The Book of Daniel (6)

Chapter 5

Belshazzar's Feast

Historically, chapter 5 comes after chapter 7, and is dated by
the death of Belshazzar, the last of the Babylonian kings; the
capturing of Babylon by Cyrus, and the transfer of power to
Darius the Median, i.e. Astyages the king of the Medes and
Persians. This monarch is called Ahasuerus in the Book of
Esther, whom he married, and Artaxerxes in the Books of Ezra
and Nehemiah.

'Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his
lords, and drank wine before the thousand. 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.

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.

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of
brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone' (verses 1-4).

In verse 2, Nebuchadnezzar is called his 'father', whereas
really he was his grandfather. His father was Nabonidus, and of
course the critics have tried to make capital out of this. As,
however, there is no equivalent for our English word
'grandfather' in either Chaldee or Hebrew, what other word
could Daniel have used? In point of fact this word is also used
for 'ancestor', as there is no other word for that either (see
Jeremiah 27:7).

This banqueting hall has actually been discovered by
archaeologists. It must have been a magnificent room, measuring
sixty feet by one hundred and seventy-two feet long with
beautifully decorated walls. Here it was that the vessels of the
temple taken away from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar were
desecrated by Belshazzar and his licentious cronies. His father,
Nabonidus, had left his son as co-regent and taken a military
expedition against Cyrus who was attacking Babylon at this time.
Evidently, instead of looking to the defences of the city, he was
carousing in a drunken orgy.

'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

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' (verses 5,6).

As Nebuchadnezzar had done before him, Belshazzar called in
all his wise men to interpret the writing, with promises of
promotion, but again they could not, and the king's countenance
'was changed in him, and his lords were astonied

This blasphemous young king, so boastful in his cups, was
reduced to a shaking jelly by a deadly fear at the mysterious
message written on the wall by the fingers of a hand. He cried
aloud for the soothsayers and astrologers to come and explain the
words written, for to him they made no sense, but filled him with
impending doom. They, too, were unable to put a meaning to the
strange message.

'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. 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; O now let Daniel be called, and he will shew
the interpretation' (verses 10-12).

This queen, who had taken no part in the blasphemous
carousals, could well have been a wife of Nebuchadnezzar,
grandmother of Belshazzar. She would well remember Daniel, so
he was brought before the king who began by telling him he had
heard of his excellent wisdom in making known interpretations,
and dissolving doubts. If Daniel could read this writing and
interpret it, Belshazzar would make him the third ruler in his

Daniel, with true spiritual nobility, refused the honours
heaped upon him, and bluntly reminded the young king of
Nebuchadnezzar's pride and humbling:

'When his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride,
he was deposed from his kingly throne O till he knew that the most
high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that He appointeth
over it whomsoever He will.

And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart,
though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the
Lord of heaven O and the God in Whose hand thy breath is, and
Whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.

Then was the part of the hand sent from Him; and this writing
was written' (verses 20-24).

The words written 'MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN'
were ordinary Chaldee words, and would be known both by
Belshazzar and the wise men. It was their significance that both
baffled them and filled the king with terror.

'MENE': This word has already occurred six times in the
book of Daniel in chapters 1, 2 and 3, where it is translated
'ordained', 'set' and 'appoint'. It is possible that when the
king and his wise men looked at this word 'MENE', they could
have associated it with the Syrian god of that name, which meant
the god of destiny. In Isaiah 65:11,12, we read:

'But ye are they that forsake the LORD, that forget My holy
mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the
drink offering unto that number. Therefore will I number you to
the sword ...'.

The words 'that troop' are a translation of the Hebrew 'Gad',
which was a well-known Syrian god of 'Fate'; and 'that
number' is in Hebrew 'MENI', the same as the god 'MANU'
of the Assyrian inscriptions. Where in verse 12 we read
'Therefore will I number you to the sword', in Hebrew the word
'number' is 'MANITHI', and is quite obviously a play upon
words, or in a figure of speech a 'paronomasia', where a double
meaning is intended. We read in verse 26 of Daniel 5 -- 'God
hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it'.

'TEKEL': This is the Chaldee equivalent to the Hebrew
'SHAKAL', to weigh, from which comes the weight -- shekel.

'Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting'
(verse 27).

'PERES': If we look at verse 25, the actual writing on the
wall was the Chaldee word 'UPHARSIN'. Why then does
Daniel interpret this word as 'PERES'? C.H. Welch explains:

'The actual words translated as they stand are "Numbered,

numbered, weighed, and divided". "And" is represented by the
letter "u", and this letter coming before the letter "p" softens
it, making it for the time being "ph". The letters in are merely
an ending, ... as "ing" in dividing ... Daniel ... omitted the vav,
"and", let the "ph" go back to "p", omitted the ending "in", and
took the true word peres' (The Berean Expositor, Vol.20,

Now just as Isaiah used the word 'MENI' as a play upon
words, so does Daniel here, for the word PERES is the name for
PERSIAN. He reveals therefore by whom the kingdom was to be
divided, and we read in verses 28-31:

'Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
And Darius the Median took the kingdom'.

Just as Belshazzar was co-regent with his father Nabonidus,
so Cyrus, the son of Darius the king of Persia, was acting in a
like capacity at this time. Unlike Belshazzar, however, Cyrus
was commanding the Persian army in the assault on Babylon, and
in Isaiah and Jeremiah his amazing victory is recorded.

'Thus saith the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right
hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose
the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the
gates shall not be shut ...

For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel Mine elect, I have
even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou
hast not known Me' (Isa. 45:1-4).

'I will loose the loins of kings', says God, an idiom used for
'becoming weak, filled with terror', (compare Belshazzar's
condition in Daniel 5:6!). Then in Jeremiah chapter 51, which
prophesied the destruction of the then mighty Babylon, we read in
verse 11 -- 'the LORD hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the
Medes: for His device is against Babylon, to destroy it'. Then in
verses 30 and 31, 'The mighty men of Babylon have forborn to
fight ... their might hath failed ... to shew the king of Babylon that
his city is taken at one end (rather, at EACH end)'.

The historian Herodotus tells us that the Babylonians retired
into their city to face the siege. Cyrus however, diverted the
waters of the river Euphrates on which the city was situated. He
entered it on the dry river bed at each end, and there was not even
a pitched battle. A tablet is said to exist today which records this
masterly strategy in the following words:

'On the 16th day of Tammuz, Gobryas, governor of the land of
Gutium, and army commander of Cyrus, without fighting to
Babylon descended'.

Who can fathom the overruling power of our God? God is the
God of heaven and earth, He ruleth in the kingdom of men and
giveth it to whomsoever He will. Today He is silent, and will be
so until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Yet He has never
vacated His throne, nor ceased to guide and overrule. There will
come a time when He will take up His dealings with His people
Israel, and will come and reign over the earth and over the
heavens, and all His purposes will be accomplished.