The wonderful lessons that God had taught to Nebuchadnezzar resulted in his spending the rest of his days worshipping the true God and being a good and merciful king to his people. He died about August-September 562 BC, and was succeeded by his son Evil-Merodach, who reigned only two years.
Neriglissar, his son-in-law, four years; Laborosoarchod, Neriglissar’s son, nine months, which being less than one year, is not counted in the canon of Ptolemy; and lastly, Nabonadius, who became king in 555 BC and shared the royal power with his son, Belshazzar. Nabonadius was away, perhaps at war, and the haughty young king Belshazzar was left to manage the great city of Babylon.
But although Belshazzar knew all about the happenings in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, his grandfather, it made no impression on his pride. Defiantly he returned to the worship of idols and all the pagan festivals. Under his foolish rule, mighty Babylon, built at so great an effort by his fathers, was soon to fall.
“Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” Daniel 5:1
It may be that Belshazzar, growing up when the kingdom was already conquered and surrounded by luxury, did not have to learn to work hard or to control himself. Maybe he was a spoilt child. Whatever the reason, he ended up being known as one of the most foolish kings in history.
In this story we again see the ‘Watcher and the Holy One’ that Nebuchadnezzar trembled before in his dream. But for him there had been a second chance; Belshazzar would have no second chance. Why? Because he knew better!
God expects us to learn lessons from the Bible, history, and even what our parents and grandparents have learned in their experiences. When Nebuchadnezzar was king he did not know any better than to be just like all the heathen kings, and God gave him lesson after lesson until he got the point.
Belshazzar knew Nebuchadnezzar and he no doubt even told Belshazzar as a child, his stories about the True God and what He had taught him. He knew about the Watcher and Holy One. But he refused to obey God and just wanted to live for parties and fun. It is important to learn the lessons God makes available to us in our childhood and youth. There is not always a second chance!
Isaiah 45:1 “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.”
Here is an amazing fact of the Bible that shows us that God is real. The prophet Isaiah wrote this prediction over a hundred years before Cyrus was born and told just how the city of Babylon would be captured.
There are some interesting things about the great city. It had been made in such a way that it could not be captured; at least it looked that way to man. The great walls were so thick that two chariots could race side by side on the top. They could never be knocked down with the siege engines of those days.
They had huge storehouses full of carefully preserved food, enough for twenty years. The Euphrates River flowed through the city to provide water and had special gates so that no one could sneak in through the river. These are the ‘two leaved gates’ that the Lord describes in the prophecy.
Now Cyrus and his general were very clever. They pretended to lay siege to the city, and they had soldiers camp where they could be seen from the walls of Babylon. These soldiers lounged around and didn’t seem very serious about anything. This made the young and foolish king, Belshazzar very bold.
History tells us they even threw food out over the walls to show the soldiers they were not at all worried. Oh how silly man can be! Babylon was like the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, that is out there off Newfoundland, on the bottom of the ocean.
“He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”Proverbs 29:1
“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. Then 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. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.” Daniel 5:2-4
Here we continue to see this foolish young king heading for destruction. An army is camped outside the walls, determined to conquer the city, and the king is so cocky that he decides to throw a huge party. He invites a thousand important people and all the pretty ladies. He is so sure he is safe that he just wants to ‘celebrate’.
Wine flows like water, rich food is heaped on the tables. Nothing is lacking in the music and entertainment; nothing except truth and godliness that is. Then if all this were not enough wickedness, Belshazzar, drunk with wine, decides to show off even more.
He decides to prove once and for all that his grandfather’s ‘True God’ is nothing. Maybe some of the older nobles had reminded him that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream showed that Babylon would fall, we don’t know, but here’s what he did: With reason dethroned through shameless intoxication, and with lower impulses and passions now in the ascendancy, the king himself took the lead in the riotous orgy. As the feast progressed, he “commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which 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. The king would prove that nothing was too sacred for his hands to handle.
The sacred vessels from the temple of God are brought and alcohol poured into them and they drank out of them, laughing and joking about the ‘True God’ of the Jews. In the next verse, we are given the thought, that he may even have brought out the sacred golden candlestick from the temple, and displayed it in the banquet hall.
“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. 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. 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 show 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. 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. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.” Daniel 5:5-9
Little did Belshazzar think that there was a Heavenly Witness to his idolatrous revelry; that a divine Watcher, unrecognized, looked upon the scene of profanation, heard the sacrilegious mirth, beheld the idolatry. But soon the uninvited Guest made His presence felt. When the revelry was at its height a bloodless hand came forth and traced upon the walls of the palace characters that gleamed like fire – words which, though unknown to the vast throng, were a portent of doom to the now conscience-stricken king and his guests.
Hushed was the boisterous mirth, while men and women, seized with nameless terror, watched the hand slowly tracing the mysterious characters. Before them passed, as in panoramic view, the deeds of their evil lives; they seemed to be arraigned before the judgment bar of the eternal God, whose power they had just defied. Where but a few moments before had been hilarity and blasphemous witticism, were pallid faces and cries of fear. When God makes men fear, they cannot hide the intensity of their terror.
Belshazzar was the most terrified of them all. He it was who above all others had been responsible for the rebellion against God, which that night had reached its height in the Babylonian realm. In the presence of the unseen Watcher, the representative of Him whose power had been challenged, and whose name had been blasphemed, the king was paralyzed with fear.
In vain the king tried to read the burning letters. But here was a secret he could not fathom, a power he could neither understand nor gainsay. In despair he turned to the wise men of his realm for help. His wild cry rang out in the assembly, calling upon the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers to read the writing. Quickly the word goes through the palace until someone tells the Queen mother. She comes and tells the terrified king, who doesn’t look so smart now, that he’d better send for Daniel who could read the writing for him.
“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: 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; 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.” Daniel 5:10-12
Now there is an interesting fact about these words written on the wall. The king could read them because they were in his language but he could not at all understand why they were there and what they meant. What actually were these words? They were numbers:
The four words stood for MENE=50 SHEKELS; MENE=50 SHEKELS; TEKEL= I SHEKEL; UPHARSIN=25 SHEKELS. The Total Equaled 126 SHEKELS.
The SHEKEL is 20 GERAHS: Exodus 30:13; Leviticus 27:25; Numbers 3:47; Numbers 18:16; Ezekiel 45:12;
20 Times 126 = 2520 GERAHS, or SEVEN TIMES; the number associated with God’s punishment for rebellion against Him.
That night Belshazzar’s kingdom was finished. He had transgressed passed the point of return. His kingdom would be rent from him.
“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? 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. 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:” Daniel 5:13-15
Now Daniel had not been Belshazzar’s right hand man as he had been for Nebuchadnezzar. The foolish young king so determined to do things his own way, had no desire to have godly people around him. But now he sends word for Daniel to come right away. When people seem to be so bold and sure of themselves, it doesn’t take much to change all that.
“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. 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 5:16, 17
Daniel wasn’t impressed by the promises of rich rewards. He told the wicked king to keep them for himself; but he would read the writing and tell him what it meant. Thus Daniel, representing the living God, was brought before this foolish ruler to declare his doom.
It is interesting that for many years no one knew why Belshazzar only said he would make Daniel ‘third ruler’ in the kingdom. Then when they found clay tablets and seals with the names of Nabonadius and Belshazzar on them, they learned that Belshazzar was second ruler, as his father was still also king.
Before Daniel reads the writing he tells Belshazzar just what he should have remembered and never forgotten. He tells him all about the things that happened to his grandfather. He tells him that he should have known better than to do what he had done.
“O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 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. 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: 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. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 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: then was the part of the hand sent from Him; and this writing was written.” Daniel 5:16-24
Daniel Rebukes Belshazzar
Daniel first disclaimed the idea of being influenced by such motives as governed the soothsayers and astrologers. He said, “Let thy rewards be to another.” He wished it distinctly understood that he did not enter upon the work of interpreting this matter on account of the offer of gifts and rewards. He then reminded Belshazzar of the experience of the king’s grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. He told Belshazzar that though he knew all this, yet he had not humbled his heart, but had lifted up himself against the God of heaven. He had even gone so far as to profane God’s sacred vessels, praising the senseless gods of men’s invention, and refusing to glorify God in whose hand his breath was. For this reason, Daniel told him, the hand had been sent forth from God whom he had daringly and insultingly challenged, to trace those characters of fearful, though hidden import. He then proceeded to explain the writing.
“And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene: God has numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting. Peres: Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. 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.” Daniel 5:25-29
Under the circumstances, it seemed kind of useless to make Daniel third ruler in a kingdom whose doom he had just announced. But I think God had a reason for this. Because Daniel was then made a ruler, the new king would get to meet him, where if this had not happened, he may not. God takes care of His children who are faithful to Him.
For every person on earth there comes a time when they are ‘weighed in the balances.’ May we not be found ‘wanting’ (not right with God) but ‘right with God’.
In Daniel 7:4; in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign; Babylon was shown to Daniel as a mighty winged Lion, meaning speed, nobility and power. But the prophecy said its wings would be plucked, and it would be made to stand on its feet like a man, and a man’s heart, a cowardly heart, would be given to it. And so it came to pass.
“In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.” Daniel 5:30, 31
While the enemy soldiers were camping outside of Babylon where they could be seen from the city, most of them were working on a big project where they could not be seen from the city. They were digging a channel to turn the great river out of its bed. They finished this while Belshazzar had his big party. Then the army marched towards the city in the riverbed.
The way Babylon was constructed, there was no way to get in through the riverbed. An army would simply march through and out the other side and still not enter into the city itself, unless, the special ‘two leaved gates’ were left open. This is just what God had predicted and just what happened. Maybe it was because a lot of the wine that was meant for the king’s party, ended up being drunk by the guards and watchmen, we don’t know, but the gates were left unlocked and the enemy soldiers swarmed into the city from the now shallow riverbed.
Just a short time after Daniel pronounced the sentence of God on the wicked and foolish king; the soldiers entered the banquet hall and killed Belshazzar.
You may plan for merely selfish good, you may gather together treasure, you may build mansions great and high, as did the builders of ancient Babylon; but you cannot build wall so high or gate so strong as to shut out the messengers of doom.
Belshazzar the king “feasted in his palace,” and “praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.” But the hand of One invisible wrote upon his walls the words of doom, and the tread of hostile armies was heard at his palace gates.
“In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain,” and an alien monarch sat upon the throne. To live for self is to perish. Covetousness, the desire of benefit for self’s sake, cuts the soul off from life. It is the spirit of Satan to get, to draw to self. It is the spirit of Christ to give, to sacrifice self for the good of others.
God made Nebuchadnezzar to become a beast for a while, but Belshazzar ignored the lesson and made a beast out of himself.
‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.’ Proverbs 16:18.