I have made the observation how the History of the Nations is “His-Story,” the Story of God’s Sovereignty. The rise of nations, and their precipitous fall serve as a testimony of God’s hand. The ruins of failed nations dot the landscape of the world, and are buried under desert sands, or discovered under the relics of past civilizations. Though leaders of nations boast in their might, they would do well to remember, “Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3).
Daniel 5 – The Fall of Babylon
Babylon’s rise from a city-state to a world empire comes to a sudden, and decisive end in Daniel 5. The Chaldean kingdom barely spanned a century. Her rise to power under Nebuchadnezzar, and sudden fall under Belshazzar fulfilled God’s prophecies of judgment against Israel and her restoration to the land after 70 years (Isaiah 13:17-22; 21:1-10; 47:1-5; Jeremiah 51:33-58).
The Actions of a Foolish King (5:1-12)
The Scriptures introduce us to Belshazzar without an introduction, whom we believe was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar (5:1). Though he knew the astonishing history of his grandfather and the humiliation he suffered when he scorned the LORD (5:21-22), the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar was a fool and dared to blaspheme the God of heaven. Hosting a banquet for a thousand nobles, the drunken king commanded the gold and silver vessels from the LORD’s Temple be brought to his tables. The king and his guests drank from the sacred vessels (5:2-3) and scorned the Creator of the Universe, toasting their “gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” (5:4).
Suddenly, the king spied the “fingers of a man’s hand writing on the plaster of the wall, over by a candlestick” (5:5). Illuminated by the glow of the light, and the sight of a man’s fingers etching words into the plaster of the wall, the king was terrified and visibly shaken (5:6). The demeanor of the king silenced the banquet, as the king summoned the wise men of his realm to come, read, and interpret the words on the wall (5:7). The king offered the reward of a scarlet robe, a golden chain (probably a symbol of authority), and the role of “the third ruler in the kingdom” (his father is believed to have been his co-ruler, 5:7). Yet, none of the wise men could read, or tell the meaning of the words on the wall (5:8).
Though not a part of the drunken revelry, the queen mother of the realm (most likely the wife of the late king Nebuchadnezzar), received news the banquet was interrupted, and came to the hall to see her grandson (5:10). Offering comfort and counsel (5:10-11), the queen reminded Belshazzar there was yet a man of the Hebrews who served Nebuchadnezzar, and had the reputation of being a man of wisdom (5:11). The queen counseled her grandson to summon Daniel, for he had the reputation of being a man with “an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams” (5:12).
The Appeal of a Foolish King (5:13-17)
Belshazzar summoned Daniel, who was now an elderly man, and inquired if he had served Nebuchadnezzar as counselor (5:13-14). Relating to Daniel his own wise men failed him (5:15), the king appealed to the aged prophet to read the writing on the wall, and promised to reward him with a scarlet robe, a gold chain, and promote him to “the third ruler in the kingdom” (5:16). Indifferent to the promise of reward and promotion (for a man of God will not be bought or bribed), Daniel rejected the king’s proposal (5:16-17a). He did, however, assure the king he would read “and make known to him the interpretation” (5:17).
Daniel’s Analysis of the Inscription (5:18-23)
Before he interpreted the words on the wall, Daniel reminded Belshazzar his grandfather had been a great and powerful king, “but when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he [had been] deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him” (5:20; 4:23). The humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar lasted seven years, until he humbled himself and acknowledged “the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will” (5:21).
Daniel then rebuked the king, and said, “thou his son [grandson], O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this” (5:22). The king had mocked “the Lord of heaven” and taken the vessels that were for His Temple, and blasphemed God (5:23). He had praised idols “of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone” (5:23), though they cannot see, “nor hear, nor know” (5:23). Even though the God of heaven holds man’s breath in His hand, Belshazzar had “not glorified” Him (5:23).
Numbered, Numbered, Wanting, and Broken (5:25-28)
Fulfilling his obligation as prophet, and the king’s messenger, Daniel boldly declared and interpreted the writing on the wall: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (5:25).
Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, whom God gave opportunity to humble himself and repent, there would be no mercy for Belshazzar and his kingdom. He would not escape the judgment of God for his days were numbered and fulfilled; he had been weighed in God’s just scales; and the kingdom would be divided, “and given to the Medes and Persians” (5:27-28).
Closing thoughts (5:29-31) – There was no escape for Belshazzar, for he was guilty: Guilty of pride, Guilty of defying, blaspheming, and profaning God’s name; Guilty of idolatry, and Guilty of failing to honor and acknowledge God as Sovereign.
The foolish king’s final act was to honor the servant of God proclaiming him a ruler of a kingdom that was doomed. He dressed Daniel in a robe of purple, and hanging about his neck a chain of gold, yet, all was for naught (5:29). By diverting the waters of the Euphrates River, the Medes and Persians were already pouring into the city, and that night Babylon would fall and “Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans [was] slain” (5:30).
Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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