SATISFIED THAT Nebuchadnezzar was in good health for the most part, though insane and living like an animal, Daniel returned to his home to await the time when the former king of Babylon would regain a normal mind. For a long time the insane Nebuchadnezzar's closest company was that of wild donkeys.
When Nebuchadnezzar had spent seven years in his miserable state of mental derangement, the former king's sanity suddenly returned to him. (Daniel 4:33-34.) It was as though he abruptly became self-conscious after seven years of being only conscious like an animal. He stared down at himself wearing rags, a long unkempt beard, and claw-like nails. "What am I doing like this in these rocks and bushes?" he asked himself. Having noted a distant farm hut, he went there, only to be met by the screams of terrified small children, who fled to the hut to hide, and by a protective father who appeared at the door brandishing a sickle. "I want to know the way to the city," Nebuchadnezzar said. "It's that way," the man pointed. "Be on your way, and don't show up here again!" Not everybody Nebuchadnezzar met that day was so unfriendly. A few felt sorry for this strange outcast. Through their help, he was able to get cleaned up, be trimmed of his long hair, beard and nails, and be respectably clothed. After that it was no problem to obtain transportation into Babylon, which he did possibly in the cart of a friendly wood-cutter. During the long ride Nebuchadnezzar was lost in thought and troubled by what had happened to him since those minutes when he had been showing guests around his palace. What was immediately plain to him was that a long time had elapsed since then. There was much confusion at the gates of the palace in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar showed up there to announce his identity. "In case you haven't heard, Nebuchadnezzar no longer exists!" a young guard sneered. "Don't talk to him like that!" an older guard snapped. "That is King Nebuchadnezzar!" From that moment on the palace was in an uproar. Those who hoped never to hear of Nebuchadnezzar again were understandably shocked when they recognized the former ruler. Those who were loyal to the former king greeted him joyously. Now that the events of the past seven years were made clear to him, Nebuchadnezzar could view himself well. He had tried to exalt himself to God's level. And God made him drop to the level of animals, wild donkeys and such having been his only company in the hills and plains for a long time. Nebuchadnezzar now had a clearer picture of God, too. Realizing that God had mercifully corrected him brought the meaning of something new to him — humility. He was for the first time more ashamed of his actions as king than he was of those during his insanity, When that happened, God saw to it that Nebuchadnezzar was firmly re-established on the throne of Babylonia. He was a much wiser ruler the rest of his days, during which he was honored more than ever by many peoples of all nations. (Daniel 4: 34-37.) Nebuchadnezzar wrote the decree found in the fourth chapter of Daniel's book to teach others the lessons he had learned.
Nebuchadnezzar died after forty-three years of ruling Babylonia. He was succeeded by his son Evil-merodach, under whom conditions in the kingdom began to worsen. However, one of the new king's acts was laudable. He freed Jehoiachin, the king of Judah who had been brought by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon and imprisoned nearly thirty-seven years previously. To show honor to the vassal king, Evil-merodach therefore allowed Jehoiachin the privileges of sharing the royal food in the palace. (2 Kings 25:27-30.) This probably didn't last very long because after only a very short reign Evil-merodach was assassinated and another took his place. During similar sudden changes for the next few years, the kingdom's power steadily waned. By the time an idolatrous man named Belshazzar had become co-ruler with his father, Nabonidus (apparently a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar), the empire was in serious trouble. Media and Persia, two nations to the north and east, had sent their armies heading toward high-walled Babylon, whose fall could mean the fall of all Babylonia. Even under such ominous circumstances, Babylon seemed impregnable. Belshazzar disdainfully held a riotous feast for a thousand of his officials. As the evening progressed and wine flowed more freely, Belshazzar staggered to his feet and motioned for the music and chattering to cease. "Why are we drinking to our gods from such ordinary cups?" he asked loudly. "Why not use the gold and silver vessels brought long ago from the so-called holy temple in Jerusalem? I say that it's time for those vessels to be put to a better use than in serving the God of Judah!" There were raucous cheers. Servants hurried to bring out the costly containers, distribute them in the crowd and pour wine into them. "Here's to our soldiers out on the walls!" Belshazzar bellowed, shakily holding aloft a gleaming golden goblet brimming with wine. "May they never run out of boiling water to pour down on the steaming heads of our bothersome besiegers!" There were ripples of laughter, especially from the king's wives and concubines, who were present. Everyone stood up, extended various containers of wine, roared approval arid quaffed the beverages. Then the music continued and the people settled back to loud drinking of toast after toast to their many and varied gods. (Daniel 5:1-4.)
The Handwriting on the Wall
Just as waiters were struggling into the big room with huge trays of food, a woman screamed, bringing a moment of silence to the crowd. People pointed to the wall above the stage where the king and his favorites were sitting. Still laughing at something that had been said at his table, Belshazzar glanced up. His expression abruptly changed. The color drained from his fear-stricken face. Within only a few feet of his head was what appeared to be a huge human hand, the forefinger writing deep letters in the plaster with such pressure that it made deep, plain writing! People were so paralyzed with fright at this awesome sight that they were hardly able to move. They watched with horrifying fascination as the hand wrote several groups of strange letters on the wall. Then the hand faded away. A few women fainted. Everyone stared shakingly at the wall. Belshazzar was suddenly aware that his knees were knocking against each other, and that his vertebrae felt as though they had dissolved. He tried to call out, but it took several efforts to gain his voice. "Call the astrologers, the Chaldean scholars and the magicians!" he finally was able to mutter. The men Belshazzar had summoned dutifully filed in. The king pointed to the wall.
King Belshazzar stared fearfully up at the huge hand moving across the wall just above his head.
"Tell me what that writing means!" he demanded excitedly. "To any one of you who can do this, I promise magnificent clothing, a golden chain necklace and that he shall become the third one in power in the Babylonian empire!" These "wise" men, as they were called, swarmed around the wall to study the writing, but not a one of the astrologers, scholars or magicians could make anything of it. They had to admit that the writing was utterly meaningless to them. Disappointed and still apprehensive, Belshazzar unwillingly dismissed them, convinced that there was some ominous message on the wall he should know about. (Daniel 5:5-9.) In contrast to the former festive atmosphere that had prevailed in the banquet room, there was now a restless sobriety. Food and drink no longer had much appeal. People were more interested in leaving than in feasting. At this point a matronly woman followed by attendants entered the room and walked toward Belshazzar. "O king, live forever!" she respectfully said, bowing. "What brings you here, queen-mother ?" Belshazzar asked testily. I heard you didn't approve of this gathering." "I've just learned what happened," the queenmother answered, glancing uneasily at the wall. "Don't give up hope of learning the meaning of that writing up there. Right here in the city is a man who used to be chief of the wise men. Nebuchadnezzar gave him that rank when this man showed unusual knowledge and understanding. As one who had the wisdom of the gods, he had the ability to interpret dreams and reveal hidden meanings. If you call on him, he should be able to help you." "Who is this man?" Belshazzar asked, leaning forward expectantly. "His Jewish name was Daniel, but King Nebuchadnezzar renamed him Belteshazzar, almost like your name," was the reply. After a while a soldier brought in Daniel, now an aging man who had lost his high rank in the kingdom soon after King Nebuchadnezzar's death.
Belshazzar Learns His Fate
"I have heard of you and your unique abilities," Belshazzar said. "I have already asked many men to tell me the meaning of these letters on the wall, but they have failed. If you succeed, you shall receive the reward of being third man in power in this kingdom. Besides, you will be given fine clothing and a splendid necklaceof gold!" (Daniel 5: 10-16.) "I don't have any desire for your rewards," Daniel told the king. "I prefer that you keep them or turn them over to someone else after I've given you the meaning of what is written on the wall. First, though, there are some other things you should know. Years ago your grandfather King Nebuchadnezzar gained great possessions, majesty, glory and honor. All that made him a proud, vain man who took or spared lives according to his whims. He wouldn't admit that it was the God of Israel who had allowed him to have his wealth and power. Therefore, God took his kingdom away from him and cast him out to live with animals until he could learn that it is God's will that prevails above that of any man. Even though you knew all this, you, too, Belshazzar, have tried to elevate yourself. Even this evening you ventured to show others your disdain for your Creator by using the vessels from God's Holy Temple for the profane purpose of drinking to the lifeless gods you foolishly worship. Because you have refused to humble yourself and praise the God who has given you the breath of life, God sent a hand to write you a warning! "The words you see on the wall mean that your kingdom is at an end, that you have proved yourself to be an unwise ruler, and that the enemies at your gates have already begun to take your empire!" (Daniel 5:17-28.) There was silence in the room as Belshazzar stared at Daniel. A deep fear showed in the king's face, but there was also resentment because Belshazzar was being told that he was an unwise ruler. "You can't say that I don't at least keep my promises to you!" the king exclaimed. In spite of his alarm at what he had just heard, Belshazzar managed to order his servants to bring a fine coat and a gold chain to be put on Daniel at once, and directed one of his officers to proclaim that Daniel would be elevated to the third-ranking man in power in Babylonia. When Daniel left the palace, he was attired the way the king said he would be and was shown the courtesies extended to royalty. (Daniel 5:29.) Meanwhile, days before, Median and Persian soldiers had started to work hard on the ambitious project of temporarily diverting the Euphrates River from its natural course through the city of Babylon into a marshland off to the side. This they accomplished, surprisingly, by digging a channel through one bank and piling huge amounts of stones into the river to shunt most of its water, for a time, into the channel they had dug. Inasmuch as the Babylonians were penned up in their city, they certainly couldn't interfere, and apparently didn't even know what was being done.
The City Taken
With that part of the riverbed that ran through the city almost dry, troops of the Medes and Persians, led by men named Darius and Cyrus, marched at night through the riverbed mud to almost the very heart of the city. There they found a carelessly left open gate which led from the river through the walls along the river into the city proper. Troops poured into Babylon to confound the citizens and soldiers with utter surprise. Before morning the attackers were in command, having actually come within the outer limits of the city while Belshazzar and his guests drank in the banquet room of the palace. The King, meanwhile, had retired to his quarters. He was frightened and distressed by what Daniel had told him. To add to his misery, he began to imagine that he was being watched and followed by someone or ones who meant him harm. Doubling his personal guard didn't help give him a feeling of security. Nor did it protect him. Clever assassins succeeded in taking his life that night in spite of his guards. King Belshazzar didn't live long enough to see his city overrun by the besiegers he had scorned! After the conquest of the Babylonians, it was decided that Darius, ruler of the Medes, should stay in charge of the conquered nation while Cyrus, ruler of Persia, went back to his affairs in Persia.
From this point onward, with the exception of the brief accounts in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah concerning the restoration of the Jews in Palestine, and the problems that beset the Jews in Persia, as related in the book of Esther, nothing else is recorded as history in the Bible. However, the history of the whole period from that day to this is recorded in advance, as prophecy, in the book of Daniel and in related prophecies. But prophetic writings do not directly lend themselves to inclusion in such a narrative as "The Story of Man." This History of Man is thus brought up to the close of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian Empire, the first of the four kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The history of the succeeding empires — Persia, Greece and Rome-is available in many fine books. There is, of course, considerable history in the New Testament. But we cannot cover that in "The Story of Man" because we cannot picture Jesus Christ, even if we knew what He looked like in the flesh. (Exodus 20:4.) We conclude "The Story of Man" in the book of Daniel with the story of the handwriting on the wall because that event prefigures the state of the world now. The handwriting is on the wall of world civilization today. The modern voice of a Daniel is going out to all the world via The WORLD TOMORROW broadcast, The PLAIN TRUTH magazine and other educational services that go out from Ambassador College and its offices around the world. This Work is warning today's Belshazzars. Belshazzar of old acknowledged Daniel, but did not heed his warning. Today's Belshazzars, likewise, are failing to heed the announcement of the soon-coming Government of God sent by Jesus Christ. THE END