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King BELSHAZZAR made a great feast for one thousand of his nobles and drank wine in front of and because of the thousand.

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The monarch known as BEL PROTECT THE KING hosted a grand feast for a very large number of his government officials and because they were in a state of panic, he led all of them in a drinking binge.



The word I have rendered “in front of” can also mean “because.” It is an important part of this story and it will appear again in verse 5. We will see as we go through this story that the author sets the stage carefully by using words that will appear later in the story. In this way he places emphasis on certain things and, during ancient times, the readers would have seen these repetitions, understood them as emphasis and known to consider their importance. In this verse I think both of its meanings were in view. First of all, the word means “in front of” and indicates that he led them. They all drank but he set the pace for how much and how fast they drank. It also means “because of” and I will show you in the comment after the next verse why the nobles were panicked and what Belshazzar hoped to accomplish by hosting this feast when there was imminent danger to all of them.

The Historical Context of Daniel 5

The great king Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and lived outside like a wild animal, just like God predicted through Daniel. (Nebuchadnezzar is the spelling shown in the Bible, but not the spelling found in other historical documents. The difference in meaning caused by the change in spelling is most interesting; to read about that go to The Names of Daniel Chapter 1) While king Nebuchadnezzar was “gone” the kingdom was probably ruled by Labashi-Marduk (you will also see the name written as Evil Merodach), whom we know from extrabiblical sources to have been his successor and presume to have been his son. But king Nebuchadnezzar repented and came back to sanity and to his throne. We can safely assume that when he came back, he reigned the rest of his life in a coregency arrangement with his son. We are not told in the Bible or in any other sources how long he ruled after he returned to sanity or when he died.

Even when the Babylonian empire was strong, the Median and Persian Kingdoms were already in existence. The Median kingdom was located to the North and Northeast of Babylonia, and the Persian kingdom was to its East. Of course, the Babylonian empire had taken some land from both of those other kingdoms, as well as many others, and later they took it back.

It appears that, after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Labashi-Marduk ruled for a short time and was dethroned by Nabonidus (also written as Nabuna’id) whom I believe was not his son or even a relative, but a usurper. This Nabonidus reigned for 17 years. He tried to change the primary deity of the Babylonians from Marduk to the moon god, Sin, and that is the main reason he fell out of favor with the common people. Nabuna’id had a son named Belshazzar who was a coregent with him for most of those 17 years and is said to have run the kingdom for 10 years while his father was away on strange personal projects. Belshazzar was the one who usually led the military campaigns and sometimes ran the entire kingdom. The reign of Nabonidus was marked by unhappy subjects and a weakening of the empire.

As the Babylonian empire had grown weaker, the kingdoms of Media and Persia had grown stronger. King Cyrus of Persia defeated the empire of the Medes in 550 BC, establishing a new empire called the Achaemenid Empire, or the First Persian Empire. There had been a Persian kingdom before him, but he was the one that made it into a true empire. The reason we hear about a Medo-Persian empire is that king Cyrus often listened, learned, and borrowed from others. He was not afraid to use customs and practices that others were already accustomed to and he allowed the people groups within his kingdom to keep doing things the way they were used to doing them. For this reason Cyrus was generally well liked by his subjects. When he conquered and absorbed the Median empire into his own empire, he gave certain aspects of the Medes considerable prominence in his own kingdom, enough that the term Medo-Persian Empire was coined, even though such an empire never existed in a truly political sense.

The Biblical Context

The name Nebuchadnezzar was actually a Jewish mockery of his real name, which was Nebuchadrezzar. They look similar, but changing the r to an n made a big difference in the meaning. You can read about the meanings of both of them in my story called Daniel 1 & 3 The Names of Daniel and His Three Friends. What follows utilizes the name given in the Bible even thought is not his real name.

Chapter 4 of Daniel relates the consequences of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, and the consequences of his repentance. The incident recorded in chapter 5 involving King Belshazzar follows chapter 4 in a direct line of thought because the spiritual truth being taught is the same. The reader is asked to ignore the fact that approximately 25 years separated the two events; the important thing was the spiritual lesson we can take away from both narratives.

Why Were the Nobles Afraid?

Babylonia was the last major power that had not yet fallen to the control of king Cyrus the Persian. The army of Cyrus, under the leadership of General Gobyras, won a decisive victory at Opis in late September of 539 BC. Opis was a strategically located city about 100 miles north of the city of Babylon. A few days later the city of Sippar (37 miles North of Babylon) surrendered to Cyrus and from there it was an open road to Babylon, the capital city of Babylonia.

On the night of this feast, the army of Cyrus was approaching and we can be confident that the Babylonian leaders were given reports that the army was getting close. The atmosphere at this feast had to have been tense. Some of them were drinking in an attempt to forget their looming problems; most of them were drinking because they were following orders; but very few believed everything Belshazzar was telling them.

It is generally accepted that Babylon surrendered on what we would call October 12th 539 BC, to the Persian general Gobyras, who was going ahead of King Cyrus, who arrived 17 days later on October 29th.

The Babylonian Chronicles and the Cyrus Cylinder say the city was taken without a battle, but two Greek historians say that the city was besieged. The two Greek sources were written a long time later and have been largely discredited. Besides being more believable, the two extant Mesopotamian accounts fit better with the biblical record as found in Daniel 5 because they don’t allow for a siege of the city. Some think the king (Nabonidus) was captured and deported, but regarding his coregent (Belshazzar) the biblical record is clear that he was killed that very night, presumably by the Persians.