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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Daniel 5

 

 

Verse 1

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

Belshazzar. Rawlinson, from the Assyrian inscriptions, has explained the seeming discrepancy between Daniel and the pagan historians of Babylon, Berosus and Abydenus, who say the last king (Nabonnedus) surrendered in Borsippa, after Babylon was taken, and had an honourable 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 fact, 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 (see my Introduction to Daniel). The pagan 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 a great 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 to despise the besiegers. It was a solemn festival day among the Babylonians (Xenophon).

And drank wine before the thousand. The king, on this extraordinary occasion, departed from his usual way of feasting apart from his nobles (cf. Esther 1:3 ).


Verse 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.

Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden ... vessels. While under the effects of wine, men will do what they dare not do when sober.

Which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem. "His father Nebuchadnezzar," i:e., his forefather. So "Jesus ... the son of David, the son of Abraham." 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 Nabonnedus, the last king, to have been one of the people, raised to the throne by an insurrection. Since 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 that of the pagan 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 Nabonnedus 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.

That the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Not usually present at feasts in the East, where females of the harem are kept in strict seclusion. Hence, Vashti's refusal to appear at Ahasuerus' feast, (Esther 1:1-22.) But the Babylonian court, in its reckless excesses, seems not to have been so strict as the Persian. Xenophon ('Cyropaedia,' 5: 2, 28) confirms Daniel, representing a feast of Belshazzar where the concubines are present. At the beginning the "thousand of his lords" (Daniel 5:1), for whom the feast was made, alone seem to have been present; but as the revelry advanced the females 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; Song of Solomon 6:8).


Verse 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.

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. This act was not one of necessity, or for honour's sake, but in reckless profanity.


Verse 4

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

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold - they 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.


Verse 5

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.

In the same hour - that the cause of God's visitation might be palpable-namely, the profanation of His vessels and His holy name.

Came forth fingers of a man's 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. And wrote over 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. There are to this day found written in cuneiform letters on slabs on the walls, and on the very bricks, 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 tells his fall (cf. Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." So in the case of Herod directly after his beheadal of James and persecution of Peter; he sat on his throne in dazzling apparel of silver tinsel, and made an oration, in which "he gave not God the glory," but accepted the fulsome adulation of the mob, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man;" therefore "immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost," Acts 12:21-23).

And the king saw the part of the hand - the anterior part-namely, the fingers.


Verse 6

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.

Then the king's countenance was changed - "countenance" - literally, brightness, i:e., his bright look.

So that the joints of his loins were loosed - `the vertebrae of his back' (Gesenius).


Verse 7

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.

The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers. He calls for the Chaldean soothsayers, 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).

Whosoever shall read this writing ... shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. The first place was given to the Whosoever shall read this writing ... shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 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.


Verse 8

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.

Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing. The words were in such a character as to be illegible to the Chaldees, God reserving this honour to Daniel.


Verse 9

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

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 10

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:

Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king ... came into the banquet house - the queen-mother, or grandmother, Nitocris, had not been present until 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. See my note, Daniel 4:36. Compare similar rank once given to the queen-mother of Asa, Maachah, among the Hebrews, 1 Kings 15:13.


Verse 11

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;

There is a man in thy kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. She remembers and repeats Nebuchadnezzar's language (Daniel 4:8-9; Daniel 4:18). Since 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 Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father. The repetition marks with emphatic gravity both the excellences of Daniel, and the fact that Nebuchadnezzar, whom Belshazzar is bound to reverence as his father, had sought counsel from him in similar circumstances.


Verse 12

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 13

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?

Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah - the captive Jews residing in Babylon.


Verses 14-16

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 17

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.

Then Daniel answered ... Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another. Not inconsistent with Daniel 5:29. For here he declares his interpretation of the words is not from the desire of reward. The honours 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.


Verse 18

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

The most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom. 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.

And majesty - in the eyes of his subjects.

And glory - from his victories.

And honour - from the enlargement and decoration of the city.


Verse 19

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.

And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him - a purely absolute monarchy (Jeremiah 27:7 ).


Verse 20

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:

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 21

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.

And his heart was made like the beasts - literally, 'he made his heart like the beasts;' i:e., he desired to dwell with them.


Verse 22

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


Verse 23

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:

The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified - (Jeremiah 10:23, "I know, O Lord, that the way of a man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps").


Verse 24

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

Then - when thou liftest thyself against the Lord.

The part of the hand - the fore part, the fingers.

Was ... sent from him - i:e., from God.


Verse 25

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

MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN - literally, numbered, weighed, and dividers.


Verse 26

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

MENE God hath numbered thy kingdom. God hath fixed the number of years of thine empire, and that number is now complete.


Verse 27

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

TEKEL Thou art 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 special appropriateness to the image here used.

And art 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).


Verse 28

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

PERES - the explanation of 'dividers' (Daniel 5:25), the active participle plural, "Upharsin," there being used for the passive participle singular, 'dividers' for "divided." The word "Peres" alludes to the similar word Persia.

Thy kingdom is divided - namely, among the Medes and Persians (Maurer); or, severed from thee (Grotius).


Verse 29

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.

Then commanded Belshazzar, and they 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 honour 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, cf. note, Daniel 5:17. The insignia of honour would 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 favour of the new dynasty (Daniel 6:2) for both himself and his captive countrymen. Under Darius, the new king, we find him first of the three presidents over the whole kingdom. Since the capture of the city by Cyrus was not until near daylight there was no lack 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.


Verse 30

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

In that night was Belshazzar ... slain. 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, Gobryas and Gadatas, marched by the dry bed into the city, while the Babylonians were carousing at an annual feast to the gods. So also Isaiah 21:5; Isaiah 44:27; and Jeremiah 50:38-39; Jeremiah 51:36. As to Belshazzar's being slain, cf. Isaiah 14:18-20; Jeremiah 50:29-35; Jeremiah 51:57.


Verse 31

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

Darius the Median took the kingdom - i:e., Cyaxares II, the son and successor of Astyages, B.C. 569-536. 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; Isaiah 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, 'Cyropaedia,' 1: 5; 8: 7).

Being about threescore and two years old. This agrees with Xenophon ('Cyropaedia,' 8: 5, 19) as to Cyaxares II.

Remarks:

(1) Babylon's cup of guilt was now almost full, and needed but one crowning act of profanity to be added, to make it overflow with vengeance on the transgressor. The messenger of God's wrath, Cyrus, was at the gates of the doomed city-a fact which might be thought well calculated to arouse the most careless to serious reflection: and yet this was the time that Belshazzar the king chose wherein to "make a great feast" for his nobles. God gave him up to a judicial infatuation, so that, relying on the fortifications and abundant provisions of the city, he despised the besieging army. Security and sensuality are the sure forerunners of the sinner's doom. When the eyes of the culprit are covered, he is on the very verge of his execution.

(2) While Belshazzar was under the influence of wine, he dared to do a deed of audacious impiety which brought down the immediate interposition of the insulted Majesty of heaven. Not from any necessity, or to shed honour on the banquet, but in reckless and wanton profanity, he caused the sacred vessels of the temple of Yahweh to be brought forth; and he, his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them, while they sang the praises of their gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone, as though these were above Yahweh, the Lord God of heaven and earth. How often do intoxicating drinks tempt men to daring acts of ungodliness, which in their sober times they would be afraid to venture on! Intoxication does not excuse sin, but rather adds sin to sin.

(3) In order to mark plainly the inseparable connection of impious pride and the divine punishment, "the same hour" (Daniel 5:5) that witnessed the king's profanation of the holy name of Yahweh, and of His consecrated vessels, was the hour in which the fingers of the invisible God wrote, full in the view of the king and his impious courtiers and mistresses, the awful sentence of his doom. The very walls of the palace, which were covered with flattering praises, in cuneiform writing, of the exploits of the Babylonian kings, now presented to Belshazzar's eyes a mysterious inscription, from which his guilty conscience already foreboded nothing but evil. The king's bright countenance in a moment "was changed," his thoughts were troubled, his whole nervous frame was unstrung, and "his knees smote one against another" (Daniel 5:6):

`The monarch saw and shook, And bade no more rejoice; All bloodless wax'd his look,

And tremulous his voice.'

How instantaneously God can make the stoutest sinner to tremble! Nothing more is needed, in order to trouble, agitate, and unnerve him, than that his own thoughts and fears should be let loose upon him. No anguish can exceed that of a self-accusing conscience suddenly awakened, in the midst of carnal mirth, to a realizing sense of the terrors of the Lord.

(4) After that all the sages of Babylon had attempted in vain to read and interpret the mysterious writing, Daniel is at last consulted, by the advice of the queen-mother, probably Nitocris. His past services, which had been lost sight of in the corrupt court of Belshazzar, were again brought into view; and the king is reminded that, though Daniel has been for long neglected, yet that Belshazzar's forefather, Nebuchadnezzar, had treated him as one "in whom was the spirit of the holy gods, and light, understanding, and excellent wisdom" (Daniel 5:11; Daniel 5:14). The ungodly great men of the world despise the godly in time of prosperity; but are most glad to avail themselves of their services in times of adversity. Estimating all things, even spiritual realities, by the standard of money, they think that the godly do the same; and therefore they try to bribe the servant of God (Daniel 5:17) to procure for them deliverance from wrath and an easy mind. But the true child of God will show a spirit superior to the love of gain, even as Daniel agreed to read and interpret the writing, but declined to accent the king's gifts and rewards. Nothing tends more to injure a believer's usefulness than that he should be seen by the world, like Balaam and Gehazi, to be greedy of gain: and, on the contrary, nothing tends more to make the worldly to feel that believers are influenced by principles far above their own, than that they should see the children of God, as Daniel and Paul (Acts 20:33-35), ready to do whatever good they can, without regard to worldly advantage.

(5) Daniel, with characteristic faithfulness, sets before the king his great sin. The most high God, of His own grace, had given to Nebuchadnezzar his forefather an universal and absolute monarchy, with majesty in the eyes of his subjects, glory from a succession of victories, and honour from the beautification of his capital (Daniel 5:18-19). That monarch, however, instead of ascribing the glory to God, had his heart lifted up "by his greatness," and "his mind hardened in pride" (Daniel 5:20); therefore the God who gave also took away for a time his kingly throne and glory from him: Nebuchadnezzar was driven from the sons of men, and as he had sunk himself from man's true dignity by severing himself from dependence on God, his heart was, in righteous retribution, made like the beasts: and being spiritually untamed, "like a wild ass' colt" (Job 11:12), "his dwelling was with the wild asses, until he knew that the most high God ruleth in the kingdom of men" (Daniel 5:21).

Yet, though knowing all this, Belshazzar his grandson had not humbled his heart (Daniel 5:22), but had "lifted up himself against the Lord of heaven," and had advanced to a degree of pro fanity which Nebuchadnezzar had never reached, making the vessels of Yahweh the instruments of his unhallowed revelry, and of that of his lords and concubines; while at the same time he and they praised their senseless idols, robbing the God in whose hands his breath was, and whose were all his ways, of the glory which is his due (Daniel 5:23): therefore, said Daniel, God sent forth the mysterious hand which wrote his doom. God had numbered the years of his empire, and that number was now completed (Daniel 5:26). Weighed in the balances of God's truth, he is found wanting in moral weight (Daniel 5:27). His kingdom was now to be divided between the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:28). What a picture we have here of every reprobate sinner's course and final doom! Unwarned by the judgments inflicted on others before him, on account of pride and rebellion against God, the sinner still takes no heed to glorify the God in whose hand his breath is, and whose are all his ways.

Instead of humbling himself in repentance, he either openly or else virtually lifts up himself against the Lord of heaven, following after worldliness, covetousness, or sensuality as his portion, and making the perishing things of time his idol. At last judgment, long deferred in mercy, goes forth. God brings to the appointed end the allotted number of the sinner's days. Then follows the judgment whereby, weighed in the balances of God, he is found wanting in the only thing which carries weight with God-faith working by love. His past privileges are taken from him forever, and given to another, while he himself is "cut asunder, and his portion is appointed with the hypocrites; where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:51).

(6) The writing was interpreted by Daniel in an early part of the night, and before the night closed, both the writing and its interpretation were proved, in the awful fulfillment, to be true, Belshazzar having been slain, the city taken, and the Babylonian kingdom divided among the Medes and Persians. Let the impenitent be warned that no one tittle of God's writing in His Word shall fail to come to pass: alike the self-righteous, when weighed in the balance of the law, and the formalist and hypocrite, weighed in the balance of the Gospel, shall be found wanting, and shall suffer accordingly. Lord, do thou root out the pride of our natural hearts, and clothe us with humility! "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom"! (Psalms 90:12.) "Receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear"! (Hebrews 12:28.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Daniel 5:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/daniel-5.html. 1871-8.

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