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Belshazzar’s Feast


King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.

2 Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

The Writing on the Wall

5 Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. 6Then the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. 7The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners; and the king said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom.” 8Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king the interpretation. 9Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed.

10 The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall. The queen said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. 11There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, 12because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”

The Writing on the Wall Interpreted

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, “So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and tell me its interpretation, but they were not able to give the interpretation of the matter. 16But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom.”

17 Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. 18O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. 19And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honored those he wanted to honor, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. 20But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. 21He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will. 22And you, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! 23You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.

24 “So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. 25And this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. 26This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 27 tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; 28 peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made concerning him that he should rank third in the kingdom.

30 That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed. 31And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

The Prophet continues his own sentence, and confirms what I have said, namely, King Belshazzar was intractable and willfully blind to God’s judgment. For thou hast raised thyself, says he, against the Lord of heaven. If he had raised himself thus insolently against men, his sin would be worthy of punishment; but when he had provoked God on purpose, this arrogance neither could nor ought to be borne. Again, therefore, the Prophet increases the guilt of the king’s pride by saying, he raised himself against the King of heaven He also expresses the manner of his doing so, by commanding the vessels of the temple to be brought to sight; he drank from them This profanation was an indecent sacrilege, but Belshazzar was not content with that indignity; he used these vessels for luxury and foul debauchery, abusing them in the company of concubines and abandoned women; and added a yet greater reproach against God, in praising his gods of silver and gold, brass and iron, wood and stone, which cannot feel. This had not been said previously; but since Daniel here sustains the character of a teacher, he does not relate the events so shortly as at first. When he said at the beginning of this chapter, Belshazzar celebrated that impure banquet, he spoke historically; but he now executes, as I have said, the office of a teacher. Thou, says he, hast praised the gods made of corruptible material, who neither see, nor hear, nor understand; but thou hast defrauded the living God of his honor, in whose hand is thy life, on which thou dependest, and whence all in which thou boastest proceeds. Because thou hast so despised the living God, who had been so gracious unto thee, this ingratitude was both base and shameful. We see, therefore, how severely the Prophet reproves the impious tyrant of sacrilege, and mad rashness, and foul ingratitude towards God. I pass over these things lightly, since they have been treated elsewhere. It now follows, —

Some stress must be laid upon the adverb באדין, badin, at that time,” because God’s wrath, or at least its denunciation, was now ripe. Daniel, therefore, shews how very patiently God had borne with King Belshazzar in not instantly talking up arms and inflicting punishment; but he now begins to come forth as a judge, and to ascend his judgment seat; for the haughtiness was now desperate, and the impiety no longer tolerable. We observe with what emphasis the word then is used; as if he had said, Thou canst not complain of the swiftness of the penalty, as if God had exacted it before the time. Thou canst not here complain of God’s swiftness in punishing thee; for think and consider in how many ways, and for how long a time, thou hast provoked his anger. And with ‘regard to thy last crime, thou certainly hadst arrived at the height of impiety, when that hand appeared to thee. God, therefore, now drags thee to punishment in proper time, since he has hitherto borne with thee and thy sins. After this forbearance, what remains to prevent his destroying thee, because thou hast so proudly insulted him, and art utterly hardened, without the slightest hope of amendment.

He says also, from himself; for Belshazzar need not inquire whence the hand proceeded, it came from the presence of God; that is, This hand is a witness to the wrath of heaven; do not consider it as a specter which will vanish away, but see in this appearance a proof of God’s displeasure at thy wickedness; and because thou hast arrived at thy last extremity, thy punishment is also ready for thee. And this writing, says he, has been marked; as if he had said, The eyes of King Belshazzar were not deceived, since this was really God’s hand, being sent from his sight as a certain testimony of his wrath. He afterwards adds, —

Daniel here explains these four verses which were written upon the wall. The king could not read them, either through stupor, or because God blunted all his senses, and blinded his eyes, as was formerly said. The same thing must be said of the magi and the soothsayers, for they could have read, had they not been rendered blind. First of all, Daniel recites the four words, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsn, and then adds their interpretation. He repeats the word Mene twice. Some conjecture this to apply to the numbering of the years of the king’s life, and also to the time of his reign; but the guess seems to be without any foundation. I think the word is used twice for the sake of confirmation; as if the Prophet meant the number to be completed, since men usually allow calculations to be liable to error. To impress upon Belshazzar that his ‘life and kingdom were at stake, God affirms the number to be complete, meaning, not a moment of time can be added to the boundary already determined. So also Daniel himself interprets it: God, says he, has numbered thy kingdom; implying, God has appointed and prescribed a fixed end to thy kingdom; hence it must necessarily come to an end, since its period is fulfilled.

Although God here addresses but one king by the writing set before his eyes, we may still gather this general instruction — God has prescribed a certain time for all kingdoms. (Job 14:5.) The Scripture bears the same witness concerning the life of each of us. If God has prescribed to each of us the length of his life, surely this applies more forcibly to public empires, of so much greater importance. Hence we may know how not only kings live and die according to God’s pleasure, but even empires are changed, as we have formerly said. He fixes alike their origin and their destiny. Hence we may seek consolation, when we see tyrants rushing on so impetuously, and indulging their lust and cruelty without moderation. When, therefore, they rush on, as if they would mingle heaven and earth, let us remember this instruction, Their years are numbered! God knows how long they are to rage; He is not deceived; He knows whether it is useful to the Church and his elect, for tyrants to prevail for a time. By and bye he will surely restrain them, but since he determined the number of their days from the beginning, the time of his vengeance is not yet quite at hand, while he allows them a little longer to abuse without restraint the power and the sway which he had divinely granted them.

The exposition of the word Tekel, to weigh, now follows: — Since thou hast been weighed in the balance, or scale, and found wanting Here Daniel shews God so moderating his judgments, as if he was carrying a balance in his hand. The emblem is taken from the custom of mankind; for men know the use of the balance for accurate measurement. So also God is said to treat all things by weight and measure, since he does nothing with confusion, but uses moderation; and, according to ordinary language, nothing is more or less than it should be. (Wisdom 11:21.) For this reason, Daniel says God weighed Belshazzar in a balance, since he did not make haste to inflict punishment, but exacted it with justice according to his own uniform rule of government. Since he was found deficient, that is, was found light and without weight. As if he had said, Thou thinkest thy dignity must be spared, since all men revere thee; thou thinkest thyself worthy of honor; thou art deceived says he, for God judges otherwise; God does not use a common scale, but holds his own, and there art found deficient; that is, thou art found a man of no consequence, in any way. From these words there is no doubt that the tyrant was greatly exasperated, but as his last end was approaching, he ought to hear the voice of the herald. And God, without doubt, restrained his fierceness, that he should not rise up against Daniel.

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