The Big Party
After Nebuchadnezzar’s death, several of his relatives had their turn on the throne of Babylon, usually cut short by the malicious infighting that sometimes characterizes royal families. Assassination had become the order of the day. Finally, toward the end of the 70 year period that the LORD had ordained for Babylon’s rule over the known world (Jeremiah 25:12) his son Nabonidus got control and things settled down a little. I was an old man by then and had retired from public life, so when I was abruptly called back into service one night it was quite a surprise.
Nabonidus was away fighting the Egyptians and had left his son Belshazzar in command. Perhaps taking advantage of the King’s absence a great army formed out of a coalition of the Medes (you call them Kurds) and Persians (Iran) came and laid siege to the city. We later saw that this coalition had been represented by the silver chest and arms in Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier dream of the big statue.
Well everyone in the city believed it to be impregnable so they just closed the gates and went about their business as if the huge army massing outside didn’t exist. And as if to taunt their attackers, Belshazzar scheduled a lavish party inviting all the important people of Babylon to join him in the Great Banquet Hall for drinks and dinner. There must have been more than 1000 people there and pretty soon everyone was feeling no pain including Belshazzar himself.
I guess taunting the Persian army wasn’t enough for Belshazzar, so he called for servants to bring all the sacred cups and goblets that his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and placed in his private museum. His idea was to use them to toast the pagan gods and idols he relied on to keep them safe from the intruders at the gate. And that’s just what he did.
His arrogance must have upset the LORD because suddenly such a hush fell over the banquet hall that you could have heard a pin drop as the fingers of a human hand appeared out of nowhere and wrote a message on the wall behind Belshazzar’s head. This scared the “you know what” out of him and to say it also put a damper on the festivities would be a huge understatement. With wobbly knees and a shaky voice Belshazzar called for his sorcerers and magicians to interpret the message promising a promotion to 3rd highest in the kingdom to whichever one could do it. Of course nobody could, and that scared Belshazzar even more.
Belshazzar’s grandmother, hearing of the commotion in the banquet hall, came in and reminded him of how her now dead husband King Nebuchadnezzar had made use of the supernatural skill the LORD gave me way back when I was a teenager. She told him I could interpret dreams and solve all kinds of puzzles and problems and suggested he call me in to decipher the handwriting on the wall. And that’s how my retirement came to a sudden end.
When I saw the handwriting on the wall I immediately knew what was going on so I didn’t waste any kindness on Belshazzar. He was really only an arrogant spoiled kid after all. I reminded him that his grandfather had gone through a similar time of pridefulness and even though he was King of all the world the LORD, Who had made him so, saw fit to take him down a notch or two. Belshazzar’s offense against the LORD was all the worse because he knew what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar and still defied Him, praising his worthless idols with sacred objects set apart for the LORD Who had proved Himself to be real. I guess you could say I laid into him pretty good. And then I gave him the meaning of the handwriting on the wall.
“Mene, mene, tekel uparsin.” The words had been written in Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew spoken by the Babylonians. They had both a literal and interpretive meaning. The word mene means “numbered” and used twice explains that the LORD had numbered the days of Babylon’s supremacy in the world and brought it to and end. Or as you would say, “Your days are numbered” and “Your number is up.” Tekel translates “weighed” and means that they had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Uparsin is the plural form of peres which means “divided.” It’s also a form of the word they used for the Persians. The LORD was declaring that Babylon was to be divided between the Medes and Persians whose armies were amassed outside the gates of the city.
Well, Belshazzar didn’t like my interpretation but had to concur with its accuracy and so he reluctantly gave me the reward he had promised. Like it or not I was now the 3rd highest ruler of Babylon, a kingdom about to be conquered on orders from the Creator of the Universe.
Well, here’s where it gets really interesting. Remember I told you how strong the city’s defenses were and how the people all thought it was impregnable. I also explained that the River Euphrates flowed through the city providing an endless supply of water. Nebuchadnezzar had constructed massive gates of criss-crossed bronze bars which could be lowered into the river to prevent any unwanted boat traffic from entering the city while still letting the water flow through. When the city wall’s gates were closed, these river gates were lowered deep into the water so no one could get in. Somehow the Medes and Persians had found a way to temporarily divert much of the river’s flow on that night so that as Belshazzar and his cronies were getting drunk at the banquet a squad of enemy soldiers was able to squirm under the river gates and into the city. Once inside they overpowered the guards on the main gates in the city wall, opening them up to the advancing armies. The Great City of Babylon was taken without a fight, and Belshazzar was slain. That left me the highest ranking Babylonian official in the city.
A few days later, almost before the residents of Babylon knew they’d been conquered, King Cyrus of Persia made his appearance in the city. I went out to greet him, carrying a scroll written 150 years earlier by the Prophet Isaiah. After introducing myself to Cyrus, I showed him the portion of the scroll that you know as Isaiah 44:24-45:13. There the LORD had Isaiah describe in detail the manner in which Cyrus would conquer Babylon, even mentioning him by name 150 years before the fact. The passage also commanded Cyrus to free the Jews held captive there for 70 years and help them rebuild Jerusalem. Cyrus was astonished! He obviously hadn’t read our Scriptures before and seeing his battle plan and even his name written down before he was ever born convinced him to free our people and help us get our homeland back. Within a year the 70 year captivity of Israel would end: our punishment for ignoring the Sabbath for the Land and for worshiping false gods complete.
As for me, it seems my public life wasn’t over yet. As the highest ranking official of the conquered Babylon, I should have been scheduled for immediate execution, but Cyrus was so impressed with my prophetic abilities that he named me to the group of royal administrators formed to assist his father in law Darius, King of the Medes, in governing Babylon. Once again the LORD had fashioned victory from the ashes of defeat, and I was saved from certain death. Sad to say it wouldn’t be the last time.