Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Feast of Belshazzar

The new ruler of Babylon seems to have been a very kind monarch; for he took Jehoiachin, the King of Judah, out of his prison. Although this captive was not allowed to return to Jerusalem, he was treated like a guest in the Babylonian palace. We know but little of this King of Babylon, but we are told that he was soon followed by Belshazzar.

Many great changes had been brought about in the Eastern world in the mean while. The Median empire, which had taken the place of the mighty Assyrian realm, was now in its turn to be conquered by a king of Persia called Cyrus the Great. He is called in the Bible the "anointed of the Lord," because he was the man chosen to fulfill some of the old prophecies.

As soon as Cyrus became master of Persia, Media, and Assyria, he longed also to conquer the more southern province of Babylon, and secretly made plans to enter into the city when his coming was not expected, and take possession of it.

One night, Belshazzar and all his courtiers were feasting in one of the magnificent palace halls. The king, probably excited by the wine he had drunk, suddenly gave orders that the golden vessels taken from the temple at Jerusalem should be brought to grace his feast.

He was just drinking out of one of these sacred cups, when all at once a ghostly hand appeared before him, and traced on the palace wall three mysterious words which he could not understand. Belshazzar grew pale and trembled, and sent in haste for the wise men; but they could not explain what the words meant.

Then the queen remembered that Daniel had explained Nebuchadnezzarís visions, and by her advice he was brought into the banquet hall. Without a momentís hesitation, the prophet of the Lord boldly told Belshazzar that because he had not humbled his heart before God he was about to be punished.

The mysterious words, "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin," he said, meant that God had weighed Belshazzar in the balance and found him wanting, and that his kingdom would now be taken from him and given to the Persians.

Belshazzar rewarded Daniel for his explanation, which he either did not believe or tried to forget by going on with the feast. But that very night, when the revelers were fast asleep, the Persians secretly entered Babylon by turning aside the river which passed through it, and noiselessly following its bed into the very heart of the city.

In the Bible, we are simply told that "in that night was Belshazzar, the King of the Chaldeans, slain." Cyrus was now King of Babylon, but he spared the Jews in the general massacre which took place. Then, while the Persian king went on with his wars, Darius, the Mede, governed the conquered city, with the help of Daniel, who had been a faithful servant of the former kings.

Now it seems that many of the court officers were greatly offended at being obliged to render account to a Jew, and sought an excuse to get rid of Daniel. It was hopeless, they knew, to wait for him to commit any fault, so they made a plot whereby his religion would bring him into trouble with Darius. Prompted by these artful men, Darius made one of those very strict laws, which even a king could not change, and said that no one should address any prayer to God or man for thirty days, under penalty of being cast into the lions' den.



Although Daniel knew this order, he did not let it hinder him. Opening his window, as usual, toward Jerusalem, he offered up his daily prayers. His enemies, lying in wait, found him out and told Darius; and then the king, although he would have liked to spare Daniel, was forced to keep his own law, and ordered that the prophet should be cast into the lions' den.

Darius, however, must have believed that God had the power to protect his servant; for he said to Daniel: "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee." It seems that Darius did not fear the hungry lions so much as he did his wicked courtiers; for as soon as his orders had been obeyed, he had a stone placed over the opening of the den, and set his seal upon it, so that it could not be moved without his knowledge.

Early on the next day, Darius hastened to the lions' den, and had the stone pushed aside. Then, bending over the dark hole, he anxiously cried: "O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?"

From the depths of that awful den came the calm reply: ďMy God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me." Daniel was now set free, his accusers were hurled into the lions' den in his stead, and Darius said publicly that Danielís God should be honored throughout all the land.