Reading through the Bible together
Daniel recalls in this chapter the last night of the Empire of Babylon. He was about 83 years old and had lived through all the famous kings of the Babylonian empire. All the family members of Nebuchadnezzar were affected in one way or another by the religion of the true God. This obviously included Nebuchadnezzar, who was Belshazzar’s grandfather, also his grandmother Addu-Gupi, and his father Nabonidus, who had turned the throne over to him and went to live in Tema. He loved to worship the Moongod Sin.
When Belshazzar took the throne in Babylon, he had a secular approach, void of any religion and wanted to "party-around-the-clock-all-night." At one feast all his nobles were present and as they were drinking wine being red-eyed and partying, he ordered the Temple vessels of Jerusalem to be brought so that he and his concubines could drink from them (vv. 1-2). Highly intoxicated they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and wood. The image of nearly every god of every country was brought in front of him. But according to the cuneiform texts, the Marduk priests of the official religion of Babylon, were left a bit cold through all this. Whereas the family members of Nebuchadnezar were very religious, Belshazzar had the philosophy "let us eat and drink and be happy for tomorrow we die." His wasted life was certainly speaking the truth.
Daniel was not there that night. Suddenly a hand appeared miraculously and wrote an inscription on the wall. Belshazzar saw it and got the fright of his life. From childhood he was told about the events that happened with his grandfather, such as the image dream, the furnace event, the God-given madness that came over him, his restoration, and about the role of God's hand in the events of this world. Since he only heard it and did not experience anything himself, he grew skeptical and resorted to "playboy" activities. Belshazzar started to waste money, and even though the economy was stable, it wasn’t long before the empire was financially shaky. Sports, drinking, and banqueting were the order of the day.
Belshazzar thought he saw the hand of a ghost and started to shake uncontrollably (v. 6). The academics were called in to unravel the mystery but they could not (v. 7-8). The queen also knew of the role of Daniel in the court (v. 22), just like Belshazzar "knew all this." The difference is that she was sober and told him to call Daniel (vv. 10-12). She flattered him with, "O king, live forever" (v. 10). Then Daniel was brought in (v. 13). He did not watch or sit through any of this, smile to the drunk audience, swing to their songs, or shout noisily praises to their metal and wooden gods they had made.
Belshashar offered to Daniel a purple mantle and gold necklace and to be the third ruler, his father Nabonidus (first ruler); himself, Belshazzar (second ruler), and then Daniel (third ruler) if he could explain the writing. Daniel told him to give his gifts to others. Without any omission of words that might be offensive to Belshazzar , he explained what Nebuchadnezzar’s family knew very well. Daniel reminded him about his grandfather and how he became mad because God wanted to teach him a lesson of humbleness (v. 19-21). Daniel told him that he was doing the opposite of his grandfather. He was exalting himself against the Lord of heaven (just like Lucifer during the Rebellion in Heaven) and carelessly and irresponsibly brought in the vessels from the Temple of Jerusalem and drank out of them. "But the God in whose hand are your life, breath, and your ways, you have not glorified" (v. 23).
The inscription read MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN (v. 25). Mene (or manû) was a common Babylonian word for "counting." The word upharsin (or parashu) was also a common word meaning "divide in two, or cutting." Tekel may be from the word shekel (which was weighed for its value). This interpretation was identical to what it would have been in the Babylonian language of a falling empire. So Daniel was clothed to be the third ruler and as such given authority (v. 29).
That night Gobryas the Mede reached the gates of Babylon and it is said that the Marduk priests had purposely left the gates open. Cyrus, the Persian whom Nabonidus feared, took his troops north of Babylon. So Gobryas, the Mede, took Babylon that night and slayed Belshazzar (v. 30). Later he took the name "Darius the Mede," the ruler mentioned in chapter 6, and reigned for almost full two years before Cyrus the Persian took over. Nabonidus' Moongod Sin could not outsmart the God of Daniel and prevent Cyrus from ruling Babylon as Isaiah 45:1ff. had predicted.
We do not want to play political-religious games like Nabonidus or be secular and entertainment-seeking like Belshazzar , his son. Daring to be a Daniel, we desire to keep our faith and speak boldly for Your cause without hesitation. Amen.
Koot van Wyk, DLitt et Phil; ThD.
Kyungpook National University
Sangju, South Korea.