The year is 539 BC and Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar, both the crown prince and co-regent to the throne, are reigning in Babylon. Nabonidus had delegated much of the administration of the kingdom to the young and juvenile Belshazzar while he occupied himself with other congenial tasks in self-imposed exile. The Babylonian kingdom had by this time experienced a gradual but sure decline due to a series of unwise policies by preceding monarchs. Meanwhile, in the east, the Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great, nephew to Darius the Mede, were silently growing in strength and influence. It is during this time that Cyrus the Great, general commander of the combined Median and Persian armies besieges Babylon, surrounding the city with his armies.
The ancient City of Babylon by this time was well fortified with a network of thick and seemingly impregnable walls that went round its circumference. It is said that the walls of Babylon were so broad that chariot races were held at their top. Moreover, Babylon was built upon the perennial Euphrates river which flowed through its midst and brought an unending supply of water to the city’s inhabitants. These conveniences coupled with the fact that Babylon had an abundant stock of provisions at the time rendered the king and his courtiers seemingly secure and thus they grew complacent. The city’s population also was at ease in general. With such a sense of security and arrogance the young king gave himself to a life of mirth and pleasure. We are told that on one fateful day, “Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand” – Daniel 5:1.
King Belshazzar being, through his mother, a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar the famous former Babylonian Emperor, was well acquainted with how his grandfather had been humbled by the hand of the God of heaven, having been driven to the wild beasts for a season, and of his conversion and reinstatement. Therefore he had the opportunity before him to learn lessons in humility and to give obedience to the all-sovereign God of the universe; instead Belshazzar chose the path of pride, indulgence and self-glorification. While Babylon was thus encompassed by enemy armies, the king, in a display of folly and recklessness, threw a party and drank alcohol in front of his thousand lords. It was one scene of shameless revelry and mirth with all the allurements that state power could command being brought to the banquet. Beautiful and enchanting women were also brought in to add flair to the feast. The king and his princes drank wine like water.
As the intoxicating drink had taken its toll upon the king, Belshazzar lost reason and all moral restraint and he gave“the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them” – Daniel 5:2. Here the king became overly pompous and endeavored to impress his guests and princes that nothing was too sacred for him to handle. Thus he ventured to desecrate the holy vessels of gold and silver that had been taken from the temple of the Lord God in Jerusalem and together with his wives and concubines drank intoxicating liquor from them. Inspiration informs, “they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” – Daniel 5:3. This was not an act of ignorance but rather a brazen defiance of the authority of the Lord God of heaven.
Unknown to Belshazzar however, was that while he was thus engaged in this idolatrous orgy, a divine Witness, a holy One, an unseen Observer, was there watching and hearing all the profanity and blasphemy being practiced in the palace. This uninvited Guest was soon to make His presence felt. In the midst of the drunkenness and folly, suddenly a bloodless hand is seen tracing against the wall, words gleaming with fire, words so mysterious that none in the palace can either read or understand them. The king and his guests were all of a sudden terror-stricken and the scene of mirth and merry-making immediately turned to one of apprehension and deafening silence. “The king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.” – Daniel 5:6.
The visibly shaken monarch screams for help to his wise men and magicians, “The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” – Daniel 5:7,8. In this moment of terror and utmost extremity, Belshazzar turns to his wise men and wealth, but all to no avail. Too late he learned that heavenly wisdom cannot be bought by money. “All the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished.”
It is at this hour of crisis that the queen, who apparently was not present at the banquet, was called to the palace to perhaps offer some reprieve to the king’s distress. The queen immediately remembers the prophet Daniel. She talks of his illustrious record and how in the past he had been able to solve myths and mysteries. “The queen spoke, saying, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”” – Daniel 5:10-12.
As Daniel is brought to the palace, Belshazzar offers rewards and promotion to the now aged prophet, but God’s servant turns down the offer and faithfully delivers the divine message of doom to the embattled king. “Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.”” – Daniel 5:17. The Lord’s messenger narrated to the king the experience of his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, how he finally humbled himself and came to acknowledge God’s ruler-ship over the earth. Belshazzar had full knowledge of this history but instead of learning from the mistakes of his grandfather, he however, “lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven” and went on to profane His holy vessels and to worship false gods. “You have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”- Daniel 5:23. That night, Belshazzar and the nation of Babylon at large filled their cup of iniquity and divine retribution was soon to follow.
The prophet Daniel then turns to deliver the interpretation of the divine message inscribed upon the wall; “this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” – Daniel 5:25-28. While the Babylonian royalty was feasting, the Medes and Persian armies had in a display of military prowess, managed to divert the Euphrates River creating room through the river bed for multitudes of their warriors to enter the walls of Babylon. The Scriptures declare “that very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain” and Darius the Mede was installed as king in his place. Many of the hitherto feasting Babylonian lords also perished in the ambush. Thus came the sudden and tragic fall of ancient Babylon.
Of interest, is the statement “TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting”- Daniel 5:25. This hints to us that a work of judgment or investigation had happened prior to sentence being meted out against Belshazzar. In a similar manner, in the end of time before God destroys the earth and the wicked with fire, there is work of investigative judgment that happens in the courts of heaven. The prophet Daniel tells us “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit…a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” – Daniel 7:9,10.
The Word of God tells us of another Babylon to exist in the last days of earth’s history, which makes “all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Similar to ancient Babylon, end-time Babylon is a proud, arrogant and blasphemous power that unites the world in defiance of the authority of heaven. “She says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.” – Revelation 18:7. Under the intoxicating influence of the wine of Babylon’s false teachings, the inhabitants of the earth will be misled into transgressing God’s holy Law and to oppress His people. However, like Babylon of old it, end-time Babylon will come to a sudden and tragic fall. “With violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.” – Revelation 18:21. God’s call to His people today is “Come out of her [Babylon], My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”- Revelation 18:4