Daniel Commentary Chapter 5
Time is now moving on and God (the sovereign ruler over the affairs of man) calls time on both Belshazzar (the eldest son of Nabonidus) and the reign of the Babylonians. At this time Nabonidus (probably Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson) is off fighting a campaign in Tema (Arabia) whilst Belshazzar, his son, is the local boy who rules in Babylon.
Belshazzar is in the palace which had over one-hundred rooms and open courts and the camera zooms in to focus on Belshazzar and one of his famous banquets in a city that no one thought could ever fall. Yet the city was to be conquered without a struggle shortly after Daniel interpreted the words that appeared on the pagan kings’ dream-wall.
Belshazzar (whose name meant, ‘master of the treasure’) had been using the gold goblets from the temple in Jerusalem to recount the defeat of Israel and praise the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron and wood. The hand from heaven then appears and writes on the wall near a lamp stand in the throne room (which was a 170ft by 55ft hall).
“Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.”
In Belshazzar’s day, if a king had a dream it would be written down on a wall - the king being thought of as like as a god and someone with whom the gods communicated. Judging by Belshazzar’s reaction, the writing was definitely on his patch of wall!
The words that were written on Belshazzar’s dream-wall (Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin) are nouns for the weights used to balance scales, with the language of scales and weights often being used to speak of judgement in the Ancient Near East.
For example, in the Babylonian astronomical charts, scales represented Libra and Babylon was to fall in October (Tashritu 539), the very month associated with the constellation of Libra. God was about to bring judgment. However let us remember that, primarily, judgement speaks of bringing our world back into order and harmony with judgement coming about in its various forms as God sees fit.
In the arrival of divine judgement, there were three charges against Belshazzar. Belshazzar had sinned through disobedience and pride (v22), defied God by desecrating goblets taken from the temple (23a) and worshipped idols instead of God (23b). Babylon was about to fall as a new ruler enters the picture: Cyrus.
Cyrus (Persia) captured Babylon when he diverted the Euphrates and sent a company of soldiers through the wall and along the riverbed. Xenophon, a Greek historian, writes of this triumph in the following words:
“Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts, long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced but…continued dancing and revelling until they learnt the capture…”
Within 12 months, Cyrus ordered the release of some of the Jews from captivity (note 2 Chronicles 36). Their gold and silver vessels were restored to them and in 537 BC over 40,000 left to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem.
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you — may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up."
2 Chronicles 36:22-23
Cyrus was known as a master of propaganda and on one of the major archaeological discoveries, the Cyrus Cylinder (a nine-inch clay cylinder) he said that Marduk (the Babylonian god) allowed him to take the city. Cyrus would have done this as a means of winning over the people and he spoke of being the king of the world who is a friend to the Babylonians. However it is the God of Israel that writes on the wall, predicts the event and oversees its coming about (Isaiah 45:20-21). As was common to the era, Cyrus appointed another man, Gobryas, as ruler of Babylon with the name ‘Darius’ being his Persian royal title.
God works in miraculous ways
During the course of judgement on the most powerful nation on earth at that time, Daniel is placed in a strategic position. He is a foreigner in a high position and excellent at his work. Cyrus and Darius would undoubtedly have heard about Daniel’s interpretation of important words and elevation to a high position. They, in turn, continued to work with him. Daniel was by this time well into his sixties and it is probably through Daniel that God spoke to Cyrus and eventually people began to be released.
All across history we see God working in miraculous ways to release people into the salvation and victory of His son Jesus Christ. For example, in China (a communist country) thousands are turning to Christ each day. The Chinese government has tried to control this through setting up a government-controlled state church. However many new Christians shun this and are then persecuted; yet still the church grows. Speaking of this persecution in his book, ‘Back to Jerusalem’, P. Hattaway writes:
“They are not persecuted just because of their faith in God. If they chose, they could all settle down in a government-controlled Three-Self church, worship god each Sunday, and live relatively stress free lives as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and don’t try to share them with others.
The reason house church Christians are arrested and imprisoned in China is because they cannot keep quiet. They cannot possible keep their mouths shut because Jesus has revealed himself to them and they have been radically changed from the inside out.” (p120)
In his book, Paul Hattaway, goes on to speak of how thousands and thousands of Chinese Christians are preparing to march to Jerusalem with the gospel of grace, mercy and love being proclaimed along the way to all people. Speaking of the dangers that would be encountered on the way, one of the workers in this group said:
“The Muslim and Buddhist nations can torture us, imprison us and starve us, but they can do no more than we have already experienced in China for many decades. Thousands of young men and women will go as missionaries who are not afraid to die for Jesus. They are not afraid to bleed, for they know their bodies are merely temporary tents to be used in the Lord’s service and that one day they will be in paradise where there is no pain and no tears. They are not only ready to die for the gospel, they are expecting it.”
P. Hattaway in Back To Jerusalem, pages 120-121
Cyrus has marched into Babylon, a new order is in power, yet Daniel is still in a position of power. Let’s now move on to chapter six.