BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST

AND

THE HANDWRITING ON THE WALL

DANIEL 5

 

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5:1-4

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. 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.

We move ahead some years now, down to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar's grandson, Belshazzar. The Bible is often ridiculed when profane secular history doesn't seem to back it up. Such was the case concerning this man, Belshazzar, until the discovery of the Nabonidus Cylinder and other findings published by Raymond Daugherty.

 

A photograph of the archaeological Nabonidus Cylinder on which Belshazzar is named.

 

"The Nabonidus Cylinder from Sippar is a long text in which king Nabonidus of Babylonia (556-539 BC) describes how he repaired three temples: the sanctuary of the moon god Sin in Harran, the sanctuary of the warrior goddess Anunitu in Sippar, and the temple of Šamaš in Sippar. But it is most significant because it proves the existence of a son named Belshezzar, who is mentioned in the Book of Daniel." Wikipedia

May I "chase a rabbit" with you here for a moment? Secular history is often called "profane history" because historians write their works with a bias and have been known to get their facts mixed up ... and even to lie. However, the inspired Word of God is true and reliable in every detail. In fact, it has proved so reliable that I know of no unbiased modern scholar who seriously questions the historicity of the Bible. So, it is important to keep in mind that profane history doesn't corroborate the Bible ... rather, where applicable, the Bible corroborates profane history.

Coming back to our text, Nabonidus and his son, Belshazzar, reigned together. They were one king away from Nebuchadnezzar. Evil-Merodach had ruled before them. Both he and Nabonidus had married daughters of Nebuchadnezzar. Nabonidus was gone a lot and his son, Belshazzar, reigned in his absence. Apparently, it was during one of his absences that Belshazzar got the bright idea of getting out the sacred gold and silver goblets that his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the temple at Jerusalem. He wanted to show them off and use them for eating and drinking purposes at his party. To compound his transgression, as they drank, he and his guests began to praise the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone as they partied. Now, keep in mind, that those vessels belonged to the one and only true Lord God. They weren't the Jews' possessions ... they were God's possessions. That's why I called them sacred. Belshazzar, and his guests, were playing with fire but were too ignorant to know it. They would shortly be educated, however.

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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 out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed 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.

 

A painting in which a horrified Belshazzar is standing up from his banqueting table
 to look at the handwriting on the wall.

 

One can only imagine the sudden change that came over Belshazzar's banqueting hall when that hand appeared and began to write on the wall! Doubtless, the noise ceased. The tinkle and click of utensils stopped. The music stopped and the talking and laughter were replaced by silence.  Belshazzar himself turned stone sober and pale and couldn't stand up ... for fear. Hebrews 10:31 comes to mind here, does it not?

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 

Belshazzar had stepped over the line. He had been cocky and blasphemous. When his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken these sacred objects from God's temple at Jerusalem, he had stored them. His grandson, under the influence of alcohol, did what his grandfather wouldn't have dreamed of doing ... using these sacred vessels that had been dedicated to the one true God (I Kings 6), for eating and drinking utensils and to toast dead, lifeless idols. Immediately, judgment on Belshazzar and his kingdom was pronounced. Then, it was just a matter of carrying it out. The wise men were called in to decipher the words the hand had written on the wall, but none could do so.

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5:10-23

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 splendor. 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 Belshazzar, 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 honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.'

Word of this extraordinary event spread like wildfire throughout the palace. The Queen mother, Nitocris, Nebuchadnezzar's wife and Belshazzar's grandmother, rushed to the Hall. Her quick analysis and immediate advice was ... Call for Daniel. Daniel was summoned and, when he arrived, he didn't mince words. Belshazzar wanted an interpretation ... but he got a sermon. Daniel struck at Belshazzar's pride, his neglect of the truth, his sensuality and his idolatry. You knew what happened to your grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. How he was humbled. How he learned to acknowledge that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men but you chose to ignore that great truth and deliberately did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.

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5:24-28

Daniel continued,

'Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. 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: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'

 

 

 

A depiction of the handwriting on the wall.

 

Even if Belshazzar's court diviners could have made out the consonants of the four words on the wall, they would not have known what vowel points to give them. And, had they been able to correctly do that ... the actual interpretation of the meaning would have escaped them also. It took Daniel to do both ... and Daniel, no doubt, had been in touch with his God about it. He deciphered and interpreted the writing as follows:

mene "numbered" "counted out" "measured"

teqel  "weighed" (Daniel interpreted this as a passive participle)

peras "divided" (Again, Daniel interpreted this as a passive participle)

Belshazzar's reign as king, and also his empire, Babylon, were finished. Not because they were no longer great and powerful ... but because the God of Heaven had decreed it so. Belshazzar was aware that, at that very moment, just outside the city, the Median General, Gobryas, was besieging his city. But, was completely at easy in the comfort of the security of Babylon's wall? Babylon's great wall was a formidable bastion of defense. Standing three hundred feet high, it protected over fifteen square miles of the city. Four chariots could ride abreast on its top. Belshazzar probably thought, Am I not I King over all the known civilized world? Is not Babylon invulnerable. Is not my father and his battalions out subjugating any nit-picking disturbances?" Too bad he had never read Psalm 127:1,

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

By the way, Jeremiah the prophet had prophesied that the Babylonian Kingdom would end in the days of Nebuchadnezzar's grandson and the Word of God cannot be broken.

Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. Jeremiah 27:6-7

Now, that day had come.

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5:29-31

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.

Too little ... too late. This action by Belshazzar was an effort to appease the God of Daniel. Ordinarily, if a prophet had said such negative and insulting things to this king, that prophet would have been put to death. But, Daniel was praised and exalted. Belshazzar and all his court had witnessed the supernatural, you see. And, the hand writing on the wall was still before them.

Secular history records the date and circumstances of the fall of Babylon that occurred that very night ... along with the execution of Belshazzar. According to history, Belshazzar continued his reveling and partying and the whole city had fallen to the Medes before the palace heard about it. His father, Nabonidus, fled and Darius the Mede took the city without a fight. If you would like to read up on more of the details of it, Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein's account in The Expositor's Bible Commentary would be a good source.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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