Verses 1–4: Belshazzar, the Last Babylonian King
In 562 BC, Nebuchadnezzar died after having reigned for forty years. What followed were very short reigns. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son, Evil-Merodach. Only two years later, Evil-Merodach was succeeded by Neriglissur. Neriglissur was soon followed by his son Labashi-Marduk. When Labashi-Marduk was murdered after only reigning for two months, Nabonidus was placed upon the Babylonian throne. Nabonidus was one of Nebuchadnezzar’s sons-in-law.
Nabonidus made the decision to entrust his eldest son, Belshazzar, as co-regent of the empire. While Nabonidus was away the vast majority of the time, Belshazzar ruled the affairs of Babylon. This fulfilled the prophecy that only three generations would rule in Babylon according to the prophet Jeremiah. See Jeremiah 27:7. In the third generation, the Babylonian empire would collapse. See Isaiah 45:1; 47:1-9; Jeremiah 50:2, 3; 51:11.
Chapter five describes the final moments of the Babylonian empire. Belshazzar found himself inside those double walls of Babylon. Even though Cyrus, a general of the Medes and Persians encamped outside the city, Belshazzar felt pretty secure. After all, they had a two-year supply of food in the city, and an ample water supply with the Euphrates River running through the city.
But reports came back that the Medes and Persians were engaged in some major excavating project west of the city. Belshazzar had been forewarned of the Hebrew prophecies concerning the drying up of the Euphrates River. See Jeremiah 50:38. He also was forewarned of a general who would defeat the Babylonians by the name of Cyrus. See Isaiah 45:1. However, Belshazzar mocked the prophecies. To show his disdain of God, he called for a banquet and even used the holy vessels stolen from God’s Temple to intoxicate his guests with the wine of Babylon.
Verse 5–12: The Bloodless Hand
The riotous banquet was silenced when the bloodless hand appeared and wrote letters of fire on the plastered wall. The king and his guests were terrified! Fear and guilt replaced lewdness and crude jesting. He called for the wise men, but they were unable to interpret those letters of fire. The queen encouraged him to send for Daniel.
Verses 13–31: Probation Over
Daniel refused the gifts offered to him by the king. Instead, he firmly reminded the king of all those neglected opportunities he had to know God and to bless others. But now it was too late!
The interpretation declared that Babylon is finished, Mene; it is weighed and found wanting, Tekel; and their empire will be taken over by the Medes and Persians, Peres. As prophesied, the Medes and Persians diverted the Euphrates River and defeated the Babylonians that very night. Belshazzar never saw another sunset.
Ancient Babylon and Spiritual Babylon
Notice how the fall of ancient Babylon in the book of Daniel is described in the same language as the fall of spiritual Babylon found in the book of Revelation.
1. Ancient Babylon: The double walls surrounding the ancient city of Babylon made it seem impregnable. Imagine two walls wide enough for chariot races at the top!
Spiritual Babylon: Spiritual Babylon is known as that strong city. “Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city.” Revelation 18:10 NAS.
2. Ancient Babylon: The Euphrates River served as her life blood by flowing through the city, providing water for drinking and irrigation during times of peace and war.
Spiritual Babylon: Spiritual Babylon sits upon the symbolic Euphrates River, which also serves as her life source. This happens when the world’s billions wonder after the beast (Revelation 13:8), or when the harlot sits upon many waters—representing the support of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. See Revelation 17:1, 5, 15. The first beast of Revelation chapter thirteen and the harlot of Revelation chapter seventeen represent the same power.
3. Ancient Babylon: The Medo-Persian kings (plural) from the east invaded the night of Belshazzar’s feast. They diverted and dried up the river, and then marched their armies into the city and defeated the Babylonians in one night.
Spiritual Babylon: The sixth plague that falls upon the earth describes the drying up of the symbolic Euphrates River where spiritual Babylon sits. See Revelation 16:12; 17:1, 5. As we have seen, waters in Bible prophecy represents nations, multitudes, peoples, and tongues. See Revelation 17:15.
Just prior to the falling of the seven last plagues, the world will wonder after the beast and the harlot will be supported by the multitudes of the earth. However, at the time of the sixth plague, the symbolic Euphrates will dry up when the beast/harlot loses her support of the nations. In fact, the Bible predicts that “the ten horns [or ten kings] . . . shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” Revelation 17:16.
When the world realizes that it has been deceived by the beast/harlot power, it will turn on her. But the final destruction of spiritual Babylon will come from Him who is King of kings, and Lord of lords. With the armies of heaven, Jesus returns and destroys the rest of the wicked who have arrayed themselves against God in the persecution of His faithful people who “keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” Revelation 14:12. See Revelation 19.
As the Medes and Persians came from the east, it will appear that Jesus will be coming from the east at His Second Advent. See Matthew 24:27. Hence, the destruction of ancient and spiritual Babylon is described as kings from the east.
4. Ancient Babylon: Cyrus was the general of the Medes and Persians who led the successful campaign to defeat ancient Babylon. Cyrus was called the “anointed one” (Isaiah 45:1) which is translated as “Messiah.” Obviously, Cyrus was not the Messiah, but he prefigured Christ as the general who would come and destroy spiritual Babylon.
Spiritual Babylon: The drying up of the symbolic Euphrates River prepares the way for the King of kings to destroy spiritual Babylon. In the same way, the literal drying up of the literal Euphrates River prepared the way for Cyrus to defeat ancient Babylon. See Revelation 16:12; 7:2; 19:14, 19.
5. Ancient Babylon: The name Cyrus means sun.
Spiritual Babylon: Jesus is known as the Sunrise, and the Sun of righteousness. Luke 1:78; Malachi 4:2. Again, Cyrus is simply prefiguring the time when Jesus as General of the armies of heaven will come and destroy spiritual Babylon. See Revelation 19:11-21
6. Ancient Babylon: Belshazzar was confident that Babylon would not fall; he did not anticipate the drying up of the Euphrates. Instead, he threw a debauchery of a feast.
Spiritual Babylon: Spiritual Babylon does not anticipate her sudden destruction. She says in her heart, “I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” Revelation 18:7.
7. Ancient Babylon: The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah predicted the fall of Babylon. Belshazzar himself received a message of warning that his kingdom would come to an end.
Spiritual Babylon: There is a warning to those in spiritual Babylon to come out. Why? Spiritual Babylon is going to be destroyed. Revelation 14:6-12; 18:4.
It is obvious that God has employed the principle that literal names and places found in the Old Testament are used symbolically in the Book of Revelation. We will see more on this later.
Both Belshazzar and Daniel were at the tender age of fifteen when they came upon the scene of recorded history. Both had access to truth. Belshazzar had before him the case history of his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. The divine appointments in the life of Nebuchadnezzar were not easily forgotten: the nightmare of the metallic image; the fiery furnace and the Hebrew youth; seven years on all fours as a beast in the field; and more. But it is possible to ignore light from above. It is possible to be so caught up in the world that one ceases to be attracted to spiritual things. Such was the life of Belshazzar. We may rightly suppose that Daniel tried to have a positive influence on the life of this young monarch. I think it fair to suppose the following about Belshazzar:
• He did not seek to learn the deeper things of God through the experiences of those before him, like Nebuchadnezzar.
• He did not take advantage of conversing with those whom it was apparent that God was directing and blessing, such as Daniel.
• His position as monarch catered to the baser attributes of the carnal heart, such as, pride, self-importance, worldly prestige, worldly wealth, and worldly power.
What can we do to benefit from the lessons of those who have gone before us? What can we do to benefit from those who are currently walking with Christ? How may we keep in check the baser attributes of the carnal heart?
The bloodless hand and the inscription upon the wall indicated that probation had ended for Belshazzar and the Babylonian Empire. They had crossed the line of no return. Lucifer himself had crossed such a line. Every day there are people who are crossing that line. By their decisions, they are hardening their hearts against accepting any further truth. It is not that they cannot be saved—it is not that they cannot be forgiven—but they have so molded their lives that they will never truly repent and be saved. Of course, only God could read such a heart and know when a person crosses that line.
It is a fearful thing to spurn the leading of God in our lives. Sin does terrible things to us. We reap the results physically, mentally, and spiritually. But never are we to feel that we have crossed that line. Never are we to say that we have sinned too many times to be forgiven. Never are we to say that a certain sin is unforgivable. But we must not trifle with sin, because each sin may place us in a position whereby we may never choose to be saved.
Our only safety is to be hidden in Christ. Our faith is to be a growing faith. Our experiential knowledge of Christ is to deepen. We need to grow daily in the virtues of Christ. Write down a check list of Christian faith-building activities that may keep us from making the same mistake as Belshazzar.