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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Daniel 5

Verse 1

Dan 5:1. Between the close of the preceding chapter and the beginning of this is an interval of 25 years. We are down at the last year of the Babylonian Empire and Belshazzar is on the throne in the capital city. The Biblical account overlooks a few comparatively unimportant rulers between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. This man is called the king in this verse, but that title must be understood as meaning he was only "acting king," because his father Nabonadius was the actual king, but had left his son on the throne in Babylon while he was conducting a war in another part of the country. This fact accounts for other statements occurring in the record, and it is of such great importance that I sit all quote a paragraph from ancient history, “But out of ail this confusion and uncertainty a very small and simple discovery made a few years since has educed order and harmony in a very remarkable way. It is found that Nabonadius. the last king of the Canon [royal blood line], associated with him on the throne during the later years of his reign his son, Bilsharuzar [Belshazzar], and allowed him the royal title. There can be little doubt that it was this prince who conducted the defense of Babylon, and was slain in the massacre which followed the capture; while his father, who was at the time in Borsippa, surrendered, and experienced the clemency which was generally shown to fallen kings by the Persians. . . . My attention has been further drawn to a very remarkable illustration which the discovery of Belshazzar’s position as joint ruier with his father furnishes to an expression twice repeated in Daniel, fifth chapter. The promise made and performed to Daniel is, that he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. Formerly it was impossible to explain this, or to understand why he was not the second ruler, as he seems to have been under Nebuchadnezzar, and as Joseph in Egypt, and Mordecai in Persia. It now appears that, as there were two kings at the same time, Belshazzar, a subject, could only make him the third personage in the Empire."- Rawlinson, Historical Evidences, pages 139, 412. This information will be referred to again and I urge the reader to make eareful note of its location. The simple word /east means a good meal of food for the fleshly body, but the context shows this was a banquet for they drank wine in connection with it. Moreover, it was a royal or state affair for it was attended by a thousand of his lords, which is defined "a magnate" in Strong’s lexicon. These men were princes or outstanding persons In the Babylonian Empire and hence were special guests at this great feast. The king participated in the drinking and did so in a cooperative attitude, for it says he drank wine before the thousand, That was unusual for the rule was that kings indulged themselves with wine and royal gratifications in their own private apartments.

Verse 2

Dan 5:2. Whiles he tasted the trine. Belshazzar was an idolater in genera! life, but nothing indicates that this feast was at first intended to be anything but a royal banquet. But intoxication will cause a man to do things he would not do when sober. This drunken king commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple at Jerusalem. We have no account of their having been used before this after being brought to Babylon. The text says the vessels had been taken by his father Nebuchadnezzar, because that word is used very generally in the Bible and other literature. It sometimes means any forefather; in this case it means his grandfather. Perhaps it will be well to verify the last statement by a quotation from ancient history. "LINE OF KINGS-(of Babylon) Nabapolas sar, Nebuchadnezzar, Evilmerodaeh, Nerigiissar, Laborosoarchod or Labos soracus, and Nabonadius the last king. He, not being of royal birth, married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar (probably Neriglissar's widow), and as soon as his son by this marriage, Belshazzar (Betsharuzur), is of sufficient age, associated him on the throne.”- Rawlinson, Ancient History, page 49. For the difference between wives and concubines see the comments on Gen 22:21, Volume 1.

Verse 3

Dan 5:3. The order of Belshazzar was obeyed and the king and his company drank wine from the sacred vessels that had been taken front the Lord's service at Jerusalem.

Verse 4

Dan 5:4. The writer must have been greatly affected by the conduct of the king and his party. In one unbroken statement he says they

Verse 5

Dan 5:5. The familiar expression “handwriting on the wall” is not technically correct, for this verse begins and ends with a distinction between the hand and its fingers. A well known commentator thinks that when the king saw the writing but could not see Him to whom the hand belonged, the invisibility of that One would heighten the “awful impressiveness of the scene.” I will agree with that opinion, but will add that the "impressiveness" of the scene would he even more awful to see only the fingers that held the writing instrument. Such a scene would eliminate every hint of any mechanical trick of some objector to the merrymaking.

Verse 6

Dan 5:6. Countenance is from zrsv which Strong defines, “cheerfulness.” The statement means that the merrymaking spirit that had been showing itself in the king’s face was altered and he looked pale. Strong defines the original tor loins, “vigor; the loin (as the seat of strength).’’ Webster defines the English word, "The seat of generation or procreation.” Joints is from a word that means something that binds or holds together, and In this place it refers to the muscles. So the clause the joints of his loins were loosed means that the abdominal region of his body had a feeling as if it were falling apart. The same thought is expressed in Psa 22:14 by the words, “My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels." This is a prophecy of Christ on the cross and the moral nature of the case is different, but it describes the mental and physical feeling that was being experienced. Smote is derived from naqaph and Strong says it means “to knock together.” Thus we can get a mental picture of the king as he looked upon the weird performance going on over on the wall of his palace. His face turned ashy pale, the abdominal portion of hia body seemed to be all in a quiver, and his knees pounded each other.

Verse 7

Dan 5:7. Aloud means more than merely being audible; it is from an original that means “with might." In addition to the physical feelings the king had by reason of the strange sight, he was perplexed because he could not even read the writing, much less understand what it meant. His common sense told him that such a demonstration had a great significance and that it concerned him since it occurred within his palace. In his fright and perplexity he shouted his orders to summon the Chaldeans and other socalled wise men. Those heathen rulers were so accustomed to relying on their soothsayers and their kind for special information that Belshazzar never thought about calling for Daniel. It was natural for him to expect his own Babylonian wise men to solve the problem that confronted him. See the comments on chapter 2: G on the subject of offering gifts to these men. They were asked to perform a double feat; read the writing and teli its meaning. (See quotation at verse 1 on "third ruler.”)

Verse 8

Dan 5:8. All the king's ivise men means those ordinarily employed by him and who were supposed to be “standing by” for service whenever needed; that is why Daniel was not present at this call. As we would expect, these men could not do the king any good in his great confusion.

Verse 9

Dan 5:9. The failure of the king’s wise men to read the writing affected his countenance in the same way that writing did in verse 6, but it did not seein to have the same effect on his body. Doubtless he had consulted these wise men many times and had been satisfied with their work. However, there was never a situation like the one before them now. It was similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar in some respects. The failure to recall to that monarch his dream indicated that they could not have interpreted it either. So with the wise men before Belshazzar, for if they could not even read the writing, something that was present before them and needed no future knowledge to do, it was evident they could not give the interpretation after it was read. It is no wonder, then, that the king was worried and his lords astonished.

Verse 10

Dan 5:10. A queen was not the king’s wife as a rule but instead she was his mother, and the word is so rendered by various versions. See an example of this subject in 1Ki 15:13, and it is further explained by the following from Smith’s Bible Dictionary. “This title is properly applied to the queenmother, since in an Oriental household it is not the wife but the mother of the master who exercises the highest authority. Strange as such an arrangement at first sight appears, it is one of the inevitable results of polygamy.” This helps to explain, also, why the queen was so well acquainted with the events in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. Being older, and also associated near the throne for many years, she would have some personal recollection of those events, and she also had access to the records of the empire, (See comments on chapter 4:1, 2.) Learning of Belshazzar's difficulty in solving the mystery about the writing, she came into his presence to console him with her information.

Verse 11

Dan 5:11. The queen related to the king the story of a certain man in whom was the spirit of the holy gods. For information on “thy father” see the comments on verse 2. Master of the magicians means he was given a rank of “chief magician,” not that he had any authority over them. The point the queen was making was the superior wisdom this particular “magician” must have possessed for the king to give him the rank.

Verse 12

Dan 5:12. The most of this verse is the same description of Daniel’s talents we have had before, but the word doubts adds an interesting feature. It is from QiiTAn and Strong defines it, “A knot (as tied up), i.e. (figuratively) a riddle.” It means that Daniel was able to untie all “bard knots.”

Verse 13

Dan 5:13. When Daniel was brought in, the king first asked him a question for the purpose of identification. The text does not state whether Daniel made any direct reply, but its silence indicates that the king understood the prophet's affirmative attitude toward the question.

Verse 14

Dan 5:14, As a reason for calling him into the situation, Belshazzar told the prophet of the favorable reputation that he had concerning his knowledge.

Verse 15

Dan 5:15, Wise men, the astrologers is very significant. All of the astrologers were considered wise men, hut there were wise men who were not asLrologers. Hence the king made the distinction as to which class of wise men had been brought in; it was the astrologers. He did this in respect for Daniel, who, though classed as a wise man (chapter 2: 13), was a higher rank than astrologers; he was one in whom was the spirit of the gods. Daniel was Informed of the failure of the astrologers.

Verse 16

Dan 5:16. The king repeated a part o£ the report lie had heard of Daniel, then made him a proposition. If he could read the writing AND make known its interpretation, he would receive personal gifts and other rewards. (See the comments at verse 1 for the meaning of third ruler.)

Verse 17

Dan 5:17. Let thy gifts he to thyself, etc. This is not to be taken to mean that Daniel thought it would be wrong to accept the gifts, for verse 29 shows he did accept them afterwards. Rewards is rendered “fee’ in the margin which helps to describe the situation. (See comments at chapter 2: 6.) The meaning is that Daniel wanted the king to know he would tell the answer desired without regard for the reward.

Verse 18

Dan 5:18. Before going into the subject of the writing, Daniel related to Belshazzar the background that led up to the present crisis. The meaning of “father" for Nebuchadnezzar is explained by a quotation from history given at verse 2. It should be noted that Daniel says God gave to Nebuchadnezzar his kingdom and his glory.

Verse 19

Dan 5:19. For the majesty means in view of or because of that majesty, the nations trembled and feared. The first is from zuwa which Strong defines, “To shake (with fear); the second is from dechal and the same lexicon defines it, “To slink, i.e. (by implication) to fear, or (causatively) be formidable,” We see these words are used in their worst or most unfavorable sense which agrees with the very next phrase, whom he would he slew. It is still to be understood that God gave to Nebuchadnezzar his great might and glory, but that does not mean that He approved of the abuses that the king made of the favors thus bestowed upon him.

Verse 20

Dan 5:20. The abuses were manifested by the things described in this verse. The pride of the king over his greatness was so displeasing to God that he caused the cruel monarch to be taken from his throne and he was shorn of his glory.

Verse 21

Dan 5:21. This verse repeats in detail what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and it was what Daniel had prophesied should occur (chapter 4: 25), The only way that Daniel could know of its fulfillment was either by inspiration or from the word of the king himself (chapter 4: 2, 3), for it came upon him while away from the sons of men. However it was, all acounts agree and hence we know that they are true.

Verse 22

Dan 5:22. The general sense of the terms son and father is explained at verse 2. Though thou, knewest alt this. The kings of great empires kept records of their transactions and the people, especially men in high positions, had access to those records, Daniel knew that Belshazzar had seen the account of Nebuchadnezzar's experience. The example should have taught him a lesson but it seems to have failed.

Verse 23

Dan 5:23. In conducting t.he kind of feast that was being done on this night, Belshazzar was in rebellion against the Lord of heaven. The king did not need to be informed of what was actually done on that night, but Daniel enumerated the items so as to make the contrast stand out. He and his family and royal group had given praise to gods that have no intellect of any kind, but had no glory to give to Him from whom even his breath was derived.

Verse 24

Dan 5:24. Then, because of and at the time of this abominable conduct, God sent the part of the hand. (See the comments in verse 5 about the fingers only being seen.)

Verse 25

Dan 5:25. We should remember that the wise men not only were unable to interpret the writing, but they could not read it (verses 8, 15), so the first thing done was to pronounce the words. In this paragraph I shall copy the words and give Strong’s definition from the standpoint of a lexicon. Mene. "(Chaldee), past participle of menu, numbered.” Tekel. “(Chaldee), to balance.” Upharsin. “(Chaldee), to split up.”

Verse 26

Dan 5:26. The lexicon definitions of the writing were given in the preceding verse. I shall now comment on Daniel's explanation of their significance. Numbered is derived from a word that is defined, “To weigh out; by implication to allot or constitute officially; also to enumerate or enroll.” According to Daniel’s interpretation it meant that the days of the Babylonian Empire had reached the number allotted to it by the Lord and the kingdom was to be declared ended.

Verse 27

Dan 5:27. A balance is a weighing device with a beam poised with its center on a neutral pivot. An article to be weighed is placed at one end of the beam, and a weight supposed to be equal to the article is placed at the other end. If the article is correct the beam wiil remain level or perfectly horizontal. The balance was a familiar instrument in Biblical times (1Sa 2:3; Job 31:6; Psa 62:9). When a balance is used figuratively it means that a man is weighed or compared with what ia required of him and if he stands the test the "beam" will be level, and if not the balance will sink on the heavier end which will condemn the other. Belshazzar was weighed in the balances of God's character requirements but was "found wanting,” or was unable to hold the beam level.

Verse 28

Dan 5:28. Peres and upharsin are from the same original word. The word means to split and was a fitting one here because the Babylonian kingdom was doomed to be taken over by another kingdom that was composed of two parts, the Modes and Persians,

Verse 29

Dan 5:29. Belshazzar fulfilled his promise in rewarding Daniel for solving the problem. See the comments at verse 17 on the matter of Daniel's accepting these rewards. The quotation cited at verse 1 explains the meaning of third ruler.

Verse 30

Dan 5:30. The history above explains in what sense Belshazzar was king,

Verse 31

Dan 5:31. Darius the Median. As was stated at verse 28, the empire that succeeded the Babylonian was composed of the Medea and Persians, thus forming a dual monarchy. This kingdom is referred to ia various ways; sometimes by Its full title and at others as the Persian, It is occasionally mentioned by the single branch Median, which ft is in this verse. I shall copy a statement from ancient history on this subject as follows: “After the death of Belshazzar, Darius the Mede is said in scripture to have taken the kingdom; for Cyrus, as long as his uncle lived, allowed him a joint title with him in the empire, although it was all gained by his own valour, and out of deference to him yielded him the first place of honor in it. But the whole power of the army, and the chief conduct of ail affairs being still in his hands, he only was looked on as the supreme governor of the empire, which he liad erected; and therefore there is no notice at all taken of Darius in the Canon of Ptolemy, but immediately after the death of Belshazzar (who Is there called Nabo nadius), Cyrus is placed as the next successor, as in truth and reality he was; the other having no more than the name and the shadow of the sovereignty, excepting only in Media, which was his own proper dominion."-Pri deaux’s Connexion, Book 1, Part 2, Year 538. Verse 30 merely states that Belshazzar was slain on the night of this feast, but nothing is said about what was going on near and inside the city. The lengthy quotation from history on that interesting subject may be found in connection witli Isa 13:7-8 in Volume 3 of this Commentary.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Daniel 5". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.