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Daniel 5

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The last study contained a dire warning not only for Nebuchadnezzar, but also for someone reading it… not all readers, but one, or perhaps more. This warning continues in the current study. This is of an extreme nature and I rarely receive such words. I can assure those for whom it is intended, that God is making a prophecy right now – for you to change, or suffer as Belshazzar did. You have already read of Nebuchadnezzar’s long period of judgment, so there is no excuse.

This period in Daniel’s life was full of danger and change. The armies of the kingdoms from the north were moving south and east. The king of Babylon went up to fight them but was captured, only to escape and later be captured again in Babylon. His son, Belshazzar, who ruled as co-regent, was left in charge of Babylon during this pensive time, but instead of protecting it, he decided to hold a great feast. Whilst he and his lords drank wine all night, the Medes (Iranians or ‘Aryans’ from Media; some say these Medes were ancestors to the Kurds), who were of different origin from the Persians, but linked by conquest, were at the gates. The Medes and their part in Babylon’s fall is mentioned by Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Daniel is correct to say Babylon was ruled by a Mede, though he was himself subject to the Persians. The decline of Babylon began with Nebuchadnezzar and found its final days in Belshazzar and his father, Nabonidus, both of whom were in rule when they were overthrown.

Kingdoms were subject to greater kingdoms, as immense rulerships changed slowly over the centuries. It is the fate of all kingdoms and rules to be swallowed up by others at some time. This is why all talk of ‘returning’ this or that country to its former owners is farcical. Who belongs to what? In a very real sense, all countries are subjected to conquest, just as they themselves conquered other countries before them!

As we read this chapter, the biggest lesson is in obedience to the Lord.

Verses 1-4

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

Nebuchadnezzar, also known as Nabu-kudurri-usur, ruled from 605-562 BC. He was followed by Amel-Marduk*, who reigned for just 2 years, before Nergal-shar-usur came to the throne in 560 BC. He reigned for four years before Labashi-Marduk* became king in 556 BC and died in the same year. Then came Nabu-na’id (Nabonidus) in 556 BC, who lasted until 539 BC. This is the point in history, the last year of this king’s rule, where we now meet with another of Daniel’s historical summaries. By this time Daniel was roughly in his late sixties or early seventies; he had been in exile under five kings of the Chaldean dynasty to now. (Marduk is the name of the main Babylonian god; ‘Nabu’ or Nebu’ is another god, whose name is found attached to a ruler’s name).

In some historic texts you will not find the name of Belshazzar, yet Jewish and Christian sources ascribe to him the last of the Chaldean monarchy before the Median-Persian empires arose. He co-ruled the Babylonian dynasty when his father, Nabonidus, just three years into his rule, decided to devote his time to worship of the moon god, Sin. He made Belshazzar co-regent in 553 BC. In 540 BC Nabonidus returned to protect the kingdom from advancing Persians, and in 538 BC he left his son, Belshazzar, in Babylon itself to defend the city. Nabonidus marched troops northwards to clash with Cyrus, but had to surrender to him and then escaped the following year. Two days later, October 13th. 539 BC, the city of Babylon fell.

We can see that Daniel’s life was far from settled, as the Babylonian empire began to come apart. Belshazzar’s rule came to an abrupt end in 539 BC, just as God said through Daniel that it would. The confusion about who exactly was the last king, and why he is not usually listed as Belshazzar, appears to be due to a mix-up by Herodotus, who names the last king ‘Labynetos’. Josephus the historian says Belshazzar was also known as Naboandelus, which appears to be a corrupted version of Nabonidus.

As far as Christians are concerned we can take Daniel’s narrative as absolutely factual, no matter what name Belshazzar was known by. Some lists of kings show Nabonidus followed by Cyrus II of Persia. However, as Nabonidus did not vacate the throne but shared it with his son until the fall of Babylon, there is no problem in accepting Belshazzar (Belsha’tstsar in Aramaic – ‘Bel protect the king’) as king in Daniel’s account.

Bel was another name for the Babylonian god, Marduk; it means ‘lord’ or ‘master’ and is a title of a god rather than a personal name. We can see in this the influence of pagan gods over Babylon, despite the wonders known to the Babylonians through Daniel and his three friends. It is another example of the futility of Arminian-style thinking, that ‘if only we present the Gospel in the right way, people will believe’. Daniel and his friends were linked to the wonders of their God, and yet none of the kings (with the possible exception of Nebuchadnezzar II) believed.

The only way people are delivered from their sins is by the Holy Spirit regenerating the spirit, which is then followed by salvation on this earth. Even when Christ was on earth, many did not believe in Him, which proves the point, for no man could have portrayed the Gospel better than God Himself!

So, knowing the city was in grave danger, Belshazzar held a great feast for a thousand of his high-ranking lords from around the empire, where they drank wine in abundance. In itself this was not a problem, except that, invariably, many would become drunk. What became a problem was what Belshazzar did next.

As the lords, with the king and his many wives and concubines, drank their wine, the king suddenly brought his own dynasty to an abrupt end. He ordered his servants to enter the treasury to bring him the gold and silver goblets and dishes taken from the Jerusalem temple by Nebuchadnezzar many decades previously. When they were brought, he filled them with wine, to be taken by himself, his lords, his wife and his concubines. That was his undoing. God will put up with many insults and sins, but there comes a point when He must act, and when He does, it is usually swiftly.

Once again, I would counsel whoever this lesson is meant for, to take stock and to be warned. The contents of the last study were for particular persons who are now living outside of God’s will. Last study time the feeling of foreboding lay upon me so strongly that I feared within as I taught, for I knew God was speaking to an unrepentant, unchanged sinner. This study, too, gives me the very same distinct discernment that the warning from the last study is now repeated as a further indication that God is about to bring about His punishment. Take heed, whoever you are, before the writing appears on the wall in your own life… because once it is written, God will not rescind His judgment.

The king drank wine as usual, but praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone. Every useless god but the True God! How many who claim to be Christians do this, risking all to play at being forgiven? They sin continuously, but repent little, if at all; they think they can continue in their lives and in their sins, because, thus far, God has done nothing. But, again I warn – take heed, for the time of reckoning has come; you WILL be judged quickly.

For Nebuchadnezzar there was the opportunity, very rarely given by God to a continual sinner, to repent and turn to Him. But here, Belshazzar would not have this respite, not even briefly, so his life ended. Listen and repent; turn from your continual sins and do it no more. You have very little time left before the Lord reveals his wrath against you and finishes what you thought would be a long life of your own making.

Verses 5&6

  1. 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 wrote.

  2. 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.

Even as the feast continued a remarkable thing happened, something that should frighten all of us, for we are each guilty before God if we sin without repentance. I read the words with a rightful fear of the Lord.

As the people drank and made merry, fingers of a man’s hand appeared out of nowhere. Behind a candlestick, the fingers wrote something in the lime plaster of the wall near the king. Even the king saw the fingers writing, and he was petrified. He was so scared his knees buckled and he could not stand.

Have you ever had this kind of fear, when your mouth dried up, your throat closed, your stomach churned loosely and your legs could not hold your weight? I have. Belshazzar knew he was watching something inexplicable, something that he should be very afraid of. Are YOU afraid? If you are, turn to Christ, NOW. I repeat the same warning as I gave last time, because it is necessary. Do not pretend any more; do not think your life is acceptable or doing what is good before God – He says otherwise and you will be judged. Turn NOW, or the consequences will come to pass.

Verses 7-9

  1. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

  2. Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.

  3. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

In his fear the king immediately called for his advisers – the astrologers, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers – to attend him to show him what the words on the wall meant. We can see from this that Daniel was no longer in a position of authority, or at least not as he once was, for he is not amongst the wise men.

The king offered a gold chain and royal clothing to the man who could interpret the writing, plus a position as third in authority in the kingdom. We do not know who was second – maybe his wife, or a governor. This was a man in fear, so afraid that he was willing to give the highest prize to the man who could help him.

But, no-one could interpret the words, which either shows that they were not in Chaldean or any language known to the wise men… or that God blinded them. The king was stricken with anxiety and the lords at the feats were at a loss as to how to help him. Never underestimate the power and authority of a man of God! Though many, even amongst Christians, have no answers, God will often give His counsel to one man. Listen to that one man above all others, for your very safety relies on what he says. Listen to your own wisdom and you will fail and suffer under God.

Verses 10-12

  1. 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:

  2. 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; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;

  3. Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.

It appears that the main wife, the queen, was not present in the banquet hall, but she came to hear of the divine warning on the wall, and her husband’s fear. She quickly entered the hall to speak to Belshazzar, telling him not to worry, for she knew of a man who could help.

Her words show that Daniel was not known to the current king. She told Belshazzar of a man who could interpret dreams and explain wonders, and who was made master of the wise men by Nebuchadnezzar. She refers to him as Belshazzar’s ‘father’, but this is simply the usual form of address for an ancestor, who was of the same family.

She named the man as Daniel, adding the Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. Let him be brought before you, she exclaimed, and he will explain what the words mean. In modern days, many men think they can handle God’s word and explain its meaning. However, how many do so accurately and truly? Very few. I would repeat my belief that few are truly called to teach God’s word today, and churches are filled with charlatans or self-elected preachers. Do not listen to them. Listen only to God, through His chosen speakers if necessary, but mainly through His own word.

Verses 13-16

  1. Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?

  2. I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.

  3. And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:

  4. And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Daniel was brought to the king. It is likely he had not had previous contact with either him or his father. It is a brief lesson for us to maintain contact with God’s men, because there are few.

Belshazzar asked if he was indeed the man Daniel of the Jews, who was captured in Jerusalem. He said he had just been told about his powers of interpretation. The wise men, he said, could not understand the writing on the wall. How this must have brought back several memories of previous kings and their ignorance of Daniel’s God!

Belshazzar repeated his promise to give princely clothes, a gold chain and rulership to Daniel, if he could interpret the writing. Sadly, many preachers base their work not on God’s demands but on their stipend or perceived status amongst their peers! But, for Daniel, money and status were not his objective.

Verses 17-21

  1. Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

  2. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:

  3. And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.

  4. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:

  5. And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.

Daniel was not interested in rewards; he knew from God that he had to interpret the writing. So, he told the king a reward was not required, and to give it to someone else: he would tell him what he wanted to know.

This time Daniel was not troubled by what he had to say. Perhaps it was simply the peace often given to us as we get older. Daniel began by saying that God had given Nebuchadnezzar a great kingdom with immense power and riches; many peoples were subordinate to him and feared his name, because he only had to speak and others would be kept alive, or put to death. He would honour those he wished to honour.

However, continued Daniel, he became stubbornly arrogant, and began to think of himself as higher than any authority, so he lost his kingship as God made him like a beast until he saw sense and repented of his pride. (Many have pride in their own selves, and so lose all earthly peace and comfort).

Verses 22-29

  1. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;

  2. But hast lifted up thyself against the LORD of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:

  3. Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.

  4. And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

  5. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

  6. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

  7. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

  8. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Daniel now came to the crux of the matter; “thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.” So, the king knew all about what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and yet he still became arrogant with his own importance. He did not learn.

He was then told the awful news: that because he praised lifeless gods of inanimate objects, and did not praise the one true God, but drank wine from the holy containers from the temple, the hand was sent. The hand wrote a message for the king. It was MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

Daniel then interpreted the words, and the king’s heart must have frozen. MENE meant that God had ‘numbered the kingdom’ or brought it to an end, and this was repeated twice; TEKEL meant that the king was examined and found to be deficient. And UPHARSIN or PERES meant the kingdom that was long under Babylonian rule would now be given to the Medes and Persians. The wording we have in our Bibles is Aramaic, which means the king and his wise men should surely have recognized them. We can only suppose that they were prevented from recognizing what was clear. How many today read the Bible and still do not understand what it says, because of their sins or ignorance?

The MENE or mina/maneh was a weight about 50 or 60 shekels. TEKEL refers to the weight of those shekels. UPHARSIN or pĕrac refers to a divided shekel, or half a shekel. Thus, the literal meaning was that the shekels were examined and found to be less than worthy, so they were cut into halves and got rid of. The whole amount was to be given away to others.

We are not told how the king reacted, but he must have been both impressed and frightened. He commanded for Daniel to be given the promised gifts and, once again, Daniel was made prominent, a head of state… but it would last for only a very short time under Belshazzar!

Verses 30 & 31

  1. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.

  2. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

We now see that the Medes were at the gates of Babylon and the great feast was given at a time when the country was being overtaken by Darius, whose sub-king, Gubaru, was already besieging the great city. The very night Belshazzar received the interpretation from Daniel, he was killed in the ensuing attack, which originated with Darius diverting the river that ran under the city and sending his troops under the defensive iron gateway over the river, 13th October, 539 BC. They took over without a fight from anyone in the city.

Now, modern historians who loathe scripture, try to say there was no such person as ‘Darius the Mede’. However, a man named Gubaru, a Mede, was appointed to rule Babylon when he had overtaken it. Gubaru was 62 when Babylon fell. The Babylonian historical account of its own defeat includes the following words: “On the 16th day, Gubaru (also known as Darius the Mede) the leader of Gutium, along with the army of Cyrus, entered Babylon without any opposition. Later, they arrested Nabonidus when he returned to Babylon.”

A short while after that, Cyrus entered the city as its supreme pontiff and “peace being restored… Cyrus then sent his best wishes to the residents living there. His governor, Gubaru, then installed leaders to govern over all Babylon.” This agrees with Daniel’s account, that Darius the Mede, installed governors. Therefore, there is no contradiction in scripture; Darius the Mede was also known as Gubaru. The same critics also say there was no ‘Mede’, but this is nonsense. Daniel calls Darius ‘the Median’, or Mede (‘middle land’). That is, an inhabitant of Media, or Maday (Aramaic).

Darius/Gubaru, we are told, was 62 (as Daniel said) when he took over the rule of the old Chaldean dynasty, so a new one began. Darius (‘lord’) was son of Ahasuerus king of the Chaldeans. It is thought that the same Darius was known as Astyages, the last king of the Medes (538 BC). Darius ruled the huge Median empire in an alliance with two brothers-in-law: Croesus of Lydia and Nebuchadnezzar, who was married to Amytis, Astyages’ sister. Darius became king of the Medes in 585 BC and it is thought he had a daughter who later married Cyrus the Great.

Through this king the religion of Zoroastrianism arose. At the same time under Croesus, secular thinkers became popular, including the famed Easop. Further south, Nebuchadnezzar was busy building his Chaldean empire. So, although the various empires seem to be distinct, they were really all ruled by the same family.

Chaldean Kings who Ruled Babylonia during Daniel’s Exile:

Nebuchadnezzar: 605-562 BC

Amel-Marduk: 562-560 BC

Nergal-shar-usur: 560-556 BC

Labashi-Marduk: 556 BC

Nabu-na’id (Nabonidus): 556-539 BC

Then the Mede-Persian empire began in 539 BC under Darius the Mede, who was sub-king to Cyrus the Persian.

We can see that Daniel’s exile spanned about 70 years, making him to be in his mid to late 80s (if he lived that long) by the time the Hebrews were allowed to go back home.


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