The Book of Daniel Chapter Five
by Cooper P Abrams III
The Fall of the Ancient Babylonian Empire
In Genesis 10:8-10 is the first mention of ancient Babylon. Nimrod is recorded as the founder of Babel, which refers to Babylon, which was established shortly after the Flood. The Tower of Babel was built in that city (Gen. 11:8-9). The name Babylon means the "gate of god(s)" referring to the pagan idols. Babylon in Scripture is always symbolic of rebellion against God and of idolatry. Astrology which was the first false religion. It was practiced and invented in Babylon and was probably associated with the Tower of Babel.
The first extrabiblical reference to Babylon was in the Assyrian tablets which date to 2300 BC. The city gained prominence under Hammurabi, who developed the famous "Code of Hammurabi" which was the recorded system of laws of the city and kingdom.
After Hammurabi, Babylon and the area know as Mesopotamia was ruled for a time by the Hittites, but later was invaded by a people called the Kassites. The Kassites, moved into western Iran and eventually into Mesopotamia and were pagans who worshiped at least thirty gods. A'gum II, the Kassite king, restored the worship of the Hittite god Marduk making him equal with the Kassite god Shuqamuna.
The Babylonian idol Marduk
|Marduk was worshiped for a thousand years in Babylonian and his name in time became simply "Bel."|
The ancient Assyrians next ruled Babylon and were originally Semites, but who later merged with other peoples of the Middle East and were a war like people. The Assyrians in 722 BC invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Ten Tribes of Israel) taking them captive and carrying them off to Babylon which ended the nation.
Next came the Babylonian Empire ruled by Nabopolasser which began the Neo (new) Babylonian Empire. When Nabopolasser died his son, Nebuchadnezzar became the king and he is the king that invaded the southern nation of Judah and took it into captivity along with Daniel.
Nebuchadnezzar ruled for forty three years and died at eighty three or four. After his death in 562 BC his son Evil-merodach, ruled for two years. He was succeeded by Neriglissar (559-555 BC), who was succeeded by Nabonidius (555-538 BC). Belshazzar seems to have been the eldest son of Nabonidus. For a time the Bible was the only reference to this Babylonian ruler, however in 1854 Sir Henry Rawlinson, found an inscription with his name listed as the son of Nabonidus. Answers in Genesis has this report on Belshazzar;
"Quite recently, however, the side of a ravine undermined by heavy rains fell at Hillah, a suburb of Babylon. A number of huge, coarse earthenware vases were laid bare. These were filled with tablets, the receipts and contracts of a firm of Babylonian bankers, which showed that Belshazzar had a household, with secretaries and stewards. One was dated in the third year of the king Marduk-sar-uzur. As Marduk-sar-uzar was another name for Baal, this Marduk-sar-uzur was found to be the Belshazzar of Scripture. In one of these contract tablets, dated in the July after the defeat of the army of Nabonidus, we find him paying tithes for his sister to the temple of the sun-god at Sippara." 1
Belshazzar was a subordinate king, ruling the city of Babylon under his father Nabonidus, who had retired to Arabia. He was the ruler of the city when the Babylonian Empire fell in 539 BC. This places the events of Daniel 5 twenty three years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar.
It seems fateful that the ancient kingdom of Babylon ends with a drunken brawl in which Belshazzar the king and his guests make sport of defying Jehovah God . This was a large feast in which a thousand "lords" or dignitaries were invited. These feasts were not only put on for entertainment, but as a show of the greatness and glory of the king. Belshazzar, in character, is in the lime light leading the feast in ever increasing drunkenness in drinking different kinds of wines.
In rebellion and defiance of Almighty God, Belshazzar sends his servants to the temple, probably of the idol Marduk. Nebchadnezzar had stored the sacred vessels there which were stolen from the temple in Jerusalem when he destroyed the city in 586 BC. These golden vessels are given to the guests and everyone from the king down began to drink wine from them.
The rebellious and God defying intent of Belshazzar's actions are clearly seen in that as they drank from these sacred vessels used by the priest of Israel only in worship of Jehovah God, the praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone. It does not take much imagination to see what they were doing. These sacred vessel, once dedicated only to God's service, were filled with wine and then they were lifted high as toast after toast was made to their pagan gods. On and on it went with the crowd becoming more and more intoxicated and ever increasing their praise of their pagan idols. But in short order God would intervene and vindicate Himself before the sinful and blaspheming God haters.
As the drunken bawl continued suddenly there appeared a hand of a man and hand without a body wrote on the plastered wall where the lamp stands were that lighted the hall. Walvoord in his book commentary on Daniel reports that archaeologists discovered a huge throne room in Babylon which was 56 feet wide and 173 feet long. There was a niche in the wall where probably the king sat and behind the niche the wall was covered in white plaster. 2
This sobering event shocked the king and immediately changed his demeanor from joyous rioting to one of abject terror. His debauchery and licentious behavior ended in an instant as he watched only the hand of man writing on the wall. He was so terrified that the Bible says "the joints of his loins were loosed" which refers to the vertebrae of his spine. He was instantly weakened and all his strength left him and his knees began to knock together. It is easy to picture him staggering before his guests wildy toasting to his pagan gods one moment and the next seeing him collapse into his seat with pure horror seen his alcohol redden face.
Me'ne, Mene, Te'kel, Upharsin
The hand had written in his own language and he knew the had a great and tragic meaning, but the words made no sense. " NUMBERED, NUMBERED, WEIGHTED, DIVIDING." Clearly Belshazzar knew this cryptic message was from God and his in his panic shouted the command to bring in the astrologers, Chaldeans and the soothsayers. Although Nebuchadnezzar had learned his lesson of who Jehovah God is, this truth seems to have been lost on to those in his family who followed him. In verse 22, Daniel in addressing the king reminds Belshazzar that he knew what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar, but he had deliberately defied God fully knowing what he was doing. Knowing this makes the sin of Belshazzar even more foolish and damning.
Belshazzar offers great riches and position to wise men if they could tell him the meaning of the writing. He offered fine clothes and gold chains and interestingly the position of third ruler in the kingdom. Belshazzar was only the second ruler in the kingdom, who ruled in subordination to his father Nabonidus who was first, so he could only offer the third position in the king under him.
Once again the "wise men" of Babylon failed and admitted they could not interpret the hand writing on the wall. Of course they knew what the words were, but they did not know what they meant.
This result, of the wise men not being able to tell him what the hand writing means, further troubles Belshazzar to the point that the guest dignitaries are astonished at his behavior. It this not the great Belshazzar, the rule of Babylon. Why is he so shaken by this?
It seems the news of the hand writing on the wall had spread through the palace and had reached the ears of the queen. The Bible does not tell us who the queen is, but she was not in attendance at the feast and she enters and hails the king. Ryrie identifies her as being Belshazzar's mother, however it is possible that she was some other prominent queen in Babylon.3 Whitcomb suggests that this was Amytis, the aged widow of Nebuchadnezzar, for whom he had built the hanging gardens. 4 She had detailed information about Nebuchadnezzar and of a Daniel and she called Nebuchadnazzar, Belshazzar's father three times.
The queen relates to Belshazzar how that Daniel had interpreted the Nebuchadnezzar's dreams when all the wise men of Babylon had failed and that he had been made the master of all the wise men. She beckon Belshazzar to call Daniel. Probably after the death of Nebuchadnezzar Daniel had lost his high position in the kingdom and slipped in to obscurity. The Bible does not record any events in which involved Daniel after the death of Nebuchadnezzar until now.
The king asked Daniel if he is one of the Jews that Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon in captivity. He tells Daniel he has heard about him and his "spirit of the gods" which was in him and of his wisdom and intelligence. He makes the same mistake in not recognizing God as "the" one and only God and like Nebuchadnezzar simply sees Him as one of many gods. He further explains that his wise men could not interpret the hand writing. He offers Daniel the riches and position that he had offered to the wisemen and probably very impatiently waits for his answer.
Daniel, as all true men of God, boldly proclaimed God's truth to Belshazzar. He first refuses the gifts of the king and simply says that he will tell him the meaning of the writing. He does not begin with any flowery address, but first goes straight to the matter at hand. He simply address Belshazzar as "O thou king" and begins to bring God's message. Then as he had before Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed the truth of who God was and that it was God that controlled the kingdoms of men and of even life itself.
He reminded Belshazzar that Nebuchadnezzar had in pride lifted himself up and hardened his heart against God and that God had stripped him of his position, power and glory. He explained that God had reduced, the once mighty king Nebuchadnezzar, to the degrading state of living like a animal eating grass in the field like an ox. He reminded Belshazzar that this continued until he knew that "the most high God ruled in the kingdoms of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will."
Daniel then pointedly tells Belshazzar, that this was not news to him and that he already knew of what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. But instead of heeding the truth his "father" had learned he had in defiance had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven in the blasphemous act of using the sacred vessels of the temple in his drunken feast. Daniel vividly points out that Belshazzar had defiantly challenged the Lord of Heaven and had not gloried Him.
He then tells Belshazzar the thing he already knew, that being that the hand and the writing on the wall came from Almighty God in response to His blatant rebellion against Him.
The writing on the wall was Aramaic and stated, "Me'ne, Mene, Te'kel, Upharsin." The words were "Numbered, Numbered, Weighted and Divided." Daniel interpreted the words giving the meaning:
ME'NE - God has numbered thy kingdom and it is finished. Note that his phrase was written twice.
TE'KEL - Thou are weighted in the balances (judged) and are found wanting.
PE'RES - Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians. The word Pe'res is the singular form of the word Phar'sin. The "U" before this word means "and."
Once Belshazzar, as the Babylonian king, had made an offer or reward it could not be withdrawn so the king demanded that Daniel receive the rewards offered. He was clothed with scarlet and had a gold chain hung around his neck and a decree was issued that made him next in power under Belshazzar.
The Bible very matter-of-factly simply states in verse 30.... "In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old." Romans 6:23a states the truth that the "wages of sin is death." Belshazzar not only lost his life, he lost his soul and is even now in Hades awaiting the final judgment of Revelation 20:11-15. As Daniel pointed out to him, he knew what he was doing, and he refused to believe God. Foolishly he took great pride in himself and his position, completely disregarding the truth that God had revealed to him through his ancestor Nebuchadnezzar. As Romans 1:18 states he is without excuse willingly rejecting the love of God. What a tragedy is person who refuses the knowledge of Almighty God and in an act of rebellion rejects God and His grace.
History records that even as the drunken brawl was progressing the Medes and the Persians were effecting their plan whereby the would divert the water which flowed under the wall on the east side of the Euphrates into the middle of Babylon. With the river diverted they would be able to cross under the wall with little difficulty into the heart of the city. There was a great pride among the Babylonians and confidence in the city's defensives. Babylon was protected by a moat or rampart which was 300 feet high and 75 feet wide and seemed to be impregnable. But the hand work of man, no matter how strong, cannot stand against the determinate will of God and thus the city fell and God gave the kingdom to the Darius the Mede.
Many Old Testament scholars rejected the historicity of the Book of Daniel claiming there was no evidence for the existence of Darius the Mede. These so called scholars with all their learning made emphatic derogatory statements about God's word without having all the information needed to make such a judgment. Yet in time God's word was vindicated. Darius the Mede, clearly was the ruler Gubaru, the man who Cyrus, the king of the Persia, made to be the ruler of Babylon. In the ancient Nadonidus Chronicle it states that Cyrus "installed sub-governors in Babylon." From 535-525 BC, the name Gubaru is found in cuneiform texts listed as the governor of Babylon. 5 So the once mystery is revealed to be no mystery at all and God's word, as always, is shown to be historically accurate in every detail.