Daniel 5:1 Index
"Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand."
Research Material

HISTORY:

  • On October 12, 539 B.C., Belshazzar, king of Babylon, staged a banquet to which he invited a thousand civic leaders with their wives and mistresses. Wine flowed, spirits rose, and realities became blurred.... In the twenty-three years since the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon had fallen a long way form its golden age.... Nebuchadnezzar had been succeeded by a series of incompetent rulers. His son, Evil-Merodach (Jeremiah 52:31), hadn't amounted to much and was assassinated by his brother-in-law after only two years on the throne. The brother-in-law had died four years later, leaving a minor son. Conspirators had then assassinated the boy king and appointed one of themselves, Nabonidus as his successor.... Six years later, King Nabonidus had transferred his headquarters from Babylon to the distant oasis of Tema in Arabia. He had "entrusted the kingship to his son," Belshazzar, and devoted himself avidly to the worship of the moon god, Sin, instead of to the Babylonian patron god, Marduk.... In choosing to worship Sin, Nabonidus had been influenced by his mother, or grandmother, a high priestess of that deity....(MM 75)
  • For ten years Nabonidus had failed -- by reason of his absence -- to celebrate the popular New Year's Festival in Babylon. Further, during his reign he had required even high-class Babylonians to work for the state in labor gangs. At the same time financial recession had led to a general state of disrepair at the capital. Nabonidus had become highly unpopular. (MM 75)
  • Meanwhile, Cyrus the Great, the Persian king, had begun his astonishing rise. He had taken over the kingdom of Media and added Lydia in the war west. Nabonidus, evidently alarmed at the buildup of Persian power, had returned from Tema to Babylon in 540 B.C. In a bid for popularity at the capital, he had celebrated the New Year's Festival in fine style and collected gods and goddesses from several outlying cities. But he hadn't been able to refrain from arguing theology with the leading priests, and anyway it was too late to restore his popular support.... When [Nabonidus] met the forces of Cyrus at Opis, 115 miles north of Babylon, his own people there had rebelled against him. On October 10, 539 B.C., Nabonidus had surrendered Sippar, 50 miles north of Babylon, without a fight and fled south to Borsippa. Meantime, a military detachment led by Darius the Mede had proceeded rapidly south and arrived at the walls of Babylon.... These, then, were the grim realities attending Belshazzar's feast: the empire virtually lost, Nabonidus in hiding, the enemy at the gates. (MM 75-77)
  • Daniel five begins with Babylon's defiance of the God of heaven. It ends with the collapse of Babylon and the triumph of God over those who had shown despite to Him and to His people. When Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, the vessels of the sanctuary had been taken to Babylon and placed in the temples of the Babylonian gods. On the night of Babylon's fall the gods of the famous Babylonian temples were in the city and wine was drunk to their honor from the vessels of the temple which were holy to God. That night God showed that He still was God, reigning supreme in heaven and among the nations of earth. (Edwin Thiele, Outline Studies in Daniel, p. 44)

"Belshazzar..."

  • Finally Nabonadius, the son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar, was seated on the throne, and about the year B.C. 541 he associated with him his son Belshazzar. The two reigned conjointly until the destruction of the kingdom in 538 B.C. This youth, the grandson of the great Nebuchadnezzar, soon proved himself to be headstrong, wayward, cruel, and dissolute.... Daniel was no longer retained in the court. The time of his dismissal is not stated, but in the third year of Belshazzar's reign, he was living at Shushan, the capital of Elam, some distance east of Babylon, and it was at that place he saw the vision related in Daniel 8. (SNH 73)
  • During the reign of Nabonadius and Belshazzar, events of the greatest importance occurred. To the Jews who accepted the words of the prophets whom God sent, rising up early and sending, the downfall of the kingdom in the near future was well known. In spite of their own oppression, there was a world to be warned, and as the host of the redeemed gather about the throne of God, made up, as it will be, of representatives of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, there will be some souls from ancient Babylon, who, having heard the proclamation of the message, separated from her sins, and were saved.... As the knowledge of God was lost by the ruling monarchs, and God-fearing men were no longer among the counselors, the oppression of the Jews became almost unbearable. (SNH 74)
  • On going into Babylon, they had been instructed by the Lord to build houses and plant vineyards, to marry and increase in numbers, and to pray for the peace and prosperity of Babylon, for their captivity would last seventy years. (Psalms 137:1-6). The people of God had the observance of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment to preserve their peculiarity and keep them from mingling with the heathen. (Ezekiel 26:12, 16, 20; Lamentations 1:2-7). The time came when the Babylonians, who were sun-worshipers, mocked the Jews because of the Sabbath. They were forbidden to celebrate and persecuted. The Babylonians often demanded songs from the Jews. "They that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion;" but their hearts were mournful. "Israel is a scattered sheep," wrote Jeremiah; "the lions have driven him away;... Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones." (Jeremiah 50:17). The Babylonians boasted that it was no sin to oppress the Jews, reasoning that God had placed the Hebrews in bondage because of their sins. (SNH 74-75)
  • It is little wonder that the yoke was hard to bear and that the king was unrelenting. It was a time of trouble, a foretaste of the great time of trouble through which the people of God will pass before the second coming of the Saviour. Both periods are called by the same name, -- the time of Jacob's trouble, -- by the prophet Jeremiah. Under these trying circumstances the Jews were obliged to preach the gospel which they once had the opportunity to give with power from Jerusalem. (SNH 75)
  • Groaning beneath oppression, they taught of the coming Messiah, the deliverer; they taught righteousness by faith, and the everlasting gospel, the hour of God's judgment, the fall of Babylon, and the destruction of those upon whom was found the mark of the Babylonian worship. The spirit of prophecy, as belonging to the Jews, was known to the Babylonians throughout the period of captivity. Daniel, in the presence of the king, had more than once received divine enlightenment. Ezekiel was sending messages broadcast from the Lord, and Jeremiah had received word from God with the command to make it known to all the nations round about. There was no hiding the fact that the God of the Jews had prophets among His people. It was in this way that not only the Jews, but Moab, Edom, Tyre, and Sidon, Ammon, Egypt, Arabia, and even Media and Persia knew that the fall of Babylon was decreed. Many of these nations, and the Persians among the number, knew just what kingdom would be used to destroy Babylon, and the name of the man whom God had chosen to accomplish the overthrow. (SNH 75-76)
  • Such are the messages which God sent, and thus it was that He made use of His people. Those whom H could not use when granted peace and prosperity and a city of their own, He used when slaves under the iron heel of Babylon. Babylon was like a city on the edge of a volcanic center, but she believed it not. In the year 539 B.C., the combined forces of the Medes and Persians started toward Babylon. The news reached the city that the enemy was on the march. Then it was that the message came to flee from the city and be as goats upon the mountainside. Jews who heeded the word of the Lord, then withdrew from Babylon. But the Persian army did not come. History says that Cyrus was stopped by the death of a sacred white hose, which was drowned in crossing a river. Cyrus set his men to digging channels for the river, spending one year in this way. Prophecy says, "The walls of Babylon shall fall. My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul...." (Jeremiah 51:44-45). "And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumor that shall be heard in the land; a rumor shall both come one year, and after that in another year, shall come a rumor, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler." (Jeremiah 51:46). (SNH 76-77)
  • And so it was; one spring, the rumor came, but the army failed to appear. The careless and unbelieving scoffed, but to the believing this was the opportune time. The next spring the rumor came again, but there was no time then to sell or prepare to leave, for the army came also, and the Babylonian and Medo-Persian forces met in open battle. The Babylonians were defeated, and retired within the fortifications of the city.... The gates were closed and the siege began. Those who were now in Babylon must live or die with the Babylonians, except God stay the hand of the destroyer.... The climax was reached by the greatest of earthly governments. All heaven was alive with anxiety. Only man was asleep to his impending destruction. (SNH 77)
  • The Babylonian name "Bel-shar-usur" means "Bel, protect the king!" Belshazzar was the first-born son of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. (4BC 801)
  • That the identity and office of Belshazzar have now been fully established from contemporary sources, thus vindicating the reliability of Daniel 5, is one of the great triumphs of Biblical archeology of the last century. (4BC 806)
  • Toward the close of Daniel's life great changes were taking place in the land to which, over threescore years before, he and his Hebrew companions had been carried captive. Nebuchadnezzar, “the terrible of the nations” (Ezekiel 28:7), had died, and Babylon, “the praise of the whole earth” (Jeremiah 51:41), had passed under the unwise rule of his successors, and gradual but sure dissolution was resulting.... Through the folly and weakness of Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, proud Babylon was soon to fall. Admitted in his youth to a share in kingly authority, Belshazzar gloried in his power and lifted up his heart against the God of heaven. Many had been his opportunities to know the divine will and to understand his responsibility of rendering obedience thereto. He had known of his grandfather's banishment, by the decree of God, from the society of men; and he was familiar with Nebuchadnezzar's conversion and miraculous restoration. But Belshazzar allowed the love of pleasure and self-glorification to efface the lessons that he should never have forgotten. He wasted the opportunities graciously granted him, and neglected to use the means within his reach for becoming more fully acquainted with truth. That which Nebuchadnezzar had finally gained at the cost of untold suffering and humiliation, Belshazzar passed by with indifference.... It was not long before reverses came. Babylon was besieged by Cyrus, nephew of Darius the Mede, and commanding general of the combined armies of the Medes and Persians. But within the seemingly impregnable fortress, with its massive walls and its gates of brass, protected by the river Euphrates, and stocked with provision in abundance, the voluptuous monarch felt safe and passed his time in mirth and revelry. (PK 522-523)
  • The same Watcher who came to Daniel was an uninvited guest at Belshazzar's sacrilegious feast. This monarch had everything to flatter his pride and indulge his passions. He was a great king, presiding over what was then the greatest kingdom on earth. His provinces were cultivated by captives, and his capital was enriched by the spoil of nations. He held the life and property of his subjects in his hand. To those who ministered to his pride and vanity, he was indulgent; they were his chosen favorites; but if at any moment they crossed his will, he was at once a cruel tyrant. His anger blazed forth against them without restraint... Admitted to a share in kingly authority at fifteen years of age, Belshazzar gloried in his power, and lifted up his heart against the God of heaven. He despised the One who is above all rulers, the General of all the armies of heaven. “Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” On this occasion there was music and dancing and wine-drinking. The profane orgies of royal mirth were attended by men of genius and education. Decorated women with their enchantments, were among the revelers. .. (The Youth's Instructor article "The Unseen Watcher - No. 1" May 19, 1898)

"...the king..."

  • When Nabonidus was in Lebanon recuperating from an illness, just before setting out on a campaign against Tema in western Arabia, he summoned his eldest son (Belshazzar), and "entrusted the kingship to him." This was in the "third regnal year." If this was the third regal year, it was in the winter of 553/552.... From that time on Belshazzar controlled the affairs of Babylonia as his father's co-ruler, while Nabonidus resided in Tema for many years. (4BC 801)

"...made a great feast..."

  • ...it can be concluded that the feast took place during the night that Babylon fell to Cyrus' forces. Xenophon preserved the tradition that at the time of Babylon's fall "a certain festival had come round in Babylon, during which all Babylon was accustomed to drink and revel all night long" (Cyropaedia vii. 5. 15)... Apparently, he felt recklessly secure in his capital, protected by strong walls and a system of canals which could, in case of danger, put the surrounding country under water and so make it difficult for an invader to reach the city. (4BC 801)
  • It was the last night of a nation's existence, but the people knew it not. Some slept in unconscious peace; some reveled and whirled away in thoughtless dance. In the dens of Babylon, men steeped in vice continued their wild orgies; in the palace halls Belshazzar feasted with a thousand of his lords. Music resounded through the brilliantly lighted rooms. The nobles lounged about the tables sumptuously spread. Court women and concubines of the king entered those halls. It was a feast of Bacchus, and they drank to the health of the king on his throne. He ordered that the sacred vessels be brought from the temple to show that no being, human or divine, could raise a hand against him, the king of Babylon. The golden cup filled with wine was raised and the blessing of Bel invoked, but it never reached the lips of the half-intoxicated king. His hand was stayed. Those vessels had been molded by hands divinely skilled, and after heavenly models. Angels had watched them as they were taken from the temple at Jerusalem and carried to Babylon. Messengers divinely appointed had guarded them, and their very presence in the heathen temple was a witness of the God of the Jews. Some day the silence would be broken. The desecration of His temple would not always remain unpunished. (SNH 78-79)
  • The strongest strongholds which man can build are crushed like a dying leaf when the hand of God is laid upon them. But this was a lesson which the rulers of Babylon had not yet learned. The father of iniquity, who was urging these rulers forward into deeper sin, had not yet owned the weakness of his cause. Heaven and unfallen worlds watched the progress of affairs in this great city, for it was the battle-ground of the two mighty forces of good and evil. Christ and Satan here contended.... Angels, unseen by human eyes, as when they gathered the animals into the ark before the flood (Genesis 7:7-9), had mustered forces against Babylon. (Isaiah 13:1-5; Jeremiah 50:25; 51:25-28). God was using men who knew Him not as God, but who were true to principle and wished to do right. To Cyrus, the leader of the Persian army, which was not outside the city walls, God had said that He held his hand to make him strong. Before you "I will loose the loins of kings." (Isaiah 45:1-4). I will open those two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut; "I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut in sunder the bars of iron." (Isaiah 51:2). (SNH 80)
  • This chapter describes the closing scenes of the Babylonian Empire, the transition from the gold to the silver of the great image of Daniel 2, and from the lion to the bear of Daniel's vision in Daniel 7. This feast is supposed by some to have been an appointed annual festival in honor of one of the heathen deities. Cyrus, who was then besieging Babylon, learned of the celebration, and laid his plans for the overthrow of the city. (US 89)
  • In his pride and arrogancy, with a reckless feeling of security Belshazzar “made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” All the attractions that wealth and power could command, added splendor to the scene. Beautiful women with their enchantments were among the guests in attendance at the royal banquet. Men of genius and education were there. Princes and statesmen drank wine like water and reveled under its maddening influence. (PK 523)
  • As men multiplied upon the earth after the Flood, they again forgot God and corrupted their ways before Him. Intemperance in every form increased, until almost the whole world was given up to its sway. Entire cities have been swept from the face of the earth because of the debasing crimes and revolting iniquity that made them a blot upon the fair field of God's created works. The gratification of unnatural appetite led to the sins that caused the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God ascribes the fall of Babylon to her gluttony and drunkenness. Indulgence of appetite and passion was the foundation of all their sins. (CH 110)
  • In these societies what are the favorite subjects of conversation? What are the themes that excite interest and give pleasure? Are they not the gratification of the senses—eating and drinking and pleasure seeking? The presence of Christ is unknown in these gatherings. No reference is made to Him. His companionship is not desired. Where and when is God honored by such associations? Wherein is the soul in the least benefited? If you do not influence your companions for good, are they not influencing you for evil? Will it do to lay aside the lamp of life, God's Word, and mingle freely with this class of associates, and come to their level? Do you think you can find something to satisfy the hunger of the soul apart from truth and the favor of God? Shall those who profess to believe the truth for this time be at home in such scenes, when God is not in all their thoughts?.... In the same room where these societies have had their gatherings, the congregations have met to worship God. Can you during the sacred hour of divine service forget the scenes of merriment and feasting, and indulgence in the wine cup? All this God writes in His book as intemperance. How does it blend with eternal realities? Do you forget that at all these pleasure gatherings there is a Witness present, as at the feast of Belshazzar? Could the curtain that separates us from the invisible world be rolled back, you would behold the Saviour grieved to see men absorbed in the pleasures of the table, in hilarity and witticism, that put Christ, the center of the world's hope, out of their thoughts.... Those who cannot discern between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not, may be charmed with these societies that have no connection with God, but no earnest Christian can prosper in such an atmosphere. The vital air of heaven is not there. His soul is barren... (2SM 126)
  • The inhabitants of the Noachian world were destroyed because they were corrupted through the indulgence of perverted appetite. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed through the gratification of unnatural appetite, which so benumbed the intellect that they could not discern the difference between the sacred claims of God and the clamor of appetite. The latter enslaved them, and they became so ferocious and bold in their detestable abominations that God would not tolerate them upon the earth. God ascribes the wickedness of Babylon to her gluttony and drunkenness. (3T 162)
  • To us the warning is given, “All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Mark the influence of their extremes and fanaticism in the service of the great master worker, Satan. As soon as the wicked one had the people under his control, there were exhibitions of a satanic character. The people ate and drank without a thought of God and His mercy, without a thought of the necessity of resisting the devil, who was leading them on to the most shameful deeds. The same spirit was manifested as at the sacrilegious feast of Belshazzar. There was glee and dancing, hilarity and singing, carried to an infatuation that beguiled the senses; then the indulgence in inordinate, lustful affections—all this mingled in that disgraceful scene. God had been dishonored; His people had become a shame in the sight of the heathen. Judgments were about to fall on that infatuated, besotted multitude. Yet God in His mercy gave them opportunity to forsake their sins. (TM 101-102)
  • Many are laying up their treasure in these secret societies, and can we not see that their heart is there? However powerful may be the evidences of truth, little by little it loses its brightness, loses its force, heaven fades from the mind, the eternal weight of glory, the gift of God for a life of obedience, appears a matter unworthy of notice in comparison with the supposed benefits to be realized in laying up earthly treasure. Souls are starving for the bread and water of life; but what is that to him whose heart is set on this world? Many a man is saying by his actions, if not in words, “I cannot let go my interest in these earthly treasures, to secure that which is eternal. The life to come is too remote for me to count upon. I choose the earthly goods, and I will run the risk of the future. God is good and merciful.” Slothful servant! your portion is just as surely appointed with hypocrites and unbelievers as you continue to pursue this course. The fascination of the club room, the suppers, and the world-loving associates, has led, as did Belshazzar's feast, to forgetfulness of God and dishonoring of His name. (2SM 135)
  • No misfortune is so great as to become the worshiper of a false god. No man is in such miserable darkness as he who has lost his way to heaven. It seems that an infatuation is upon him, for he has a false god. To turn this worship of the human, fallen, corrupt beings of earth to the only true object of worship seems a hopeless task. There are in our time continual repetitions of Belshazzar's feast and Belshazzar's worship; and Belshazzar's sin is repeated when the heart, which God requires to be given to Him in pure and holy devotion, is turned away from Him to worship a human being, and the lips are made to utter words of praise and adoration which belong alone to the Lord God of heaven. When the affections God claims to cluster about Him are made to center upon earthly objects,—a woman, a man, or any earthly things,—God is superseded by the object which enchains the senses and affections, and the powers which were solemnly dedicated to God are bestowed upon a human being who is defiled with sin. Men and women who once bore the image of God, but are lost by disobedience and sin, He means to restore again through their becoming partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust. And when men and women devote their God-given powers to unholy purposes, to minister to lust, God is dishonored, and the actors are ruined. (TM 435)
  • This was the last feast of boasting held by the Chaldean king; for he who bears long with man's perversity had passed the irrevocable sentence. Belshazzar had greatly dishonored the One who had exalted him as king, and his probation was taken from him. While the king and his nobles were at the height of their revelry, the Persians turned the Euphrates out of its channel, and marched into the unguarded city. As Belshazzar and his lords were drinking from the sacred vessels of Jehovah, and praising their gods of silver and gold, Cyrus and his soldiers stood under the walls of the palace. “In that night,” the record says, “was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:31). (The Youth's Instructor article "The Unseen Watcher—No. 2" May 26, 1898)

"...drank wine before the thousand."

  • That a certain emphasis is placed on the fact that Belshazzar drank before his guests, seems to indicate that the same court custom existed at Babylon as at the Persian court, where the king usually ate in a separate hall, and only on exceptional occasions, with his guests. The feast of Belshazzar seems to have been such an occasion. (4BC 801)
  • While Belshazzar and his lords drank and feasted, the army of Cyrus was lowering the waters in the bed of the Euphrates, preparatory to entering the city. (SNH 80)