In our journey through the book of Daniel we now arrive at the chapter where the demise of the Babylonian Empire is recorded and how it happened. The golden and lion like Empire of Nebuchadnezzar finally finds its end in a remarkable manner and again Daniel the prophet of God shines brilliantly for God’s glory.
At the end of this study we will describe how the fall of ancient Babylon is a proto type of the end time apocalyptic spiritual worldwide Babylon of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. There are clear similarities between the two and John who wrote the Revelation is heavily quoting from Jeremiah as we will give evidence later.
But before we deal with that let’s enter into chapter five and what we will find and how Daniel again performed greatly for His God, the Creator Yahweh.
Belshazzar made a feast for a thousand of his men. Not the first time a king did something like that. A king who ruled the Empire which followed Babylon did the same for his men as we can read in the book of Esther 1:1-3. The rulers of the world made feasts to honour themselves and the idol gods they worshipped. For the children of God who worship in truth and spirit there is also a feast waiting to honour the rightful Ruler of this world, Jesus Christ, Rev.11:15-17; 19:6-9. There will be no self glory in that feast but all glory to Him Who is God Almighty.
We have some information who this Belshazzar is and at which time in history this took place. For many years Bible critics have disputed the existence of Belshazzar as king but we will consult proper Bible scholars/historians to find out about the truth of the matter.
We find that Belshazzar was not the real ruler, number one at the time of this event. It took place in the year of Babylon’s downfall when the armies of Media/Persia took control of the empire which was in 539BC. Dr. Maxwell and Dr.Pfandl in their books about Daniel establish the precise date as October 10, 539BC.
Dr. Shea differs slightly and we quote the following from his book on Daniel: “With the Medes and Persians assaulting the eastern frontier of the empire, Babylon was in danger of crumbling. Two rulers were vitally necessary at this time – one in the field to meet the onslaught of the enemy and the other in the capital to hold the kingdom securely in control. Nabonidus took the role of field commander and led one division of the Babylonian army out to the Tigris River to meet Cyrus and his troops. Belshazzar stayed in the city with another division of the army to protect the capital. Nabonidus was defeated on the fourteenth day of Tishri and the city of Babylon fell to the Persian army two days later. Through the use of tables compiled by modern astronomers and Assyriologists, the day that Babylon fell can be identified as October 12, 539BC in terms of our calendar.”(Shea, page 58/59)
We will learn later in the chapter how the city fell. First we like to establish the identity of Nabonidus, who was he? As we will notice later Belshazzar offers a reward for explaining the writing on the wall and that such a person who does explain it will be the third ruler in the kingdom. This causes the question, who was number one and who was number two in the kingdom. We can solve this if we know more about Nabonidus. As stated before for a number of years Bible critics have questioned the reality of Belshazzar and declared it to be an invention of Bible writers. “In 1861 excavators found the first cuneiform tablet with the name of Belshazzar. Epigraphist in 1882 translated the Nabonidus chronicles which state that Nabonidus lived in Tema (about 500 miles south of Babylon) for several years while his son remained in Babylon. Since then many more texts have come to light to confirm that Belshazzar ruled in Babylon during his father’s absence”. (Pfandl page 46)
Nabonidus the number one ruler of Babylon and his son Belshazzar, number two ruler holding government in the city of Babylon and for that reason Belshazzar could offer the third rulership position as a reward
Daniel 5:2, 3
The feast progresses in full revelling and drunkenness and all being in a state of intoxication. While this goes on the king inflair
a flair of madness orders that the golden and silver vessels, captured by Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem’s temple be brought in to drink from.
We strike another problem; Nebuchadnezzar is called the king’s father. How can this be, Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar, while we just have established that Nabonidus was the father of Belshazzar. We let Dr. Pfandl explain this: “Six times this chapter calls Nebuchadnezzar Belshazzar’s father (vs.2, in 11 three times, 13 & 18) and one time it refers to Belshazzar as the son of Nebuchadnezzar (verse 22). But according to the ancient sources Nabonidus was the father of Belshazzar. The problem is easily solved when we remember that the word ‘father’ in Semitic languages, to which the Hebrew and Aramaic belonged, can also mean grandfather, ancestor or even predecessor. Neither language has specific terms for ‘grandfather’ or ‘ancestor’. The Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III refers to Jehu as the son of Omri. Rather he was one of his successors on the throne of Israel. Similarly Scripture describes Jesus as the ‘Son of David’ (Matt.1:1) even though David lived 1000 years earlier than Christ. In the case of Belshazzar some scholars assume that Nabonidus married one of the daughters of Nebuchadnezzar, which would have made the latter the grandfather of Belshazzar” (Pfandl page 47)
The next point we find is that Belshazzar gives orders that the golden and silver vessels which were taken out of the Jerusalem temple be brought in to be used for their feast.
drinking.You can be Yousure this was not for drinking grape juice but for their unclean alcoholic beverages from which they became drunk and heavily intoxicated. The king refers to Nebuchadnezzar who had brought all that stuff from the temple to Babylon and which is recorded in 2Kings 24:13; 25:13-15. We read in Ezra 1:7-11 that all the temple war loot was placed in the house of the gods of Nebuchadnezzar. To Hezekiah it was told by the prophet Isaiah that this would happen, 2Kings 20:16-18
There is a problem in this record we like to address. It reads in 2 Kings 24:13 that Nebuchadnezzar cut in pieces all the vessels of gold. This would give the impression that he took them in broken pieces to Babylon. But “cut” can also mean that he stripped it of its gold, apparently some were of plated gold. We may also conclude as some commentators do, that Nebuchadnezzar had second thoughts and took the drinking vessels complete to the temple of his gods where they remained untouched till Belshazzar gave orders to bring them out for his wine feast.
Nebuchadnezzar had placed this temple plundering along side his gods as pagan evidence that his gods had conquered the God of the Hebrews. As long as these holy items remained untouched the Lord left it like that. But what Belshazzar did completed his sinful life and his cup of sin overflowed. He lost his empire and life that same night.
When the holy temple vessels were brought in they praised their pagan gods with it. These vessels were made and dedicated to give glory to the living Creator God, Yahweh. Belshazzar also had completely forgotten and ignored the fact that as Nebuchadnezzar was being watched by heavenly watchers, 4:30, 31 he also would be watched.
Ellen G.White writes: 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, and beheld the idolatry.” (PK 524).
We may raise the question, why did Belshazzar make such an uncontrolled wild feast while the empire was under threat of the Medes and Persians and his father Nabonidus on the battle field trying to hold off an invasion of the capital by the Medes and Persians.
Again Ellen G.White supplies a good answer:” In his pride and arrogance with his reckless feeling of security Belshazzar made a feast to a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand” (PK 523)
He felt recklessly secure. How secure was the city? From various descriptions available after the ruins of Babylon had been excavated we may conclude that Belshazzar thought the city was invincible as the Titanic in 1912 was thought to be unsinkable. Enormous double walls surrounded the city of 16km in circumference. Food reserves were sufficient for some years to come. The river Euphrates flowing through the city was a constant supply of water to the people of Babylon. Doors were of a strong substance and making it humanly speaking unable to break through.
But Hebrew prophets had predicted its downfall long before as recorded in Isa. 13; 44:27; Jer.50:38; 51:30-32 and 36. In particularly Isaiah 13 gives a very graphic description in prophetic terms what would befall to Babylon and the reason why
First Babylon was used to exercise divine judgment over Israel and Judah for its sins and idolatry. But the time would come that the one being used to exercise judgment would be judged itself for its own sins, trespasses and idolatry. The last act of Belshazzar was the final one which could not be glossed over but made the cup of sin overflowing.
With pride and arrogance and defying the true and living God of the holy vessels Belshazzar .drank from these holy cups his alcoholic beverages. God is Holy and He has made these items for Holy service and not to be touched by unclean hands. Nadab and Abihu used common fire for the sacred service and lost their lives, Lev.10:1-3. Uzzah touched the Holy Ark of God and died instantly, 2Sam.6:6-9. King Uzziah attempted to the work of the priests for which he was not ordained and became a leper. 2Chron.26:16-21. More examples could be given. For God it does not matter who it is. Belshazzar was a pagan king but we will learn later that he was held accountable for his actions and was told the reason why.
We in the 21st century also must be careful how we handle the sacred and the holy and not mixing it with the common. God’s Word, the Bible is Holy, the Sabbath is Holy, God’s tithe is Holy and we are obliged to keep these things Holy. “We should reverence God’s Word. For the printed volume we should show respect, never putting it to common uses or handling it carelessly. And never should scripture be quoted in a jest or paraphrased to point a witty saying. (See Ellen G.White in Child Guidance page 538/9).
While they were drinking and feasting from the holy temple vessels a man’s hand appeared on the wall writing a certain message. The king saw the hand moving in writing on the wall and turned pale in his countenance. His body started to shake and his thoughts became alarmed. He was gripped by terror and his mind troubled him, does this indicate that he became aware he had done something severely wrong?
In this state of mind he started to shout for help to reveal what the meaning of the writing on the wall was. He could not even recognise in what language it was written. As Nebuchadnezzar had done before in Daniel 2 and 4 Belshazzar gave orders that his wise men be brought in to reveal the secret of the writing on the wall. Those who would be able he offered a substantial reward and to be the third ruler in the kingdom. This was a reward from a madman who could not even think straight because of intoxication.
Something similar took place in the time of Jesus which cost the life of John the Baptist. Read the story in Matthew 14:1-12 and Mark 6:21-23. An intoxicated king Herod makes a foolish promise of a reward to his daughter up to the half of his kingdom.
As in the case of Nebuchadnezzar the wise men came into the banquet hall saw the writing on the wall but were unable to reveal its secret, as in Daniel 2 and 4.Again a defeat for the Babylonian wise men. As we have stated before people not spiritual but being servants of darkness are not able to reveal the divine from the God Who lives in the pure light of Heaven Belshazzar now becomes even more frustrated and the people with him in the banquet hall are perplexed.
But somebody still remembered the past, heard about the trouble, confusion and commotion in the banquet hall and went to see the king. The bible states it was the queen.
The question rises in our mind who was this lady, the queen? Most Bible scholars in their commentaries agree this was the queen-mother. We will let Dr. Pfandl explain:
“At that moment a queen entered the banquet hall. Scripture does not identify her, but she was not Belshazzar’s wife, since his wives and concubines were already at the feast (5:2) she must have been the queen-mother. Many scholars believe ‘that she was Nitocris, daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, wife of Nabonidus and mother of Belshazzar’. In contrast to Belshazzar who was beside himself with fright, the queen-mother remained calm” (Pfandl page 49)
Mothers often have good and wise counsel and know how to handle a situation calmly and under control. We will analyse her counsel point by point to get the full impact of her talk First she addresses him respectfully “O, king, live for ever”, not aware of the fact that this would be the king’s last night. Daniel knew better, he does not address the king like that as we will notice later. Second, she calms him down putting him at ease. Be not in trouble, she says. Third she tells him that there is a man in thy kingdom in who is the Spirit of the Holy gods. She remembers what had been said of this man in the past, Dan.4:9. Fourth, still the queen-mother does not yet mention the name of that person, but “in the days of thy father (grand-father) wisdom of the gods was found in that person and the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father (second time) the king, I say, thy father (third time) made master of the wise men”.
Three times she appeals to Belshazzar’s memory to wake him up and that he should know this person and what was done to him, making him master of the wise men.
But there is more, a fifth point, she adds the reason why Nebuchadnezzar honoured that man so highly and greatly in other words you, Belshazzar have forgotten all about him.
We may well imagine Belshazzar thinking, hurry woman tell me who that person is because I want to know about that writing on the wall. But the queen is not in a hurry, remains calm and in control of the situation. She qualifies that person (Daniel) very carefully and in detail and then gives the name, Daniel. Sixth point, now she is ready to tell Belshazzar what to do let Daniel be called and he will give you the interpretation,
She says in full confidence and assurance. Was she converted in favour of the God of Daniel, only eternity will reveal.
Daniel is called and brought before the king. We may wonder how he must have felt seeing all the intoxicated confused people and the Holy vessels from the temple of his God Yahweh. Interesting how the king addresses Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?”
How different from the way and manner the queen-mother had spoken about and introduced Daniel to Belshazzar. While waiting for Daniel to be brought in the banquet did he suddenly remember the man Daniel and who he was? The king adds I have heard of thee. No reference to what the queen-mother had told him about Daniel. Belshazzar takes the honour to himself as Arioch did in Dan.2:25. Could it be that while waiting for Daniel to come that the wise men quickly informed Belshazzar about this Daniel, their appointed master and that he was in essence a prisoner of war from Judah? But after all the king is obliged to submit to Daniel and listens to him and what he has to say about the writing on the wall. He even offers Daniel the same reward as offered to his wise men.
Daniel must have sensed immediately the heavy burden and responsibility as he felt when standing before Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4, that he had to announce divine judgment. The first thing Daniel does is waving away the offered rewards, keep it for yourself or give it to someone else he respond to the king, but nevertheless I will tell you what the writing on the wall is all about. And second as a good evangelist as Daniel is, he reminds the king of what he should have known and did not pay attention to in his life.
Daniel reminds Belshazzar how the Most High God had blessed Nebuchadnezzar, thy father. In other words Daniel talks about something that had happened in his family of which he should have good knowledge. Belshazzar you should know that your father got lifted up in pride and how he was punished with a mental disease which made him live with the animals in the grass. In other words Daniel reminded the king of an event in his family which should have had lasting memories and being well recorded in the family annals. Daniel also told Belshazzar that Nebuchadnezzar only returned to good mental health after he recognised the Most High God of Heaven and after that he was restored to his kingdom
Then Daniel must have taken a deep breath and told Belshazzar where he had gone wrong in his life. First he had not humbled himself while he had knowledge of these things. Second you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of Heaven even to the point of taking the vessels belonging to the temple of the Most High God, drinking wine (alcoholic) out of it and praising the gods of stone and wood who are dead, see not and hear not, Third, you have not honoured “the God in whose hand thy breath is”. In other words you have honoured dead gods and not the Living One upon whom you depend for your life.
Fourth, and that is the verdict Daniel has to pronounce, for that reason the writing came on the wall. Your fate is sealed irreversibly, you are weighed in the balances and found wanting. You will loose your kingdom and it will be given to the Medes and Persians, 5:28. Daniel does not offer any message to repent as he offered Nebuchadnezzar he may have felt that Belshazzar had overstepped the line and he was a lost man, a few hours away from his death in that same night.
In a few words we find here recorded the tragic end of a beautiful golden empire, but was predicted in the metallic image dream of Nebuchadnezzar as we have learned about in Daniel chapter 2. Belshazzar stands his promise of presenting a reward to Daniel. And Daniel in spite of the fact that he refused it when it was offered to him (5:17) calmly let be done to him what is being done knowing very well that it would be of no use anymore.. What is the value of a reward from a king whose empire and he himself will be terminated in a few hours, that same night?
Darius and his army surrounding the city of Babylon had found a way to get into the city. and made their way to the banquet hall terminating the feast and Belshazzar was slain.
The next empire after the golden one, now the silver one Medo-Persia took its place on the world’s stage and Darius took charge of the kingdom at the age of being 62 years.
Additional notes on Daniel 5.
We will deal with a few items of interest. First, how was the city taken and what happened to Babylon later on? We have quoted already Isa.13 which reads in verses 19-21 that Babylon will be like Sodom and Gomorrah never to be inhabited again, Jer.50:30.
According to Isa.44:27; Jer.50:38; 51:30-33 it would be made dry and its army affrighted.
In a most literal sense this has been fulfilled. The river Euphrates flowing through the city was the lifeline for Babylon. The city itself was so well fortified with double walls around it, food stock for a number of years to out live a siege and plenty water from the river it could have taken Darius many years before entering the city.
We quote from Dr.Bill Shea’s book on Daniel the following: “The story of how the Media-Persian army conquered Babylon is told by the Greek historian Herodotus, who visited the region a century after the events took place. The inhabitants told him that the Persians diverted the Euphrates River and then marched into the city through the riverbed, thereby passing the intricate system of fortress walls” (Shea page 61)
Dr.Pfandl also quotes from Herodotus confirming that the river had been diverted and made dry for a passage way. Xenophon, another historian gives the same report and adds that it was night when it happened. (See Pfandl in his book on page 50)
As the Hebrew prophets had predicted about Babylon and its future so it happened. Dr.Mervyn Maxwell gives us a historical record of what happened thereafter. It can be found in his book GOD CARES I page 84. We will give a summary of what he writes. The Medo-Persians through Cyrus tried to maintain Babylon in its beauty, but after 60 years the citizens of Babylon revolted and were crushed by the Persian emperor Xerxes who in the process demolished a number of palaces. Alexander the Great, founder of the Grecian Empire tried to save Babylon but without success he died in the city and failed to rebuild it and the city deteriorated further. Three centuries later the city was a ghost town. The middle ages did further and final damage to Babylon until it became a complete forgotten place buried in the sand.
Archaeologists in the 19th century did the digging up and have giving us the knowledge which we have today. Sadam Hussein, ruler of Iraq tried to rebuild Babylon for his own glory in the 20th century but also failed and ended his life on the gallows as we all know so well from recent times. The Word of God stands, Babylon is today like Sodom and Gomorrah and will remain like that till the end of time. We can trust the Bible
The second point we will bring to your attention is the meaning of Babylon for the time of the end. Babylon is mentioned several times in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Six times we find Babylon, Rev.14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21 and several times as the city. Babylon the city of this world is placed in opposition to the city of Heaven, New Jerusalem.One the city of the unfaithful rebellious people of this world, the other the eternal city of the better world of God’s faithful people.
When we compare these two cities we find that ancient Babylon reflects or is the type of the Babylon described in the Apocalypse, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. One is a literal Babylon the other the end time spiritual anti-typical world wide Babylon.
Rev.14:8 announces the fall of end time spiritual world wide Babylon and we read in Jer.51:8 about the fall of ancient Babylon, language which is used by John to illustrate the end time Babylon.
Rev.16:19 reveals the wrath of God over the great city, spiritual end time Babylon. Again we find it similar as to what we read in Jer.51:7 “The Lord’s vengeance (wrath), He will render unto her recompense”, meaning executive judgment over ancient Babylon.
Rev.17:2-5 describes that spiritual Babylon holding a golden cup with which the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk. This is virtually a literal quote by John from Jer.51:7 telling us what literal ancient Babylon has done with her golden cup to the people of her empire.
Finally in Rev.18:2, 10, 21 we again meet an announcement of the fall of Babylon as in Rev.14:8 and in Jer.51:8, with a message to come out of her in Rev.18:4 and in Jer. 51:6, 45 (2Cor.6:17) Similar language for ancient and modern end time Babylon.
Rev.18:21 mentions that apocalyptic Babylon will disappear like a great millstone disappears when cast into the sea, this equals what was told of ancient Babylon that she would sink as a stone in the river Euphrates, Jer.51:63, 64
There is also similarity between ancient Babylon and end time apocalyptic Babylon in regard to how her fall took place. Ancient Babylon would be made dry as predicted in Jer.50:38; 51:36 which was fulfilled when the river bed of the Euphrates was diverted making a dry bed for the army to march into the city. The woman or great whore of Revelation 17 sits on many waters illustrating the people of the earth she is controlling, Rev.17:1, 15. And according to Rev.16:12 these waters (people) will be made dry as the literal river Euphrates was made dry. Ancient Babylon lost its support and protection from the literal river Euphrates. End time apocalyptic Babylon will loose its support from the people once she was controlling and were under her influence, Rev.17:16.
We may conclude that what Jeremiah prophesied over ancient Babylon in chapters 50 and 51 was typical of what will happen to spiritual ,anti-typical apocalyptic Babylon in the end time.
Realising that the world in which we live today is that end time Babylon, all are challenged to accept the message for today to come out of her as we read in Rev.18:1-4. To come out means to turn our back to the world and accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord of our lives in preparation for His soon return in Glory. John 3:16; Titus 2:11-15
Pastor Jan T.Knopper
Edited October 2010
Revisited August 2013