Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Times of the Assyrians

David and Solomon ruled over a united kingdom, the core of which was the land of Palestine. The kingdom split in 933 BC following the reign of Solomon.  The northern kingdom took the name Israel and the southern kingdom, the name Judah.  Superpower Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel by capturing its capital city of Samaria in 722 BC.

Josiah came to the throne of Judah about 640 BC.  The temple had been sadly neglected by his two predecessors, Amon and Manasseh.  Manasseh's acts were more wicked than all the kings who preceded or succeeded him for he committed that one, unimaginable sin; he placed an idol in the Holy of Holies.  He also filled Jerusalem with innocent blood.  The prophet Isaiah was sawed in two during the reign of Manasseh.

Josiah was determined to return his subjects to the worship of the Lord their God.  In 623 BC, he hired workmen to repair the damage to the temple.  Previously, the Levites had removed the Ark of the Covenant from the desecrated and dilapidated house of God.  After the repairs were completed, Josiah commanded the priests to return the Ark to Solomon’s temple.

At that time, a Chaldean governor by the name of Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrian forces at Babylon.  The victory resulted in an independent Babylon and gave Nabopolassar the notoriety of becoming the first king of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) empire.  In 612 BC, the new king joined forces with the Medes to defeat the Assyrians at Nineveh, their capital city.  The Assyrians then retreated westward to the city of Haran.

Josiah, king of Judah, was pro-Babylonian.  When Necho II, pharaoh of Egypt and friend of the Assyrians, sought to join his allies at Haran in their last desperate attempt against the Chaldean and Median forces, he was intercepted by Josiah at the strategic Megiddo Pass.  In 609 BC, Josiah was mortally wounded trying to block Necho's passage through the Valley of Megiddon, also known as the apocalyptic Armageddon.

Despite Egypt’s efforts, Assyria was crushed and Babylon began its reign as the most powerful kingdom on earth.  And Josiah, the last of Judah’s godly kings, was taken by chariot to Jerusalem and buried in his own tomb where he slept with his fathers.

The Times of the Babylonians

The southern kingdom of Judah was a country between the borders of Babylon and Egypt. Therefore, it was subjected to pressure from both of those superpowers. As a consequence, its allegiance swung in both directions. Unfortunately, when it swung towards Egypt, the results were disastrous, for Egypt's zenith had passed and it was a nation in decline.

Babylon demanded payments of tribute from its vassal states while Egypt encouraged them to refuse to make their payments and offered assistance in the event of a Babylonian military strike. Such was the political climate that confronted Judah’s kings.

In 606 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, son of the king of Babylon, invaded Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar deported the most intelligent, good-looking youths from Judah including the prophet Daniel and the miraculous Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He also took some sacred vessels from the temple and put them in the house of his god.

Upon his father's death, Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, reigned for three years in servitude to Nebuchadnezzar before he swung his allegiance back to Egypt and refused to pay his tribute to the Babylonian king. Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar laid such a beating on the Egyptians that Pharaoh never ventured outside of Egypt again.

Jehoiakim's reign ended in 598 BC. Some believe he died in chains while being transported to Babylon however the historian Josephus wrote that he was slain by Nebuchadnezzar and his body left unburied, far outside Jerusalem's walls. In either event, the words of the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled: "They shall not lament for him. He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem, cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night."

The prophet Jeremiah also predicted that none of Jehoiakim's descendants would prosper while sitting on the throne of David. Thus Nebuchadnezzar again laid siege against Jerusalem. He captured King Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, in the third month of his reign and led him into exile along with 10,000 others including the prophet Ezekiel, the bravest soldiers, and the tradesmen who were strong and fit for war. He also ransacked the temple cutting into pieces all the golden vessels made by Solomon.

The last and final siege was during the reign of Zedekiah who was installed as a vassal by Nebuchadnezzar after he deposed Jehoiachin. Egged on by Egypt’s pharaoh, Zedekiah refused to pay his tribute to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and his armies surrounded Jerusalem about 588 BC. They besieged Jerusalem for a year and a half with a short hiatus for fear of the Egyptian army which intervened on Judah's behalf. After finding Pharaoh's army to be of little consequence, Nebuchadnezzar re-activated his siege wall around Jerusalem. As the Jews reached the point of starvation, their enemy breached the city's wall and Zedekiah and his army fled from Jerusalem. The Babylonian army caught up with them on the plains of Jericho. Judah's army scattered and Zedekiah was captured. The ruthless Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. Then he plucked the king of Judah's eyes out of their sockets. Thus Zedekiah's last horrific vision was indelibly etched in his memory while he was exiled in Babylon.

In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar's captain, Nebuzaradan, was sent to Jerusalem to destroy the city. He and his army broke down the walls around Jerusalem and burned all the houses including the king's palace. Before burning the temple of the Lord, they stripped it of anything and everything of value, including articles of gold, silver, and bronze.

Babylon had totally annihilated Judah. Only the poorest of the poor remained. Everyone else had been deported to Babylon or had scattered in fear for their lives.

The Conquest of Babylon (abbreviated version)

Cyrus the Great ascended the throne of the city-state of Anshan in 559 BC to begin a reign that lasted 30 years. In 540 BC, after conquering Media, Cyrus set his sights on Babylon.

During that period, Babylonian morale was at a low ebb. King Nabonidus was more interested in the study of foreign religions and history than in government. Nabonidus took a ten year hiatus in Arabia and left his son Belshazzar at the helm. He returned in 543 BC with the hopes of winning back the favour of his subjects and the priests who preferred a monarch that restricted himself to the established religion of Babylon. Although he brought all the idols from the surrounding cities into Babylon and celebrated the New Year's feast, he was unable to win the approval of his people.

Cyrus was able to convince Gubara, a Median governor, to defect to the Persian side. The Medes had been allies of the Babylonians since the two defeated Assyria in 612 BC. After taking the cities of Opis and Sippar, they moved towards Babylon. The throne city was dissected by the Euphrates River and its tributary canals. The dry season coupled with an annual shortage of precipitation caused the river to reach its lowest level in years. Furthermore, this was the time of a great Babylonian festival when the entire city of Babylon was accustomed to revelling all night long.

While the inebriated Babylonians celebrated, Gubara diverted the flow of the Euphrates and entered Babylon's impregnable walls through a water channel. On October 12, 539 BC, Gubara captured Babylon without a battle. On October 29, he opened the city’s gates and welcomed his benefactor, Cyrus, king of Persia. Cyrus entered Babylon peacefully and was hailed by its inhabitants as a liberator. Belshazzar was slain, Nabonidus exiled, and Gubara, a.k.a. Darius the Mede, was made king of Babylon to act as a vassal under Cyrus the Great.

Four Diadems

Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia.  Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece. 

Daniel the Prophet 605-535 BC

Cyrus the Great was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, in 530 BC.  In his short eight year reign, he added the kingdom of Egypt to the vast empire assembled by his father.

In 525 BC, Cambyses defeated Pharaoh Psammetichus III first on the Nile Delta and then at the key city of Memphis.  He continued south destroying the Egyptian temples along the way knowing full well that men were demoralized by the desecration of their gods.

After his successful campaign in Egypt, Cambyses hastened homeward to crush an attempt to usurp his throne.  In 522 BC, before reaching Persia, a sword wound inflicted to his leg became infested with gangrene and he died an untimely death.

Sibling rivalries were common among the Persian princes sometimes resulting in fratricide.  Before Cambyses invaded Egypt, he secretly murdered his brother, Bardiya. 

Now Bardiya had a double whose name was Gaumata.  He was a member of the Magi, a tribe of Medes who served as priests and diviners under the Persian kings.  Posing as Bardiya, he took control of the Persian throne.  Those who recognized his masquerade were expeditiously eliminated. 

While Gaumata replicated Bardiya's appearance, there was one difference.  The Mede was missing both of his ears.  Like other ancient cultures, the Persians practised mutilation.  It was not uncommon to lop off ears, noses, and even tongues as punishment for impropriety.

That difference was recognized by Darius the Great, Cambyses' third cousin and an elite fighting officer who served with Cambyses in Egypt.  Thus Darius and six other members of the nobility murdered Gaumata and his followers.  Over the next few weeks, Darius seized control of the Persian throne.

In an effort to solidify his claim to the throne, he took over the royal harem.  Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, was not only Cambyses’ sister but also his wife.  She was a key member of the harem whose second marriage to Gaumata preceded her role as Darius' chief wife and queen of Persia.  Atossa bore Darius four sons, the most distinguished being Xerxes who succeeded his father to the Persian throne.

Xerxes used his great wealth to gain military power and pursue the one jewel that evaded his predecessors, the kingdom of Greece.

In 480 BC, Xerxes declared war against Greece.  He defeated 300 valiant Spartans at Thermopylae and captured the city of Athens.  However his fortunes began to wane.  In a gulf near Athens, the Greeks destroyed a third of his fleet.  Xerxes turned over command of the Persian army to his general, Mardonius, and sought refuge in Asia Minor. 

The Persian fate was sealed.  Their army was decisively defeated and the remainder of their navy destroyed.  Xerxes had failed miserably in his quest to conquer the kingdom of Greece.

And a mighty king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases.  But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority which he wielded; for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them. 

Daniel the Prophet 605-535 BC

The Torch Doth Pass

Behold, a ram which had two horns.  Now the two horns were long, and one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.  I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him and none could rescue from his power; but he did as he pleased and magnified himself.

Behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. 

And he came up to the ram that had two horns and rushed at him in his mighty wrath.  And I saw him come beside the ram and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns and the ram had no strength to withstand him.  So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.

Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly.  But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

The ram with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.  And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king.  And the broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent the four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power.  

Daniel the Prophet 605-535 BC

Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 331 BC.  Greece became a world empire and Greek, the universal language of the dominion. 

When Alexander entered Egypt, he was hailed as a liberator and son of the Egyptian god, Amon-Re.  He founded the city of Alexandria to exhibit the superiority of the Greek way of life.  The Diaspora was encouraged to settle there and Alexandria became a centre for Hellenists—Jews who adopted the Greek culture.

Alexander died of typhoid fever in 323 BC, at the age of thirty-three.  His generals plotted and quarrelled over how the empire should be divided up.  Alexander had one son, born posthumously, but both he and his mother were murdered during the wars among the generals.

Over the next few years Ptolemy took possession of the southern part of the empire, Cassander the west, Seleucus the east, and Antigonus the north.

However, Antigonus “the One Eyed” wanted the entire empire for himself.  In 301 BC, at Ipsus in Asia Minor, he was slain by his rivals, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander.  Lysimachus, another of Alexander’s generals, took over the northern part of the empire.  

Ptolemy Soter wasn’t present at Ipsus.  Instead, he focused his energies on solidifying his control over the southern part of the empire, namely Egypt and Palestine.