HE great kingdom or empire of Nebuchadnezzar was made up of many smaller kingdoms which he had conquered. As long as he lived his kingdom was strong; but as soon as he died it began to fall in pieces. His son became king in his place, but was soon slain; and one king followed another quickly for some years. The last king was named Nabonidus. He made his son Belshazzar king with himself, and left Belshazzar to rule in the city of Babylon, while he was caring for the more distant parts of the kingdom.
But a new nation was rising to power. Far to the east were the kingdoms of Media and Persia. These two peoples had become one, and were at war with Babylon, under their great leader, Cyrus. While Belshazzar was ruling in the city of Babylon, Cyrus and his Persian soldiers were on the outside, around the walls, trying to take the city. These walls were so great and high that the Persian soldiers could not break through them.
But inside the city were many who were enemies of Belshazzar and were friendly to Cyrus. These people opened the gates of Babylon to Cyrus. At night he brought his army quietly into the city and surrounded the palace of King Belshazzar.
On that night King Belshazzar was holding in the palace a great feast in honor of his god. On the tables were the golden cups and vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem; and around the table were the king, his many wives, and a thousand of his princes and nobles. They did not know that their city was taken, and that their enemies were at the very doors of the palace.
Belshazzar gives a great feast in honor of his God
While they were all drinking wine together suddenly a strange thing was seen. On the wall appeared a great hand writing letters and words that no one could read. Every eye was drawn to the spot, and all saw the fingers moving on the wall, and the letters written. The king was filled with fear. His face became pale and his knees shook. He called for the wise men of Babylon, who were with him in the palace, to tell what the writing meant. He said, "Whoever can read the words on the wall shall be dressed in a purple robe, and shall have a chain of gold around his neck, and shall rank next to King Belshazzar as the third ruler in the kingdom."
But not one of the wise men could read it, for God had not given to them the power. At last the queen of Babylon said to Belshazzar, "O king, may you live forever! There is one man who can read this writing, a man in whom is the spirit of the holy gods, a man whom Nebuchadnezzar, your father, made master of all the wise men. His name is Daniel. Send for him, and he will tell you what these words are and what they mean."
Daniel was now an old man; and since the time when Nebuchadnezzar died he had been no longer in his high place as ruler and chief adviser of the king. They sent for Daniel, and he came. The king said to him, "Are you that Daniel who was brought many years ago by my father to this city? I have heard of you, that the spirit of the holy gods is upon you, and that you have wisdom and knowledge. If you can read this writing upon the wall, and tell me what it means, I will give you a purple robe, and a gold chain, and a place next to myself as the third ruler in the kingdom."
And Daniel answered the king, "You may keep your rewards yourself, and may give your gifts to whom you please, for I do not want them; but I will read to you the writing. O king, the Most High God gave to Nebuchadnezzar this kingdom, and great power, and glory. But when Nebuchadnezzar became proud, and boasted of his greatness, then the Lord took from him his crown and his throne, and let him live among the beasts of the field, until he knew that the most High God rules over the kingdoms of men. O Belshazzar, you knew all this, yet you have not been humble in heart. You have risen up against the Lord, and have taken the vessels of his house, and have drunk wine in them in honor of your own gods of wood and stone; but you have not praised the Lord God who has given to you your kingdom and your power. For this reason God has sent this hand to write these words upon the wall. This is the writing, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. And this is the meaning, Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided.
"MENE: God has counted the years of your kingdom, and has brought it to an end.
"TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and have been found wanting.
"UPHARSIN: Your kingdom is divided, and taken from you, and given to the Medes and the Persians."
King Belshazzar could scarcely believe what he heard; but he commanded that the promised reward be given to Daniel. And almost while he was speaking his end came. The Persians and the Medes burst into his palace; they seized Belshazzar and killed him in the midst of his feast.
On that night the empire or great kingdom set up by Nebuchadnezzar came to an end. A new empire arose, greater than that of Babylon, called the Persian Empire. And in the place of Belshazzar, Cyrus, the commander of the Persians, made an old man named Darius king until the time when he was ready to take the kingdom for himself.
The fall of Babylon
This empire of Persia was the third of the world-kingdoms of which we read in the Bible. The first was the Assyrian kingdom, having Nineveh for its capital. This was the kingdom that carried the Ten Tribes of Israel into captivity. The second was the Babylonian or Chaldean kingdom, which carried the Jews into captivity. And the third was the Persian kingdom, which lasted two hundred years, ruling all the lands named in the Bible.