Belshazzar was the first-born son of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian name Bêl–shar–uṣur means “Bel, protect the king!” Daniel the prophet served during his reign (Daniel 5). Daniel was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered Judah and carried away its sacred temple vessels and most of its inhabitants as captives (Daniel 1). Although Belshazzar called Nebuchadnezzar his “father” he was actually his grandfather (Daniel 5:13).
Nebuchadnezzar was a proud king but the Lord humbled him and he acknowledged that the Lord is the true God (Daniel 4:34-37). Unfortunately, Belshazzar didn’t follow in Nebuchadnezzar’s path and did not humble himself before the Lord. Two decades after the death of his grandfather, Belshazzar “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” during a feast held for his noblemen. There he boldly used the gold and silver vessels that were taken from the Jewish temple to drink wine while praising his false gods (Daniel 5:1–4).
Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin
This was a blatant desecration for the sacred vessels of God’s temple. This act represented the height of his rebellion against the Creator. The Lord therefore sent him a divine message with the fingers of a hand writing on the wall during the feast: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (Daniel 5:5, 25).
The king was extremely afraid and called all his wise men and astrologers to interpret this writing while promising that “whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (verse 7). But no one was able to interpret the writing. At this time, the queen remembered Daniel and his ability to interpret the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar then asked to bring him in (Daniel 5:10–12).
Daniel was brought but refused the gifts offered for his help. Daniel explained that the message was from God against the king’s pride who defiled the sacred vessels of the temple by using them. Daniel proceeded to interpret the words on the wall: Mene means “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.” Tekel means “you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Upharsin means “your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:17–28).
As God had previously said in prophecy, Cyrus the Great, king of Medo-Persia that same night overcome Babylon by diverting the river flowing into the city and entering through the brass gates (Isaiah 45:1). His army entered through the river duct and overtook the Babylonian army. “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom” (Daniel 5:29–30). This is the story and end of Belshazzar as recorded in the Bible.
In His service,