Tanak Foundations-Concepts in Daniel-Chapter 5

Dan 5.1-31 gives us the account of a great feast King Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, had using and desecrating the vessels from the Temple that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is brought in to read a mysterious handwriting on a wall during the banquet. Daniel reminds Belshazzar how Yehovah humbled his grandfather because of his pride and he should have learned that lesson and taken warning, but he didn’t. Yehovah was displeased with the desecration of the Temple’s vessels and is told his kingdom would fall and be given into the hands of the Medes and the Persians.

v 1…Belshazzar the king held a great feast (thinking he was quite safe from Darius and Cyrus now besieging Babylon, and the reason for the banquet is unknown, but see the comments in v 2 for one interpretation) for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.

v 2…When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father (grandfather) had taken out of the Temple which was in Jerusalem, in order that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines (unusual that they would be there) might drink from them (it is possible that Belshazzar thought the seventy-year captivity of the Jews predicted by Jeremiah was over and the prophecies were wrong, so he took the vessels from the Temple to celebrate thinking if those prophecies were wrong, so were the other prophecies about the demise of Babylon, the rise of the Medes and Persians, Cyrus in Isaiah, and the release of the Jews from captivity, and they thought the Chaldeans triumphed over the God of Israel. However, Belshazzar’s calculations about the seventy years were wrong).

v 3…Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the Temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them (they were mocking God).

v 4…They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone (they had idols made out of all these materials, thus they profaned these holy vessels (they had a kedusha).

v 5…Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace (which was best lit so that everyone could see the words), and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing (because of the lampstand).

v 6…Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack (lost strength to hold his body), and his knees began knocking together.

v 7…The king called aloud (in a strong voice due to his bad conscience which now pointed to sinister implications) to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers (losing his composure now). The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me will be clothed with purple, and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third (ruler) in the kingdom (there seems to be a triumvirate of rulers under the king: the interpreter would rule as one of the three; Dan 6.1-3 tells us Darius kept the Babylonian model).”

v 8…Then all the king’s wise men came in but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king.

v 9…Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.

v 10…The queen (the queen mother, possibly the wife of Nebuchadnezzar) entered the banquet hall (she was older and was not present at it) because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale.

v 11…There is a man in your kingdom (not “court” because he may have been removed from his position after the death of Nebuchadnezzar) in whom is a spirit of the holy gods (the language of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 4.8, 9,18 meaning he had something more than human), and in the days of your father (his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar), illumination, insight, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found (past tense) in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father (grandfather) the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners (being Nebuchadnezzar’s wife she knew firsthand about Daniel and how he helped).

v 12…This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel (she uses his Hebrew name; his gifts superseded all the other so-called “wise men”), whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned, and he will declare the interpretation.”

v 13…Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “You are Daniel, from among the exiles of Judah (he was acquainted with him and his origin, but it seems he was no longer close to the king or a part of his court), whom my father (his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar) the king brought from Judah.

v 14…Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods (notice he leaves out “holy”) is in you (he had something more than human), and that illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom had been found in you.

v 15…Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message (could give no explanation).

v 16…But I have personally heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as third (ruler in a triumvirate-6.1-3) in the kingdom.”

v 17…Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself, or give rewards to someone else (he didn’t think that reading and unraveling the mystery merited a reward, or he thought the king would not be around in a few hours anyway); however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him.

v 18…O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory, and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father (far above what Belshazzar was).

v 19…And because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations, and (men of every) language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed, and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated, and whomever he wished he humbled.

v 20…But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly (in utter disregard for the will of Yehovah), he was deposed from his royal throne, and glory (his) was taken away from him.

v 21…He was also driven away from the sons of men, and his heart was made like that of the beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind (all the kingdoms of men), and that he sets over it whomever he wishes (now the lesson is going to be driven home with what follows).

v 22…Yet you, his son (grandson), Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this (he chose to ignore God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar),

v 23…but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them (blasphemous act); and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone (idols made of these materials), which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand (why he saw a hand) are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.

v 24…Then the hand was sent from him (because the Temple’s vessels were profaned and idols were praised with them), and this inscription was written out (probably pointing to the wall as he said this).

v 25…Now, this is the inscription that was written out (in Aramaic): MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN (in the book called “Daniel” in the Artscroll Tanach Serie, Mesorah Publications, p. 163, several interesting scenarios are presented as to what could have been written on the wall that Daniel deciphered. See that book for a more detailed look at this, with illustrations of the various scenarios, and it says: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN were written in code, each letter in the alphabet substituted for a counterpart from the other end of the alphabet, e.g. Alef replaces Tav, Bet replaces Shin, and so on.” Then it goes on to say, “Shmuel holds that the letters forming the words were not arranged in their normal sequence.” It goes on, “Maharsha explains that the letters were written as three five-letter words one atop the other. The message can thus be read clearly when it is read from top to bottom instead of the customary right to left. Maharshal understands Shmuel to mean that there were five groups of three letters each, arranged one above the other. The message could only be understood by reading every fifth letter. The first word was formed by letters, 1, 6, 11; the second by letters 2, 7, 12; the third by letters 3, 8, 13; the fourth by letters 4, 9, 14, 5, 10, 15. Rav Yochanan says the words were simply written backward from left to right).”

v 26…”This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’-God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it (Daniel only interprets one “MENE and it is left unexplained, but the two words mean God has determined the number of years Babylon would reign, and how long Belshazzar would reign. Both MENE’s are now completed).

v 27…TEKEL-you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient (of justice and truth as defined in the Torah, a lawless reprobate).

v 28…PERES (a wordplay on the Persians who were coming to take Babylon)-your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians (UPHARSIN is plural for PERES-Darius ruled the Medes and Cyrus the Persians. They ruled together, with Darius ruling Babylon and Cyrus the rest of the Empire. Daniel indicates that the elder Darius would be the first to reign over Babylon by mentioning the Medes first).”

v 29…Then Belshazzar gave orders and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third (ruler) in the kingdom (fulfilling his word as king).

v 30…That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain (by the Medes and the Persians who surprised the Babylonians and killed Belshazzar, according to Josephus, Antiq. of the Jews, Book X, Chapter 11.4).

v 31…So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two (with the death of Belshazzar and the fall of Babylon, Daniel’s prophecy and interpretations began to be fulfilled. This Darius the Mede is identified as Darius the son of Ahasuerus in Dan 9.1 according to John Gill’s commentary on Dan 9.1. Why was his age given? We know the downfall of Babylon came seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar came to power, and if you subtract the eight years of his reign until he exiled Yehoiachin, the remainder is sixty-two years. Darius was born at the right time when a fatal stroke was given to the Jewish people when Yehoiachin the king was deported. God was providing a king who would avenge the loss of Jerusalem on Babylon sixty-two years before it would come to pass. See the book “Daniel” in the Artscroll Tanach Series, Mesorah Publications, p. 175, for more detail).

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Feasts of the Lord, The Tanach, Tying into the New Testament

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