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, 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 Pro_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 (Dan_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 Psa_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; Isa_44:27; Jer_50:29-35; Jer_50:38-39; Jer_51:36; Jer_51:57). Belshazzar was slain; compare Isa_14:18-20.
The army under Cyrus the Great was marching on the city of Babylon at this time, and scholars suspect this feast of Belshazzar’s was meant to rally the troops before the inevitable battle.
That the gold and silver vessels from the Jerusalem temple had not been melted down as treasure seems to indicate they were regarded as sacred, and thus it is hard to imagine the Babylonians drinking from them, even drunk. However, it has been suggested that:
1)”drinking” might be code for making wine offerings to the Babylonians gods before battle, or
2)drinking from the temple vessels itself might be an invocation of the formerly victorious Babylonian gods.
“Predecessor” Nebuchadnezzar: the term acutally used is “father”, but there are no records to indicate Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar were at all related. But it was common practice to call famous predecessors “father”, and family terms were commonly used in a broad sense.
The fact that the vessels belonging to the temple of the God of the Jews were brought forward from the treasury of Bel would afford an occasion for praising Bel, the god who had given them the victory. While they praised these god, of the nations, they did not even mention Jehovah—an addition in the text of Theodotion and the LXX; both text and margin, and therefore one that, we think, ought, in some form, to lie in the text. It is singular that in the Cyrus Cylinder, 17, the overthrow of Nabunahid is attributed to Marduk, “whom Nabunahid did not fear.” The reason of Belshazzar thus ostentatiously praising the gods might be to get over the reputation of unfaithfulness to the gods, which was weakening them, father and son, in their struggle with Cyrus. Belshazzar most likely was, at this very time, carrying on war against Cyrus. The object of this festive gathering of his nobles might be to hearten them in their struggle against the King of Persia.
Cambridge Bible Driver
5. In the same hour] in the midst of their godless revelry (Dan_5:4). Cf. for the expression Dan_3:6; Dan_3:15, Dan_4:33.
over against] in front of, or opposite to, the candlestick; and hence a part of the wall where the light was particularly bright.
the plaister] lit. the chalk. The place was consequently white: and any dark object moving upon it would be immediately visible. In the great halls of Babylonian palaces the brick walls were probably, as in the palaces of Assyria, lined to a height of 10–12 ft. above the ground with slabs of a kind of alabaster, ornamented with elaborate bas-reliefs, and often brilliantly coloured (cf. Eze_23:4): in their upper part, also, the walls seem to have been usually painted, but the plaster may sometimes have been left white. Comp. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains5, i. 254–7, 262 f., Nineveh and Babylon, p. 651, Rawl., Anc. Mon.4 ii. 283.
the part] the palm or hollow; the word (in the fem.) is used in the Targums and in Syriac in this sense (e.g. 1Ki_18:44). “We must suppose the hand to have appeared above the place where the king was reclining” (Bevan).
Dan_5:13-17. Then was Daniel brought in before the king — Daniel was now near ninety years of age; so that his years and honours, and former preferments, might have entitled him to a free admission into the king’s presence; yet he was willing to be introduced, as a stranger, by the king’s servants. The king said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel — This question of the king shows, that if he was at all acquainted with Daniel, it was very imperfectly; and that in however high esteem that extraordinary man had been held in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and whatever offices of trust and honour he had then filled, he was now sunk into neglect, Belshazzar being a weak and vicious prince, according to the character historians give of him….
Let thy gifts be to thyself – They could be of little use to any, as the city was in a few hours to be taken and pillaged.
Cambridge Bible Driver
18–24. Before interpreting the writing Daniel reads the king a lesson. Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, combined with his refusal to recognize the sovereignty of the true God, had brought upon him a bitter humiliation: Belshazzar has exhibited the same faults yet more conspicuously: and the present sign has been sent in order to warn him of the impending punishment.
18 the kingdom, and greatness, and glory, and majesty] Cf. Dan_4:22; Dan_4:36.
Cambridge Bible Driver
22–23. But Belshazzar, in spite of the warning afforded by Nebuchadnezzar’s fate, has sinned still more deeply, and by wanton sacrilege has deliberately defied the God of heaven.
Cambridge Bible Driver
25. written] inscribed (R.V.). The word is not the one that ordinarily means to write, but one that means rather to print or stamp.
Mene (pron. měnê, to rhyme with bewray), Mene, Tekel (pron. těkêl, to rhyme with bewail), Upharsin] in the explanation (Dan_5:28), we have, for upharsîn, pĕrês (to rhyme with deface), which is just the singular of parsîn (or, where a vowel, as here u, precedes, pharsîn), u being ‘and.’ Měnê as the pass. part, of Měnâ, to number, might mean ‘numbered’; but if the present vocalization is correct, těḳêl cannot mean ‘weighed,’ nor pĕrês ‘divided.’ These two words, as they stand, must be substantives. The true explanation of the four words is probably that which was first suggested by Clermont-Ganneau, and which has since been adopted by Nöldeke and others. They are really the names of three weights, měnê being the correct Aramaic form of the Hebrew mâneh, the m’na (μνᾶ), těḳêl being the Aramaic form of the Hebrew sheḳel, and pĕrês (or more correctly pěrâs), properly division, being a late Jewish word for a half-m’na. Thus the four words are really a m’na, a m’na, a shekel, and half-m’nas. The puzzle consisted partly in the character or manner in which they were supposed to have been written—an unfamiliar form of the Aramaic character, for instance, or, as the mediaeval Jews suggested, a vertical instead of a horizontal arrangement of the letters; partly in the difficulty of attaching any meaning to them, even when they were read: what could the names of three weights signify? Here Daniel’s skill in the ‘declaring of riddles’ (Dan_5:12) comes in. Měnê itself means ‘numbered,’ as well as ‘a m’na’: it is accordingly interpreted at once as signifying that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom are ‘numbered,’ and approaching their end. Těḳêl, ‘shekel,’ suggests těḳîl, ‘weighed’: ‘Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.’ Parsin, ‘half-m’nas,’ or pěrês (pěrâs), ‘a half-shekel,’ points allusively to a double interpretation: ‘Thy kingdom is divided (pěrîs), and given to the Medes and Persians’ (Aramaic pâras).
 Journal Asiatique, Juillet-Août, 1886, p. 36 ff. Reprinted in Recueil d’ Archéol. Orientate, i. (1888), p. 136 ff.
 For the names of common objects interpreted significantly, see Jer_1:11-12; Jer_19:1; Jer_19:7 (Heb.), Amo_8:1.
 The word occurs in Heb. in this sense, e.g. Lev_11:3-5; and of dividing bread, Isa_57:7 (‘deal’), Jer_16:7 (R.V. ‘break’).
This is the interpretation of the thing – It may seem not to have been difficult to interpret the meaning of the communication, when one was able to read the words, or when the sense of the words was understood. But, if the words are placed together, and considered in their abstract form, the whole communication would be so enigmatical that the interpretation would not be likely to occur to anyone without a Divine guidance. This will appear more clearly by arranging the words together, as has been done by Hales:
Or, as it is explained more accurately by Berholdt and Gesenius:
From this arrangement it will be at once seen that the interpretation proposed by Daniel was not one that would have been likely to have occurred to anyone.
Mene – מנא menê’. This word is a passive participle from מנה menâh – “to number, to review.” – Gesenius, “Lex.” The verb is also written מנא menâ’ – Buxtorf, “Lex.” It would be literally translated “numbered,” and would apply to that of which an estimate was taken by counting. We use now an expression which would convey a similar idea, when we say of one that “his days are numbered;” that is, he has not long to live, or is about to die. The idea seems to be taken from the fact, that the duration of a man’s life cannot usually be known, and in the general uncertainty we can form no correct estimate of it, but when he is old, or when he is dangerously sick, we feel that we can with some degree of probability number his days, since he cannot now live long. Such is the idea here, as explained by Daniel. All uncertainty about the duration of the kingdom was now removed, for, since the evil had come, an exact estimate of its whole duration – of the number of the years of its continuance – could be made. In the Greek of Theodotion there is no attempt to translate this word, and it is retained in Greek letters – Μανὴ Manē. So also in the Codex Chisianus and in the Latin Vulgate.
God hath numbered thy kingdom – The word which is used here, and rendered “numbered” – מנה menâh – is the verb of which the previous word is the participle. Daniel applies it to the “kingdom” or “reign” of the monarch, as being a thing of more importance than the life of the king himself. It is evident, if, according to the common interpretation of Dan_5:30, Belshazzar was slain that very night, it “might” have been applied to the king himself, meaning that his days were numbered, and that he was about to die. But this interpretation (see Notes) is not absolutely certain, and perhaps the fact that Daniel did not so apply the word may be properly regarded as one circumstance showing that such an interpretation is not necessary, though probably it is the correct one.
And finished it – This is not the meaning of the word “Mene,” but is the explanation by Daniel of the thing intended. The word in its interpretation fairly implied that; or that might be understood from it. The fact that the “kingdom” in its duration was “numbered,” properly expressed the idea that it was now to come to an end. It did actually then come to an end by being merged in that of the Medes and Persians.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances. The Egyptians thought that Osiris weighed the actions of the dead in a literal balance. The Babylonians may have had the same notion, which would give a special appropriateness to the image here used.
And art found wanting – too light before God, the weigher of actions (1Sa_2:3; Psa_62:9). Like spurious gold or silver (Jer_6:30).
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
PERES – the explanation of ‘dividers’ (Dan_5:25), the active participle plural, “Upharsin,” there being used for the passive participle singular, ‘dividers’ for “divided.” The word “Peres” alludes to the similar word Persia.
Thy kingdom is divided – namely, among the Medes and Persians (Maurer); or, severed from thee (Grotius).