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Thursday, June 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 5

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3466. B.C. 538.

In this chapter we have an account,

(1,) Of Belshazzar’s profane feast, and of his polluting the sacred vessels taken from the temple of God, Daniel 5:1-4 .

(2,) Of the handwriting on the wall, denouncing his consequent punishment, Daniel 5:5-9 .

(3,) The interpretation of that handwriting by Daniel, Daniel 5:10-29 .

(4,) The accomplishment of it in the death of the king, and the transferring of the kingdom to another people, Daniel 5:30 , Daniel 5:31 .

Verse 1

Daniel 5:1. Belshazzar The son of Evil-merodach, and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar; made a great feast to a thousand of his lords To the principal officers and great men of his court, and was himself present at it. This feast was made at a time of public rejoicing, being an annual festival, when the whole night was spent in revelling; of which season Cyrus took the advantage to make himself master of the city, as Herodotus and Xenophon relate, and as was foretold by Jeremiah 50:24; Jeremiah 51:39; Jeremiah 51:57, where see the notes.

Verses 2-4

Daniel 5:2-4. Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine When he grew warm with wine, Houb. Commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels, &c. Triumphing thereby over God and his people. They drank wine Made themselves merry with wine. And praised the gods of gold, &c. Praised, as gods, senseless images of gold, silver, brass, iron, &c.; thus insulting the great God of heaven and earth, as if these images were more powerful than he, and had enabled them to prevail against him and his people. This their conduct was the more sinful, because Nebuchadnezzar had, not long before, prohibited, by a solemn decree, that any one should speak lightly of the God of the Jews. The Alexandrine and Coptic versions, after mentioning their praising their false gods, add, “But the everlasting God they praised not.” Such a wanton and sacrilegious insult deserved and called for exemplary punishment.

Verses 5-6

Daniel 5:5-6. In the same hour At the very time; came forth fingers of a man’s hand The likeness of a man’s hand; and wrote over against the candlestick The angel Gabriel, say the rabbins, directing this hand, and writing by it. Belshazzar seems to have filled up the measure of his iniquity, by this act of gross impiety and dishonour done to the true God. And the king saw It seems, first saw; the part of the hand that wrote It is probable this candlestick was a hanging sconce, near the king, and that the light it cast made him see the hand while it was writing, as well as the writing which remained on the wall. His seeing the hand, but not the person whose hand it was, made the thing more frightful. Then the king’s countenance was changed, &c. His face became pale with terror: for although he could not read the writing, and therefore did not know what was its purport, yet a sense of guilt made him forebode that the words had some dreadful meaning; and his thoughts troubled him His remorse of conscience respecting the past, and his fearful apprehensions with regard to the future; so that the joints of his loins were loosed He discovered the disorder of his mind by the trembling which seized his whole body. And his knees smote one against another So soon can the terrors of God shake the loftiest cedars, and terrify the tyrants of the earth! Thus can the Lord spoil the mad mirth of drunken atheists in a moment! “The expressions in this verse, in a collected view, contain such a description of terror as is rarely to be met with; the dead change of the countenance, the perturbation of the thoughts, the joints of the loins becoming relaxed, and the knees smiting against each other, are very strong indications of horror. Horace has, ‘Et corde et genibus tremit;’ and Virgil, ‘Tarda trementi genua labant;’ but these are far inferior to the picturesque description of Daniel.” Wintle.

Verse 7

Daniel 5:7. The king cried aloud Manifesting at once great fear and great impatience; to bring in the astrologers, &c. In this he imitated Nebuchadnezzar his grandfather: it seems indeed to have been the general practice of these heathen kings, in all unexpected emergencies, to apply to these their wise men for help. But the ill success of Nebuchadnezzar, in such applications, might have taught Belshazzar a better lesson. The king said, Whosoever shall read this writing, &c. To engage these wise men to exert the utmost of their skill in this matter, he promises that whosoever would give him a satisfactory account of this writing should be dignified with the highest honours of the court; and be the third ruler in the kingdom “Grotius considers the king as the first, the king’s son as the second, and the interpreter of the vision to be the third. Or it may mean, that there should be a triumvirate appointed to govern the kingdom, as was the case in the beginning of the reign of Darius, and the interpreter should be one of these. Mr. Bruce (vol. 4. p. 32) speaks of a person who was suddenly advanced to a command, the third in the kingdom of Abyssinia for rank, power, and riches; and that, at his public investiture, he had a circle of gold put upon his head, was clothed with a white and blue mantle, and made the king’s lieutenant-general in the provinces allotted to him.” Wintle.

Verses 8-9

Daniel 5:8-9. Then came in all the king’s wise men Ambitious of the honour, and desirous to gratify the king. But they could not read the writing Because, says Houbigant, it was written in the ancient Samaritan characters, which were very unlike the Chaldean letters. Or perhaps only the initial letters, M.T.P. were written. But God, for his own glory, reserved the honour of reading and interpreting it for his servant Daniel. Mr. Wintle renders the clause, “They were unable to read the writing, so as to make known the interpretation to the king.” Then was King Belshazzar greatly troubled His consternation and distress were renewed and increased, his last hope having failed him; and his lords were astonished His associates in sin shared in the consternation; and notwithstanding their number, mirth, and wine, were dismayed and terrified exceedingly.

Verses 10-12

Daniel 5:10-12. Now the queen, &c. The king’s wives and concubines sat with him at the feast, Daniel 5:2; therefore the person here called the queen, and said to come into the banqueting-house on this solemn occasion, must have been the queen-mother, the widow of Evil-merodach, named Nitocris, a lady, according to Herodotus, eminent for her wisdom, and who had the chief direction of public affairs. The queen said, Let not thy thoughts trouble thee Be not so distressed, nor yield to terror and despondency. There is a man in thy kingdom Some persons are apt to wonder that Daniel was unknown to Belshazzar, which others have accounted for from the abandoned and indolent character of this prince; but there is a further reason: which Mr. Harmer, vol. 1. p. 166, has hinted, from Sir John Chardin, namely, that he had been mazouled, as they express it in the East, that is, displaced at the death of a prior king; since, in the East, when the king dies, the physicians and astrologers are removed: the former for not having driven away death, and the latter for not having predicted it. It is probable, however, that Daniel was not totally unknown to the king; but being perhaps in no esteem, or not employed in any considerable department of the state, in the early part of his reign, he was not readily recollected. In whom was the spirit of the holy gods See note on Daniel 4:8. And in the days of thy father That is, of thy grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, light and understanding, &c. That is, an enlightened understanding, or supernatural illumination, as the next words show. Such an insight he had into things secret, and such a foresight of things to come, that it was evident he was divinely inspired, and possessed of extraordinary wisdom, given him from above. Forasmuch as an excellent spirit and knowledge, &c., were found in the same Daniel His excellent disposition, his humble, holy, heavenly spirit, was both a great ornament to his wisdom, and fitted him for the reception and increase of that extraordinary gift of God. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation She speaks with confidence; for, being aged, and Nebuchadnezzar having been dead not above twenty-four years, she no doubt well remembered the extraordinary events which had occurred in the latter part of his life, and the supernatural inspiration, and extraordinary wisdom, which Daniel had manifested on these occasions. And she speaks as if she knew where to find Daniel, though Belshazzar probably did not.

Verses 13-17

Daniel 5:13-17. Then was Daniel brought in before the king Daniel was now near ninety years of age; so that his years and honours, and former preferments, might have entitled him to a free admission into the king’s presence; yet he was willing to be introduced, as a stranger, by the king’s servants. The king said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel This question of the king shows, that if he was at all acquainted with Daniel, it was very imperfectly; and that in however high esteem that extraordinary man had been held in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and whatever offices of trust and honour he had then filled, he was now sunk into neglect, Belshazzar being a weak and vicious prince, according to the character historians give of him, and one who interested himself very little in public affairs, leaving the care of them to his mother, and himself minding nothing but his pleasures. Now if thou canst read the writing, &c., thou shalt be clothed with scarlet He promises him the same rewards if he could read and interpret the writing as he had promised his wise men on condition of their doing it. Then Daniel answered, Let thy gifts be to thyself As Daniel was now in years, and Belshazzar young, he therefore seems to take a greater liberty, and to deal more plainly with him, than he had done upon the like occasions with Nebuchadnezzar. He addresses him as a very aged and eminent person would address one much younger than himself. When he was consulted by Nebuchadnezzar, and was allowed the liberty of conversing with him and giving him counsel, he foresaw that the Chaldean monarchy would continue for some time, and that his being preferred would give him an opportunity of being useful to his brethren; but he now knew that that empire was about to terminate, and Belshazzar’s reign and life to come to a period. Nebuchadnezzar, though an idolater and a tyrant, yet had great abilities, attended to the affairs of his kingdom, and was, in many respects, very eminent as a monarch; but Belshazzar was every way base, odious, and contemptible. “Above all, he had that night been insulting the God of heaven in the most daring manner, by profaning the sacred vessels in his revels, and extolling his own idols. Daniel therefore knew that his doom was irreversible, and immediately to be put in execution; and he did not speak to him as a subject to his prince, but as the delegate of heaven he denounced sentence against him as a condemned criminal.” Scott. Some commentators have been puzzled to account for Daniel’s rejecting the king’s presents here, and afterward accepting them, as is mentioned Daniel 5:29; but his intention in what he now says is only modestly to decline the honours, and to intimate that they could have no influence on his mind, which yet, at the king’s command, afterward he could not but accept. In other words, he means to say, that he was ready to do whatever the king enjoined, without any respect to a recompense: see Calmet. Yet will I read the writing unto the king Daniel seems to have made this declaration in consequence of a persuasion wherewith he was inspired of God, before he even cast his eye upon the writing.

Verses 18-19

Daniel 5:18-19. O thou king Before Daniel reads the writing, he judges it proper to remind the king of God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, his progenitor, and of those remarkable instances of divine providence, both in mercy and in judgment, which were intended to be an instructive lesson, as to all princes that should hear of them, so especially to all the descendants of that great monarch. He also, with great fidelity and seriousness, sets Belshazzar’s profane conduct before him, that he might be humbled and brought to repentance. The most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, &c. His great power, and vast extent of empire, were the gifts of God to him, and were not acquired by his own policy or bravery, or those of his generals and armies. Grotius explains the different terms of this verse thus: A kingdom, that is, a widely-extended empire; majesty, or magnificence among his subjects; glory from his victories; and honour from the enlargement of the city, the building of its walls, temple, and palace. And for the majesty that he gave him For the vast power, riches, and victorious hand which he gave him; all people, nations, &c., trembled and feared before him, &c. We have here a strong picture of the absolute and independent power of these princes; they regarded their subjects only as slaves. Xerxes, having assembled the great men of his kingdom, when he had determined to undertake the war against Greece, said to them, “I have assembled you that I might not seem to act solely by my own counsel; but remember that I expect obedience, not advice from you.” Calmet.

Verses 20-23

Daniel 5:20-23. But when his heart was lifted up The expressions here have a peculiar force, in marking the haughty insolence of King Nebuchadnezzar. His authority, as mentioned in the last verse, had been raised to the highest pitch; and on that account we find here that his mind was elated, and his spirit grown obdurate in pride and arrogance; instead of his ascribing all his honours and advantages to the real giver of them, the true God, whom he had been brought to acknowledge, and to the neglect of whom, and of improving by his grandfather’s sufferings, the prophet justly and judiciously attributes Belshazzar’s fate. Thou his son, &c., hast not humbled thy heart Thou hast not been made sensible of thy own utter weakness, and thy absolute dependance on Jehovah, the true God, who thus abased thy father in the midst of his power and pride. But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven As if thou hadst been equal, or even superior to him in wisdom and power. He instances in four particulars: 1st, They have brought the vessels of his house before thee To profane them in your idolatrous feasts: 2d, Thou hast praised the gods of silver and gold, &c., which see not, &c. 3d, Thou hast not glorified the true God, in whose hands thy breath is, and all thy ways: yea, 4th, Thou hast highly dishonoured, affronted, and reproached him.

Verses 24-28

Daniel 5:24-28. Then was part of the hand sent from him The LXX. read, Δια τουτο εκ προσωπου αυτου απεσταλη αστραγαλος χειρος , και την γραφην ταυτην ενεταξε . “On this account hath the joint, or part of a hand, been sent from his presence, and hath formed this writing.” The reading in the Vulgate is to the same purpose. Houbigant translates the verse, “Therefore is the hand sent from him, the fingers whereof have formed this writing.” And this is the writing, MENE, &c. In the Arabic the three words are considered as participles, Mensuratum, Appensum, Divisum, “Measured, Weighed, Divided.” The words are fully explained by Daniel in the following verses. MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, &c. God hath numbered the days of thy reign, and put an end to it. The word MENE is doubled in the foregoing verse, to show that the thing was certain, and established by God, as Joseph tells Pharaoh in a like case, Genesis 41:32. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, &c. The reason that an end is put to thy reign so soon is, that thou art found light in the scales of divine equity. Wicked men are often compared to silver adulterated, and alloyed with baser metals, which makes it too light when weighed in the balances: such was Belshazzar when weighed in the scales of divine justice. The same comparison is used by Homer, when Hector’s fatal day approaches, Iliad, xxii, and by Virgil, at the death of Turnus, Æn. 12. And so Milton, in the war of the angels,

“ Long time in even scale The battle hung.”

Par. Lost, b. 6. 50:245.

PERES; Thy kingdom is divided Or broken from thee. The word PERES signifies broken; and it also signifies the nation of the Persians, for they were called Paros, by the Chaldeans: so that this word not only signified that the Babylonish kingdom should be broken, but also by whom it should be broken. UPHARSIN, the other word in the writing, is a participle of the same verb from whence PERES is derived, and literally signifies, And they divide it. Concerning Belshazzar’s destruction, see notes on Isaiah 14:0.

Verse 29

Daniel 5:29. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel The king was so struck with his superior wisdom, and conceived himself so bound by the promise he had made before his nobles, that he ordered the prophet to be rewarded immediately with the honours he had promised him, which he was forced to accept, and which probably prepared him for a more easy reception by the succeeding monarch. “Nor let it be matter of wonder that Daniel is said to be clothed as it were immediately, for these habits were always at hand for the eastern monarchs to reward their friends or favourites with; and Mr. Harmer tells us, from Sir John Chardin, that the kings of Persia have great wardrobes, where there are always many hundreds of habits ready, designed for presents, and sorted. Obs., vol. 2. p. 87. It seems likewise that, on some occasions, the great men of the East were accustomed to carry with them, on their journeys, a variety of habits and vestments, in order to distribute them as presents to those whom they wished to honour and reward. And this will account for the changes of garments which Naaman the Syrian had with him, when he returned from the Prophet Elisha, some of which were given to his perfidious servant, 2 Kings 5:0.” Wintle.

Verses 30-31

Daniel 5:30-31 . In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain He and all his nobles were slain together, in the midst of their feasting and revelling, as Herodotus, lib. 1., and Xenophon, inform us. The latter relates the story thus, Cyropæd., lib. 7. “That two deserters, Gadatas and Gobryas, having assisted some of the Persian army to kill the guards, and seize upon the palace, they entered into the room where the king was, whom they found standing up in a posture of defence; but they soon despatched him, and those that were with him.” It seems not improbable, likewise, that they burned the houses of the city, or at least the advanced buildings, in their progress, and forced the citizens to quit them in the greatest consternation; for they came upon them with such surprise, that, according to Herodotus, “they had passed through the gates, which were left open in this riotous night, and had taken the extreme parts of the city, before those who inhabited the middle parts knew of the capture,” lib. 1. p. 77. Thus the prophecy of Jeremiah was accomplished, that Babylon should be taken at the time of a public feast, while her princes and great men, &c., should be drunken, and should sleep a perpetual sleep, and not awake: see notes on Jeremiah 51:32; Jeremiah 51:39; Jeremiah 51:57. Respecting the method practised by Cyrus to surprise the city, by draining that part of the Euphrates which ran through it, together with many other curious particulars relating to Babylon, see notes on Isaiah 13:0. And Darius the Median took the kingdom This Darius is said to be one of the seed of the Medes, Daniel 9:1, and is supposed, by the most judicious chronologers, to be the same with Cyaxares, the son of Astyages; him Cyrus made king of the Chaldeans, as being his uncle by the mother’s side, and his partner in carrying on the war against the Babylonians; and left him the palace of the king of Babylon, to live there whenever he pleased, as Xenophon relates, Cyropæd., lib. 8. As Darius succeeded to the empire through Cyrus’s permission, or appointment, and was dependant upon him for it, Ptolemy’s canon supposes Cyrus to be the immediate successor of Nabonnedus, or Belshazzar, and allots nine years to his reign; whereas Xenophon reckons two of these years to Darius, and seven to Cyrus. The Chaldee phrase, rendered here took the kingdom, is translated, possessed the kingdom, Daniel 7:18, and means the same with succeeding in the kingdom. Lowth.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 5". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/daniel-5.html. 1857.
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