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We have seen that idolatry is an outstanding mark of the great world empires, to whom government has been committed during the times of the Gentiles. Further, we have seen that this idolatry sets aside the rights of God, and tramples underfoot the consciences of men (chapter 3).
A second characteristic is self-exaltation. or the pride by which these world-wide empires use power for their own glory, rather than the glory of God ( Dan. 4 ).
From Daniel 5 we learn that a third characteristic is impiety, which not only infringes on the rights of God but publicly defies God.
(Vv. 1-4). The occasion that brings forward this solemn feature of the times of the Gentiles is a great feast given by Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, to his lords. This feast was marked by an outburst of impiety, apparently let loose by the effect of drink upon the king. It was "while he tasted the wine" that he commanded the golden vessels of the temple of God to be brought into the feast. To a certain extent man can control the evil passions of his heart; but, when through some evil influence he loses control of himself, then all the wickedness of his heart is displayed. God had allowed His people to be taken captive, His temple to be destroyed, and the holy vessels brought to Babylon and placed in the house of the Chaldean idol ( Dan_1:2 ). The Babylonian kings, not seeing the chastening hand of God upon His people, looked upon this victory over Israel as the triumph of their gods over the God of Israel ( Hab_1:11-17 ). Accordingly, Belshazzar seizes the opportunity of this great feast to give public expression to what he imagined was the triumph of his false gods. The king and his lords not only profane the holy vessels set apart for Jehovah by using them in their drunken feast, but they praise their heathen gods of every degree. This was bold and open defiance of God.
(Vv. 5, 6). Such impiety must call down the judgment of God. At once God takes up the challenge. Quietly, without voice or vision, God makes His presence unmistakably felt. The fingers of a man's hand silently write the sentence of judgment on the wall of the king's palace. In spite of the king's drunken condition, he is at once smitten in conscience. His countenance betrays his terror; his thoughts trouble him, and he trembles from head to foot.
(Vv. 7, 8). In his terror he turns to the wise men of Babylon. He offers great rewards for the interpretation of the words, but all in vain.
(Vv. 9-12). His wise men failing him, the wretched king is plunged into deeper terror. The Queen, hearing of the king's terror, comes into the feast. Apparently, she had no part in this impious scene. It is suggested that she was not the wife of the king, as his wives were present at the feast (2, 3). Probably she was the Queen dowager. Evidently she was well acquainted with Daniel and the great events that had taken place in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. She is able to inform the king of the presence of Daniel in the kingdom.
(Vv. 13-16). Thereupon Daniel is brought into the presence of the king. The king had heard of the wisdom of Daniel in interpreting dreams in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, but apparently he did not care to have any personal acquaintance with this captive Jew. However, in the ways of God, He humbles the wise men of his world and exalts the despised captive. Wisdom is found with God's people, even though in captivity.
(V. 17). With calm dignity Daniel tells the king to give his gifts and rewards to another. Apart from any rewards he will read the writing.
(Vv. 18-22). Before doing so, he rebukes the king by reminding him of God's dealings with Nebuchadnezzar. The Most High God had given to Nebuchadnezzar a universal kingdom with absolute power. But the king had used it for his own glory and God had humbled him for his pride. All this Belshazzar well knew, and yet, in spite of this warning, he had not humbled his heart.
(Vv. 23, 24). Then Daniel charges home the guilt of the king. Nebuchadnezzar had persecuted God's people, but Belshazzar had "lifted up" himself "against the Lord of heaven." This impiety overwhelmed him in ruin and brought the first world empire to its close. In connection with this act of impiety the writing had been written. Thus Daniel charges home the guilt of the king before he reads the writing that pronounces his doom.
(V. 25). There was no difficulty as to the meaning of the words. Literally translated they mean, "numbered," "weighed," "divided." The difficulty was that, as mere isolated words, they conveyed no meaning without a divinely-given interpretation. What, then, was the message from God that they were intended to convey?
(V. 26). Daniel, the prophet of God, gives the significance of the words. "This," says he, "is the interpretation of the thing." The king is then told that "Mene," or "numbered" signifies that God has numbered his kingdom and finished it. Many years before, Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar that God had given him "a kingdom, power, strength, and glory." But he also warned him that after his kingdom another would arise. For sixty-eight years the kings of Babylon had exercised sovereign power over the whole habitable world. Now the termination of the Babylonish Empire had come. Its days were numbered and its universal rule was finished.
(V. 27). The next word "Tekel," meaning "weighed," tells this impious king why his empire had reached its end. The ruler of the empire is weighed in the balances and found wanting. Nebuchadnezzar and his successors had entirely failed in their responsibility to govern the world in the fear of God. Under the chastening hand of God, Nebuchadnezzar had indeed repented. Belshazzar, the last ruler, though fully aware of all God's dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, had sinned more grievously than his predecessors. Openly and impiously he had defied God. His actions had been weighed in the unerring balances of God and found wanting.
(V. 28). The third word, "Peres," (another form of the word Upharsin - both words being merely different parts of the same verb) means "divided." The result of the king's impiety was to bring immediate judgment upon the king. Daniel plainly tells the king, "Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
(Vv. 29, 31). The king makes much of the messenger, but apparently pays little heed to the message. Nevertheless, on that night the judgment fell. Belshazzar is slain, and Darius the Mede takes the kingdom. Thus the Babylonish Empire comes to its end, and the second great world power - the Medo-Persian - commences to run its course.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Daniel 5". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17