|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:1-9 Belshazzar bade defiance to the judgments of God. Most historians consider that Cyrus then besieged Babylon. Security and sensuality are sad proofs of approaching ruin. That mirth is sinful indeed, which profanes sacred things; and what are many of the songs used at modern feasts better than the praises sung by the heathens to their gods! See how God struck terror upon Belshazzar and his lords. God's written word is enough to put the proudest, boldest sinner in a fright. What we see of God, the part of the hand that writes in the book of the creatures, and in the book of the Scriptures, should fill us with awful thoughts concerning that part which we do not see. If this be the finger of God, what is his arm when made bare? And what is He? The king's guilty conscience told him that he had no reason to expect any good news from heaven. God can, in a moment, make the heart of the stoutest sinner to tremble; and there needs no more than to let loose his own thoughts upon him; they will give him trouble enough. No bodily pain can equal the inward agony which sometimes seizes the sinner in the midst of mirth, carnal pleasures, and worldly pomp. Sometimes terrors cause a man to flee to Christ for pardon and peace; but many cry out for fear of wrath, who are not humbled for their sins, and who seek relief by lying vanities. The ignorance and uncertainty concerning the Holy Scriptures, shown by many who call themselves wise, only tend to drive sinners to despair, as the ignorance of these wise men did.
Verses 1-31. - BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST. In regard to this chapter the peculiar state of the Septuagint text has to be noted. At the beginning of the chapter there are three verses which seem to be either variant versions of the Septuagint text, or versions of a text which was different from that from which the Septuagint has been drawn. Throughout the chapter, further, there are traces of doublets. Most of these variations occur in the Syriac of Paulus Tellensis. Verse 1. - Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. As we have just indicated, there are two versions in the Septuagint of several verses in this chapter, and the verse before us is one of these. The first of these is "Baltasar the king made a great feast on the day of the dedication of his palace, and invited from his lords two thousand men." The other reading, which appears to have formed the text, is, "Baltasar the king made a great feast for his companions." The first version seems to have read the dual instead of the singular - a proof of the state of the language, for the dual has practically disappeared in the Targums. The second version has evidently read הברין instead of רברבין. Theodotion reads, "Baltasar the king made a great feast to thousands of his lords, and drank wine before the thousands." The Peshitta agrees with the Massoretic text. The numeral is thus omitted in the text of the Septuagint,inserted in the dual in the margin, and appears in Theodotion in the plural. As the shortest text is also the oldest, and omits the numeral, we feel inclined to do so also, the more so as the numeral may have resulted from אַעּלּפ (aluph) being put as the interpretation of רברב (rabrab). The clause in the marginal version, "on the day of the dedication of his palace," or, as it is rendered by Paulus Telleusis, "in the day of the dedication of the house of his kingdom," is worthy of notice. From the fact that early in his reign every Ninevite king seems to have begun a palace, this statement has a great deal of verisimilitude. The clause in the Massoretic text, "and drank wine before the thousand," is meaningless, unless as a rhetorical amplification. From the fact that only the first clause appears in the text of the Septuagint, the authenticity of the rest of the verse is rendered doubtful; the more so that קובלא () means "a feast" in Eastern Aramaic, though not in Western. It is a possible solution of the presence of the clause that קבל, excluded from the text and its place supplied by לחם, was placed in the margin. לקבל, however, means "before." If there was also in the margin אלפא, "thousands," in the emphatic state; as the translation into Hebrew of רברב (Genesis 36:17, 15 Onkelos). If, further, חברין, "companion," appeared as a various reading for רברבין, that would easily be read חמר, "wine;" the verb "to drink" would be added to complete the sense. We have thus all the elements to produce the different versions of the story of the feast. The fact that in what we regard as the marginal reading the clause appears quite differently rendered, confirms us in our suspicion that the Massoretic text presents a case of a "doublet." The reading which begins the chapter in the LXX. may be due to regarding קבל as the verb "to receive." The name Belshazzar has been the occasion of much controversy. It was regarded as one of the proofs of the non-historicity of Daniel that this name occurred at all (as Bertholdt). We were told that the last King of Babylon was Nabunahid, not Belshazzar. The name, however, has turned up in the Mugheir inscription as the son of Nabunahid, and not only so, but in a connection that implies he was associated in the government. From the annals of Nabunahid (2 col.; vide ' Beitrage zur As-syriologie,' Delitzsch and Haupt, 1891-92, pp. 218-221) we find that from his seventh to his eleventh year, if not from an earlier to a later date, Nabunahid was in retirement in Tema, and "came not to Babil," and the king's son (Mar Sarri) was with the nobles (rabuti) snd the army. Even when the king's mother died, the mourning was carried on by the king's sou, Belshazzar. Dr. Hugo Winckler ('Geschichte Babyloniens u. Assuriens,' pp. 315, 316) says Nabunahid remained intentionally far from the capital, and abode continually in Tema, a city otherwise unknown. Not once at the new year's feast, where his personal presence was indispensable, did he come to Babylon. What occasioned it, we know not; but it appears as if he had devoted himself to some kind of solitary life, and would not disturb himself with the business of government. Not once while Cyrus was marching against Babylon did he rouse himself, but allowed things to take their course. The government appears to have been carried on by his son, Bel-shar-utzur, for while Nabunahid lived in Tema in retirement, it is mentioned that his son, with the dignitaries, managed affairs in Babylon, and commanded the army. Also in several inscriptions in the concluding prayer, he is named along with his father, while it is usually the name of the king that is there mentioned. Belshazzar is, then, no mere luxurious despot, like the Nabeandel of Josephus, no incapable youth flushed with the unexpected dignity of government in the city of Babylon, while his father was shut up in Borsippa; he is a bold capable warrior. Tyrannical and imperious he may be, yet faithful to his father, as had Nebuchadnezzar been to Nabopolassar his father. We need not even look at the identifications of Belshazzar with Evil-Merodach, with Labasi-marduk, or with Nabunahid. The name Bel-shar-utzur means "Bel protects the king," and is rendered in the Greek versions "Baltasar," and in the Vulgate "Baltassar," and identical with the name given to Daniel, as we have remarked elsewhere. In the Peshitta the name here is rendered "Belit-shazar," while Daniel's Babylonian name is "Beletshazzar." We do not know when this feast took place. If we take the Septuagint text here as our guide, it did not take place at the capture of the city by Cyrus. If for five, six, or seven years he was practically king, Belshazzar may have built a palace, and the feast may have been held at its dedication. We knew that the Babylonians were notorious for their banquets - banquets that not infrcquently ended in drunkenness. Although the number of the guests is doubtful from diplomatic reasons, the number itself is not excessive. We read of Alexander the Great having ten thousand guests.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Belshazzar the king made a great feast,.... This king was not the immediate successor of Nebuchadnezzar, but Evilmerodach, Jeremiah 52:31, who, according to Ptolemy's canon, reigned two years; then followed Neriglissar, his sister's husband, by whom he was slain, and who usurped the throne, and reigned four years; he died in the beginning of his fourth year, and left a son called Laborosoarchod, who reigned but nine months, which are placed by Ptolemy to his father's reign, and therefore he himself is not mentioned in the canon; and then followed this king, who by Ptolemy is called Nabonadius; by Berosus, Nabonnedus (t) by Abydenus (u), Nabannidochus; by Herodotus (w), Labynitus; and by Josephus (x), Naboandelus, who, according to him, is the same with Belshazzar; whom some confound with the son of Neriglissar; others take him to be the same with Evilmerodach, because he here immediately follows Nebuchadnezzar, and is called his son, Daniel 5:11, and others that he was a younger brother, so Jarchi and Theodoret; but the truth is, that he was the son of Evilmerodach, and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, which agrees with the prophecy in Jeremiah 27:7, for though Nebuchadnezzar is called his father, and he his son, Daniel 5:2 this is said after the manner of the eastern nations, who used to call ancestors fathers, and their more remote posterity sons. He had his name Belshazzar from the idol Bel, and may be rendered, "Bel's treasurer": though, according to Saadiah, the word signifies "a searcher of treasures", of his ancestors, or of the house of God. Hillerus translates it, "Bel hath hidden". This king
made a great feast; or "bread" (y), which is put for all provisions; it was great, both on account of plenty of food, variety of dishes, and number of guests, and those of the highest rank and quality. On what account this feast was made is not easy to say; whether out of contempt of Cyrus and his army, by whom he was now besieged, and to show that he thought himself quite safe and secure in a city so well walled and fortified, and having in it such vast quantities of provision; or whether it was on account of a victory he had obtained that morning over the Medes and Persians, as Josephus Ben Gorion (z) relates; and therefore in the evening treated his thousand lords, who had been engaged in battle with him, and behaved well: though it seems to have been an anniversary feast; since, according to Xenophon and Herodotus, Cyrus knew of it before hand; either on account of the king's birthday, or in honour to his gods, particularly Shach, which was called the Sachaenan feast; See Gill on Jeremiah 25:26, Jeremiah 51:41 which seems most likely, since these were praised at this time, and the vessels of the temple of God at Jerusalem profaned, Daniel 5:2, this feast was prophesied of by Isaiah, Isaiah 21:5 and by Jeremiah, Jeremiah 51:39, it had its name from Shach, one of their deities, of which See Gill on Daniel 1:4, Daniel 1:7 the same with Belus or the sun. The feasts kept in honour of it were much like the Saturnalia of the Romans, or the Purim of the Jews; and were kept eleven days together, in which everyone did as he pleased, no order and decorum being observed; and, for five of those days especially, there was no difference between master and servant, yea, the latter had the government of the former; and they spent day and night in dancing and drinking, and in all excess of riot and revelling (a); and in such like manner the Babylonians were indulging themselves, when their city was taken by Cyrus, as the above writers assert (b); and from the knowledge Cyrus had of it, it appears to be a stated feast, and very probably on the above account. According to Strabo (c), there was a feast of this name among the Persians, which was celebrated in honour of the goddess Anais, Diana, or the moon; and at whose altar they placed together Amanus and Anandratus, Persian demons; and appointed a solemn convention once a year, called Saca. Some say the occasion of it was this; that Cyrus making an expedition against the Sacse, a people in Scythia, pretended a flight, and left his tents full of all provisions, and especially wine, which they finding, filled themselves with it; when he returning upon them, finding some overcome with wine and stupefied, others overwhelmed with sleep, and others dancing and behaving in a bacchanalian way, they fell into his hands, and almost all of them perished; and taking this victory to be from the gods, he consecrated that day to the god of his country, and called it Sacaea; and wherever there was a temple of this deity, there was appointed a bacchanalian feast, in which men, and women appeared night and day in a Scythian habit, drinking together, and behaving to one another in a jocose and lascivious manner; but this could not be the feast now observed at Babylon, though it is very probable it was something of the like nature, and observed in much the same manner. And was made "to a thousand of his lords"; his nobles, the peers of his realm, governors of provinces, &c.; such a number of guests Ptolemy king of Egypt feasted at one time of Pompey's army, as Pliny from Varro relates (d); but Alexander far exceeded, who at a wedding had nine (some say ten) thousand at his tables, and gave to everyone a cup of gold, to offer wine in honour of the gods (e); and Pliny reports (f) of one Pythius Bythinus, who entertained the whole army of Xerxes with a feast, even seven hundred and eighty eight thousand men.
And drank wine before the thousand; not that he strove with them who should drink most, or drank to everyone of them separately, and so a thousand cups, as Jacchiades suggests; but he drank in the presence of them, to show his condescension and familiarity; this being, as Aben Ezra observes, contrary to the custom of kings, especially of the eastern nations, who were seldom seen in public. This feast was kept in a large house or hall, as Josephus (g) says, afterwards called the banqueting house, Daniel 5:10.
(t) Apud Joseph. contr. Apion. l. 1.((u) Apud Euseb. Evangel. l. 9. c. 41. p. 457. (w) Clio, sive l. 1. c. 188. (x) Antiqu. l. 10. c. 11. sect. 2.((y) "panem", Montanus, Piscator. All food is called bread, Jarchi in Leviticus 21.17. (z) Hist. Hebr. l. 1. c. 5. p. 24. (a) Athenaei Deipnosophist. l. 14. c. 10. ex Beroso & Ctesia. (b) Xenophon. Cyropaedia, l. 7. c. 23. Herodot. Clio, sive l. 1. c. 191. (c) Geograph. l. 11. p. 352, 353. (d) Nat. Hist. l. 33. c. 10. (e) Plutarch. in Vit. Alexand. (f) Ut supra. (Nat. Hist. l. 33. c. 10.) (g) Antiqu. l. 10. c. 11. sect. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Da 5:1-31. Belshazzar's Impious Feast; the Handwriting on the Wall Interpreted by Daniel of the Doom of Babylon and Its King.
1. Belshazzar—Rawlinson, from the Assyrian inscriptions, has explained the seeming discrepancy between Daniel and the heathen historians of Babylon, Berosus and Abydenus, who say the last king (Nabonidus) surrendered in Borsippa, after Babylon was taken, and had an honorable abode in Caramania assigned to him. Belshazzar was joint king with his father (called Minus in the inscriptions), but subordinate to him; hence the Babylonian account suppresses the facts which cast discredit on Babylon, namely, that Belshazzar shut himself up in that city and fell at its capture; while it records the surrender of the principal king in Borsippa (see my Introduction to Daniel). The heathen Xenophon's description of Belshazzar accords with Daniel's; he calls him "impious," and illustrates his cruelty by mentioning that he killed one of his nobles, merely because, in hunting, the noble struck down the game before him; and unmanned a courtier, Gadates, at a banquet, because one of the king's concubines praised him as handsome. Daniel shows none of the sympathy for him which he had for Nebuchadnezzar. Xenophon confirms Daniel as to Belshazzar's end. Winer explains the "shazzar" in the name as meaning "fire."
made … feast—heaven-sent infatuation when his city was at the time being besieged by Cyrus. The fortifications and abundant provisions in the city made the king despise the besiegers. It was a festival day among the Babylonians [Xenophon].
drank … before the thousand—The king, on this extraordinary occasion, departed from his usual way of feasting apart from his nobles (compare Es 1:3).
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