Study Notes

Daniel 5:1-31


Last time in our study of the book of Daniel, we heard about the conversion of the King of Babylon from his own mouth.

Tonight, as we pick up in chapter five, Nebuchadnezzar has died. We have advanced 23 years in time to see the final ruler of the Babylonian Empire.

5:1 Belshazzar

Bale-shats-TSAR was the son of Nabonidus, who had taken the throne after six years of unrest in Babylon. Nabonidus was not a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. However, he had married Nebuchadnezzar's daughter, making their son Bale-shats-TSAR Nebuchadnezzar's grandson. As in so many other places in the Bible, this chapter refers to Grandpa Nebuchadnezzar as "father." The Aramaic word used can mean any male ancestor, be he a father, grandfather, or relative from the distant past.

A Great Feast

In spite of the kingly turnover, there was lots of wealth around and many leaders to enjoy it. King Bale-shats-TSAR was holding a dinner party for a thousand of his heads of state.

5:2-4 Drinking From The Vessels

Bale-shats-TSAR tasted the wine, much like wine tasters do today. As the host, he judged it, and determined that it was fit for serving to his guests. But he changed something in the presentation. Instead of the standard gold goblets that were typically used in the Babylonian palace, Bale-shats-TSAR commanded that the stolen vessels from the temple in Jerusalem be filled with wine for his guests.

As they were drinking, they were reveling in the superiority of their gods over the God of the Jews. They gave praise to their idols, brimming over with pride.

5:5-6 Fingers Writing

During their blasphemous feasting and festivities, God spoiled the party. A hand miraculously appeared and began to write in the plaster of the wall. Bale-shats-TSAR had never seen anything like this, and was struck with fear. Where was his boasting now? Where were the praises to the gods of gold and iron now? They were gone.

Now I find it amusing that the universal symbol for silence is putting a finger to the lips. I don't know what the origin of it is, but I do know that through the Scriptures, we see the finger of God silencing His enemies.

Back in the book of Exodus, God was using Moses as His messenger. To validate the message, the Lord worked miracles. But each time that God worked a miracle through Moses, the magicians of Egypt duplicated the miracle.

Moses threw down his rod, and it became a serpent. Consequently, the magicians threw down their rods, which turned into serpents.

Aaron stretched his hand over the Nile river, and the water was turned to blood. But once again, the magicians did the same with their secret arts.

A third miracle of God - frogs came up on the land, swarming all over the place. But the magicians duplicated the miracle yet again.

Exod. 8:16-19 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.'" And they did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. And the magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God."

Interestingly, the magicians never appear again. The finger of God had silenced them.

Fast forward to the ministry of Jesus. He was in the temple, teaching the people. In the middle of His message, a group of Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They demanded judgment from Jesus, knowing that the Law of Moses demanded death. But if He obeyed that command, then the Roman law would condemn Him, for it was unlawful for Jews to administer the death penalty.

John 8:6-9 And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him {be the} first to throw a stone at her." And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And when they heard it, they {began} to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst.

Once again, the finger of God had silenced His enemies.

5:7-9 The Call For Interpreters

When the king called for someone who could read what the hand had written on the wall, there was no one who could.

You know, it seems to me that the Babylonian wise men were pretty useless. Nebuchadnezzar had called for them twice, and they failed. Now they're zero for three.

It is always great to see that the Lord does not judge wisdom by the same standard as the world. As Paul wrote in 1Corinthians,

1Cor. 1:18-25 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not {come to} know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The wise men of this world can't even read God's handwriting!

5:10-12 Daniel's Reputation

Bale-shats-TSAR's mom heard the commotion and came into the banquet hall. She told him not to worry, that there was a man that had helped Grandpa Neb years before in similar situations.

Like most men who come into power, the kings following Nebuchadnezzar had appointed their own cabinets. Daniel must have gotten the boot when Bale-shats-TSAR became king. But now Daniel, or by his Babylonian name, Bale-tesh-ats-TSAR, would certainly be able to read and give the interpretation of this Godly graffiti.

5:13-17 Keep Your Gifts For Yourself

When Daniel was brought in, Bale-shats-TSAR offered a huge reward and prominent position if he would read and interpret the writing on the wall. But Daniel had no interest in the rewards, only in what God had made known. He told the king to keep the gifts for himself, or give the rewards to another.

I think that is a stronger stand than we might understand at first glance. I imagine that if I were in the same position, I might accept, justifying my position by thinking, "Lord, when I'm ruling in this kingdom, I'll be able to affect people for the gospel. Just think of the ministry that could be accomplished by this monetary reward I've been offered!"

But Daniel made no such justifications. He certainly could never be accused of greed, selfish ambition, or the love of money. We should be followers of this example, as the writer of Hebrews encourages us,

Hebr. 13:5 Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have...

5:18-23 Daniel's Rebuke

Daniel has no problem getting in the king's face with the truth. He reminds him of the fall of his grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar. God had given the king absolute power, but his pride wiped him out. But although Bale-shats-TSAR knew the family history, it had not affected his behavior.

I find that this is a very easy sin to fall into. To know what the Bible says, to know what the lesson is, but not to let it sink the 18 inches from our head to our heart. James wrote,

James 1:22-24 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for {once} he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

The foolishness of a man who forgets what he looked like in the mirror just seconds before is an apt description for us when we do not learn from the mistakes of the past. Bale-shats-TSAR certainly had not. Daniel rebukes the king for his arrogance against the Lord God.

5:24-29 The Interpretation

Daniel lets the king know that it was God who sent this message, and what it said. The inscription was Men-AY, Men-AY, Tek-AL, OO-per-AS-in.

"Men-AY" is a weight or measurement; usually of 50 shekels. "Tek-AL" means "to weigh," or "to be weighed." And "OO-per-AS-in" - "to break in two," or "divide."

Now, if you're sharp, you noticed that in verse 25, the fourth word was "OO-per-AS-in," but in verse 28 the word is "per-AS." Is this a mistake or a contradiction? No. The "oo" sound at the beginning is like "and" to us, indicating the final word in the series. "Per-AS-in" is the plural form of "per-AS."

What did all this mean? That God had counted the years and days of the kingdom of Babylon. They were about to end. They had been weighed and found wanting. The kingdom was going to be divided, being conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire.

Even at that moment, the Medes and Persians were preparing their attack. History tells us the details: Cyrus, the king of Persia, knew that Babylon had provisions stored up to last twenty years. There would be no besieging the city. They had to find a way in. But the walls were so formidable, what to do?

The Euphrates River provided Babylon with their water supply, actually running under the wall and through the city. Cyrus commanded that his army be divided - one part at the wall where the river entered the city, and the other division where the river exited.

Then he did something brilliant: He took the rest of his army upstream, and had them dig a canal to divert the river. When much of the river changed course, the divisions stationed at the walls of Babylon saw that the water level had dropped enough to enable them to enter the city.

5:30-31 Belshazzar Is Killed

True to the words written on the wall, the Babylonian Empire came to an end in a single day.

I wonder how many of us realize that the writing is on the wall for the end of this worldly empire? We know that the Bible says,

2Pet. 3:10-12 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

Bale-shats-TSAR did not heed the warning that his world was coming to an end. We know the Word is true, and that the world is ending. What sort of people ought we to be? What sort of lives ought we be living?

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