DANIEL CHAPTER 5.
Belshazzar’s Feast and End.
THE FEAST AND THE HANDWRITING. — V. 1. Belshazzar, the king, the son of Nabonidus, either natural or adopted, and coregent with him, apparently the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, made a great feast to a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand, the banquet becoming a drunken orgy. He was in command of the capital at that time and excelled in most of the vices for which Oriental rulers were known. V. 2. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, sitting before them on a platform or dais, when he had just gotten under the influence of the wine’s intoxicating power, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father, or grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the Temple which was in Jerusalem, cp. Jer. 52, 19; 2 Kings 25, 14-17, that the king and his princes, the foremost nobles of the realm, his wives and his concubines, whose presence at the royal banquets is mentioned also by secular historians, might drink therein, using them to parade their drunken mockery. V. 3. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the Temple of the house of God, out of the Sanctuary proper, which was at Jerusalem; and the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, drank in them. This act can in no wise be excused or condoned, not even as an act of religion, as a libation to the God of the Jews: it was a deed of reckless profanity. V. 4. They drank wine and, in their intoxicated condition, praised the gods of gold and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. It was thus essentially an exaltation of their idols above Jehovah, of whom they thought that they had conquered Him in battle; but the prophet indicates the vanity of their idols by enumerating the materials of which they were made. V. 5. In the same hour, suddenly, while they were still in the midst of their drunken revelry, came forth fingers of a man’s hand and wrote, or were writing, over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, which had no paneling or tapestry; and the king saw the part of the hand, the extremity of the moving fingers, that wrote. “Upon a spot of the wall which was particularly exposed to the light from the lamp above the king, he suddenly beheld the mysterious and terrifying phenomenon of the hand engaged in writing.” V. 6. Then the king’s countenance was changed, literally, “Then the king, his color was changed unto him,” and his thoughts troubled him, as his guilty conscience filled him with terror, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, they no longer possessed the strength to hold the body together firmly, and his knees smote one against another, his terror causing him to lose control of them entirely. “How changed the scene from the glee of his blasphemous revelry to this paleness of cheek, convulsion of frame, remorse of conscience, and dread foreboding of doom! Many a sinner has had a like experience, and other thousands must have it!” (Cowles.) V. 7. The king cried aloud, his terror causing him to raise his voice with might, to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, that is, all the wisest men of the realm. And the king spake and said to the wise men of Babylon, as many as followed his summons at once, Whosoever shall read this writing and show me the interpretation thereof, explaining its meaning and applying its significance, shall be clothed with scarlet, with the costly purple garments worn by Oriental rulers, and have a chain of gold about his neck, this golden necklace serving as the mark of special favor from the king, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom, occupying the highest position in the realm, next to its emperor and coregent. V. 8. Then came in all the king’s wise men, one after the other appearing in agreement with his summons; but they could not read the writing nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. In other words, they had to confess their complete failure. V. 9. Then, on account of the utter inability of the wise men to give him the desired information, was King Belshazzar greatly troubled, he was filled with deepest apprehension and trepidation, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied, not only being filled with alarm, but also with confusion, which showed itself in excited movements. “None retained their places; a general uproar ensued; groups were formed; and the people talked and ran hither and thither to no purpose.” V. 10. Now the queen, the queen mother, or dowager, very likely the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, the sound of which, as they raised their voices in their excitement, penetrated to her apartments, came into the banquet house; and the queen spake and said, O king, live forever! the customary address in her mouth detracting in no way from the quiet dignity of her coming. Let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed, by the worry and terror inspired by the mysterious writing on the wall. V. 11. There is a man in thy kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods, the queen-mother thus repeating the very language of Nebuchadnezzar, chap. 4, 8. 9. 18; and in the days of thy father, or grandfather, 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, the repetition serving to give her words greater emphasis, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers, chap. 4, 9, v. 12. forasmuch as an excellent spirit, a most extraordinary talent, and knowledge and understanding, interpreting of dreams and showing of hard sentences, giving the explanation of riddles and conundrums, and dissolving of doubts, literally, “untying knots,” that is, finding the solutions of the most intricate problems, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now, let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation. “As Daniel was probably, according to Oriental custom, deprived of the office to which Nebuchadnezzar had promoted him, as master of the magicians, at the king’s death, although he may still have remained in the service of the state, Belshazzar might easily have been ignorant of his services.” V. 13. Then was Daniel brought in before the king; summoned to appear without delay. 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, or grandfather, brought out of Jewry? The question was intended merely to fix the identity of Daniel beyond the slightest doubt and as such required no answer. V. 14. I have even heard of thee that the spirit of the gods is in thee, the king omitting the adjective “holy” which the queen-mother had used, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. V. 15. And, now, the wise men, the astrologers, the soothsayers only being mentioned as representing the entire class of wise men of the kingdom, have been brought in before me that they should read this writing and make known unto me the interpretation thereof; but they could not show the interpretation of the thing, they could not give the explanation of the words on the wall; v. 16. and I have heard of thee that thou canst make interpretations and dissolve doubts, untie the hardest knots. 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 promise made earlier in the evening in a more general way thus being applied to Daniel alone. Like Belshazzar, the unbelievers are often troubled by the terrors of an evil conscience and readily have recourse to almost any solution which offers in order to know their fate or to gain peace of mind.
THE INTERPRETATION AND THE FULFILMENT. — V. 17. Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards, the presents which he intended as a fee to Daniel, to another, the prophet of Jehovah rejecting everything which might afterwards be construed as having influenced him in his message; yet I will read the writing unto the king and make known to him the interpretation, as an act of loyalty to both the earthly ruler and the heavenly Sovereign; for he intended to speak without reservation, no matter whether the result would please or displease the king. V. 18. O thou king, the formal and solemn address bringing out the importance of the message from the outset and placing its entire import into direct relation to the king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar, thy father, a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor, far above that enjoyed by Belshazzar; v. 19. and for the majesty that He gave him, the imperial authority and supremacy which he enjoyed, all people, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him, were in a constant state of fear and trepidation lest they incur his displeasure; whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive, being the absolute master of life and death; and whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down, for both the advancement and the demotion of the subjects of his realm were matters of his whim. V. 20. But, that is, in spite of this unexampled position of power, when his heart was lifted up and his mind hardened in pride, so that he thought he could deal proudly, with an utter disregard of the will of the Lord, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him, as related in chapter 4; v. 21. and he was driven from the sons of men, excluded from their society, and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses, this picturesque item being added for the sake of further embellishment of the narrative; 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, that is, until he gave all honor and glory to the true God alone. The lesson of this story is now driven home. V. 22. And thou, his son, or grandson, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, not having profited by the example of his relative, though thou knewest all this, v. 23. but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven, in blasphemous pride; and they have brought the vessels of His house, of the Temple of Jehovah, the one true God, 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, cp. Deut. 4, 28; Ps. 115, 5 ff.; Ps. 135, 15 ff.; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, the one Creator and Ruler of the universe hast thou not glorified, as was the solemn duty resting upon him. V. 24. Then was the part of the hand, the outstretched fingers of the writing hand, sent from Him, and this writing was written, to announce the doom which was now inevitable. V. 25. And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN, literally, “numbered, numbered, weighed, and divided.” V. 26. This is the interpretation of the thing, of the writing on the wall: MENE, God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it, that is, the duration of Belshazzar’s kingship, of his reign, was now determined, brought to the end assigned to it. V. 27. TEKEL: Thou art weighed in the balances, namely, in those of God’s righteousness and justice, his character analyzed according to the demands of God’s holiness, and art found wanting, below weight in moral worth and capacity. V. 28. PERES: Thy kingdom is divided, severed, cut into two pieces, and given to the Medes and Persians, the Lord Himself making the division. V. 29. Then commanded Belshazzar, in accordance with his promise, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, with royal purple, 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, next in power to Nabonidus and Belshazzar. Even if this proclamation was made in the banquet hall only, it reached the representatives of the entire kingdom who were there assembled. V. 30. In that night was Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, slain, namely, when his city was taken by the victorious armies of the enemy, who took the city as the result of a ruse. V. 31. And Darius, the Median, took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old. We have evidence from secular sources also that Darius, the Mede, whose other name was Gobryas, received from Cyrus, his overlord, the kingdom of Belshazzar, the Chaldean, which constituted a small part of the empire of the Persians at that time.3) As is indicated in this story, the hand of God has often interfered with the blasphemous works of the unbelievers, so that all their laughter was turned to the bitterest sorrow. And all God’s judgments here in time are but faint preambles introducing the last great Day of Judgment with its condemnation of the godless.