Saturday 5 March 2016

Daniel 5 Commentary : Belshazzar's Banquet and Handwriting on The Wall

We continue with our study of the book of Daniel by focusing our attention on Daniel 5. I would urge our readers to first go back to previous lessons before they tackle this one. Click here if you want to go to Daniel 4 bible study.


There was a time critics disputed the existence of Belshazzar in history. At that time the only available mention of Belshazzar was in the book of Daniel. 

The critics considered the book of Daniel as unreliable in its historical facts and cited its mention of Belshazzar as king of Babylon as an example. There was at that time on corroboration for the existence of Belshazzar.

That time no materials had been unearthed that mentioned Belshazzar. It was only until the cylinder of Cyrus and a number of clay tablets appeared that historians for the first time had confirmation that Belshazzar indeed had lived.

According to these tablets Belshazzar was co-regent with his father Nabonidus. His father Nabonidus ruled in Arabia while Belshazzar was responsible for the city of Babylon. 

We can therefore rely on the facts presented in the book of Daniel.

The Banquet in Daniel 5:1-4

It beyond belief to note that while the Medes and Persians were laying siege to the city of Babylon, Belshazzar decides to hold a banquet at the Babylonian court. One would have expected him and his officials to concentrate on securing the city.

Maybe he trusted the walls of the city very much that he could not see how the Medes and Persians would find a way into the city. 

But even if that was the case one would expect the king to focus all his attention on this attack no matter how safe they felt.

As a result of this banquet all the officials at the Babylonian court become drunk at a critical time in their history. Drunk officials cannot be trusted in a crisis and could have lost sense of the reality of the dangers confronting them.

To make matters worse Belshazzar decides to use the holy vessels from the Jerusalem temple something his predecessor had never dared to do. 

I guess it was because of their inebriated brains that they decided to blaspheme the God of the Hebrews.

Belshazzar is treating the God of the Hebrews like any other false god, like the idols worshiped in Babylon.

There is something to be said about the effects of alcohol on the brain here. Alcohol decreases inhibition and self control as seen in the attitude of Belshazzar who lost all sense of holy things. 

Alcohol also affects someone's health and reduces the capacity to react. We are however still responsible for our actions even if we are under the influence of alcohol.

Handwriting on the Wall.

As Belshazzar and his buddies were busy drinking from the holy vessels and praising his gods, God decided that enough was enough. Immediately a hand appeared and wrote on the wall.

The lesson here is we may do as we please but there is always a judgment day. It can either immediate or the final judgment.

Belshazzar's Reaction To The Handwriting on The Wall

The bible says he was so terrified that his legs trembled. In vv 7-8 he turns to his astrologers and wise men for an explanation. 

He promises to promote the one able to explain this writing to the third highest post in the kingdom. As co regent he could only offer the third highest post.

But as it has happened before the wise men and magicians of Babylon are incapable of sorting out this phenomenon.

This even made the Belshazzar even more terrified and so were the other dignitaries and guests.

Daniel Is Invited to Explain This Writing

In verses 10-12 the queen mother intervenes and asks Belshazzar to call for Daniel. Daniel had solved mysteries before but for some reason he is only invited as a last resort.

It looks like Daniel had stopped serving at the royal court. Maybe Nebuchadnezzar's successors felt that they did not need his services. 

I am saying this because Daniel was chief of the wise men during Nebuchadnezzar time and should have been among the wise men called in to explain the handwriting.

When Daniel appears the king praised his wisdom and promises a reward if he is able to interpret this phenomenon. Daniel however rejects the reward. 

Why did the prophet refuse the reward? Maybe it is because he was following bible counsel that a prophet of God does not work for pay (Micah 3:11-12). 

Most probably I thinks that since Daniel knew about the fall of Babylon, the reward would be of no use at all. In any case holding a position of authority in the kingdom about to fall could be dangerous.

Daniel's Interpretation Daniel 5:18-23

As always Daniel speaks out fearlessly and tells the king that what he has done in using holy vessels from the Jerusalem temple during the banquet is wrong. 

He chastised him for not learning from the experience of Nebuchadnezzar who was proud but later repented and recognised the true God of heaven.

The writing on the wall was in the KJV translation, "weighed and found wanting". Modern English version could translate it as " weighed and found deficient.

It is surprising that while the writing was in Aramaic the language of Babylon, the king and the wise men could not understand it. Maybe some words were not very clear to them or maybe it was the alcohol that affected their understanding. Or maybe the writing was only readable by someone divinely inspired.

After Daniel explained the phenomenon, the king honored his promise and promoted Daniel. However that very night Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians and Belshazzar was killed.

I end with this EGW quote: In dealing with men God always uses a language which appeals forcibly to their understanding. This is illustrated in the handwriting on the wall. It is a common belief among idolaters that the gods weigh deeds in balances, and that if the good deeds outweigh the evil, the individual enters into his reward; if the opposite result is obtained, punishment follows. The language, therefore, was familiar to King Belshazzar. “God hath numbered thy kingdom; ...thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.”

Below is a video bible study on Daniel chapter 5  by James Rafferty and Ty Gibson as seen on 3ABN. 

Click here for the study on Daniel chapter 6.

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