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The events in the previous chapters took place under the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar. Under him the Babylonian empire grew and became a great unity. Nebuchadnezzar died in the year 562 BC after a government of forty-three years. In the following years, until the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in the year 539 BC, this empire was characterized by an ever-increasing decline and murder. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Evil-Merodach (2 Kings 25:27-Amos :; Jeremiah 52:31-Nahum :), who ruled for only two years, from 562-560 BC. His reign came to an end because he was murdered by the son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar, Nergal-Sharezer (Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:13). This man ruled for four years.
According to non-biblical history he was succeeded by his son who was murdered after a few months of government. Nabonidus then becomes king over Babylon. He ruled seventeen years, from 556-539 BC. Belshazzar was his eldest son. He was the co-regent of his father. That explains why in the first verse of Daniel 5 he is called ‘king’ and exercises royal authority, while Nabonidus is the real king. (This overview of the history of Babylon is taken from DAS ALTE TESTAMENT erklärt und ausgelegt (THE OLD TESTAMENT explained and interpreted) by Jn F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Band 3.
Regarding Nabonidus it is still told that he may have been in exile for several years. Belshazzar has not only been fellow regent, but also king. Reportedly, Nabonidus was married to a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. This means that Belshazzar is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar and explains why Nebuchadnezzar is spoken of as “his father” (Daniel 5:2) and why Belshazzar speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as “my father” (Daniel 5:13; cf. Jeremiah 27:7).
Historically, in this chapter we have the end of the Babylonian empire. Prophetically, we see in this chapter a picture of the end of the Roman Empire at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Also we see in the person of Daniel a type of the faithful remnant of Israel in the end times, with whom are wisdom and understanding. We have the example in this that we must be characterized by wisdom and understanding, because we also live in an end time. In this we find ourselves as individuals, a remnant, who want to remain faithful to God’s Word and support it. We can, if all goes well, also explain that Word to those who have questions about the end time.
The Great Feast of Belshazzar
In this chapter the decline of the Babylonian empire finds its lowest point. This low point is linked to the high point of revolt against God. In this chapter we find an unprecedented form of defamation and defiance of God. In addition, Babylon is surrounded by the armies of the Medes and Persians who are about to capture the city. In view of this death threat, Belshazzar is organizing a huge party. He mocks God and death. It is the attitude of “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32; Isaiah 22:12-1 Chronicles :).
Belshazzar’s whole attitude shows a deep contempt for God. In it he drags his entire kingdom with him to destruction. To the glory of himself he surrounds himself with a large number of rulers to show them precisely what daredevilry he is capable of. He is the pacesetter in the empty fun, he is the greatest party beast. Everyone must follow him and do like him. This does not change the fact that his rulers are all responsible for their own behavior. They let themselves go together with Belshazzar in their debauchery.
Belshazzar’s mind, darkened by sin, comes into even deeper darkness through the use of wine. In this total eclipse, sin is led to a low point. Belshazzar is going to violate the holy things of God in a way that the holy is profaned in the most shameful way. The sacred vessels intended by God to honor Him must be collected to serve the satisfaction of one’s own desires. He consciously chooses from all the captured objects the objects that come from the temple in Jerusalem. With this he and all his fellow partygoers grieve God at the deepest. It is an unprecedented insult.
The holy is taken here by the dogs (cf. Matthew 7:6). This not only deeply grieves the heart of God. It also goes like a sword through the soul of His people. The heart of His people is very attached to these sacred vessels (Jeremiah 27:18). When the exiles are soon to be allowed to return to their country, their main concern is to bring the temple utensils with them (Ezra 1:7).
For us it is similar. Don’t we feel deep pain and indignation when people mock the Lord Jesus, the Holy One of God? Doesn’t it cut through us when a sacred institution like the marriage between man and woman with the sexuality that goes with it is reduced by men to a disgusting union between people of the same sex, in which sexuality becomes nothing but satisfaction of lusts?
Such practices are praised and promoted. It is attributed to the god of freedom. Freedom must exist in all areas. Each terrain has its own god. All kinds of gods have got a grip on the thinking of man who has been ransacked from God and knock Him off. The ideas that arise in the through and through polluted minds of people must be given space to be experienced in life. Experience your ideal! Make true what you want and feel! You live now. Therefore live the life you want to live. Feel free to use others for this, even if they break down. Abuse what is dear to others, even if it deeply hurts them. It’s about your ‘happiness’, your ‘right’ to happiness, isn’t it?
At the feast of Belshazzar everyone participates in the contempt of what is of God. All the rulers and also the women and concubines of the king do as he does. We recognize this in today’s world. Many prominent people, often with important positions in society, are under the spell of people who are just a little more powerful than they are. They join in what such people organize and venture to do. They see what those powerful and influential figures do and they love it. That’s what they want too: to impress others. Anything that is somewhat honorable must receive its end. Bragging, vulgar language is expressed, the sexual morality is crushed by debauched, repulsive behavior.
By praising “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” Belshazzar makes it a matter between God and the idols. It is no longer ‘merely’ a matter of satisfying carnal lusts, it is now a matter of worshipping the demons that lie behind these material gods. He attributes to them the victory they would have gained over the only true God to Whose objects he is offending.
We must remember that a struggle between demons and God is not a struggle between good and evil powers that are evenly matched. Demons can only move within the limits God has set for them. To attribute to demons a power that would be equal to the power of God is foolishness, let alone attribute to them a power that would be greater than that of God.
As soon as the revelers glorify their gods, God enters the king’s palace in the most exalted way and in the least form, and gives them judgment. His appearance is crushing and extinguishes all revelry.
The Writing Fingers
When Belshazzar and the whole reveling company let the cups go around, suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand appear writing something on the wall. It will have become dead quiet. The deathly silence is not the result of an ear-extinguishing thunderclap or a blinding lightning bolt. Nor does an angel appear with a sword to kill them all. It is only “the fingers of a man’s hand” which write something on the plastered wall, “opposite the lampstand”, that is, in the full light, so that all can read it.
The finger with which God has written for His people the two tablets of the law (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10), now writes the judgment of Babylon and Belshazzar on the wall of the royal palace. God’s written Word is sufficient to frighten the most proud and rebellious sinners to death.
The king sees the part of the hand that writes, but he does not see Whose hand it is, which makes the scene even more frightening. We can say that in creation we see a part of God’s hand. To say it with Job, we see “the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him! (Job 26:14). God’s finger is the finger of power.
We see His power in creation when we look at the sky called by David “the work of Your fingers” (Psalms 8:3). We also see God’s power in the judgment when Moses, on behalf of God, brings the third plague over Egypt. With his staff he strikes the dust of the earth, which becomes gnats in the whole country of Egypt. The magicians say to the pharaoh: “This is the finger of God (Exodus 8:19). “By the finger of God” the Lord Jesus casts out the demons (Luke 11:20). The finger of God means the Holy Spirit, as is apparent from the parallel place in Matthew 12 (Matthew 12:28).
It has rightly been noted that if all these are characteristics of God’s finger, what will happen when He moves His hand and His arm? Shall we not be even more impressed by His actions? And if we are so impressed by a small part of His Being, how big He is in His Person?
Reaction of Belshazzar
When the king sees the fingers, it is immediately over with his intoxication. The yelling crowd, who may be drinking with much hurray shouting because of the expected downfall of Cyrus and his army, is suddenly struck with muteness. The frenzied cheerfulness turns into extreme horror. The music stops playing, the dancers stand motionless, the waiters who run back and forth between the bar and the various tables with their drinks full of leaves, don’t move a step anymore. They all stare at the wall.
Belshazzar is frightened to death. Why? He cannot even read what it says, let alone know its meaning. Why, for example, does he not see it as a good omen? It is because he has no peaceful conscience. This is an event that is completely beyond his reach. He has to deal with a power over which he has no control. His face changes color, which means that all the color pulls away and the appearance becomes pale.
At the same time his thoughts terrify him. He is addressed directly in his conscience. He is placed before a power far above him whom he never wanted to take into account, but to whom he is accountable. Further on in this chapter Daniel tells him that he is a warned man, but who has ignored the warnings (Daniel 5:22).
What he sees also has a reaction on his body. Not only does the color disappears from his face, all the power to walk and to stand is gone. All those supporters who now still dare to say with a big mouth that they will tell God what they think of His dealings when they stand before Him, will have the same experience.
When he has recovered somewhat from the first shock, he is back in control of his voice. He calls all his demon servants to him. He calls aloud, because the matter is urgent. They have to tell him what is on the wall and what it means. He promises a rich reward if they give him the interpretation. That the interpreter will be the third in the kingdom means the third after Nabonidus as king and Belshazzar as fellow regent. The fact that Belshazzar is promising this high post as reward shows how keen he is to know the interpretation.
But it is as with the two dreams of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:2-1 Kings :; Daniel 4:7): What comes from God cannot be interpreted by idolaters. All the sages do not know what the writing means. If his wise men do not know the answer, it causes new horror and growing even paler. The rulers are also panicking. Their large number – they are with a thousand men – does not give them any hope of victory. To the power they face, numbers are nothing. What do numbers mean to Him to Whom “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and … as a speck of dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15)?
The Queen Remembers Daniel
The horror of the king and his nobles penetrates to the queen, probably the queen-mother. In any case, she is not one of his wives, because they are all present in the party room (Daniel 5:2). When we hear how she addresses Belshazzar, it reinforces the idea that we are dealing with the queen-mother. Only she can address the king as she does. She is probably the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.
She greets him with the usual greeting. The greeting “live forever” sounds extra harsh here. After all, Belshazzar only has a few hours left to live. Then she reassures him. He doesn’t have to be afraid, because she knows someone who can help him. Then she tells about Daniel and how he has been of great use to Nebuchadnezzar. She also tells him about the esteem Nebuchadnezzar had for him. If Nebuchadnezzar had such an appreciation for Daniel, then that is a special recommendation to let him be summoned.
Then she gives an impressive testimony of the special qualities of Daniel. It has become clear to everyone that in him “an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams” are present. These qualities cannot be seen, but must be evident from what someone says or does. He is a man who explains enigmas and solves difficult problems.
Everything she says about Daniel is not exaggerated. Daniel has an excellent record of service. She can only recommend him to the king. If he has this man brought, he will give him the interpretation of the writing. She does not doubt it, but puts it as a certainty. She knows him too well for that.
The testimony of the queen about Daniel has something to tell us. Do the people who live in the world and are in fear about certain events know us as believers who can interpret those events by means of God’s Word? Can people be referred to us? As long as there are people like Daniel, others do not have to despair. We know God’s thoughts and can make them known. In all despair we can point to God and tell how things will go in the world. As long as there are people like Daniel in the world, there is hope for the few.
Daniel Is Brought in Before the King
Belshazzar follows his mother’s advice and lets Daniel come. Daniel must be around ninety years old here. As a venerable greybeard he appears before the king. It seems that he meets him for the first time. We hear no greeting from the mouth of Daniel. There he stands silently before the king. Then the king speaks up and asks him if he is the Daniel who was brought from Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Without hearing a confirmation from Daniel’s mouth – perhaps he nodded ‘yes’ – the king continues and tells what he has heard about Daniel.
With a “just now” Belshazzar begins to explain why he had Daniel brought in. The wise men and conjurers were previously brought to him to read “this inscription” – possibly pointing to the wall on which the inscription is written – and to make him known its interpretation. But, he must admit, they were not able to do so. Now he has heard that Daniel can do it. That is why he had him brought in. If what he has heard is true and Daniel reads and makes its interpretation known, he will receive the reward he promised his wise men earlier.
Daniel Points Belshazzar to Nebuchadnezzar
Daniel’s attitude towards Belshazzar is very reserved. Nor does he have the respect for this man he had for Nebuchadnezzar. After all, Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. He refuses all tributes from Belshazzar, while he has accepted them from Nebuchadnezzar. Nor would it make sense to accept any promise from Belshazzar. His kingdom will be conquered in a few hours, and he himself will be killed. Belshazzar can still issue the order for the reward (Daniel 5:30), but nothing comes of its realization. In addition, Daniel himself has reached an age that makes a long enjoyment of a possible reward unlikely.
The way Daniel rejects the reward is a lesson for us. In this way we should also reject all the rewards of the world if they are offered to us because the world expects something from us. Let the world pay the people in the world for achievements that are worth something to the world. We must be incorruptible and be able to assess in the right, that is to say spiritual, way what the world has to offer. We may trust that we have a Lord in heaven Who will richly reward every faithful service that is done for Him (Colossians 3:23-Jeremiah :).
Yet Daniel is inclined to read the inscription to the king and let him know its interpretation. He wants to fulfil his duty to this man. But before he does, he has a word of admonition for the king. What he says to him is at the same time the introduction to the statement of the inscription giving the verdict on Belshazzar. So what Daniel says as an introduction is actually the indictment, while the interpretation of the inscription is the judgment.
He begins his indictment by reminding Belshazzar of his ancestor Nebuchadnezzar. He points out in the first place that Nebuchadnezzar owed his role as king and what goes with it not to himself but to “the Most High God”. His general rule, with even power over life, made his subjects live in fear and trembling for him. His power was absolute.
But Nebuchadnezzar might still be mighty, but God stood above him, and it turned out so. For when he forgot to whom he owed his power and considered his glory to be his own merit, his heart lifted up and he became proud. He imagined himself to be God. As a result, he was taken from the throne. He lost his kingship and the honor that went with it (Daniel 4:29-Micah :).
It did not stop there. Daniel draws a picture before Belshazzar’s eyes of the deep humiliation that Nebuchadnezzar had to undergo: Nebuchadnezzar was even expelled from the human community and became the company of beasts, while his heart was changed into that of a beast.
Daniel says that the beasts that formed his company were wild donkeys. The wild donkey is the striking picture of man who acts in his own will and does not care about God. Ishmael is said to be “a wild donkey of a man” (Genesis 16:12). This state of Nebuchadnezzar of being a beast lasted, so Daniel concludes in his story about Nebuchadnezzar, “until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and [that] He sets over it whomever He wishes”.
The Charge Against Belshazzar
When Daniel has presented the example of Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar, he addresses him directly and in a confronting way. We see, as it were, that his finger is piercing towards the king and we hear how his voice is rising. The message he speaks to Belshazzar is impressive. With his story about Nebuchadnezzar he hasn’t told Belshazzar anything new. He says to him: “Even though you knew all this.”
Thus, every man who is not converted will hear the judgment from the mouth of the Lord Jesus. Every human being knew that he had to repent, that he had to humiliate himself under the powerful hand of God. He who does not allow himself to be warned, but “hardens [his] neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
Instead of humiliating himself he has raised himself up against “the Lord of heaven”. His rebellion against Him has been demonstrated by the use of the objects from God’s house to mock with them “the Lord of heaven” – “Lord” is Adonai, that is “Sovereign”, “Ruler” – and to toast his idols, who are not gods. Daniel sneers with his words about the worthlessness of the gods praised by Belshazzar. The only true God to whom he owed his life, he did not take into account and did not honor Him.
That his breath is in God’s hand means that he is completely dependent on God for every breath. When God withdraws His hand, the life of a man ends. Belshazzar has, as it were, repelled that hand. That is what in fact every person does who wants to have nothing to do with God. But whosoever repels the drawing hand of God, will have to deal with His hand in judgment.
God makes Himself known in His works, also in works of judgment. That judgment also comes because Belshazzar has gone his own way, without remembering that his ways belong to Him, the Lord of heaven. Man is created to live for God and to do His will. If, however, he puts God aside as Someone Who does not matter, he declares Him dead as it were, and arranges his life as he wishes, the moment of judgement comes. To such a person the judgment must be announced, calling on him to repent in order to escape the judgement.
God has announced judgement to Belshazzar by sending the part of the hand and writing this inscription. We do not hear Daniel say to him that he should repent, as he did say to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:27). For Belshazzar the time is over. Against his better judgment, he misappropriates the holy things of God to defy Him. Then comes the judgment without possibility of conversion. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
The Inscription and Its Meaning
Daniel is ready to tell what is written on the wall. There are four words that the sages could not read, which he pronounces in front of the king. The translation of the words is: ‘numbered’, ‘numbered, ‘weighed’, ‘and broken’ (or: ‘and divided’). The last word is ‘pharsin’. The initial ‘u’ means ‘and’. Even if the sages had been able to pronounce the words and knew their translation, they would not have known their meaning. These words have a meaning, not in the sense of a translation, but in the sense of a message. Daniel will interpret what that meaning is.
“Mene” contains the message that God numbered the days of the kingship of Belshazzar, i.e. determined the amount of them. The days of Belshazzar are over. His days are finished. Repeating the word “mene” underlines the importance and seriousness of this fact. Thus the days of the life of every human being are numbered by God, both of unbelievers and believers. For every human being the last day inevitably comes, during which the believer may look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus which can take place at any time and he is taken up by Him to be with Him. God knows as the All-knowing God of every man the day and the hour of his death.
There is another side, however, and that is the side of human responsibility. Man can speed up the day of his death, for example by living unhealthy or by mocking his life by doing dangerous things. Also defying God, as Belshazzar did, can give him premature and also pre-timely death.
The explanation of “tekel”, ‘weighed’, is that God weighed the life of Belshazzar, in the sense of judging it, and that He found it too light, that is, that Belshazzar failed. It is not about weighing up good deeds on the one hand against evil deeds on the other hand, but about the person. Daniel talks about the person, he talks about “you”. It is about the person and how the heart is towards God. Not only the fruits are assessed, but also the tree is assessed. Being found too light means that his life was vain, empty, without weight, there was nothing in it for God.
In the interpretation Daniel changes the last word ‘pharsin’ into ‘peres’. According to experts, this is not a change in the meaning of the word, but a change from plural (‘pharsin’) to singular (‘peres’). “Peres” means ‘broken’. Daniel seems to make this change because of a play on words. The word ‘peres’ is reminiscent of Persia. In his interpretation Daniel says that the kingdom of Belshazzar is divided or broken and that it is given to the Medes and Persians.
This must have sound in Belshazzar’s ears as the last judgment. He is immediately and completely back in reality. If he had any thought of escaping this judgment or simply wanting to deny it, he now hears it clearly spoken. The Medes and Persians lie before the city to put an end to his kingdom.
When Daniel is ready, Belshazzar does what he promised, but it is in pride. He seems not to have been impressed by what he has heard and does not humiliate himself. He keeps the honor to Himself. The reward is only for a few hours and concerns only the decorations.
In few words and powerfully it says that Belshazzar is slain that same night. In this message of his death, we don’t hear anything about the way it happens. It is simply given as a communication. He who kills him is irrelevant. It is an instrument in God’s hand that performs His judgment (cf. Daniel 8:25). He, the king of the Chaldeans, however great and high, is killed. This is how the last world rulers come to an end. Without any battle being described, they are thrown into the pool of fire by the Lord Jesus without trial (Revelation 19:19-Proverbs :).
Non-biblical history tells us that in the night that Belshazzar is killed, Babylon is conquered by Cyrus. To gain access to the city, the Medes and Persians diverted the river that runs around the city and serves as a natural protection. As a result, part of the river has become dry. The dry riverbed has allowed the armies to enter into the city, which they have taken without fighting.
The Empire of the Medes and the Persians
Darius is from the Medes, not from the Persians. In Daniel 5:28 of this chapter we read about “the reign of Darius” and “the reign of Cyrus the Persian”. Media and Persia are two different empires that do have the rule together. We have seen this in the two arms of silver of the statue (Daniel 2:32). We also see it in Daniel 7 in both sides of the bear, where one side is stronger than the other (Daniel 7:5) and in Daniel 8 in the ram with the two horns (Daniel 8:20).
The most powerful man is Cyrus, the Persian. He has overall dominion. Because of the size of his kingdom, he gave to Darius, the Mede, the kingship over the kingdom of the Chaldeans, so the Babylonian part of the Medo-Persian kingdom (Daniel 9:1). Darius is connected to the same area and the same city where Daniel always lived.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Daniel 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany