Daniel 5:1-31 Comments by Stephen Ricker
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Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin
Comments for Study 5

Daniel 5:1-31
Memory Verse: 5:25

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I. King Belshazzar's Hedonistic Party (1-16)

>1. According to this chapter, who was Belshazzar?

* Belshazzar was the King of Babylon. (30) He was the son of Nebuchadnezzar. (2) "Father" here does not necessarily mean Belshazzar was son of Nebuchadnezzar. The word could also mean grandson or descendant. He was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. It was now 539 B.C. Belshazzar's father was Nabonidus, who was son of Nebuchadnezzar. Discoveries of inscriptions in clay have shown that the Nabonidus absented himself in Tema, a Arabia desert oasis while his son, Belshazzar acted as viceroy of his father and regent in the capital, Babylon. (This explains Belshazzar's promise to Daniel in verse 7.)

* The events in this chapter took place two years before Cyrus, king of Persia (to the north-east of Babylon) with the Medes help (north-west of Babylon) routed Babylon. The Babylonians had twenty years of provisions in the city. However, after a two years of siege the city fell.

* Assyria had ruled the Mideast until Babylon defeated them in 612 B.C. a few years before Judea was taken into captivity (605, 597, and 587 B.C.). Babylon's rule over the Mideast ended when the Persian Empire defeated them in 539 B.C. The Persian Empire was larger than Assyria and Babylon's Empires. The Persian Empire was an alliance of the Medes and the Persians. Under their rule the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland.

Nabonidus clay cylinder

* See a picture of the clay Nabonidus cylinder to the right, one of several that have been found. The Nabonidus Cylinder from Sippar is a long text in which Nabonidus describes how he repaired three temples: the sanctuary of the moon god Sin in Harran, the sanctuary of the warrior goddess Anunitu in Sippar, and the temple of Šamaš in Sippar. Nabonidus cylinders from Ur are noteworthy because they mention a son named Belshazzar. The cylinders state: "As for me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great godhead and grant me as a present a life long of days, and as for Belshazzar, the eldest son -my offspring- instill reverence for your great godhead in his heart and may he not commit any cultic mistake, may he be sated with a life of plenitude."

>Describe the party he had for his nobles. Who was there? (1)

* Daniel 5:1 "King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them."

* "a great banquet" -The drinking, orgy of revelry and blasphemy on such occasions is confirmed by the ancient Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon. (NIV Study Bible) The party was meant to boost moral during the siege. The kings of Babylon didn't normally have such parties. It was only on special occasions that the parties were held.

* "thousand of his nobles" -The nobles were in charge of the fighting men. Perhaps they wanted to attack someone, not liking to be in the city during a siege.

* They should have put on sackcloth and mourned. (Isaiah 22:12-13)

>2. What big mistake did Belshazzar make? (2-4)

* Daniel 5:2-4 "While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone."

* "the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem" -They were for drink offerings in the temple of God. The temple of God had been burned and looted by Nebuchadnezzar. (Jeremiah 27:16-22)

* Daniel 1:2 records, "some of the articles from the temple of God" were taken. Babylon did not take away all of the articles because some Levites and prophets of God hid them. Some believe they were hid at the treasury of the temple. The treasury of the temple was near Qumran, on the north western shore of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea Scrolls found in the the late 1940s and '50s A.D. in caves near the sight confirm this. One scroll was copper. It states the articles from the temple, the original tabernacle, the deed to the temple mount in Jerusalem, gold, and silver not been dug up although some believe the scroll says they were hidden in and around Qumran.

>Why had King Nebuchadnezzar never done this?

* Nebuchadnezzar had some fear and respect for God because of his relationship with Daniel and his three friends.

>What was his probable motive? (23)

* Daniel 5:23 "Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways."

* "you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven" -The goblets reminded them of the great victory over Judea and the God of Judea. Even the mighty Egyptians and Assyrians had not completely routed Judea like they did.

* "You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone" -Behind all this was the defiance of God. They were replacing Nebuchadnezzar's repentance with what they considered true worship; worship of their idols. He wanted to return to the old ways.

* "While Belshazzar was drinking his wine.. drank wine from them" -Belshazzar did this in front of his nobles when he was drunk. People do strange things is such a state. It ruins people's lives. It is foolish to party in this way. I know because in my past I was a teenage alcoholic. I did many foolish things while drunk. I thank God for rescuing me from myself.

The Bible records two other making foolish things while drunk. When Noah got drunk after the flood he was naked. This resulted in one of his sons sinning and being cursed. (Genesis 19) When Herod got drunk he made promises that lead to the death of John the Baptist, the name he respected and feared. Later, it led to his insanity.

* "Lord of heaven" -The original Hebrew is "Mare shemayin". The book of Daniel uses the terms "Lord of heaven", "God in heaven", "God of heaven", and "King of heaven". Of the twenty-two (22) Old Testament occurrences of the phrases "God in heaven" and "God of heaven", seventeen (17) occur in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel; all exile and post exile times. Some speculate that the exiles started using this phrase when referring to the Lord because a similar Aramaic term in large use by the Gentiles was "Lord (Baal in Aramaic) of heaven". Like modern missionaries and Bible translators God's people have to decide how to refer to God in native ways that they understand. For example, there was much thought and controversy when it was decided to use Allah in the modern Aramaic translation of the Bible in place of the Hebrew and Greek words for God.

>Why was this so offensive to God and such a foolish thing to do? (2-4; Exodus 20:3; Romans 1:22-23)

* Daniel 5:2-4 "While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone."

* Exodus 20:3 "'You shall have no other gods before me."

* Romans 1:22-23 "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."

* "you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven... who holds in his hand your life and all your ways." -This was a great sin against the LORD God of Israel.

>3. While they were drinking, what strange and terrifying thing happened? (5a)

* Daniel 5:5a "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 fingers of a human hand" -Ancient societies referred to the finger of God meaning with a small part of God's infinite power he could do things mankind calls a miracle. During the plagues on Egypt Pharaoh's magicians told him, "This is the finger of God." (Exodus 8:19) The finger of God wrote the ten commandments on stone tablets for Moses. (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10) Jesus told the religious leaders, "But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you." (Luke 11:20)

* Today people say refering to this event, "Can't you read the writing on the wall?"

Belshazzar's Feast by Rembrandt

* See painting titled "Belshazzar's Feast" by Rembrandt circa 1635-1638.

>How did the king react to what he saw? (5b-6)

* Daniel 5:5b-6 "...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."

* "face turned pale" -Why would this terrify him so much that the blood drained from his face? Though it could have been a good new, he knew in his heart that it was a bad omen. Every sinner has inner fear and condemnation, some more than others. He knew he did something wrong.

* "his knees knocked together and his legs gave way." -Many years ago I spoke a message to over one thousand people. During the message my legs shook and became weak. I had put a lot of prayer and work in preparing for it. A man who hates me vehemently opposed my giving the message. He did all he could to cause me to fail; giving much trouble, depriving me sleep, spreading gossip, and speaking and acting meanly toward me. That message wasn't the first time I spoke in front of a large crowd. I was a little bit fearful, but mostly tired and weak. So my leg shock during the message. Yet, the Lord was with me and afterwards the director of the event and many others had said I hit a home run.

>4. What did he promise to do for the wise men who could interpret this writing on the wall? (7)

* Daniel 5:7 "The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.'"

* "clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck" -status symbols.

* "he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom" -Belshazzar's father was still alive and king. Belshazzar was second in command, placed in charge while his father was in Tama (see question 1). Thus, he promised the interpreter command after him and his father.

>What did the wise men and astrologers do?

* Daniel 5:8 "Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant."

* The wise men did nothing even though it was in Aramaic, not a strange language. Belshazzar wasn't looking for a "dictionary meaning". God closed their eyes to the meaning behind the common words, as is sometimes the case when believers and Bible scholars study the Bible. God reveals things in his time, in his way, to those he has chosen through the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7-15) Always pray for the Holy Spirit when you study the Bible.

>What was the result? (9)

* Daniel 5:9 "So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled."

* " His nobles were baffled." -The king needed a Bible teacher, one who feared God and served God humbly and true.

Daniel and the Writing on the Wall

See a wood engraving by Gustave Dore (1832-1883) to the right. Dore's drawings were in Bibles that are now in public domain. This one was scanned in by creationism.org.

>5. Who came to help him? (10)

* Daniel 5:10 "The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. 'O king, live forever!' she said. 'Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale!'"

* "queen" -This was either his mother, the wife of Nabonidus, or his grandmother, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, or the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.

>Why was she not attending the party?

* Either she did not agree with it because she remembered how God worked in her husbands life or she was to old for it. Later, in Esther's lifetime under the Persians, we see that the wives did not go to these drunken parties, but left the drunk men to the concubines.

>How did she encourage and counsel him?

* "Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale" -From the way she talked to him in verses 10 and 11 her relationship with him can be seen.

>What specific advice did she give? (11-12)

* Daniel 5:11-12 "'There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father--your father the king, I say--appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.'"

* She told him there was a man who could read the writing.

* Apparently he had removed Daniel from his court, either because Daniel was retired, or the king didn't want him there.

* This was forty years after the animal event in the previous chapter. Either he knew nothing about it or considered Nebuchadnezzar a fool.

>How did she recommend Daniel?

* She spoke well of his abilities.

* She had first hand knowledge of him and perhaps saw how Daniel had worked with and for Nebuchadnezzar.

>6. How did the king question Daniel?

* Daniel 5:13 "So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, 'Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah?'"

* "one of the exiles" -He called him an exile; thus belittling his state.

>What did the king know about him?

* Daniel 5:14 "'I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom.'"

* "heard" -out of sight, out of mind.

>What reward did he promise Daniel if he could interpret the handwriting on the wall? (13-16)

* Daniel 5:13-16 "If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.'"

* Belchazar gave Daniel the same promise as his wise men. See question 4 above.

II. Daniel Councils the King (17-31)

>7. Read verse 17. How did Daniel respond to the king's offer?

* Daniel 5:17 "Then Daniel answered the king, 'You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.'"

* He rejected it.

>Why did he refuse any reward from the king? What was the cause of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity? It's cure?

* Daniel knew that Belshazzar's kingdom was ending soon. Daniel's dream of four beasts as recorded in chapter 7 was before the events in this chapter. (Daniel 7:1) That vision foretold the fall of the Babylonians.

Daniel must have started studying the word of God after Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue. Daniel would have learned through Isaiah 13:1-14:27, 21:1-10, 43:14, 47:1-26, 48:12-22, and Jeremiah 25:1-14, 29:10-14 the fall of Babylon at the hands of the Medes and Persian and the Jews would return to the promised land seventy years from when they were taken into exile. Bible study and the vision of four beasts would have helped him know what was happening when the hand wrote on the wall.

* Through Bible study Daniel and anyone else in his day could have learned the dates God had set for the exiles return. In these last days many of those who profess to be followers of Jesus have been studying the Bible to learn what it says about the end time. This is not wrong and in fact encouraged. However, without the Holy Spirit's help many have set dates for the rapture and were wrong to their shame and ridicule of the church.

* Daniel had no need for Babylon's riches. He feared the wrath of God that was soon to fall on Babylon and their riches.

* Abraham also refused the spoils of war that the King of Sodom offered him. (Genesis 14:22-24)

>8. Of what event in the life of the king's father did Daniel remind him? (18-21, 4:34) What was the cause of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity and cure?

* Daniel 5:18-21 "'O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes."

* Daniel 4:34 "At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation."

* God gave Nebuchadnezzar glory and power; complete control to do what he wanted. Still, God disciplined him. He learned to fear and honor God the hard way. Belshazzar should have learned from his grandfather's mistakes. He had no sense of history, even how God worked in his own family. Daniel said in verse 22, "though you knew all this". Belshazzar knew all that happened to his grandfather. Many are like him. They don't learn from history. They make excuses. They do the same evil things former generations made. Some even study the Bible and don't do what it says.

>9. What shows that Belshazzar had deliberately sinned against God? (22-23; Proverbs 1:7)

* Daniel 5:22-23 "'But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.'"

* Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline."

* He had no fear of God.

* When a person has no fear of God, they become fools.

>What did Daniel say about God to Belshazzar? (23b-24)

* Daniel 5:23b-24 "...But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.' Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription."

* He didn't accept God's sovereignty in his life, even though he could have learned that from his father's life.

* Everything is absolutely in control by the LORD.

* "all your ways" -we are all accountable to God.

* In the end our lives are nothing outside of Jesus. In Jesus and his will our lives mean something and we should always acknowledge that.

>How had Belshazzar dug his own grave? (23)

* Daniel 5:23 "Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.'" (23)

>Why can no one claim ignorance as an excuse?

* Because God gives us witness everywhere that he exists.

* Romans 1:20 "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

* Psalm 19.

* Romans 18-20

* All people have a general revelation of God. Some more than others. God will judge all according to what he has revealed to us. In the end all are found guilty of not responding correctly to the truth that God reveals to us. Thus, without Jesus' blood sacrifice to pay the price, there is no forgiveness of this sin; the sin of blaspheme of the revelation of the Holy Spirit to our souls.

>10. What was the inscription on the wall and what did each word mean?

* Daniel 5:25-28 "'This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'"

* "God has numbered" -exact

* "You have been weighed" -exact

* "they divide" -exact

* "Medes and Persians" -exact

* This is God's meaning of judgement to all. We will stand before God's scale; the heart cause of our actions will be weighed. The bride of Christ will stand before the Bridegroom and either be given rewards or lose rewards. The unrepentant will be found guilty.

>What does it mean to be weighed in the scales and found wanting? (26-28; Romans 3:23)

* Daniel 5:26-28 "'This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'"

* Romans 3:23 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"

* Not meet God's standard.

* No spiritual meat on the body.

>11. What was done for Daniel? (29)

* Daniel 5:29 "Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom."

* He showed respect for Daniel, but not for God's words. He did not ask what should he do. He did not repent.

>How was the prophecy of this inscription fulfilled? (30-31)

* Daniel 5:30-31 "That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two."

* "Darius the Mede" -Perhaps another name for Gubaru, referred to in Babylonian inscriptions as the governor that Cyrus put in charge of the newly conquered Babylonian territories. Or "Darius the Mede" may have been Cyrus' throne name in Babylon. (NIV Study Bible)

* "at the age of sixty-two" -The statement of his age shows that he was a real person and not a confusion of historical facts as some claim that Daniel was written during the time of the Maccabees by someone who didn't know history well.

* Cyrus, the Persian king, destroyed the Babylonian Empire in 538 B.C. In the same year issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to their native land. As many as wished to could return, and the temple could be rebuilt partially financed by the royal treasury. The temple vessels also were returned. The number of those returning was 49,697 led by Zerubbabel.

Cyrus clay cylinder

* See a picture of the clay Cyrus cylinder to the right. "When I entered Babylon in peace, and took up my royal abode in the palace of the princes amid acclamation and shouts of joy, the mighty lord Marduk inclined the great hearts of the Babylonians towards me... I liberated those who dwelt in Babylon from the yoke that chafed them... I am Cyrus, king of all things, the great king... king of all the earth..." So runs the inscription in Babylonian characters on the clay cylinder of Cyrus. The last words might almost suggest that the biblical Chronicler had them in mind: "Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me..." (2 Chronicles 36:23). In 539 B.C. -a year after Cyrus had beaten the army of Nabonidus, the Babylonian king- the occupation of Babylon by the Persians settled the fate of the last great empire of Mesopotamia. The time had come of which it was said: "...after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you... in causing you to return to this place" (Jeremiah 29:10). (The Bible as History in Pictures, Werner Keller)

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