A Biographical Summary of King Belshazzar

Introduction

The book of Daniel presents a fascinating insider’s look into the life of a believer in the midst of a pagan culture. The autobiographer, Daniel, is faced with multiple challenges in his life as a captive in Babylon, and is frequently placed in difficult situations pertaining to his relationship with particular kings. In chapter five, the longest sketch of King Belshazzar of Babylon is recorded, who is only mentioned in two other places: Daniel 7:1 and Daniel 8:1.[1] A sufficient amount of information is detailed in order to get an insightful characterization of King Nebuchadnezzar’s religious beliefs and moral actions. Aside from his personal temperament, this research will also attempt to clarify some historical questions that have been posed in relation to Belshazzar. Overall, Daniel chapter five shall forever remain a passage of great importance and is a great reminder of God’s sovereignty over kings of great power and pride.

Historical Analysis of Belshazzar

            Not a tremendous amount of detail is known about Belshazzar’s lifetime, though what is revealed is indeed beneficial. One of Belshazzar’s ancestors was the famous king earlier on in the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar.[2] After Nebuchadnezzar, his son, Evil-Merodach, came to the throne for two years until being murdered by Evil-Merodach’s own brother-in-law, Neriglissar, who was also Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law.[3] After Neriglissar reigned four years, his son, Labashi-Marduk, ascended to the throne, but to only keep it for two months before being assassinated by Nabonidus.[4] This Nabonidus bore a son, the eldest of his children, named Belshazzar.[5] A historical “problem” comes to light when comparing the Bible’s reference to Belshazzar being the last king of Babylon, when considering that archaeologists discovered the “Nabonidus Chronicle” in the nineteenth century, a clay tablet with the inscription stating Nabonidus as being the last king of Babylon.[6] However, as Leon Wood explains and quotes from A Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus, this is an easily reconcilable instance: “He freed his hand; he entrusted the kingship to him. Then he himself undertook a distant campaign.”[7] What this account is saying is that Nabonidus was indeed the last king of Babylon before the fall to Persia, but so was Belshazzar; the latter was a coregent king alongside his father while he, Nabonidus, was traveling away from the empire. It is quite understandable, then, why Belshazzar’s reward for interpreting the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5:29 is the award of being the “third ruler,” or Triumvir. Such a position promoted Daniel to coregency ruling with Belshazzar and under Nabonidus. Indeed, the historical significance of Belshazzar is a necessary aspect of understanding his personal character and religious values.

Religious and Moral Analysis of Belshazzar

            Daniel 5 provides insight into what exactly summoned God’s judgment against the pagan nation of Babylon, and it significantly involves Belshazzar’s religious and moral actions. John McLean captured the scene in the following way:

Belshazzar had a false sense of security: Babylon had massively fortified walls and food provisions that could last many years. He thus displayed a festive mood before his nobles to demonstrate confidence in the security of his kingdom (Dan 5:1–4). He wanted to impress the guests by reminding the nobles of past victories over other kingdoms and gods. Some of the vessels were dedicated to the Jerusalem temple and consecrated to the Most High God. This action by Belshazzar was a defilement of their purpose and an affront to God.[8]

The king was most likely not in his most sober of states, and based on the descriptions of Daniel five, he was quite an arrogant man. Daniel 5:22-23 states:

And you his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.

Such an important lesson can be learned here: the sins of pride and idolatry, which are clearly abominable actions against a holy God, will by no means go unnoticed nor unpunished. And as verse thirty explains, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.” If only Belshazzar had learned the lesson from his father that “none can stay his [God’s] hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”[9]

Conclusion

            It took a man of integrity and faithfulness to God to uncover the meaning of the mysterious handwriting on the wall in Daniel five. Whereas Daniel was rewarded for utilizing his God-given ability to interpret the meaning of the inscription, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin,” Belshazzar reaped what he sowed in his rebellious and dishonorable attitude toward the God of Israel. Despite Nebuchadnezzar’s apparent change of heart towards God earlier in the book of Daniel, Belshazzar did not follow in his ancestor’s footsteps and failed to demonstrate any resemblance of repentance, whatsoever. Meanwhile, in God’s sovereignty, the surrounding nations were rising and falling according to predicted prophecies, thus preparing the way for Israel’s future liberty and God’s greatest glory.


[1] Robert L. Thomas and The Lockman Foundation. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated Edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998. It is also helpful to note at the beginning that chapters seven and eight do not chronologically proceed chapter five, but instead are topical insertions of prophecies for the nation of Israel and the surrounding nations.

[2] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bob Boyd, “Belshazaar, Babylon’s Last Ruling Monarch: Daniel 5,” Bible and Spade, 2:4 (Autumn 1989), 125.

[7] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 130.

[8] McLean, John A. “Belshazzar” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012.

[9] Daniel 4:35

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