Daniel Chapter 5
Here we come to one of the well-known chapters of Daniel — the riotous party the king is having with his officials, his wives, and his concubines. They are desecrating the vessels that had been taken from the Jerusalem Temple when it was destroyed and praising their idolatrous gods while drinking wine from them. Would this be an indication that the gods of Babylon are greater than the gods of the Jews?
But who is this Belshazzar? Evidence shows that he is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Here is a bit of history.
- Nabopolassar (625-605 B.C)
- Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.)
- Evil-Merodach (562-560 B.C.) – He was murdered by Neriglissar. Evil-Merocach is mentioned in Jeremiah 52:31 and II Kings 25:27
- Neriglissar, who reigned 559-556
- Labasi-Marduk was Neriglissar’s son, and reigned for only 9 months, having been murdered by a conspiracy of his nobles
- Nabonidus then seized power and was married to Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, Nitocris
And now we have Belshazzar (“Bel protect the king”) the son of Nabonidus and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar ruling. Critics have tried to discount the biblical narrative, claiming Belshazzar is an invention. But well-authenticated archaeological findings have confirmed his existence.
Trouble begins to unfold, as the fingers of a man’s hand begin to write on the wall. Belshazzar sees it and is terrified. He senses something ominous about this but does not know what, as the writing is in Hebrew, which he cannot read. The record of his knees knocking together indicate terror had seized him.
So, having learned nothing from his grandfather’s experience, Belshazzar calls for his “wise men” to come to interpret the handwriting for him. Which of course they could not do. The king's face got paler. He had a premonition that this was something disastrous.
Somehow the queen was made aware of the commotion and came to tell Belshazzar of an event that had taken place some years ago during his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. (The text says “father,” but this was common usage in ancestral records at the time.) This queen may well have been Belshazzar’s mother, as his wives and concubines were with him at the party,
Daniel is called in. Now, this is about the year 539 B.C., and with Daniel being taken to Babylon in 605 as a teenager, he is now in his mid-60s. Evidently, Belshazzar had never met Daniel in person, but the record indicates that he knew of Daniel through his reputation. This is evident in that the queen did not mention Daniel’s nationality, but Belshazzar did know that he was one of the “exiles from Judah.”
If Daniel interpreted the handwriting, the king promised to clothe him in purple, give him a gold necklace, and make him the third ruler in the kingdom.
Once again Daniel’s humility is seen in his refusal of the gifts, telling the king just to give them to someone else. A question has been raised as to the offer of a “third ruler in the kingdom.” The truth is that Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus, is still alive and is the “first ruler.” But he is off on a far-off mission to build a temple to his god. He had very likely been influenced by his own mother, the Lady Adda-Guppi. The Harran Inscription of Nabonidus states:
“I (am) the lady Adda-guppi’, mother of Nabium-na’id, king of Babylon, votaress of the gods Sin, Nin-gal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna, my deities who, from my childhood, have sought after their godheads.”
Thus Belshazzar was a co-regent with his father, leaving the honor of “third place” in the kingdom as the highest reward he could give.
Daniel then recounts the greatness of Belshazzar’s grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. Both secular and biblical history does give testimony to his greatness, as his rule extended over vast portions of the earth.
Daniel then points out that because of the pride of Nebuchadnezzar.
“He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and
his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.”
Then Daniel goes to the heart of the matter in giving the meaning of the vision.
“Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.”
Next was the interpretation of the four words in the handwriting.
"Now this is the inscription that was written out: 'MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.' "This is the interpretation of the message: 'MENE' --God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. "'TEKEL' --you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. "'PERES' --your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians."
This judgment is not given so much for the benefit of Belshazzar, as he is about to die, but was a testimony to all those present that the Lord God of heaven does reign and rule in the affairs of men, and there is a price to pay for ignoring and rejecting him for false gods.
Some wonder why “upharsin” is rendered “peres” in Daniel’s explanation. The word “upharsin” has the same consonants as “peres” in the Aramaic and Hebrew scripts. In these languages, only consonants are used. There are no vowels in the written texts. The sound of vowels is supplied when the speaker utters words. As to why there are different words:
“The verb paras, from whence Peres is derived, as an appellative, signifies to divide, or break: it is likewise the proper name of the Persians, who were to be sharers in the division of the Babylonish empire. Upharshin, in the twenty-fifth verse, is a particle of the verb paras; it literally signifies, And they divide it.” (Patrick/Lowth/Whitby/ Lowman Commentary)
“That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.”
“And Darius the Median took the kingdom, This Darius is said to be of the ‘seed of the Medes,’ Da 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 (Cyrus’) uncle by his 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.” (British Family Bible)
Historical records tell of the fall of Babylon by the Medo-Persian army. The Euphrates river ran through the midst of the city, flowing under the high walls. It is recorded that the Persians dammed up the river, diverting it through channels they dug. During the night of the wild party is when they diverted the river. Then soldiers entered the city under the wall through the empty river channel.
"The writing is scarce sooner interpreted than verified. That very night the city was taken, and Belshazzar slain: taking advantage of this debauch of the king, history informs us, that Cyrus entered the city by the bed of the river, the water of which he had cut off; and the guards being fast asleep, and overcome with wine, made no resistance; so that all the gates being opened, Gadates and Gobryas, two great men, who being ill-used by Belshazzar, had revolted to Cyrus, went directly to the palace and slew the king with all his attendants. Thus ended the Babylonish empire; and Darius the Mede, called also Cyaxares, the uncle of Cyrus, ascended the throne, the first king of the second monarchy. He was sixty-two years old, and consequently was born the year Jechoniah was carried captive, II Kings 24:12. God so ordering, that at the very time his people were sent into Babylon, their deliverer should be provided. Cyrus reigned in conjunction with his uncle; though being the younger, he is not mentioned, and after two years succeeded him in the sole government of the empire, concerning whom so many prophecies had gone before, all which we find he most exactly fulfilled. Thus though God visits his people for their sins, he will not be wroth for ever; and in the darkest day of affliction there is still hope in the end.” (Thomas Haweis)
Surprise Capture During Drunken Feast
“Concerning Babylon’s fall, Jeremiah represented the Lord as saying: “I have laid a snare for you, and you are also taken, O Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:24). The term “snare” suggests that the citizens of the city would be taken by surprise; they “were not aware” of what was happening until it was too late (Jeremiah 50:24b). Herodotus wrote: “Had the Babylonians been apprised of what Cyrus was about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the Persians to enter their city” (I.191).
“One aspect in the rapid conquest of the city had to do with the fact that the Babylonians, in their smug security, were engaged in drunken festivities; thus, they were wholly unconcerned about the enemy beyond their massive walls. But the Lord had declared: “When they are heated, I will make their feast, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, says Jehovah” (Jeremiah 51:39). Again: “And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, her governors and her deputies, and her mighty men; and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, says the King whose name is Jehovah of hosts” (Jeremiah 51:57).
“Herodotus recorded that the citizens of the central section of the city did not know that Babylon had fallen for a good while because “they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling until they learned of the capture” (I.191). Similarly, Xenophon said that “there was a festival in Babylon, in which all the Babylonians drank and reveled the whole night” (VII.5.15). [Wayne Jackson, M.A., "Babylon: A Test Case in Prophecy [Part II]", Apologetics Press].
Thus prophecy was fulfilled, and the first-world kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image came to an end and was replaced by the image’s breast of silver — the Medo-Persian Empire.