DANIEL - Chapter 5 Commentary

Belshazzar (Bel, protect the king) now enters the picture. This person has for years provided some of the more liberal interpreters with a classic case of "biblical error". No such character is documented in any known Babylonian records. Therefore, these persons have concluded that Belshazzar was a figment of the author's imagination. However, numerous relatively recent archaeological discoveries of unearthed tablets that clearly establish not only the existence of Belshazzar but also his association with his father Nabonidus, king of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. and was succeeded by his son, Evil-Merodach (Babylonian Amel-Marduk; 2 Kings 25:27). He was then assassinated by Neriglissar, his own brother-in-law. Neriglissar reigned four years, then died in 556 B.C. He left the throne to his infant son, Labashi-Marduk. After nine months, Labashi-Marduk was deposed by an anti Marduk priestly revolution, and Nabonidus was made king in 556 B.C. Some historians say that Nabonidus was the son of Evil-Merodach (son of Nebuchadnezzar.

It should be said that some history books do not mention Neriglissar and Labash-Marduk. These two add two breaks in ruling than some historical writings. However, Josephus and Berosu, noted historians state that these two as a minimum acted as "king". It is said, sometimes these names are left out because they were not really defined as kings. They may have been something like governors or satraps. Therefore, they would not be mentioned in the regal line.

Nabonidus was a scholar and a worshiper of the moon-god Sin, rather than of Marduk, the god of Babylon who Nebuchadnezzar worshipped. This is the same god that Abraham's father and most likely Abraham (before his experience with God) worshipped. Most of Nabonidus' time was spent in Tema in northern Arabia trying to placate his god, who he believed had been offended. Although Nabonidus was officially king, he left Babylon and the rule to his son Belshazzar in 550 B.C.They ruled as co-regents. Nabonidus had fled, leaving Belshazzar to rule in Babylon. This is the point about 539 B.C. that this chapter starts, some 23-24 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar.

Believing the city to be impregnable (Herodotus says they regarded the Persian siege "with indifference", since they had stocked the city well with provisions), on a day memorializing some noteworthy event, Belshazzar ordered a momentous celebration, which quickly degenerated into a drunken orgy. Remember these celebrations were pagan. They drank straight wine not watered down. The Jews always watered their wine down about 3:1 water: wine. This would allow the Jews to drink a great deal without "feeling it". The Babylonians were satisfying the gods as well as their earthly selves. Amid this celebration the king ordered the use of the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem (previously taken from the Jewish Temple by Nebuchadnezzar) for the drinking of wine and the praising of pagan deities. This would not normally ever be done. It goes to show how drunk the king and others were. According to Herodotus, when the city was taken (by secretly diverting the Euphrates River that ran through it) "there was a festival going on, and they continued to dance and enjoy themselves, until they learned the news the hard way."

The Babylonians were satisfying the gods as well as their earthly selves. Amid this celebration the king ordered the use of the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem (previously taken from the Jewish Temple by Nebuchadnezzar) for the drinking of wine and the praising of pagan deities. This would not normally ever be done. It goes to show how drunk the king and others were. “The pagan,” says Grotius, “thought it a great impiety to convert sacred things to common uses.”

Scripture states that Belshazzar says his father was Nebuchadnezzar. However, Nabonidus was Belshazzar's father. He could be referring to his grandfather as father. This statement may indicate that Belshazzar's mother, the wife of Nabonidus, was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Otherwise, the term "father" may be intended possibly as a father figure or can simply refer to the procession of the throne (Nebuchadnezzar to Evil-Merodach to Nabonidus to Belshazzar). In this case it may indicate that Belshazzar's mother, the wife of Nabonidus, was the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.

The women probably came into the party later. The party started with just the nobles. But as they got more drunk, the brought in the women. Women were usually not allowed at these high level meetings or parties until they felt the women are wanted. After all were drunk, it was time for the women.

They had god for everything. Didn't they?

Suddenly a hand probably appearing or coming out of the wall comes out to be seen. Then it starts writing on the wall. The mention of the candlestick was probably a mention of some of the sacred things brought out. The candlesticks in the Temple were sacred. It was obvious to all this was no trick or human origin; it was a supernatural phenomenon. It is not known what the writing was. It is not known whether the letters were black like ink, or whether the words were engraved into the wall, or just seen as light. It is hard to believe they could understand and see anything as doped up as they were with wine. The reaction the king had was certainly a very obvious reaction to have when one sees a hand only writing on a wall. The king's face grew pale, his mind went tipsy, his legs started to give away, and his knees were knocking.

Belshazzar was terrified. The only thing he could do in which he felt he had confidence was to call all the diviners, magicians, Chaldeans, and anyone else that might be able to help with the meaning of the supernatural action. He calls them in and the same thing happened as happened with Nebuchadnezzar. They could not understand the phenomenon, the language, or the words.. Although there is no writing to that effect, most scholars believe the writing was Hebrew, especially because Daniel could understand. They could not understand it because it was not in the form of the Chaleans. It was written in the form of the Samaritan Pentateuch. That, of course, was Hebrew because Samaria was part of the Northern territory or Israel.

We can be assured Belshazzar knew this was something big and suprenatural. Being in that situation would bring out almost uncontrollable fright. When something like this happens, it was always thought it was a prediction of something in the future. That is why is is extremely worried. Is the phophecy related to him or his possessions or kingdom? His lords were astonished. The Chaldee word means to perplex, disturb, trouble. Almost surely, they were as perplexed and troubled as the king himself.

Here is again a difference in words between the KJV and other versions. In the KJV, the woman is referred to as the queen; while in the other versions, the woman is referred to as the queen -mother. Who was this woman? If the correct transliteration is queen, then she could actually be the wife of Belshazzar. However, she knew so much about Nebuchadnezzar that most critics do not believe she was the queen of Belshazzar. Some scholars believe the woman was Nebuchadnezzar's wife who would, therefore, be Evil-Merodach's mother; who would be Nabonidus' grandmother; who would be Belshazzar's great grandmother. Note the explanations in paragraph 5 notes above. That is why she knew so much about Nebuchadnezzar. There was only about 23 years since the death of Nebuchadnezzar; so, she could easily have been alive. The term queen-mother could be a common term used in the lineage. She could be Belshazzar's mother, who would be Nabonidus' wife. Remember Nabonidus and Belshazzar was co-regents (ruled at the same time - father and son). The closer the lineage gets to Nebuchadnezzar, the more accurate information can be known about Nebbie. This woman was very familiar with the problems Nebuchadnezzar had. Perhaps she would have a solution for Belshazzar because of her knowledge.

The queen-mother was very important and very respected. She usually would have the roam of the palace. She gives a salutation to the king and says not to worry. She probably has a solution to Belshazzar's problem. She says there is person called Daniel who was a great help to Nebuchadnezzar and could help Belshazzar. Daniel has a powerful spirit of God behind him to be able to prophecy and interpret dreams and visions. It is kind of hard to believe that, as powerful a man as Daniel was, Belshazzar had apparantly never met Daniel. To be sure, the woman gave Belshazzar a short history of Daniel and his predictions, readings, and accuracy of same. So Belshazzar summoned Belteshazzar (Daniel) to come immediately to the king.

This vers confirms that the king had never seen Daniel before. He asked whether Daniel was the person responsible for the interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar. He was familiar with the fact that Jews were in the kingdom and were taken from Judah some time ago. The term "father" is again used refering to the lineage, not to the actual father.

Belshazzar notes Daniel's capabilities by the "power of the gods" asks for his help. Besides material things, Belshazzar promises Daniel a post as "third" ruler in the land (vs.16, 29). Why not make him second? The answer verifies again the astonishing accuracy of the biblical materials. Since Nabonidus and Belshazzar were co-regents, Nabonidus was first; Belshazzar was second, and Daniel would have to be third. The king requests a reading of the words on the wall.

Daniel was forgotten at court; he lived privately, and was then about eighty years of age. He spoke to Belshazzar like a condemned criminal. Daniel spurned the offer of gifts from Belshazzar, knowing them to be meaningless. He agreed to interpret the strange writing, and preached to Belshazzar a considerable sermon (vv. 18-23) in which he pointed out the lessons learned by Nebuchadnezzar at the hand of God.All of Daniel's discussion obviously failed to impress Belshazzar.

Daniel acknowledges the king but especially the power and authority God gave and allowed to Nebuchadnezzar, his father. Here again, we have the use of father in terms of the lineage of the king Belshazzar. This was not the time for Daniel to brag about Nebuchadnezzar. Nebbie was a despot and anyone who knew of Nebuchadnezzar knew it. Daniel acknowledges the power, nations, and peoples Nebbie controlled. Everyone feared him because of his character and wickedness. He was led by pagan rituals; he had people killed at his whim. He forced everyone to worship idols or die. All in all, he was not a very nice man.

"He had the absolute power of life and death over them his nations. There was no such instrument as we call a “constitution” to control the sovereign as well as the people; there was no tribunal to which he was responsible, and no law by which he was bound; there were no judges to determine on the question of life and death in regard to those who were accused of crime, whom he did not appoint, and whom he might not remove, and whose judgments he might not set aside if he pleased; there were no “juries” of “peers” to determine on the question of fact whether an accused man was guilty or not. There were none of those safeguards which have been originated to protect the accused in modern times, and which enter so essentially into the notions of liberty now. In an absolute despotism all power is in the hands of one man, and this was in fact the case in Babylon." [Barnes Notes on the Old Testament].

Finally when Nebuchadnezzar's pride raised to such a high level, God put him down, just as God allowed him to get to where he was. Nebuchadnezzar was beginning to think of himself as being greater than the gods (and God). Therefer, he was deposed of his throne and became part of the lowest. He was made insane to live with and as an animal. He lived outside with the animals and ate grass like the donkeys.

All these things that happened to your heritage has not affected your life or your actions at all. You, Belshazzar, are no different. Belshazzar should have known and used this information to help him rule more righteously. But it did not.

Belshazzar had put himself in direct conflict with God. Belshazzar profaned the holy articles when he brought the Nebuchadnezzar captured vessels into Belshazzar's party and drank out or them. That was it. He had dishonored and insulted God.

God knew that Belshazzar was not willing to accept there was a God in heaven. He refused to profit from the mistakes of his predecessor. His pride was supreme in his character. Now he had done even worse things than the preceeding rulers by the sacrilegious use of the vessels of the temple. This showed special contempt for the God of heaven. Then appeared the mysterious handwriting on the wall. It was then appropriate for the Most High God, who had been thus condemned and insulted, to act.

The writing was not in an unknown language, though possibly in an unusual script and perhaps also mixed up as an anagram. But, the mysterious writing on the wall was unintelligible to the Babylonians. The language was Aramaic. There would originally have been no vowels. These were supplied, under the inspiration of God, by Daniel. Without them, the wise men probably read it as as “mina, mina, shekel, and half-shekels,” which made no sense to them. The term mene (Aram.) means “numbered.” Its repetition produces the sense “thoroughly numbered.” or "very numbered". God had set limits on Belshazzar’s kingdom. The term tekel (Aram.) could be a monetary unit corresponding to the Hebrew shekel, or a participle meaning “weighed.” As a verbal form it is unusual and could be a combination of the verbs taqal (Aram.), “weigh,” and qalal (Heb.), “be light.” The final word upharsin (Aram.) could also be a monetary unit, a half-mina or half-shekel, or a plural participle from the verb paras, “divide,” meaning “and divided.” The ambiguity of these terms may explain the wise men’s inability to decipher them. The message of Daniel’s interpretation is that Belshazzar’s kingdom had been numbered for destruction. The king himself is weighed and found wanting. The kingdom was to be taken away and given to the Medes and the Persians. The word for “Persia” had the same consonants as the word for “divide.” In other words, the word paras for divide could also a prediction of the Persians taking over since there are no vowels but the same number of consonants.

Daniel was clothed in scarlet or purple. The gold chain about the neck was an emblem of magisterial authority since he has now been made the third in power. This type of chain and emblem is often thus mentioned in Scripture. Daniel originally refused any awards for interpreting the writing. However, he also knew the limited timing on Belshazzar's rule. Therefore, he took the awards.

While these things were passing in the palace, the army of Cyrus entered the city; and that night Belshazzar was slain, a general submission followed.

Though the city had been under a long siege, the Babylonians thought they were secure, having stored 20 years of supplies and having the Euphrates River flowing through the city. The night of the banquet the enemy had diverted the water of the Euphrates by means of a canal, which enabled the soldiers to enter under the gates. Both Herodotus and Xenophon describe this. The date was October 12, 539 B.C. It is thought the army of Cyrus entered the city; and when Belshazzar was slain, a general submission followed.

This Darius the Mede reference is a little confusing and controversial. He may have been Gubaru, a governor under Cyrus the king of Persia; of Darius may be another name for Cyrus himself; or he may have been Cambyses, son of Cyrus, who served as ruler of Babylon.

Cambyses I was father of Cyrus; Cyrus' son was Cambyses II (ruled Babylon after Cyrus); then Cambyses' successor was Darius. Maybe Darius the Mede was the name of a Median leader working with Cyrus since it was a collaboration of the Medes and the Persians (although Media belonged to Persia at that time) which conquered Babylon. The Medes had possession of Persia for about 70 years. Persia conquered the Medes about 538 B.C. Cyrus died in 530; so he was living for the leadership of Babylon. In fact, historically, Cyrus is given credit for being a peaceful and cooperative king. In 539, after conquering Babylon, he released all the 586 B.C. captives and returned the valuables, taken at that time, back to the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).

The war is not discussed by Daniel. But Isaiah and Jeremiah do: Isa.13, 14, 45, 46, 47.; and Jer. 50, 51.

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