DANIEL - CHAPTER 5
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
5:1. “Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.”
Belshazzar means Lord of whose treasure: Lord of destruction straitened. In Daniel 4 we have seen that the cutting down of the great tree points, not only to the seven years of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity, but also to the destruction of Gentile world power when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom.
Chapter 5 likewise has a near and far application: first, to the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians, and then to the seizure of the great world church by the political beast at the midpoint of the Tribulation (detailed in Re 17 and 18), and its ultimate destruction by Christ returning in power and glory at the end of the Tribulation to establish His millennial kingdom. The same consternation that will grip the harlot church prior to her being seized by the Roman beast, will grip him and his kingdom prior to their destruction at the hand of Christ. This interpretation is suggested by several factors. The prostitution of the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem to an unholy use, anticipates the unholy use of Scripture and of Divine ordinances by the great harlot church in the Tribulation, for it is to be remembered that the religious system doesn’t cease when seized by the political beast: it will continue, but with him as its head, until finally destroyed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripturally, false religion and Babylon are synonymous, so that the fall of Babylon pictures, not only the ultimate destruction of Gentile world power, but also of the world’s false religious systems. In this connection it is to be noted that Belshazzar was only vice regent. His father, Nabonidus the king, was absent at the time, believed by some to have been engaged in a military campaign. (Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s grandfather, not “father” as in the KJ version). Belshazzar therefore would seem to represent the religious, rather than the political ruler of the Tribulation era, i.e., the second beast out of the earth, Re 13:11, for Scripture presents the religious head as being subject to the political, as Belshazzar was subject to his father Nabonidus. We should note also that the vanquishing of Babylon by Medo-Persia didn’t bring Gentile supremacy to an end: it simply transferred the power to another Gentile hand. So will it be in the Tribulation, for while we read of the destruction of the harlot church by the political confederation, we read also that that overthrow simply consolidates all power, religious as well as political, under the rule of the evil prince, the beast out of the sea, Re 13:1, who will head up the political confederation, “And the ten horns (ten nations) which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore (the harlot church), and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to ... give their kingdom unto the beast....” (Re 17:16-17).
Turning then from this outline to a more detailed examination of the chapter, we see in this impious feast what may well be a foreshadowing of the world’s rejoicing at the unification of all the different branches of apostate Christendom after the Rapture of the true Church. Since wine is the Biblical symbol of joy, e.g., “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps 104:15), the repeated references to wine would indicate that this is the spiritual truth being conveyed by the literal language.
There is implied also the truth that the harlot church will be characterized by love of pleasure, a condition in regard to which it is written, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim 5:6). In regard to the character of the days immediately preceding the Tribulation we read, “This know also, that in the last days ... men shall be ... lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof....” (2 Tim 3:1-5). Nor should it be forgotten that before the flood, “they were eating and drinking ... and knew not until the flood came and took them all away” (Mt 24:38-39). The rich fool of Lk 12 likewise said to his soul, “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Lk 12:19), knowing not that he too, had only a few hours left to live. Few will deny that this is the character of these days in which we live. The Rapture of the Church is imminent.
It is surely significant that the language used to describe the activity and attitude of the harlot church in Revelation is remarkably similar to that used in Daniel 5 to describe Belshazzar, “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet ... having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication ... drunken with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus.... For she saith in her heart, I sit a queen ... and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day ... and she shall be utterly burned with fire.... In one hour so great riches is come to nought” (Re 17:4-6; 18:7,8,17).
Even if Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity did issue in his becoming a believer, it must not be forgotten that when he destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and carried the holy vessels to Babylon, he was an unbeliever, and a very clear type of the final evil world ruler. As it was he who made those vessels available to Belshazzar, so will it be under the authority of the last evil world ruler that the harlot church will function in the latter half of the Tribulation.
5:2. “Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father (lit., grandfather) 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.”
5:3. “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.”
Since gold is the Biblical symbol of Divine glory; and silver, of redemption, the pollution of the gold and silver vessels portrays the mockery of God’s glory and of His redemption, by the Tribulation-age false church.
5:4. “They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.”
As already noted, gold is the emblem of Divine glory; and silver, of redemption, so that what is portrayed in this idolatrous worship is the ascription of Divine glory to another, the Roman beast who will set himself up as God, and demand that all worship him. As for the redemption portrayed by the silver, there can be little doubt that in that largely apostate society, redemption (if the need of it is acknowledged at all) will be according to man’s own corrupt mind, and not according to God’s Word.
Since brass is the Biblical emblem of judgment; iron, of strength; and wood, of humanity, there can be little doubt that the idolatrous worship of Belshazzar and his guests, points to the fact that in the coming Tribulation era, judgment will be according to man’s
standard, not God’s; the worship of the god of iron declaring in symbol that in that fast approaching age, God will be ignored, and the “god of forces” worshiped, Dan 11:38, i.e., the might of man unified in rebellion against God. The worship of the god of wood declares the further truth that man, the beast out of the sea, will be worshiped instead of God, for wood is a Biblical symbol of humanity.
I regret being unable to see clearly what is represented by the god of stone, but when we remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is described as the living Stone, it may be that what is being portrayed in the god of stone is that which is spiritually lifeless, cold, hard, unfeeling - and surely Satan is the one thus represented. All idolatry is in essence the worship of that evil spirit.
Concerning the materials, Dr Heading points out that the first four are the same as in the dream image of chapter 2; while regarding the total number six, he writes, “The number “six” shows the connection with the basest level of human nature, forming part of the number 666 of the final beast, Rev. 13:18.”
5:5. “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.”
The appearance of mysterious fingers writing upon the wall of the palace, brought the profane banquet to an abrupt end, and so will the godless carousing of the false church also be brought to a sudden halt, see Re 18:8 “Therefore shall her plagues came in one day” and Re 18:9-10, “And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, the mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.”
5:6. “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.”
How dramatically things changed when the God they had mocked, suddenly revealed Himself! It is one thing to defy a God not seen, but a very different matter to be brought face to face with that same God. If the appearance of just the fingers of a hand caused that impious prince to tremble, what terror will grip those who find themselves suddenly ushered into His very Presence! A glimpse of their terror is given us in Re 6:15-17, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men ... and every bondman ... hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said ... Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” “It is a fearful thing to fall (unsaved) into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
5:7. “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 shew 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.”
The diversity of spiritual evil that will characterize apostate Christendom in the Tribulation is suggested in the variety of the Babylonian sages summoned by Belshazzar to interpret the writing. His offer to make the reader and interpreter the third ruler, is explained by the fact that he himself was only the regent or second ruler, Nabonidus his father, being the actual ruler of Babylon at that time.
There is a practical lesson to be learned from this offer of enrichment and promotion made by a mortal with but a few hours left to live. In the context of eternity, the world’s riches and promotion are of equally little worth and of equally short duration, and he is a fool who sets his heart on them.
5:8. “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.”
Their inability to translate the Divine message or explain its meaning is but another evidence of the truth declared in 1 Co 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
5:9. “Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.”
As that night’s revelry suddenly gave place to trembling and consternation, so will life’s brief hour of worldly pleasure pass, leaving the man who had no time for God, all eternity to suffer the righteous wrath of that same God.
5:10. “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:”
5:11. “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;”
5:12. “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.”
The queen is generally believed to have been Nebuchadnezzar’s widow, and therefore Belshazzar’s grandmother, and there is much to justify our viewing her in a favorable light. The fact that she came into the banquet house only upon learning of the consternation caused by the mysterious writing, implies that she herself hadn’t been a participant in the impious revelry. She used Daniel’s Hebrew rather than his Chaldean name. This, combined with her testimony to his ability and excellence, casts her in a favorable light, and would seem to justify our viewing her as being representative of Tribulation age believers, who will testify to the excellence of Christ, of whom Daniel is clearly a type. As she testified during the few brief hours preceding the fall of the Babylonian empire, so will the testimony of the Tribulation remnant be borne during the few brief years preceding the overthrow of Gentile power, and the inauguration of Christ’s millennial kingdom.
As she advised Belshazzar to consult Daniel, so will the remnant in the Tribulation testify on behalf of Christ, and seek to point the sinners of that evil age to Him for enlightenment and salvation. Tragically, however, for many of them, as for Belshazzar, the warning will come too late, “He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr 29:1).
The folly of setting the heart on the world’s promotion is amply demonstrated here. The impious young prince who undertook to bestow promotion upon others, would himself be a corpse before that night ended.
The reader’s attention has been directed many times to the fact that those who hear the Gospel in this present age, and who are still unbelievers when the Rapture occurs, will have no chance to be saved in the Tribulation, as it is written, “And for this cause (rejection of the Gospel in this present age) God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth” (2 Th 2:11-12). Belshazzar represents such a man. Confident in the impregnability of Babylon’s walls, he caroused, though the armies of the Medes and Persians surrounded the city, and at that very hour were in the process of completing diversion of the Euphrates into another channel. Babylon straddled the Euphrates, the sections on either side being connected by numerous bridges, and it was by means of the dried up bed of the diverted river, running through the center of the city, that the enemy entered that night, and brought the mighty kingdom of Babylon to an end.
But Babylon, entered upon its last few hours, surrounded by the enemy, and occupied by a godless multitude of revellers unaware of their impending doom, is a picture of the world in the coming Tribulation. It too, will trust in the invulnerability of its social, economic, and military systems, even though those very same structures are today already tottering on their foundations.
5:13. “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?”
5:14. 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.”
The fact that Belshazzar knew of Daniel only through the testimony given that night by his (Belshazzar’s) grandmother, reminds us of the transitory nature of the world’s plaudits and promotion. Belshazzar’s generation neither knew nor cared about the man, who but a generation ago had occupied the highest place in Babylon, next only to the king. Such is the nature of the world. The quick passing of Babylon’s knowledge of Daniel, however, is but the OT foreshadowing of what is yet to be in the Tribulation. With each passing day Christendom’s ignorance of Scripture deepens, assuring us that the day is not far off when the professing Church’s knowledge of Christ will be as meager as was that of Belshazzar’s generation of Daniel.
5:15. “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:”
As noted already, it is not by the world’s wisdom so-called, that the knowledge of God is obtained, as it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Co 1:19-21).
It is surely significant that in proportion as the world’s earthly knowledge increases, its knowledge of God decreases. It is doubtful that there has ever been a generation to whom the knowledge of God has been more readily available than the present, yet none whose ignorance of Him has been greater.
5:16. “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.”
How different is man’s perspective of things from God’s! The revellers saw in Belshazzar the future heir to the throne of Babylon, able to bestow honor and riches with a word, but God saw a sinful wretch who had but an hour or two left to live, and who because he had refused to profit by the knowledge of God’s dealings with his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar, had passed irrevocably beyond the pale of mercy, and would in a few short hours be begging, like a similar fool of a later day, for a drop of water to cool his tongue from the eternal torment of an unquenchable flame, Lk 16:24.
5:17. “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.”
He whose faith, and obedience to God guaranteed him an eternal reward in heaven, found no attraction in the fleeting honors and wealth of earth. Without envy or regret, he could gladly leave them for another, and he is a wise man who passes through this scene on his way home to heaven imbued with the same spirit.
5:18. “O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father (grandfather) a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor:”
5:19. “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.”
5:20. “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:”
5:21. “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.”
5:22. “And thou his son (grandson), O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;”
As Belshazzar had deliberately chosen to ignore God’s dealings with his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar, so have multitudes since then also chosen to disregard the record of God’s dealings with past generations, even though that record has been preserved for their instruction, as it is written, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Ro 15:4). As has been noted already, Belshazzar seems to represent the second beast out of the earth, Re 13:11, the man who will lead multitudes to worship the Roman beast ruler who will head up the ten kingdom confederation which will be the old Roman empire revived in the Tribulation. Their idolatrous worship will be the direct result of their having deliberately rejected the knowledge of God, just as Belshazzar had also deliberately rejected that same knowledge.
5:23. “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:”
So will it be in the Tribulation-age earth. Among the worshippers of the beast will be some who had heard the Gospel in the preceding Church age, but now, spiritually blinded by the God Whose salvation they had despised, they will bask in the false security of Satan’s lie, knowing not that they are men whose eternal doom is already sealed.
5:24. “Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.”
5:25. “And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN.”
5:26. “This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.”
5:27. “TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.”
5:28. “PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”
The threefold message announcing the end of the Babylonian empire, is but the foreshadowing of the message that will be conveyed to the harlot church, as the political power headed up by the Roman beast, destroys her, and appropriates her wealth and power at the midpoint of the Tribulation. His rejoicing will be short lived, however, for at the end of three and a-half years, Christ returning in power and glory to inaugurate His millennial kingdom, will fulfill what is here typically foreshown: He will destroy that fourth and last mighty kingdom which will be the embodiment of all religious, political, military, and economic power, just as was Babylon in the days of Daniel. Then will be fulfilled what is written, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom (not “kingdoms” of the KJ version) of our Lord, and of His Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Re 11:15); but we are “... heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:17). “If we suffer (endure), we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). And in regard to the unbeliever, the kingdom of heaven, which he refused by refusing Christ as Savior, will be given to another - the believer.
To focus on the national application, and miss the personal, however, would be to discern only half the message, for the application is threefold: to the false church; to the Roman beast ruler; and to the man who refuses Christ as Savior. As it was with Belshazzar, so will it be with all who come to the end of life having deliberately rejected, or simply neglected God’s only way of salvation: the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s warning being, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb 2:3).
5:29. “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.”
And all of this by a man who would himself be dead before that night had come to an end! Viewed from the perspective of today, Belshazzar’s actions that night prompt the question, How could he have been guilty of such utter folly? So from the perspective of eternity will the actions of the unbeliever evoke the same question, for he is guilty of similar madness.
5:30. “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.”
What the writing had declared was fulfilled that very night, What the Scriptures (also written by the hand of God) have declared regarding events up to this moment, have been fulfilled with the same precision, leaving doubt only in the mind of the fool as to the exact fulfillment of the little not yet completed.
Its being said that Belshazzar was the king of the Chaldeans, is particularly significant here, for Chaldean means as clod-breakers, a term of disparagement applied to those whose mental capacity renders them unfit for anything but digging in the earth. The Chaldeans are the fitting representatives of all unbelievers, men still “in Adam,” concerning whom it is written, “The first man is of the earth, earthy .... As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy” (1 Co 15:47-48).
5:31. “And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about three score and two years old.”
Darius means investigation: the dwelling will be full of heaviness, while Median means my measures: my garments: what is enough or that which is enough. Having regard to the fact, that as noted already, this chapter appears to be the OT foreshadowing of what will be when the Lord returns to establish His millennial kingdom, these meanings are particularly significant. That day will be a time of “investigation” as Christ judges the nations; and for the unbelievers banished into hell to await the resurrection of damnation, their dwelling will indeed be full of heaviness.
The thought of judgment continues to be stressed in the meanings of Median, Darius being here a type of Christ returning to judge the nations, just prior to the setting up of His millennial kingdom, for no spiritual mind will have any difficulty in relating my measures to Christ’s execution of judgment; nor is the significance of my garments difficult to read, for concerning the Lord relative to His coming to execute judgment, it is written, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of
his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come” (Isa 63:1-4). It is generally agreed that Re 1:13-16 also describes Christ as the Judge, and in verse 13 it is written, “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle.”
The third meaning of Median what is enough or that which is enough, is the symbolic declaration of the perfection of His judgment. Even those condemned and banished into hell, will be compelled to acknowledge the justice of their judgment, while those who will have suffered at their hands in the Tribulation will be completely satisfied by the vengeance meted out to
their former persecutors. For condemned and vindicated alike, it will be that which is enough.
I regret being unable to read the spiritual significance of Darius’ being three-score and two years old.