Bel protect the king!, the last of the kings of Babylon (Da 5:1). He was the son of Nabonidus by Nitocris, who was the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and the widow of Nergal-sharezer. When still young he made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and when heated with wine sent for the sacred vessels his "father" (Da 5:2), or grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from the temple in Jerusalem, and he and his princes drank out of them. In the midst of their mad revelry a hand was seen by the king tracing on the wall the announcement of God's judgment, which that night fell upon him. At the instance of the queen (i.e., his mother) Daniel was brought in, and he interpreted the writing. That night the kingdom of the Chaldeans came to an end, and the king was slain (Da 5:30). (See Nergal-sharezer.)
The absence of the name of Belshazzar on the monuments was long regarded as an argument against the genuineness of the Book of Daniel. In 1854 Sir Henry Rawlinson found an inscription of Nabonidus which referred to his eldest son. Quite recently, however, the side of a ravine undermined by heavy rains fell at Hillah, a suburb of Babylon. A number of huge, coarse earthenware vases were laid bare. These were filled with tablets, the receipts and contracts of a firm of Babylonian bankers, which showed that Belshazzar had a household, with secretaries and stewards. One was dated in the third year of the king Marduk-sar-uzur. As Marduk-sar-uzar was another name for Baal, this Marduk-sar-uzur was found to be the Belshazzar of Scripture. In one of these contract tablets, dated in the July after the defeat of the army of Nabonidus, we find him paying tithes for his sister to the temple of the sun-god at Sippara.
Illustration: Belshazzar Tablet
Contracted from Belsharezar: from Bel, the Babylonian idol, and shar, a "king"; zar is a common Babylonian termination, as in Nebuchadnez-zar. His solemnly instructive history is graphically told in Daniel 5. See BABEL; BABYLON, for the remarkable confirmation of the Scripture account of his death on the night of revelry in the siege of Babylon; which is also stated by Xenophon; whereas Berosus in Josephus calls the last king Nabonedus (Nabonahit, i.e. Nebo makes prosperous) and says that in the 17th year of his reign Cyrus took Babylon, the king having retired to Borsippa (the Chaldaean sacred city of religion and science); and that having surrendered there, he had a principality assigned to him in Carmania by Cyrus. The inscription at Umqeer (Ur of the Chaldees), read by Sir H. Rawlinson, strews that Nabonedus admitted his son Belshazzar into a share of the kingdom, just as Nabopolassar admitted Nebuchadnezzar his sort to share in the government, Xerxes admitted his son Artaxerxes, and Augustus his successor Tiberius; so that the discrepancy is cleared.
Nabonedus, defeated by Cyrus in the field, fled to Borsippa, and survived. Belshazzar fell in the last assault of Babylon. Xenophon calls the last king of Babylon "impious," and illustrates his cruelty by the fact that he killed a courtier for having struck down the game in hunting before him, and unmanned Gadates a courtier at a banquet, because one of the king's courtiers praised him as handsome. His reckless infatuation is marked by his making a feast when the enemy was thundering at his gates; compare 1Th 5:3-7 for the lesson to us. He set at nought eastern propriety by introducing women and even concubines at the feast. His crowning guilt, which made the cup overflow in vengeance, was his profaning the vessels of Jehovah's temple to be the instrument of revelry to himself, his princes, wives, and concubines, drinking out of them in honor of his idols.
Security, sensuality, and profanity are the sure forerunners of the sinner's doom. Intoxicating drinks tempt men to daring profanity, which even they would shrink from when sober. To mark the inseparable connection of sin and punishment, "the same hour" that witnessed his impious insult to Jehovah witnessed the mysterious hand of the unseen One writing his doom in full view of his fellow transgressors on the same palace wall which had been covered with cuneiform inscriptions glorifying those Babylonian kings. Compare Pr 16:18. His daring bravado was in an instant changed into abject fear; conscience can turn the most foolhardy into a coward. His promise that whosoever should read the writing should be "third ruler in the kingdom" is probably an undesigned coincidence with the historic truth now known that Nabonedus was the chief king, Belshazzar secondary, and so the ruler advanced to the next place would be THIRD (Da 5:7).
Daniel having been summoned at the suggestion of Nitocris, the queen mother, probably wife of Evil Merodach, Nebuchadnezzar's son, faithfully reproved him for that though knowing how God had humbled his forefather Nebuchadnezzar for God-despising, self-magnifying pride, he yet "lifted himself against the Lord of heaven"; therefore MENE, God has numbered thy years of reign and the number is complete, compare Ps 90:12. TEKEL, weighed in the balances of God's truth, thou art found wanting. UPHARSIN, or PERES, alluding to the similar word "Persians," thy kingdom is divided among the Medes and Persians. Cyrus diverted the Euphrates into a channel, and guided by Gobryas and Gadatas, deserters, marched by the dry channel into Babylon, while the citizens were carousing at an annual feast to the idols (Isa 21:5; 44:27; Jer 50:29-35,38-39; 51:36,57). Belshazzar was slain; compare Isa 14:18-20.
Son of Nebuchadnezzar, last king of Babylon, before its capture by Cyrus (Da 5:1). The name is somewhat variously given: Baltasar, Bar 1:11 f. [so also Septuagint and Theod. in Daniel]; and Josephus says he was son of Naboand
The last king of the Babylonish empire, who, at a festival, when he desecrated the sacred vessels of Jerusalem, was warned of God by the fingers of a man's hand writing upon the wall. He had been weighed by God and was found wanting. Though remonstrated with by Daniel he showed no signs of repentance, and in the midst of the festivities the city was taken by Cyrus or one of his generals and the king was slain. The monuments record that it was taken by Gobryas. The queen, probably the queen-mother, was not at such a scene of revelry, and she could tell of one who would be able to interpret the writing on the wall. See MENE
For a long time Daniel's account of the taking of the city and of Belshazzar being the last king, was held to be contradicted by history, which names several kings between Nebuchadnezzar and the close of the empire. Of these, two are mentioned in scripture: Evil-merodach, 2Ki 25:27; Jer 52:31; and Nergal-sharezer. Jer 39:3,13. Two others are also named in history, Laborosoarchod and Nabonadius or Labynetus: the former reigned only nine months, and the latter cannot be made to agree with Belshazzar; but happily Col. Rawlinson in A.D. 1854 at Mugheir, the ancient Ur, found an inscription on a monument to the effect that Nabonadius associated his son Bel-shar-eser with himself on the throne. Some tablets also have been discovered bearing the record of certain contracts made by Bilu-sarra-utsur, son of the king, which is also believed to refer to Belshazzar.
Nabonadius was elsewhere, and Belshazzar was slain. This agrees with his saying to Daniel that if he could interpret the writing he should be the third in the kingdom. Belshazzar is called the son of Nebuchadnezzar, but this in scripture often means grandson, and Nabonadius is supposed to have married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. He is said to have been a usurper, and by such a marriage would have consolidated his position on the throne. Da 5:1-30; 7:1; 8:1.
(prince of Bel), the last king of Babylon. In
Nebuchadnezzar is called the father of Belshazzar. This, of course, need only mean grandfather or ancestor. According to the well-known narrative Belshazzar gave a splendid feast in his palace during the siege of Babylon (B.C. 538), using the sacred vessels of the temple, which Nebuchadnezzer had brought from Jerusalem. The miraculous appearance of the handwriting on the wall, the calling in of Daniel to interpret its meaning the prophecy of the overthrow of the kingdom, and Belshazsar's death, accorded in Dan. 5.
BELSHAZZAR, the last king of Babylon, and, according to Hales and others, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, Da 5:18. During the period that the Jews were in captivity at Babylon, a variety of singular events concurred to prove that the sins which brought desolation on their country, and subjected them for a period of seventy years to the Babylonish yoke, had not dissolved that covenant relation which, as the God of Abraham, Jehovah had entered into with them; and that any act of indignity perpetrated against an afflicted people, or any insult cast upon the service of their temple, would be regarded as an affront to the Majesty of heaven, and not suffered to pass with impunity, though the perpetrators were the princes and potentates of the earth. Belshazzar was a remarkable instance of this. He had an opportunity of seeing, in the case of his ancestor, how hateful pride is, even in royalty itself; how instantly God can blast the dignity of the brightest crown, and reduce him that wears it to a level with the beasts of the field; and consequently how much the prosperity of kings and the stability of their thrones depend upon acknowledging that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." But all these awful lessons were lost upon Belshazzar.
The only circumstances of his reign, recorded, are the visions of the Prophet Daniel, in the first and third years, Da 7:1; 8:1; and his sacrilegious feast and violent death, Da 5:1-30. Isaiah, who represents the Babylonian dynasty as "the scourge of Palestine," styles Nebuchadnezzar "a serpent," Evil Merodach "a cockatrice," and Belshazzar "a fiery flying serpent," the worst of all, Isa 14:4-29. And Xenophon confirms this prophetic character by two atrocious instances of cruelty and barbarity, exercised by Belshazzar upon some of his chief and most deserving nobles. He slew the only son of Gobryas, in a transport of rage, because at a hunting match he hit with his spear a bear, and afterward a lion, when the king had missed both; and in a fit of jealousy, he brutally castrated Gadatus, because one of his concubines had commended him as a handsome man. His last and most heinous offence was the profanation of the sacred vessels belonging to the temple of Jerusalem, which his wise grandfather, and even his foolish father Evil Merodach, had respected. Having made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, he ordered those vessels to be brought during the banquet, that he, his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink out of them, which they did; and to aggravate sacrilege by apostasy and rebellion, and ingratitude against the Supreme Author of all their enjoyments, "they praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, and stone, but the God in whose hand was their breath, and whose were all their ways, they praised or glorified not." For these complicated crimes his doom was denounced in the midst of the entertainment; a divine hand appeared, which wrote on the plaister of the wall, opposite to the king, and full in his view, a mysterious inscription. This tremendous apparition struck Belshazzar with the greatest terror and agony: "his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote against each other." This is one of the liveliest and finest amplifications of dismay to be found throughout the sacred classics, and infinitely exceeds, both in accuracy and force, the most admired of the Heathen; such as "et corde et genibus tremit," of Horace, and "tarda trementi genus labant," of Virgil.
Unable himself to decypher the writing, Belshazzar cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, promising that whosoever should read the writing, and explain to him its meaning, should be clothed with scarlet, have a chain of gold about his neck, and be the third ruler in his kingdom. But the writing was too difficult for the Magi; at which the king was still more greatly troubled. In this crisis, and at the instance of the queen mother, the Prophet Daniel was sent for, to whom honours were promised, on condition of his explaining the writing. Daniel refused the honours held out to him; but having with great faithfulness pointedly reproved the monarch for his ingratitude to God who had conferred on him such dignity, and particularly for his profanation of the vessels which were consecrated to his service, he proceeded to the interpretation of the words which had been written, and still stood visible on the wall. They were, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. "This is the interpretation of the thing, Mene, 'God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it;' Tekel, 'thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting:' Peres, 'thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." In that very night, in the midst of their mirth and revelling, the city was taken by surprise, Belshazzar himself put to death, and the kingdom transferred to Darius the Mede. If the character of the hand-writing was known to the Magi of Babylon, the meaning could not be conjectured. Perhaps, however, the character was that of the ancient Hebrew, or what we now call the Samaritan; and in that case it would be familiar to Daniel, though rude and unintelligible to the Chaldeans. But even if Daniel could read the words, the import of this solemn graphic message to the proud and impious monarch could only have been made known to the prophet by God. All the ideas the three words convey, are numbering, weighing, and dividing. It was only for the power which sent the omen to unfold, not in equivocal terms, like the responses of Heathen oracles, but in explicit language, the decision of the righteous Judge, the termination of his long suffering, and the instant visitation of judgment. See BABYLON.