Daniel 5:1

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

1. Beltsazar rex fecit convivium magnum proceribus suis mille, et coram mille vinum bibit.


Daniel here refers to the history of what happened at the taking of Babylon; but meanwhile he leaves those judgments of God to the consideration of his readers, which the Prophets had predicted before the people had become exiles. He does not use the prophetic style, as we shall afterwards see, but is content with simple narrative; while the practice of history may be learnt from the following expressions. It is our duty now to consider how this history tends towards building us up in the faith and fear of God. First of all we notice the time at which Belshazzar celebrated this banquet. Seventy years had passed away from the time when Daniel had been led into exile with his companions. For although Nebuchadnezzar will soon be called the father of Belshazzar, yet it is clear enough that Evil-Merodach lived between them; for he reigned twenty-three years. Some. reckon two kings before Belshazzar; for they place Regassar after Labassardach; and these two will occupy eight years. Metasthenes has stated it so, and he has many followers. But Nebuchadnezzar the Great, who took Daniel captive, and was the son of the first king of that name, evidently reigned forty-five years. Some transfer two years to the reign of his father; at any rate, he held the regal power for forty-five years; and if the twenty-three years of Evil-Merodach are added, they will make sixty-eight years -- in which Belshazzar had reigned eight years. We see, then, how seventy-two years had passed away from the period of Daniel being first led captive. Metasthenes reckons thirty years for the reign of Evil-Merodach; and then, if we add eight years, this makes more than eighty years -- which appears probable enough, although Metasthenes seems to be in error in supposing different kings instead of only different names. 1 For Herodotus does not call Belshazzar, of whom we are now speaking, a king, but calls his father Labynetus, and gives him the same name. 2 Metasthenes makes some mistakes in names, but I readily embrace his computation of time, when he asserts Evil-Merodach to have reigned thirty years. For when we treat of the seventy years which Jeremiah had formerly pointed out, we ought not to begin with Daniel's exile, no,' yet with the destruction of the city, but with the slaughter which occurred between the first victory of king Nebuchadnezzar, and the burning and ruin of the temple and city. For when the report concerning the death of his father was first spread abroad, as we have elsewhere said, he returned to his own country, lest any disturbance should occur through his absence. Hence we shall find the seventy years during which God wished the people's captivity to last, will require a longer period for the reign of Evil-Merodach than twenty-three years; although there is not any important difference, for soon after Nebuchadnezzar returned, he carried off the king, leaving the city untouched. Although the temple was then standing, yet God had inflicted the severest punishment upon the people, which was like a final slaughter, or at least nearly equal to it. However this was, we see that Belshazzar was celebrating this banquet just as the time of the deliver-ante drew nigh.

Here we must consider the Providence of God, in arranging the times of events, so that the impious, when the time of their destruction is come, cast themselves headlong of their own accord. This occurred to this wicked king. Wonderful indeed was the stupidity which prepared a splendid banquet filled with delicacies, while the city was besieged. For Cyrus had begun to besiege the city for a long time with a large army. The wretched king was already half a captive; and yet, as if in spite of God, he provided a rich banquet, and invited a thousand guests. Hence we may conjecture the extent of the noise and of the expense in that banquet. For if any one wishes to entertain only ten or twenty guests, it will occasion him much trouble, if he wishes to treat them splendidly. But when it was a royal entertainment, where there were a thousand nobles with the king's wife and concubines, and so great a multitude assembled together, it became necessary to obtain from many quarters what was required for such a festival; and this may seem incredible! But Xenophon though he related many fables and preserved neither the gravity nor the fidelity of a historian, because he desired to celebrate the praises of Cyrus like a rhetorician; although he trifles in many things, yet here had no reason or occasion for deception. He says a treasure was laid up, so that the Babylonians could endure a siege of even ten or more years. And Babylon was deservedly compared to a kingdom; for its magnitude was so large as to surpass belief. It must really have been very populous, but since they drew their provisions from the whole of Asia, it is not surprising that the Babylonians had food in store, sufficient to allow them to close their gates, and to sustain them for a long period. But in this banquet it was most singular that the king, who ought to have been on guard, or at least have sent forth his guards to prevent the city from being taken, was as intent upon his delicacies as if he had been in perfect peace, and exposed to no danger from any outward enemy. He had a contest with a strong man, if any man ever was so. Cyrus was endued with singular prudence, and in swiftness of action by far excelled all others. Since, then, the king was so keenly opposed, it is surprising to find him so careless as to celebrate a banquet. Xenophon, indeed, states the day to have been a festival. The assertion of those Jews who think the Chaldeans had just obtained a victory over the Persians, is but trifling. For Xenophon -- who may be trusted whenever he does not falsify history in favor of Cyrus, because he is then a very grave historian, and entirely worthy of credit; but when he desires to praise Cyrus, he has no moderation -- is here historically correct, when he says the Babylonians were holding a usual annual festival. He tells us also how Babylon was taken, viz., by Gobryas and Gadatas his generals. For Belshazzar had castrated one of these to his shame, and had slain the son of the other in the lifetime of his father. Since then the latter burnt with the desire of avenging his son's death, and the former his own disgrace, they conspired against him. Hence Cyrus turned the many channels of the Euphrates, and thus Babylon was suddenly taken. The city we must remember was twice taken, otherwise there would not have been any confidence in prophecy; because when the Prophets threaten God's vengeance upon the Babylonians, they say their enemies should be most fierce, not seeking gold or silver, but desiring human blood; and then they narrate every kind of atrocious deed which is customary in war. (Jeremiah 1:42.) But nothing of this kind happened when Babylon was taken by Cyrus; but when the Babylonians freed themselves from the Persian sway by casting off their yoke, Darius recovered the city by the assistance of Zopyrus, who mutilated his person, and pretended to have suffered such cruelty from the king as to induce him to betray the city. But then we collect how hardly the Babylonians were afflicted, when 3000 nobles were crucified! And what usually happens when 8000 nobles are put to death, and all suspended on a gallows -- nay, even crucified? Thus it easily appears, how severely the Babylonians were punished at the time, although they were then subject to a foreign power, and treated shamefully by the Persians, and reduced to the condition of slaves. For they were forbidden the use of arms, and were taught from the first to become the slaves of Cyrus, and dare not wear a sword. We ought to touch upon these things shortly to assure us of the government of human events by the judgment of God, when he casts headlong the reprobate when their punishment is at hand. We have an illustrious example of this in King Belshazzar.

The time of the deliverance predicted by Jeremiah was at hand -- the seventy years were finished -- Babylon was besieged. (Jeremiah 25:11.) The Jews might now raise up their heads and hope for the best, because the arrival of Cyrus approached, contrary to the opinion of them all; for he had suddenly rushed down from the mountains of Persia when that was a barbarous nation. Since, therefore, the sudden coming of Cyrus was like a whirlwind, this change might possibly give some hope to the Jews; but after a length of time, so to speak, had elapsed in the siege of the city, this might east down their spirits. While king Belshazzar was banqueting with his nobles, Cyrus seems able to thrust him out in the midst of his merriment and hilarity. Meanwhile the Lord did not sit at rest in heaven; for he blinds the mind of the impious king, so that he should willingly incur punishments, yet no one drew him on, for he incurred it himself. And whence could this arise, unless God had given him up to his enemy? It was according to that decree of which Jeremiah was the herald. Hence, although Daniel narrates the history, it is our duty, as I have said, to treat of things far more important; for God who had promised his people deliverance, was now stretching forth his hand in secret, and fulfilling the predictions of his Prophets. (Jeremiah 25:26.)

It now follows -- King Belshazzar was drinking wine before a thousand. Some of the Rabbis say, "he strove with his thousand nobles, and contended with them all in drinking to excess;" but this seems grossly ridiculous. When he says, he drank wine before a thousand, he alludes to the custom of the nation, for the kings of the Chaldeans very rarely invited guests to their table; they usually dined alone, as the kings of Europe now do; for they think it adds to their dignity to enjoy a solitary meal. The pride of the kings of Chaldea was of this kind. When, therefore, it is said, Belshazzar drank wine before a thousand, something extraordinary is intended, since he was celebrating this annum banquet contrary to his ordinary custom, and he deigned to treat his nobles with such honor as to receive them as his guests. Some, indeed, conjecture that he drank wine ordeals, as he was accustomed to become intoxicated when there were no witnesses present; but there is no force in this comment: the word before means in the presence or society of others. Let us go on:

1 See the Dissertations at the end of this volume, in which these historical points are treated at length.

2 Herod., lib. 1:sect. 188. Comp. Cyropoed., lib. 4 and 7.