Chapter Five

Belshazzar’s Feast and the Fall of Babylon

Daniel 5:1-2

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem , so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.

About seventy years had elapsed since the capture of Jerusalem recorded in Daniel 1. Nebuchadnezzar had died in 562 B.C. and a number of monarchs had succeeded him. In chapter five we meet King Belshazzar.

Belshazzar had made a great feast. This took place when the Medes and the Persians had conquered the whole surrounding territory of the city of Babylon and the related provinces. Only Babylon with its massive walls and fortifications remained intact. Under the stimulus of wine, the thought occurred to Belshazzar to bring in the gold and silver vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar almost seventy years before.

Daniel 5:3-4

So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them, As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron wood and stone.

Even though Nebuchadnezzar had brought these vessels from Jerusalem to Babylon, he had kept them in his temple and had never used them out of respect. Sadly, Belshazzar did not carry the same respect for these vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had shown, for these holy vessels were removed from the temple and distributed among the crowd to be used as vessels from which to drink wine. This act was a put down of the God of Israel while the gods of Babylon were praised, the “gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Their pride in their deities may have been bolstered by the greatness of the city of Babylon itself, which they saw as evidence of the power of their gods. But then the God of Israel spoke as we can read in:

Daniel 5:5-9

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way. The king called for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain places around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So king Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

While the feast was in progress, there appeared the fingers of a man’s hand which wrote on the plastered wall of the palace. The effect upon the king and his associates was immediate: his countenance became pale; he was filled with terror. He immediately demanded that the wise men come to interpret the writing and promised to anyone who would be able to read and interpret the writing the position of third ruler in the kingdom. None of the so-called wise men assembled could read the writing or interpret it. Was there a truly wise man in their midst?

Let’s read Daniel 5:10-24

The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “O king, live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father – your father the king, I say – appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.” So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means. O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendour. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. But you his son, O Belsahzzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who hold in His hand your life and all your ways. Therefore He sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”

Daniel, who was probably in semi-retirement at that time, was called to appear before the king. And God gave Daniel understanding and Belshazzar, possibly for the first time in his life, was willing to listen. In addressing the king, Daniel first of all reminded Belshazzar of all that had happened to Nebuchadnezzar. You could say that Daniel lectured the king on the facts of the past, in a way saying to the king, “King, you should have known better for you have had the privilege of knowing what has happened to Nebuchadnezzar in relation to the God of Israel. You have heard how the God of Israel dealt with Nebuchadnezzar and that should have humbled you but you have not done so. Instead you have completely put aside everything you were taught about this God and continued worshipping your own gods. Moreover, despite all you have known, you have shown great disrespect for these sacred vessels, a disrespect Nebuchadnezzar never showed”. It is very clear from the words Daniel used when addressing this king that he did not have the respect for him that he had for his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel then continued in:

Daniel 5:25-28

“This is the inscription that was written:MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. This is what these words mean: MENE: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. TEKEL: you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. PERES (PARSIN): Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.”

Daniel next moved on to read the writing, which read “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” and to interpret the writing. The word “Mene” means “numbered” and Daniel interpreted this word as indicating that God had numbered Belshazzar’s kingdom and it was coming to an end. The word “Tekel”  means “weighed” and indicates that Belshazzar had been put into the balance and found wanting, that is short of true weight. The word “Peres” (“Parsin”) means “divided”. Belshazzar was made to understand that Babylon would be given to the Medes and the Persians. As promised the king rewarded Daniel as we can read in:

Daniel 5:29-30

Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

Belshazzar, true to his word, proclaimed Daniel third ruler of the kingdom. His honours, as Daniel well knew, were short-lived and useless for, “that very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain” and Darius the Mede became ruler of Babylon.

Chapter Six