The Rise And Fall Of Babylon
God allows nations to acquire power in order to rule righteously and uplift people. History reveals the fact that whenever a nation abuses its God-given privilege, its greatness vanishes.
And this is exactly what happened to the ancient Assyrian Empire. They abused their God-given privileges and their glory disappeared. In 689 BC Sennacherib ruthlessly destroyed Babylon. The cruelty of this war can be seen on the war-relief discovered by archaeologists in the ruins of his palace.
Shortly after this war he decided to invade Judah and destroyed 46 cities. His main objective was to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth. But God prevented him from doing it. In 645 BC the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal attacked the city of Susa with his mighty army. Many innocent people were destroyed.
As I walked across the ruins of this ancient Elamite capital I thought of the many innocent people that were taken captive to Samaria in Israel. This was their last great act of atrocity. God was going to make an end to the cruel Assyrians. He had hoped that the preaching of Jonah would have averted their punishment but their repentance only lasted for a while.
There were three great warriors who defeated the Assyrians: Nabopolasser, along with his son Nebuchadnezzar and Cyaxares, the Median ruler of Ecbatana. The treaty signed between Esarhaddon and the Medes a few years earlier did not prevent the destruction of Nineveh. The prophet Nahum predicted its fall and nothing could prevent it.
And now for the fascinating biography of Nabu-kudurri-ussur, also known as Nebuchadnezzar. For 2600 years virtually all the knowledge about this man was obtained from the Bible and the writing of Josephus. But in 1956 the Babylonian Chronicle was discovered describing the events of the first 11 years of his reign. In 605 B.C. he defeated the Egyptians and the rest of the Assyrian army at Carchemish on the upper Euphrates River.
I had the privilege of visiting this great historical battle field at Carchemish also called Jarablus.
He then conquered the rest of Syro-Palestine, and accepted the surrender of Jerusalem in 605 B.C. He took some Jewish hostages to Babylon. Among them were Daniel and his three friends. The purpose of the king in taking the hostages to Babylon was to re-educate them to be Babylonian in their thinking. To help them think Babylonian he even changed their names.
If you brake up Daniel’s Babylonian name, you get three components: * Belit, the title of a goddess; * shar, the word for “king”; and the verb * uzur, which means, “to protect.” Literally Daniel’s Babylonian name means: “May (the goddess) Belit protect the king.” The king of Babylon wanted to brain wash Daniel with this heathen name.
The rebellious city of Jerusalem caused Nebuchadnezzar to punish it again in 596 BC. This time the prophet Ezekiel along with 10,000 distinguished citizens as well as king Jehoiakin were taken captive to Babylon.
Jerusalem was finally destroyed after a siege of two years in 586 BC. The Jews were victims of their own stubborn rebellion. But God even cares about stubborn people and His love will persist in trying to make them kind and obedient.
Come with me to the site of ancient Babylon. It was right here that God revealed His love for Jews and heathen in a very unique manner.
The first major object that attracts one’s attention as you approach the site, is this huge painting of Saddam Hussein. He regards himself as the new Nebuchadnezzar. Three horses are pursuing the enemy which is Cyrus the great. But he is also telling you and me that he now has more than just horses to keep you out of Iraq. He possesses an AK47.
His painting is erected on a very important historical site. The mound in the background is THE PLACE where Nebuchadnezzar’s summer palace once stood, and is called BAB-ILU, meaning the gate of the God Ilu.
This diagram of the city shows the location of both his southern and northern palace. Let me tell you about a strange dream the king had right here at his Northern Palace:
Daniel 2:1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.
As I walked through ancient Babylon I thought of how the king ordered his wise men to tell him what he dreamed or die. A young Hebrew captive, called Daniel asked the king for a little more time to recall and interpret the dream.
In my imagination I see Daniel walking the procession way to the palace of the king. After he and his three friends prayed about the matter, God revealed the king’s dream to Daniel. Let’s listen to the conversation between the king and Daniel:
Daniel 2:26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” Daniel surprised the king and everyone else when he said NO!. But there is a God in heaven can. And then Daniel did the impossible. He told the king what he dreamed in his own bed, in his own palace even when the king could not remember the dream.
Verse 29 “As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.”
When you study the political scene round about 603 BC when Nebuchadnezzar had the dream, you appreciate his fear about the future. Since 605 BC when he conquered Syr0-Palestine, he had quite a job establishing his new kingdom. Although he defeated the Egyptian army previously they were now preparing for another military onslaught.
I had the privilege of visiting Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room, which Saddam Hussein restored. When I stood here I thought of the loving and considerate God that we serve.
God gave him a run down of all the kingdoms from his time till the end of time. But he also gave the king the assurance of a future eternal peaceful kingdom where all tears will forever end. But God not only spoke to a cruel heathen Babylonian king 2600 years ago. The dream has a message of hope for you and me who live in a time of fear and great political turmoil.
While I stood here at Bab-Ilu where the king had his dream I thought of the kind way in which God deals with humanity. The wicked, heathen king, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and a vision exactly like the Hebrew profits of old. We serve an inclusive God, not an exclusive God. Let’s allow Daniel to continue interpreting the king’s dream:
Verse 31 “You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue – an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.
As Daniel describes the details of the dream and the image, it all comes back to the king’s mind. “This is the very dream I had.” Daniel continues.
Verse 32 & 33. “The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.”
Gold, silver, bronze and iron were a familiar sequence to the king. The Greek philosophers in his palace believed that life begins with gold, then you enter the youth of silver. Bronze belongs to the middle aged people and iron to old age. Then when you die the cycle starts all over again. You begin with the precious gold of childhood and end in the not too precious iron of old-age.
That was all the ancient philosophers could offer: birth and death, birth and death, birth and death. Nothing beyond. Just an endless cycle of what? Pain, disappoints, loss and finally death! I told Laurettatjie that I’m not sure if I would be interested in having all the pain and disappointments of this life for a second and a third and a millionth time all over again. As we will see in a moment, the different metals represent the rise and fall of kingdoms from the time of Nebuchadnezzar till our day. But it also represents the endless failures of humanity.
Fortunately God reveals to the king that he has something far more exciting in mind for His children than just an endless cycle of life and death. Listen to the ultimate and final extinction of the human experience of pain, disappointment and death:
Verse 34 “While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.
What a friendly Super human rock. He is going to make an end to the human phenomenon of misery. How completely will sin and its results be eradicated? Daniel tells the king:
Verse 35 “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing-floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace.
But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. When God is going to clean up the human mess of pollution and abuse, you will not find a trace of it. The prophet Isaiah agrees with Daniel on this issue:
Isaiah 65:17 “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” You will not be able to remember the one who broke your heart. When God cleanses the earth, He will also clean up all our bad memories. I am looking forward to that glorious happy day. What about you?
I wish I had been in this Babylonian throne room when Daniel revealed to the king his dream. Can you see that expression of amazement on his face? I’m sure he realized that God was speaking to him in a very special way. I hope you too realize that God is speaking to you in a special manner, right now. “Daniel”, says the king. “Please explain to me the meaning of the dream!”
Verses 37,38 “You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold.”
When you study Babylonian history you appreciate the Biblical reference to gold. The wealth of the ancient world was just pouring into this world metropolis. I think the king had a big smile on his face when Daniel accorded him the golden place in the image.
When I visited the procession way on which the king used to walk on New Year’s day, I thought of the interpretation of the dream of the image. Daniel knew the Babylonian empire of gold would be replaced by an empire of silver. But if he tells this to the king he may loose his life. Daniel did what was right and left the consequences to God. Listen to him:
Verse 39 “After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours.
During our next lecture we will spend more time on the fascinating story of the silver kingdom which made its appearance upon the scene of ancient history at the exact time Daniel predicted it would.
Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.”
Verse 40 “Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron – for as iron breaks and smashes everything – and as iron breaks to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.”
As the king listens to Daniel, he becomes more curious about the last part of his dream which mentions the feet of iron mixed with clay. They have come to the end of the image. What is going to happen next?
Verse 44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.
It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
One wonders what Nebuchadnezzar thought of the statement that God’s kingdom would endure forever? The Assyrian empire before him did not endure forever. Presumably his kingdom would not endure forever. And Daniel predicted that none of the kingdoms that would succeed him would continue forever.
You are looking at a representation of the Babylon god Bel Marduk on the walls of the Ishtar gate. He was one of many that the king worshipped. And now he hears of a God who transcends all Babylonian gods.
Suddenly the truth of the God of heaven and earth, the truth about Daniel’s God, grips the heart of the king and this is how he reacts:
Verse 46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.
As I stood here, the ghostly image of the king came to my mind. Somewhere in this huge hall the mighty king became so small in the presence of Daniel’s God that he fell to the ground. As I stood here, I could identify with him. When we see how great God really is, and by contrast how small we really are, we too will want to fall on our knees and worship him.
Verse 47 The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Unfortunately Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual experience did not last and soon he did something very foolish. He built a very large copy of the very image of his dream. But instead of just a head of gold it was all made of gold. There are two possible reasons why he erected a huge image of gold in Babylon in 593 B.C. First, his initial conversion did not last too long. He rejected the prophecy that said another kingdom would succeed him.
The other reason comes from a clay tablet that was translated and published in 1956. It tells of a serious mutiny that erupted in Nebuchadnezzar’s army in December of 594 BC.
Let me quote from this tablet: “He slew many of his own army. His own hand captured his enemy.” Perhaps his decision to summon the officials to the dedication of his image was triggered by this revolt.
By the way, Jeremiah 51:59 tells us that king Zedekiah of Judah also went to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign which coincides with the erection of the image on the plain of Dura in Babylon. Unfortunately, he also bowed before the image.
The king ordered everyone to worship the image when they heard the sound of music. Every one obeyed except Daniel’s three friends. The king was furious. He gave them one more chance to bow down and worship the image when they heard the sound of music. Listen to their polite but firm answer:
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Three young men obeyed God and were cast into a fiery furnace. To the amazement of the king they didn’t die. Instead he saw a fourth person that looked like the Son of God.
Verse 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
Whenever I visit the museum at Babylon and see the name of Nebuchadnezzar, I admire this man and I thank God for not giving up on poor sinners like us. The king had a second conversion. Listen to it:
Verse 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
Every time I visit Babylon I hope to hear of the discovery of a clay tablet telling of the final conversion of king Nebuchadnezzar.
The entire chapter 4 of Daniel is an autobiography of the great king written in 568 BC. He had ruled for 36 years. The wealth of the ancient world was pouring into Babylon.
Nabopolasser his father only had one palace – Nebuchadnezzar built three. One of them was roofed with a garden of exotic trees and shrubs.
He built it especially for his wife Amuhea from Ecbatana. The palace of the hanging gardens was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The desolated area you are looking at was called the Esagila. It had 53 temples, 955 small sanctuaries, and 384 street altars. The temple tower of Etemenanki rose to a height of 300 meters and was the most famous temple in the East.
The city’s outer walls were brick-yellow in color. Its principal gates were glazed in blue. Its palaces were faced with rose-colored tiles, and its myriad temples were gleaming white.
The king’s might and power went to his head and he became cruel and unkind. He ignored Daniel’s warnings to break with his sins. Twelve months later he boasted:
Daniel 4:30 “Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty!”
His megalomania caused him to become mentally deranged and for seven years he ate grass like cattle. This disease is called boantrophy. The ox-syndrome. If you could turn the clock back to that time you would have seen the king grazing over here.
Next time you visit the British museum ask to see the clay tablet that mentions Nebuchadnezzar’s madness. (Translated in 1975) It says that “his life appeared of no value to” him. “He does not love son and daughter.” “Family and clan do not exist.” Mad people don’t care about others. Please avoid insanity by caring for others.
I wished I could have witnessed his final conversion after 7 years of mental derangement. God is extremely longsuffering with proud, selfish cruel people. He wants them to change into kind, unselfish people. And then one day, somewhere near the Euphrates River the king responded to God’s love. Listen to what happened.
Verse 34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised and glorified him who lives forever. What a confession! What a conversion! What a man and what a God! Isn’t it time that we get rid of our insanity with our own upward look? Perhaps its time that we look to Him and receive our own transformation?
I walked next to the huge walls of the restored Babylon and I prayed a similar prayer: “Lord help me to always look up to you so that I may always have a kind heart and a “sane” mind.
Daniel predicted that the breast and arms of silver would replace the head of gold. The manner in which this prophecy was fulfilled and the way Babylon fell is one of the most fascinating stories of antiquity. Please don’t miss it.
Listen to these words while you are looking at one Median and one Persian soldier at Persepolis: “The strength of nations, as of individuals, is not found…in their boasted greatness. It is measured by the fidelity with which they fulfill God’s purpose.” Prophets and Kings, page 502.
God’s purpose for you and me is to be kind to people around us. By His grace I want to be that kind person. What about you? Let us ask God to take away our hearts of stone and give us kind, sympathetic hearts of flesh. These kindly subjects bring their gifts to the Persian king. I was thinking God also wants you and me to bring Him the gift of our heart. What should we do? Let’s just give him our hearts.