Daniel 5 – The Feast of Belshazzar

This is a story from the final evening of the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar died about 562 B.C. In 556 the last of Nebuchadnezzar’s line, Labashi-Marduk, was murdered nine months into his reign by Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar. Nabonidus favored the moon god Sin rather than the Babylonian chief god, Marduk. He left his son Belshazzar in charge of Babylon for ten years of the Babylonian Empire, returning in 543 B.C.

Daniel 5 takes place in 539 B.C. when Persia had defeated Nabonidus and were threatening the city of Babylon. Rather than prepare for war, Belshazzer holds an opulent banquet for his court officials.

Even though Belshazzar is not the direct son of Nebuchadnezzar, he is as arrogant and pompous as Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar orders the gold items from the Temple to be brought to the party so that the officials could drink from them. The scale of the banquet is enormous, thousands of people are gathered for a feast even though the Persians are outside the walls of Babylon ready to capture the city.

Feast of Belshazzar by John Martin (1789–1854)

John Martin (1789–1854)

Why would Belshazzar choose this night for a massive banquet? Babylon was thought to be impenetrable. The walls were enormous and the city was stocked with several years of food. Since the river Euphrates flowed through the city they had a plentiful water supply. They thought could hold out against a siege for so long that no army could outlast them. Herodotus (Histories, 1.190) and Xenophon (Cyropedia 7.5.13) report Babylon had provisions for up to twenty years! A celebration this grand was intended to taunt the Persians.

William Shea suggests Belshazzar had already heard the Persians defeated Nabonidus at Sippar (fifty miles from Babylon). Belshazzar used the banquet to crown himself king and was holding a banquet to celebrate his ascension to the throne in grand style (“Nabonidus, Belshazzar, and Daniel: An Update,” 140-43).

Belshazzar was not drunk when he orders the Jewish vessels be brought to the banquet. He made a conscious decision to use items from the Temple to worship of Babylonian gods. Drinking from the Temple items is done before an audience. This is a public mocking of the God of the Judean exiles. Even Nebuchadnezzar treated the Temple items with some respect when he placed them in the house of his gods (Dan 1:1-2). Even for a Babylonian, Belshazzar has lost all sense of decency!

Why mock the God of the Jewish exiles? It has been nearly forty-seven years since the Temple was destroyed. The items from the Temple were a symbol of the victory of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods over the God of Israel. They remained in the temples of the Babylonians gods as a sign of the Judean’s continued exile in Babylon.

In the context of the canonical book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by the God of the Judean exiles and confessed that their God was the Most High God and sovereign over all the kingdoms on earth, giving them to anyone he wished (4:17). What Belshazzar is doing is an act of propaganda, he is saying to the God of Israel, “you may have humbled Nebuchadnezzar, but you will not humble me!”

Whatever the details, the whole point of the banquet was to make a statement that Belshazzar is the supreme king of the city of Babylon which cannot fall to the Persians, despite any defeat suffered by Nabonidus. Belshazzar is certain the gods of Babylon will protect the city against the Persians.

What are some other ways the book of Daniel contrasts Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar?

10 thoughts on “Daniel 5 – The Feast of Belshazzar

  1. While it may seem quite conspicuous in the text that Belshazzar defames and defiles Judaism, I do not think that this was actually a direct affront. In fact, he may have been implying a kind of respect and admiration for the religion of the Jews. As Nebuchadnezzar was very aware of, the God of the Jews was indomitable–for through the testimony of Daniel and his friends, this was consistently demonstrated (Daniel 4:1-3). Did the gods of the Babylonian empire actually pull off any miraculous manifestations? Absolutely not. So, when one logically compares the activity of the God of Israel to the pagan gods, there is really no competition. Nebuchadnezzar knew this; Belshazzar should have known this too (Daniel 5:18-19). But as Nebuchadnezzar submitted to this truth rather humbly in some instances, Belshazzar refused. However, I believe he still acknowledged that the God of Israel was great–precisely by trying to exalt himself to the same level.
    On the night of the opulent feast, the Persians were outside ready to conquer the city. So, in order to show how powerful and strong of a leader he is, Belshazzar orders the fragments of the Jewish temple to be brought into the party. How does Belshazzar show that he is in charge of the strongest and greatest empire in all the land? He attempts to show that even the God of Israel, the strongest and most powerful God, is under His command. He does this paradoxically, however, by defiling the sacred fragments of His dwelling place. Nevertheless, even though Belshazzar was obviously more stubborn and hard-hearted than Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:22-23), I believe he still understood–in an intuitive way–that the God of Israel is truly the greatest God. His whole scene with the fragments of the temple was just a scare tactic.

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  2. After reading this passage and the chapters of the Daniel thoroughly, I can say that at the beginning of his years, Nebuchadnezzar was a very arrogant and selfish man. Belshazzar reminds me of Nebuchadnezzar because they both were very arrogant and both wanted things to be done the way they wanted it to be done, and in that aspect, they were similar. I agree that the feast took place in order to show off how powerful Belshazzar was. Also, When he order the vessels, he was not drunk, therefore, this indicates to me that he was very arrogant and ordered the vessels from the Temple so that his people would drink from it and worship the Babylonia gods. Daniel 5:4 states, “They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone”. Also, I also strongly believe that he believed that he was the most powerful king therefore, he thought that he could do anything, and his arrogance and selfishness brought him very bad consequences. Ultimately, he was killed by a stronger kingdom on that very same night. With this passage in mind, it is important to understand that God is very powerful and no matter how important and powerful a king is, God will bring down anyone.

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  3. There are several ways that both Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar can be contrasted against each other in the book of Daniel. Firstly, both kings experienced dreams, and instead of looking to either God or Daniel for the correct answer, they instead consulted demonic forces in the forms of magicians and fortune tellers. Each only sought to consult Daniel after all of their previous attempts had failed, which they obviously would since they were not of God. What is interesting to note however, is that despite the fact that God performed an amazing miracle by interpreting their visions through His servant Daniel, neither Belshazzar or Nebuchadnezzar made a public conversion or profession of faith in Yahweh. For Nebuchadnezzar, he still did not acknowledge God, but simply stated to Daniel that “Truly, your God is God of gods” (Daniel 2:47). Belshazzar did even less, not even acknowledging the existence of God and His power over his tricksters and magicians, instead simply giving Daniel several gifts before being killed by Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:29-30). King Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were both prideful kings. Belshazzar displayed this by having a false sense of power and security in himself on the eve of his kingdom’s capture. Instead of making preparations and fortifying the city, he boastfully held an opulent feast, eating and drinking wine (Daniel 5:1) Nebuchadnezzar went as far as to construct and erect an arrogant and haughty 90 foot golden stature, essentially worshiping himself as a god. Although Nebuchadnezzar may have come to know god, the fact that he still referred to Yahweh as “Daniel’s God” after the interpretation of his dream would suggest he didn’t. Belshazzar could have come to know God before his demise shortly after his own vision, but instead didn’t. What we as believers can learn from the similarities between these two kings is this: “turn to the Lord before it’s too late. Call out to him while he’s till ready to help you” (Isaiah 55:6-13).

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  4. The pride and arrogance of Belshazzar are rather shocking. To think that because they were known as the greatest empire of that time, that he just ignored the fact that there was an army outside ready to destroy the city. He showed that he only thought about himself and how great and powerful he was, rather than other armies or even God. While Nebuchadnezzar had a heart of pride as Belshazzar did, God humbled him and let him know who was truly the greater one as the article states. The difference between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar is the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had been the example for Belshazzar of what could happen if he did not recognize God for who he is. Daniel 5:22-23 says, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this [Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation], but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.” Belshazzar knew of all that had happened to Nebuchadnezzar and had no excuse to say that he was unaware of the power that God possesses. He blatantly chooses to ignore what he knows about the God of Israel and goes a step further to show that he doesn’t care.
    Another little difference between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar is their responses after they encounter an act of God. Every time that Nebuchadnezzar heard an interpretation of a dream or saw a miraculous act, he praised God, even if he did not fully understand who he truly was. (Daniel 2:47, Daniel 3:28, Daniel 4:1-3; 34-35). Belshazzar, on the other hand, did not show any such praise to God when Daniel revealed the meaning of the words in 6:26-28. He didn’t show any sign of turning his heart towards God in repentance or a prayer of deliverance. It almost appears that he waved the translation of the words away, refusing to believe that Babylon could indeed fall.

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  5. Some of contrast ways I see between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, is with Nebuchadnezzar, he was given powers to kill or keep alive, to rise or to humble, God was able to humble when he would get prideful at heart resulting on confessing the God of the Israelites was above all other gods. With Belshazzar, I don’t think he fully recognized the great and powerful God whom Daniel served, in his conformity kinglike position, his actions had consequences. Such as lifting himself up against the Lord of heaven by using items of the temple of God in his defilement idolatrous grand feast. I say, he was a horrible representative of Babylonian empire, forgetting what it stood in the first place.

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  6. Nebuchadnezzar seemed to have taken Belshazzar under his win like a son and Belshazzar seems to be similar like Nebuchadnezzar in the way he rules the kingdom of Babylon. Bleshazzar was definitely an arrogant character and seemed to think think good for the kingdom because instead of preparing for a war, he has a banquet for the people which is not a very good idea when there is a war coming because they are not going to feel as good in the morning. There are some differences though in how Nebuchadnezzar ruled and how Belshazzar ruled. Nebuchadnezzar knew how powerful and great God was and he feared him at the same time and knew that he needed to respect him, but Belshazzar did not care much for God, mostly because he never experienced the things Nebuchandezzar experienced. Belshazzar mocked the God of the Jews with no respect and this made God furious. He wanted to be a god and be better than the God of the Jews and so he talks bad to God. “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven” (Daniel 5:22-23). The two kings seem similar in ways,m but in the end Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar have differences in respecting those around them.

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  7. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar are very similar in many ways. One way is that they are both very arrogant, prideful and full of themselves. They think that they are the most powerful and mighty kings there ever were and no one can defeat them, just like we see with Belshazzar in Daniel 5. He thought so highly of himself and his kingdoms power that they didn’t need to prepare for battle, but in the end he and his people suffered because of his ignorance. Another way they are similar is by their unwillingness to comply and surrender to the true God of the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar had firsthand experiences with the Jews, their items from the temple, etc., and yet he still didn’t convert fully. He understood how powerful the true God is, however, he did not truly confess and believe. This is where Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar differ a bit because Belshazzar showed no respect towards God and did not admit to Gods mighty power. Instead he disrespected him even more by mocking him and using the items from the temple for drunkenness and sin (although it does say Belshazzar wasn’t drunk, other probably were).

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