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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 5

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-31

Daniel 5:2 . Belshazzar his father Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar was the son of Evilmerodach, and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. The empire therefore falling at this time, fulfilled the prophecy, that all nations should serve Nebuchadnezzar, and his son, and his son’s son. Jeremiah 27:7. Having spoken of the fall of Babylon on Isaiah 13:14. and elsewhere, I shall subjoin some reflections from one of my sermons.

Daniel 5:4 . They drank wine and praised the gods of gold. Here the king first sanctioned all the sacrilege committed by his grandfather, together with the profanation and desecration of the Lord’s temple. Next, he and his court were guilty of gross intemperance, and in the time of a siege, while the enemy was at his gates. Lastly, he showed the highest contempt of God, and drew all the court into his sin. Had they been quiet in their own houses, the Persians would have spared their lives.

Daniel 5:7 . Bring in the astrologers, the stargazers who affected to read the fate of men and of nations in the position of the planets. See on Daniel 2:2.

Daniel 5:8 . They could not read the writing, because it was in the old Hebrew characters, or the Samaritan text. This was the special interposition of heaven to preserve religion, which was almost lost in the earth.

Daniel 5:17 . Let thy gifts be to thyself. Let those who buy preferment in the church weigh these words, and study the character of Daniel.

Daniel 5:30 . In that night was Belshazzar slain. The particulars appear in Ezra 1:0. and Isaiah 29, 45. Isaiah had foretold the fall of Babylon one hundred and forty years before it happened.

Daniel 5:31 . Darius the Median took the kingdom. He was the uncle of Cyrus. Herodotus, in Erato or sixth book, gives us the etymon of the names of three of the Persian kings. Darius, exterminator; Xerxes, warrior; Artaxerxes, great warrior. The Medes were descendants of Medai. Genesis 10:4.


In the first place observe, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, seated on his lofty throne, requires the homage and obedience of all his creatures. He holds in his hand the balances of equity and truth. He is blind with respect to parties, all his creatures having originated from the same dust. Belshazzar, once the sovereign of the eastern world, and the meanest slave, are judged at the same tribunal. In the one end of the scale are placed the longsuffering of God, limited in point of time, and his mercy, restricted in point of measure. In the other the sinner is placed, and weighed according to his situation and endowments. See here in God’s balances, that parsimonious parent who has devoted the whole of life to the acquisition of riches; who, by the prevalence of a sordid passion, has neglected a thousand duties he owed to God, to man, and to his own soul; who completes his career by bequeathing the earnings of fifty years to a son, like Belshazzar, acquainted with no use of riches but dissipation. See this prodigal succeed his sire in the scale of justice, who, like this king, has squandered away the wealth and fortune of his father. He who gathered, and he who scattered, are alike weighed and found wanting; their hearts, though in different ways, having equally departed from the Lord. In this manner shall the sovereign and the subject, the master and the servant, the christian and the heathen, be weighed by the great arbiter of heaven and earth.

And ah, reader, guilt is very heavy; and virtue, which should be weighty as the purest gold, is often found superficial and defective. The scale dreadfully turns against the wicked. His sins are numerous, and his tears few. His pride is high as heaven, and he is a stranger to humility. Providence has loaded him with favours, and he is unacquainted with gratitude. His heart, proud and deceitful, revolts against the equity of God, and has recourse to false balances. He appeals to custom, he alleges the laws and usages of nations, he justifies himself by example. Ah sinner, when heaven exalts the scale of equity, thou and thy balances will go down to the pit together. Thou art bold when defending vice at the bar of sinful men, but before the righteous God thou wilt tremble, and be confounded like Belshazzar.

The wicked often riot to the latest hour of danger and destruction. Accustomed to crimes, and familiar with vice, conscience has ceased to alarm; and punishment so long denounced, and longer still delayed, excites no apprehension. The sinner is become learned and skilful in “the mystery of iniquity.” On his early relapses into vice he is ashamed of his conduct, seeks to conceal his errors, acknowledges his faults when discovered, endeavours to repair them, and promises reformation. But temptations return, and he is hurried on in the high road to dissipation. Finding in himself a power occasionally to conquer vice, he presumes on a power to conquer it on all occasions; and thinking that the mercy of God, like the compassion of a weak and ever-indulgent parent, will accommodate itself to all his corruptions, he sins in the full delirium of enjoying vice, and of avoiding punishment. After a time, vice forms the habit; accustomed to reign, it refuses all controul. He now discovers his weakness, despair follows, and misery is the consequence. He then obliquely or openly accuses his Maker for giving him passions, and imposing restraint, ignorant that the lawful and limited indulgence of those passions were designed to augment his happiness.

In this state the heart is already far advanced towards infidelity. The man has sinned long and on a large scale, and no particular judgment has been inflicted; hence he presumes on impunity. If insults to heaven could have provoked the Ruler of the universe to strike with thunderbolts of vengeance, he has already insulted God with every crime. Hence he denies a particular providence, and in fact, the being of a God, except one who does not condescend to notice the minutiƦ of human conduct. So circumstanced, books and company which ridicule religion, blaspheme the scriptures, and deny future punishments, are embraced with the utmost avidity. The poisonous sentiments find in his heart a fertile soil. For in fact, he has no consolation but when immersed in pleasure, or surrounded with the fatal shield of presumptive infidelity.

We learn also from Belshazzar’s fall, that profaneness and atrocious impiety are sad signs that danger is at the door. Sinners, unwilling to know their real character, may sometimes get a side view of their crimes, and discover their turpitude in the portrait of another. See this monarch on the orient couch of pleasure, promised eternal life by the acclamations of a splendid court. Belshazzar, intoxicated with wine, and deified with flattery. Belshazzar, unedified and unawed by the vengeance of heaven on his royal grandsire, ventures on crimes which that monarch had never dared to commit. He offers immediate insult to the Most High, by profaning his hallowed vessels. Sinners, accustomed to scoff at religion, your habitual sneers have a peculiar effect in hardening the heart, and in ripening the soul for damnation. By scoffing at piety, you offer an insult to the holiness of God, a perfection which angels peculiarly adore. You, like this monarch, have seen visitations of providence on your ancestors, and on your acquaintance; and yet you have rejected instruction, and despised reform. If mercy and justice are totally unproductive of effect, the day of vengeance cannot be far distant.

The wicked have their highest enjoyments and frantic pleasures often interrupted by the handwriting of heaven. Whatever be their illusive promises of undisturbed felicity, whatever variety of exquisite pleasures be prepared, however far removed every object which might excite alarm, they are not sure but thoughts of an awful nature may obtrude. And is that pleasure which is so nearly connected with pain? Can that be called life which is already encircled with the arms of death? And did we never hear of death, or the strokes of approaching death, obtruding into our theatres, and into the brilliant circles of society? Is that security, is that repose, is that happiness, when the gay and dissipated man may never revisit his splendid mansion, may never see the morning light, may never have time to sober after nocturnal intoxication?

On this occasion, I would raise my voice with more than human pathos. Let me forget my natural weakness and infirmities, and cry aloud to the crowd “in the broad way which leadeth to destruction.” Let the voice of truth be heard amidst the scenes of riot and dissipation. Let it be like the handwriting of God to interrupt the career of pleasure, and strike terror and alarm among those to whom vice has so fatally proclaimed repose. Start, sinner, from thy couch of ease, and attend me to that precipice; leave thy harlot, thy concubine, for she is no longer thine; recede from that concert of vocal wanton music, and thou shalt hear a concert of another kind. And may the breath of the eternal God clear for a moment the thick volume of smoke ascending through the wide crater of hell, and show thee all the lake below. See there, full half the human race, more crowded than frogs which throng the pool. See there, a vast group of eastern kings, surrounded on the one hand by flattering courtiers, and on the other by crowds whom they have oppressed and murdered. See next a vast range of meagre and aged men, who in the course of a long life, by penuriousness and extortion acquired immense fortunes, now stripped of all, except the recollection of their frauds. See their profligate sons, who squandered away the long accumulations by intemperance and vice; see exactly placed before them, the women they seduced, betrayed, and ruined. See next the amazing crowd of swearers, drunkards, and impious men, whose cases though all important, are yet too common to merit description. See encircled above this awful throng the original angels, for whom this abyss was first prepared. See them armed with weapons of torment, as sheriffs and executioners attendant on the court. Never surely did beasts of prey exult with greater pride, and more ferocious joy over the vanquished foe. See, and hear too, more than it is either lawful or possible for the tongue of mortals to disclose.

But oh, is this a vision, a chimera, a mere dream? Is the preacher beside himself? Has he lost his reason? Is he uttering discourse revolting to the polished ear? No: his arguments are founded on facts, the result of calm investigation and sober experience. He only infers the future from the present. He invites you to visit the houses of the gay and fashionable circles of society, after nocturnal indulgences. Conscience reproaching them for the loss of money, of health, the loss of virtue, the parties alternately reproach each other. Here the vision is realized, the hell is already begun. It is the handwriting of God which has changed the face of pleasure to scenes of anguish and remorse, boding with eternal woes. Let us farther observe, that the court sent for Daniel too late, when wisdom could not avert the impending calamity. Had they followed the early example of temperance and piety, which the prophet had set before the country, they had remained, and the conquered nations had accounted it their glory to be associated in the great empire. But now neither counsel, nor prayers, nor arms, could deliver a nation doomed to destruction. Daniel had scarcely sentenced the guilty court, before heaven inflicted the blow.

Just so the sinner proceeds in a course of impiety and vice, “till there is no more remedy.” He neglects his salvation, and despises instruction, till the scale awfully turns against him. Deplorable, oh deplorable situation. See this man stretched on his couch, and struck with the terrors of the Lord. His friends, like the courtiers of Belshazzar, assuage his conscience, and promise him long life. His physician administers opiates; the priests, embarrassed perhaps like the learned men of Babylon, being unable to read the handwriting, take the easiest road by promising him pardon and eternal life. Terrible infatuation: deceived by his friends, and deceived by himself. Are there no Daniels yet alive? Is there no friend near his bed, who will call in a minister, sufficiently skilful to read his conscience, and bold enough to tell him all the truth. Who will, if the salvation of the dying man so require, recite the pride and humiliation of his father, his relatives, or his companions. Who will, even in presence of his associates in vice, recite his impiety and his sins. So circumstanced, can milder means save the sick, or probe an alarmed and wounded conscience. Do not cases so desperate require a desperate remedy. Can no more sacraments, fallacious promises, and the requiems of unfaithful priests, save a soul which has wallowed to the latest period of life in folly and vice? Or have those ministers, who make themselves the choicest instruments of the devil, a commission to invent a new gospel for the dying prodigal, a gospel totally unknown either in the old or new testament? But I close the awful scene, praying that the fall of Babylon may instruct our country; and that the death of this prince may reform the impious and forgetful prodigals.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/daniel-5.html. 1835.
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