Daniel 5
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
5. Belshazzar’s feast, and Daniel’s foreshadowing of the downfall of the Chaldœan Empire, based upon the mysterious handwriting on the wall

DANIEL 5:1–30

1Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank 2wine1 before the thousand. Belshazzar, while he tested [in the taste of] the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father2 Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that [and] the king and his princes [lords], his wives and his concubines, might drink therein. 3Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at [in] Jerusalem; and the king and his princes 4[lords], his wives and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine1 and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5In 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. 6Then the king’s countenance was changed,3 and his thoughts troubled [would trouble] him, so that [and] the joints of his loins [loin] were loosed, and his knees smote one against another [this to that].

7The king cried aloud [with might] to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldæans and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon Whosoever [That any man that] shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet [put on the purple], and have a [the] chain of gold about [upon] his neck, and shall be the third ruler [rule third] in the kingdom. 8Then came in all the king’s wise men: but [and] they could not read [call] the writing, nor [and] make known to the king [make the 9king know] the interpretation thereof. Then was [the] king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him,4 and his lords were astonished.

10Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet-house [house of the drinking]; and the queen spake and said, O 11king, live for ever; let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed.5 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 [and] the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made [appointed him] master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldæans, and soothsayers; 12forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences [riddles], and dissolving of doubts [knots], were [was] found in the same [in him] Daniel, whom the king named [put his name] Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew [or, and shew] the interpretation.

13Then 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,6 whom the king my father brought out of Jewry. [Judah]?6 14I have even heard of [upon] thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light, and understanding, and excellent wisdom, is [was] found in thee. 15And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read [call] this writing, and make known unto me [make me know] the interpretation thereof: but [and] they could not shew the interpretation of the thing. 16And I7 have heard of [upon] thee that thou canst make [interpret] interpretations and dissolve doubts [knots]: now, if thou canst read [call] the writing and make known to me [make me know] the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet [put on the purple], and have a [the] chain of gold about [upon] thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler [rule the third] in the kingdom.

17Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself [thee], and give thy rewards [largesses] to another; yet I will read [call] the writing unto the king, and make known to him [make him know] the interpretation. 18O thou king, [Thou O king—] the most high God gave [to] Nebuchadnezzar thy father a [the] kingdom, and majesty [greatness], and glory, and 19honour. And, for [from] the majesty [greatness] that he gave him, all people, nations [the nations, peoples], and languages, trembled and feared [were trembling and fearing from] 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 20put down.8 But [And] when his heart was lifted up, and his mind [spirit] hardened in pride [to act proudly], he was deposed from his kingly throne [the throne of his kingdom], and they took [caused to pass away] his glory the 21dignity] from him. And he was driven from the sons of men [mankind]; and his heart was made like [with] the beasts [living creatures], and his dwelling was with the wild-asses: they fed him with [would make him eat] grass [herbage] like oxen, and his body was [would be] wet with [from] the dew of heaven [the heavens]; till [that] he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men [mankind], and that he appointeth [will set up] over it whomsoever he 22[may] will. And thou9 his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thy heart, 23though [because] thou knewest all this; but [and] hast lifted up thyself against the Lord10 of heaven [the heavens]: and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou and thy lords, thy wives and thy concubines, have drunk [are drinking] wine11 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, 24hast thou not glorified. Then was the part of the hand sent from [before] him; and this writing was written [signed].

25And this is the writing that was written [signed], MENE, MENE, TEKEL, 26UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing [or, word]: MENE 27[NUMBERE]; God12 hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL 28[WEIGHED]; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting, PERES [DIVIDED]; thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes [Media] and Persians [Persia].

29Then commanded [said] Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet [the purple], and put a [the] chain of gold about [upon] his neck, and made a proclamation concerning [upon] him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 30In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldæans slain.


Daniel 5:1–4. The desecration of the sacred vessels of the temple at the royal feast. Belshazzar the king made a great feast. The name of the king בֵּלְשַׁאצַּר differs in its orthography merely from the Chaldee name בֵּלְטְשַׁאצַּר, which Nebuchadnezzar, according to Daniel 1:7 (cf. infra, Daniel 5:12 of this chapter), had conferred on Daniel, as it omits the t-sound between the letters l and sh. It is therefore a softened form, having the same etymological significance in its elements, and both are equivalent to Beli princeps, = the Bel-sarussur of the Babylonian inscriptions (cf. Introd., § 8, note 3). According to Hitzig (on 1:7, and on this passage), Bel-tsh-âzar is synonymous with the Sanscrit Pâla-tshâçara, “provider and devourer,” while in Bel-shazzar the middle member of this compound, the Sanscr. and Zend copula tsha, “and,” has been dropped out and replaced by the Heb. relative שׁ, so that the shortened form signifies. “provider, who (is) devourer.” This hypothesis appears altogether too artificial, and, like the direct derivation of the word from the Aryan, is doubtful, especially as the Bel-sarussur of the inscriptions on the Babylonian monuments favors it but little. Ewald’s assumption that the royal name בֵּלְשַׁ׳ comprehends the name the male god Bel, while that of Daniel, בֵּלְטְשַׁ׳, includes that of the goddess Belt, is likewise without sufficient proof, and is opposed by Daniel 4:5 [8], and also by the orthography with ט instead of ת.—Concerning the hypothesis that Belshazzar was the same us Evil-merodach, the son and immediate successor of Nebuchadnezzar, see the lntrod., § 8, note 3.—Made a great feast, i.e., caused it to be made. עֲבַד, “he had prepared,” as in Daniel 3:1. לְהֶם, “bread, food,” comprehends the beverages (מִשְׁתֵּא, Daniel 5:10) also, as the second half of the verse shows; cf. in the Heb, Gen. 26:30; 1 Sam. 25:36; Ecc. 10:19.—And drank wine before the thousand. This does not probably mean that he “vied with them in drinking” (Hävernick), but that he “drank in their presence, while seated at a separate table,”—as was the custom of the Persian kings on the occasion of their great banquets, according to Athenæus, Deipnos, iv. 10. On the expression, “to eat and drink before others,” cf. Jer. 52:33; it differs materially from “to eat and drink with others,” Ex. 18:12; Acts 10:41, etc. The number of the king’s guests, a thousand lords (grand-officers, mighty ones, cf. 4:33 [36], which the Sept. doubles, δισχίλιοι), is not remarkable, when it is remembered that, according to Ctesias (in Athen., l. c.). the Persian king provided daily for fifteen thousand persons at his table; that, according to Curtius, Alexander the Great invited ten thousand to a wedding feast; and that Ptolemy Dionysius (according to Pliny, H. N., XXXIII. 10) supported a thousand soldiers of the army of Pompey the Great from his kitchen. [“The number specified is evidently a round number, i.e., the number of the guests amounted to about a thousand” (Keil).] However, according to the genuinely Oriental custom, which is attested, e.g., by Herodotus, II. 78. in the case of the Egyptians, and by Ælian, V. H., xi. 1, among the Persians, the wine-drinking or carousal follows upon the feast proper. At such times, and especially at a court like the Babylonian immediately prior to the Persian period, the banqueters may have given way to all the excesses of their dissolute frivolity, in the manner described in the ensuing narrative. In relation to the drunkenness and wantonness of the Babylonians, cf. Isa. 14:11; 47:1; Jer. 51:39; Herod., I. 193, 195; Athenæus, XIV. p. 601; Curtius, V. 1 etc.

Daniel 5:2. Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded, etc. בִּטְעֵם חַמְרָא, “while tasting, while enjoying the wine,” therefore, while under its influence; cf. Prov. 20:1; Acts 2:13; and in regard to טעם, cf. Job 6:6. [It “does not mean merely sipping in order to determine the flavor, or as a prelude to drinking more freely, but drinking with relish, and therefore plentifully” (Stuart).]—To bring the golden and silver vessels, namely, out of the “treasure-house of the gods,” in which they had been deposited by Nebuchadnezzar, according to Daniel 1:2. The etymology of the name Belshazzar invented by Saadia and favored by Hitzig, by which it is derived from this very act of causing the vessels to be brought from the treasure-house (בְּלַשׁ, “to seek” and אוֹצָר), is an idle vagary that never entered into the mind of the writer.—That the king.… and his concubines might drink therein. The ו in וְרִּשְׁתּוֹן is expressive of the design; cf. Daniel 1:5 b. שְׁתָח with בְּ, “to drink from a vessel,” occurs also in Daniel 5:3 and 23; cf. Winer, § 51, 1.—His wives and his concubines. שֵׁגָל designates the legal consort as contrasted with the concubine (לְחֵכַה), as in the Hebrew (Psa. 15:10; Neh. 2:6). The Sept. represents only the concubines as present at the feast (both here and in Daniel 5:3 and 23), being apparently governed in this by what is described in Esther 1:9 et seq. (cf. Josephus, Ant., XI. 6, 1) as the court custom of the ancient Persians; but even with reference to them, Herodotus (5:18) testifies that their wives (κουρίδιαι γυναῖκες) were admitted to banquets (cf. also Plutarch, Sympos. I. 1 and Macrob. 7:1, who represent that at least concubines were present at the Persian feasts). It is clear that the luxurious Babylonians were even more lax in the observance of a strict etiquette, from Herod, i. 191; Xenophon, Cyrop., iv. 2, 28, and especially from Curtius, i. 1, 38. From this may appear the propriety with which Bertholdt (p. 366), on the strength of Daniel 5:10 of this chapter, which he misunderstood, charges ignorance of the Babylonian custom in question on the prophet.

Daniel 5:3. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem. Merely the golden vessels are here mentioned, while the silver ones are omitted, on the principle a potiori fit denominatio. The temple” (הֵיּכְלָא) in this place, as in 1Kings 6:3; Ezek. 41:4, is the temple proper, consisting of the holy and the most holy place, and is here distinguished from the “house of God,” i.e., the whole of the sacred area of the temple.

Daniel 5:4. They drank wine, and praised, etc. אִשְׁתִּיו (with א prosthet., Winer, Gramm., § 23, note 1) resumes the וְאִשְׁתִּיּו of the preceding verse supplemented by חַמְרָא, “wine,” in order to connect immediately with it the praising of the gods, and thus to present in a striking manner the profanity and lasciviousness of the scene.13 —On the six-fold number of the materials from which the idols were constructed, “gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone,” compare the similar number (“gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble”) in 1 Cor. 3:11; also Psa. 115:5–7; Bar. 6:7 et seq.; Wisd. 15:15.14 On the number itself, as the number of the world amenable to judgment because of its hostility to God, cf. Auberlen, Dan., p. 304 et seq.; and my Theologia naturalis, p. 816 et seq.—The aggravated feature of this profanation of the sacred vessels of the temple does not consist in the “placing of Jehovah and the idols of the king upon the same level” (Hävernick), but in the fact, which Daniel mentions with censure in Daniel 5:23, that Belshazzar proudly exalted himself above the God of Israel, and in mockery employed the vessels stolen from His sanctuary to drink wine while singing the praises of the victorious gods of Babylon. It was thus essentially an exaltation of the idols above Jehovah, who had succumbed to them in battle, and whom they had despoiled (cf. Kranichf. on this passage).

Daniel 5:5, 6. The finger on the wall, and the consequent terror of the king. In the same hour, therefore while the sacrilegious act was in progress; immediately and suddenly. cf. Daniel 3:6.—Came forth fingers of a man’s hand. The Kethib נְפָקוּ (3 plur. masc.) is sufficiently explained by its position before the feminine subject אֶצְבְּעָן, or also by the supposition that the mind of the writer reverted in an indefinite manner to the Divine powers here engaged. The feminine plural נְפָקָה, substituted for it by the Keri, is therefore to be rejected, as an easier reading (similar to that in Daniel 2:33). The participle וְכָתְבָן (“and writing,” instead of “and wrote”), which follows the verb נְפָקוּ, has a realizing effect, as in Daniel 2:7 a; 3:9 a.—Over against the candlestick on the wall of the king’s palace. The wall of the banquet-hall was not panelled nor draped, but rather a simple, light-colored “wall of lime or plaster” (כְּתַל = the כּוֹתָל of the Targums), such as the ruins of the palaces at Nineveh still exhibit in great number, according to Layard (Nin. and Babylon, p. 651). Upon a spot of this wall that was especially exposed to the light from the lamp above the king, he suddenly beheld the mysterious and terrifying phenomenon of the hand engaged in writing.—And the king saw the part (the extremity) of the hand that wrote. פַּס יְדָא properly designates here and in Daniel 5:24 the “extremity of the hand,” probably including the fingers, hence what the first sentence describes by אֶצְבְּעָן. The rendering of Gesenius and Dietrich in the Handwörterbuch, “palm of the hand, palma,” is hardly correct; nor is that of Hitzig, who, in connection with Saadia, takes יְדָא in the wider sense of “the lower arm, including the hand,” and hence explains פס־ידא by “the whole hand.” The writer appears rather to have employed the words “fingers” and “extremity of the hand” interchangeably, with design,—“in order to excite more effectually the conception of a mysterious person in the background, by the observation that only the extremity of the organ employed in writing was visible” (Kranichfeld). Whether the phenomenon of the mysterious hand is to be placed solely to the account of “the fancy of the king under the influence of wine,” and therefore to be reduced (with Kranichfeld) from an objective and actually transpiring miracle to a merely subjective apprehension (similar to the perception of the fourth person in the fiery furnace—see on Daniel 3:24), or otherwise, depends entirely on the other question, whether the mysterious writing on the wall, which certainly was visible to others as well as to Belshazzar (cf. Daniel 5:7, 8, 16, 25), is to be regarded as having been previously carved or painted in a natural way and by human agency, or whether it is to be accepted that the inscription was made by supernatural intervention at the time of the banquet and before the eyes of the terrified king. In support of the former theory reference might perhaps be made to the distinction between an older and a later cuneiform writing among the Babylonians, the former of which differed materially from the latter, or even to the hieroglyphics which the primitive Babylonians are said to have employed (cf. Spiegel, Art. Nineve u. Assyrien, in Herzog’s Real-Encykl., vol. xx. p. 234 et seq.), but with which the later ages were entirely unacquainted. It is conceivable that the king may suddenly have noticed an inscription in characters of that former time, that were traced on bricks and inserted in the wall, and that such characters were not intelligible to the ordinary magians of the time, but required the all-surpassing knowledge of Daniel to decipher. But, aside from the evident design of the narrator to report a positively miraculous incident, this theory is militated against and positively overthrown by the nature of the writing, which does not bear the character of the primitive oracles of the kind represented the Sibyllines, but is a Divine sentence of destruction upon the king and his people, that was called forth by the insolent presumption of the present ruler, and is adapted to the circumstances of his time (cf. on Daniel 5:25 et seq). The theory of an actual miracle is therefore to be received, and the psychological explanation cited above, as well as every other naturalistic theory, must be rejected.15Then the (color of the) king’s countenance was changed; literally, “Then the king, his color was changed to him.” [“מַלְכָּא (the king) stands absolutely, because the impression made by the occurrence on the king is to be depicted” (Keil).] The intransitive שְׁנָא (“to change”) has the accusative suffix in שְׁנוֹחִי, instead of the dative; cf. בְּשׁוּבֵנִי in the Heb. of Ezek. 47:7. However, the more circumstantial expression עֲלֹוהִי זִיוֹהִי שָׁנַיִן, Daniel 5:9, has substantially the same signification, as is the case also with the somewhat different expressions in Daniel 5:10 and Daniel 7:28. On זִיוִין, see on Daniel 4:33.—And his thoughts troubled him; רעיונין, the uncomfortable and terrifying thoughts concerning the meaning of the writing, which sprang from the guilty conscience of the king. cf. Daniel 2:30.—The joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. The tremulous knocking together of the knees is a consequence of the yielding of the joints of the loins, and this again, like the change of color in the countenance, is the natural effect of terror.16 cf. with חֲרַץ, “hip, loin,” the etymologically equivalent Heb. חלץ (only in the dual, חֲלָצַיִם), אַרְכּוּבָא, “knee,” appears not to be etymologically related to ברכים ,ברך, but rather to signify originally “combination, commissura;” cf. commissura genu, Plin., H. N. XI. 103.

Daniel 5:7–9. The useless consultation with the Magians. The king cried aloud; בְּחַיִל, “with power,” as in Daniel 3:4; 4:11.—To bring in the astrologers (soothsayers), the Chaldæans, and the soothsayers (astrologers). Several classes of wise men are here mentioned to designate the entire number, as in Daniel 2:2 (cf. 27) and in 4:4; and among them the Chartummin or learned class (see on Daniel 2:2), whose wisdom would be especially required in the present instance, are not even mentioned by name. This is evidently an oversight on the part of the writer, which is paralleled in the somewhat more complete enumeration of the principal classes of Magians in Daniel 5:11, and also in the abbreviated expression, “the wise men, the soothsayers,” in Daniel 5:15. The indefinite חכימי בבל in this verse, and the expression כֹּל חַכְּימֵי מַלְכָּא in Daniel 5:8, show clearly that the author always refers to all the wise men, without excluding any of the chief classes, and especially so in this instance. But it cannot be required here, any more than in the similar case mentioned in the preceding chapter, that Daniel should have at once presented himself among all these wise men of Babylon (see on 4:5). The position of the great Jewish wise man under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, which was not official in the more limited sense, was probably continued to him under Belshazzar; and, moreover, the latter, who, according to Daniel 5:11 et seq., knew little or nothing about Daniel, would be far more likely than was his father to ignore the prophet of Jehovah, and to seek the counsel of the heathen wise men at the outset. The words of the queen in Daniel 5:11 et seq. by no means indicate that the king was wholly unacquainted with Daniel, but merely that up to that time no personal or official intercourse had taken place between them. This circumstance also finds a sufficient explanation in the greater freedom of action incident to the partly official and partly private station of Daniel, which devolved on him the obligation to attend to certain portions of “the king’s business” indeed (see Daniel 8:27), but released him from the duty of frequently presenting himself before the king. The assumption of Hengstenberg and Hävernick, that on the accession of Belshazzar Daniel was formally deprived of his office as the chief Magian, is a very doubtful supposition, and stands in direct contradiction to Daniel 8:27 (cf. 8:1)—Whosoever shall read this writing, etc. כְּתָבָה (here and Daniel 5:15), for כְּתָבָא Daniel 5:8, 16, 25, appears to be the orthography of a later copyist, as in the case of כְּלָח, Daniel 4:32, and of פִּשְׁרָח in Daniel 5:12, below.—Shall be clothed with purple (marg.) and have (rather “with”17 ) a chain of gold about his neck. אַרְגְּוָן here, and in the Chaldaizing Heb. of 2 Chron. 2:6, equivalent to the Heb. אַרְגָּמָן (Ex. 25:26, 27, and often), the “red or genuine purple,” πορφύρα, was probably more costly and brilliant than the violet or blue purple תְּכֵלֶת, from which it must be distinguished. It formed the distinguishing feature of clothing among the Persian kings (Pollux, vii. 13), and was by them occasionally bestowed on high officials, as a mark of especial favor and exalted dignity; e.g., on Mordecai, Esth. 8:15; and on the purpurati, i.e., persons who were adorned with the purple κάνθυς, whom Xenophon (Anab., I. 5, 8), Curtius (3:2, 10; 8:3,15; 13:13,14), and others mention (cf. Xenophon, Cyrop., 1:3, 2; 2:4, 6; Herodotus, 3:20, etc.). Purple was probably the badge of distinguished rank at the Babylonian as well as at the Persian court, especially as Babylon, like Tyre, was celebrated among the ancients for its manufacture of purple goods. Cf. Philostratus, Ep., 27; Ezek. 27:24; Josh. 7:21; and generally, Heeren, Ideen, etc., I. 2, 205 et seq. With respect to their etymology, both forms, ארגמן and ארגון, may be most readily derived from the Sanscrit, in which both râgaman and râgavan occur as adjectives derived from râga, “red,” and signify “red-colored;” cf. Gesen., Addit. ad Thesaur., p. 111. Hitzig however refers to the Sanscr. argh = “to possess value, be costly,” and most of the older expositors prefer a Shemitic root, e.g.רגם.—הַמְנוּכָא, “chain, necklace” (Sept. and Theodot., μανιάκης; also Aquil. and Symm. on Gen. 41:42), seems not to have been changed to הַמְנִיכָא (= Gr. μανιάκης), the form which is here and in Daniel 5:16 and 29 preferred by the Keri. As among the early Egyptians (Gen. 41:42), so also among the later Persians the golden necklace served as the ornament of princes and as the mark of special favor from the king, cf. Herod., III. 20; Xenophon, Anab., I. 2, 27; 5, 8; 8, 29.—And shall be the third ruler in the kingdom; rather, “shall have power in the kingdom as a triumvir.” תַּלְתּי not the same as תַּלְתָּא, Daniel 5:16 and 29, is generally regarded as an ordinal number, “the third,” formed after the Heb. analogy, and is compared with the more usual תְּלִיתַי; but it may perhaps, and with greater probability, be regarded, with Kranichfeld, as a feminine adverbial formation after the analogy of adverbs like אְרָמִית, אָהְרִָיּ, etc., and be rendered accordingly, by like, or as a triumvir; while תַּלְתָא in Daniel 5:16 and 29 is the corresponding masculine noun “triumvir” (formed from תְּלָתָא, “three”). There is therefore no difference in sense between the term employed in this passage and those found in the parallel verses cited above; but it is unnecessary and arbitrary to declare, with Hitzig. that the two forms are identical, and on that account to substitute תַּלְתַּי in this place. The dignity of triumvir which is here promised to the fortunate interpreter of the mystery is probably not identical with the office of one of the three governors of the province of Babylon mentioned in Daniel 2:49, but designates the position of one of the three chief governors over the whole kingdom. The latter office is noticed in Daniel 6:3, as established by Darius the Mede; but that statement may be regarded as merely indicating the restoration of a feature in the administration of government which had already existed under the Babylonian regime. The Sept. presents the correct idea: ἐξουσία τοῦ τρίτου μέρους τῆς βασιλείας; but the Peshito is less correct in its rendering by “the third rank in the kingdom,” which results in the idea that the recipient should immediately succeed in rank the king, who was supreme, and the prime minister or grand vizier, who filled the second place in the kingdom. This thought was certainly foreign to the author, and would be expressed as indefinitely as is possible by וְתַלְתִּי וגי׳. The evident meaning of these words is rather that the person concerned should be placed over the kingdom αὐτός τρίτος, or the third beside two other grand officials or שַׁלִּיטִין (cf. Daniel 6:3).

Daniel 5:8. Then came in all the king’s wise men. On the Keri עַלִּין see on Daniel 4:4. The כֹּל חַכִּימֵי מַלְכָּא are evidently the same as those mentioned separately (although not exhaustively, and merely by way of indicating their office) in Daniel 5:7. Kranichfeld is exceedingly arbitrary when he assumes a gradation between the three classes of wise men who are specially mentioned in Daniel 5:7, and the summoning of all the wise men related in this passage, and consequently finds between the lines and preceding the אֱדַיִן, “then,” a series of incidents that are not expressly noticed (after the manner in which many expositors treat the καὶ εἰ̄πενὁ δοῦλος, Luke 14:22). Instead of this compare the relation of the general expression כֹּל חַכִיּמֵי בָבֶל in Daniel 4:3, to the special classes of wise men which are immediately referred to (ibid. Daniel 5:4), and also what has been observed above, on Daniel 5:7, in relation to the careless style of the author.—But they could not read the writing, etc. Kranichfeld supposes that the reason for this was, that the mysterious inscription was written in the old Phœnician characters, which Daniel, being a Hebrew, would have recognized, while the Chaldœan Chartummin, who were acquainted only with the character in use among the ancient Babylonians, which corresponded to the later Syriac or Palmyrene, would naturally be unable to understand them. But in this instance we are probably to conceive of cuneiform writing, or of hieroglyphic characters (see on Daniel 5:7), because the brick walls of the palaces in ancient Babylon generally contained only such. Prideaux, however, preceded Kranichfeld in the opinion expressed in the Universal History, part. III. p. 755, that the writing was not composed of the square characters in use among the Chaldœans, but of the ancient Arabic (?), which preceded the modern Samaritan.18

Daniel 5:9. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled.… and his lords were astonished. The unusual, and even unique and incomprehensible characters in which the suddenly apparent writing was composed, increased the alarm produced by the apparition, and filled the king and his guests, now thoroughly aroused from their wild debauch, with anxious dread in relation to the misfortunes predicted by the supposed oracle. If, with Hävernick, and many earlier expositors, we could believe that Belshazzar’s feast was held during the siege of the city by the Medo-Persians, and with a design to ridicule the danger from that source, it would be still easier to explain so general an alarm, and it would not even be necessary, in that case, to allude to the fear of the many officials that their own deposition from office might be connected with the king’s impending fall; but that conclusion does not necessarily result from Daniel 5:30 et seq.—Hitzig remarks on the Ithpael part. מִשְׁתַּבְּשִׁיּן and probably with justice, that “it not only comprehends the idea of alarm, but also that of confusion and excited movement.” “None retained their places; a general uproar ensued; groups were formed; and the people talked, and ran hither and thither to no purpose.”

Daniel 5:10–12. The queen-mother refers Belshazzar to Daniel. Now (or “then”) the queen … came into the banquet-house. מַלְכְּתָא can only be the queen-mother (גְּבִירָה, 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chron. 15:16; cf. Jer. 13:18)—not one of the king’s wives; for, according to Daniel 5:2 and 23 these were already in the banquet-hall among the carousers. Hence, if Belshazzar was the same person as Evil-merodach, the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar, this queen-mother, who here evidently displays a dignity and authority such as belonged to the gebiroth at the Israelitish courts (cf. the passages adduced), was probably the Nitocris whom Herodotus celebrates in I. 185. Cf. the Introd., § 8, note 3.19 —Instead of the Kethib עַלְלַת, the Keri, conforming to the usage of the later Chaldee, has עַלַּת; cf. on Daniel 4:4.—לְָקָבֵל מִלֵּי מ׳ וגו׳ , “by reason (on account) of the words of the king and his lords.” So the majority of moderns, correctly; for a confused, excited talking, whose sound possibly penetrated to the apartments of the queen mother, is implicitly included in משתבשין. Daniel 5:9 The plural מִלִּין, as well as the complementary genitive, is opposed to the version of the Vulg., Luther, Bertholdt, Dereser, von Lengerke, etc.: “by reason of the matter, or the affair.”—O king, live for ever. Cf. on Daniel 2:4, where also the defective רַעְיוֹנָךְ וְזִיוָךְ has been noticed.

Daniel 5:11. And in the days of thy father light (נַהִירוּ , cf. on Daniel 2:22), and understanding, and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him. Cf. 1 Kings 3:28; Wisd. 8:11.—King Nebuchadnezzar, the king, thy father. The subject is briefly repeated at the close of the sentence, because its first position was somewhat distant from the verb, similar to Cant. 5:7.

Daniel 5:12. Forasmuch as an excellent spirit … were found in the same Daniel. The wisdom of Daniel, which had been extolled in Daniel 5:11, is again mentioned as the reason for the distinction conferred on him by Nebuchadnezzar, for the purpose of preparing Belshazzar to listen to the counsel which follows.—Interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts; rather, “to interpret; dreams, show riddles, and loosen knots.” This triplicate circumstantial clause,—the first and third of whose members are expressed in the Heb. [Chald.] by participles, and the second by the infinitive אַחֲוָיָא—is a genitive, depending on וְּשָׂכְלְתָנוּ which closes the series of objects governed by the principal verb הִשְׁתְּכַחַת in the manner of a parenthesis. Hitzig holds differently, taking the three terms מְפַשַּׁר, אְַהַוָיָא, and מְשָׁרֵא, under the precedence of the Vulgate, as three nouns of action, coordinated to the preceding ones (“an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding”), and consequently assuming six subjects to חִשְׁתְּכַחַת בֵּהּ. But מְפַשַׁר and מְשָרֵא are clearly Pael participles, and they cannot be taken as nomina actionis, even under reference to the Heb. מְכַסֵּה, “a covering,” or to מְשֹׁמֵם, Daniel 9:27. It is exceedingly doubtful whether the figurative expression “to loosen knots” (cf. the Lat. nodos solvere; and also Seneca’s “nodosa sortis verba,” Œdip., 101) contains an illusion to the “loosening of the loins,” in Daniel 5:6 (as Hitzig, Kranichfeld, etc., assert), or not, in view of the merely superficial relation between משרא and משתרין. In … Daniel whom the king named Belteshazzar; בֵּחּ בְּדָנִיּאֵל (cf. Daniel 5:30), an emphatic pleonasm. The giving of the name is referred to, as in Daniel 4:5, as something honorable to the prophet.—Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation. Concerning the form וּפִשְׁרָח, see above, on Daniel 5:7. [“The tone in which this last clause is spoken betokens that the speaker herself is conscious of an elevated rank and a kind of authority, or, at least, a right to give advice; a tone which only such a woman as stood in the relation of a mother (not a wife) could assume in the East before a king” (Stuart).]

Daniel 5:13–16. Daniel’s appearance before the king. Then was Daniel brought in before the king. הֻצַל and הֻעַלּוּ are Hebraizing Hophal-forms, like הוּסַק, Daniel 4:33, or like חָנְחַת in Daniel 5:20.—Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, etc. [“The question did not expect an answer, and has this meaning: Thou art indeed Daniel.”—Keil.] This question clearly indicates that no direct intercourse had hitherto taken place between the king and Daniel (see on Daniel 5:7), but also, on the other hand, that the former had some knowledge of the prophet. The use of the name Daniel instead of Belteshazzar, in the king’s address, was probably dictated simply by a desire to avoid the use of a name so nearly identical in sound to his own—although it certainly belonged to the prophet in the official language of the Babylonian court. Hitzig therefore commits a decided error, when he assumes a historical improbability in this place, suggestive of a later Jewish authorship.—Whom the king.… brought from (rather “hitherto, out of”) Jewry? דִּי הַיְתִי is probably to be referred to the captives, as Theodotion, the Sept., Luther, Hitzig, etc., hold, and not specially to the person of Daniel, which is the view of the Vulgate, Kranichfeld, etc. On the form אַבִי for אַבִּי (cf. the voc. אַבָּא = Ἀββᾶ, Rom. 8:15), see Hitzig, Kranichfeld, and others, on this passage.—On Daniel 5:14 of. Daniel 5:11; on Daniel 5:15 cf. Daniel 5:8. [“It is not to be overlooked that here Belshazzar leaves out the predicate holy in connection with אֱלָהִין, gods” (Keil).]—The wise men, the astrologers (“soothsayers”). On this combination cf. on Daniel 5:7.—That they should read this writing, etc. דִּי, as the accompanying imperfect indicates, is in this place the telic conjunction “that, in order that.” Upon this clause which indicates the design, depends that which follows, construed with ל c. Inf. (cf. 2:16). Concerning the form כְּתָבָח see supra, on Daniel 5:7.—But they could not shew the interpretation of the thing (or “word”). מִלְּתא cannot be rendered by “matter, thing,” any more than מִלּ־ן in Daniel 5:10; it rather signifies, collectively, the words written on the wall (against Hitzig and others).—Concerning תַּלְתָּא Daniel 5:16 b., see supra, on Daniel 5:7.

Daniel 5:17–24. Daniel’s censuring address to the king, as the prologue to the interpretation of the writing. Let thy gifts be to thyself. This refusal of the royal presents was designed merely to decisively reject, at the outset, and in a manner becoming the prophet of Jehovah, any influence that might be brought to bear on him. It is not, therefore, a pert expression, which the king might justly punish, nor is it inconsistent with the fact that Daniel ultimately accepted the reward offered for the interpretation, Daniel 5:29, since he regarded it as a recognition of his God. The assertion of v. Lengerke, Hitzig, etc., that we should expect either that the enraged king would punish the prophet who bears evil tidings and couples them with threatenings and censure, or that, in Daniel 5:29, Daniel would despise the royal purple and the golden necklace, all this is simply adapted to afford a conception of the manner in which a Maccabæan tendency-writer would have treated this history, and of the probable issue to which he would have conducted it.

Daniel 5:18. O thou king, the most high God, etc. The absolute position of the vocative אנְתָּה מַלְכָּא at the beginning of the sentence, places the king rhetorically in a living relation with the facts reported in the following clause, with regard to his father Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 5:19. And for the majesty (or “power”).… all people, nations (“tribes”), and languages trembled and feared; properly, “were trembling and fearing,” were in a state of fear and trembling. The Keri has זָיְעִין instead of זָאַעִין, similar to דָּיְרִין (Daniel 2:38; 3:31; 4:32) instead of דָּארִין; see on 2:38. Concerning the triad, “people, tribes, and tongues,” see on Daniel 3:4.—Whom (soever) he would (cf. Winer, Gramm. § 47,1, a).… he kept alive. מָחֵא is derived by Theodotion (ἔτυπτεν) and the Vulgate (percutiebat; cf. Luther, “er schlug”) from מְחָא “to smite;” but the parallelism requires the Aphel partic. of חְיָא, “to live,” and מָחֵא must either be considered as such (namely, as a peculiar, old-Chaldaic contraction of מַחְיֵא, which is generally contracted to מַחֵי, e.g., Targ. Deut. 32:39), or, with Saadia, Rashi, Buxt., Bertholdt, Gesenius, Fürst, Hitzig, etc., the usual contracted form מַחֵא must be substituted for מָחֵא. [“The brilliant description of Nebuchadnezzar’s power in Daniel 5:18 and 19 has undesirably the object of impressing it on the mind of Belshazzar that he did not equal his father (that monarch) in power and majesty.… The last clause in Daniel 5:19 reminds us of 1 Sam. 2:6, 7” (Keil).] Daniel 5:20. But when his heart was lifted up. רִם = רִים, is a preterite with intransitive signification, not a passive partic., as v. Lengerke suggests. Cf. Winer, § 22, 4.—And his mind hardened in pride. רוּחַ, the nearest synonym to לְבַב, is also frequently used interchangeably with it in the Hebrew, e.g., Psa. 51:12, 19. תקף, in this place, is about equivalent to the Heb. חוֹק in Ex. 7:13.20He was deposed … , and they took his glory from him; or, “his glory was taken from him.” Instead of וִיקָרָא the best MSS. have ויקרה, which is possibly to be read as וִיקָרֵהּ (Hitzig); but on the other hand the case may be analogous to פִּשְׁרֵא, supra, Daniel 5:8 and Daniel 4:15.

Daniel 5:21. And his heart was made like the (heart of) beasts. Read שַׁוִּי, not שַׁוִּיו (Keri) or שֱׁוִי (v. Leng., Hitzig), or even שֻׁוַּי (Ewald). The 3d sing. active שַׂוִּי is used, instead of the more usual 3d plural active, to express an impersonal sense. There are thus three several modes of indicating that sense employed in Daniel 5:20 and 21: a, the passive (חָנְחַת Daniel 5:20, טְרִידDaniel 5:21); b, the 3d plural active (הֶעְדִּיו Daniel 5:20, יְטַעֲמוּנֵהּ Daniel 5:21); c the 3d sing. active (שַׁוִּי Daniel 5:21)—a rapid change, that is conditioned by the rhetorical, or if it be preferred, the poetical elevation of Daniel’s remarks.—[And his dwelling was with the wild asses. This “circumstance is added by the speaker, and not found in Daniel 4:29 (32). It is added for the sake of stronger impression” (Stuart).]—Till he knew that… God. appointeth over it (or “them”) whomsoever he will. Cf. Daniel 4:14, at the close of which, as here, the Keri substitutes עֲלַהּ for the Kethib עֲלַיהּ.

Daniel 5:22. And thou.… hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.21 Properly, precisely because (דִּי כָּל־קְבֵל) thou knewest all this,” hence, because of a defiant opposition to the well known design and will of the Highest. The words indicate the reason not for what Belshazzar should have done, but for what he did not perform (thus Kranichf. correctly, against v. Lengerke, Hitzig, etc.).

Daniel 5:23. And thou has praised the gods of silver, and gold, etc., cf. Daniel 5:4. The descriptive addition in this case, “which see not, nor hear, nor know,” is based on Deut. 4:28; cf. Psa. 115:5 et seq.; 135:15 et seq.—And (rather “but”) the God in whose hand thy breath is. Cf. Job 12:10; Num. 16:22. On the following, “whose (“or with whom”) are all thy ways” (אָרְחָן ways = experiences, Targ. Job 8:13), cf. Jer. 10:23.—Hast thou not glorified; a litotes for, “hast thou dishonored, disgraced.” [“This is surely plain and faithful admonition; and probably the king’s conscience was smitten by it.”—Stuart.]

Daniel 5:24. then (or “therefore”) was.… . sent from him. בֵּאדַיִן, properly “then,” namely at the time when thou didst thus exalt thyself against God. The post hoc in this instance is really a propter hoc.שְׁלִיחַ does not, as, e.g., in Ezra 6:12 (cf. the Heb. Dan. 11:42), designate the stretching forth of the hand, as if God Himself were the writer; but rather indicates the emanation of the hand from God in a general way, and therefore, so as not to exclude the intervention of angels, but rather to presume it. Hitzig remarks correctly: “The hand that writes is that of an angel who stood before God (Daniel 7:10), and received the commission to write this.”

Daniel 5:25–28. The reading and interpretation of the writing. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin = numbered, numbered, weighed, and-dividers. The forms מְנֵא תְּקֵל, and also פְּרֵס, which in Daniel 5:28 takes the place of פַּרְסִין, are unmistakably passive participles Peal, by which the surely-impending future is expressed in the manner of a Præteritum propheticum, but with greater brevity and emphasis. The forcible laconic utterance of a mysterious oracle sounds forth from these disconnected consecutive passive participles; and this tendency and signification appear also in the unusual and antique form of the participles, of which only the first, מְנֵא, has a somewhat regular formation (analogous to קְרֵב, Daniel 3:26, or שְׁכֵכ, for שְׁכִיב, in the later Chaldee), while the e-sound in תְּקֵל and פְּרֵס is decidedly abnormal, and conflicts with the ordinary usage. תְּקֵל appears to have been selected as an equivocal mediating form between תְּקִיל, the regular passive participle of תְּקַל, and תִּקַּל (from קלל, “to be light;” cf. Daniel 5:27); מְנֵא was possibly chosen because of its assonance to מָאנַיָּא, Daniel 5:2 and 23; and in like manner פְּרֵס = פְּרִיס may contain an amphibole, by way of an allusion to the name פָּרָס—hence a reference to the world-power which was chiefly instrumental in the “division,” i.e., the overthrow of the Chaldæan empire. Kranichfeld rejects, but without any reason, this assumption of a designed two-fold sense of the terms, and especially of תְּקֵל, which is adopted by Hitzig and others; although Hitzig is probably in error when he assigns to פרס (upon the ground of Isa. 63:7, and in connection with Ibn-Ezra and Rashi) the meaning of the Heb. שָׁבַר or פָּרַק, “to break.”22 As Daniel 5:28 shows, the writer represents the destruction of the Chaldæan empire, which is foretold in פְּרֵס (פַּרְסִין), precisely as a division between the allied nations of the Persians and the Medes, although he might properly have mentioned the Persians only, as effecting the destruction of the kingdom. The substitution of the plural active partic. פַּרְסִין for the abnormal passive partic. פְּרֵס in the written oracle itself, which results in a change of construction similar to that observed in Daniel 5:20 and 21 (cf. also Daniel 2:7; 3:9; 6:14, and the remarks on שָׁמְרִין, Daniel 3:4), appears to have been made for the sake of clearness. The unusual פְּרֵס would have accorded more exactly with the two preceding terms, but would scarcely have been intelligible; while the plur. וּפַרְסִין, “and dividers,” or, “and they divide,” could not be misunderstood. (Ewald’s interpretation: “and in pieces and in ruins,” is without any linguistic proof.) However, the expressions “to number” or “count,” and “to weigh” are found elsewhere also, as figures to designate a final judicial determination; cf. Psa. 56:9; 62:10; Job 31:4, 6. The repetition of מְנֵא as indicating the character of the entire sentence, is designed merely to add a solemn emphasis to the words; cf. the frequent ἀμήν, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν in the New Testament, and O.-T. passages like Gen. 14:10; Deut. 2:27; 14:22, etc.; and, generally, Ewald, Lehrb., § 313 a.

Daniel 5:26. God hath numbered thy kingdom. מַלְכוּתָךְ is not “thy kingdom,” but “thy kingship” the duration of thy reign, the days of thy sovereignty.23 The verb מְנָה is written with ה probably with design, in order to indicate the change of the vowel as compared with מְנֵא.—And finished it. הַשְׁלְמָהּ, literally, “has made it complete,” or “has fully numbered it;” i.e., has brought it to the end of the time assigned to it. Cf השלים, Isa. 38:12.

Daniel 5:27. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. “Thou,” i.e., thy moral personality, thy moral character and worth; cf. Job 31:6: “Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity.”—Thou “art found wanting” seems to refer to the threatening כִּי קַלּוֹתָ, “for thou art vile” (or “too light”), which the prophet Nahum (1:14) hurls at the Assyrian king; and in so far may serve to substantiate what has been observed above on the two fold sense of תְּקֵל. חַסִּיר, properly “wanting” (= חָסֵר), namely in moral worth or capacity.

Daniel 5:28. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. In regard to the abnormal form פְּרֵס, which is followed by the regular fern. pass. part., פְּרִיסַת, see above, on Daniel 5:25. God is naturally conceived of as the divider; the related tribes of the Medes and the Persians are named as the recipients, although the latter clearly appears as the principal power. The oracle contains an etymological allusion to פַּרָס only, and none to מָדַי, an assonance to which might have been readily found in the root מדד, “to measure” (cf. מִדָּה, מִנְדָּה, Ezra 4:20; 6:8; 7:24). The evident design with which the Persians, as the preponderating power in the Medo-Persian kingdom (for only thus was it known to the author, as the comprehensive וּפַרְסִין indicates: cf. on Daniel 2:39), are thus brought into prominence, is not contradicted by Daniel 6:1, where Darius the Mede is mentioned as the first foreign ruler over Babylon after the Chaldæan dynasty was overthrown. The actual state of affairs compelled the author to represent that at that time Media still held the same rank as Persia, at least formally and officially, and at first even gave a dynasty and name to the whole empire; and this was done with sufficient clearness by the mention of the Medes before the Persians in this verse.24

Daniel 5:29 and 30. The consequences. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel; rather, “and caused Daniel to be clothed.” The literal rendering is, “Then said Belshazzar, and they clothed,” etc.; a similar construction as in Daniel 2:49; 4:17, 25. In the Heb. וַיַּלְבִּישׁוּ (fut. with vav convers.—cf. Neh. 13:9; 2 Chron. 24:8; Jon. 2:11), rather than וְהִלְבִּישׁוּ would have corresponded to וְהַלְבִּשׁוּ. The enrobing is therefore to be regarded as immediately succeeding the command, and Hävernick’s opinion, that “the sudden death of the king prevented the execution of his design,” is evidently wide of the narrator’s meaning. The opinion that the prophet was invested with the royal insignia of the purple and the necklace on the same evening, involves no questionable feature, which could lead us to refer the execution of the king’s command to the following day (Dereser), or even to regard the whole incident as improbable (Hitzig, etc.); but rather, the immediate bestowal of the promised marks of favor and honor harmonizes fully with the oriental despotic methods of administering government and justice, which under different circumstances observed the most rapid modes of executing punishment (see Daniel 3:6, 20 et seq.). The “public announcement” of the promotion which had taken place (the verb כְּרַז = Sanscrit krus, κηρύπτειν, signifies to proclaim publicly, as was shown on Daniel 3:4), in the same night and in every street by means of heralds, is however an unjustified demand which the closing words of Daniel 5:29 by no means involve. The solemnity in question may have been confined to the range of the royal palace, and even to the banquet hall (which, according to Daniel 5:1, must be regarded as an extended building, and as filled with an extraordinary multitude).—Concerning the probable motive (namely, because his God and Lord was thus honored) which induced Daniel, despite his former refusal, to accept the expressions of the royal favor, see on Daniel 5:17. In connection with this, the assumption is still admissible, that any protest which the prophet may have offered, remained without effect, in view of the stormy haste of the king in his alarm, and was lost amid the acclamations and the noisy conversation of the excited throng. Cf. Jerome: “Accepit autem (Daniel) insigne regium, torquem et purpuram, ut Darius, qui erat successurus in regnum, fieret notior et per notitiam honoratior. Nec mirum, si Baltasar, audiens tristia, solverit præmium, quod pollicitus est. Aut enim longo post tempore credidit ventura, quæ dixerat, aut dum Dei Prophetam honorat, sperat se veniam consecuturum.”

Daniel 5:30. In that night was Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldæans, slain—evidently through a conspiracy of a number of his magnates, which may have existed previously, but which did not attempt the execution of its design, until the interpretation of the mysterious writing by Daniel gave the conspirators courage. Only this opinion seems to be justified by the language of this passage and by the context,25 to the exclusion of the more general view, by which the king was slain at the hands of the victorious Medo-Persians, who are supposed to have taken the city on that night, and by which Belshazzar is in consequence identified with Nabonidus, the last Chaldæan king—all of which is based on a combination of Isa. 16; 21:5; Jer. 51:39; and of Xenophon, Cyrop. vii. 5, 15 et seq.; Herodotus, I. 190, etc., with this narrative. The latter view has recently been defended, especially by Hengstenberg (p. 325 et seq.), Keil (Einl., p. 457), Hävernick, etc., and also by nearly all the rationalistic expositors and critics (also by Stähelin, Einl. ins A. T., p. 350 et seq.), and is certainly supported by the opening verse of chap. 6, in case it be immediately connected with the one before us, as is done by the writers named. It is however more than questionable whether this arrangement corresponds to the conception and design of the author; for (1) the words, “And Darius the Median took the kingdom,” together with the subjoined reference to his age, “being about threescore and two years old,” seems intended to introduce the narrative concerning Darius and his relations to the Babylonian dynasty, much rather than to close that relating to Belshazzar. (2) Berosus and Abydenus relate nothing of a taking of Babylon while a luxurious banquet, held by the last Chaldæan king and his magnates, was in progress, as the tradition of Xenophon and Herodotus asserts (cf. Introd. § 8, note 3, and especially the extracts from Kranichfeld on this question there adduced). (3) Berosus, in Josephus, Ant. x. 11, 1, does not, indeed, state that Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king, became the victim of a conspiracy, but he does ascribe that fate to Evil-merodach, the immediate successor of his father Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Daniel 5:11, 13, 18,22). The conspiracy in the case of the latter was headed by Neriglissar, the brother-in-law of the king, and removed the latter under circumstances entirely similar to those under which Belshazzar is said by our passage to have been slain, by murderers whose names are not given. The identity of the latter with Evil-merodach thus becomes highly probable (cf. Introd. l. c.). (4) Finally, the prophecy of the mysterious writing in Daniel 5:25, which transfers the Chaldæan empire to the hands of the Medes and Persians, does not oppose, but it rather favors, the mode of division we advocate, on which an entirely new section begins with Daniel 6:1. For precisely as in Daniel 2:38, 39, Nebuchadnezzar, the head of gold, appears first as an individual, and then as identified with his dynasty and as the representative of the Babylonian world-kingdom, so Belshazzar appears first under the conception of a single person—in the words, “numbered, numbered, weighed”—but afterward as identified with his kingdom, in the closing prediction expressed by פְּרֵס or פַּרְסִין.26 The interval of perhaps 22–24 years which thus falls between his own destruction and that of his kingdom, will, in view of the recognized perspective character of all prophecy, appear no more questionable than the still greater number of years which, according to that earlier prediction, were to elapse between the death of Nebuchadnezzar and the ruin of his dynasty. Similar groupings of immediate with more distant events are frequent in the O.-T. prophecies; in particularly noteworthy and instructive instance of which fact may be found in the remarkable prophecy to the wife of Jeroboam by Ahijah of Shiloh in 1 Kings 14, that comprehends three distinct events, between which extended intervals intervene: (1) The death of the sick prince, Abijah (Daniel 5:12, 13); (2) the overthrow of Jeroboam’s dynasty, more than 28 years later (Daniel 5:10, 14; cf. 1 Kings 15:29 et seq.); (3) the ruin of the kingdom of Israel, which did not transpire until two centuries afterward (Daniel 5:15 et seq.; cf. 2 Kings 17). The fundamental law of all Messianic typology, by which later events are grouped organically with earlier ones, and by which one and the same guilty act conditions a succession of Divine judgments in the course of developments, underlies this collocation in the perspective vision of a single prophecy. “The cause of the sad end of the kingdom of the ten tribes existed already in the beginning made and cultivated by Jeroboam, two and a half centuries before; the fate that extinguishes the house of Jeroboam is at bottom the same which destroys the kingdom of the ten tribes. Jeroboam’s sin destroys his dynasty and his kingdom; for this reason the destruction of both is comprehended in the same prophecy, and not merely because the destruction of the dynasty coincides with that of the kingdom” (Kranichfeld; cf. also Bähr, on 1 Kings chap. 14 p. 149 of vol. 7 of the Bibelwerk). Substantially the same principles apply to the predictions of evil denounced by our prophet against Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom, and against Belshazzar and his kingdom. The connection of widely separate events which they embody, is natural and organically necessary; and therefore the reference to two events of fulfilment, although separate in point of time, upon which we insist, involves no arbitrary features.—The assertion of Keil (Einl. l. c.) that if the two events were not coincident, the author would have been required to state, in Daniel 6:1, how the second fact in the fulfilment stands related to the first, or, in other words, “when and how the transmission of the kingdom to the Medes and Persians came to pass,” is entirely uncalled for, and is opposed by the analogy of Ahijah’s oracle, whose final and complete realization by the overthrow of Israel, is likewise not expressly noticed; and in addition the mere mention of the taking of Babylon by Darius is a sufficient indication of the anti-typical relation of that event to Daniel 5:25–28. The annexed reference to the age of Darius seems rather to indicate a reference to a period considerably later, than a design to designate the particular night in which Belshazzar was slain as falling in the sixty-second year of Darius. There was certainly no apparent motive for the author to make a chronological statement of this sort.—In relation to the peculiar opinion of Ebrard (Die Offenbarung Johannis erklärt, p. 55 et seq.), that chap. Daniel 5:30 together with Daniel 6:1, refers to the overthrow of Laborasoarchad, the grandson and third successor of Nebuchadnezzar, by Nabonidus (= Darius the Mede), see on Daniel 6:1 et seq. (cf. supra Introd. § 8, notes 3 and 4).


1. The principal object in an apologetic point of view will have been realized in this section, whenever the identity of Belshazzar with Evil-merodach is established, and when, in consequence, the repeated designation of Nebuchadnezzar as his father (Daniel 5:11, 13, 18, 22), the correspondence of the mode of his sudden and violent death (Daniel 5:30) with that attested by Berosus with regard to Evil-merodach, and the accession of Darius the Mede Co the throne of Babylon at a period considerably later, shall have been properly substantiated. After what has been observed upon this question on Daniel 5:30, and also in the Introd. (§ 8, note 3), it only remains to examine the question, “In how far does the narrative yield to the tendency-critical attempts to represent it as a romantic fiction of the Maccabæan age?”—According to Bleek (Einl. § 266), v. Lengerke (Daniel, p. 241 et seq., p. 256) and others, the story was inspired by the plundering of the temple at Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in the year B. C. 168, and above a year before the Maccabæan revolt. The brutal manner in which the Syrian king at that time penetrated into the temple of Jehovah, and seized, with polluted hands, the golden lavers and other sacred vessels (1 Macc. 1:21 et seq.; 2 Macc. 5:15 et seq.), is said to have led the pseudo-Daniel to compose this history, and “by the fate of Belshazzar to warn the Syrian monarch, that a similar Divine judgment would be visited on him, because of his sacrilege.” But the narrative concerning the Seleucidæ and the Maccabees makes no mention of a luxurious banquet, such as a sacrificial feast, at which anything transpired that would at all compare with the profanation of the sacred vessels, as described in this chapter; and the only remaining parallel between the passages cited from 1st and 2d Maccabees, and Dan. 1:2 (cf. Daniel 5:2), is surely insufficient to justify the adoption of the charge that the history was invented to further a tendency! Any other embellishment of the sacrilege that took place at that time would certainly have been more appropriate than the one here offered, which does not charge the insolent spoiler of the temple with venting his frivolous pride on the stolen relics, but reserves this for his son and successor! The tendency-narrator might well be charged with clumsiness, if he had represented his Epiphanes-Belshazzar as not merely easy to be excited and capable of contrition and repentance while influenced by terror, but also as promising and conferring the highest dignities and honors of his kingdom upon a zealous theocrat and prophet of Jehovah. The circumstance that such a theocrat is permitted to accept such honors and rewards (Daniel 5:29) without further question, is likewise in strange contrast with the rigid monotheism and anti-Hellenistic fanaticism of the Judaism of Maccabæan times, as whose representative the author is said to have written, and for which his work is alleged to have been designed (cf. 1 Macc. 1:24; Dan. 11:28).—In no wise superior to this theory of the date of the history, as advocated by Bleek and v. Lengerke, is the assertion of Hitzig, that although this section was not composed before the revolt of the Asmonæans, it yet originated in the first year after that rising took place, immediately after and in consequence of the magnificent feasts which Antiochus Epiphanes held in B. C. 166 near Daphne, when, besides splendid games and luxurious banquets, there was a solemn procession in the presence of many ladies of the highest, as well as of lower rank, in which “the images of all conceivable gods were carried, together with an incredible number of golden and silver vessels.” If the report by Polybius (Daniel 5:31, cp. 3, 4) respecting those festivities be carefully examined, it will reveal a most marked discrepancy between the historical original and the supposed copy, which was framed after it by the alleged pseudo-Daniel. Polybius does not mention the sacrilegiois use during those feasts of sacred vessels belonging to the temple with a single syllable. He states indeed that the expense connected with those festivities was chiefly met out of the treasures stolen from various temples—but from Egyptian temples, which the pseudo-Daniel would assuredly have placed in the category of the vain “gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4, 23), and whose desecration he would have been more ready to applaud than to censure. But beyond all this, Polybius reveals no trace of a knowledge that the wild festivities were interrupted by a terrifying incident, which compelled the proud Syrian king to recognize the judicial interference of superior Divine power; nor of any inclination on the part of that prince to honor and promote the prophet who opposed him with earnest censure, despite his boldness; nor yet of a course on the part of the heroic Jewish defender of his faith towards the heathen ruler, which, although not slavishly subservient, was yet courteous, and mindful of the obedience due from a subject to his superior. But if such a meeting between a Jewish zealot and the proud Antiochus, who was fanatically devoted to his Hellenistic faith in the gods, had transpired during a public feast in the Maccabæan age, a materially different kind of incidents might have been looked for, from that described in this chapter. Both the ὑπερηφανία and φρονοκτονία of the blood-thirsty tyrant, and the defiance inspired by faith, prepared for conflict, and careless of death, which was characteristic of the martyr of the theocracy who was engaged in an open revolt against the despot, would have been brought into collision in a manner entirely different from anything found in the report of Polybius—which contains no mention whatever of such an interruption during the feasts of Daphne—and also from the description found in our alleged tendency-forgery. The latter, if it were really the work of a pseudological apocalyptist of the Maccabæan times, would, without any doubt whatever, have presented to our notice persons of the stamp of Matthias (1 Macc. 2:2, 18 et seq.), Judas and Simon Maccabæus (ibid. Daniel 3:1 et seq.), and Eleazar (2 Macc. 6) as opponents of the raging heathen, instead of a man like Daniel. A narrative of the kind before us, as respects its contents and progress, would be wholly inconceivable as a product of the orthodox Palestinian Judaism of the year B. C. 166, and would rank as an unequalled historical monstrosity.

2. Accordingly, if confidence may be placed in the pre-Maccabæan, and, what amounts to the same thing, in the Babylonian origin of the history during the captivity, it will be possible for that very reason to examine the miracle of the mysteriously introduced hand which traced the writing, as here recorded, without being restrained by sceptical considerations. It will not be necessary to inquire in this connection, how such a thing could take place, but merely, whether and why such an event was necessary.—The necessity for a miraculous announcement to Belshazzar of the impending judgment was conditioned by the fact that his impious conduct had reached an intolerable height when he desecrated the sacred vessels of Jehovah’s temple to a common use, and exposed them to the ridicule of a besotted heathen mob, and also that it threatened danger to the faith in Jehovah of the community of exiles. If such an act of presumption was permitted to pass without being Divinely censured and punished, it might certainly be expected that not only the last spark of reverence for the mighty God of the Jews would fade from the consciousness of the royal officials and the Babylonian population, but that the faithful adherence of the Jewish captives to their confession would gradually lose its firmness, and give way to a tendency to favor the idolatrous worship of the Babylonians, and to adopt their luxurious, dissipated, and immoral mode of life. Dangers such as these are described, in a realizing manner, in the second part of Isaiah (see 46:6 et seq.; 57:5 et seq.; 65:3 et seq.; 58:2 et seq.; 59:3 et seq. Cf. supra, Introd. § 1, note 1); and it appears from the penitential prayer of our prophet in chap. 9, that they existed for his people, and threatened the continuance of the theocracy and its Messianic faith, while in the land of exile. With regard to them it became imperatively necessary that a stern example should be made of the presumptuous king, while giving utterance to his witticisms and blasphemies, and while surrounded by the sycophants of his court and the women of his harem, that thus the name of the only true God might be brought powerfully to the recollection of all, and that an emphatic testimony, coupled with an immediate execution of the threat, might be borne against the impious conduct of the idolaters. Such a testimony, however, could only possess sufficient weight if it were demonstrated to be absolutely miraculous, admitting of no natural explanation (i.e., for the purpose of destroying its supernatural force), and transpiring under the observation of all who were present. For this reason all the various attempts to limit the incomprehensible character of the incident, that have been made by modern expositors since M. Geier, are to be rejected, without exception; e.g., the assumption of Geier, which decidedly conflicts with Daniel 5:8, that the writing was visible to the king and Daniel, but to no others (similarly Calvin remarks that the Chaldæans were all smitten with blindness—“ita exeæcatos fuisse, ut videndo non viderint”); the coarsely naturalistic attempt at explanation made by Bertholdt, that the hostile party of the king’s courtiers, who were in league with the Medo-Persian besiegers of the city, produced the writing in a purely natural manner, but gave a mysterious appearance to the transaction, in order “to gratify their malice and over-confidence, by announcing his last hour to the victim of their treason;” and finally, the psychological visionary mode of interpretation, advocated in the last century by Lüderwald, and more recently by Kranichfeld—the latter by means of an attempt to transfer the miraculous feature to the imagination of the king (cf. his observation on Daniel 5:8, p. 221: “How and when during the hilarious banquet the writing itself was traced on the wall, was of no importance to the author, as the wonderful feature was alone significant for his purpose, that the king should observe, at the moment of the blasphemous act by which he ridiculed the God of Israel, the hand which wrote the sentence that changed the confident humor of the idolater into anxious fear”). In opposition to these naturalizing interpretations, and especially to the one last mentioned, see the remarks on Daniel 5:5, and compare Buddeus, Hist. eccl. V. Test., II. p. 508: “Verum quis non videt, hæc omnia ad meras conjecturas redire, quæ eadem rejiciuntur facilitate, qua afferuntur. Satius itaque fuerit, in iis acquiescere, quæ Daniel ipse de hac re tradiderit, scripturam scil. ita comparatam fuisse, ut sapientes et magi, etsi earn viderent (Daniel 5:8), non tamen legere, muto minus interpretari potuerint; Danielem autem eam ita et legere et interpretari potuisse, ut rex ipse statim convinceretur, lectionem istam atque interpretationem veram esse.” Also cf. Pfeiffer, ubia vexataD, p. 503 ss., and Starke, Synops. on the passage.

3. In accordance with this, the homiletical treatment of the section is chiefly concerned with the miracle of the writing and its mysterious origin and contents, as the central point of the narrative, and also of its theological and ethical importance. As in the preceding chapter the object of the narrative was to show that “pride goeth before destruction,” so the aim here is to illustrate the “judgments that are prepared for scorners” (Prov. 19:29), the “snare” into which “they bring the whole city” (Prov. 29:8), the “non-immunity from punishment of the blasphemers of the Divine Wisdom” (Wisd. 1:6). Cf. Psa. 1:1; Jer. 15:17; Prov. 13:1; 14:6; 24:9; also Ecclus. 27:28: “Mockery and reproach are from the proud; but vengeance as a lion shall lie in wait for them;” Psa. 72:4: “He shall break in pieces the oppressor” (or blasphemer); 1 Cor. 5:10: “Nor revilers … shall inherit the kingdom of God,”—and other oracles directed against the reviling and blaspheming of the Holy One, which may afford a theme for a homiletical treatment of the section as a whole. Starke is therefore correct in designating as the leading features of the narrative “Belshazzar’s transgression and his punishment.” Cf. Geier’s arrangement of subjects in this chapter: “(1)Regium flagitium (5:1–4); (2) subsequens portentum (Daniel 5:5, 6); (3) portenti interpretamentum, partim ut profanis impossibile (5:7–9), partim ut Danieli expeditum ac facile (5:10–28); (4) interpretamenti complementum (Daniel 5:29, 30).”—With reference to the relation of the fundamental idea in this narrative to that of the preceding section, cf. Melancthon: “Supra proposuit regem agentem pœnitentiam et propagantem veros cultus, querm Deus etiam ornavit præmiis. Nunc addit contrarium exemplum regis impii, restituentis idolatriam, non agentis pœnitentiam, quem Deus punit et regno exuit … Has blasphemias enim cito sequuntur pœnæ, juxta secundum præceptum: ‘Non habebit Deus insontem,’ etc. (Ex. 20:7).”

Upon separate points the following passages may be used, as furnishing suitable matter for homiletical discussion.

Daniel 5:2–4. Luxurious banquets and carousals are dangerous precipices, even for the pious and unsuspecting (cf. Jude 1:12); at them Satan himself is the host and master (Cramer, in Starke, under reference to 1 Cor. 10:20), and there religion, the fear of God, brotherly love, uprightness, morality—and, in short, everything is forgotten (Starke).

Daniel 5:17. Daniel’s disinterestedness and modesty. On these Jerome observes: “Æmulemur Danielem, regis dignitatem et munera contemnentem, qui absque pretio proferens veritatem jam illo tempore prœceptum evangelicum sequabitur: ‘Gratis accepistis, gratis date’ (Matt. 10:8). Alioquin et tristia nuntiantem indecens erat libenter dona accipere.

Daniel 5:25–28. The oracle against Belshazzar, whose spirit is: “If thou wilt neglect to number thy days, to weigh thyself in the balance of divine righteousness (Job 31:6), and to measure thyself by the rule of the Divine law, thou shalt be weighed by God in the scale of His judgment, and—be found wanting.” Cf. the figure of farming grain, Am. 9:9; Isa. 30:24; Jer. 15:7; Matt. 3:12; Luke 22:31, etc.; and also Joachim Lange: “Outside of Christ we are always wanting in the scales of God, and are lighter than nothing,” Psa. 62:10, and Starke: “The duration of every kingdom is pre-determined by God; without the permission of God, no monarch is able to extend or limit it,” etc.


[1][ The emphatic state in חַמְרָא, like the art. in Heb. and Gr., is equivalent to the pers. pron. his wine.—

[2]אב frequently used, in all the Shemitic tongues, of a forefather, whether immediate or remote.

[3]Literally, the king—his bright looks changed for him

[4]Literally, his bright looks were changing upon him.

[5]Literally, and let not thy bright looks be changed.

[6]The form יְהוּד, apocopated for brevity’s sake from יְהוּדָה, is exclusively applied in Biblical Chaldee to Judæa.

[7]The pronoun is emphatic, being expressed.—

[8]The participial form of these verbs (whom he was willing he was killing, and whom he was willing he was making live, and whom he was willing he was raising, and whom he was willing he was depressing) indicates the continued as well as absolute power of the autocrat.—

[9]The pronoun here is resumptive of that which stands absolutely in Daniel 5:18.—

[10]מַרא is the Chaldee equivalent of אדון.—

[11][ The emphatic state in חַמְרָא, like the art. in Heb. and Gr., is equivalent to the pers. pron. his wine.—

[12]אלהא is significant of the true God, like האלהים].

[13][“As the city was already besieged, and the real king Nabonned had gone into the field against the armies of the Medes and Persians under Cyrus, the sense of security which this feast implied must be accounted for by their confidence in the assumed strength of the city. Plainly it was supposed to be absolutely impregnable.—It may be added that God had given up the king and the princes to a blind infatuation, of such sort as usually precedes destruction.”—Cowles.]

[14][“The six predicates of the gods are divided by the copula ו into two classes: gold and silver—brass, iron, wood, and stone, in order to represent before the eyes in an advancing degree the variety of these gods.”—Keil.]

[15][The appearance of the fingers “immediately awakened the thought that the writing was by a supernatural being, and alarmed the king out of his intoxication.”—Keil.]

[16][“It is an appalling scene when a sinning mortal knows that the great God has come to meet him in the very midst of his sins!—How changed the scene from the glee of his blasphemous revelry to this paleness of cheek, convulsion of frame, remorse of conscience, and dread foreboding of doom! Many a sinner has had a like experience, and other thousands must have it!”—Cowles.]

[17][The phrase וְחַמְנוּכָא דִי וגו׳ “does not depend on ילַבֵּשׁ, but forms a clause by itself; and a chain of gold shall be about his neck.”—Keil.]

[18][“But this interpretation of the miracle on natural principles is quite erroneous. First, it is very unlikely that the Chaldæan wise men should not have known these old Shemitic characters, even although at that time they had ceased to be in current use among the Babylonians in their common writing. Then, from the circumstance that Daniel could at once read the writing, it does not follow that it was the well-known Old-Hebrew writing of his fatherland. ‘The characters employed in the writing,’ as Hengstenberg has rightly observed (Beitr., I. p. 122), ‘must have been altogether unusual, so as not to be deciphered but by Divine illumination.’ Yet we must not, with M. Geier and others, assume that the writing was visible only to the king and Daniel. This contradicts the text, according to which the Chaldæan wise men, and, without doubt, all that were present, also saw the traces of the writing, but were not able to read it.”—Keil.]

[19][“The ‘queen’ in this passage is the queen-mother, as may be inferred from the fact that the king’s (Belshazzar’s); wives and concubines are with him in his carousals, while this woman was not: and also from her intimate acquaintance with Daniel and the incidents of Nebuchadnezzar’s life. She was probably the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, and the mother of Belshazzar.”—Cowles. If Rawlinson’s conjecture (Herodotus i. 421) be correct, that the real king Nabonadus bad lift his son Belshazzar temporarily in charge of Babylon, this woman may have really been the consort of the actual king.]

[20][“The perpetual incense of flattery, coupled with the daily experience of being dependent on no one, and of having every one dependent upon himself, tempts an absolute monarch to feel himself almost a god.—It is fully time for the Almighty to hurl such a hardened sinner down.”—Cowles.]

[21][Keil argues that these words “place it beyond a doubt that Belshazzar knew these incidents in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and thus that he was his son, since his grandson (daughter’s son) could scarcely have been so old that the forgetfulness of the Divine judgment could have been charged against him as a sin.” Most readers, however, will regard this as a strained argument, for surely Belshazzar had ample means of knowing what his grandfather had set forth by a royal proclamation, and these events are here not merely alluded to as aggravating his sin, but rather by way of contrast, and possibly for an incitement to similar repentance.]

[22][Keil regards as פַּרְסִין “a noun-form, and plur. of פְּרֵס=Hebr. פֶּרֶס (cf. פַּרְסֶיהֵן, Zech. 11:16), in the sense of broken pieces, fragments.” He adds that מְנֵא “is twice given perhaps only for the sake of the parallelism, so as to maintain two members of the verse, each of two word.”]

[23][The author is led to this forced interpretation by his attempt to identify Belshazzar with Evil-merodach, and consequently to defer the capture of Babylon beyond the night under consideration.]

[24][“In the naming of the Median before the Persian there lies a notable proof of the genuineness of this narrative; for the hegemony of the Medes was of a very short duration, and after its overthrow by the Persians the form of expression used is always ‘Persians and Medes,’ as is found in the book of Esther.”—Keil]

[25][The requirements of the language are obviously met quite as well by the presumption that the king fell that same night together with his empire, and so the author candidly admits a little further on, although himself driven to another view by his preconceived theory of the identity of Belshazzar with Evil-merodach.]

[26][The weakness of these arguments is obvious, and indeed seems to have been apparent to the writer himself. The collateral considerations which he adduces below are too vague to support a theory so plainly at variance with the tenor of the text and its connections.]

Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Daniel 4
Top of Page
Top of Page