeans. It now follows, —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Daniel 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter