Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was taken up after his death by his son Evil-Merodach and others, but these are passed by in the divine record and we are brought to the last ruler and to the final end of the Babylonian empire in this chapter.
For many years infidels found a happy hunting ground in this book and especially in this fifth chapter because there was no such being as a Belshazzar in ancient records. But it is now well known that a British archaeologist—Sir Rawlinson—in 1854 discovered some clay tablets in the ruins of Babylon, telling among other things of the transactions of a banking firm with one Bil-Sharuzzar (Belshazzar) king of Babylon. It turned out that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonnaid (often spelled Nabonidus) who was king of Babylon and a son of Nebuchadnezzar. But, said the critics, Nebuchadnezzar did not have any son by the name of Nabonidus. That problem was cleared up, too, for the discovery proved that Nebuchadnezzar had a daughter whom Nabonidus had married, so that he was the son of Nebuchadnezzar by marriage. Thus the Bible was fully vindicated. Nabonidus, at the stage when Belshazzar was the ruler, in our chapter, was the king of Babylon. He was away on a military campaign and had appointed his son Belshazzar to act as king during his absence. That is why Belshazzar made Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom (v. 29), since he himself was only the second in charge; this is another one of those astounding touches of perfection which abound in God’s holy Word. Of course the true believer does not find any difficulties here or anywhere else in Scripture; he knows the Bible to be the unerring Word of God, and that is good enough for him. He judges facts by the Bible, not the Bible by facts.
We all know the story recorded in this interesting chapter. Belshazzar was having a great time, drinking himself drunk with a thousand of his lords; while his father was out somewhere on the battlefield his son was having a drunken orgy at home. To his foolish and shameful rioting he added impiety by calling for the holy vessels his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem’s temple, and he used them here for his vile purpose, mocking the true God. But suddenly the drunken laughter died and froze on every lip as a mysterious hand wrote on the plaster of the palace wall. We have no difficulty in recognizing whose hand it was. That same “hand” once wrote the ten commandments on tables of stone; that same hand was to write some day on the dust of the temple floor, as we read in John 8:6, just as it wrote here on the wall. And that hand was one day to be nailed to the Cross.
It is the hand of Him Whom we know as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But on the four occasions we have just cited, the message was not one of salvation, but in each case one of judgment. Yet, if men would only listen, the warning of judgment is given so that men might turn to God for salvation. The law on the two tables of stone preached condemnation, for the law condemns the sinner; Christ’s message written in the dust in John 8 was a message of judgment too, for the Pharisees took it that way as they slunk out of His presence condemned by their own conscience. And, needless to say, the message of the hand nailed to the Cross was one of judgment too—God’s judgment on sin—for our Lord said, “Now is the judgment of this world” (John 12:31). And of course the writing on the palace wall spoke of judgment as well. Ah, Belshazzar and his crowd might well tremble, for the handwriting on the wall was to have its fulfillment that very night. Today God’s judgment hangs over this immoral and impious world and it, too, may fall at any moment. But, praise God, it is still the day of grace; every warning of judgment is another opportunity for repentance and saving grace.
The queen mother comes in—possibly the widow of the great Nebuchadnezzar. One likes to think that this was so and that she, like her husband, had not forgotten the man of God, Daniel, who had been such a blessing to them both. She speaks very highly of Daniel (vv. 10-12); perhaps, if she was the widow of Nebuchadnezzar, she had been converted as well as her husband. Belshazzar did not even seem to know Daniel, which shows how soon benefits can be forgotten and how unthankful man can be. Daniel is once more brought in to interpret the mind of God. Before he does so, he gives the reckless, impious king a dose of history. Here are his words; they are well worth quoting:
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. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 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.
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: 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.
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 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: Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written (vv. 17-24).
When speaking to King Nebuchadnezzar Daniel had urged him to repent and change his ways (4:27), but there is no such appeal made to Belshazzar; it appears as if God knew his case was hopeless. His great guilt is rubbed in to him, “thou … hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; … the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” How much this same state of soul prevails among wicked men today.
And now Daniel reads, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” Three ominous words; what do they mean?
“Mene—God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.” That word “numbered” is repeatedly translated in chapter 3 “set up,” as also in verse 19 of this chapter where it is said of Nebuchadnezzar, “whom he would he set up,” or put down as the whim might sway him. Belshazzar was therefore being told that the God who had put him on the throne was now putting him down. Verse 19 ascribes this power to Nebuchadnezzar, but this was only relatively true of him; it is absolutely true of God who sets up over the kingdoms of the world whomsoever He will.
“Tekel—Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” It has been said that God does not count men; He weighs them. Sinners have the erroneous idea that, when they stand before God in the day of judgment, He is going to put their good deeds in one side of the scale and their bad deeds in the other, and if the good deeds outweigh the bad ones, they will have a title to heaven. Needless to say, this theory rests on a monstrous misconception; that misconception is that there are any good deeds at all in a sinner’s life. God says in His Word concerning the sinner, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12). An un- saved person has never done one good thing in his whole life; that is God’s estimate, and He is the Judge who decides those matters. The scale would go down heavily the wrong way, with a lifelong load of sin sinking it down and taking the sinner with it to eternal perdition. So it was with Belshazzar. All men have not sinned the same way or in the same degree, but all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is mercy for the sinner in Christ alone; the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth from all sin.
“Peres—Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Belshazzar was to lose everything and be lost himself, and the empire was to go to others. It reminds one of what we read about the rich farmer in Luke 12. He, too, was told that his end had come-both he and Belshazzar died the same night in which the warning came. In the story of this rich farmer, after telling him that that night his soul would be required of him, the Lord asks him this question, “Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Alas, when the sinner dies he leave everything behind; naked came he into this world, and naked shall he leave it.
But I delight to think that, in brightest contrast, the very reverse is true of believers in Jesus. Our blessed Lord has given us a kingdom from which we shall never be removed, and which shall never be removed from us; we have a kingdom which cannot be moved (Heb. 12:28). “Fear not,” says our Lord, “fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Once we were and had nothing, but divine grace has given and made us everything; we are saints, priests, heirs of God, and joint- heirs with Christ; we are kings. Think of the wonder of all this; we have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Pet. 1:11). The God of all grace has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus (I Pet. 5:10). We shall reign by the side of our glorious Lord in that cloudless day of eternal glory.
We, too, shall be weighed in God’s scales, but we won’t be found wanting. The sinner dreams of putting his good deeds on one side of the scales, but there aren’t any good deeds. With us, on the other hand, there won’t be any bad deeds; only good ones. Why so? Because all our sins were laid upon our precious Savior on the Cross; He has blotted them out forever in His blood; He assures us that our sins He will remember no more. They are all atoned for; they are gone forever; there won’t be any at the judgment seat of Christ. Praise God, in our case the scales will go down on the credit side, though in ourselves we are not worthy of the least of His mercies; yet He will reward us for the slightest thing done as unto Him.
Belshazzar’s kingdom was taken from him, but not so with us. If we should die, or when the Lord comes to take us home, we are not going to say good-by to the glory; nay, rather, we shall enter upon it in all its fullness and blessedness. As we read, “that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (II Tim. 2:10).
That night’s revelry was the last feast for this impious king and for many of his cronies. It was so for the rich man of Luke 12 who talked of eating and drinking and making merry, but his soul was called away into eternity that same night. And then we read in Luke 16 of a rich man who fared sumptuously every day, but the hour of his death struck and the next thing we hear of him is that in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torment. Yes, the world has its feasts, its merrymaking, its pleasures, but at death these end forevermore. But, praise God, it is not so with us. We know something of feasting already here and now as we feast upon the riches of His grace; we keep the feast as we remember Him in His precious death, but all this is but a foretaste of richer feasting to come. There shall never be an end to our joy, for “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). Almost the first view we get of heaven when we get there is a glorious wedding celebration, and the cry goes forth, “Let us be glad and rejoice, … for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
That night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. The city of Babylon was taken, and Darius the Median took the kingdom. That almost impregnable city was taken. It had seemed impossible. You have heard its description many times, I’m sure. We may just mention that it is reported to have been about fifteen miles square, with a population of about 1,200,000 inhabitants. The river Euphrates ran through the heart of the city, dividing it into two parts. The walls were said to be 335 to 350 feet high, and about 87 feet thick. Four chariots could drive abreast on the top of this towering wall. There were 250 watchtowers upon the top of the wall to guard against any enemies, and the whole city was surrounded by a wide moat filled with water. The place was simply impregnable. That’s probably why Belshazzar and his officers felt perfectly safe, though they knew there were armies at the gates. It was perfectly safe to get drunk, and history tells us that most of the army was in the same befuddled state that night; they scoffed at any idea of danger. However, God had foretold the destruction of the city long before. Jeremiah devotes two chapters to this subject (50; 51), and Isaiah even gave the name of the conqueror and the means by which the sack of the city would be accomplished. Here is what Isaiah says by divine inspiration several hundred years before the conquest took place:
Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the 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.
And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel (Isa. 45:1-3).
It is now well known that the armies besieging the city, realizing the impossibility of capturing the city in the normal way of warring, conceived the idea of digging an entirely new river bed around the city, and diverting the waters of the Euphrates into this newly dug channel. The two leaved gates of brass, of which Isaiah had prophesied long before, were swung across the river at night, making it impossible for anyone to enter the city in that way. But after they had changed the course of the river, the Medo-Persians were able to march underneath those gates through the muddy river bed and so surprise their victims completely. They marched unopposed and unexpected into the city, as God had promised Cyrus long ago by the mouth of His servant Isaiah. Isaiah even recorded the name of the commanding general long before he was born. That night Darius the Median took the kingdom, followed shortly after by Cyrus.
In this incident we again see much more than merely the capture of ancient Babylon. Here, too, God gives us a preview of things that lie still ahead. Babylon is a name full of significance in Scripture; the Babylon of old is a type of the Babylon of the New Testament. Jeremiah devoted two whole chapters to Babylon. Generally speaking, the first chapter (chapter 50) is devoted to the destruction of the ancient city, but the second (chapter 51) speaks not so much of the political Babylon but of the religious rottenness of that system. The language shows that there is a direct connection with the Babylon Jeremiah describes and the Babylon of the book of Revelation. No one can possibly fail to see the connection with the false, corrupt church of Revelation 17 and 18. There, too, one chapter deals with the religious corruption of Babylon—the false church (chapter 17), while the other (chapter 18) deals with the commercial and political aspect of the Roman church—just as in the two chapters of Jeremiah. As we put some of the things said about Babylon by Jeremiah alongside those we read in the book of Revelation, the identity between the two is absolutely unmistakable:
Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance; he will render unto her a recompence.
Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad.
Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed (Jeremiah 51:6-8).
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters; With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth (Rev. 17:1-5).
And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues (Rev. 18:2-4).
Both in Jeremiah and in Revelation 18 men are urged to come out of Babylon; both in Jeremiah 51 and in Revelation 17 and 18 the nations are said to have drunk of the wine of her fornication; both in Jeremiah 51 and in Revelation 17 Babylon is seen to have a golden cup. The Babylon of Jeremiah and that of the book of Revelation (the Roman Catholic Church) are, spiritually speaking, identical. Illustrated by this political and religious idolatrous Babylon of old is this religious, political, corrupt, false church of our day. Both have their destruction foretold; both are to be consummated by a mighty political foe—the Persian in Belshazzar’s day, the coalition of nations under the beast in the future of corrupt Romanism (Rev. 17:16). Let us not miss the point that the existence, the character, the corrupt rottenness, and the doom of the Roman Catholic Church were all given to us by God through His servant John in the book of Revelation, long before that devil’s counterfeit of the true church ever came into existence.
It is the system with the golden cup (Rev. 17:4). Yes, Rome flaunts that golden cup and holds it high. Since it is of gold you can’t see through it, and it is held so high that you can’t see over the rim. Rome does not want you to look into that cup, for it isn’t nice. Only those who believe God’s Word and are taught by His Spirit are able to look over this golden cup and see, in the language of Scripture that it is “full of abominations and filthiness of her fornications.” Full of idola- trous and moral rottenness. The blinded world sees only the gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones. All it sees is the dazzle of Rome’s ritualistic system—the gorgeous robes, the hypocritical pretense to sanctity. The blinded soul sees only the elaborate ceremony, hears the seductive music, is impressed by the lavish wealth displayed in its gorgeous cathedrals, the richness of its vestments, and the impressiveness of its wicked claim to be the only true church. You have to go to countries where Rome has held sway for centuries to see the wretched poverty, the filth, the blind idolatrous ignorance and superstition. Truly Rome has made the nations drunk, as the Bible so graphically puts it, and a drunk does not know where he is, what he is doing, nor does he care. Belshazzar and his pals were drinking themselves drunk, little recking the doom at the door; they, too, were drinking out of golden cups, typical of the Babylon of our day. But, praise God, the day of judgment is drawing near, as did Babylon’s of old.
We Christians have a cup too, praise His holy Name. But the attention is not called to the material the cup is made of, but to its contents. It does not tell what this cup is made of. You are free to look into this cup; in fact, you are invited and urged to do so. Of His cup our Lord prayed that it might pass from Him, for it contained all the concentrated hatred of man against Him and of God’s judgment, and our Savior prayed in Gethsemane that, if it were possible, it might pass from Him. Do you care to look into this cup? You will see it was filled with all the awfulness of sin and guilt, the fearful punishment of which He was to drink in all its weight of woe. We often sing these wonderful words:
Death and the curse were in our cup,
Oh Christ; ‘twas full for Thee.
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
‘Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup; love drank it up.
Left but the love for me.
And now, in blessed exchange, God has given us a cup to drink, filled with all the fullness of His grace. You may look into this cup; it does not contain all the vileness and wickedness the false church drinks, as does Rome’s golden cup. But it contains the fruit of that holy love that gave itself for us; it contains the infinite blessing of our God. Here you may drink deep, and never get drunk. The world is drunk with the evil wine of Rome’s concoction; the believer drinks at the fountain of God’s infinite love.
Yes, the true church has its cup—the cup of blessing which we bless (I Cor. 10:16); it is not a cup filled with sorrow and suffering, as was our Savior’s at Calvary, but one filled with wine, telling us of the joy His suffering has purchased for us. The “gold”—the glory-is not in the cup but in its precious contents. Which cup are you drinking of? Rome’s with its sham, its moral and spiritual corruption, or that which our blessed Lord has given us to drink, the cup of blessing made of eternal worth through the merits of His Person and His redemptive work?