Daniel 5: Belshazzar's Feast
Daniel was taken captive to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim, about the year 606 or 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar was not then king of Babylon, but co-regent with his father Nabopolassar, and simply called king by anticipation. He assumed the full authority of the throne in 604 B.C. and reigned in Babylon till 561 B.C. He was succeeded by Evilmerodach, 561-559; Neriglassar, 558-555; Laborosoarchod (9 months), 555; and Nabunahid, 555-538, the year in which Cyrus took Babylon. The first four chapters in Daniel belong to the rein of Nebuchadnezzar. The fifth refers to Belshazzar as the king of Babylon and the son of Nebuchadnezzar. (Dan. 5:2, 11, 18) There is no mention in the monuments, or tablets, or clay cylinders, of Belshazzar as a king of Babylon. There are, however, several contract-tablets that establish the fact that Belshazzar (Bel-sara-usur "Bel protect the king") was the son of Nabonidus or Nabu-nahid. "As regards his [Belshazzar's] relationship to Nebuchadnezzar, it is possible that Nabu-nahid may have sought to strengthen his position by marrying a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, in which case the latter might be spoken of as Belshazzar's father (‘grandfather,’ by Hebrew usage)."
The Babylonian Chronicle respecting this period gives us to understand that Nabonidus was not in Babylon when Cyrus was preparing to advance upon it. He appears to have been with the forces at Sippar or Sepharvaim. And it is recorded that when Cyrus overcame the enemy in battle at Opis, he had "some conflicts with the men of Akkad, and took Sippar on the 14th day of January without fighting. Nabonidus fled" (Chronicle). It may thus have been that while Nabonidus was in Akkad, Belshazzar was in Babylon and was there declared king by the people. In any case, Cyrus’ leader, Ugbaru or Gobryas, took Babylon without resistance, according to all the chronologists on the night of the 11th of Marcheswan 538. According to Daniel, Belshazzar was king at least three years. (Dan. 8:1) This contradicts the generally accepted list of kings above given. It is only fair to state that no record has yet been found that establishes the kingship of Belshazzar, and the contract-tablets bearing dates continuously throughout the reign of Nabonidus to the conquest by Cyrus make no reference to any other king than Nabonidus.
This chapter then brings us down to the very close of the Babylonian empire. And what a terrible end! Drinking, feasting, and revelry, and the profanation of the holy vessels belonging to the temple of the Lord. A very few simple words are employed to describe this closing scene. Yet each stroke of the pen speaks volumes. Therein lies its power to appeal to so many different classes of minds and leave a definite impression. The feast, the handwriting on the wall, the terror-stricken king, the perplexed magi, the interpretation by Daniel, and the death of the king that night, furnish the never dying outlines of this picture.
Whoever considers the extremity to which any evil leads can readily estimate the danger and the responsibility attached to it. The abuse of strong drink leads to delirium tremens, insanity, and death. The knowledge of that fact doubtless saves many from an injudicious use of it. The final outcome of a deeper evil - the love of pre-eminence—is laid bare in a startling light in this story. Not everyone can see it. In our lives, not nearly so much attention is directed to the indulgence of the spirit of self-will and its evil consequences as is given to the indulgence of intemperate habits and their consequences, although the ultimate result of the former is far more serious than that of the latter.
"‘Babylon’ profanes all things of heaven and of the church." (P. P. on Dan. 5:1-4) Acts prompted by a spirit of self-will, love of pre-eminence, or love of ruling, if not checked will profane and destroy everything heavenly in the soul. Everyone is capable of seeing from the Lord that this is true, even as Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall and trembled. That writing, which was "from heaven" (E. 373), discloses the inner nature of the feast - what it means. Yet the king cannot tell what the words signify. He sees the words but can neither read nor understand them. Likewise the magi see them but can neither read nor interpret. Those steeped in evil possess rationality but cannot understand the truth from themselves. They have conscience and can be made conscious of the sad plight in which they are and even moved greatly by the fear of consequences. But it is impossible for them to discern the real outcome of evil - its fatal effects upon themselves - without enlightenment from the Lord. A Daniel is needed to read and interpret the message from heaven.
Daniel prefaces his interpretation by a short address to the king. God gave Nebuchadnezzar his father a kingdom, and glory and honor. But when he became filled with pride, his kingdom was taken from him, and he suffered until he learned that God alone rules over humanity. "And thou, his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thy heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven," and profaned His holy name. Self-confidence in pursuing an evil course in life always deadens the conscience. History and experience may be interesting to read, but they have no word of warning or advice for self. History proves that no one learns anything from history. The writing on the wall is seen but not comprehended either in its letter or spirit. The Divine Word is likewise often read, and yet no more is seen than the literal expressions, because seen in natural light "which in itself is dead, and not in spiritual light, which in itself is living." The Divine Word with its message of life, however, is opened to people by the Lord Himself as they will to do the Divine Will. (P. 134) Through this enlightenment, "it is confirmed by those who are in the truths of the church, that it is contrary to the Word for them to exalt themselves above the Lord, for thus things holy are profaned." (P. P. verses 10-24) The ultimate issue of pride proceeding from the love of rule is that it utterly destroys religion. (P. P. verses 25-28; E. 370; Life l) "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it." To number signifies to determine the quality of the life. "Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting." "Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."