Belshazzar's impious feast; the hand-writing on the wall. (1-9) Daniel is sent for to interpret it. (10-17) Daniel warns the king of his destruction. (18-31)
Verses 1-9 Belshazzar bade defiance to the judgments of God. Most historians consider that Cyrus then besieged Babylon. Security and sensuality are sad proofs of approaching ruin. That mirth is sinful indeed, which profanes sacred things; and what are many of the songs used at modern feasts better than the praises sung by the heathens to their gods! See how God struck terror upon Belshazzar and his lords. God's written word is enough to put the proudest, boldest sinner in a fright. What we see of God, the part of the hand that writes in the book of the creatures, and in the book of the Scriptures, should fill us with awful thoughts concerning that part which we do not see. If this be the finger of God, what is his arm when made bare? And what is He? The king's guilty conscience told him that he had no reason to expect any good news from heaven. God can, in a moment, make the heart of the stoutest sinner to tremble; and there needs no more than to let loose his own thoughts upon him; they will give him trouble enough. No bodily pain can equal the inward agony which sometimes seizes the sinner in the midst of mirth, carnal pleasures, and worldly pomp. Sometimes terrors cause a man to flee to Christ for pardon and peace; but many cry out for fear of wrath, who are not humbled for their sins, and who seek relief by lying vanities. The ignorance and uncertainty concerning the Holy Scriptures, shown by many who call themselves wise, only tend to drive sinners to despair, as the ignorance of these wise men did.
Verses 10-17 Daniel was forgotten at court; he lived privately, and was then ninety years of age. Many consult servants of God on curious questions, or to explain difficult subjects, but without asking the way of salvation, or the path of duty. Daniel slighted the offer of reward. He spoke to Belshazzar as to a condemned criminal. We should despise all the gifts and rewards this world can give, did we see, as we may by faith, its end hastening on; but let us do our duty in the world, and do it all the real service we can.
Verses 18-31 Daniel reads Belshazzar's doom. He had not taken warning by the judgments upon Nebuchadnezzar. And he had insulted God. Sinners are pleased with gods that neither see, nor hear, nor know; but they will be judged by One to whom all things are open. Daniel reads the sentence written on the wall. All this may well be applied to the doom of every sinner. At death, the sinner's days are numbered and finished; after death is the judgment, when he will be weighed in the balance, and found wanting; and after judgment the sinner will be cut asunder, and given as a prey to the devil and his angels. While these things were passing in the palace, it is considered that the army of Cyrus entered the city; and when Belshazzar was slain, a general submission followed. Soon will every impenitent sinner find the writing of God's word brought to pass upon him, whether he is weighed in the balance of the law as a self-righteous Pharisee, or in that of the gospel as a painted hypocrite.
Daniel 5:1-31 . BELSHAZZAR'S IMPIOUS FEAST; THE HANDWRITING ON THE WALL INTERPRETED BY DANIEL OF THE DOOM OF BABYLON AND ITS KING.
1. Belshazzar--RAWLINSON, from the Assyrian inscriptions, has explained the seeming discrepancy between Daniel and the heathen historians of Babylon, BEROSUS and ABYDENUS, who say the last king (Nabonidus) surrendered in Borsippa, after Babylon was taken, and had an honorable abode in Caramania assigned to him. Belshazzar was joint king with his father (called Minus in the inscriptions), but subordinate to him; hence the Babylonian account suppresses the facts which cast discredit on Babylon, namely, that Belshazzar shut himself up in that city and fell at its capture; while it records the surrender of the principal king in Borsippa XENOPHON'S description of Belshazzar accords with Daniel's; he calls him "impious," and illustrates his cruelty by mentioning that he killed one of his nobles, merely because, in hunting, the noble struck down the game before him; and unmanned a courtier, Gadates, at a banquet, because one of the king's concubines praised him as handsome. Daniel shows none of the sympathy for him which he had for Nebuchadnezzar. XENOPHON confirms Daniel as to Belshazzar's end. WINER explains the "shazzar" in the name as meaning "fire."
made . . . feast--heaven-sent infatuation when his city was at the time being besieged by Cyrus. The fortifications and abundant provisions in the city made the king despise the besiegers. It was a festival day among the Babylonians [XENOPHON].
drank . . . before the thousand--The king, on this extraordinary occasion, departed from his usual way of feasting apart from his nobles (compare Esther 1:3 ).
2. whiles he tasted the wine--While under the effects of wine, men will do what they dare not do when sober.
his father Nebuchadnezzar--that is, his forefather. So "Jesus . . . the son of David, the son of Abraham" ( Matthew 1:1 ). Daniel does not say that the other kings mentioned in other writers did not reign between Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar, namely, Evil-merodach ( Jeremiah 52:31 ), Neriglissar, his brother-in-law, and Laborasoarchod (nine months). BEROSUS makes Nabonidus, the last king, to have been one of the people, raised to the throne by an insurrection. As the inscriptions show that Belshazzar was distinct from, and joint king with, him, this is not at variance with Daniel, whose statement that Belshazzar was son (grandson) of Nebuchadnezzar is corroborated by Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 27:7 ). Their joint, yet independent, testimony, as contemporaries, and having the best means of information, is more trustworthy than any of the heathen historians, if there were a discrepancy. Evil-merodach, son of Nebuchadnezzar (according to BEROSUS), reigned but a short time (one or two years), having, in consequence of his bad government, been dethroned by a plot of Neriglissar, his sister's husband; hence Daniel does not mention him. At the elevation of Nabonidus as supreme king, Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, was doubtless suffered to be subordinate king and successor, in order to conciliate the legitimate party. Thus the seeming discrepancy becomes a confirmation of genuineness when cleared up, for the real harmony must have been undesigned.
wives . . . concubines--not usually present at feasts in the East, where women of the harem are kept in strict seclusion. Hence Vashti's refusal to appear at Ahasuerus' feast ( Esther 1:9-12 ). But the Babylonian court, in its reckless excesses, seems not to have been so strict as the Persian. XENOPHON [Cyropædia, 5.2,28] confirms Daniel, representing a feast of Belshazzar where the concubines are present. At the beginning "the lords" ( Daniel 5:1 ), for whom the feast was made, alone seem to have been present; but as the revelry advanced, the women were introduced. Two classes of them are mentioned, those to whom belonged the privileges of "wives," and those strictly concubines ( 2 Samuel 5:13 , 1 Kings 11:3 , Solomon 6:8 ).
3. This act was not one of necessity, or for honor's sake, but in reckless profanity.
4. praised--sang and shouted praises to "gods," which being of gold, "are their own witnesses" ( Isaiah 44:9 ), confuting the folly of those who fancy such to be gods.
5. In the same hour--that the cause of God's visitation might be palpable, namely, the profanation of His vessels and His holy name.
fingers of . . . hand--God admonishes him, not by a dream (as Nebuchadnezzar had been warned), or by a voice, but by "fingers coming forth," the invisibility of Him who moved them heightening the awful impressiveness of the scene, the hand of the Unseen One attesting his doom before the eyes of himself and his guilty fellow revellers.
against the candlestick--the candelabra; where the mystic characters would be best seen. BARNES makes it the candlestick taken from the temple of Jerusalem, the nearness of the writing to it intimating that the rebuke was directed against the sacrilege.
upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace--Written in cuneiform letters on slabs on the walls, and on the very bricks, are found the perpetually recurring recital of titles, victories, and exploits, to remind the spectator at every point of the regal greatness. It is significant, that on the same wall on which the king was accustomed to read the flattering legends of his own magnificence, he beholds the mysterious inscription which foretells his fall (compare Proverbs 16:18 , Acts 12:21-23 ).
part of the hand--the anterior part, namely, the fingers.
6. countenance--literally, "brightness," that is, his bright look.
joints of his loins--"the vertebræ of his back" [GESENIUS].
7. He calls for the magicians, who more than once had been detected in imposture. He neglects God, and Daniel, whose fame as an interpreter was then well-established. The world wishes to be deceived and shuts its eyes against the light [CALVIN]. The Hebrews think the words were Chaldee, but in the old Hebrew character (like that now in the Samaritan Pentateuch).
third ruler--The first place was given to the king; the second, to the son of the king, or of the queen; the third, to the chief of the satraps.
8. The words were in such a character as to be illegible to the Chaldees, God reserving this honor to Daniel.
10. queen--the queen mother, or grandmother, Nitocris, had not been present till now. She was wife either of Nebuchadnezzar or of Evil merodach; hence her acquaintance with the services of Daniel. She completed the great works which the former had begun. Hence HERODOTUS attributes them to her alone. This accounts for the deference paid to her by Belshazzar. given to the queen mother among the Hebrews ( 1 Kings 15:13 ).
11. spirit of the holy gods--She remembers and repeats Nebuchadnezzar's language ( Daniel 4:8 Daniel 4:9 Daniel 4:18 ). As Daniel was probably, according to Oriental custom, deprived of the office to which Nebuchadnezzar had promoted him, as "master of the magicians" ( Daniel 4:9 ), at the king's death, Belshazzar might easily be ignorant of his services.
the king . . . thy father the king . . . thy father--The repetition marks with emphatic gravity both the excellencies of Daniel, and the fact that Nebuchadnezzar, whom Belshazzar is bound to reverence as his father, had sought counsel from him in similar circumstances.
13. the captivity of Judah--the captive Jews residing in Babylon.
17. Not inconsistent with Daniel 5:29 . For here he declares his interpretation of the words is not from the desire of reward. The honors in Daniel 5:29 were doubtless urged on him, without his wish, in such a way that he could not with propriety refuse them. Had he refused them after announcing the doom of the kingdom, he might have been suspected of cowardice or treason.
18. God gave--It was not his own birth or talents which gave him the vast empire, as he thought. To make him unlearn his proud thought was the object of God's visitation on him.
majesty--in the eyes of his subjects.
glory--from his victories.
honour--from the enlargement and decoration of the city.
19. A purely absolute monarchy ( Jeremiah 27:7 ).
21. heart was made like . . . beasts--literally, "he made his heart like the beasts," that is, he desired to dwell with them.
22. Thou hast erred not through ignorance, but through deliberate contempt of God, notwithstanding that thou hadst before thine eyes the striking warning given in thy grandfather's case.
23. whose are all thy ways--( Jeremiah 10:23 ).
24. Then--When thou liftedst up thyself against the Lord.
the part of the hand--the fore part, the fingers.
was . . . sent from him--that is, from God.
25. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin--literally, "numbered, weighed, and dividers."
26. God hath fixed the number of years of thine empire, and that number is now complete.
27. weighed in the balances--The Egyptians thought that Osiris weighed the actions of the dead in a literal balance. The Babylonians may have had the same notion, which would give a peculiar appropriateness to the image here used.
found wanting--too light before God, the weigher of actions ( 1 Samuel 2:3 , Psalms 62:9 ). Like spurious gold or silver ( Jeremiah 6:30 ).
28. Peres--the explanation of "dividers" ( Daniel 5:25 ), the active participle plural there being used for the passive participle singular, "dividers" for "divided." The word "Peres" alludes to the similar word "Persia."
divided--namely, among the Medes and Persians [MAURER]; or, "severed" from thee [GROTIUS].
29. Belshazzar . . . clothed Daniel with scarlet--To come from the presence of a prince in a dress presented to the wearer as a distinction is still held a great honor in the East. Daniel was thus restored to a similar rank to what he had held under Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 2:48 ). Godly fidelity which might be expected to bring down vengeance, as in this case, is often rewarded even in this life. The king, having promised, was ashamed before his courtiers to break his word. He perhaps also affected to despise the prophecy of his doom, as an idle threat. As to Daniel's reasons for now accepting what at first he had declined, be witnesses for God's glory to the world of his having by God's aid interpreted the mystic characters. The cause of his elevation too would secure the favor of the new dynasty ( Daniel 6:2 ) for both himself and his captive countrymen. As the capture of the city by Cyrus was not till near daylight, there was no want of time in that eventful night for accomplishing all that is here recorded. The capture of the city so immediately after the prophecy of it (following Belshazzar's sacrilege), marked most emphatically to the whole world the connection between Babylon's sin and its punishment.
30. HERODOTUS and XENOPHON confirm Daniel as to the suddenness of the event. Cyrus diverted the Euphrates into a new channel and, guided by two deserters, marched by the dry bed into the city, while the Babylonians were carousing at an annual feast to the gods. See also Isaiah 21:5 , 44:27 , Jeremiah 50:38 Jeremiah 50:39 , 51:36 . As to Belshazzar's being slain, compare Isaiah 14:18-20 , 21:2-9 , Jeremiah 50:29-35 , 51:57 .
31. Darius the Median--that is Cyaxares II, the son and successor of Astyages, 569-536 B.C. Though Koresh, or Cyrus, was leader of the assault, yet all was done in the name of Darius; therefore, he alone is mentioned here; but Daniel 6:28 shows Daniel was not ignorant of Cyrus' share in the capture of Babylon. Isaiah 13:17 , 21:2 , confirm Daniel in making the Medes the leading nation in destroying Babylon. So also Jeremiah 51:11 Jeremiah 51:28 . HERODOTUS, on the other hand, omits mentioning Darius, as that king, being weak and sensual, gave up all the authority to his energetic nephew, Cyrus [XENOPHON, Cyropædia, 1.5; 8.7].
threescore and two years old--This agrees with XENOPHON [Cyropædia, 8.5,19], as to Cyaxares II.