Daniel 5 – The Handwriting on the Wall & Nabonidus and Belshazzar

ThinkingThose kings were all into power, pompous arrogant fools is what they were.  President Bush and Obama is just like them, but worse.

I feel sorry for King Belshazzar, but I can’t help but laugh that he peed his pants when You wrote on the wall (v. 6).  No one but You could make a king wet his pants, but of course a king on earth is nothing, Jesus is the King of Kings:

1 Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo Babylonian Empire reigning from 556 539 B.C.
Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, reigning from 556-539 B.C.

“And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS,. AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev 19:16).  

And that night he got murdered, so who is…

Daniel 5
The Handwriting on the Wall

1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

5:1-4 – the orgy of revelry and blasphemy on such occasions is confirmed by the ancient Greek historical Herodotus and Xenophon.

“King” – Belshazzar (meaning “Bel, protect the king!”) was the son and viceroy of Nabonidus.  He is called the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar (5:22), but the Aramaic term could also mean “grandson” or “descendant” or even “successor.”  Likewise, “father” could mean “ancestor” or “predecessor.”

2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father 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.

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.

4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

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.

2 Rembrandts depiction
Rembrandt’s depiction of the biblical account of Belshazzar seeing “the writing on the wall”. Note the text is vertical rather than horizontal.

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.

“Shall be the third ruler in the kingdom” – Nabonidus was first, Belshazzar second.

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.

9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

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 forever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:

“Queen” – or “queen mother.”  She could have been (1) the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, or (2) the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and wife of Nabonidus, or (3) the wife of Nabonidus but not the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.

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;

“The days of thy father” – Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C., the year is now 539 B.C.

3 It speaks of the praises
It speaks of the praises of Nabonidus’ mother, Adda-Gruppi for the gods, line 1–27
They were also used to empower kings for example in column 2.

Similar claims are made by Nabonidus himself. In his own testimony he acknowledges his own non-heridetary rights to the throne and compensates for this by calling out that it was the god Sin who choose him.

It all seems very perfect for his taking of the throne. A god who is separate from the priesthood of Marduk endorses him, in turn Nabonidus endorses that god, the moon god-Sin as the god of gods.

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.

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?

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.

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:

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.

“Third ruler” – was the highest position Belshazzar could offer since he was technically the second ruler under Nabonidus.

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.

“Let thy gifts be to thyself” – see Gen 14:23 and Matt 6:2.

18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor:

4 The Nabonidus Chronicle
The Nabonidus Chronicle is an ancient Babylonian text, part of a larger series of Babylonian Chronicles inscribed in cuneiform script on clay tablets.
It deals primarily with the reign of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, covers the conquest of Babylon by the Persian king Cyrus the Great, and ends with the start of the reign of Cyrus’s son Cambyses, spanning a period from 556 BC to some time after 539 BC.

It provides a rare contemporary account of Cyrus’s rise to power and is the main source of information on this period; Amélie Kuhrt describes it as “the most reliable and sober [ancient] account of the fall of Babylon.

 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.

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:

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.

22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;

5:22-23 – three charges were brought against Belshazzar: (1) he sinned not through ignorance but through disobedience and pride (v. 22), (2) he defied God by desecrating the sacred vessels (v. 23a), and (3) he praised idols and so did not honor God (v. 23b)

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:

24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.

25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

5 Nabonidus in relief showing him praying to the moon sun and Venus.
Nabonidus in relief showing him praying to the moon, sun and Venus.

“Weighed in the balances” – measured in the light of God’s standards (cf. Job 31:6, Ps 62:9; Prov 24:12).

28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

“Medes and Persians” – the second kingdom of the series of four predicted in chapter 2.

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.

30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.

“In that night” – see Lk 12:20.

31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

“Darius the Median” – perhaps another name for Gubaru, referred to in Babylonian inscription as the governor that Cyrus put in charge of the newly conquered Babylonian territories.  Or “Darius the Median” may have been Cyrus’s throne name in Babylon (see 6:28, which can be read “in the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian”).

“Took the kingdom” – the head of gold is now no more, as predicted in 2:39.

Nabonidus and Belshazzar

Belshazzar (meaning “Bel protect the king”) was the son of the Babylonian king Nabonidus (556-539 B.C.) and the principal monarch from approximately 550 to 540 B.C.

6 The small cuneiform
The small cuneiform foundation cylinder shown below, now in the British Museum, ends with a prayer in the name of Nabonidus and his son, Belshazzar.

Although Nabonidus claimed to be a rightful heir to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, it is clear that he was not originally in line to become king. An inscription found in Harran indicates that Nabonidus’s mother, Adad- guppi, was responsible for his rise to power.

Some suggest that she was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar; hence Nebuchadnezzar would have been Belshazzar’s “(grand)father” or “(fore)father” (Dan 5:2). Others propose that Belshazzar may have played an active role in advancing his father to the throne – by murdering a man named Labasi-Marduk who had a better claim to succession.

A Babylonian text, the Verse Account of Nabonidus, relates that Nabonidus placed the military troops under Belshazzar’s command and entrusted the kingship to him before departing to the west.

During the approximate ten-year reign of Belshazzar, Nabonidus remained on campaign in Tema (Arabia). Nabonidus also was apparently devoted to the god Sin; he had no interest in the worship of Marduk (the chief Babylonian god) and even ceased to observe the traditional New Year festival.

7 The Cylinders of Nabonidus
The Cylinders of Nabonidus refers to cuneiform inscriptions of king Nabonidus of Babylonia (556-539 BC).

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.

He was thus despised as a heretical and negligent monarch. Curiously, Nabonidus seems to have been one of history’s first archaeologists, having carried out excavations at Agade, Uruk and Ur.

Though always referred to as “son of the king” in Assyrian sources, Belshazzar exercised all the functions of kingship, including receiving tribute, granting leases and attending to the upkeep of the temples, as a several business letters and contracts a contemporary to his reign.

He was apparently as impious as his father (seen in his lack of regard for God), and ruthless as well. As “second” ruler, he promised Daniel the position of “third” ruler. Little is known of Belshazzar’s final years in power.

Babylon was well fortified when the Persians attacked in 539 B.C., but Cyrus is said to have diverted the waters of the Euphrates and opened an access into the city.

Herodotus and Xenophon relate that Cyrus found the city in celebration and took it with relative ease.  Nabonidus returned to Babylon in 539 B.C., but was captured at Borsippa and exiled to Carmania in the east.


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