THE BOOK OF DANIEL, Chapter 5
[This is an excerpt from my book, Mankind’s Final 7 Years Before Christ Returns: A verse-by-verse explanation of the book of Revelation]
5 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, and son of Evilmerodach (Jeremiah 52:31; 2 Kings 25:27-30). There is much debate and contradiction among historians as to who, and how many, if any, reigned between Evilmerodach and Belshazzar. Some even say that the father and son reigned together. The Bible only mentions Evilmerodach and Belshazzar as reigning after Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:6-7).
Skeptics are quick to point out that the Bible calls Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar. Yet, the word ‘grandfather” is not in the Bible, unless added to modern translations. Every male ancestor is called father. (Examples: Luke1:55, 73; John 8:39; Acts 7:32; Matthew 1:1)
3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
In verses 30-31, we learn that Babylon was overthrown that night. Apparently, the city was under siege, and although Belshazzar knew the enemy was at the gates, he held this feast in confidence of the city’s defenses. He then misused the sacred vessels to show his defiance of God and man.
5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
There is much debate as to the details of what the king, and the others, actually saw. We only need to know, however, that this was a message from God to Belshazzar. Yet, it is interesting that the writing was done with a finger, just as Jesus later wrote in the dirt (John 8:6)
6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
Belshazzar’s reaction shows he understood this to be a divine message rather than simply a mysterious spectacle. His face lost color and he was so terrified that he pooped and/or peed his pants, and trembled so violently that his knees knocked together. Buzz-kill. Party’s over, dude.
7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
There are many views concerning the third ruler in the kingdom. Some say there were already two rulers under Belshazzar. Some count Belshazzar as the first. Some think Belshazzar ruled under his father or uncle, and count him as second ruler. In Daniel 6:1-2, Daniel is one of three rulers under King Darius, but he is the first of the three, so it doesn’t add much support to any certain view.
8 Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
There are many suggestions as to why the wise men could not understand the writing- it was in an unknown language, the letters were transposed, only certain letters appeared, etc. But the true reason is that God would only give His message through a man of God.
9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
Belshazzar was obviously facing impending doom, and his wise men and nobles were of no help. He now became more troubled and his face grew whiter. Notice that Daniel says the nobles were confused, not troubled. Apparently, they viewed this as some strange mystery rather than a divine message.
10 Now the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
The queen could be Belshazzar’s wife, mother, or grandmother. Many commentators believe she was Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter or daughter-in-law. Some commentators believe she is the wife of Nebuchadnezzar since she will appear to have first-hand knowledge of events during his life. Yet, in verse 22 we will see that Belshazzar had this same knowledge.
Notice that Belshazzar was still visibly troubled and pale faced.
11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
Daniel was given his position by Nebuchadnezzar, and may have lost that position when the king died. We are told (Daniel 8:1, 27) that Daniel was employed by Belshazzar at least until his third year of reign.
The queen describes Daniel in much the same way as Nebuchadnezzar did in Daniel 4:8-9, which leads many commentators to claim that she must have been the wife of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, those words spoken by the king were in a public proclamation given to “all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth”.
12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.
Though Daniel was probably no longer in the royal court, the queen knew he was still alive and accessible.
13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
At first glance, it appears that Belshazzar had no knowledge of Daniel. Yet, his comments here seem to suggest that he at least knew of Daniel’s reputation, and not simply what he had just heard from the queen. It seems that Belshazzar, for whatever reason, is simply claiming ignorance.
15 And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:
16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
The words translated “dissolve doubts” literally translates “untie knots”.
17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
Though Daniel will accept the rewards, they would not influence his actions. He was not rejecting the gifts out of disrespect, but simply stating that his actions were not for hope of a reward. With the city under siege, it may have seemed pointless to accept or deny the gifts.
18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
Daniel reminds the king of his grandfather’s proclamation of what God had done for him (Daniel 4:2). This sets the stage for the judgment against Belshazzar.
19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
Not only did God give Nebuchadnezzar riches and majesty. He gave him authority (Romans 13:1).
20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;
Belshazzar knew all this. Most everyone else knew all this, as Nebuchadnezzar had publicly proclaimed it. Daniel is saying that the coming judgment against Belshazzar is, therefore, justified.
23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
In his pride, Belshazzar believed himself better than God who gave him life. Not only did he show contempt by profaning the holy vessels, but he gave praise to the idols.
24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
Belshazzar had ignored everything that God had said and done through his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. So, now God spoke to him in a way he couldn’t ignore.
25 And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
26 This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
27 Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
28 Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
Literally “numbered, weighed, divided”. The years that God had given the Babylonian kingdom had come to an end (Jeremiah 27:7; 25:11-12). It is rather poetic that God sent His message in this way, as the development of the writing system was advanced greatly by the Babylonians.
29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Many commentators refuse to believe that Daniel accepted the gifts and claim that the king’s orders were never carried out. Yet, Daniel would have had to hold a high position in the kingdom in order to be recognized by Darius in verses 6:1-2.
30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
There are many theories as to who this Darius was, and skeptics are quick to claim that he didn’t exist. While recorded history did not keep up with the Bible on this subject, it appears that Darius is a title rather than a name. Some commentators suggest that Darius and Cyrus were the same person. This Darius may have been a general, under the rule of Cyrus, which led the forces against Babylon and was temporary ruler until Cyrus arrived. Some believe that Darius ruled over Media, and Cyrus ruled over Persia. Many commentators believe, with some historical support, that Darius was also the uncle and/or father-in-law of Cyrus (see also- Daniel 6:28; 9:1). Many historians believe that Darius ruled over Babylon for about two years.
For more on the destruction of Babylon, see- Jeremiah 51.