This study of Daniel chapter 5 was given by pastor Barry Forder on 23rd May at Calvary Chapel Portsmouth.
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
As we move into chapter five we find that Belshazzar is now king (not to be confused with Belteshazzar – the Babylonian name for Daniel). About 23 years have passed since Nebuchadnezzar died and the kingdom of Babylon has gone through a turbulent time. Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Evil-Merodach, succeeded his father and reigned for almost three years (cf 2 Kings 25:27 / Jer 52:31). His brother, Neriglissar, then reigned for about five years being succeeded by his son, Labashi-Marduk, who, being very young reigned for just a few months before being murdered. Finally, Nabonidus who had married Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter became king. History records that Nabonidus did not get on well with the people of Babylon, nor even with the priests of Marduk (the Babylonian god). As a result of this, after three years, Nabonidus appointed his son Belshazzar as king of Babylon while he himself took an army to Arabia, presumably to build sandcastles and keep out of the limelight! All of this political turmoil was just the invitation that a brilliant young military leader by the name of Cyrus needed. The Meads and the Persians were two great adjacent empires that had been steadily growing in power; however when Cyrus came along with one of his parents Persian and the other a Mead, it was the smoothing oil that was required to unite two fairly strong empires into one all conquering one. Belshazzar would have been aware that the newly formed Medo-Persian Empire was in the ascendancy and was also no doubt aware that Cyrus’ army (under the command of his general – Gubaru (later to be crowned Darius)) was heading toward Babylon. So what do you do when you’re the king of Babylon and an invading army is approaching? Throw a party! Evidently Belshazzar was so sure that Babylon was impregnable that he simply shut the gates of the city and gave a great feast to a thousand of his lords to demonstrate his undeniable, if not foolhardy, confidence. After all, he was the king of the great Babylon, excellency of the Chaldeans and capital of the known world. If over-confidence was his first mistake, his second was soon to follow…
Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:14-18 / Dan 1:2
Openly defying the God of Israel has never been a good career move – United Nations / European Union / PLO / Hezbollah / Hamas etc. take note!
3Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Proverbs 31:4 states that it is not for kings to drink wine or strong drink; how much more so when that drink is combined with idolatry. This is just asking for trouble.
5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
This would be enough to ruin anyone’s party! This writing didn’t just appear on the wall in any old place, it appeared by the candlestick – the brightest spot in the room so all would see. It is easy to understand why the king’s face was changed, and indeed why his thoughts troubled him. However, in case you are unclear as to the King James phrase ‘his loins were loosed’ – lets just say he needed the bathroom but didn’t make it in time!
There is an undeniably humorous side to this situation as we look on; imagine being the only man in scripture of whom it is recorded that they wet themselves (or worse)! And remember that “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever”!
What makes this even more incredible is that this event was even foretold by the prophet Isaiah 200 years beforehand! “Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut” (Isaiah 45:1)
7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
8 Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
As we saw in chapter two with Nebuchadnezzar, people are quick to turn to ‘religion’ when problems arise and seek answers from the ‘professional’ religious leaders. However just as we see here, they can seldom give the answers. Much is made in our day of ‘ordained ministers’ and so often these are the ones the world will turn to in the event of a tragedy or problem, even if only to seek their opinion. But is it not also true that so often these are the ones we see undermining the word of God and compromising in order to be seen to be politically correct? This should come as no great surprise, for those ordained and appointed by men will forever be answerable to men. In God’s kingdom it is very different. We read nothing in scripture of being ordained by the Bishop, but rather we read: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (John 15:16) Thus, for any believer in Christ, it is the Lord Himself who has ordained us, we are answerable to him. Paul tells us: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” And why is this so? “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1 Cor 1:26-29)
Early in the book of Acts we read of the boldness of Peter and John, yet these were unlearned and ignorant (see Acts 4:13). They did not have their theology degree from a ‘Bible’ college, accredited by a secular university that is rooted in humanism and evolutionary thinking. These were just two simple fishermen who would have struggled to get a job in many churches today, yet we read that they had been with Jesus – and that was all the qualification that was necessary!
A personal ordination from the King of kings rates immeasurably higher than anything that manmade institutions purport to offer. Daniel was one with just such an ordination from the God of Heaven.
Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
In verse 6 Belshazzar was troubled and his countenance changed. Now he is really worried (Aramaic = exceedingly terrified) and it is obvious. It would appear from the word ‘astonied’ = shebash (Aramaic), that his lords were ‘perplexed’ because of the kings reactions. Wasn’t this the king who had thrown a party to demonstrate his invincibility? Now he has not only wet his pants in public, but has turned white as a sheet because no one can explain what this writing means.
We have seen the king make four major mistakes:
- Overconfidence/Pride (verse 1)
- Open defiance of the God of Heaven (verse 2)
- Drinking to excess (verse 3)
- Worshipping false gods (verse 4)
Seldom do people in such open rebellion not know why judgment has come upon them. The king’s conscience had already convicted him before a word had been spoken. People are wise after the event, but arrogant before. Just like Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:15 “and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands” all of Belshazzar’s actions were an open taunt to God. We see that same incredible attitude with Antichrist in Rev 13 where he blasphemes the God of Heaven (Rev 13:6).
“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
The person referred to here as the queen is what we would understand as the queen mother, and from the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, it would appear to be Nitocris, wife of Nabonidus and daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, whom Herodotus mentions as a woman of extraordinary prudence.
There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
Having heard of the king’s problem she makes her way to the banqueting hall and suggests Daniel as the man to interpret the writing. As Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter she would have been well acquainted with Daniel and his exploits during her father’s reign, and seems to put in a public ‘dig’ saying that Nebuchadnezzar your grandfather (in law) was a real king.
Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.
Maybe because Daniel cared for her father for the seven years of chapter 4, she seems to be fond of Daniel and presents a brief resume´ that is bound to impress. She acknowledges (in verse 11) that the spirit of the ‘holy gods’ is in him and boldly declares that he will shew the interpretation. This shows her faith not only in Daniel but in his ‘Gods’ – plural: Father, Son & Spirit.
Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
Daniel would have been around 81 years old by now, and it is clear from this verse that his reputation had preceded him.
I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
Notice the pride once more of Belshazzar “even I have heard of you, so you must be something!” The question could well be asked, why Daniel wasn’t called to start with, if he had got such a reputation? Possibly for the same reasons that were mentioned in the comments on Daniel 4:6 – see also Eph 5:13.
15 And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:
16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
So the king explains the predicament that the other ‘wise’ men couldn’t solve and offers Daniel rewards including to be made third ruler in the kingdom. The reason that third ruler in the kingdom was offered is that, as we have noted, Nabonidus was king, Belshazzer was appointed king of Babylon while Nabonidus was away, thus the no#1 and no#2 spots were already filled. This is another evidence that this is an historically accurate record. Critics and ‘scholars’ scoffed for years claiming that Daniel was wrong and must have been written many years after this time because no record had been found of Belshazzar being king of Babylon. However, competent research and archaeological discoveries have now completely vindicated Daniel and in fact have demonstrated that Daniel had to be an eyewitness of these events.
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
Daniel, now much older and less concerned about political correctness, basically tells the king where to put his gifts! But he will explain the writing and give the interpretation anyway. All through the book Daniel demonstrates that he doesn’t work for man but for God.
18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
Now before Daniel starts to read the writing and interpret the message, he decides to give this jumped up little king a history lesson about a real king who had real authority!
20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
Daniel explains to Belshazzar what happens to those who are proud before God – and underlines the ultimate lesson: that the most high God rules in the kingdom of men, and he appoints over it whomsoever he will.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;
Now Daniel moves in for the kill!
But hast lifted up thyself against the LORD of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
Just picture this situation: In the middle of his big party, with a thousand of his lords present, a hand out of nowhere writes on the wall. The king has an ‘accident’ and turns as white as a sheet. The best men of the land are unable to help him. By now word has got out about what has happened (the whole city has probably heard about his ‘bathroom problem’) His mum hears about it, comes in and embarrasses him yet further; eventually an 81-year-old man is called who, in front of a thousand lords, gives him a right telling off – and we haven’t even got to the interpretation of the writing yet!
This is a classic case of God resisting the proud, and should serve as a graphic example that pride is an abomination to the Lord (see Proverbs 16:5)
Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
After his little outburst, Daniel now interprets the writing.
And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
Rabbinic tradition says that this writing was in the form of an encrypted Hebrew code called ‘Atbash’, if so it would have looked something like the following:
This is not the only time that encrypted words are found in the Bible. In Jeremiah 25:26 there is another example of Atbash (the word Sheshach is an encrypted form of ‘Babylon’), and in Isaiah 7:6 there is an example of another form of encryption called Albam (there the word Tabeel is an encryption of Remaliah). Both of these forms of encryption are fairly simple forms of transposition, where one letter is consistently used to replace another. (See diagrams/explanation on next page).
Hebrew / Aramaic reads right to left – all languages flow toward Jerusalem! If you look at a globe with Jerusalem in the centre, all countries west write right to left, all those east write left to right – this may be a coincidence, but then again.
Albam works by laying the second half of the alphabet alongside the first half; thus in the English alphabet it would be the equivalent to replacing every ‘a’ with an ‘n’ and vica-versa, ‘b’ with ‘o’ etc. The name ‘Albam’ derives from the first pair of letters in the Hebrew alphabet; Aleph (‘a))) replaces the Lamed (l)), and Bet (B) replaces the Mem (m), hence ALBaM.
Atbash works in a very similar way except the alphabet is wrapped around on itself so the Aleph (‘a))) becomes the Tav (t)), and the Bet (B) becomes the Shin (m), hence ATBaSh.
Note: Initially this may strike us as simply interesting, however when we stop to consider who the author of scripture actually is, the fact that God has placed hidden codes in the Bible is staggering. This is what the ancient Rabbis would call a ‘remez’ – a hint of something deeper.
Much has been written and said about the ‘Bible Code’, some of which is completely fictitious. However, with the help of modern computers, we have been able to clearly demonstrate that there are hidden codes in the Bible that point unquestionably to a supernatural author who knew the end from the beginning. The hidden codes in the Bible have also gone to demonstrate that every letter is there by deliberate supernatural design, and simply removing a single letter (from the original text) can corrupt a code that is hidden underneath. Thus we begin to see that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:18 were not a colourful exaggeration, but literally every yod (the smallest Hebrew letter) and tittle (a decorative hook on letters like the dot we place above an ‘i’ or j’) will not pass until all has been fulfilled. The warning that John was given in Revelation 22 also ‘comes to life’ as see that adding and subtracting anything from the ‘book of this prophecy’ (i.e. the Bible being the book in which the prophecy of Revelation is found) or the ‘prophecy of this book’ (specifically Revelation itself) has serious consequences. Thus any who add or subtract anything from either the Bible or Revelation are warned that their part in the ‘Book of life’ will be taken away or the plagues described in Revelation will be added to them.
Could it be, that based on this warning, the Bible itself is the Lamb’s Book of Life, and all those who are saved actually have their names written within it? If this is so, and our names are written in code form in the pages of the Bible, what a powerful deterrent to adding or subtracting to a portion of scripture because it is difficult or unpopular, when, by altering the surface text (as many liberal and politically correct ‘Christians’ are wont to do) they may in fact corrupt the code underneath that contains their name – thus by subtracting from the Bible they inadvertently remove their own name from the Book of Life!
Proverbs 30:5 states that “Every word of God is pure. Do not add to His words lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar”.
David echoes in Psalm 119:160 “Thy word is true from the beginning”
If it is pure and true then there is nothing that we can add or subtract to improve it. We should simply fall before our God who has given us His Word, which we are told in Psalm 138:2 He has exalted above all His name! If blasphemy – the misuse of His name – is to be judged, how much more the misuse of His Word!
26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
Thus king Belshazzar’s worst fears are realised, his time of playing games with the God of Israel is over, in the most dramatic fashion.
From this verse come two phrases that are still used today ‘you’re number’s up’ and ‘weighed and found wanting’. It is incredible the number of words and phrases that people use every day that originate from the Bible, yet most people have no idea, and worse still, no regard, for this most incredible book.
There is a play on words here as well with the word ‘PERES’. In both Hebrew and Aramaic there are no vowels so the word would have been written as ‘P_R_S’ with the vowels inferred. However without the vowels the sound and meaning can alter. Take for example the words CaT and CoT. Without the vowels all we would read is C_T. And so it is here with Peres; if the ‘e’ (which makes the word mean ‘divided’) is replaced with an ‘a’ we get the Aramaic word for ‘Persians’!
29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Not that Daniel was bothered, the kingdom only had a few hours to go!
30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
So Belshazzar, as all proud people will be, is cut down. David said in Psalm 7:9 “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God tries the hearts and reins.”
Psalm 37:7-13 says:
“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.” How true this was for Belshazzar who was made a public spectacle in front of his one thousand lords yet was humiliated by the God of heaven whom he had rejected.
Thus God sweeps aside the mighty Babylonian kingdom, the head of gold (cf Daniel 2); and in comes the Medo-Persian empire – the chest and arms of silver (cf Daniel 2).
There is some debate over the identity of Darius, but we will deal with that in chapter 6; what we do know is, that he was about sixty-two when he became ruler of Babylon in 539 B.C. It should be noted, that the first actual year for a Babylonian king was reckoned as their ascension year. What we would consider their 2nd year would therefore be their first regal year. Thus 539-538 = Darius’ ascension year / 538-537 = Darius’ 1st year etc.
May you be blessed and encouraged by this study.