The Bible

Daniel 5 : The Feast of Belshazzar

Study the Inner Meaning

1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.

3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.

4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

6 Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.

7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

8 Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.

9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

10 Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:

11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;

12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.

13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?

14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.

15 And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:

16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.

17 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.

18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:

19 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.

20 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:

21 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.

22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;

23 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:

24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.

25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.

31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.


Study the Inner Meaning

Main explanation(s) from Swedenborg's works:

Inner Meaning of Prophets and Psalms 176

Commentary on this story:

Other references by Swedenborg to this story:

Apocalypse Revealed 313, 316, 364, 459, 717, 913

Arcana Coelestia 1183, 1326, 3079, 3104, 5223, 8932, 9093, ...

Divine Love and Wisdom 383

Doctrine of the Lord 48

Heaven and Hell 365

The Last Judgment 54

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


Commentary

The Feast of Belshazzar

Belshazzar's Feast, by Rembrandt, showing the handwriting on the wall

This chapter begins with Belshazzar's feast for his friends. Belshazzar is presented in this chapter as the son of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. His name tells us something about him, for Belshazzar in the original Chaldean language means 'Bel Protect the King.' 'Bel' was a Babylonian god, so this name is about the relationship of the kingly, or ruling loves in a person, and the love of selfishness and dominion from that described by the god of the Babylonians.

Belshazzar has a similar spiritual relationship to Nebuchadnezzar as the Lord Jesus Christ had to the Father. In the case of the Lord, His human set forth the Divine, making it present for all people to see. In the case of Belshazzar, he set forth the love of selfishness, Nebuchadnezzar, for all the world to see. Belshazzar represents the external manifestation of the deepest feelings of selfishness, translated first into thoughts, then actions.

The story of Daniel is about the power of truth changing us from being self-centered to being regenerated. Each person has a Nebuchadnezzar side, and also a Daniel side. In previous chapters, we see Daniel's impact on Nebuchadnezzar. So truth impacts our lives. When we begin the process of change, we follow the order given in chapters two, three, four, and five. Truth is first an intellectual idea which, in time, affects our will. To change, we must be willing to undergo the temptations described in chapter four, but for this to happen, we need to judge our behavior. This is the feast, where actions are judged and those incompatible with conscience are cast out.

Belshazzar commanded the vessels brought so that the guests could drink from them. To drink wine from them means drawing teachings from the Word that one needs to live properly (Apocalypse Explained 376). Before our minds are clear of selfishness, we may go to the Word for guidance. But we are not looking to be lead to the good of life, but to support the selfishness within. This is not unusual with people first introduced to the truths of the Word: as they learn, they may find that the teachings seem to support some of their attitudes, rather than undermine faults. We can see this in Belshazzar's use of the vessels: he did not treat them with respect, but profaned them. Sharing the vessels with his lords, his wives, and concubines shows the various thoughts and affections still tied to selfishness which guided him.

As the king and his guests drank from the holy vessels, they showed their true allegiance: they worshiped gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone, compounding their profanation. Profanation is when the sacred and profane are brought together. One cannot believe the Word is holy, and mock it at the same time. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

For a complete explanation of the different materials of the profane idols, see the explanation of the statue from Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2. The differences between the two rests in materials of the legs and feet, but in the internal sense, these differences disappear.

Amid this debauchery, a vision took place: the fingers of a man's hand appeared on the wall and wrote words in an unknown language. Belshazzar's fear reflects our own when it suddenly dawns on us that the activities of our life are in conflict with the very things we hold to be true. The conflict between good and evil within us is brought down to the level of our daily lives. The effect can be frightening: it is the realization of our shortcomings. Yet often, before the issues become clear, we feel a sense of unease, a feeling of dissatisfaction at the way our lives are going.

This vague feeling is Belshazzar's inability to read the words written upon the wall. They frightened him, but he did not know what they meant. Like us, he turned to the familiar, comforting voices which usually explained the unknown to him: the astrologers, the soothsayers, and the Chaldeans. These 'wise men' represent the thought patterns we have when our lives are disturbed: we look inwards to our usual justifications. Thus we blame others for our state of mind, or credit it to misfortune, without ever really going to the source of what is bothering us.

Belshazzar promised his soothsayers three distinct things:

"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."

The angels of the celestial heaven wear crimson clothes (Divine Love and Wisdom 380, True Christian Religion 686) as an expression of their love to the Lord. Clothing signifies knowledge (Heaven and Hell 179, Arcana Coelestia 1073, 2576, 5319, 9212, 9216, 9952, 10536) so 'clothing of purple' represents knowledges about love to the Lord. But because Belshazzar is selfishness, the knowledge he offered represents re-establishing selfish love as the ruling principle in our minds. In addition to the purple garments, he offered chains of gold. As we have seen before, gold represents goodness from the Lord. But in this case, the 'goodness' originates in selfishness. The final promise is power. The characteristic of the love of self is the lust for power. Nebuchadnezzar extended his natural kingdom across the earth, as selfishness extends its power throughout our lives.

Unsurprisingly, the 'wise men' could not read the writing on the wall. When we are unhappy because of our selfishness, no thoughts from selfishness will set us straight. If we know that what we are doing is wrong, and yet make excuses for our behavior, we will find little or no comfort in these justifications—they are a part of the problem.

So the queen suggested to Belshazzar that he call Daniel. To convince him of Daniel's worth, she uses terms that describe the quality of a conscience formed from the truths of the Word. 'The Spirit of the Holy God' is the truth from the Lord (Apocalypse Explained 183), where conscience is formed. Divine truth in the mind brings spiritual light (True Christian Religion 40) giving first understanding, and then wisdom. Conscience draws its being from the Divine truths from the Lord. The Babylonian 'wise men' all represent the various thoughts of a selfish mind. As the conscience is formed, it begins to take precedence over these thoughts, until it rules. So a person regenerating intellectually thinks from truth, but may still act from selfishness.

The queen's pleas made an impact on Belshazzar, and Daniel was brought before him. The king offered Daniel the same gifts he offered his wise men and astrologers. Daniel, of course, could not accept these, in much the same way, years before, he had been unable to accept food from Nebuchadnezzar's table. To accept the garments of purple, chains of gold, and a position of power in the kingdom was meaningless to Daniel. He was already, after all, in a position of power. Conscience does not need to be bribed: it stands firm and alone in our minds.

Daniel began his interpretation of the Writing on the Wall with a brief history of Nebuchadnezzar, as a summary of the progression of selfishness. He began with the fact that Nebuchadnezzar received his kingdom of from God. In chapter 1, we are told that 'the Lord gave Jehoiakim into his hand.' This implies that not only was the Lord responsible for the siege of Jerusalem, but for all of Nebuchadnezzar's other victories. This verse reinforces that concept: Nebuchadnezzar's success was because of the Lord.

Daniel voiced the words of judgment eloquently: Belshazzar had not humbled his heart, he had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven. He used the vessels of the Lord's temple to worship gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, yet he does not know that the Lord holds his life in His hand.

These well-spoken words of judgment are as much an indictment on us as they were on Belshazzar. Often we know the truths of the Word, we wrestle with them in our minds, we allow them to direct our feelings, and yet we do nothing about them. Spiritual procrastination is one of life's greatest dangers. As long as we put off spiritual progress, and wallow in the comfort of selfishness, as long as we hang onto old prejudices and attitudes, and habitual thinking, we are using the Lord's Word as a way of worshiping false idols. What needs to change in us are our loves, our attitudes. As these change, our external behavior must be brought into alignment with them.

Having chastised Belshazzar, Daniel began to explain the writing on the wall. He began by stressing that the fingers that wrote 'were sent by Him,' meaning the 'Most High God' who gave Nebuchadnezzar his kingdom, majesty and glory. While Nebuchadnezzar had humbled himself before the Lord, Belshazzar had not. In the historical sense, it was important for Daniel to stress the relationship between what happened to Nebuchadnezzar and what would happen to Belshazzar.

The judgment, from the power of the Lord, lay in the words written on the wall: 'mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.' Four words in an unknown language that could only be interpreted by Daniel. Thus we see how our conscience, drawn as it is from the teachings of the Word, is the root of our resistance to evil.

Daniel begins by explaining 'mene' saying: 'God has numbered your kingdom and found it wanting.' To number means to know the quality of something. This is why Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem 'in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim,' and dreamed of the great statue 'in the second year' of his own reign.

The word 'mene' means the process of self-examination. There is no indication why the word is repeated twice; perhaps it indicates the need for an examination of acts flowing from both our will and our understanding—our actions from an inner love for them, and actions from a sense of duty.

The third word on the wall is 'Tekel,' which Daniel told Belshazzar means: 'You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.' When we examine ourselves, it is from truth: we judge how we compare to the truth. The next step is to assess our feelings. Thus 'one should be found wanting.'

Daniel interprets the final word of the four to mean 'your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.' This literally happened to Belshazzar, but in the internal sense, to divide means to disperse and expel (Apocalypse Explained 373, Arcana Coelestia 9093). This is the third stage of repentance: when a person has examined self, found one's self wanting, and is willing to change, the next step is to separate the evil from ourselves, and to expel it from our lives. It is only in this way that we can be cleansed of evil.

This is an indication of how our lives should progress: no man can serve two masters, the Lord said, we cannot serve God and mammon. We cannot serve self and be ruled by the conscience at the same time. One must increase and the other decrease. By giving Daniel these gifts in the face of the imminent end of his kingdom, Belshazzar shows us how the conscience must increase, while selfishness as the root of our evil must decrease.

Thus it happened that on that very night, Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain, and Darius the Mede received the throne, being about sixty-two years old.

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