|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.
Verse 5. - In the same hour oame 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. The two versions given in the Septuagint here do not seriously differ from each other or from the Massoretic text, only that they both omit "the part of," and represent the king as seeing the hand. Theodotion has ἀστραγάλους, which maybe rendered "finger-joints;" otherwise this version is very like both the Massoretic and the LXX. The Peshitta presents no point of remark. The word translated "lamp" (nebhrashta) became in Talmudic times the equivalent of menoorah, "the golden candlestick." From this it has been supposed that "the candlestick" was the golden candlestick which later proved the crowining glory of Titus's triumph, and is still to be seen carved on his arch. When the other vessels of the house of the Lord were brought to deck the table of the monarch, it would not be unnatural that the golden candlestick should also be brought. In the great hall in which a thousand guests were accommodated, more lamps than one would be required. The Septuagint (text) adds, "over against the king:" this would individualize the lamp referred to; but there does not seem to be any support for this reading, which may be due to the desire to explain the satatus emphaticus. Gesenius derives the word נֶבְרַשְׁתָּא from נור, "light," and אש, "flame." As ו as a consonant was unused in Assyrian, this derivation is by no means impossible We know that the Ninevite monarchs surrounded the great halls of their palaces with bas-reliefs of their victories. The remains of Babylon have not given us anything like the gypsum slabs of Kouyounjik. Yet the Babylonian monarchs not unlikely followed the same praetices as those of Nineveh. The walls were built and plastered, and then the slabs were moved up to them. In the case of Belshazzar, the palace walls might well be fresh; no gypsum slabs had yet recorded his prowess. As he looks to the white plaster, the fingers of a hand come out of the darkness, and write opposite him. "The king," thus it is in the Massoretic text, saw the "part" of the hand that wrote. Pas is the word. Furst renders it "wrist;" Gesenius, "the extremity;" Winer, vola manus," the hollow of the baud;" with this Buxtorf agrees. The balance of meanings seems to be in favour of "hollow of the hand," only it is difficult to understand the position of the hand relatively to the king when he saw the hollow of the hand. The smoke from the numerous lamps would obscure the roof of the hall of the palace; however numerous the lamps, their light would be unable to pierce the darkness, so out of the darkness came the hand.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, &c. From heaven, as Jarchi; or they came forth as if they came out of the wall: this was done by the power of God, though it might be by the intervention or means of an angel; so Josephus Ben Gorion (i) says, that an angel came and wrote what follows; and Saadiah says it was Gabriel, called a man, Daniel 11:21, but this is conjecture; however, at the very time the king and his nobles were feasting and revelling, praising their idols, and reproaching the God of Israel, this wonderful phenomenon appeared:
and wrote over against the candlestick, upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; this candlestick was either upon the table, as Saadiah; or affixed to the wall, or hung as a chandelier in the midst of the hall; or, be it where it will, right over against it this hand appeared, and wrote, that, by the light of it, it might be clearly and distinctly seen: though Gussetius (k) thinks, not a candlestick, but a "buffet", is meant; where stood the drinking cups and vessels, and which he takes to be more agreeable to the signification of the word; and moreover observes, that it is not likely this feast should be made in the night, or at least it is not certain it was, or that it was yet night when this affair happened: however, this writing was upon the plaster of the wall, made of lime, and was white; and if the writing was with red colour, as Ben Gorion says, it was the more visible:
and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote; the back part of the hand; had he only seen a writing, but no hand writing it, he might have thought it was done by some present; but seeing a hand, and only part of one, or however not any other members of the body of a man, nor a man himself, it struck him with surprise, and he concluded at once there was something extraordinary in it; whether any other saw the hand besides himself is not certain; however, he saw it for whom it was particularly designed.
(i) Hist. l. 1. c. 5. p. 24. (k) Ebr. Comment. p. 424.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. In the same hour—that the cause of God's visitation might be palpable, namely, the profanation of His vessels and His holy name.
fingers of … hand—God admonishes him, not by a dream (as Nebuchadnezzar had been warned), or by a voice, but by "fingers coming forth," the invisibility of Him who moved them heightening the awful impressiveness of the scene, the hand of the Unseen One attesting his doom before the eyes of himself and his guilty fellow revellers.
against the candlestick—the candelabra; where the mystic characters would be best seen. Barnes makes it the candlestick taken from the temple of Jerusalem, the nearness of the writing to it intimating that the rebuke was directed against the sacrilege.
upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace—Written in cuneiform letters on slabs on the walls, and on the very bricks, are found the perpetually recurring recital of titles, victories, and exploits, to remind the spectator at every point of the regal greatness. It is significant, that on the same wall on which the king was accustomed to read the flattering legends of his own magnificence, he beholds the mysterious inscription which foretells his fall (compare Pr 16:18; Ac 12:21-23).
part of the hand—the anterior part, namely, the fingers.
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