LVI BABYLON THE GREAT
As the captives from Judah made their weary, dreary journey to
Babylon, they must have felt even more helpless and hopeless when
they caught their first glimpse of the most magnificent city which had
been built until that time.
The Walls Approaching from the north, with the River Euphrates on their left and the setting sun to their right, they observed walls of such magnitude that no military engine of war was capable of breaching them. The walls rose sixty to eighty feet high and every sixty feet was a tower which sustained the wall and stored implements for warfare. The wall was 45 feet thick and served as an expressway for chariots to drive around the wall while fending off any approaching enemy or carrying military supplies from the towers to the points of defense. Chariots could be driven six abreast-a phenomenon never before achieved. The city had no parallel in the ancient world.
The Euphrates flowed beneath the walls and at the same time
filled a oat that surrounded the city. The huge gate bars which went
down to the bottom of the river bed prevented enemies from using
them as an entrance point. Penetration of the city was all but impossible except by permission from within. The circumference of the wall measured eleven miles and formed the perimeter of the city. Daniel and Ezekiel, and all the captives, probably entered through the Ishtar Gate in the northern wall.
The Great Artery Assuming that the captives did pass through the Ishtar Gate, they immediately entered upon a road called the Processional Way. This main artery through the city was constructed of limestone squares measuring 31/2 feet on each side. Each square had an engraving which read, “To the honor of Marduk, the god of Babylon.“ The Processional Way was bounded by orange brick sidewalks. Anyone who thought of escaping would soon notice that the orange sidewalks were bordered by walls 40 to 60 feet high.
The Palace Continuing along this route, the captives would eventually see the blue and orange enameled brick palace of Nebuchadnezzar. This was another one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Whether in Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon, a new monarch would
very often erase the name of his predecessor from every edifice he had erected and place his own name on it instead. There were at least two reasons for this. First, to personally take credit for the construction. Second, to erase the memory of the previous monarch from the inhabitants.
Nebuchadnezzar’s palace had walls 135 feet thick, and he had
prepared in advance against his successor erasing his name by inscribing every brick used in the first thirty-five feet into the wall with his name. The only way one could erase the evidence of Nebuchadnezzar was to knock down 35 feet of his palace wall.
The Temple Continuing down the Processional Way, one would come to the intersection with Marduk Way, where the famous temple, known as the Temple Between Heaven and Earth, was located. It was in the form of a ziggurat and its size was overwhelming. The lowest pedestal was white, above it was a black one, and above that a yellow one. The lowest one was 300 feet square-as large as a football field both ways. Each section became narrower and narrower until, after ascending all the stairs, one arrived at a small place of worship at the apex where, as their idolatrous worship system said, “The gods of heaven would commune with the priestesses in the temple. “ This function was carried out by the priests, and the priestesses indulged themselves as well. In the sexual connotations involved, the system was similar to that of Baal worship. After contemplating all this, then seeing the Hanging Gardens of the palace as well, it is not surprising that Nebuchadnezzar could say “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?” (Dan. 4:30).
LVII DANIEL AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR
Probably no other book in the Old Testament has been maligned
by critics as much as the book of Daniel. But be encouraged, because it will stand on its own. It can be analyzed from linguistics; it can be analyzed from knowledge of the historical period in which Daniel lived; it can be analyzed from the prophecies contained therein. They all serve to validate that Daniel was a historical character and that he did write his book in the sixth century B.C. The reason why skeptics want to give the book a late date, is that they simply cannot believe that Daniel would be able to prophesy as accurately as he did about the nations which would succeed the Babylonian empire.
Daniel tells us that “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of
Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged
it.“ He was using the Babylonian dating system and gives us the date of 605 B.C. He emphasized the fact that it was the Lord who gave Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. We read earlier how Jehoiakim finally refused to continue being a vassal after paying tribute for three years.
Daniel’s Testing The balance of Daniel 1 contains the testing given to Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, regarding their participation in eating the Babylonian food which Nebuchadnezzar insisted upon. These young men appeared to be bright, motivated and alert, and naturally, Nebuchadnezzar had great plans for them. By eating only vegetables and drinking water, and refusing the king’s wine and other delicacies which may have included pork and other foods forbidden by the law of Moses, these four young men were able to look better at the time of testing than those who had participated in the king’s menu. As a result, these four men were put into the king’s personal service. In that capacity no one in the entire realm was better than Daniel, who was renamed Beltashazzar; Hananiah, renamed Shadrach; Mishael, named Meshach; and Azariah, whose new namewas Abednego.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dilemma Nebuchadnezzar, like all other monarchs of the period, surrounded himself with professional prophets. However, he was more astute than many of the others. Other kings would possibly say: “This is a dream I had, describe it in detail.” Then they would ask their prophets to interpret it. If the same dream had been given to ten different men in secret, there would have been ten different interpretations. How difficult could it be to interpret a dream if no one really knew the true meaning?
His demand In chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar threw a red herring into the situation by calling his wise men around him and stating
(vs. 3): “I have dreamed a dream and I am anxious to understand it.” The
Chaldeans made their usual answer (vs. 4): “Tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation.” This time, Nebuchadnezzar was firm. He insisted that he wanted to know both what the dream was and what the interpretation was. This was too much for them and they complained that no monarch had ever asked such a thing as that from any prophet before.
However, to Nebuchadnezzar, it was being quite logical. If a man
was capable of interpreting a dream and was truly a wise man, why
could he not also tell what the dream was? So, Nebuchadnezzar would not budge, but insisted, “If you do not tell me what the dream was and its interpretation I am going to cut off all your heads and make your houses dung-hills.“ Very, very serious consequences were in the works and the entire bureaucratic system of professional prophets was about to break down.
Daniel’s request Unfortunately for them, none of the soothsayers were able to accommodate the king. In his anger, he sent orders
throughout the land to kill all the wise men, so Daniel and his three
friends were included. When Daniel learned the reason for the command, he asked for a reprieve in order to have time to supply the king with the information he had requested. Verse 17 tells us that he went back to his house and told his three friends about it so they could all pray together about the matter and seek compassion from God in order that they might not be destroyed in the execution of all the wise men of the land.
The Dream Verse 17 says that the mystery of the dream was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Because God gave him the interpretation, Daniel prayed and blessed God (vss. 20-23). He then went in and spoke to the king, who asked, “Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof”
No one can do that, Daniel disclaimed modestly, “But there is a
God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king
Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days” (vs. 28). Daniel went on to describe the awesome statue with the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the stomach of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet made of iron and clay. He told Nebuchadnezzar that while he watched in his dream, a stone cut without hands struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay crushing them, then the iron, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all crumbled down at the same time and were crushed together where they became like chaff on the summer threshing floor, and the winds carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. The stone that struck the statue suddenly became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.
By that time, the king must have been sitting with his mouth open
and his chin on his chest, because this man had told him exactly what
his dream was, even though he had not revealed it. God designed the
entire scenario to give credibility to Daniel and bring glory to Himself.
Interpretation Daniel gave the king the interpretation beginning with verse 36. “Thou, 0 king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath
given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.... Thou art this head of gold.” The head of gold was Babylon and it ruled the civilized world
from 605 to 539 B.C. “After thee shall arise another kingdom, inferior to thee.“ That would be Medo-Persia. It was in power from 539-333 B.C. Then a third kingdom of bronze would rule over the earth. This would be Greece, ruling the world from 333 to 167 B.C. The fourth kingdom, strong as iron, would be Rome. The interpretation continued throughout chapter 2, and Nebuchadnezzar responded (vs. 46) by falling on his face and giving homage to Daniel. He gave orders to present Daniel with gifts, offerings, and incense. And as he gave homage he said, “your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret. “ (Remember that statement.)
The Reward Then the king promoted Daniel. Following his promotion, Daniel asked that the king would promote his three friends as well. So while Daniel served in the king’s court, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) ruled over the administration of the province of Babylon. They came as slaves and through unswerving dedication to God, were rewarded with positions of power by their captors.
LVIII GOD AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR
The Great Image
Chapter 3 begins with a description of how Nebuchadnezzar created
an image of gold 60 cubits (90 feet) high. Its breadth was 6 cubits (9
feet), and he erected this huge grotesque statue in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. I believe that the dream he had was his inspiration and motivation. His ego was inflated as he remembered Daniel saying, “You are the king of kings and the head of gold. His immediate impulse was apparently to make a golden statue of himself.
Three brave men After erecting the huge statue of himself, the king gave instructions that when the musical instruments were played,
everyone must bow down. According to verse 6, “whoso
falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.“ Everyone bowed down except Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego. We do not know where Daniel was. Perhaps he was still back in the king’s court, or on a diplomatic mission. Possibly, because of his influence, no one wanted to accuse him at that time. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were less important officials and these evil politicians and soothsayers were seeking to have them discredited.
They approached Nebuchadnezzar (vs. 12) and reported, “These
men ... have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship
the golden image which thou hast set up. “ The king went into a rage
and gave orders for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be brought to him. Then (vs. 15), he personally instructed them to fall down on their faces and worship the statue, threatening that if they did not do so, they would be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. Poor old Nebuchadnezzar, he had such a short memory! He foolishly asked, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”
Remember what he said in 2:47? That the God of Daniel was the
Lord of kings? Evidently, he had forgotten there was a God in heaven
who had him in His hands, and that he had his throne only because
God allowed him to be there. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king and said: We are not careful [or, we do not need] to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the
burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand,
0 king. But if not, be it known unto thee, 0 king, that we will
not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou
hast set up.
Regardless of whether or not they were delivered, those three
godly Israelites declared, “We are not going to serve your gods because God has told us not to bow down before gods. Whether or not He chooses to deliver us, we are not going to do so.”
Nebuchadnezzar went into an insane frenzy! He had the
furnace heated seven times hotter than it had ever been.
The soldiers tied up the three men and threw them in. The
blazing heat was so intense that those who took them to the entrance
were killed just from the heat roaring out of the door. Nevertheless, the three bound men walked freely inside the furnace fully clothed. From where he was seated, Nebuchadnezzar looked through the flames and saw four people walking around. Turning to his officials in panic, he asked, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied, “Yes we did,“ and he added, “I see four men loose ... and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.“ Then, when he called the men to come out, they were totally unsinged. When Nebuchadnezzar saw they were unharmed, he worshiped the God of heaven and made a decree (Nebuchadnezzar loved decrees, didn’t he?) saying that anyone who says “any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dung-hill.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Humiliation Chapter 4 begins by describing another of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, and it was a warning from God.
In his dream, he saw a tree great and large, strong, and reaching
to the sky. It was visible to the ends of the earth with beautiful foliage
and abundant fruit. The beasts of the field were enjoying the shade
under it, the birds dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures were
feeding themselves from it.
As Nebuchadnezzar watched, an angelic messenger descended
from heaven and shouted (vss. 14-17):
Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves,
and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and
the fowls from his branches: Nevertheless leave the stump of his
roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the
tender grass of the field, and let it be wet with the dew of heaven,
and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth:
Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be
given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter
is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of
the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the
most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever
he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.
Nebuchadnezzar was troubled by the dream and asked
Belteshazzar (Daniel) to interpret it. Daniel was afraid to tell him, saying, “My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.“ It is a terrible dream! But Nebuchadnezzar insisted and demanded to know the interpretation.
The tree, Daniel said, is you. You have grown powerful and great,
and your splendor is Eke the giant tree. When the angelic messenger
said “chop it down, that meant you are going to be driven from your
kingdom. You will Eve in the fields like a beast for seven years. But,
because the stump was left, that means when the time is up, you will
regain your throne. Daniel continued by adding (vs. 27), “Break off thy
sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy
to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility. “ With this statement, Daniel gave Nebuchadnezzar the hope of forgiveness, saying that if he would repent, God would possibly relent and extend his days. Everything happened to Nebuchadnezzar as Daniel prophesied.
Verse 28 says, twelve months went by and Nebuchadnezzar did not
change. Remember the principle we discovered in Scripture that when judgment does not fall immediately, the individual seems to think it never will? It took 700 years for the Canaanites, 400 years for the Amalekites, fifteen years for Hophni and Phineas, two years for Amnon, and a single day for Agag. Nevertheless, judgment did come.
In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, it came in one year. I am sure that
by the end of four or five months, he had completely dismissed the
prophecy by Daniel from his mind. Then one day, walking on the roof,
he looked over all his magnificent city and exclaimed, “Is this not 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? “ (vs. 30).
While the words were in his mouth, a voice came from heaven
and said, “The kingdom is departed from thee.“ The fulfillment began immediately. He was driven from mankind and roamed the fields like a wild beast. His hair grew like eagle’s feathers, and his nails grew like bird’s claws. Verses 34 to 37 contain the personal testimony of
Nebuchadnezzar after the seven year period was over and he began to worship the “King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”
LIX DANIEL’S LATER LIFE
A long period of time elapsed between chapters 4 and 5. In chapter
5 we read that Belshazzar gave a great feast in 539 B.C. We must take some time here to examine the names and dates of the kings of the Babylonian period. We know that Nabopolassar reigned from 625 to 605 B.C. and was replaced by Nebuchadnezzar who reigned from 605 to 562 as recorded in II Kings 24 and 25, and also in the book of Daniel. He was followed by Amel-Marduk, from 562 to 560 as recorded in II Kings 25:27-30 and Jeremiah 52:31-34. After him, came Nerighssar from 560 to 556 B.C. Neriglissar was followed by Labashi-Marduk. He reigned for only one year, 556 B.C., and was succeeded by Nabonidus who reigned from 556 until 539 B.C.
Nabonidus was an explorer and a lover of archaeology. He enjoyed
digging and excavation. He was also slightly interested in military
activity, but he spent most of his time away from the city of Babylon.
Because of his various personal interests, he left his son Belshazzar in charge in the capital. This has been called heel of the book of Daniel. Until recent archaeological discoveries, no one believed there was ever a king named Belshazzar. Archaeology now has revealed that Nabonidus placed his son Belshazzar on the throne of Babylon because he was away from the city for extended periods of time. The fact that Belshazzar understood that he was second in command is borne out by the narrative in chapter 5, which records that he promised to make Daniel number three in the kingdom if he interpreted the handwriting. Therefore, chapter 5 is a tremendous chapter for the defense of inspired Scripture. With the information we have at our disposal, thanks to the archaeological records, the historical accuracy of the book of Daniel has been
The Fall of Babylon While Balshazzar was holding a feast for a thousand of his nobles, and was drinking wine in their presence, he was unaware that Cyrus, king of Persia, the powerful military genius, was gathering his troops north of the city and was in the process of digging a canal from the Euphrates into an adjoining swamp. This canal subsequently diverted the Euphrates into the swamp; so Cyrus and his soldiers could march into the city of Babylon on the resulting dry river bed. Seventy years earlier, the Babylonians and the Medes had used the Tigris River at flood stage to conquer Nineveh. Now, contrariwise, Cyrus was diverting the Euphrates so that he could conquer Babylon on the dry river bed. While the soldiers were digging north of the city, and while the Euphrates was drying up, lowering the water level which ran through the center of the city, Belshazzar and his nobles were reveling inside the palace.
With a drunken command, Belshazzar called for the golden vessels
to be brought out which had been taken as booty by
Nebuchadnezzar back in 586 B.C. before he destroyed Solomon’s temple.
As the revelers drank wine from them, they praised the gods of gold,
silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone (vs. 4). As they shouted their
drunken praises, a man’s hand appeared on the wall and began to write on the plaster. When the king saw it, he was so frightened that his face grew pale and his knees began to knock. The hand continued to write and verse 8 indicates that no one in the room could understand it. Belshazzar was desperate and his nobles were dumbfounded. No one knew what to make of the mysterious and eerie event. Finally, the queen entered and called Belshazzar’s attention to the fact that there was a wise old man who had served Nebuchadnezzar, and that the power of God was still on him to interpret such things.
Belshazzar sent in haste for Daniel. Daniel entered the room and began to tell Belshazzar the history of his ancestor Nebuchadnezzar. Everyone trembled and feared before him, and Daniel said, but “when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him” (vs. 20). As a result of his pride, Daniel continued, Nebuchadnezzar was driven from men to five like the beasts “till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will “ (vs. 2 1).
Nebuchadnezzar had to be shown that truth, Daniel said, by having
his vision divinely interpreted for him and then living for seven
years as an animal. Then when he returned, he knew that God was
ruler over all mankind. But, he concluded, “thou his son [descendant],
0 Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all
this” (vs. 21) Belshazzar knew! He had been told of Nebuchadnezzar’s experience by word of mouth and he had read what had been written about the event. So, Daniel said, “even though you knew, you exalted yourself against God.” Nebuchadnezzar had to be shown and his judgment was remedial. Belshazzar, on the other hand, knew and rebelled in his heart. In view of that fact, his judgment was to be punitive. Then, in the stunned silence of the frightened guests, Daniel read the mysterious writing on the wall. “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.... Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting... Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. So, Daniel 5:30 concludes, “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. Cyrus took the city in 539 B.C. The Babylonians were defeated and replaced by the Medes and the Persians just as the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision had indicated.