The Handwriting on the Wall
May 15, 2015
On the night that Cyrus took the city of Babylon, King Belshazzar was holding a feast. We read in Daniel 5:1,
1 Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.
Because Nabonidus had returned earlier to take the throne, it is clear that his son, Belshazzar, was only the co-regent. However, Cyrus had already defeated Nabonidus in battle at Opis, and Nabonidus had fled, going into hiding. There was probably some uncertainty about whether he was dead or alive, although from Daniel 5:7, 16, 29 we see that Belshazzar probably knew that his father was still alive. Thus he was willing to make Daniel “third ruler in the kingdom.”
Belshazzar is therefore called “the king.” Because his guests were the nobles, lords, or governmental officials, it is possible that this feast was held to celebrate an inevitable inauguration as sole King of Babylon. He knew that it would be highly unlikely that Nabonidus would be able to enter the city without being captured by the Persians.
Hence, it seems that it was on his informal inauguration that he was overthrown and killed by King Cyrus of Persia. What he thought was his moment of glory was actually the moment of his demise. This may speak into the present pattern of Mystery Babylon as well, where the control seems to reach its apex at the moment of its collapse.
In the judgments of God, there is usually some final event marking the point where the judgment is executed. In Daniel 4:29-31 it was the moment when Nebuchadnezzar bragged about his accomplishments twelve months after the judgment was rendered. In Daniel 5 it was the feast where Belshazzar used the holy vessels of the temple which had been taken from Jerusalem sixty years earlier in 597 B.C. Daniel 5:2-4 reads,
2 When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father [predecessor] had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, in order that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
There were 30 gold bowls and 410 of silver from which they might have drunk the wine of Babylon (Ezra 1:10). There were not enough to give to 1000 nobles, so most likely they were given only to the most high-ranking of them. They drank the wine of Babylon from the vessels of the house of God, but they praised other gods in violation of the First Commandment. What is the significance of the misuse of these holy vessels?
Misusing the Vessels of the Temple
The only biblical description we have of these vessels shows that they were made of pure gold (Exodus 25:29; 1 Kings 7:50; 2 Chronicles 4:22). Pure gold represents divine nature. Vessels themselves represent callings, or people with callings by which they minister to God with pure hearts.
Belshazzar, on the other hand, by drinking from these vessels, took upon himself a calling that was not his. This was proven by the fact that instead of using the vessels to praise the God of Heaven, he used them to praise “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.”
In other words, the king praised false gods for bestowing on him the divine nature. To attribute the works of God to false gods is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, as we see from Matthew 12:22-32. In that account, Jesus healed “a demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb.” But Matthew 12:24 tells us,
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of demons.”
Jesus then informed them in Matthew 12:31, 32 that these Pharisees were guilty of blasphemy against the Spirit. Likewise, they taught the traditions of men (wine of Babylon) while using the sacred vessels of the temple.
So also did King Belshazzar commit blasphemy, using the sacred vessels of the temple to praise false gods which men had created in their own image out of earthly materials.
These vessels of the temple had been taken to Babylon in 597 B.C. (2 Chronicles 36:18) when King Jehoiachin had been brought into captivity. It is interesting that a similar event occurred in 70 A.D. when the Romans brought the vessels of the temple to Rome. This is depicted on the Arch of Titus, constructed in 81 A.D. shortly after Titus’ death. It pictures the Menorah being carried away by Roman soldiers.
These two similar events, the first in 597 B.C. and the other in 70 A.D., occurred 666 years apart, for 597 plus 70 equals 667, but because there is no year zero, we have to subtract one year, bringing it to 666 years.
The chronology itself is prophetic, and it suggests that 666 means that the worship of the temple has been taken over by fleshly people.
Belshazzar’s feast, where he desecrated the vessels, occurred 60 years later in 537 B.C., and again we see a parallel of history occurring 60 years after 70 A.D. It was in the year 130 A.D. that the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem and announced his intention to rebuild the temple. However, it was soon discovered that his intent was to build a temple to Jupiter. The Bar-Kochba revolt broke out from 132-135 A.D., and in the end Judea itself was devastated for a second time and nearly depopulated of Jews.
The point is that it is not difficult to see a parallel between Belshazzar’s desecration of the vessels of the temple and Hadrian’s desecration of the temple site itself.
Prophetic time cycles of history usually include a double witness, having two starting points and two corresponding end points. In this case the two witnesses are:
597 B.C. to 70 A.D.
537 B.C. to 130 A.D.
The Hand of God
While the Babylonian lords were desecrating the sacred vessels of the temple, the hand of God suddenly appeared and began to write a message on the wall. Daniel 5:5, 6 says,
5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together.
The king did not need to understand the message to know that he was in deep trouble. To say that “his thoughts alarmed him” hardly describes his fright. To say “his hip joints went slack” hardly describes his physical condition either. The Concordant Version says, “the ligaments of his loins loosen up.” The King James Version says “his loins were loosed.” It had nothing to do with his ligaments or vertebrae in his lower back moving out of joint. It was an idiom that meant he did a very unkingly thing and humiliated himself fully in front of his guests. He soiled his underwear.
Daniel 5:7-9 continues,
7 The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me will be clothed with purple, and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.
This was the third and final example in the book of Daniel where the wise men and conjurers were unable to perform their duty, in spite of the huge rewards and honors being offered. According to The Wycliffe Bible Commentary,
“Ordinarily only the father of Belshazzar, the besieged Nabonidus, would have had authority to declare a third ruler. But for yet an hour or two Belshazzar was de facto if not de jure supreme monarch, and felt he could confer this honor.” [page 786]
It was also the third time and final time that Daniel himself was given the revelation of the secrets of God being revealed to the kings of Babylon. Daniel, of course, refused the king’s gifts along with the position as third ruler of the Kingdom. The irony is that any co-regent with Nabonidus and Belshazzar may have been killed later that same night. At any rate, Daniel had no ambitions to be a ruler in Babylon, for this would have been a conflict of interest. He looked to the future, for he sought the Kingdom of God.
This is part 19 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones