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Daniel 5

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Belshazzar's Feast Belshazzar's Festival Belshazzar's Banquet Belshazzar's Feast
5:1-4 5:1 5:1-4 5:1-12
  5:2-4    
5:5-9 5:5-9 5:5-9  
5:10-12 5:10-12 5:10-12  
The Writing on the Wall Explained   Daniel Explains the Writing  
5:13-16 5:13-16 5:13-16 5:13-16
5:17-24 5:17-23 5:17 5:17-28
    5:18-21  
    5:22-24  
  5:24-28    
5:25-29   5:25-28  
  5:29 5:29-31 5:29
Belshazzar's Fall      
5:30-31 5:30-31   5:30-6:

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

TEXTUAL INSIGHT

A. There seems to be an extended period of time (over 25 years) between chapters 4 and 5. In this period there were several Babylonian kings who reigned for a short time (see list of Babylonian kings in Appendix Three).

 

B. Belshazzar has been the source of great controversy because his name does not appear in many of the cuneiform lists of Babylonian kings. However, new archaeological finds have found him listed as the son of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian King (from Nabonidus' cylinder, see J. B. Pritchard, ANET, pp. 315-316). Apparently Nabonidus became devotedly involved in the worship of the moon god, Sin (Sumerian Nanna). His mother (Adadguppi) was involved in the worship of the moon god at Haran, while his daughter was high priestess at Ur. He spent most of his time in Tema in northern Arabia and was absent from the city of Babylon for an extended period (i.e. about ten years). The cities of Ur, Haran, and Tema were centers for the worship of the moon. Some historians assert that his absence was due to his commanding the army which was in an extended battle with Cyrus II's army.

 

C. This chapter is included as another example of the arrogance of world rulers and their confrontation with YHWH who is the controller of history.

 

D. Belshazzar had confidence the fortifications of the city of Babylon could not be overcome. For a good discussion of the city see La Moine F. DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997, pp. 13-21.

For a good brief discussion of neo-Babylon see Jack Finegan, Archaeological History of the Ancient Middle East, Westview Press, 1979, pp. 123-133.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 5:1-4
 1Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

5:1 "Belshazzar" In Babylonian Bel-shar-usur means "Bel, protect the king" (BDB 1084). Bel means lord" and is another name for Marduk.

"the king" Although his name was not found initially on any of the cuneiform lists of Babylonian kings, further archaeological studies have found him on cuneiform lists which call him the "son of the king" (i.e. Nabonidus' cylinder, see J. B. Pritchard, ANET, pp. 315-316)). Because he is called the son of Nebuchadnezzar in vv. 2,11,18,22, there has been much discussion about his true ancestry. Some possible theories are: (1) he was the adopted son of Nabonidus; (2) family terms have a wide latitude of meanings, as is common in Semitic languages; (3) Nabonidus may have married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II (Nitocris) in order to legitimatize his reign because he may not have been of the royal line (cf. R. P. Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar, pp. 63-80); or (4) some even assert that he married Nebuchadnezzar's queen.

"held a feast" Possibly it was a state or religious holiday. In the face of the approaching Medo-Persian army it may have been a way of taking their minds off of the impending battle.

▣ "a thousand of his nobles" History gives many examples of large festivals given by eastern monarchs (cf. Dan. 3 [neo-Babylonian]; Esther 1 [Persian]).

5:2 "When Belshazzar tasted the wine" This either refers to (1) his beginning the traditional drinking period after the dinner or (2) the fact that he was already intoxicated.

"he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels" Nebuchadnezzar II carried off the vessels from the house of YHWH in Jerusalem (cf. II Kings 24:13; 25:15), as he did from all national temples. Why Belshazzar would choose to specifically desecrate YHWH's sacred temple vessels is uncertain. Possibly, since there were hundreds of guests present plus his wives and concubines (cf. v. 3), all of the vessels from all of the conquered peoples' temples were procured for the drinking, but more probably because Jerusalem is mentioned specifically in verses 2 and 3. Belshazzar knew how YHWH had humbled Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Dan. 4), and he was simply acting out of spite (cf. v. 22).

"his father" This could be literal (cf. Gen. 31:42), but probably it is used in the sense of "ancestor," "descendant" (cf. Ezra 5:12), or "previous royal leader" (BDB 1078, also the black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III calls Jehu "son of Omri"). Some examples show the term being used as grandfather (cf. Gen. 28:13; 32:9) and great grandfather (cf. I Kgs. 15:11).

"the temple" The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was built by Solomon and is described in I Kgs. 6-8. It reflects the ancient portable tabernacle described in Exod. 25-27, 35-38.

▣ "his wives, and his concubines might drink from them" The Medes and the Persians did not allow women at state banquets (cf. Esther 1), but apparently the Babylonians did, at least on this occasion (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 5.2.28). To the Jewish mind of later scholars the presence of wives, and particularly concubines, would have been an aditional offense to YHWH. Most always men and women were segregated in the ancient Near East. This was a wild and extravagant party (cf. James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 203).

In the Hebrew Bible the distinction between ‘wives" and "concubines" has to do with the inheritance rights of the children. Both are legally married to the king and live in the harem. The children of "wives" have full inheritance rights, while the children of "concubines" have only limited inheritance rights.

This is the Aramaic section of Daniel and the term "concubines" (BDB 1099) is from an Arabic root for "time," "note," or "song," therefore, the NJB translates it as "and the women who sang for him."

5:4 "praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone" These are the same metals involved in the statue of chapter 2. From v. 23 we realize that these were idols (cf. Exod. 20:23; Deut. 4:28; 28:36,64; 29:17; Ps. 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Isa. 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 46:1-7). This phrase may imply that this banquet had religious or ritual connotations.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:5-9
 5Suddenly the fingers of a man's hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6Then the king's face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together. 7The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, "Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me shall be clothed with purple and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom." 8Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.

5:5 "the lampstand" Bible readers are familiar with the lampstands of both the tabernacle (seven branched, cf. Exod. 25:31-40) and Solomon's temple (ten branched, cf. II Chr. 4:19-22). It is uncertain if this lamp from YHWH's temple (cf. Jer. 52:19) was brought to the party room along with the bowls or if this refers to one of the lamps, which normally lit the room. If it is YHWH's lampstand then the supernatural hand of revelation from heaven wrote its riddle right above this special holy item. Whichever is true the writing was placed in a conspicuous place where it was easily seen!

"plaster of the wall of the king's palace" This is also the Aramaic word for "lime," "quicklime," or "plaster" (BDB 1086 and 162). From current archaeology we have learned that the main throne room in Babylon had white plaster on two walls.

"the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing" Whether everyone saw the hand or just the king is uncertain. The word "hand" (BDB 1094) can mean "arm," "palm," or "finger." It was a human hand with an arm, possibly to the elbow (cf. Peter-Contesse, Ellington, A Handbook On The Book of Daniel, p. 134) or just to the wrist (cf. The Anchor Bible, vol. 23, p. 184).

5:6 This is an eyewitness account of the physical deterioration of the king in light of his drunkenness and the supernatural appearance of the hand (cf. v. 9). This also occurred to Daniel in 7:28.

"his hip joints went slack" This is a metaphorical phrase describing fear (cf. Nahum 2:10; Ps. 69:23; Isa. 21:3), as is "knees began knocking together" (cf. Ezek. 7:17; 21:7; Nahum 2:10).

5:7 bring in the conjurers; the Chaldeans and the diviners" Again the impotence of Babylon's wise men is emphasized (cf. vv. 8,15). Apparently Daniel had retired from active service (cf. v. 11).

▣ "purple" The King James Version has "scarlet" and we must remember that the names of ancient colors varied greatly. Purple was the color of royalty (cf. Xenophon, Anabasis 1:5,8). Scarlet was very expensive cloth worn only by the very wealthy.

"necklace of gold" Necklaces were symbols of rank and authority in the Ancient Near East(cf. Gen. 41:42; Song of Songs 4:9; Ezek. 16:11). However, the Aramaic phrase (BDB 1090 and 1087) might refer to a solid gold collar, designating rank, not a necklace at all.

▣ "third ruler of the kingdom" This word (BDB 1118) is very ambiguous. It can mean (1) simply a high official; (2) an army official; or (3) it may fit in with Belshazzar's co-reign with Nabonidus. He could only give third place to someone.

5:8 "they could not read the inscription" It is uncertain if the writing was in Aramaic or Hebrew. It seems that they should have been able to read the words, but possibly did not understand their meaning. The words may have been written in consonants only or, as the rabbis say, not horizontally, but vertically. It is obvious that Daniel was needed to interpret the words.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:10-12
 10The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, "O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners. 12This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation."

5:10 "the queen" The Septuagint adds a phrase that says that Belshazzar called the queen. This is because it was highly unusual for anyone to enter the king's presence without being summoned (cf. Esther 4:11). However, the queen-mother had a unique position in the royal court and could probably come and go at will. There has been much debate as to her identity: (1) Nebuchadnezzar's queen, (2) Nebuchadnezzar's daughter, or (3) one of Nabonidus' wives. Options #1 or 2 seem most likely because she knew of Daniel and his gifts.

5:11 "There is a man in your kingdom" Verse 7 is an example again of the failure of the Babylonian wise men to accurately know the heart and mind of the one true God. God did, however, provide a source of revelation, even to these Babylonian monarchs. That source was Daniel, one of the captives of Judah (cf. v. 13).

▣ "a spirit of the holy gods" See note at 4:8.

NASB"illumination, insight, and wisdom"
NKJV"light and understanding and wisdom"
NRSV"enlightenment, understanding and wisdom"
TEV"good sense, knowledge, and wisdom"
NJB"perception, intelligence and wisdom"

These three characterizations are meant to reflect Daniel's supernatural abilities to know and interpret visions, dreams, etc. (cf. v. 14). The next phrase, "the wisdom of the gods" accentuates Daniel's God-given gifts (cf. v. 12; 1:17,20).

"appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners" See note at 1:20; 2:48, and 4:9.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:13-16
 13Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. 15Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom."

5:13 "'Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah'" Notice that the king addresses him by his Hebrew name, not his Babylonian name. Also notice that it is mentioned that he is from Judah, the location of the very God that Belshazzar had offended (cf. verse 22).

▣ "'one of the exiles from Judah'" This phrase functions in two ways: (1) Belshazzar is asserting that Daniel is a captive Jewish person or (2) Daniel is a member and representative of YHWH's people; the YHWH who controls history and the destiny of kings (cf. 2:20-23; 4:17,32)!

▣ "'I personally have heard'" This refers to vv. 10-12.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:17-24
 17Then Daniel answered and said before the king, "Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him. 18O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. 19Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated and whomever he wished he humbled. 20But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne and his glory was taken away from him. 21He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes. 22Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified. 24Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out."

5:17-21 This is a summary of God's sovereign dealings with Nebuchadnezzar II recorded in chapter 4.

5:17 Daniel forcibly (JUSSIVE and IMPERATIVE), but politely, rejects the king's offer of gifts, rewards, and position. Daniel can read the prophetic words. He knows the Babylonian kingdom is at an end! Daniel knew Belshazzar would be giving everything to Cyrus' army very soon.

5:18 "‘Nebuchadnezzar your father'" The term "father" can refer to descendants in Hebrew (Semitic) usage. See note at 5:2.

5:19 "'all the peoples, nations, and men of every language'" This is a hyperbole used to show the extent of the neo-Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar II (cf. 3:4,7; 4:1; 5:19; 6:25).

Nebuchadnezzar exercised total control over a large part of the ancient Near East. He thought he was in a position of authority until the God of Judah stepped in (cf. vv. 20-21)!

5:20 This verse describes not only Nebuchadnezzar, but all of the Near Eastern potentates whom David served and prophesied about (cf. 2:7,8; 9:24-27; 11:12), including Belshazzar (cf. vv. 22-23).

5:21 "the Most High God" See Special Topic at 4:2.

5:22-23 The NIV Study Bible (p. 1308) notes that Belshazzar is condemned for three things.

1. He acted irreverently toward YHWH, not out of ignorance, but spite (v. 22).

2 He desecrated YHWH's name by using the holy vessels from the temple in Jerusalem for a drunken party.

3. He praised man-made idols instead of YHWH (v. 23b).

 

5:23 "but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven" As Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by YHWH (cf. Dan. 4) so too, his descendant, Belshazzar, who had purposely violated the sanctity of YHWH's temple vessels.

▣ "you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand" This contrasts the only living, ever-living God with the dead, dumb, and nonexistent idols (see note at 5:4).

"the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways" The only source for life is YHWH (from the Hebrew VERB "to be," cf. Exod. 3:14). He is the controller of events, kings, and nations. This truth is mentioned in the Prophets (e.g. Jer. 10:23), but most often in Wisdom Literature (cf. Job 31:4; Ps. 139; Prov. 20:24).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:25-28
 25Now this is the inscription that was written out: MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN. 26"This is the interpretation of the message: 'MENE'—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27'TEKE'—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28'PERES'—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians."

5:25 "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN" These NOUNS were apparently the names for ancient weights and measures. Daniel turns them into VERBS to interpret their meaning. The term MENE (BDB 1101) is a word which means "to number." Literally, it is a particular weight called a "mina," (cf. I Kings 10: 17; Ezra 2:69; Neh. 7:71, 72).

The second term, TEKEL (BDB 1118), is the Hebrew "shaqal" which means "to weigh" and is apparently the Aramaic form of the Hebrew weight "shekel."

The word UPHARSIN (BDB 1108) means "to break or divide." The "U" is simply the connective "and." We have found from archaeological discovery that the basic root word "peres" means a half-weight. Therefore, these terms are of descending weights. However, Daniel interprets them as VERBS, vv. 26-28. This last one may be a play on the word "Persian," (i.e. paras, cf. verse 28).

Scholarship of the past century thought that the title Darius the Mede (cf. 5:31) demanded a separate Median Empire and that the order of the four kingdoms in Daniel should be Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece (e.g. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 418-426). However, the term "divided" (cf. v. 28) could refer to the third empire as being a combination of Medo-Persia with Persia being the dominant group (cf. 8:20). This would then make Rome the fourth empire with the coming of the Messiah to set up a kingdom occurring during this period. This scenario fits history and Scripture much better.

5:28 "the Medes and the Persians" This shows the historicity of the book of Daniel. Once Cyrus II became the monarch of the Fertile Crescent, the order was changed to the Persians and the Medes instead of the Medes and Persians (cf. J. C. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede, p. 127). This phrase also shows that these two empires are seen as one entity in Daniel.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:29
 29Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.

5:29 "he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom" These three (triumvir) would be: Nabonidus (absent), Belshazzar (co-regent), and Daniel.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:5:30-31
 30That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. 31So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.

5:30 "That same night" From the histories of both Herodotus (1.190-191) and Xenophon (Cyropaedia 7.5) we know the date was October 12, 539 b.c.

"the Chaldean king" The term "Chaldean" is used in an ethnic sense (cf. 9:1 and Herodotus) in this text, but as a class of wise men or astrologers in 2:2,4,5,10 (twice); 3:8; 4:7; 5:7,11. The Babylonians themselves never used the term in an ethnic sense in their own documents, but the Assyrians did.

5:31 "Darius the Mede" This person is unknown to extra-biblical history. There have been two predominant theories.

1. Darius means "royal one" (in the Avesta "dar," which may be a throne name like Hadad for Syria, Pharaoh for Egypt, and Abimelech for Philistia) and is another name for Cyrus II (the Great), who was also about sixty years of age. For the first year of their reign eastern monarchs often used a throne name (i.e. Tiglath Pileser III was known as Pul and Shalmaneser V was known as Ululai, cf. Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 127, footnote #5). Cyrus was half Median by race and took the title "king of the Medes" at his defeat of Astyages (Cyrus' father-in-law), king of Media, in 549 b.c. (D. J. Wiseman, Darius" in The New Bible Dictionary, p. 293 and Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, pp. 12ff). The Septuagint in 11:1 substitutes "Cyrus" for "Darius the Mede."

2. The Nabonidus Chronicle mentions two Medo-Persian military leaders active in the fall of the city of Babylon—Ugbaru and Gubaru (cf. J. C. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede, pp. 5ff). Ugabru was a military leader of Cyrus' forces who captured the city of Babylon (539 b.c.), but in the campaign he was wounded and died several weeks later. Another person with a similar name, Gubaru, was also a military leader. It was he, not Ugbaru, who was appointed by Cyrus as governor of the city (maybe province) of Babylon, an office he held for many years (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 17 and R. K Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 341-347).

 

▣ "received the kingdom" It is uncertain if this means that he received (BDB 1110, Pael PERFECT) the kingdom from God or from Cyrus II (cf. 9:1).

▣ "the age of sixty-two" It is quite obvious that Daniel is attempting to identify Darius, both with his racial lineage and his age. We know more about Darius than we do about many other persons mentioned in the Book of Daniel. Obviously, he was an historical person.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is there such a historical problem with the name Belshazzar?

2. How is Belshazzar related to Nebuchadnezzar II?

3. Why did Belshazzar choose YHWH to make sport of?

4. Who is the queen mentioned in verse 10?

5. Why could not the wise men of Babylon read the handwriting on the wall?

6. Explain the meaning of the words written on the wall in verse 25.

7. Who is Darius the Mede?