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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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the last king of Babylon, and, according to Hales and others, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 5:18 . During the period that the Jews were in captivity at Babylon, a variety of singular events concurred to prove that the sins which brought desolation on their country, and subjected them for a period of seventy years to the Babylonish yoke, had not dissolved that covenant relation which, as the God of Abraham, Jehovah had entered into with them; and that any act of indignity perpetrated against an afflicted people, or any insult cast upon the service of their temple, would be regarded as an affront to the Majesty of heaven, and not suffered to pass with impunity, though the perpetrators were the princes and potentates of the earth. Belshazzar was a remarkable instance of this. He had an opportunity of seeing, in the case of his ancestor, how hateful pride is, even in royalty itself; how instantly God can blast the dignity of the brightest crown, and reduce him that wears it to a level with the beasts of the field; and consequently how much the prosperity of kings and the stability of their thrones depend upon acknowledging that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." But all these awful lessons were lost upon Belshazzar.

The only circumstances of his reign, recorded, are the visions of the Prophet Daniel, in the first and third years, Daniel 7:1; Daniel 8:1; and his sacrilegious feast and violent death, Daniel 5:1-30 . Isaiah, who represents the Babylonian dynasty as "the scourge of Palestine," styles Nebuchadnezzar "a serpent," Evil Merodach "a cockatrice," and Belshazzar "a fiery flying serpent," the worst of all, Isaiah 14:4-29 . And Xenophon confirms this prophetic character by two atrocious instances of cruelty and barbarity, exercised by Belshazzar upon some of his chief and most deserving nobles. He slew the only son of Gobryas, in a transport of rage, because at a hunting match he hit with his spear a bear, and afterward a lion, when the king had missed both; and in a fit of jealousy, he brutally castrated Gadatus, because one of his concubines had commended him as a handsome man. His last and most heinous offence was the profanation of the sacred vessels belonging to the temple of Jerusalem, which his wise grandfather, and even his foolish father Evil Merodach, had respected. Having made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, he ordered those vessels to be brought during the banquet, that he, his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink out of them, which they did; and to aggravate sacrilege by apostasy and rebellion, and ingratitude against the Supreme Author of all their enjoyments, "they praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, and stone, but the God in whose hand was their breath, and whose were all their ways, they praised or glorified not." For these complicated crimes his doom was denounced in the midst of the entertainment; a divine hand appeared, which wrote on the plaister of the wall, opposite to the king, and full in his view, a mysterious inscription. This tremendous apparition struck Belshazzar with the greatest terror and agony: "his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote against each other." This is one of the liveliest and finest amplifications of dismay to be found throughout the sacred classics, and infinitely exceeds, both in accuracy and force, the most admired of the Heathen; such as "et corde et genibus tremit," of Horace, and "tarda trementi genus labant," of Virgil.

Unable himself to decypher the writing, Belshazzar cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, promising that whosoever should read the writing, and explain to him its meaning, should be clothed with scarlet, have a chain of gold about his neck, and be the third ruler in his kingdom. But the writing was too difficult for the Magi; at which the king was still more greatly troubled. In this crisis, and at the instance of the queen mother, the Prophet Daniel was sent for, to whom honours were promised, on condition of his explaining the writing. Daniel refused the honours held out to him; but having with great faithfulness pointedly reproved the monarch for his ingratitude to God who had conferred on him such dignity, and particularly for his profanation of the vessels which were consecrated to his service, he proceeded to the interpretation of the words which had been written, and still stood visible on the wall. They were, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. "This is the interpretation of the thing, Mene, ‘God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it;' Tekel, ‘thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting:' Peres, ‘thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." In that very night, in the midst of their mirth and revelling, the city was taken by surprise, Belshazzar himself put to death, and the kingdom transferred to Darius the Mede. If the character of the hand-writing was known to the Magi of Babylon, the meaning could not be conjectured. Perhaps, however, the character was that of the ancient Hebrew, or what we now call the Samaritan; and in that case it would be familiar to Daniel, though rude and unintelligible to the Chaldeans. But even if Daniel could read the words, the import of this solemn graphic message to the proud and impious monarch could only have been made known to the prophet by God. All the ideas the three words convey, are numbering, weighing, and dividing. It was only for the power which sent the omen to unfold, not in equivocal terms, like the responses of Heathen oracles, but in explicit language, the decision of the righteous Judge, the termination of his long suffering, and the instant visitation of judgment. See BABYLON .

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Belshazzar'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​b/belshazzar.html. 1831-2.
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