“Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them.” Daniel 5:1
Seventy years after the Hebrew children were taken captive and carried off to Babylon; one of the best-known drunken brawls in history took place. Babylon the Great met its Waterloo and went down in defeat. The story has the intrigue of a modern adventure-thriller, but if you had been a super sleuth, you would have discovered that its plot had been divulged many years before by the old prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had a knack for bringing sad tidings of no joy, but his foretelling of events was accurate. He said, “‘Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 51:24). And that is the story you are about to hear. There was a succession of kings in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar died. Most of them experienced untimely deaths. One was assassinated by his brother, another was killed in battle, and another was captured by the Medes and the Persians and lived the life of a prisoner of war. Onto the scene comes Belshazzar, a man who was addicted to wine, women, and song, and whose infamous parties coined a phrase passed down to us twenty-five centuries later: the handwriting on the wall.
Belshazzar was not hosting a dignified, royal state dinner; this was a drunken party. King Belshazzar violated royal protocol by drinking with his lords and inviting women to the feast. In most ancient Near Eastern cultures, men and women had very little public interaction with each other and were customarily separated on social occasions. Ancient kings abstained from wine at banquets in order to maintain an aura of authority and self-control in the presence of their subjects. It is for good reason that “wine, women, and song” has been a catchphrase for trouble. All three were present at Belshazzar’s feast, a sensual sinkhole of indulgence.