Belshazzar's Impious Feast; the Handwriting on
the Wall Interpreted by Daniel of the Doom of Babylon and Its
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 (see my Introduction to Daniel). The heathen 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
drank … before the thousand—The
king, on this extraordinary occasion, departed from his usual way of
feasting apart from his nobles (compare Es 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" (Mt 1:1).
Daniel does not say that the other kings mentioned in other writers did
not reign between Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar, namely, Evil-merodach
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 (Jer 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
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
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
(2Sa 5:13; 1Ki 11:3; So 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" (Isa 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
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 Pr 16:18; Ac 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. (See on Da 4:36). Compare similar rank given to the queen mother
among the Hebrews (1Ki 15:13).
11. spirit of the holy gods—She
remembers and repeats Nebuchadnezzar's language (Da 4:8, 9, 18). As Daniel was probably,
according to Oriental custom, deprived of the office to which
Nebuchadnezzar had promoted him, as "master of the magicians" (Da 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 Da 5:29. For here he declares his interpretation
of the words is not from the desire of reward. The honors in
Da 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
majesty—in the eyes of his
glory—from his victories.
honour—from the enlargement and
decoration of the city.
19. A purely absolute monarchy (Jer 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
23. whose are all thy ways—(Jer 10:23).
24. Then—When thou liftedst up thyself
against the Lord.
the part of the hand—the fore part,
was … sent from him—that is,
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 (1Sa 2:3; Ps 62:9). Like spurious gold or silver (Jer 6:30).
28. Peres—the explanation of "dividers"
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
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 (Da 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, compare Note, see on Da 5:17.
The insignia of honor 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 favor of the new
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.
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 Isa 21:5; 44:27; Jer 50:38,
39; 51:36. As to Belshazzar's
being slain, compare Isa 14:18-20; 21:2-9; Jer
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 Da 6:28 shows
Daniel was not ignorant of Cyrus' share in the capture of
Babylon. Isa 13:17; 21:2, confirm Daniel in making the
Medes the leading nation in destroying Babylon. So also Jer 51:11,
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.