FIFTY MILES SOUTH of Baghdad, in what is now the southern part of modern Iraq, lies the ruins of Babylon; the city first founded by Nimrod the mighty hunter. The first book of the Bible tells us that ‘Cush begat Nimrod... He was a mighty hunter before the LORD...And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel (Babylon)...in the land of Shinar (Sumeria later known as Babylonia). (Genesis 10.8-10)
Babylon was later to become the chief city of both the former and latter Babylonian empires. For the greater part of her long history, foreign invaders have ruled Babylonia. These invaders however, readily submitted to their victim’s superior civilization. Even in defeat, Babylonia’s spiritual primacy and leadership continued to hold sway. Babylonian scholars developed early science and astrology. They invented an early form of writing known as Cuneiform. Their mathematicians devised a system of counting based on the number 60, from which we get the number of minutes in an hour and the degrees in a circle (60 x 6 = 360 degrees).
The earlier empire seems to have been the embryonic foundation for the later empire. Although over 1,000 years was to elapse before Babylon re-emerged as a great power, much of the former civilization had remained in place and the second empire was able to pick up, more or less, where the old empire had left off.
Israel’s connection with the region of Mesopotamia or Chaldea (the central heartland of Babylon) goes back almost to 2,000 years BC, to the time when Terah (Abraham’s father) and his family lived in the rich and splendid southern Mesopotamian city of Ur on the River Euphrates. Having lived there for many years, the family moved to Haran several hundred miles to the northwest. The record in Genesis tells us that ‘…Terah took Abram (Abraham) his son...and they went forth...from Ur of the Chaldees...and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.’ (Genesis 11.31)
It was here that Abraham received a call from God and the promise to make him the founder of the Hebrew nation:
‘…And I will make of thee a great nation...and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed...and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran...and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan…’ (Genesis 12.1-5)
Abraham obeyed the call and from then on he lived as a nomad, moving from place to place with his family, flocks and herds, until famine drove him south into Egypt. This established the first link with a nation that would play a major part in Israel’s history and emancipation. From there he returned to Canaan, the land God promised to give to his descendants. From this early beginning the nation of Israel was to eventually arise and occupy its homeland.
During the reign of Solomon, its third king, Israel reached the zenith of its power and influence. Shortly after Solomon’s death the nation divided into the northern (ten tribe) kingdom of Israel and the southern (two tribe) kingdom of Judah. Its golden age of wealth and political jurisdiction was now all but over. Through a long and troubled history, the two kingdoms, often at odds with each other, were to become little more than vassal provinces to the mighty Assyrian empire. In 721 BC Assyria finally lost patience with the waywardness of Israel and despoiled Samaria, its capital city, carrying off the population into exile and so destroyed the northern kingdom dispersing its ten tribes.
In turn Judah was to suffer greatly under the Assyrian yoke and only by the direct intervention of God, during the reign of Hezekiah, was the siege of Jerusalem halted and the city saved. Like so many empires before and since, Assyria overstretched itself and the effort required controlling its borders began to take its toll. As is so often the case, the enemy came from within and struck at the very heartland of its existence. In 626 BC Nabopolassar, a regional governor of the area around the Persian Gulf, having won independence for Babylon the previous year, was made king. Fourteen years later the Babylonians and Medes captured the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. The Assyrians retreated to Haran (the city where Abraham received his call from God) but were soon driven out. Not content with taking over Assyria itself, the Babylonians set out to conquer the whole Assyrian Empire. The Egyptians, in a show of strength, marched north to meet the anticipated threat these changing circumstances might present to their own country. King Josiah of Judah chose to intercept the Egyptians at Megiddo. In the resulting battle he was killed and Judah became subject to Egypt. With the death of Josiah (Judah’s last good king) any hope that Judah could avoid a similar fate to that which befell Israel was effectively lost.
In 605 BC, the Babylonian army led by the new king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar (son of Nabopolassar), defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish. The Babylonian Empire was spreading. Judah was one of many countries that now had to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. After a further fierce battle between the Egyptians and Babylonians, Egypt encouraged Judah to rebel. Nebuchadnezzar sent troops to crush the rebellion and in 597 BC Judah submitted. Babylonian policy was not just to plunder and destroy, but also to weaken the subject nations and prevent further rebellions by deporting their leading citizens. The king (Jehoiachin) and many of Judah’s most important subjects (including Daniel and Ezekiel) were taken into exile in Babylon. Despite this, ten years later Zedekiah, a puppet king placed on the throne of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, appealed to the Egyptians for help. Zedekiah’s rebellion brought down on Judah the full weight of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath. Once again the Babylonians invaded Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem. The siege lasted eighteen months until finally in 586 BC the city was taken. Zedekiah fled but was captured in the plains of Jericho. The prophet Jeremiah recorded the terrible outcome:
‘...the Chaldean army pursued...and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho...Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah...Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon.’ (Jeremiah 39.5-7)
This time Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, the temple treasures taken to Babylon and most of its remaining citizens deported. Only the very poor were left to cultivate the land. Judah, the last bastion of God’s chosen people had fallen; its last king captured and blinded; its leading citizens exiled; its spiritual centre destroyed. The warnings of God’s prophets had gone unheeded and Babylon’s powerful empire now extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, an area only marginally smaller than the great Assyrian Empire which it had usurped.
The decline and fall of Israel and Judah should be viewed in the overall sense that both kingdoms formed the nation of God. That Israel suffered the humiliation of defeat and exile first was not that Israel was bad (in God’s eyes) and that Judah was good, but more a case of Judah being marginally less wicked than Israel during the period of Assyrian dominance. Judah’s downfall was the final instalment of a corporate punishment on a nation that had willingly fallen from grace. Judah’s hope that with the fall of Assyria her own freedom would be assured was bitterly disappointed. Assyrian oppression was replaced by the no less severe control of Babylon. Despite the prophet Jeremiah’s insistent demand that Judah should submit to Babylonian authority, and accept their punishment as the will of God, they chose instead, to put their trust in false prophets, weak and foolish kings and in Egypt. The result was that the southern kingdom ceased to exist. Isaiah’s prophecy from an earlier period in Judah’s history, had been fulfilled:
‘And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah...Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house...shall be carried unto Babylon’ (2 Kings 20.16,17)
The downfall of Israel and Judah was the direct result of national disobedience to God’s will and the continued ignoring of his messengers. Before the exile the prophets warned that judgement was inevitable. Amos and Hosea did so in the northern kingdom in the eighth century, Jeremiah in the southern kingdom in the late seventh century. They called on the people to repent but were forced to realise that they were in no mood to do so. Different prophets exposed various aspects of Israel’s sin. Amos spoke against social injustice, Hosea about Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Micah reminded them of the sins of Israel’s rulers and Jeremiah, the false gods and the unchecked corruption in Judah. Perhaps the words of Amos best summarise the voice of the prophets. This is God’s message spoken at a time when both the northern and southern kingdoms were still in the land:
‘I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah…yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.’ (Amos 4.11,12)
After Judah as well as Israel had gone into exile, some at least, began to realise that they had deserved this punishment. From this time on, the prophets were able to stir up hope. Ezekiel foresaw a day when the nation, lifeless as a heap of dead bones, would begin to live again as the spirit of God breathed new life into the people. (Ezekiel chapter 37) He looked forward to the rebuilding of the temple and a new settlement of the land. (Ezekiel chapters 40 to 48) The prophecies of Isaiah also brought a message of assurance to the people. (Isaiah chapters 40 to 55)
It is to the book of Jeremiah that the reader should turn for the most complete review of the period leading up to the Babylonian invasion of Judah and beyond to the time of the exile. Arguably the greatest prophet of his day, Jeremiah was to suffer much at the hands of the authorities. His unpalatable warnings meant he was often castigated and reviled by his enemies among whom were many false prophets. Although he was never to join the exiles in captivity, his letter to them was full of good advice, comfort and hope for the future. (Jeremiah chapter 29)
It was a hope that they could readily identify with because it prophesied not only their return but also the exact time span of their exile. Thus, they could look forward with assurance to the day when their captivity would come to an end and they could begin the long trek across the desert from Babylonia to their homeland.
‘For thus saith the LORD, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.’ (Jeremiah 29.10)
With the Egyptians defeated, the rebellion in Judah over and the borders of his empire secure, Nebuchadnezzar could now devote time to the rebuilding and beautifying of Babylon, his capital city. Intending not only to surpass its former glory, but to make it among the greatest cities of the world and thereby a reflection of his personal glory and the greatness of his empire:
‘The king spake...Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?’ (Daniel 4.30)
Babylon was indeed a magnificent city, covering a huge area on either side of the River Euphrates. Stout double brick walls protected both the inner and outer city. Eight great gates led to the inner city that contained fifty temples. The greatest of these was the temple of Marduk, a Sumerian-style ziggurat. The ‘Hanging Gardens’ of Babylon with its terraces on different levels laid out with palms and many other trees and plants, providing colour and shade in a flat land, was one of the wonders of the ancient world.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, described Babylon as the most splendid city in the world. This proud and charismatic monarch, builder of Babylon, was to learn the lesson of the sin of pride. At the very moment of his proud boast, God humbled him as we read in the book of Daniel:
‘While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee’. (Daniel 4:31)
For seven years he was to suffer a strange madness, living with the beasts of the field before his sanity returned. (Daniel 4:32,33) When it did he was a changed man:
‘Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.’ (Daniel 4.37)
A mighty earthly king was humbled, and had the humility to acknowledge it:
‘...I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.’ (Daniel 4.34)
Having just read about the humbling of a proud man, let us now turn to a humble man who was to be elevated. To do so we have to go to the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and remind ourselves of a young man who was led away to exile in the first wave of captives to leave Judah, who overcame his new circumstances by sheer courage and faithfulness to God. We are referring of course to Daniel, who having served his apprenticeship as a trainee counsellor, had been accepted to the court of the king. In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar’s spirit was troubled by a mysterious dream ‘and his sleep brake from him.’ (Daniel 2.1)
Daniel’s God-given ability to make known the dream’s content and the interpretation thereof, despite the king being unable to recall his own dream (as he said ‘The thing is gone from me’ (Daniel 2.5) ), was to elevate Daniel to the position of chief minister:
‘Then the king made Daniel a great man...ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.’ (Daniel 2.48)
Daniel related the dream to the King in these words:
‘Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image...This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest...a stone...cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet...and brake them to pieces...and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.’ (Daniel 2.31-35)
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE DREAM
At the time of Daniel’s interpretation, the emerging empires, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman were still in the realm of prophecy but today are all historical fact. In other words, prophecy has been fulfilled. Approximately 1,500 years has elapsed since the demise of the Roman Empire and no one power has since ruled the world. This then, is prophecy being fulfilled.
With the first three stages of Daniel’s prophecy a reality and the fourth holding true, we (the Christadelphians) await with confidence the fulfilment of the final stage - the coming of the kingdom of God. The Kingdom will be here on earth, with Jerusalem as its capital and Jesus as its king.
In this short article we have only touched on the wealth of prophecy contained in the Bible. We hope that it has been sufficient to gain your interest to the point you will wish to know more of the great message of the Bible and of God’s plan for mankind.
In conclusion, we can be assured that fulfilled prophecy is tangible evidence that our faith is not misplaced. This strengthens our belief that prophecy yet to be fulfilled will surely come to pass. Let us remember that the Bible is God’s Word. The prophets were God’s messengers, for the Apostle Peter tells us that ‘…prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Peter 1.21)
If you are still searching for the truth of God’s Word and have an earnest desire to serve Him through Jesus, then please act now before the final stage of Daniel’s prophecy comes true, for then it may be too late!
If a pagan king over 2,500 years ago could say ‘I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever,’ and who died before Daniel’s prophecy came to pass, then what excuse have we, who have seen so much of the prophecy fulfilled, not do likewise? May the God of heaven and earth guide you in your efforts to learn of the truth ‘And... direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.’ (2 Thessalonians 3.5)