Matthew Poole's Commentary
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.Belshazzar’s impious feast, Daniel 5:1-4. The hand-writing on the wall, which the magicians could not explain, troubleth him, Daniel 5:5-9. At the recommendation of the queen Daniel is brought in, Daniel 5:10-16. He reproveth the king of pride, profaneness, and idolatry, Daniel 5:17-24. He readeth and interpreteth the writing, Daniel 5:25-29. Belshazzar slain; the kingdom translated to the Medes, Daniel 5:30,31.
Belshazzar’s name is from riches and power. They were wont, when they were promoted, to take new names, which also were significant, as this is, Belshazzar; Bel hath or gives power and riches; this they attributed to the honour of their idol, which belongs only to the God of heaven. There is much contest among the learned who this Belshazzar was; let us mind the Scripture, and not trust to heathen historians. In the second verse here he is called the son of Nebuchadnezzar, his father, so Daniel 5:11 twice, and Daniel 5:13,18,22; if he were his son, then was he called also Merodach, or Evil-merodach. Yet he might be called his son though his grandson; under these three was the captivity, Jeremiah 27:7, Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach, and Belshazzar.
Made a great feast, after the manner of the East, who showed their magnificence this way, and pleased the epicurean palates of his nobles herein, it being no small piece of policy with some princes to oblige their grandees by balls and compotations; this I believe: yet I conceive also, this feast was anniversary for the honour of their idol Bel, as Herodotus testifieth. But this is prodigious, that he should carouse when the city was besieged and ready to be taken by Darius the Mede, for, saith the text, he drank wine before the thousand. These Bacchanalian feasts have often proved fatal and tragical, Es 1.
Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.This king having the wine, liked it so well, that he resolved to make a merry day of it, and in order to it, sent for the vessels of God’s temple, which he did in scorn and contempt, triumphing thereby over God and his people; but this sport lasted not long: they had more honour for the vessels of their own idols, which they kept sacred and untouched; therefore the prophet upbraids them with this insolent profaneness, for the concubines also drank of them.
Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.No text from Poole on this verse.
They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.At the same time insulting the great God of heaven and earth. The name of God is never more profaned than among drunkards and epicures.
In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.In the same hour: by this it did appear what was the cause of the king’s punishment and ruin, namely, his reproaching of God and profaning the holy vessels.
Fingers of a man’s hand; the likeness of a man’s hand, which Rabbi Solomon saith was managed by the angel Gabriel; it is clear it was immediately from God. This was a plainer testimony then that of his father’s dream, for hereof were above a thousand witnesses, besides his conscience that shook him, a thousand more.
Over against the candlestick by this it appears how the feast continued far in the night in which Babylon was taken and Belshazzar slain, Daniel 5:30.
The king saw the part of the hand that wrote: God intended it for him, and that he should see it with his own eyes, and it should not be brought him by report, which affords ground of doubting; but here was undeniable proof and conviction, the visible hand of God was here; and it was also for terror to him, and spoiled his draughts of wine, and was a cooler to their jollities.
Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.His cheerful countenance was turned to paleness, fear and horror had quite blasted the majesty of his face, like an eclipse of the sun. So soon can the terrors of God shake the loftiest cedars; it is like an earthquake in the bowels. Thus can God terrify the tyrants of the earth, that he who hath the heart of a lion shall utterly melt away. Thus can the Lord spoil the mad mirth of drunken atheists in a moment; when they are in their cups, oh how valiant are they! as the king of Syria, 1 Kings 20:16,19, &c.
The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.To bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the sooth-sayers, to read the hand-writing, with promise of scarlet clothing, gold chains, and honours. This is the old trade, and the last refuge this poor heathen prince had, which yet failed him; for how can the devil help when God is against him? 1 Samuel 28:16, &c. Moreover, he had his father’s experience, Daniel 2:27 4:7. Twice he tried them, and they could do nothing, and yet he will go to the devil’s oracle. Men naturally leave God and go to refuges of lies, and God gives them up to strong delusions to believe their lies.
Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.The rabbies say it was not in the Chaldee character, though the words were Chaldee, but the old Hebrew, Canaanitish, Phoenician, and Samaritan letters; or else because only the initial letters, M. T. P., were written. But God reserved this honour for Daniel, and to him that He might have all the glory. Besides, this interpretation was figurative, about weighing in a balance.
Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.The second time, because his hopes in his wise men made him ashamed, and God would give him so much grief as he had pleasure in his luxury.
His lords were astonied: these were associates in sinning, and therefore must share in his consternation: so far were they from comforting him.
Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:The women in those courts had always an apartment by themselves, and this being queen mother, and aged, did not mingle herself with the king’s wives and concubines, but withdrew herself from those pleasures in banqueting, yet brake rule in coming in now upon this solemn occasion and fright.
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 the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;A man in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: this man was Daniel; but how came the king not to think of him? Daniel possibly was out of his place, by his own resignation, or his enemies’ malicious contrivance, and was willing to withdraw himself from the court, and from the company of the soothsayers, and would not be reckoned one of them.
Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.No text from Poole on this verse.
Then 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, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?Though he was in high esteem for his skill in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, who had him in high honour, for the Spirit of God in him; yet he being dead, and other kings coming on that had never tried his abilities nor known his merits, (as it was in Joseph’s case, Exodus 1:8) hereby he came to be neglected and despised, as those words seem to import, Daniel 5:13,
Art thou that Daniel of the captivity of the children of Judah, & c.?
I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.No text from Poole on this verse.
And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:No text from Poole on this verse.
And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.These things were spoken to before, Daniel 5:7,8.
Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.Did not Daniel receive gifts and honour, from Nebuchadnezzar, on the like occasion?
Answ. He was then young, and the captivity was to be long, and he by his place could be helpful to his poor brethren; but now the time of the captivity was near expired, and Babylon in distress by invasion and siege, and that night king, city, and kingdom lost; and there the time was different, and the case also. Moreover Daniel would not receive a reward for so sad a message.
O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:This the prophet repeats, to put Belshazzar in mind how God dealt with his father; for it is good for kings to read over the story of their ancestors, and take warning, and take example. In the first they are seamarks, in the second landmarks.
And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared 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 put down.He ruled arbitrarily, and had power of life and death, he did what he would, his will was a law. And this lifted up his heart in pride, and hardened it as Pharaoh’s, for which, being incorrigible,
he was deposed from his kingly throne, as in the next verse.
But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:Which was explained before: all this Daniel minds him of to rub up his memory, that he might have the fuller blow in the application, Daniel 5:22, for the aggravation of his crime.
And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.No text from Poole on this verse.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;Sins against knowledge, experience, and example have the highest aggravation. Thy father was punished for his pride most dreadfully, and thou knewest it, and behold thou art worse than he. God punisheth others for example and warning to us, that we may hear and fear, and do no more wickedly; but thou, O king Belshazzar, art more wicked than thy father; he was restored, but thou art utterly destroyed. And now he goes on to tell for what.
But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine 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, hast thou not glorified:He instanceth in three or four things.
1. They have brought the vessels of his house before thee to drink wine in them, to profane them in your idolatrous feast, and ye have all polluted them with your filthy, blasphemous mouths, concubines and all.
2. Ye have praised the idol gods of metal, wood, and stone, which cannot hear, nor see, nor know.
3. And hast not glorified the true God, in whose hands thy breath is, and all thy ways. Yea, thou hast highly dishonoured, and affronted, and reproached him.
Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.It is called
part of the hand, because the hand appeared parted from the rest of the body.
And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.No text from Poole on this verse.
This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.Mene, Mene; He hath numbered, or, It is numbered, it is numbered. These words are doubled for the greater confirmation, to note that the number of his sins and of his days, both of life and reign, are full. It relates to the number of the seventy years’ captivity now completed, or to the seventy years for the overthrow of the Babylonish empire, or the translation of it to the Medes and Persians, foretold Isaiah 13$ Isa 14$ Jeremiah 1$, and in the dream, Daniel 2:32.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.Thou art weighed in a hanging balance, alluding to the weighing of goods exactly in scales; and God is said to weigh the mountains in scales: it shows his just proceeding; God is not hasty in punishing, but will give just allowance in weighing, he will hold the scales, he will do it fairly before all the world.
Art found wanting; thou dost not hold weight, but comest short vastly. There is no weight nor worth in thee. Thou hast made light of God in his honour, people, vessels; and the Lord makes light of thee, thou art reprobate silver, false coin; thou art of no value.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.Separated, divided, broken.
Peres signifies two things,
broken off, and
Persian; noting, first, That this kingdom was broken from Belshazzar, and his line and family. Secondly, That it was given from the Chaldeans to the Persians. Then it was divided between the Medes and Persians; for Cyrus took Babylon, he was a Persian; after that he gave part of it to Darius his son-in-law, and he was a Mede; and so they were as it were partners. So this vast empire, that was one sole, entire thing under Belshazzar, becomes now as it were two, divided betwixt the Medes and Persians, which thing is curious to observe, from this word
Phars, Pharsin, Peres, which signifies not only dividing, but
Persian, as Pliny testifies. With the Chaldeans, the Persians, in Scripture, are called Elamites.
Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.Though it were a sad unwelcome message to him, yet he would be as good as his word, and performed his promise; for his princes were witnesses to it, and the word of those kings was counted sacred; besides, it was a great thing that Daniel had unfolded, all were convinced of it as well as the king.
Quest. But how comes Daniel to accept that now, which he seemed to refuse before, Daniel 5:17?
Answ. He refused before lest he should seem to prophesy for reward, which was dishonourable; now it is as it were forced upon him, for the king commanded it, and there is as much danger and crime with some in refusing a favour as boldness in begging.
In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.Which the heathen histories do also confirm. This shows the severity of God’s judgment against the highest offenders, Psalm 2$ Psa 90$ Psa 149$ Hosea 10:7. It also confirms the truth of God’s threatenings, and of the hand-writing, as Daniel interpreted. Some are sad instances of God’s veracity.
And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.There were two of this name, one called the Mede, another Darius called Persian. This in the text was he that with Cyrus besieged and took Babylon; he gave himself the name Darius, being before called Nabonnedus. He was chief in the siege, and first in the quarrel against the Chaldees.