Introduction 1-4 The Great Feast of Belshazzar 5 The Writing Fingers 6-9 Reaction of Belshazzar 10-12 The Queen Remembers Daniel 13-16 Belshazzar Lets Daniel Come 17-21 Daniel Points Belshazzar to Nebuchadnezzar 22-24 The Charge Against Belshazzar 25-28 The Inscription and Its Meaning 29-30 Belshazzar Slain 31 The Empire of the Medes and the Persians

The events in the previous chapters took place under the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar. Under him the Babylonian empire grew and became a great unity. Nebuchadnezzar died in the year 562 BC after a government of forty-three years. In the following years, until the conquest of Babel by Cyrus in the year 539 BC, this empire was characterized by an ever-increasing decline and murder. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Evil-Merodach (2Kgs 25:27-3027Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh [day] of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he became king, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison;28and he spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the throne of the kings who [were] with him in Babylon.29Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life; 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion for each day, all the days of his life.; Jer 52:31-3431Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the [first] year of his reign, showed favor to Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison.32Then he spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the thrones of the kings who [were] with him in Babylon.33So Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes, and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life.34For his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king of Babylon, a daily portion all the days of his life until the day of his death.), who ruled for only two years, from 562-560 BC. His reign came to an end because he was murdered by the son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar, Nergal-Sharezer (Jer 39:3,133Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came in and sat down at the Middle Gate: Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, Sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer [the] Rab-mag, and all the rest of the officials of the king of Babylon.13So Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard sent [word], along with Nebushazban the Rab-saris, and Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the leading officers of the king of Babylon;). This man ruled for four years.

According to non-biblical history he was succeeded by his son who was murdered after a few months of government. Nabonidus then becomes king over Babel. He ruled seventeen years, from 556-539 BC. Belshazzar was his eldest son. He was the co-regent of his father. That explains why in the first verse of Daniel 5 he is called ‘king’ and exercises royal authority, while Nabonidus is the real king. (This overview of the history of Babel is taken from DAS ALTE TESTAMENT erklärt und ausgelegt (THE OLD TESTAMENT explained and interpreted) by Jn F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Band 3.

Regarding Nabonidus is still told that he may have been in exile for several years. Belshazzar has not only been fellow regent, but also king. Reportedly, Nabonidus was married to a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. This means that Belshazzar is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar and explains why Nebuchadnezzar is spoken of as “his father” (verse 22When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.) and why Belshazzar speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as “my father” (verse 1313Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?; cf. Jer 27:77All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant.).

Historically, in this chapter we have the end of the Babylonian empire. Prophetically, we see in this chapter a picture of the end of the Roman Empire at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Also we see in the person of Daniel a type of the faithful remnant of Israel in the end times, with whom are wisdom and understanding. We have the example in this that we must be characterized by wisdom and understanding, because we also live in an end time. In this we find ourselves as individuals, a remnant, who want to remain faithful to God’s Word and support it. We can, if all goes well, also explain that Word to those who have questions about the end time.

The Great Feast of Belshazzar

1Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which [was] in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

In this chapter the decline of the Babylonian empire finds its lowest point. This low point is linked to the high point of revolt against God. In this chapter we find an unprecedented form of defamation and defiance of God. In addition, Babel is surrounded by the armies of the Medes and Persians who are about to capture the city. In view of this death threat, Belshazzar is organizing a huge party. He mocks God and death. It is the attitude of “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1Cor 15:32b32If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.; Isa 22:12-1312Therefore in that day the Lord GOD of hosts called [you] to weeping, to wailing,
To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth.
13Instead, there is gaiety and gladness,
Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep,
Eating of meat and drinking of wine:
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

Belshazzar’s whole attitude shows a deep contempt for God. In it he drags his entire kingdom with him to destruction. To the glory of himself he surrounds himself with a large number of rulers to show them precisely what daredevilry he is capable of. He is the pacesetter in the empty fun, he is the greatest party beast. Everyone must follow him and do like him. This does not change the fact that his rulers are all responsible for their own behavior. They let themselves go together with Belshazzar in their debauchery.

Belshazzar’s mind, darkened by sin, comes into even deeper darkness through the use of wine. In this total eclipse, sin is led to a low point. Belshazzar is going to violate the holy things of God in a way that the holy is profaned in the most shameful way. The sacred vessels intended by God to honor Him must be collected to serve the satisfaction of one’s own desires. He consciously chooses from all the captured objects the objects that come from the temple in Jerusalem. With this he and all his fellow partygoers grieve God at the deepest. It is an unprecedented insult.

The holy is taken here by the dogs (cf. Mt 7:66“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.). This not only deeply grieves the heart of God. It also goes like a sword through the soul of His people. The heart of His people is very attached to these sacred vessels (Jer 27:1818But if they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, let them now entreat the LORD of hosts that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon.). When the exiles are soon to be allowed to return to their country, their main concern is to bring the temple utensils with them (Ezra 1:77Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods;).

For us it is similar. Don’t we feel deep pain and indignation when people mock the Lord Jesus, the Holy One of God? Doesn’t it cut through us when a sacred institution like the marriage between man and woman with the sexuality that goes with it is reduced by men to a disgusting union between people of the same sex, in which sexuality becomes nothing but satisfaction of lusts?

Such practices are praised and promoted. It is attributed to the god of freedom. Freedom must exist in all areas. Each terrain has its own god. All kinds of gods have got a grip on the thinking of man who has been ransacked from God and knock Him off. The ideas that arise in the through and through polluted minds of people must be given space to be experienced in life. Experience your ideal! Make true what you want and feel! You live now. Therefore live the life you want to live. Feel free to use others for this, even if they break down. Abuse what is dear to others, even if it deeply hurts them. It’s about your ‘happiness’, your ‘right’ to happiness, isn’t it?

At the feast of Belshazzar everyone participates in the contempt of what is of God. All the rulers and also the women and concubines of the king do as he does. We recognize this in today’s world. Many prominent people, often with important positions in society, are under the spell of people who are just a little more powerful than they are. They join in what such people organize and venture to do. They see what those powerful and influential figures do and they love it. That’s what they want too: to impress others. Anything that is somewhat honorable must receive its end. Bragging, vulgar language is expressed, the sexual morality is crushed by debauched, repulsive behavior.

By praising “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” Belshazzar makes it a matter between God and the idols. It is no longer ‘merely’ a matter of satisfying carnal lusts, it is now a matter of worshipping the demons that lie behind these material gods. He attributes to them the victory they would have gained over the only true God to Whose objects he is offending.

We must remember that a struggle between demons and God is not a struggle between good and evil powers that would be at each other’s risk. Demons can only move within the limits God has set for them. To attribute to demons a power that would be equal to the power of God is foolishness, let alone attribute to them a power that would be greater than that of God.

As soon as the revelers glorify their gods, God enters the king’s palace in the most exalted way and in the least form, and gives them judgment. His appearance is crushing and extinguishes all revelry.

The Writing Fingers

5Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing.

When Belshazzar and the whole reveling company let the cups go around, suddenly fingers of a man’s hand appear writing something on the wall. It will have become dead quiet. The deathly silence is not the result of an ear-extinguishing thunderclap or a blinding lightning bolt. Nor does an angel appear with a sword to kill them all. It is only “the fingers of a man’s hand” which write something on the plastered wall, “opposite the lampstand”, that is, in the full light, so that all can read it.

The finger with which God has written for His people the two tablets of the law (Exo 31:1818When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.; Deu 9:1010The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them [were] all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.), now writes the judgment of Babylon and Belshazzar on the wall of the royal palace. God’s written Word is sufficient to frighten the most proud and rebellious sinners to death.

The king sees the part of the hand that writes, but he does not see Whose hand it is, which makes the scene even more frightening. We can say that in creation we see a part of God’s hand. To say it with Job, we see “the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him! (Job 26:1414“Behold, these are the fringes of His ways;
And how faint a word we hear of Him!
But His mighty thunder, who can understand?”
). God’s finger is the finger of power.

We see His power in creation when we look at the sky called by David “the work of Your fingers” (Psa 8:33When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
). We also see God’s power in the judgment when Moses, on behalf of God, brings the third plague over Egypt. With his staff he strikes the dust of the earth, which becomes gnats in the whole country of Egypt. The magicians say to the pharaoh: “This is the finger of God (Exo 8:1919Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.). “By the finger of God” the Lord Jesus casts out the demons (Lk 11:2020But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.). The finger of God means the Holy Spirit, as is apparent from the parallel place in Matthew 12 (Mt 12:2828But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.).

It has rightly been noted that if all these are characteristics of God’s finger, what will happen when He moves His hand and His arm? Shall we not be even more impressed by His actions? And if we are so impressed by a small part of His Being, how big He is in His Person?

Reaction of Belshazzar

6Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together. 7The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me shall be clothed with purple and [have] a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third [ruler] in the kingdom.” 8Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew [even] paler, and his nobles were perplexed.

When the king sees the fingers, it is immediately over with his intoxication. The yelling crowd, who may be drinking with much hurray shouting because of the expected downfall of Cyrus and his army, is suddenly struck with muteness. The frenzied cheerfulness turns into extreme horror. The music stops playing, the dancers stand motionless, the waiters who run back and forth between the bar and the various tables with their drinks full of leaves, don’t move a step anymore. They all stare at the wall.

Belshazzar becomes terrified to death. Why? He cannot even read what it says, let alone know its meaning. Why, for example, does he not see it as a good omen? It is because he has no peaceful conscience. This is an event that is completely beyond his reach. He has to deal with a power over which he has no control. His face changes color, which means that all the color pulls away and the appearance becomes pale.

At the same time his thoughts terrify him. He is addressed directly in his conscience. He is placed before a power far above him whom he never wanted to take into account, but to whom he is accountable. Further on in this chapter Daniel tells him that he is a warned man, but who has ignored the warnings (verse 2222Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this,).

What he sees also has a reaction on his body. Not only does the color pull away from his face, all the power to go and stand is gone. All those supporters who now still dare to say with a big mouth that they will tell God what they think of it when they stand before Him, will have the same experience.

When he has recovered somewhat from the first shock, he is back in control of his voice. He calls all his demon servants to him. He calls aloud, because the matter is urgent. They have to tell him what is on the wall and what it means. He promises a rich reward if they give him the interpretation. That the interpreter will be the third in the kingdom means the third after Nabonidus as king and Belshazzar as fellow regent. The fact that Belshazzar is promising this high post as reward shows how keen he is to know the interpretation.

But it is as with the two dreams of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:2-112Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.3The king said to them, “I had a dream and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream.”4Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic: “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.”5The king replied to the Chaldeans, “The command from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap.6But if you declare the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and a reward and great honor; therefore declare to me the dream and its interpretation.”7They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will declare the interpretation.”8The king replied, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm,9that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation.”10The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has [ever] asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.11Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with [mortal] flesh.”; 4:77Then the magicians, the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners came in and I related the dream to them, but they could not make its interpretation known to me.): What comes from God cannot be interpreted by idolaters. All the sages do not know what the writing means. If his wise men do not know the answer, it causes new horror and growing even paler. The rulers are also panicking. Their large number – they are with a thousand men – does not give them any hope of victory. To the power they face, numbers are nothing. What do numbers mean to Him to Whom “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and … as a speck of dust on the scales” (Isa 40:1515Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.

The Queen Remembers Daniel

10The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans [and] diviners. 12[This was] because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”

The horror of the king and his nobles penetrates to the queen, probably the queen-mother. In any case, she is not one of his wives, because they are all present in the party room (verse 22When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which [was] in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.). When we hear how she addresses Belshazzar, it reinforces the idea that we are dealing with the queen-mother. Only she can address the king as she does. She is probably the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.

She greets him with the usual greeting. The greeting “live forever” sounds extra harsh here. After all, Belshazzar only has a few hours left to live. Then she reassures him. He doesn’t have to be afraid, because she knows someone who can help him. Then she tells about Daniel and how he has been of great use to Nebuchadnezzar. She also tells him about the esteem Nebuchadnezzar had for him. If Nebuchadnezzar had such an appreciation for Daniel, then that is a special recommendation to let him be summoned.

Then she gives an impressive testimony of the special qualities of Daniel. It has become clear to everyone that in him “an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams” are present. These qualities cannot be seen, but must be evident from what someone says or does. He is a man who explains enigmas and solves difficult problems.

Everything she says about Daniel is not exaggerated. Daniel has an excellent record of service. She can only recommend him to the king. If he has this man brought, he will give him the interpretation of the writing. She does not doubt it, but puts it as a certainty. She knows him too well for that.

The testimony of the queen about Daniel has something to tell us. Do the people who live in the world and are in fear about certain events know us as believers who can interpret those events by means of God’s Word? Can people be referred to us? As long as there are people like Daniel, others do not have to despair. We know God’s thoughts and can make them known. In all despair we can point to God and tell how things will go in the world. As long as there are people like Daniel in the world, there is hope for the few.

Belshazzar Lets Daniel Come

13Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. 15Just now the wise men [and] the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and [wear] a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third [ruler] in the kingdom.”

Belshazzar follows his mother’s advice and lets Daniel come. Daniel must be around ninety years old here. As a venerable greybeard he appears before the king. It seems that he meets him for the first time. We hear no greeting from the mouth of Daniel. There he stands silently before the king. Then the king speaks up and asks him if he is the Daniel who was brought from Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Without hearing a confirmation from Daniel’s mouth – perhaps he nodded ‘yes’ – the king continues and tells what he has heard about Daniel.

With a “just now” Belshazzar begins to explain why he had Daniel let brought in. The wise men and conjurers were previously brought to him to read “this inscription” – possibly pointing to the wall on which the inscription is written – and to let him know its interpretation. But, he must admit, they were not able to do so. Now he has heard that Daniel can do it. That is why he had let him bring in. If what he has heard is true and Daniel reads and makes its interpretation known, he will receive the reward he promised his wise men earlier.

Daniel Points Belshazzar to Nebuchadnezzar

17Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him. 18O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. 19Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations and [men of every] language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated and whomever he wished he humbled. 20But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne and [his] glory was taken away from him. 21He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like [that of] beasts, and his dwelling place [was] with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and [that] He sets over it whomever He wishes.

Daniel’s attitude towards Belshazzar is very reserved. Nor does he have the respect for this man he had for Nebuchadnezzar. After all, Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. He refuses all tributes from Belshazzar, while he has accepted them from Nebuchadnezzar. Nor would it make sense to accept any promise from Belshazzar. His kingdom will be conquered in a few hours, and he himself will be killed. Belshazzar can still issue the order for the reward (verse 3030That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain.), but nothing comes of its realization. In addition, Daniel himself has reached an age that makes a long enjoyment of a possible reward unlikely.

The way Daniel rejects the reward is a lesson for us. In this way we should also reject all the rewards of the world if they are offered to us because the world expects something from us. Let the world pay the people in the world for achievements that are worth something to the world. We must be incorruptible and be able to assess in the right, that is to say spiritual, way what the world has to offer. We may trust that we have a Lord in heaven Who will richly reward every faithful service that is done for Him (Col 3:23-2423Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.).

Yet Daniel is inclined to read the inscription to the king and let him know its interpretation. He wants to fulfil his duty to this man. But before he does, he has a word of admonition for the king. What he says to him is at the same time the introduction to the statement of the inscription giving the verdict on Belshazzar. So what Daniel says as an introduction is actually the indictment, while the interpretation of the inscription is the judgment.

He begins his indictment by reminding Belshazzar of his ancestor Nebuchadnezzar. He points out in the first place that Nebuchadnezzar owed his role as king and what goes with it not to himself but to “the Most High God”. His general rule, with even power over life, made his subjects live in fear and trembling for him. His power was absolute.

But Nebuchadnezzar might still be mighty, but God stood above him, and it turned out so. For when he forgot to whom he owed his power and considered his glory to be his own merit, his heart lifted up and he became proud. He imagined himself to be God. As a result, he was taken from the throne. He lost his kingship and the honor that went with it (Dan 4:29-3329Twelve months later he was walking on the [roof of] the royal palace of Babylon.30The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’31While the word [was] in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, [saying], ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you,32and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place [will be] with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’33Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ [feathers] and his nails like birds’ [claws].).

It did not stop there. Daniel draws a picture before Belshazzar’s eyes of the deep humiliation that Nebuchadnezzar had to undergo: Nebuchadnezzar was even expelled from the human community and became the company of beasts, while his heart was changed into that of a beast.

Daniel says that the beasts that formed his company were wild donkeys. The wild donkey is the striking picture of man who acts in his own will and does not care about God. Ishmael is said to be “a wild donkey of a man” (Gen 16:1212“He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand [will be] against everyone,
And everyone’s hand [will be] against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”
). This state of Nebuchadnezzar of being a beast lasted, so Daniel concludes in his story about Nebuchadnezzar, “until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and [that] He sets over it whomever He wishes”.

The Charge Against Belshazzar

22Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified. 24Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out.

When Daniel has presented the example of Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar, he addresses him directly and confronting. We see, as it were, that his finger is piercing towards the king and we hear how his voice is rising. The message he speaks to Belshazzar is impressive. With his story about Nebuchadnezzar he hasn’t told Belshazzar anything new. He says to him: “Even though you knew all this.”

Thus, every man who is not converted will hear the judgment from the mouth of the Lord Jesus. Every human being knew that he had to repent, that he had to humiliate himself under the powerful hand of God. He who does not allow himself to be warned, but “hardens [his] neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Pro 29:11A man who hardens [his] neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.

Instead of humiliating himself he has raised himself up against “the Lord of heaven”. His rebellion against Him has been demonstrated by the use of the objects from God’s house to mock with them “the Lord of heaven” – “Lord” is Adonai, that is “Souverain”, “Ruler” – and to toast his idols, who are not gods. Daniel sneers with his words about the worthlessness of the gods praised by Belshazzar. The only true God to whom he owed his life, he did not take into account and did not honor Him.

That his breath is in God’s hand means that he is completely dependent on God for every breath. When God withdraws His hand, the life of a man ends. Belshazzar has, as it were, repelled that hand. That is what in fact every person does who wants to have nothing to do with God. But whosoever repels the drawing hand of God, will have to deal with His hand in judgment.

God makes Himself known in His works, also in works of judgment. That judgment also comes because Belshazzar has gone his own way, without remembering that his ways belong to Him, the Lord of heaven. Man is created to live for God and to do His will. If, however, he puts God aside as Someone Who does not matter, he declares Him dead as it were, and arranges his life as he wishes, the moment of judgement comes. To such a person the judgment must be announced, calling on him to repent in order to escape the judgement.

God has announced judgement to Belshazzar by sending the part of the hand and writing this inscription. We do not hear Daniel say to him that he should repent, as he did say to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:2727Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by [doing] righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to [the] poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’). For Belshazzar the time is over. Against his better judgment, he misappropriates the holy things of God to defy Him. Then comes the judgment without possibility of conversion. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:3131It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.).

The Inscription and Its Meaning

25“Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ 26This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

Daniel is ready to tell what is written on the wall. There are four words that the sages could not read, which he pronounces in front of the king. The translation of the words is: ‘numbered’, ‘numbered, ‘weighed’, ‘and broken’ (or: ‘and divided’). The last word is ‘pharsin’. The initial ‘u’ means ‘and’. Even if the sages had been able to pronounce the words and knew their translation, they would not have known their meaning. These words have a meaning, not in the sense of a translation, but in the sense of a message. Daniel will interpret what that meaning is.

“Mene” contains the message that God numbered the days of the kingship of Belshazzar, i.e. determined the amount of them. The days of Belshazzar are over. His days are finished. Repeating the word “mene” underlines the importance and seriousness of this fact. Thus the days of the life of every human being are numbered by God, both of unbelievers and believers. For every human being the last day inevitably comes, during which the believer may look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus which can take place at any time and he is taken up by Him to be with Him. God knows as the All-knowing God of every man the day and the hour of his death.

There is another side, however, and that is the side of human responsibility. Man can speed up the day of his death, for example by living unhealthy or by mocking his life by doing dangerous things. Also defying God, as Belshazzar did, can give him premature and also pre-timely death.

The explanation of “tekel”, ‘weighed’, is that God weighed the life of Belshazzar, in the sense of judging it, and that He found it too light, that is, that Belshazzar failed. It is not about weighing up good deeds on the one hand against evil deeds on the other hand, but about the person. Daniel talks about the person, he talks about “you”. It is about the person and how the heart is towards God. Not only the fruits are assessed, but also the tree is assessed. Being found too light means that his life was vain, empty, without weight, there was nothing in it for God.

In the interpretation Daniel changes the last word ‘pharsin’ into ‘peres’. According to experts, this is not a change in the meaning of the word, but a change from plural (‘pharsin’) to singular (‘peres’). “Peres” means ‘broken’. Daniel seems to make this change because of a play on words. The word ‘peres’ is reminiscent of Persia. In his interpretation Daniel says that the kingdom of Belshazzar is divided or broken and that it is given to the Medes and Persians.

This must have sound in Belshazzar’s ears as the last judgment. He is immediately and completely back in reality. If he had any thought of escaping this judgment or simply wanting to deny it, he now hears it clearly spoken. The Medes and Persians lie before the city to put an end to his kingdom.

Belshazzar Slain

29Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and [put] a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he [now] had authority as the third [ruler] in the kingdom. 30That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain.

When Daniel is ready, Belshazzar does what he promised, but it is in pride. He seems not to have been impressed by what he has heard and does not humiliate himself. He keeps the honor to Himself. The reward is only for a few hours and concerns only the decorations.

Shortly and powerfully it says that Belshazzar is slain that same night. In this message of his death, we don’t hear anything about the way it happens. It is simply given as a communication. He who kills him is irrelevant. It is an instrument in God’s hand that performs His judgment (cf. Dan 8:2525“And through his shrewdness
He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence;
And he will magnify [himself] in his heart,
And he will destroy many while [they are] at ease.
He will even oppose the Prince of princes,
But he will be broken without human agency.
). He, the king of the Chaldeans, however great and high, is killed. This is how the last world rulers come to an end. Without any battle being described, they are thrown into the pool of fire by the Lord Jesus without trial (Rev 19:19-2019And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.20And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.).

Non-biblical history tells us that in the night that Belshazzar is killed, Babel is conquered by Cyrus. To gain access to the city, the Medes and Persians diverted the river that runs around the city and serves as a natural protection. As a result, part of the river has become dry. The dry riverbed has allowed the armies to enter into the city, which they have taken without fighting.

The Empire of the Medes and the Persians

31So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.

Darius is from the Medes, not from the Persians. In verse 2828‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” of this chapter we read about “the reign of Darius” and “the reign of Cyrus the Persian”. Media and Persia are two different empires that do have the rule together. We have seen this in the two arms of silver of the statue (Dan 2:3232The head of that statue [was made] of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze,). We also see it in Daniel 7 in both sides of the bear, where one side is stronger than the other (Dan 7:55And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs [were] in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’) and in Daniel 8 in the ram with the two horns (Dan 8:2020The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.).

The most powerful man is Cyrus, the Persian. He has overall dominion. Because of the size of his kingdom, he gave to Darius, the Mede, the kingship over the kingdom of the Chaldeans, so the Babylonian part of the Medo-Persian kingdom (Dan 9:11In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—). Darius is connected to the same area and the same city where Daniel always lived.

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